GOING ONLINE AT THE MARGINS: HOW TO BECOME (AND REMAIN) AN INTERNET USER

Elisa Oreglia

Abstract


The debate over the digital divide has moved on from the binary distinction between the haves and the have-nots of its early days to a more nuanced discourse on issues of unequal access (Gunkel, 2003), digital divides and social capital (Chen, 2013), skills and usage (Dijk & Hacker, 2003; van Deursen & van Dijk, 2010), and on gradations of digital inclusion (Dimaggio, Hargittai, Celeste, & Shafer, 2004; Livingstone & Helsper, 2007). Despite a general agreement that ‘digital continuum’ rather than ‘digital divide’ is a more fruitful way to understand different uses (or lack of use) of ICT, not much attention has been paid to how, concretely, people at the margins of the digital world go from being non-users to being stable users of Information and Communication Technologies.

This paper draws from a year-long ethnography of ICT use in rural China to argue that people at the margins of Chinese modernization and of ICT use—farmers and older rural residents, in particular women—need the time and opportunities to build an image of themselves as ICT users.


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