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IAMCR Conference - 2 abstracts

The IAMCR Conference, to be held from July 27-31 in Leicester, is quickly approaching. I handed in two abstracts, which will hopefully get accepted. Both abstracts are a first way to valorize some results of the final steps of my doctoral research.

The first abstract, entitled 'Back to the drawing board: Towards a renewed conceptual framework for digital exclusion' addresses the following:

The past years, theoretical and empirical research has made clear that the digital divide is a complex phenomenon that is caused by a vast number of ICT-related barriers such as lack of physical access, low levels of digital skills, little to no opportunities of use, a systemic lack of motivation to engage with ICTs, and a vast number of additional factors such as life style, life stage, autonomy of use and support networks (Brotcorne et al., 2009; Helsper, 2012; Tsatsou, 2011). Moreover, it has been shown that digital exclusion is a multidimensional and structural problem that is highly intertwined with social exclusion and as such, is related to class and structural societal differences in economic, social and cultural capital (Witte and Mannon, 2010). However, only a limited number of theoretical models exist that describe and clarify the relation between digital and social inequalities. This paper therefore entails a two-folded exercise that has enabled the creation of a renewed framework for digital exclusion. First, an in-depth inventory, analysis and comparison of the various determinants of digital and social exclusion was realized, based upon a systematic literature review of both theoretical approaches and empirical studies grounded within different fields of research. Second, a critical revision was realized of the premises, determinants and influential relations as presented in existing digital inequality frameworks; see for example van Dijk’s model on resources and appropriation (2003), Gilbert’s model on the interconnectedness of urban and digital inequalities (2010), and Helsper’s correspondings fields model for digital exclusion (2012). The paper reviews which ICT-related determinants and social inequality indicators are taken into account and analyses to what extent these are sufficient to support the analysis of the cause and effect relation between digital and social exclusion. The paper also addresses on what premises and hypothesis these models are built and how these relate to an individual’s need, choice, or even ‘obligation’ to engage or disengage with ICTs. Ultimately, the paper provides and clarifies a renewed and comprehensive framework for digital exclusion, grounded within this two-folded critical analysis. This renewed framework for digital exclusion moves beyond the merely user-centred and skills-based debate, and places access, digital skills and socio-spatial opportunities at the centre of the debate. Furthermore, it highlights how these three factors are influenced by educational, financial and personal characteristics at micro-, meso- and macrolevel.

The second abstract, entitled 'Who's in, who's out: 8 profiles of digital inequalities' addresses the following:

The traditionally defined dichotomous categories of included versus excluded population groups – e.g. rich versus poor; young versus old; or male versus female… – are no longer valid to identify the groups-at-risk of being digitally excluded. A study by van Deursen and Helsper (2015) shows that digital inequalities amongst older adults depend upon life stage, social environment and psychological characteristics. Qualitative research by Schurmans and Mariën (2013, 2015) highlights that a part of socially excluded NEETs (young persons not in education, employment or training) and people in poverty do master digital media, in contrast to their peers.

This implies that there no longer is a clear view on the groups at-risk of being or becoming digitally excluded. New and more contextualized approaches are needed. Several exercises in this regard were realized by way of developing user typologies; see for example the work of Rogers (2003), Livingstone and Helsper (2007), Selwyn (2003), Brotcorne et al. (2010) and Verdegem and Verhoest (2009). These attempts are interesting and valuable, but they are also subject to a number of limitations such as a lack of theoretical framework, too much emphasis on the quantification of use, a lack of contextual background information and the use of a limited number of indicators. This paper addresses these main drawbacks and describes the identification of eight profiles of digital inequalities: (a) Digital Outcasts; (b) Hopelessly Undigital; (c) Digital Fighters; (d) Smoothly Digital; (e) Digital All-Stars; (f) Unexpected Digital Masters; (g) Unexpected Digital Drop-Outs; and (h) Digitally Self-Excluded. These eight profiles of digital inequalities were constructed by way of three research activities, grounded within theoretical and empirical research: (1) the identification of the at-risk factors of social and digital exclusion; (2) an analysis of the cause and effect relation between social and digital exclusion; (3) the creation of a continuum for social and for digital inequalities that distinguishes five main stages of inequalities: deep exclusion, wide exclusion, concentrated exclusion/inclusion, wide inclusion, and deep inclusion. These three research tracks led to the identification of thirteen indicators that were subsequently placed and analyzed across the continuum of social and digital inequalities. For social exclusion, the following at-risk indicators were used: income, education; participation in life domains; agency; and wellbeing. For digital exclusion the at-risk factors access, attitude, digital skills, social and soft skills, autonomy, use patterns, media richness of surroundings and social support networks were taken into account. The profiling exercise pinpoints that for The Digital Outcasts and The Hopelessly Undigital a vicious circle exists through which mechanisms of social exclusion are causing and reinforcing digital exclusion and vice versa. The analysis also shows that three typologies transcend existing mechanisms of social and digital exclusion, namely The Unexpected Digital Masters, The Unexpected Digital Drop-outs and The Digitally Self-Excluded. The profiling exercise has led to the insight that participation, agency, social and soft skills and support networks have a decisive influence on the autonomy of use and hence, define when, why and how digital and social inequalities are intertwined.

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