The Digital Divide

digital divideThe Digital Divide.The Internet and Social Inequality in International Perspective Edited by Massimo Ragnedda and Glenn W. Muschert, Routledge, 2013.

Published 5th June 2013 by Routledge – 324 pages

Series: Routledge Advances in Sociology


This book provides an in-depth comparative analysis of inequality and the stratification of the digital sphere.

Grounded in classical sociological theories of inequality, as well as empirical evidence, this book defines ‘the digital divide’ as the unequal access and utility of internet communications technologies and explores how it has the potential to replicate existing social inequalities, as well as create new forms of stratification. The Digital Divide examines how various demographic and socio-economic factors including income, education, age and gender, as well as infrastructure, products and services affect how the internet is used and accessed. Comprised of six parts, the first section examines theories of the digital divide, and then looks in turn at:

  • Highly developed nations and regions (including the USA, the EU and Japan);
  • Emerging large powers (Brazil, China, India, Russia);
  • Eastern European countries (Estonia, Romania, Serbia);
  • Arab and Middle Eastern nations (Egypt, Iran, Israel);
  • Under-studied areas (East and Central Asia, Latin America, and sub-Saharan Africa).

Providingan interwoven analysis of the international inequalities in internet usage and access, this important work offers a comprehensive approach to studying the digital divide around the globe. It is an important resource for academic and students in sociology, social policy, communication studies, media studies and all those interested in the questions and issues around social inequality.

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This book is about connecting the fascinating and rapidly-evolving body of multidisciplinary work in Internet studies and the network society with the comparatively long-established body of work in the sociology of stratification. In particular, the goal of the book is to connect studies of digital divides (that is, unequal access to- and usage of the digital sphere) with sociological traditions for understanding social stratification (including inequalities in wealth, moral authority, social class, prestige, cultural capital, and political influence). Certainly, numerous sociologists have an on-going contribution to the study of digital divides (indeed, many of them appear in this volume), and we certainly respect the work of the seminal academic figures in the field of digital divides. However, what such studies at times seemed to lack was a theoretical perspective which is strongly tied to classical (and resulting) traditions in the sociology of stratification.

The book emerged from a scholarly discussion between the editors (sociologists who study, among other things, mass media, and social stratification), as to the relative under-emphasis of classical theoretical perspectives among digital divide studies. Of course, many such studies come from scholars outside sociology, in fields such as informatics, mass communications, and information technology; however, it is our sense that sociologists have something uniquely important to contribute to studies of inequality in the network society. Given the foundational role of theories of stratification in the development of sociology from the 19th Century onwards, we were sure that sociology should contribute a strong voice to on-going debates about how digital divides were articulated, and in some cases attenuated or exacerbated, worldwide.

Around the same that we (the editors) were wondering at the relative underrepresentation of sociologists in this debate concerning the emergent form(s) of inequality in the digital sphere, there appeared a text which applied the classical schools of sociology (Durkheimian, Marxist, and Weberian) to digital inequality in the United States: James Witte & Susan Mannon’s (2010) The Internet and Social Inequalities. Indeed, the Witte and Mannon volume served as an approximate point of departure for the volume, as the reading of their volume helped to solidify our sense that the theoretical and empirical approaches of classical sociology had much to say in regards to inequality in the digital sphere. While Witte and Mannon (2010) examined the relevance of this approach to studying digital divides in the United States, another contribution of the volume was that it laid a rough theoretical and empirical groundwork for the application of the approach to other countries or regions of the world. This volume is the outgrowth of our attempt to see an international and comparative examination of digital divides in a variety of settings across the world.

Each of the contributors to this volume was asked to consider Witte and Mannon’s (2010) book as a point of departure, and then to add their own interpretations and perspectives to the discussion of digital divides observed within a specific national or regional context. There were very few stipulations placed upon the contributors, as these would not have led to fruitful scholarly exploration and discourse. Thus, contributors were free to select empirical data and one or more theoretical tradition within sociology around which they would center their discussion. The only stipulations we set were that each chapter needed a conceptual connection to a classical tradition of stratification in sociology, and that each chapter should be at least in some way grounded to empirical evidence. Such a loose set of stipulations meant that contributors were free to decide their own conceptual and empirical/analytical strategies, and allowed contributors to be creative and free in their contributions. However, what was gained in the setting of general parameters for contribution is that each of the chapters in this volume honors two crucial aspects of sociology: first, that the discipline is based on the foundational work of its early theorists, and second, that sociology is an empirical discipline. What was also gained is the ability to infer comparisons among the nations and regions studied the various chapters, as such comparisons can emerge along both the theoretical lines and the empirical approaches employed in the various chapters.

This volume, the outcome of our endeavor, reflects a sociological approach in its analysis of the international connection between the related issues of the social inequalities, and the social consequences of the new digital discrimination in use of new communications technologies. Our volume contributes to the literature by collecting contributions from many different areas of the world and by publishing them in one location. Seeing country/region studies side by side will allow readers to understand the similarities and differences in the digital divide phenomena observed in the three categories of national settings, viewed via a unified lens. In connecting information about these different social and economic areas of the world, previously poorly connected (yet intimately related) aspects of the digital divide can become clear. Our volume integrates the constructionist work on digital divide, policy analysis of new digital discrimination policies, and finally offers an implied forward-looking (and perhaps proscriptive) view of how social scientists and policy analysts can effectively understand and respond to varying forms of new digital inequalities. With expert contributors from a variety of areas of the world and social science disciplines, this book turns a critical eye to the current state of the digital divide and new social inequality practices (and policies), while exploring the lessons learned from successes and failures in international and comparative perspectives. We anticipate that the comparative examination of these dynamics will be helpful to clarify the mechanisms and consequences of the digital divide in a variety of settings.

Here you can download the Introduction and the Table of Contents


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