The digital divide through an anthropological and management lens   no comments

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With a background in international relations, I came to Web Science with an initial interest in communication and communication technologies, and how those impact on post-conflict reconstruction and development efforts. At the time I came to identify this interest I was working for a Social Brand consultancy, helping organisations to recognise the transformational effect of social media on businesses and how to adapt to it. My first project there was to develop a ranking of Social Brands, the Social Brands 100. So while everyone around me seemed to be raving about the power of the Web and social media, I started thinking of those who don’t have access to it.

Eg of FB updateOn 11 March 2011, coincidentally the launch day of the Social Brands 100, an earthquake struck Japan with devastating consequences. During the earthquake and in its aftermath, my Japanese friend was stuck in her office building for a few days, regularly posting Facebook updates to reassure friends and family that she was alright.

The possibilities for using social media in times of crisis seemed great. There were already forays into the idea with platforms like Ushahidi  which enables crowdsourcing of information during crises via various channels (another 2011 Social Brands 100 nominee!)… But all this got me thinking that those whom such platforms or ideas could help the most were often those without access to the Internet of the Web.

Now the purpose of this assignment is to focus on particular disciplines and the approach each would take to evaluate the issue rather than on the issue itself, but we still need to define what we will look at through the disciplinary lenses. I have chosen to examine the disciplines of management and anthropology, and over the course of the next few weeks will attempt to get an idea of their epistemologies and ontologies, the basic theories that underpin them and see whether it is helpful or beneficial to combine them to understand some of the issues around the digital divide. For Chen and Wellman (2004, p. 40) ‘the digital divide involves the gap between individuals (and societies) that have the resources to participate in the information era and those that do not’. It is a complex problem characterised by wide ranging aspects – socioeconomic, technological, linguistic factors, social status, gender, life stage and geography (Chen and Wellman 2004, pp. 39-42). Going into too much detail at this stage is not necessary, as the relevant issues to be examined will be framed through each discipline, but it provides a useful starting point.

So next week I will start with Thomas Hylland Eriksen’s Small Places, Large Issues: An Introduction to Social and Cultural Anthropology (3rd Edition) Pluto Press, for Anthropology and for management, David Boddy’s (2008) Management: An Introduction, 4th ed., Prentice Hall.


Chen, W. and Wellman, B. (2004) ‘The Global Digital Divide – Within and Between countries’ in IT & Society Vol.1(7), pp. 39-42.

Written by Jennifer Welch on October 14th, 2012

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