From Digital Divide to Digital Justice in the Global South: Conceptualising Adverse Digital Incorporation

Richard Heeks


The connection between digital and inequality has traditionally been understood in terms of the digital divide or of forms of digital inequality whose core conceptualisation is exclusion. This paper argues that, as the global South moves into a digital development paradigm of growing breadth and depth of digital engagement, an exclusion worldview is no longer sufficient.

Drawing from ideas in the development studies literature on chronic poverty, the paper argues the need for 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 explains why inequality persists – even grows – in a digital development paradigm.

To help ground future research and practice on this issue, the paper inductively builds a conceptual model of adverse digital incorporation with three main component sets: the processes, the drivers, and the causes of adverse digital incorporation. The paper concludes with thoughts on a future research and practice agenda that seeks to deliver digital justice in the global South: a necessary reconfiguration of the broader components of power that currently shape the inclusionary connection between digital and inequality.

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.