American discourses of the digital divide and economic development: A sisyphean order to catch up?

Leslie Tu, Lynette Kvasny

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter

2 Scopus citations


Discourses about technology and its role in development have been constant themes within IFIP Working Group 8.2 (see the Barcelona proceedings- Wynn et al. 2002). In this paper, we examine how strands of discourse - institutionalized ways of thinking and speaking - shape debate about the digital divide and urban poverty in America. As research is widely esteemed as a wellspring of new ideas, we are especially interested in how discourses inform scholarly inquiry into urgent social problems. As information and communication technologies (ICTs) are increasingly hailed as drivers of industry and commerce, we believe that it will be instructive to examine economic development discourse, which strongly informs the case for bridging the digital divide. First, using Fairclough's three-level framework for critical discourse analysis (CDA), we reveal that the discursive hegemony of economic development alarmingly constrains approaches to urban revitalization. Linking economic development to the digital divide, we show how the ongoing evolution of ICTs has become tightly linked to economic development. Both are discourses of equality in which those who lack money and technology are cast as needy problem sectors that will be left behind, failing to reap a host of benefits. Hence, there is an urgent call for these "have-nots" to catch up to models of prosperity embodied by the wealthy or technology savvy. We find fault with this discourse because it narrowly privileges money and technology, and raises alarm at their mere absence, while obscuring substantive needs - hunger, homelessness, ill health - of actual consequence. We propose that, in order truly to realize the potential of ICT, we must first reinvent discourse - discarding the mantra of catching up - and set in motion efforts to address self-determined needs, supported by ICT.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Inclusion
Subtitle of host publicationSocietal and Organizational Implications for Information Systems: IFIP TC8 WG8.2 International Working Conference
EditorsEileen Trauth, Debra Howcroft, Tom Butler, Tom Butler, Janice DeGross
Number of pages15
StatePublished - 2006

Publication series

NameIFIP International Federation for Information Processing
ISSN (Print)1571-5736

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Information Systems and Management


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