An IASH Work-in-Progress seminar, delivered by Professor Siân Bayne (Sabbatical Fellow 2023; University of Edinburgh)
Scorched earth technologies: higher education and utopia
The search for hope, better futures and a newly invigorated interest in utopia is evident across current humanities-oriented scholarship in education – the many crises of our current moment create ruptures in which new forms of imagining are necessary. While digital technology has long been one of the tropes through which ‘futures’ are filtered in public discussion of where education is headed, critical research in the field rarely sees it as utopian. Its political economy is troublesome, its implications for sustainability and climate health are questionable, and its moral arc to date bends more toward extraction, surveillance and inequity than justice. To understand its utopian potential, a structured re-analysis of its histories and future imaginaries is needed.
This talk will use Levitas’s (2013) ‘utopia as method’ as a way to approach the histories of digital education and its utopian possibilities. The themes of emergence, openness and desire are woven through a structured discussion of its archaeologies, ontologies and architectures. First, the talk will consider the relationship between digital education, lifelong learning and utopia in current national and global political programmes. Second, it will consider utopia as ontology, looking at how critical digital education might help move us from the paradigm of the locked-down ‘data subject’ within a human capital model of education toward emergent and more-than-human ways of understanding what it means to be educated. Third, the talk will explore how a future for digital education might be imagined through the themes of ecopedagogy, diversity of knowledge and the end of institutions. I will argue that the new 21st century utopian impulse might help us to imagine and build radically better futures for higher education.
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