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Handbook of Research on Overcoming Digital Divides: Constructing an Equitable and Competitive Information Society

Handbook of Research on Overcoming Digital Divides: Constructing an Equitable and Competitive Information Society
Author(s)/Editor(s): Enrico Ferro (Istituto Superiore Mario Boella (ISMB), Italy), Yogesh K. Dwivedi (Swansea University, UK), J. Ramon Gil-Garcia (Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), Mexico) and Michael D. Williams (Swansea University, UK)
Copyright: ©2010
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-60566-699-0
ISBN13: 9781605666990
ISBN10: 1605666998
EISBN13: 9781605667003



Recently, rapid developments in the digital divide have attracted the attention of both the academic and political worlds due to the reduction of information gaps.

The Handbook of Research on Overcoming Digital Divides: Constructing an Equitable and Competitive Information Society presents a comprehensive, integrative, and global view of what has been called the digital divide. Collecting an international collaboration of experts, this Handbook of Research offers policy makers, academicians, managers, and researchers a complete reference source to the interactions, evolutions, and policies developing within the field.

Table of Contents



The digital divide is often characterized as being the inequality in the relationship between information and communication technologies (ICT) and groups of individuals who are situated within a complex arrangement of social, environmental, political, and economic issues. Over the past fifteen years, the theme has received significant press coverage, attracting the attention of both the academic and the political world. Reasons for such levels of interest are primarily due to two important issues related to the reduction of information gaps. From a national, regional or local perspective, the elimination of the digital divide is perceived as being a key ingredient in the construction of a socially equitable Information Society. Indeed, not having access – or having a disadvantaged access – to information in a knowledge-based economy is generally considered to be a major handicap. From a global perspective, the race for competitiveness requires that regions and nations learn how to harness the intellectual potential present in their territories. In this respect, the creation of an “e-inclusive” society represents a key strategic goal that governments need to achieve in order to survive increasing international competitive pressure. The need to bridge the information gaps becomes even more pressing if we consider the ever increasing importance of user generated contents in national economies. In such a scenario, it is extremely important to work toward the creation of a society able to contribute to an economy moving towards a participative paradigm.

As a result, the theme of digital division has moved higher on lists of priorities. In Europe, for instance, the elimination of the digital divide represents a key pillar of the Strategic Plan i2010. In contrast, the United States at one time had a robust framework, but now pays relatively little attention to digital inequality as a policy area, possibly presuming that the problem does not exist anymore, or hoping that market forces will close these gaps .

Analysis of previous reviews , on the state of the art of digital divide literature highlighted a very complex picture, characterized by: the existence of schools of thought proposing significantly different views of the digital divide and its potential evolution; the existence of a multiplicity of gaps related to both demand and supply aspects of the digital divide; a variety of theoretical lenses and units of analysis (individual, enterprise, and state/country) that may be used to interpret and analyse the phenomenon; the necessity to better understand the relationship between the digital divide and other complementary phenomena such as eCommerce, eBusiness, eGovernment, eDemocracy, eHealth, etc.; and finally, a fragmentation in the analysis of the phenomenon produced by different - often disjointed - scientific communities.

The production of a publication bringing together contributions from different disciplines and analysing the phenomenon from diverse perspectives could thus be beneficial for the advancement of research activity in this field. Moreover, the presence of many different schools of thought naturally requires some discussion in the search for common ground (i.e. understanding if the results of different approaches depend on the technologies analyzed or the context in which these technologies are embedded).

Finally, the cross-sectional nature of ICT establishes links between different aspects of society that cannot be overlooked. Consequently, the digital divide should not be analysed as an isolated phenomenon, but should be considered alongside numerous other ICT-related issues.

The situation apparent from the current literature reveals the complexity of the theme and calls for a systematization of contributions that help comprehend the phenomenon. Therefore, the overall mission of this ‘Handbook of Research on Overcoming Digital Divides: Constructing an Equitable and Competitive Information Society’ is to contribute toward a greater understanding of this complexity and to offer a comprehensive, integrative, and global view of what has been called the digital divide. Specifically, it aims to focus on the following key objectives:

  • Provide a representation of the phenomenon that is as complete as possible (integrative, global, comprehensive, etc.) by bringing together scholars from different disciplines and geographical regions.
  • Study the interaction of the digital divide with complementary, intertwined phenomena such as e-government, e-business, e-democracy, and e-health, among others.
  • Analyze the digital divide in various contexts (e.g. organisational, societal, national, local/regional) and explore the relationships between these contexts and how these interactions affect the overall results.
  • Improve current understanding about what scientific paradigms have been used in the monitoring and analysis of policies aimed at reducing the digital divide and other related inequalities.
  • Outline possible evolutions of the digital divide: (1) From hard to soft aspects, (2) From access to use, etc.
  • Explore the extent to which existing knowledge and policies on the digital divide are adequate or limited to different national and cultural contexts.

