I’m Gavin Duffy, a PhD student and member of the Platform Pedagogies group, as well as being generally in charge of maintaining this website. On this section of the website, I’ll be detailing the, hopefully numerous, things we’ve done as a group in a digestible manner, including abridged notes on the readings.
If you have any questions in general regarding the website, the project, or anything else which is related, feel free to contact me at: email@example.com and I will get back to you as soon as I see it.
2020: That was the year that was
Looking back over the readings from the past year, there is one theme that stands out the most: that of digital imaginaries. In 2019, the reading group tended towards readings which were on-the-ground or examining an ongoing phenomenon. Works like Gray and Suri’s (2019) Ghost Work or Jurgenson’s (2019) The Social Photo examined trends already in place; whether they were about technology making individuals more visible or invisible. This reached its zenith with the idea of conducting our own walkthroughs of an app (Smiling Mind). 2019 (in retrospect) looks like the year of action and of examining what we were doing.
2020 does not appear to be that year. Whether this change would have inevitably arisen from the themes of 2019 is difficult to say. What is not as difficult to say is that (regardless of inevitability) the pandemic certainly spurred us further away from 2019’s orientation. This is not to say 2020 was a loss or negative, simply that it had a different orientation. That direction, it seems to me is not what we were doing but what we should be doing. Perhaps more specifically, how we should be thinking about what we should be doing.
Again, the pandemic was certainly a driver of this. The inherently global nature of the pandemic has forced us to take a step back and examine how a wide variety of countries have handled one central issue (or haven’t handled it, in some cases). This facilitates a move away from established norms, to at least look at what alternative could be. And I feel this was reflected in much of the reading. Works such as Kukutai & Taylor’s (2016) Indigenous Data Sovereignty; and D’Ignazio & Klein’s (2020) Data Feminism offered viewpoints away from what is often still the norm of Global North, Westerncentric, patriarchal assumptions we find in the digital. The importance of this was crystalized in an earlier reading: Zerilli’s (2005) article on the thought of Hannah Arendt. Zerilli (2005, 178) describes the importance of a potential future (the importance of imaginaries) as they provide hope. We do not have to know what is to come from a new future before embracing it. To do so would be what Touraine (2007, 192) describes as the ‘slackness of so-called neoliberal thinking’, reducing all possibilities to adapting ourselves to current constraints.
This is not to claim that, in the past year, we have collectively managed to come up with a digital future we can all be satisfied with (or how we should get to such a place). This is not what was set as our aim, nor should it have been (after all, peace comes dropping slow). What the reading from the past year does reiterate is the importance of seeking alternatives, particularly those from outside of the traditional hegemons. Digital infrastructures and platformised pedagogies are not disappearing. In the wake of the pandemic, we are likely to see schools using more and more digital technology. Many of the issues with the increased digitalisation of education over the past year were highlighted by Williamson and Hogan (2020). Works such as Data Feminism and Dencik et al’s (2019) Exploring Data Justice become more important in light of this; refusing the slackness of neoliberal thinking and instead advocating for new ways of seeing digital realities (or, oftentimes, highlighting existing but alienated views of these realities). The importance of this (and the sense of hope that comes with it) is what I took from the readings throughout 2020 and hope will continue on in the reading group for 2021.
At the November meeting, we discussed the theme of Data Justice. This concept comes from the aptly named Data Justice Lab at Cardiff University’s School of Journalism, Media and Culture. As a concept, Data Justice is concerned with offering a critique of the power relations which have been embedded within, created by, or exacerbated by the datafication of society. Three articles were discussed Dencik’s (2018) Surveillance Realism and the Politics of Imagination: Is There No Alternative?; Dencik et al’s (2019) Exploring Data Justice: Conceptions, Applications, and Directions; and Milan & Treré’s (2019) Big Data from the South(s): Beyond Data Universalism. Abridged notes for these readings can be found here.
At the October meeting, we returned to D’Ignazio & Klein’s (2020) Data Feminism. This time, we read chapter one; chapter two; and chapter five (again; this time in light of the other chapters). Unfortunately, I currently cannot find the abridged notes I have from these chapters but I will update this space when I relocate them.
At the September meeting, we returned to the ever present concept of accumulation in the age of datafication. The pieces we read were: the introduction to Fisher’s (2009) Capitalist Realism: Is There No Alternative; Sadowski’s (2019) When data is capital: Datafication, accumulation, and extraction; and the introduction & chapter five from D’Ignazio & Klein’s (2020) Data Feminism. The former two of the pieces here examined data through the concept of Capital. Sadowski (2019) gives a particularly accessible overview of how the apply both Marx’s and Bourdieu’s conceptions of capital in relation to data. Fisher (2009) compares 21st century capitalism with Children of Men which (while, admittedly and embarrassingly, I haven’t seen the film) seems to maintain its relevance the longer time goes on. D’Ignazio & Klein (2020) give another accessible analysis of data capital, using an intersectional feminist approach. Abridged notes for these readings can be found here.
At the August meeting, we discussed Williamson and Hogan’s (2020) Commercialisation and privatisation in/of education in the context of Covid-19. Williamson and Hogan give an impressive comprehensive overview of the private-public partnerships that (almost immediately) benefitted from the digitalisation of learning that occurred due to the pandemic. Similar to Sadowski (2019), part of what is highlighted here is not that there is something new happening but that Capital’s desire for continued expansion does not stop (and in fact, amps up efforts) in the face of new, seemingly catastrophic situations if it is left unchecked. Notes for this reading can be found here. They are longer than the other notes linked here but are a reflection of the thoroughness of the original text.
At the July meeting, we discussed chapters two and five from Kukutai and Taylor’s (2016) Indigenous Data Sovereignty. These chapters examine how indigenous peoples are inscribed, classified, and presented through a Westerncentric system of datafication. This includes concepts of how data (as a concept) is understood but also how data are collected. Walter’s chapter on indigenous representation in Australian statistics, for example, highlights how data on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples focuses on only collecting negative data, positioning Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islanders peoples as inherently ‘problematic people’ who need to be corrected by the dominant Westerncentric system. Abridged notes for these chapters can be found here.
At the June meeting, we discussed Kitchin’s (2014) Big Data, new epistemologies, and paradigm shifts, due to its prominence in contributing to how Big Data is conceptualised by many today. Kitchin lists seven characteristics of Big Data and suggests that it allows for theory to be born from data, rather than theory being tested against data. The discussion in the meeting was centered around how we have moved on from this understanding of Big Data six years later (or if we haven’t, by and large). Abridged notes for these chapters can be found here.
Between March and May, I was deep in the wilderness of trying to ensure my confirmation document resembled something worth reading so notes on readings for this time period appear to be lost to the annals of history.
At the February meeting, we discussed Morozov’s (2019) The Calculation Debate in the age of Big Data. Morozov largely takes on Mayer-Schönberger’s (2013) Big Data and (2018) Reinventing Capitalism in the Age of Big Data, which claim that Big Data will destroy capitalism as we know it. Morozov outlines how Mayer-Schönberger mistakenly claims capitalism is merely a series of actions, rather than a system and goes on to explain how Big Data fits neatly into the system of Capital we find in the West today. Abridged notes for these chapters can be found here.
The group went to AoIR to present a panel on the platformisation of education, titled Platform Pedagogies: Learning, Authorising and Validating Trust in Education. Click the title above or here for a summary of the day’s events. Click here for the full PowerPoint presentation.
This event brought together scholars related to datafication, childhood, and privacy in order to address concerns around how the actions of children, both in and out of school, are becoming increasingly monitored and datafied using digital technology. Click the title above or here for a summary of the day’s events.