Information and computer technology and the digital divide in the post-revolution Tunisia

Date
2016-05
Authors
Toumi, Ikram
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Abstract

The goal of this study is to better understand the dimensions of the digital divide in Tunisia in the context of the post-revolutionary phase. The significant role of information and communication technologies (ICT) during the revolution and in the post-revolution democracy process raises questions about the inclusiveness of the digital sphere to all Tunisian social groups and about the overall interactions with the ICT and their domestication into the Tunisian households. This study was designed to answer three main research questions: what are the implications of gender, age, and class for (1) ICT access and usage? (2) Attitudes towards ICT? And (3) ICT usage for political participation? An ethnographic semi-structured interview study was conducted in three neighborhoods of the city of Sousse in Tunisia over a two-week period of intensive field work, and was complemented by observations of the locals’ interactions with ICT during multiple visits to Tunisia. Respondents were recruited through snowball and convenience sampling. The study focused on those considered to be vulnerable social communities: women, the elderly, and socioeconomically disadvantaged Tunisians. The interview analysis revealed that demographic factors did not have a significant influence on the gaps between the users and non-users, except for age in certain instances. The concept of social capital made the difference and had a significant effect on balancing issues related to economic and cultural capitals. For most of the informants, social capital, mainly family and community members, played an integral role in domesticating the technologies and brokering techno-competencies to those without economic and educational means. On the other hand, perceived relevance and cultural values emerged as the most significant divide factors. This project makes a theoretical contribution to the literature about the digital divide by emphasizing the role of the cultural values and the social landscape in reducing or widening the gap between the connected and non-connected. This dissertation stresses on the importance of conducting more ethnographic research in small Arab world community contexts in order to reveal more culturally embedded factors that directly affect the interaction between the culture and information technologies.

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