Technology and Social Inclusion: Rethinking the Digital Divide.

Author:Gray, Jerry
Position:Book Review

by Mark Warschauer. London and Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press. 2003. Cloth, ISBN: 0262232243, $32.95.260 pages.

The title of Mark Warschauer's book entices by referring to immensely important topics but cautions of overambition due to the immensity of each component: technology, social inclusion, and rethinking the digital divide. In a similar fashion, the book both pleases and disappoints. Addressing these topics in 260 pages unavoidably limits depth, and attempting to explore them in the context of both developed and developing nations stretches Warschauer's analysis still thinner. Nonetheless, emphasis on social relationships, communities, and institutional structures in shaping the meaning and function of access to information technologies will gratify institutional researchers. Effective organization, writing, and documentation make this book a useful introduction and mitigate the nagging sense of excessive ambition.

Warschauer draws his own research and extensive field work, studies of information and communication technologies (ICT) carried out by others, interviews with people who have implemented information technologies in a striking variety of circumstances, and analytical constructs drawn from economics, psychology, sociology, politics, education, and linguistics. He finds the concept of a "digital divide" limiting because it tends to oversimplify in at least three principle ways. First, the concept of a digital divide implies a bipolar split rather than a complex gradation with varying degrees of marginalization. Second, the concept tends to focus attention on causality running from lack of access to diminished opportunities and distracts from causal complexity, which at a minimum would seem to require notions of cumulative and circular causation. Finally, a digital divide tends to imply digital solutions through provision of hardware and software and overlooks the critical and complex set of linguistic, educational, and institutional resources that are vital in providing meaningful access to ICT.

The central premise in Warschauer's work is that abilities to access, adapt, and generate knowledge by way of evolving ICT are indispensable to social inclusion in modern society (p. 9). Borrowing from European discourse, "social inclusion" refers to "the extent that individuals, families and communities are able to fully participate in society and control their own destinies" (p. 8). He seeks to answer three central questions in pursuit...

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