Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Mass Communication

Document Type



My study examined how inner-city adults perceive and experience the Internet as a civic engagement tool, and if they view the Internet as a tool for environmental advocacy. Research shows a consistent divide between those with Internet access and those without. Individuals living in low-income minority communities are the least likely groups to be Internet connected. Consequently, the Internet could further separate historically marginalized communities from important government and social resources rather than bringing them closer. Qualitative research methods were used to reveal socially-constructed perceptions of the Internet as a civic engagement tool in the inner city. Grounded theory techniques helped develop a solid final interpretation. My objective was not to compare low-end of the divide users with more affluent users but to broadly explore whether inner city adults perceive the Internet as a tool for environmental advocacy. My findings revealed problems of crime, drugs and violence as a result of persistent unemployment in the inner city far outweigh concerns of environmental risks. Overall,participants were confident in their ability to solve local problems and bridge with local organizations, but they feared retaliation, community apathy, and misplaced priorities would keep them from achieving their goals. Participants preferred face-to-face communication for mobilizing support and media for staying informed. Experienced users viewed the Internet as a valuable information-seeking tool. Participants viewed the Internet in positive and productive ways that helped them with school, employment, and important personal matters. Noticeably absent from the findings was participants’ view of the Internet as a communication technology. Finally, the primary barriers to Internet access in the community were costs, personal time, insufficient public access, and navigation problems. For important matters, though, participants found ways around barriers by reaching out to social support networks, including friends, family and co-workers. My study contributes to both theory and practice. Diffusion of Innovation predicts adoption of new technologies based on certain attributes. Findings reveal relative advantage and compatibility of the Internet shapes participants’ view of the Internet. The findings also offer important insight to environmental policy makers and civic leaders for engaging inner city residents in 21st century environmentalism.



Document Availability at the Time of Submission

Release the entire work immediately for access worldwide.

Committee Chair

Lisa Lundy