Monday, 23 September 2013

Futurology is really 'presentology'


The Bigum Chapter looks at the issue of computers in schools using ANT. It also has some insight into futurology, and predictions about technology.

Bigum, C. (2012). Edges, Exponentials and Education: Disenthralling the Digital. In L. Rowan & C. Bigum (Eds.), Transformative Approaches to New Technologies and Student Diversity in Futures Oriented Classrooms: Future Proofing Education. London: Springer

The idea behind ANT is that everything is treated as a continuously generated effect of the webs of relations in which they are located. Nothing has reality or form outside of the enactment of those relations.

So the use of computers in schools is based upon the network built up over time of computers/software/teachers etc, and their practices. John Law describes this as resulting from a ‘hinterland’, which comprises the persistent patterns of relations performed – the routine realities and the statements about those realities.

For computers to be ‘real’ in schools they need to draw upon an appropriate hinterland. This means fitting in with the patterns of school practices – classrooms, timetables, curricula etc. So the impact of past ways of doing things influences the way we image what can be done. In other words thinking about the future is really thinking about the present – using our present narratives, and the ‘hinterland’ we inhabit or draw upon to make predictions about what could or should happen in the future. We need to look to an alternative hinterland to make alternative futures.

The problem with trying to look to an alternative hinterland, or to predict a future dominant discourse is that it's very difficult, if not impossible, to do. Most futurology uses contemporary dominant discourses, so it is really describing an alternative present rather than a future. In the same way that science fiction isn't really about the future - it's about contemporary morals, politics, and economics transposed onto an alternative world where ideas can be extrapolated and developed as 'what if...' scenarios. Because futurologists are using contemporary discourses, rather than predicting what discourses might exist, then it is very easy to say things like 'in the future all exams will be marked by computers'. 

If the dominant narrative is of commodification, competition, efficiencies etc – i.e. the narrative of neoliberalism, then that is how new technology will be embedded in the school/university.

photo credit: MikeLawton via photopin cc