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Does Digital Development Foster Adverse Digital Incorporation?

By Richard Heeks on September 22, 2022

Adverse Digital Incorporation

Digital systems are significantly associated with inequality in the global South. That association has traditionally been understood in terms of the digital divide or related terminologies whose core conceptualization is the exclusion of some groups from the benefits of digital systems.

However, with the growing breadth and depth of digital engagement in the global South, an exclusion worldview is no longer sufficient. What is also needed is an understanding of how inequalities are created for some groups that are included in digital systems.

Digital inequality beyond the digital divide: conceptualizing adverse digital incorporation in the global South creates such an understanding, drawing from ideas in the development studies literature on chronic poverty to inductively build a model of a new concept: ‘adverse digital incorporation’, meaning inclusion in a digital system that enables a more-advantaged group to extract disproportionate value from the work or resources of another, less advantaged group.

This new model will enable those involved with digital development to understand why, how and for whom inequality can emerge from the growing use of digital systems in the global South. It creates a systematic framework incorporating the processes, the drivers, and the causes of adverse digital incorporation that will provide detailed new insights.

This paper concludes with implications for both digital development researchers and practitioners that derive from the model and its exposure to the broader components of power that shape the inclusionary connection between digital and inequality.

An abstract of Digital inequality beyond the digital divide by Richard Heeks, Centre for Digital Development, Global Development Institute, University of Manchester

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Richard Heeks is Professor of Digital Development in the Global Development Institute, part of the School of Environment, Education and Development at the University of Manchester. He is Director of the Centre for Digital Development.
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One Comment to “Does Digital Development Foster Adverse Digital Incorporation?”

  1. Hi Richard and all,

    This is a great piece. For too long digital health and ICT4D has assumed that digital tech was a neutral good, and the only issue relevant to development was how to get more of it to everyone, especially those living in poverty in the global South.

    However, there clear are other forces at work than philanthropic development workers. This is largely driven by powerful corporates seeking markets anywhere to make profits. Increasing inequality is not a surprise as that is what other forms of corporate business models.

    But big tech is not just looking for markets. The poor have an asset that is valuable – their data. In many ways this is a new form of extracting raw materials.

    A political economy of digital health and ICT4D is needed

    Thanks for leading this work, Richard.

    Best wishes,