Digital inequalities and development (Paper)

Richard Heeks (University of Manchester)
Mark Graham (University of Oxford)
Dorothea Kleine (University of Sheffield)
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Short abstract:

Covers the relation between digital technologies and global inequalities: ways in which ICTs may "level the playing field" and pro-equity digital innovations but also amplifications and entrenchments of existing inequalities via digital exclusion, harm, asymmetric benefits and adverse incorporation.

Long abstract:

Digital technology has been presented as a great leveller, allowing communities to "leapfrog" inequities as they come online, and granting instant access to global labour markets, government services, and educational resources. Certainly there are exciting examples of "pro-equity" digital innovations. But digital technology and data can also amplify and entrench existing divides in four main ways. First, via digital exclusion with traditional and emergent forms of digital divides: the barriers to access, ownership and effective use of digital data, devices, platforms, infrastructure, etc - ICT-related innovations that are forming an ever-greater foundation to processes of socio-economic development. Second, via asymmetric benefits; the way in which, for example, capital has captured the benefits of ICT diffusion in the global South far more than labour; or likewise that the state has captured the benefits far more than citizens. Third, and very much related, via adverse incorporations; meaning the induction of - typically - individuals or small enterprises in developing countries into digitally-enabled markets, supply chains, platforms, etc that place them at a structural disadvantage. Fourth, via digital harms; the growing ills associated with the spread of digital technology in the global South including threats to privacy and security with the rise of cybercrime, cyberwarfare and organised surveillance; the growth of workplace stress and 'learned helplessness' associated with algorithmic management and machine learning; the bullying and extremism and pornography and gambling enabled by ICTs; the upsurge in digital monopoly; etc. We welcome papers on these and other topics linking digital data and technologies to global inequality.

Accepted Papers: