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Abstract

The emergence of Alibaba’s Taobao (e-commerce) Villages in remote China has challenged the assumption that rural, underserved communities must always be the recipients of aid to stimulate ICT-enabled development. Based on an in-depth case study of two remote villages in China, this research note shows how ICT (e-commerce) can empower a marginalized community, giving rise to a rural e-commerce ecosystem that can aid self-development. We propose the concept of digital empowerment to explicate our findings in the exploration of community-driven development: first, we identify the critical actors of a rural e-commerce ecosystem and how they use ICTs; second, we illustrate how the same ICT can be used for different affordances by the actors in the evolution of a rural e-commerce ecosystem. The paper also presents unintended consequences of rural e-commerce development. We conclude with suggestions on how to make ICT useful for rural development and, in doing this, challenge some of the prevailing theoretical arguments about this process.

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