Posthumanism and the Massive Open Online Course critiques the problematic reliance on humanism that pervades online education and the MOOC, and explores theoretical frameworks that look beyond these limitations. While MOOCs (massive open online courses) have attracted significant academic and media attention, critical analyses of their development have been rare. Following an overview of MOOCs and their corporate means of promotion, this book unravels the tendencies in research and theory that continue to adopt normative views of user access, participation, and educational space in order to offer alternatives to the dominant understandings of community and authenticity in education.
‘On an agential realist account of technoscientific practices, the “knower” does not stand in a relation of absolute externality to the natural world being investigated—there is no such exterior observational point. It is therefore not absolute exteriority that is the condition of possibility for objectivity but rather agential separability—exteriority within phenomena. “We” are not outside observers of the world. Nor are we simply located at particular places in the world; rather, we are part of the world in its ongoing intra-activity.’ (Barad 2003: 828)
As we end our first block on cyberculture, it continues to strike me how many ideas about technology and education appear rooted in dualisms which tend to centre (a certain kind of) ‘human’, whilst othering the ‘digital’ (Knox 2015).
I continued this week to consider how technology is often visualised as a ‘tool’ or ‘enhancement’ (‘Ping Body’, Stelarc). Moving beyond technology ‘enhanced’ learning (Bayne 2015a), and towards a critical posthumanist view, can we imagine a view of education where the human subject is not separate nor central but the human and non-human are entangled in a ‘creative “gathering”’ (Bayne 2015b)? How might we visualise this?
While considering the implications of moving beyond humanism for education, I am reflecting on this excerpt from Bayne (2015b: 456) and trying to visualise what a ‘creative “gathering”‘ of this kind might look like…
Biesta (1998), for example, has considered a ‘pedagogy without humanism’ to be oriented to the notion of ‘intersubjectivity’ rather than to the ‘bringing out’ of the potential of the individual subject. In this way, our teaching:
‘can retain the communicative intuition of the pedagogical project of Enlightenment; it can also sustain the critique of Critical Pedagogy against any instrumentalization and dehumanization of education. But it has to do all this without a deep truth of what it is to be human.’ (13)
Others are less concerned with the preservation of the Enlightenment project. Edwards, for example, also writing against educational hegemony which privileges the ‘knowing human subject’ (Edwards 2010), suggests that posthumanism inclines us to think towards education as an assemblage of the human and non-human, an ‘entanglement’ in which the purpose of education becomes not one of‘ learning’ but one of a creative ‘gathering’, in which the human subject cannot be seen as separate from the objects of knowledge with which it is concerned. Thus, for Edwards, drawing on the work of Barad (2007), Latour (1993) and Hacking (1983), the ‘post-human condition cannot be one of learning’, since the subject doing the learning and the object ‘being learned’ are no longer readily distinguishable from each other. The work of education then becomes focused on how ‘matters of concern’ (Latour 2004) ‘arise from the work of specific practices and assemblages of the human and non-human’ (Edwards 2010, 9). As Snaza (2013) has expressed it, ‘Recent posthumanist scholarship reveals that the human is not simply a being that is, but a social construction formed and defined in relation to various non-human Others’ (38).
2) If we take a ‘dynamic partnership between humans and intelligent machines’ (Hayles 1999: 288) as a point of departure, how might we consider concepts such as consciousness, (distributed) cognition and agency?
Siân Bayne is Professor of Digital Education at the University of Edinburgh, based in the Moray House School of Education, where she directs the Centre for Research in Digital Education. In 2004, Siân and colleagues launched the world renowned MSc in E-Learning, now the MSc in Digital Education.
Language has been granted too much power. The linguistic turn, thesemiotic turn, the interpretative turn, the cultural turn: it seems that at every turn lately every “thing”—even materiality—is turned into a matter of language or some other form of cultural representation. The ubiquitous puns on “matter” do not, alas, mark a rethinking of the key concepts (materiality and signification) and the relationship between them. Rather, it seems to be symptomatic of the extent to which matters of “fact” (so to speak) have been replaced with matters of signification (no scare quotes here). Language matters. Discourse matters. Culture matters. There is an important sense in which the only thing that does not seem to matter anymore is matter.
Fans of Iain M Banks’ Culture strand of science-fiction novels know pretty much what they’re going to get with every book set in the author’s futuristic galaxy: mind-boggling technology, brilliant leaps of imagination and serious moral and ethical themes, all wrapped around several intertwining…
This article uses the narratives of the popular films The Matrix,Matrix: Reloaded, and Matrix: Revolutions as a lens through which to discuss the problems of the real and human agency in contemporary critical theory. Alongside a reading of the films’ invocations of social theory, the article describes parallel academic theories whose strongest structuralist and poststructuralist manifestations abandon conceptions of the real and willful human agency. In a field whose pessimistic narrative of Marxism often begins with anti-humanist structuralism, classical Marxist discourse theories offer a viable standpoint-based concept of reality upon which to found solidaristic human action.
This short film, A New Hope, comes from Pause Fest 2019. Pause Fest describes itself as ‘an independent, industry-driven movement with a mission to bring diverse intelligence together to fuel the next generation forward’ and invites those from the business, technology and creative worlds.
The film depicts a dystopian view of the future, with an authoritarian ‘cyborg’ and ‘cyborg army’ apparently having taken control of society. Interspersed with the film, the following questions are displayed:
‘At what point do our bodies begin…and end?’
‘How do we define our most intimate borders? Do they end with our skin, with our clothes, with our various extensions of ourselves?’
‘Where is the line between evolution and desecration?’
‘Do these borders keep us apart, or bring us closer together than ever before?’
Additionally, the notes for the film warn of ‘popularity mixed with power’ creating an ‘unpleasant and dangerous’ society – as depicted in the film – while emphasising that ‘we have a high hope that our collective consciousness will drive us to a much brighter, safer, happier, inclusive and prosperous place’.
While these questions may provoke interesting discussions, they arguably reinforce the binary oppositions depicted elsewhere in science fiction. For example, a dystopian scene is juxtaposed with a utopian message of hope in the accompanying notes. The discussion of boundaries and borders hints that a more complex way of thinking is possible, yet the ‘extensions’ or body ‘enhancements’ depicted tend to emphasise an extropian approach, where the ‘fragile human body’ is replaced by ‘more durable forms’ (Miller 2011: 215).
In its dystopian narrative, the film also depicts what appears to be ‘female’ cyborgs in powerless positions, such as a production line. This is in contrast to the ‘male’ cyborgs depicted in positions of power and carrying weapons. While this may be a commentary on existing inequalities being reproduced in future, it is at odds with the liberated figure of the cyborg – ‘a creature in a post-gender world’ – depicted by Donna Haraway (2007: 35).
In short, while interesting questions are provoked, the film appears to reinforce familiar utopian/dystopian oppositions, while not addressing the nuanced complexities that a posthuman view might. As N. Katherine Hayles (1999: 288) writes:
‘Just as the posthuman need not be antihuman, so it also need not be apocalyptic.’