Gendered coloniality and the politics of internet access

Zamurd-Butt, Henna. 2023. Gendered coloniality and the politics of internet access. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis re-theorises the under-researched concept of internet access from a decolonial feminist perspective, contributing to emergent decolonising debates in the field. Scholarship on internet access has bifurcated towards ‘digital divide’ and ‘digital inequalities’ approaches on the one hand, and internet governance and policy approaches on the other, limiting view of multi-scalar arrangements. This research considers how varied modes of access facilitate and limit decolonising politics with relation to the historically-constituted, geopolitical and sociotechnical construction of the internet. The multi-sited, multi-scalar, decolonial feminist methodology has involved five years of participant observation at internet governance consultations, Mozilla Festival, RightsCon and the global Internet Governance Forum, taking place both in-person and online. Additionally, I have followed and interviewed youth activists located across the African continent and feminist activists located across South Asia, as they have circulated between these sites and their communities of work. I argue that relations of gendered coloniality, shaped by co-constitutive processes of gendered/racialised oppression, structure expansionist moves to generate a particular internet universality. Research findings show these workings are obscured from view often by seemingly virtuous claims that, at face-value, look to be in opposition the entrenched disparities that the colonial matrix of power maintains. Gendered coloniality denigrates Majority World knowledges, ways of being and socialities. In the governance of the internet these relations project Western societies as kinetic, innovative and future-oriented, whilst Majority World societies are fixed into the eternal past. In the face of these moves to power activist collaborators who contribute to the research engage in multi-scalar negotiations for access for themselves and their communities. In their organising these activists value lived experience at the borders and multi-scalar tactics, whilst embodying decolonial habitus and cultivating solidarities. The work finds that ‘access’ is in an inherently limited concept, functioning to foreclose options outside of a market-based, US-shaped and Global North-led internet universality. However, the access agenda is used by activists to articulate and share differentiated notions of interconnectivity which are expansive and optimistic in their ambitions towards social justice; these visions are the basis for what I term ‘internet pluriversality’.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


digital colonialism, internet colonialism, coloniality, internet development, digital divide, ICT4D, internet development, internet access, internet governance

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 October 2023

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

10 Nov 2023 11:27

Last Modified:

10 Nov 2023 11:28


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