23 SES 03 D, Education Policy Actors
Digitization is an increasingly central issue of educational systems reform policies in the over whole OECD area. In recent years, literature has underlined how the growing significance of the digitization theme in the reform agendas is the product of (and has been the occasion for) a transformation of policy-making in the educational field and related policy networks in the heterarchical sense. This has been understood as a mélange of vertical and horizontal bureaucratic, market and network relationships. Namely, as multiple forms of interdependencies and mobilities that link not only places and spaces, but also events, relationships and social performances, which remain and change over time (Ball et al., 2017; Ball 2016; Junemann et al., 2015). Taking up a long-established tradition of research in the field of social geography (Peck & Theodore, 2012), several authors have proposed to use network ethnography, i.e. the application of the principle of following to the ethnographic method (Ball and Junemann 2012), to follow people, "objects", stories, conflicts and money involved in the "making and re-making" of the policies. These works highlights how the "digital turn" is linked to a profound re-spatialization of policy-making in the educational field (Selwyn & Facer, 2013; Selwyn 2011; Pitzalis et.al., 2016). This “turn” is also opening a new epistemic space in which some of the assumptions constitutive of the politics of education are being redefined (Selwyn & Facer, 2013).
In the attempt to contribute to this debate, in this paper we aim to present and discuss the results of a research work whose objective was to map some of the new relational spaces of educational policy-making in the Italian context. This in order to explore the possibility that these could be accompanied by a political reshaping of the way of understanding education itself. Starting from a conceptualization of policy networks as epistemic communities, we formulate three research questions:
To investigate the emergence and structuring of new relational networks around and starting from the imperative of schools’ digital transformation, reconstructing the “texture" of connections between institutional policy-makers and a series of new actors who, until now, were outsiders to the world of educational policy-making;
To outline what characterizes these actors, understood as enunciative modalities (Foucault 2002), connotated by a certain professional role, a certain cultural formation and a certain way of producing themselves as authoritative voices;
To explore the possibility that these new actors are introducing a peculiar way of conceiving the school organization and education: a new regime of truth (Foucault 2014).
To answer these questions, we initially carried out a following focused on subjects, adopting the social media ethnography method (Postill & Pink 2012). The space chosen has been that of one of the most important professional social network, which presents itself as an intensity site (Ivi) for the development of relations between the emerging subjectivities of the digitalization policies (Spanò & Taglietti, forth.). Moreover, this professional social network stands out from other social networks for a triple peculiarity. It is: dedicated to professionals working in the digitalization world; inhabited by actors who strongly support the potential of digital tools; perceived as a place where it is important to publish contents characterized by a certain quality.
Adopting as a starting point the "link" with the authors of the main digitalization policies of the Italian school (responsible for ministerial political offices, MIUR and CNR senior officials, material editors of the documents "La Buona Scuola" and "Piano Nazionale Scuola Digitale" "), firstly, we followed their posting, sharing and commenting activities in order to strategically reconstruct: part of the network of relationships in which they are inserted; part of the subjectivities with which they come into contact; part of the discursive practices (Foucault 2002) in which are involved. Secondly, we tried to adopt a methodologically more structured way than other studies of this type, also applying statistical analysis techniques. So, in order to answer the first question of the research, the technique of Social Network Analysis (Wasserman & Faust, 1994) was applied, aiming at the investigation of nodes (actors) and links (connections) through the unit of analysis of the actor relationship. With the support of matrix algebra and graph theory, we carried out a one-mode analysis, in order to analyze the network structure and investigate the role of the actors: the most involved nodes in the relationship with the policy makers - determining the relative measures of centrality - and the presence of community detection. The subject positions of the actors belonging to specific cohesive subgroups (cliques) and the nodes occupying a cut-point role in the network, then, were studied through text mining applications (Bolasco, 2013). In particular, in the structured sections of the self-presentation "training" and "experience" we applied a study of occurrences and co-occurrences (Bolasco, 2005), in order to identify which professions are particularly connected to which types of training. The unstructured "synthesis" and "summary" sections are then analyzed through the factorial approach of correspondence analysis (Benzecri, 1973), in order to explore the constitutive dimensions of actors’ self-narration that form the network. Finally, in order to answer the third question, we adopted an approach inspired by Paul Ricoeur's hermeneutical arc (1981). Applying it to some texts published by the emerging subjectivities identified, we have in fact tried to reveal its polysemic nature (ibidem). The methodology adopted, as a whole, can therefore be defined as mixed, "in the sense that it combines sociological and computational elements" (Marres 2017, 120) and represents an attempt to perform a digital sociology able to face, in a unitary perspective, digital: as a research object, as an analysis tool and as a platform (Marres 2017).
From an early analysis of the empirical materials, we seem to be able to describe the production of a new type of texture in the organization of the networks in which some of the main policy-makers of the Italian educational system are involved. In particular, the relational networks that we have been able to reconstruct, present a complex morphology, divided into communities of discourse. We can also highlight the presence of cliques and specific cut-points that act as relational brokers, putting in communication policy-makers and groups of new actors, mainly coming from the world of digital economy and business consulting. Confirming and enriching the literature on policy networks, this reorganization, therefore, brings with it the reorganization of the network structure in the heterarchical sense. To be present are mainly some professional and cultural types of subjectivity: organizational consultants inspired by Agile, Holocracy and PM methods; computer system engineers and technicians; experts in complex systems; startuppers and digital evangelists. These are all subjectivities that strongly encourage the need for a renewal of the educational system in a frame delimited by the guidelines of life-long learning, meta-skills and the subject as self- entrepreneur. In conclusion, what we suggest is the possible emergence of a new topology of the educational discourse, reconfigured by the networks that bring together and make contiguous and connected, in a new space, concepts previously belonging to discursive strategies certainly in dialogue, but from clearly distinct places, in the context of a broader topological development of culture (Lury et al., 2012).
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