I just finished rereading David James Hudson’s recent article — On Dark Continents and Digital Divides — and I think I finally *get it* (insomuch as anyone can really *get* a text once it’s released into the academic wild). I do my best sense-making while writing, so consider this post my attempt at understanding what I think is a really important piece of critical discourse analysis in LIS. There’s so much to unpack, and I know I’ll miss something–or misinterpret something–so I just ask that anyone reading this call me out when I’m wrong (trust me, I need it).
Hudson argues (convincingly, I think) that the narrative of “global information inequality,” otherwise known as the digital divide or information privilege/poverty dichotomy, “operates as racialized discourse in the field” and perpetuates colonial belief systems within LIS (p. 64). Essentially, when we talk about information inequality, we’re talking about race without the guilt? pressure? burden? of having to say the words. Despite our best intentions, we (the royal, librarian “we”) have adopted information inequality as our social cause without acknowledging the racist, colonialist historical and political context that set the stage for and continues to shape this disparity. There’s also an inherent privileging of Western ways of knowing and creating, accessing, and sharing information that needs a deeper critique.
So yeah, I’m a fan of this article.
I will admit to jumping on the end-the-digital-divide bandwagon without much critical thought early in my career, in large part because I am a librarian and this seemed to be an easy, non-controversial cause that librarians could easily get behind. Who doesn’t want people to do or be better? Why shouldn’t everyone have access to the current knowledge and technology economy? What Hudson really hammers home (to me) is this idea that the framing of information inequality (and its connection to poverty and “lack of progress”) places the deficiency squarely on the shoulders of individuals in the developing/majority world, rather than on developed/minority governments and cultures which are active participants in the shaping of economic and educational disparities. The current Western information-communication-technology model is presented as what all individuals and governments should aspire to attain, but we, as a profession and a discipline (LIS) do not take the time to really unpack and analyze why exactly this is “fact.” In doing so we “reproduce…racialized difference…implicitly” (pg. 74).
Earlier this week I led a small group discussion for a subset of our college’s orientation leaders on the novel Americanah. We quickly began talking about the American tendency to not want to talk about race, as though by not acknowledging a person’s racial identity, which doubtless has shaped every aspect of their interaction with the world, we are somehow rising above racism. Yet in doing so we just find other, coded ways of giving voice (and action) to our own biases. The racism isn’t eliminated, it’s just given a new suit. This narrative of information inequality that Hudson so compellingly dissects is steeped in racial politics and racist history we do not acknowledge. (I’d also venture to guess there’s some sexism / patriarchal bullshit in there too). It deserves critical attention from all of us and I so appreciate the space this article opens up for these conversations.