Conceptualising Information Culture in Developing Countries

Yingqin Zheng and Richard Heeks


To date, both strategies and perspectives for informatisation in many developing countries have tended to be very techno-centric.  The purpose of this paper is to conceptualise a more holistic framework for understanding the "information society" in development.  This seeks to move not only beyond techno-centrism but also beyond the determinisms and other limitations of earlier informational and cultural responses.  The framework is built around the idea of an "information culture" in developing countries, using Giddens' structuration theory as a point of departure.  This is subjected to an exploratory application based around a single developing country – China – including a particular focus on its healthcare sector.

The paper concludes that information culture can be conceived at multiple levels in terms of three interlinked dimensions – information literacy, information openness, and information norms.  These provide the basis for a broader understanding of positioning vis-à-vis informatisation than earlier frameworks.  Field data shows how actions can be seen to reproduce and reinforce a country's information culture.  However, it also identifies broader tensions that affect many developing countries: marketisation/state-collectivism, globalism/nationalism, technology/manual, and other potential contradictions.  These create a reflexive space for agency that helps to explain the dynamism and evolution of information culture.

View/download options

You will need a PDF reader such as Adobe Acrobat (downloadable from Adobe) to view PDF file(s). PDF files open in a new window.

Educator's guide

Synopsis questions

  1. How might writings on information systems/society and developing countries be characterised … and criticised?  [Part A]
  2. How can structuration theory be applied to create a model of information culture? [Part B]
  3. Describe the three components of information culture – literacy, openness, and norms – in China.  [Part C]
  4. What conclusions can we draw about information culture and developing countries?  [Part D]

Development questions

  1. Does the addition of ideas from a "heavyweight" theory like structuration theory really add anything to the argument of the paper?
  2. Is there really such a thing as "information culture"?  What forces of information culture, if any, impact your behaviour?
  3. What does the paper seek to extrapolate from the China fieldwork to other developing countries?  How legitimate is such extrapolation?
  4. Imagine you are project manager of a forthcoming ICT4D project.  What priorities and actions might the notion of "information culture" suggest to you?