Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education

Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh) reports and reflects on a recent Edinburgh lecture on digital citizenship and digital education, funded by the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund

In collaboration with the Global Justice Academy, a number of people recently eschewed the rare evening sun in favour of assembling at Moray House School of Education for a public lecture entitled ‘Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education.’ More noteworthy still, was the palpable enthusiasm in the room for striking up a sustained dialogue on social justice and digital education, across a range of standpoints and disciplines. This event, made possible with the support of the Global Justice Academy’s Innovative Initiative Fund[i], was organised by a small group of academics, tentatively titled the Forum for Digital Culture and Social Justice (DCSJ)[ii]. The DCSJ forum is at the initial stages of adumbrating a cross-disciplinary research agenda at the confluence of social justice, digital culture and education. The purpose of this event was to catalyse this process by creating space for an inclusive conversation about what digital citizenship is and what it might be, if re-framed as a political project for social justice.

The event was co-chaired by Dr Karen Gregory (Lecturer in Digital Sociology at the University of Edinburgh), and Dr Jen Ross (Senior Lecturer in Digital Education) who fielded questions and comments from participants using the hastag #deresearch, who were watching via the livestream (click here to watch the recording). Proceedings began with an input from members of the aforementioned DCSJ forum, Dr Akwugo Emejulu (Professor of Sociology, University of Warwick) and Dr Callum McGregor (Lecturer in Education, University of Edinburgh). They offered a polemical intervention that sought to disrupt the ways in which dominant cultural narratives construct digital citizenship, by explicating a concept of ‘radical digital citizenship’, and its implications for digital education. The arguments they advanced drew on a co-authored paper, published in Critical Studies in Education. Professor Emejulu and Dr McGregor argued that radical digital citizenship must push beyond ameliorative conceptions of digital citizenship, wherein the role of education is to bridge the ‘digital divide’ for the benefit of groups failing to be flexible enough to survive under the conditions of neoliberal techno-capitalism. They proposed that such an educational task involves two co-constitutive elements: (1) critical analysis of the political, economic and environmental consequences of digital technology in everyday life; (2) collective deliberation and action to build alternative and emancipatory techno-social practices.

This was followed by a response from Dr Emma Dowling[iii] (Senior Researcher, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Sociology at the University of Jena) and Dr Huw Davies[iv] (researcher at the Oxford Internet Institute and Convener of the BSA’s Digital Sociology study group). These inputs acted as stimuli to a lively and convivial discussion with attendees over tea and coffee. Below, respondents Emma and Huw share their reflections:

Emma Dowling

“The crucial question Akwugo Emejulu and Callum McGregor ask is what makes the digital possible, looking at the extraction of natural resources and gendered, racialised and classed human labour that the development of digital technologies is premised upon.  Their analysis makes three core proposals that could orient a radical digital education. First of all they caution against the instrumentalisation of digital education for neoliberal ends and urge for an understanding of what global social relations constitute the digital and condition the effects that digitalisation has. Moreover, their approach signals a commitment to social justice that insists on a critical pedagogy with the capacity not just for an analysis of the power relations behind digitalisation, but a commitment to transforming them. Transforming these power relations requires the identification of key sites of transformation. Undoubtedly these are conflictual terrains of struggle about how the materiality of the digital is spoken about and organised. Naming forms of exploitation is part of the struggle to transform them. A recent example is the way in which critical voices have refused to settle on the term ‘sharing economy’ that makes invisible the hyper-exploited forms of work undertaken by people providing services such as driving, delivering food or cleaning houses in platform capitalism. The more recent term ‘gig economy’, while in and of itself not changing those conditions, nonetheless gives a name to these activities as work and draws attention to the precarious ways in which this work is organised. Making sense of the affective structures of precariousness is another way in which agencies for transformation can be unearthed, because this allows for subjective everyday experiences to be deindividualised and related to the social structures that produce them. Critical pedagogies for digital education must do so much more than provide mere skills to process information and compete in an ever-more precarious labour market. Instead, radical digital citizens committed to social justice must be able to question and challenge the forms of exploitation, expropriation and oppression that are entangled in today’s algorithms.”

Huw Davies

“I found Emejulu & McGregor’s Towards a radical digital citizenship in digital education  (2016) inspiring. Their paper shows some of the most cited scholarship on digital skills and literacies is ‘sociology-lite’. This literature draws-up taxonomies and descriptions of normatively defined skills and literacies which once translated into curriculum plans become part of the problem of digital inequality rather than its solution. Emejulu & McGregor argue we shouldn’t disengage ‘the digital’ from the all the historic and continuing struggles for equality because, despite the utopian rhetoric, digital technology is quickly maturing into another exclusionary and privileging technology of power.