Existing publications on the digital divide tend to provide fragmented and mono-disciplinary views of the phenomenon. As mentioned above, due to the emergence of new forms of ICT and related applications, new manifestations of the digital divide continue to emerge, thus widening the existing gap. It is apparent that in order to capture the evolving and dynamic nature of the digital divide, we require new approaches, theories, and empirical research, and this handbook attempts to assist in this aspect.

Consequently, the handbook is intended to further existing knowledge on the digital divide in presenting treatments of the concept from a contemporary and diverse yet integrative perspective.

The main contribution of the handbook is to provide a comprehensive, integrative and global assessment of the digital divide as a policy domain and social phenomenon. The handbook presents a research roadmap that clearly identifies current topics and suggests future areas for fruitful analysis and research. The handbook also evaluates the adequacy of existing policies, anticipates needs, and, where possible, identifies if a policy refocus is also desirable. In the broader scheme, the handbook presents various insights in order to set out the foundations for a new policy analysis paradigm that better fits the specificities of ICT.

Finally, the handbook contributes to the refinement of existing theories on adoption, diffusion and digital divides (e.g. Diffusion of Innovations, TAM, TPB, Institutional Theory, Stakeholder Theory, Adaptive Structuration Theory, Social Network Theory, Social Inclusion and Exclusion Theory, Usage & Gratification Theory) and the development of new frameworks to better understand the digital divide, as well as the adoption, use, and impacts of emerging technologies and their applications.

The Handbook is organized into 35 chapters, co-authored by 66 contributors from 50 different institutions/organizations located in 13 countries (Australia, China, Denmark, Greece, Italy, Jamaica, Mexico, Netherlands, Spain, South Korea, Turkey, United Kingdom and USA). Such geographical and institutional variety indicates that the Handbook has drawn on a collection of wide and diverse perspectives. The 35 chapters have been organized into five sections, namely:

  • The Digital Divide as a Social Problem (7 contributions);
  • Digital Divides and Inequalities (15 contributions);
  • Digital Divides, Competitiveness, and Development (4 contributions);
  • Digital Divides, E-Government, and E-Democracy (5 contributions);
  • Approaches to study digital divides (4 contributions).

Section I examines, analyzes, and frames the digital divide as a social problem and complex phenomenon in several different ways. This section is further organized into two divisions. A total of three chapters dedicated on presenting overviews, followed by a sub-section, including four chapters, focused on some regional and country cases (such as case from Turkey, United States and developing countries).

The Section II entitled “Digital Divides and Inequalities” examines the forms, causes, and consequences of inequalities in access and use of information and communication technologies. Individual, social, cultural, technological, and political factors are considered in this section and some of their specific manifestations are described and analyzed such as disabilities, education, gender, race, digital skills, and access to broadband. This section is further organized in four divisions. First division entitled ‘Digital Divides and Disabilities’ includes three chapters, followed by second division which includes four chapters examining the role of various demographics (such as gender, age, income, education etc.) in relation to digital divides. The third division includes four chapters dedicated on identifying relationships between digital divides and digital literacy. Finally, the fourth division entitled “Digital Divides and broadband access” presents an insightful discussion on some important factors such as infrastructure, access, and skills.

The Section III entitled “Digital Divides, Competitiveness, and Development” examines the relationships between the access and use of information and communication technologies, productivity, efficiency and development, including individual, social and economic development. This section includes four chapters dealing with various issues on theme of the section. Such studies are largely excluded from previous collections and collations on digital divides.

The Section IV entitled “Digital Divides, E-Government, and E-Democracy” examines the opportunities, challenges, and successes of e-government and e-democracy in relation to the digital divides. The policies for access and development of information and communication technologies are analyzed as tools for participation, inclusion, and equity. Based on some cases, five chapters placed within this section offers models and strategies to deal with the digital divide in this respect, as well as a description of the potential next steps.

Finally, Section V entitled “Approaches to Study Digital Divides” consists of four chapters presenting various perspectives and methodological approaches to the investigation of digital divides.

Considering the richness and depth of the content, we firmly believe that this Handbook will be an excellent resource for readers who wish to learn about the multi-faceted nature of the contemporary digital divide, as well as those interested in finding out when and how to apply various theories and approaches in order to investigate the diverse research issues related to the digital divide. The target audience for the Handbook therefore includes researchers and practitioners within the management discipline in general, and within the information systems field in particular. This resource is equally valuable for policy makers (such as politicians and legislators), non governmental organizations, public sector managers, policy analysts, and voluntary sector organizations/charities.

