Tuesday, February 17, 2009

A Framework for Understanding the Digital Divide

In chapter two of The Deepening Divide, van Dijk presents his argument that a better framework is needed to study and understand the digital divide. He feels that the current research methods lack conceptual clarity and in-depth analysis. Basic concepts like access are poorly defined and many of the studies done focus too much on demographics and individuals while leaving the reasons of why and how to conjecture.

van Dijk argues that a more relational view is needed to study the digital divide. With a relational approach, the focus can move away from individual differences and toward positions and categories of groups. This would allow the relationships and interactions between these groups to be studied in greater detail. A more relational view would also help differentiate between different types of inequality and tie together the differences between groups/positions into a continuous spectrum.

To create a more relational framework, van Dijk first forms a more defined theory of the digital divide. The five core parts of van Dijk's theory are 1) Categorical inequalities produce unequal distribution. 2) Unequal distribution causes unequal access. 3) Unequal access also depends on types of technologies. 4) Unequal access brings unequal participation in society. 5) Unequal participation reinforces categorical inequalities. Using this theory, van Dijk constructs his framework which is based on a causal and sequential model of access.

The diagram on page 24 illustrates the core parts and how they interact. The five key categories of the framework are Personal Categories, Positional Categories, Resources, Participation in Society, and Access. Each category is then further broken down into specific concepts or relationships.

Personal categories deal with inequalities that are more inherent like age, sex, and intelligence. Positional categories are based on position in society like employment status or education level. The Resources category deals with resources a individual or group has to draw upon. Resources like temporal (time), mental (skills), and social (relationships). The access category is broken down into five concepts related to technology access. These include motivation access, material access, skills (digital and operational), and innovation. All together, these four categories interact to affect the fifth and final component of the framework, Participation in Society.

In the future, van Dijk plans to study and test each section of his model. When each category and concept is defined and the gaps in it filled, he plans to use his framework to build a better understanding of the digital divide. He hopes this will help address some of the shortcomings of current research and form a more empirical and methodological study of the digital divide.

1 comment:

  1. Whoa, that's a bit longer then I thought. . .