For example, every child from years 1 to 9 in England is to study Computer Science before being offered it as an option at GCSE. However, there is growing concern that the digital economy–far from being the meritocracy that is suggested in the discourse about the 4th industrial revolution–is becoming a ‘ruthless stratifier’ (Posner, 2017). This is because the dominant mode of production for the digital economy is ‘platform capitalism’ (Srnicek, 2016): a winner takes all system (Kenney and Zysman 2016) that allows the owners of platforms to operate exploitative employment practices that harness the affordances and fragilities of immaterial labour (Friedman 2014; Hill 2015; Leyshon et al. 2016), such as the ability to code. One of the myths of anti-immigration discourse is that if we close our borders natives will no longer have to compete with foreigners for jobs. But platform capitalism’s use of immaterial labour to create a transnational playing field (so that jobs with digital outputs such as software engineering can be put out to tender to an international workforce) means young people will be competing in global market place while having to pay for local living expenses. Therefore, to avoid their exploitation we can’t just rely on teaching young people to code (or skills and literacies) they need to be thinking about they can use these skills to challenge the architectures of digital economy’s dominant socio-technical structures (Davies & Eynon, forthcoming).

As a respondent, I took the opportunity to argue the most constructive contribution I can make is to help transform Digital Sociology into a respected mainstream subject that can influence the content of curriculums for all ages and levels. I described Digital Sociology as the most effective discipline for challenging platform capitalism. I argued that sociologists are able to draw on strong traditions to challenge the ideologies behind platform capitalism, but to understand code and digital infrastructures and their relationship to the political economy we have some way to go. Then (Digital) Sociology can offer a critique, which can become the foundation ethical alternatives to platform capitalism’s monopolies.”

[i] The public lecture was also funded with the support of the Institute for Education, Community and Society and the Centre for Research in Digital Education. Also, thanks to Dr Karen Gregory and Dr Jen Ross, who acted as chair and digital chair, respectively. Finally, particular thanks to learning technologist Barrie Barreto for livestreaming and recording the event.

[ii] If you are interested in participating in this group and helping it to develop, please contact Karen Gregory (karen.gregory@ed.ac.uk), Callum McGregor (callum.mcgregor@ed.ac.uk), or Jen Ross (jen.ross@ed.ac.uk).

[iii] Emma’s interests cover global social justice, feminist political economy and affective and emotional labour. She is the author of a forthcoming book on the Crisis of Care to be published by Verso Books.

[iv] Huw’s research combines social theory with mixed, digital and ethnographic, methods to help critically re-evaluate how we approach young people’s digital literacies.

 

Re-thinking ‘the commons’: examining dilemmas, exploring solutions

Dr. Leila Sinclair-Bright is a Career Development Fellow in Social Anthropology at the University of Edinburgh. In this article, she reflects on the notion of ‘the commons’ as recently debated in an interdisciplinary, open forum discussion event in Edinburgh.

 

Common Dilemmas

This open forum discussion was designed as a starting point for an interdisciplinary exchange of empirical and conceptual work exploring the theme of ‘the commons’ and collective ownership across different contexts. Excellent papers were presented by Dr. Tahl Kaminer (Edinburgh College of Art), Dr. Marisa Wilson (GeoSciences) and Dr. Kieran Oberman (Politics and International Relations) and followed by open discussion with the audience.

Dr. Kaminer’s presentation focused on the influence of the idea of ‘the commons’ in contemporary urban agriculture and regeneration movements. Kaminer opened by distinguishing the commons from the public space. Originating during the enlightenment, the notion of ‘public space’ has always been linked to civil society ideals. However, public spaces have long been as much about keeping particular elements of society out, as they have been about providing an arena for open movement and debate. In contrast, within contemporary urban agriculture and regeneration, ‘the commons’ has become a political movement that seeks to undermine and critique the control of urban space, as well as current economic and political conditions. Here then, the notion of ‘the commons’ is actually used to challenge the idea of a controlled public realm by various super-structures, from the state to corporations. As a movement, Kaminer suggests that ‘the commons’ provides an ideal but unachievable horizon that ‘rallies the troops’, but does not necessarily offer activists achievable, immediate objectives. Kaminer ended by pulling into question the efficacy of the commons movement, positing it more as a conceptual spring-board deployed by a variety of movements to gain traction and raise support for their campaigns, but often not leading to practical change.

