Digital exclusion revisited. Towards alternative policy approaches regarding the digital divide of the second degree: A multidisciplinary analysis of crucial elements defining the use and skills of new media.
Over the past decade, research relevant to the digital divide has undergone a noticeable and undeniable transition at the level of the conceptualisation and characteristics of digital exclusion mechanisms. Evidence shows that digital exclusion is no longer marked by a dichotomous situation of haves versus have-nots. Instead, the digital divide has been transformed into a complex phenomenon covering a wide range of exclusion mechanisms at the level of access, motivation, usage and multiple digital literacies that are often related and intertwined. Even so, lifestyles, life stages and social capital determine why, in what way, by what means and for what goal individuals use new media. Policy interventions have thus far mainly focused on expanding people’s access to ICT. With the increased complexity of digital exclusion mechanisms, more advanced policy interventions are needed. Grassroots initiatives aimed at combating the digital exclusion of at-risk groups have been set up by a large variety of civil society organisations. This has led to a highly scattered, disorganised and unidentified field of approaches to digital inclusion, leaving policy-makers unaware of the scope, effectiveness and sustainability of these approaches and initiatives and of suitable ways to support and improve existing grassroots initiatives. Hence, the main goal of this doctoral research project is to develop alternative policy approaches to counter digital exclusion based on a critical analysis of the implications for policy-making of the transition in digital divide theory. Are actions and policy measures in line with the current complexities and changes of today’s digital divide? At what level and how can policy and actions be improved? The theoretical framework of this doctoral research project focuses on the fundamental changes that have occurred in digital divide theory. What new aspects have been brought about that influence and determine access, motivation, usage and skills? How do recently identified issues like lifestyles, life stages and social capital relate to ICT usage and the attainment of skills? How do these different characteristics interact with and influence each other? Additionally, there is also a focus on how domestication theory and the capabilities approach of Amartya Sen (1999) relate to the bottom-up e-inclusion approach of civil society organisations? The empirical research consists of 1) a critical analysis of the bottom-up approach used by civil society organisations to address digital exclusion; 2) a policy analysis of existing policies related to digital inclusion at the level of Flanders, the Netherlands, United Kingdom and the European Union; and 3) a participatory research project with one or more groups at risk of digital exclusion, complemented by in-depth interviews with policy stakeholders.