ONLINE EVENT: Digital Inclusion and Participation – Keyword series – Forum #2 – ‘Empowerment’

Keyword series – Forum #2 – ‘Empowerment’

Each quarter, the DMRC’s Digital Inclusion and Participation program runs a seminar that involves and engages scholars and practitioners from within and external to QUT, including from inter-state and overseas. For each event we select a key word to inspire discussion and debate.

Our second forum will be on Wednesday 28 April from 10.00 to 11.30am (AEST) and will focus on the keyword ‘empowerment’. The intent is to evoke thought and discourse about how digital inclusion potentially promotes agency and autonomy for individuals and, conversely, how lack of digital access or skills can lead to disadvantage and detriment.

The key word event will be a 90-minute Zoom seminar comprising of three speakers: one academic, a higher research degree student, and a practitioner. Each panel member will speak for 15 minutes addressing the theme of ‘empowerment’ in relation to their field of work or research. This will be followed by 30 mins of Q&A from the audience.

The forum with be hosted by Prof Michael Dezuanni and Dr Amber Marshall.

Register to attend here

Topic introduction: Digital inclusion and empowerment

:  the granting of the power, right, or authority to perform various acts or duties (

Digital inclusion – comprised of reliable, affordable access to digital technologies and connections, and the digital skills to use them – gives agency to individuals to pursue aspirations in work and life through digital participation. For example, digital inclusion potentially empowers people to access to online education, telehealth, digital social connections, and government services online, all of which are becoming critical for healthy and happy communities. Moreover, research shows that digitally connected communities are more liveable, innovative, and sustainable than those with poor levels of digital inclusion.

The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted that many people and communities are disempowered by deficiencies in digital access and capability. Without adequate digital devices, connections, and skills many people cannot educate their children, find critical health information, or obtain the financial or other assistance they need. At a time when feelings of powerlessness are commonplace, digitally excluded populations are further disempowered to help themselves and their families.

While generally a positive term, the concept of empowerment has also drawn criticism from scholars. Lina Weidenstendt (2016, p. 1) writes about the ‘paradox of empowerment’:

The aim of empowerment is to improve people’s lives by transferring power resources. Transferring power may entail structural changes, for instance in terms of education and employment opportunities, health care, or housing … Although researchers agree that empowerment is opposed to powerlessness,
it is well known in respective fields that empowerment efforts often lead to an empoweree feeling indignation and resentment rather than empowerment.

Reference: Weidenstedt, L. (2016). Empowerment gone bad: Communicative consequences of power transfers. Socius, 2, p1-11.


We will hear three diverse interpretations of the theme ‘digital inclusion and empowerment’.

Dr Bridget Harris is an interdisciplinary early career researcher in QUT’s Law Lab researching intimate partner/ domestic family and sexual violence; technology-facilitated violence, advocacy and justice administration; access to justice; and legal advocacy. Bridget is a DECRA recipient and has advised police and legal bodies on technology-facilitated crime.


Cecily Michaels is Chief Executive Officer of Leep, an NGO based in Western Sydney which delivers digital mentoring programs across Australia. Through Leep, Cecily aims to ensure people experiencing disadvantage have the skills to get online confidently and safely, thereby reaping the economic and social benefits that technology offer.
Christel Antonites is a PhD Candidate in the DMRC researching the gender digital divide in South Africa. Having recently completed her final seminar, Christel’s work employed a feminist lens to critique digital inclusion policy and programs, finding that there is a disconnect between South African government initiatives and women’s lived experience of digital inclusion.


About the DMRC’s Digital inclusion and participation program

Working in partnership with industry, government and community organisations, this program uses innovative digital ethnographic and co-design methods to understand, intervene, and advocate for digital access and literacy as vital elements of social inclusion. We help equip citizens and consumers with the knowledge and skills to confidently, effectively and ethically navigate the increasingly complex digital media environment; and we deliver actionable new knowledge of the structural conditions and circumstances that impact on equitable and safe participation in the digital society.


Register to attend here