Concluding, we are convinced that the articles contained in this handbook testify to the complexity and the global relevance of the digital divide. They present insightful accounts of how the digital divide can take many forms and shapes, and may constitute a significant hurdle in the development of socioeconomic systems toward information societies. We sincerely hope that this Handbook will make a positive contribution to the study of the digital divide. In order to achieve further research progress and improvements in the understanding of the subject matter, we welcome feedback and comments about this handbook from readers. Comments and constructive suggestions can be sent to the Editors care of IGI Global at the address provided at the beginning of the handbook.


    Enrico Ferro, Istituto Superiore Mario Boella (ISMB), Italy
    Yogesh K. Dwivedi, Swansea University, United Kingdom
    J. Ramon Gil-Garcia, Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE), Mexico
    Michael D. Williams, Swansea University, United Kingdom

Reviews and Testimonials

This handbook contributes to the refinement of existing theories on adoption, diffusion and digital divides and the development of new frameworks to better understand the digital divide, as well as the adoption, use, and impacts of emerging technologies and their applications.

– Enrico Ferro, Istituto Superiore Mario Boella (ISMB), Italy

This two-volume set is the first handbook of its kind to focus exclusively on the late-20th- and early-21st-century of the digital divide, prevalent in the globalized information society... This handbook will be a welcome addition to any library boasting a research collection.

– Choice, Vol. 47 No. 10

Author's/Editor's Biography

Enrico Ferro (Ed.)
Enrico Ferro is a contract professor at the Polytechnic of Turin where he lectures on information management and strategies in both the public and the private sector. He also covers a senior researcher position at the Mario Boella Institute (ISMB) where is in charge of the research and policy intelligence activities of the Technology and Business Intelligence Area. Enrico Ferro has worked in a number of projects financed by the European Commission with roles ranging from scientific supervisor to senior expert. He is actively involved in the organization of a number of international academic events dealing with eGovernment and eInclusion (eGOV, DGO, HICSS).

Yogesh Dwivedi (Ed.)
Yogesh K. Dwivedi is a lecturer at the School of Business and Economics at Swansea University in the UK. He was awarded his MSc and PhD by Brunel University in the UK, receiving a Highly Commended award for his doctoral work by the European Foundation for Management and Development. His research focuses on the adoption and diffusion of ICT in organisations and in addition to authoring a book and numerous conference papers, has co-authored papers accepted for publication by journals such as Communications of the ACM, the Information Systems Journal, the European Journal of Information Systems, and the Journal of the Operational Research Society. He is Senior Editor of DATABASE for Advances in Information Systems, Managing Editor of Journal of Electronic Commerce Research, Assistant Editor of Transforming Government: People, Process and Policy and a member of the editorial board/review board of a number of other of other journals, and is a member of the Association of Information Systems, IFIP WG8.6 and the Global Institute of Flexible Systems Management, New Delhi.

J. Gil-Garcia (Ed.)
J. Ramon Gil-Garcia is an Associate Professor in the Department of Public Administration and the Director of the Data Center for Applied Research in Social Sciences at Centro de Investigación y Docencia Económicas (CIDE) in Mexico City. Dr. Gil-Garcia is a member of the National System of Researchers as Researcher Level II. In 2009, he was considered the most prolific author in the field of digital government research worldwide. Currently, he is a Research Fellow at the Center for Technology in Government, University at Albany, State University of New York (SUNY) and a Faculty Affiliate at the National Center for Digital Government, University of Massachusetts Amherst. Dr. Gil-Garcia is the author or co-author of articles in numerous prestigious academic journals. Some of his publications are among the most cited in the field of digital government research worldwide. His research interests include collaborative electronic government, inter-organizational information integration, smart cities and smart governments, adoption and implementation of emergent technologies, information technologies and organizations, digital divide policies, new public management, public policy evaluation, and multi-method research approaches.

Michael Williams (Ed.)
Michael D. Williams is a professor in the School of Business and Economics at Swansea University in the UK. He holds a BSc from the CNAA, an MEd from the University of Cambridge, and a PhD from the University of Sheffield. He is a member of the British Computer Society and is registered as a chartered engineer. Prior to entering academia professor Williams spent twelve years developing and implementing ICT systems in both public and private sectors in a variety of domains including finance, telecommunications, manufacturing, and local government, and since entering academia, has acted as consultant for both public and private organizations. He is the author of numerous fully refereed and invited papers within the ICT domain, has editorial board membership of a number of academic journals, and has obtained external research funding from sources including the European Union, the Nuffield Foundation, and the Welsh Assembly Government.


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