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Digital inclusion and user (dis)empowerment: a critical perspective

Ilse Mariën (Researcher at Minds SMIT, Vrije Universiteit Brussel, Brussels, Belgium)
Jernej A. Prodnik (based at Faculty of Social Sciences, Charles University, Prague, Czech Republic)


ISSN: 1463-6697

Article publication date: 2 September 2014




This article aims to highlight the main limitations of the emancipatory potentials of digital inclusion policies and information and communication technologies (ICTs). Increasingly, empowerment is put forward as one of the main goals of digital inclusion. By applying user-centric and participatory approaches, assumptions are made that individuals will be empowered and, as such, will be re-included in society.


These assumptions, however, tend to ignore the social, economic, political and technical conditions within which individual choices are made and within which individuals must inevitably act. Instead of attempting to narrow the existing social gap between class-divided societies, and of probing the limitations given at the macro-level by questioning the wider social structure, digital inclusion policies tend to individualize problems that are in fact social in their nature.


This contribution will, therefore, aim to identify the key causes of structural (dis)empowerment and how these resonate to digital inclusion. The article positions itself within the political economy of communication research tradition and aims to confront the structural consequences of social inequalities, existing social hierarchies and power structures against mechanisms of digital inequalities and against the implementation of digital inclusion policies.


By proceeding from a critical perspective, it aims to demonstrate the limitations of user-centric and micro-level approaches, while questioning their normative interpretations of digital empowerment which tend to be reductionist in their essence and instrumental in their aims.



The authors would like to thank Blixa Bargeld and Jan Garbarek for their great music.


Mariën, I. and A. Prodnik, J. (2014), "Digital inclusion and user (dis)empowerment: a critical perspective", info, Vol. 16 No. 6, pp. 35-47.



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Copyright © 2014, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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