On Dark Continents and Digital Divides: Information Inequality and the Reproduction of Racial Otherness in Library and Information Studies
This paper presents a critical race analysis of Library and Information Studies (LIS) writing on global information inequality, that body of literature focused on the connection between global suffering and disparities in information access related to available content, technologies, infrastructure, and skills. I argue that global information inequality represents a key site for the reproduction of racialized discourse in the field. In particular, I contend that the construction of information inequality as a sign of marginalization powerfully (if tacitly) extends colonial mythologies of racial Otherness and Western civilizational superiority. My engagement with critical race and anti-colonial scholarship in support of this claim focuses on two key ideas: (a) the construction of racial difference in colonial discourse, particularly its recourse to narratives of intellectual and technological capacity; and (b) the concept of (international) development as an example of the relatively recent shift to racialized discourse largely stripped of explicit racial coding. After sketching these ideas in broad strokes, I turn to a critical analysis of such racially encoded international development discourse in global information inequality literature, with a focus on the dynamics of narratives, imagery, and other systems of meaning. The paper both builds on existing critiques of LIS information inequality discourse and contributes a global-facing perspective to a small body of LIS critical race work that has tended to focus on domestic (rather than international) contexts.