Platform capitalism and the recovery of educational technics

The defining thread of my work over the last decade has been the recovery of technical systems and devices as salient factors in educational practice. This means a refusal to treat these items as tools which can be picked up and put down, defined by nothing other than the uses to which they’re put, but rather to recognise them as casually significant features of educational processes, with their own histories and characteristics. I refuse to talk about this as agency for relatively obscure philosophical reasons (this gives a sense of where I’m coming from, as does this) but I basically share the orientation of ANT in this respect, even if I disagree with the terminology and some of the philosophical baggage which comes with it. The introduction to this special issue of Educational Philosophy and Theory on note-making perfectly captures the intellectual context within education in relation to which I increasingly locate my work:

In part, this is because note-making is a largely invisible practice that tends to disappear into its instrumentality, i.e., because it tends to be seen as serving ends other than its own; in part, this is because it has not often been treated as a philosophical topic of inquiry in the study of education. With the recent philosophical interest in educational technicity (e.g., in the work of Bernard Stiegler or Yuk Hui), which echoes the work of 20th-century scholars of media (e.g., Ivan Illich, Vilem Flusser, Friedrich Kittler, Donna Haraway, Katherine Hayles), the philosophy of education has belatedly turned its attention to the role of mediation in educational practices, digital mediation, in particular (e.g., in the work of Catherine Adams, Sian Bayne, Norm Friesen, Amanda Fulford, Naomi Hodgson, Petar Jandrić, Jeremy Knox, Anna Kouppanou and Stefan Ramaekers, to name just a few – and see Fulford et al. (2016) special issue on Technologies of Reading and Writing).

I’m uncomfortable with the notion of technicity for similarly obscure philosophical reasons, though I’m largely talking about the same thing with my language of platforms, devices, user cultures, platform literacy and technological reflexivity. I want to recover the significance of these elements for a number of reasons:

  • Educational technics are undergoing an epochal transformation which makes it crucial to examine our explicit & implicit understandings of them
  • This transformation includes a greater capacity to exercise an influence over educational agents through ‘smart’ devices and platforms built around real time behavioural science interventions
  • Platform infrastructures tend to ‘hollow out’ educational institutions and bring new organisations, groups and actors into educational processes with their own understandings of education & material interests
  • Educational systems have a crucial role to play in shaping citizens who will relate to comparable processes of platformisation which are underway beyond education: platform capitalism, digital capitalism, surveillance capitalism etc.

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