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Assessing the Digital Impacts of COVID-19 in Kuwait
Abstract by Mr. Fahed Al-Sumait On Session XIII-09  (Managing the Pandemic)

On Sunday, December 4 at 1:30 pm

2022 Annual Meeting

Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) play an increasingly vital role in today’s social, economic, civic, and personal domains, a condition accelerated following COVID-19 stay-at-home restrictions. However, the availability and impact of ICTs are not equally distributed between or within countries―a situation starkly illustrated in the Arab Middle East, where economic and technological inequalities are amongst the highest in the world. Within the region, Kuwait’s ICT environment occupies a privileged position, ranking as one of the world’s most digitally connected countries on several indicators. The state further seeks to foster a “digital transformation” of society as part of its larger strategy of economic diversification. However, little is known about the differing levels of ICT access, skill, and uses among its diverse residents, nor why relative to other Gulf states, Kuwait ranks near the bottom in global comparative assessments. This study examines changes in ICT access, skills, and usage rates following the COVID-19 outbreak in Kuwait. Government data from 2015 to 2019 are contrasted against recent surveys from 500 households and 1,200 individuals collected in 2020 during the height of a pandemic lockdown. Theoretically, the study applies Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, examining relationships between traditional notions of economic, social, personal, and cultural capital on one hand, and what can be referred to as digital capital on the other. Those who enjoy greater levels of offline capital are presumed to have greater advantages in translating these into forms of online capital, perpetuating existing social inequalities. This approach suggests that statewide mobility restrictions imposed to contain the pandemic can inadvertently led to disproportionate opportunities or obstacles for various populations depending on the levels of “capital” at their disposal. Comparisons between the time periods demonstrate both expected and unexpected changes. Increases in internet consumption, mobile broadband subscriptions, computer ownership, and mobile-only internet access are evident. However, declines are seen in a range of unexpected areas, including the use of portable devices, fixed-line access, frequency of internet usage, and ownership of tablets, gaming consoles, or smart devices. Some digital skills also show minor declines. What aggregate data fail to illustrate is how, and why, these changes unequally affect differing communities. By assessing the effects of gender, age, education, employment status, and nationality on ICTs access, skills, and uses, it becomes clear that the underlying distribution of Bourdieusian forms of capital prior to the pandemic remain relevant to understanding the persistence of a digital divide within Kuwait.
Media Arts
Geographic Area
Sub Area
Information Technology/Computing