Digital Divide
Pippa Norris Books



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D i g i t a l   D i v i d e

Civic Engagement, Information Poverty, and the Internet Worldwide

Pippa Norris

Book published 2002 CUP  September 2001 | Paperback $22 (Hardback $60) | 320 pages 17 line diagrams 20 half-tones 42 tables 2 maps | ISBN: 0521002230


Since the mid-1990s the explosion of the Internet has prompting intense speculation about its ultimate impact upon the economy, society and politics. Many hope that the Internet will be a powerful new force capable of transforming existing patterns of social inequality, strengthening linkages between citizens and representatives, facilitating new forms of public engagement and communication, and widening opportunities for the development of a global civic society.

But will the Internet transform conventional forms of democratic activism, or only serve to reinforce the existing gap between the technologically rich and poor? Will it level the playing field for developing societies, or instead strengthen the advantages of post-industrial economies? Will parties, interest groups, and governments use the Net to encourage interactive participation, or will the technology be used as another form of ‘top-down’ communications?

This book sets out to understand these issues, drawing upon worldwide surveys of public opinion, systematic content analysis of web sites, and case studies of online civic engagement. Much existing research on the Internet is based upon the situation in the United States, but it is not clear how far we can generalize more widely from this particular context. Democracies offer citizens different structures of opportunity to participate in their own governance. Based upon an examination of OECD countries, this book argues that the political role of the Internet reflects and thereby reinforces, rather than transforms, the structural features of each country’s political system. In some, voluntary organizations and community groups mobilize people into politics. In others, citizens often become active via strong mass-branch party organizations. In yet others, grassroots social movements involve people in protest politics, such as direct action to protect the environment. The Net becomes a common resource which different agencies can use in the attempt to generate public support and to influence the policy process. The Internet thereby alters the mobilizing structure, providing new points of access into the political system, creating new possibilities for collective action, organizational linkage across distances, and informal networks.

The comparative framework for book adopts a ‘most similar’ comparative research strategy by focusing upon democratic states sharing similar economic and political backgrounds, comparing advanced post-industrial (OECD) societies. There are significant variations within this universe in terms of the Internet, such as the costs and ease of access, the availability of online newspapers and television, and the structure, availability and organization of political web sites. The last section of the book focuses on the United States and the 15 member states of the European Union, drawing on public opinion data from the American National Election Study, the Pew Center on the People and the Press, IRIS surveys of Internet users, and the European Commission.

Part I of the book sets out the theoretical framework in the Internet Engagement Model which suggests that use of the new technology can be understood as the product of resources (like time and money), motivation (like interest and confidence) and the structure of opportunities (such as how social networks and political actors use the Internet). The introduction locates the discussion within broader theories of social communications and civic engagement. The book distinguishes the global divide meaning inequalities of Internet access between countries, the social divide between groups within societies, and the democratic divide between those online who do, and do not, use political resources on the Internet. Chapters 2 and 3 then discuss the trends in global access to the internet and the social divisions in the online community, including gaps of gender, class and generation.

Part II compares the structure of opportunities for political use of the Internet, in terms of the news environment, political parties and campaigns, civic society and the government.

Part III then examines the impact of attention to the Internet for news and political engagement, considers the major explanations of net civic engagement, and evaluates the main policy options for reducing the digital divide.

The conclusion draws together the major findings and considers their implications for democracy.


"This path-breaking study in comparative political communication deserves a wide audience and is vital reading for anyone interested in the political impact of new information technologies." Journal of Press/Politics

"...Digital Divide is one of those rare works that can fairy be labeled as groundbreaking..." Governance

"It will likely become a standard in its area during the next few years." Bruce Bimber, University of California, Santa Barbara

"In this valuable contribution to the ongoing discussion about the effect of the Internet on social, political, and economic life within and between nations, Norris offers a general model to describe developments thus far.... Norris makes a valuable contribution to understanding the present situation, offers a descriptive model, and hints at future trends in an intellectually worthwhile manner." Choice

"Pippa Norris in Digital Divide presents an extensively documented, well-reasoned, carefully argued, and well-balanced analysis of the role of the Internet..." Perspectives on Politics

"Digital Divide is exciting, thought-provoking, and engaging...I expect it will make its way into future generations. If you read only one book on this topic, make it this one." Edward J. Valauskas


Copyright 2004 Pippa Norris, John F. Kennedy School of Government, Harvard University, Cambridge MA 02138.

Last updated 12/12/2009