Riyad A. Shahjahan

Riyad A. Shahjahan is an Associate Professor of Higher, Adult and Life Long Education (HALE) at Michigan State University. He is also a core faculty member of Muslim Studies, Chicano/Latino Studies, Asian Studies Center, and Center for Advanced Study of International Development. His areas of research interests are in globalization of higher education policy, temporality and affect, cultural studies, and de/anti/postcolonial theory. He is currently an elected board member of Comparative and International Education Society (CIES) and also co-editor of a popular work/life balance blog for academics entitled: http://lazyslowdown.com/

On a 'Calculating Way of Being': The Perils of Datafication on Re/Connecting Communities

Why are we increasingly becoming dependent on a data-driven world in education? What makes datafication possible in the first place? What ways of meaning-making and being are being included or excluded through datafication? Remaining undertheorized, this talk responds to these questions by offering an onto-epistemic grammar analysis underlying this global phenomenon, particularly in the context of higher education (HE).

In this talk, I first unpack the ontological, epistemological, temporal and affective dimensions to what informs our obsession and dependence on data. I suggest that our understanding of the nature of datafication cannot be separated from a calculating way of being seeking ontological security—a sense of intrinsic worthiness when one has control over one’s world. Moreover, datafication is possible as new digital data tools develop more convincing expressions of a calculating way of being, allowing it to displace other sources of meaning through amplified webs of measurement (data analytics, metrics, and large-scale data) cataloguing human life.

Next, drawing on recent contemporary examples of datafication of HE within institutional, national and transnational arenas, I next illuminate how calculating way of being manifests in HE globally.  First, as HE institutions seek predictability and futurity of student behavior, a calculating way of being manifests through a student data gaze at the institutional level (e.g. learning analytics, predictive analytics, adaptive learning platforms). Second, as trans/national actors merge the HE sector into data processing systems (e.g. digital data infrastructures, research metrics, university rankings), a calculating way of being manifests through a Big data gaze that offers assurance, hope and belonging. Such datafication of HE examples illuminate how datafication standardizes and digitizes human connections, rendering various communities comprehensible, this giving us a sense of ontological security.

Finally,  I suggest that a calculating way of being thwarts notions of ‘letting go’, embracing uncertainty, "mystery", and/or complexity in our ways of knowing and being, which has grave consequences for re/connecting communities in education and elsewhere amidst a pandemic.