Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Posthumanism and the Massive Open Online Course: Contaminating the Subject of Global Education’ (Knox 2016)


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.

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’ (Barad 2003)


‘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)

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Our third and final week on cyberculture

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).

Binaries/dualisms (from week 2)

What kind of ‘human’, however, influences the design of ‘artificial intelligence’, and what assumptions may be baked into the algorithms that influence the choice of content we include in our lifestreams? Does this reproduce existing biases or privilege a certain view of ‘human’ ‘intelligence’? What might be the implications for education and learning analytics?

If ‘machines’ can ‘learn’, does the responsibility still lie with the programmer? If ‘distributed cognition replaces autonomous will’ (Hayles 1999: 288), should we instead think in terms of ‘cognitive assemblages’ and ‘nonconscious cognition’? Reflecting on this, I found an example of distributed cognition through slippingglimpse (Hayles 2008).

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?

Dualisms visual artefact
A “creative ‘gathering’”? (Dualisms visual artefact)

Finally, as use of the ‘cyber’ prefix has declined (Knox 2015), how might we think about the ‘digital’? What might a ‘postdigital‘ perspective mean for education (Knox 2019)? I continue to explore…

EDC week 3
EDC week 3 (enlarge)

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Teacherbot: interventions in automated teaching’ (Bayne 2015b)

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).

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The end of our second week on cyberculture

Our second week continued with questions raised through films (including A New Hope and Cyborg) and books (Machines Like Me and Iain M. Banks’ series). Themes that particularly struck me include:

1) Assuming that ‘human’ is not an objective nor inclusive term (Braidotti 2013: 26), how might this affect how we think about ‘artificial intelligence’, power and agency?

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?

3) Can machines make ‘moral‘ decisions?

4) Building on a discussion about gender and ‘virtual’ identities, are we ‘performing’ or is it ‘performative‘? Should there be a distinction between ‘real’/’virtual’ here, and how do we define ‘real’? (The Matrix comes to mind here…) How might this play out in on our identities on Twitter, lifestream-blogs etc.?

5) Thinking beyond assumptions that the ‘human’ is at the centre of education, and technology is a ‘tool‘ or ‘enhancement‘, what are the implications of a complex entanglement of education and technology (Bayne 2015: 18) for this course?


Complex entanglement (‘Entanglement’, ellen x silverberg, Flickr)

Many discussions were via Twitter, drawing in questions from the public:

I have also been commenting on others’ lifestream-blogsbringing them in as feeds.

Following on from last week’s map, I have opened new and revisited old avenues:

EDC week 2
EDC week 2 (enlarge)

I have also experimented with visualisations of my feed ahead of our visual artefact task…

InfraNodus: Text network visualisation and discourse analysis (described as 'postsingularity thinking tool'
InfraNodus: Text network visualisation and discourse analysis (or ‘postsingularity thinking tool’)

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Michael saved in Pocket: ‘From Anthropocentric Humanism to Critical Posthumanism in Digital Education’


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.

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This week I’m trying to put some of the ideas and theories I’ve reflected on so far, such as critical posthumanism, in the context of digital education. This interview and our core reading from Siân Bayne (2014) is a great start.

Michael saved in Pocket: ‘Posthumanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter’ (Barad 2003)


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.

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As I explore posthumanism and agential realism further, this article from Karen Barad looks to be a very interesting read.

Michael saved in Pocket: ‘The Matrix and Critical Theory’s Desertion of the Real’ (Cloud 2007)


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.

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Film review – ‘A New Hope’ from Pause Fest 2019

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.

'Cyborg' ruler in 'A New Hope'
‘Cyborg’ ruler in ‘A New Hope’

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).

Body 'extensions' and 'enhancements'
Body ‘extensions’ and ‘enhancements’

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).

'Female' 'cyborgs' portrayed in the film
‘Female’ ‘cyborgs’ portrayed in the film
Male 'cyborgs' in positions of power and violence
Male ‘cyborgs’ in positions of power and violence

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.’

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