Withers, Elizabeth (Portland State University)

Digital information and communication technologies (ICTs) are becoming more essential for accessing important resources such as employment, housing, social support, and health information and services. However, many experience barriers to accessing digital ICTs which can lead to total or partial digital exclusion. This may pose a significant problem as many of these resources which are increasingly accessed (in some cases exclusively) through the digital field are closely related to health outcomes. The proposed presentation for the Participation, Equity, and Inclusion L2 Digital Literacies (L2DL) Symposium would present a theoretical approach to understanding the relationship between access to digital ICTs and health outcomes. Patterns of digital access may impact patterns of health outcomes as both are shaped by existing patterns of social exclusion. The proposed presentation will employ Van Dijk’s (2005) multiple access model in order to consider the full range of digital access, as it exists in terms of motivation, physical and material, skills, and usage, access. Drawing on the works of Pierre Bourdieu (1986), I situate Van Dijk’s multiple access points in what can be understood as the “digital field” and construct a framework for understanding digital inequality as rooted in the disproportionate distribution of capital. Bourdieu’s theory of the social reproduction of class inequality is a useful framework for understanding how digital access is shaped by existing structural inequalities as well as how access to digital ICTs may impact one’s ability to access vital resources per the accumulation of capital within the digital field. Further, while the relationship between digital access and health outcomes has received quite a bit of attention from researchers, much of the existing literature focuses on proximal mechanisms. In contrast, this presentation will employ fundamental cause theory (Link and Phelan 1995) to highlight a range of possible (proximal and distal) pathways through which digital access may impact health outcomes.


Bourdieu, Pierre and Jean Claude Passeron. 1977. Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture. London; Beverly Hills: Sage Publications, Print.

Link, Bruce G., and Jo Phelan. 1995. “Social Conditions as Fundamental Causes of Disease.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 80-94.

Van Dijk, Jan A.G.M. 2005. The Deepening Divide: Inequality in the Information Society. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.