28 SES 01 A, Sociologies of new space-times of education. An outlook from Italy
The policy instrumentations of the governance of education are becoming increasingly digital. Education policy and practice are more and more imbricated in digital technologies and platforms. We are witnessing a shift from the paper-based and analogue instrumentations to the digital technologies that are introducing new social, technical, and material dimensions in the infrastructure of the practice of governing of the education systems. The digitalization is constituting a ‘second nature’ of the landscape of the governance of education that is hardly conceivable nowadays without the technicalities and the related circuits of expertise of the digital worlds.
For some scholars, we are entering in the digital-era governance (Dunleavy 2005), and in particular, in the digital governance of education (Williamson 2016) where the concatenations of data, algorithms, codes and expertise are profoundly, and fast reshaping the horizon and the very condition of the education policy and practice. While these changes have been to some extent anticipated in the long history of the media technological developments, there is need to test the ‘reality’ of these transformations to better understand the becoming digital of the governance of education and their implications. It is relevant, in particular, to explore how the new policy instrumentations are reconfiguring the educational governance, and to understand whether or not the emergent configurations are related to the discourses and the practices of the new public management.
The empirical exploration of the digital governance displays, however, specific challenges, and is soliciting, at the same time, the sociological research to focus and re-tune its methodology on the changing sociomaterialities of education policy. Digital platforms, software and devices are not completely transparent. They constitute and make visible the space-times of education; on the other hand, paradoxically, they have shades of opacity, as they are imbricated in trans-national and intra-national sociotechnical machinery that can be overtly fluid, changing over time, and not entirely open for investigation. The description of the digital governance is requiring, then, creative methodological arrangements, by following the complexification of the field of research.
The paper presents a methodology for exploring the emerging dynamics of the digital governance of education (Williamson 2016). The methodology, consists in the composition of historical reconstructions, semiotic analysis, and multi-sited ethnographies aimed at elaborating cartographies of the fabrication and the use of the digital systems in the management of education systems. By drawing on Actor-Network Theory (Latour 2005; Law 2009), the paper will argue that this methodology reveals particularly helpful to bring to the forefront the sociomateriality of the assemblages of people, technologies, and policies making up the digital governance of education. The paper will first address the issue of researching the digital governance, by highlighting the topic and some of the research methods that have been currently mobilised to trace, register and analyze its dynamics. Secondly, it will present a project of making cartographies of the digital governance of education, by relying on the gathering and data analysis realized in a research project on the becoming digital of the governance in Italy and EU (Landri, 2018). It will be illustrated, in particular, how the fabrication of cartographies is related to Actor-Network Theory, and the peculiarity of this methodological apparatus. Notably, the paper will focus on the case of‘Scuola in Chiaro’ in Italy (SiC from now on), a digital platform drawing on school database infrastructures, and designed as a search engine for the school choice. The platform was highly advertised and considered as an instrument to break the closure of the schools, or by using a topos of the public discourse on education in Italy, to circumvent their ‘self-referentiality', i.e. their alleged natural disposition of putting barriers to impede the ‘external' to see into the ‘internal' of everyday routines of education practice. SiC acted therefore as a ‘window' making connections among social worlds; it was a case of non-human that was delegated a relevant role of mediation in education policy.
The project of making cartographies of the digital governance completes, and partly expands other sociological research protocols. It adds significantly the practice of the digital ethnography and the semiotic analysis to forefront the capacity to act of the digital systems in education policy. It follows an ethnographic approach, sharing some similarities with the network ethnography (Ball & Junemann 2012; Ball et al. 2017). However, it is more interested in describing the co-implication of humans and non-humans and highlighting the agency of objects that remain in the research design of the network ethnography, even when they are followed, somewhat in the background (Ball et al. 2017). Moreover, it problematizes the very notion of ‘network’ that is taken more as methodological tool and not as in the network ethnography as the very purpose of the analysis. The research on the emerging scenario is challenging as it is more, in general, the impact of the digital devices, and the development of the infosphere for the social science. It suggests to imagining and partly reinventing the social methods to account for the complexities of the sociomaterialities of the new practice of governing in many parts of the world (at least those in the affluent north). Critical issues are coming to fore that concern the opacity that accompany this form of governance that requires the definition of research strategies that could offer additional understanding on how this is changing the space-time of education, and how they relate with the current dominant trends in education policy-making.
Ball, S.J. & Junemann, C., 2012. Networks, New Governance and Education, Bristol: Policy Press. Ball, S.J., Junemann, C. & Santori, D., 2017. Edu.net: Globalisation and Education Policy Mobility, London: Routledge. Dunleavy, P., 2005. New Public Management Is Dead--Long Live Digital-Era Governance. Journal of Public Administration Research and Theory, 16(3), pp.467–494. Available at: http://jpart.oxfordjournals.org/cgi/doi/10.1093/jopart/mui057 [Accessed July 11, 2014]. Landri, P. & Viteritti, A., 2016. Introduzione . Le masse mancanti in educazione. Scuola Democratica, (1). Landri, P., 2018. Digital Governance of Education. Becoming Digital of EU and Italian Spaces of Education, London: Bloomsbury (forthcoming). Lascoumes, P. & Le Gales, P., 2007. Introduction: Understanding Public Policy through Its Instruments?From the Nature of Instruments to the Sociology of Public Policy Instrumentation. Governance, 20(1), pp.1–21. Available at: http://doi.wiley.com/10.1111/j.1468-0491.2007.00342.x. Latour, B., 2005. Reassembling the Social. An introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Oxford: Oxford University Press. Law, J., 2009. Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics. In B. S. Turner, ed. The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. London: Blackwell Publishers Ltd, pp. 141–158. Williamson, B., 2016. Digital education governance: An introduction. European Educational Research Journal, 15(1), pp.3–13. Available at: http://eer.sagepub.com/lookup/doi/10.1177/1474904115616630.
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