Keynote presentation: Rethinking digital divide, University of Exeter 03/06/2015 As more aspects of social life are migrating and expanding on-line, systems of structured inequalities are now well-entrenched and replicated in the digital sphere. However, the development of the theoretical aspect of digital divide studies has lagged behind the development of more empirical studies. Traditional studies of digital divides have tended to be macro in scope, and often convey flavour of government reporting on infrastructure and electronic capacities. Of course, there are many exceptions among scholars working in a variety of fields, however even given a variety of national and cultural perspectives from which such studies emerge, the theoretical underpinnings of such studies often proceed from a narrow range of perspectives (most commonly critical social theory perspectives, such as those in the Marxist and subsequent traditions). While the critical schools have indeed brought great insight to the field, the narrow stretch of social theories applied to digital divides is surprising, given the diversity of theoretical developments which have developed in social theories, especially in the last half century.
Abstract: Social inequalities present in the social structures are not disconnected with the digital inequalities presents in the digital sphere. Digital inequalities, seen as the different skills at using information sources and opportunities, are embedded in social structures. Previous social inequalities not only affect digital divides but reinforce and exacerbate pre-existing social inequalities. Furthermore, several patterns which characterize and shape the social structure such as education, skills, income, occupation and gender influence the access and the use of the Internet. Analysed from this perspective it seems that social inequalities already existing in the society are reproduced and reinforced online. It might be argued that there exists a kind of recurring cycle between social and digital inequalities. Namely, social inequalities are the root of digital inequalities, and at the same time digital divides increase and reinforce social inequalities already present in a stratified social sphere. However, it is unclear whether the digital divide simply exacerbates traditional inequalities, or whether it also includes counter-trends that might mitigate traditional inequalities while forming new modalities of stratification. Similarly, do traditional forms of inequality simply replicate themselves in the digital sphere, or does the digital divide operate under its own dynamics?