Dr. Marisa Wilson’s paper examined local modes of governing food commons and how those interact with state and market models of the commons in Cuba. At what scale do we define food sovereignty? While sovereignty is usually defined at the national scale, how do localised models of food sovereignty fit into the national project? Since the late 19th century, food sovereignty has been promoted as a national ideal in Cuba, with individual profiteering denounced as against the national interest. From 1959, this became a top down institutionalised model of food ‘commoning’ that aimed to redistribute and provide basic food needs for Cuba’s population. With the collapse of the Soviet Union, the Cuban state was increasingly unable to adequately provide for its population’s food needs, and practices of local level food provisioning increased and/or became more visible. Local food industries were, however, still justified in terms of a local level fight for collective national food commons, and denunciations of private profit from food sales were equally prevalent at this scale. Simultaneously, powers in the agro-food industry were gradually devolved. More recently, the Cuban state has even begun, somewhat ambivalently, to support local level food networks, but maintains strict controls on their capital inputs. Local food providers thus rely on transnational remittances to supplement their capital input needs. Yet these local/transnational networks are still justified and framed into terms of contributing to the national food sovereignty cause. This fascinating case study revealed the multiple complexities at play around food commoning, and raised questions about the relationship between practices of ‘commoning’ and scale which also pertain to current discussions around food sovereignty in other contexts, such as Latin America and Scotland.

Dr. Kieran Oberman’s presentation, provocatively entitled: ‘Against the commons: an egalitarian argument for privatisation’, provided a schema of three different models of ownership: egalitarian collective ownership; common ownership; and equal ownership. In the egalitarian collective ownership model, a collective body owns the resource, say land, and everyone has an equal say on how it is used. In the common ownership model, everyone has use rights, but no one has individual ownership rights (so you could not sell the land, for example). In equal division, everyone has an equal share of the property, or the value of the property (for example basic income), and can choose what to do with their share. Collective and common ownership both curb individual freedoms. In the first, one can only act according to the agreements of the collective body; in the second, one only has use rights and individuals cannot enjoy the other rights that might come with ownership. Thus, Oberman suggests that equal ownership should be the starting place for those things which the majority believe should be commonly owned, such as the planet earth and its natural resources. Individuals can then choose to opt for a collective ownership model and pool their resources if they so choose. Oberman’s schema provided a useful starting point for assessing why and how different groups chose different models or combinations thereof, as well as highlighting a consideration of what rights are gained or lost in each case.

Re-thinking the Commons

The three presentations provided rich material for further discussion. We began by identifying the need to separate out what different kinds of rights inhere in particular claims of ownership (sale rights, use rights, etc…) rather than simply working with the oversimplified binary of individual ownership/privatisation/commodification: collective ownership/commons/non-commodified realm. Four themes for further enquiry also emerged: how the transition between different ownership models works; how governance affects the very framing of the ‘problem’ of the commons; what is a common/practices of commoning, and (how?) does transitioning between different ownership models actually change the ‘object’ in question. It is hoped that this event was the beginning of a set of interdisciplinary working relationships that may lead to further collaboration as a group or between individuals whose research interests intersect.

More about the author:

Dr. Leila Sinclair-Bright completed her doctorate entitled, ‘This Land: politics, authority and and morality after Zimbabwean land reform’ in 2017 (University of Edinburgh). Her research interests are in labour, property, conflict and politics. While her regional expertise lies in Southern Africa, she is in the early stages of developing her next research project on common property regimes in the UK.

 

The Asylum Monologues

This blog has been written by Dr Grit Wesser, a postdoctoral fellow in Social Anthropology at The University of Edinburgh. Here, she reports from a recent Asylum Monologues event in Edinburgh, which brought together performers, academics, students and the public to discuss this global human rights issue.

Immigration has perhaps always been – at least since the rise of nation-states – a contentious issue for policy makers, in public discourse, and around families’ kitchen tables. The so-called “European Refugee Crisis” has renewed a debate not on ‘whether’, but on ‘how much’ to control and limit immigration to Europe. In this process, the issue has been reduced to one of numbers.

But why do people cross borders and leave behind their home countries and loved ones? What does it mean to be an asylum seeker in Scotland? What new boundaries do migrants face, once they arrive in a country that is foreign to them – and treats them as foreigners? Could Scotland become their new home? These questions were being creatively examined through a performance of the Asylum Monologues, and in the panel discussion that followed.

Ice&Fire, a theatre company that explores human rights issues through performance, created the first script of the Asylum Monologues in 2006. Since then the company has recorded and performed various testimonies of asylum seekers, aimed at raising awareness of asylum seekers’ experiences by sharing their stories with the communities to which they now belong. The audience listened attentively to a Scottish script, launched only during Edinburgh’s Fringe Festival in 2016.

The three Ice&Fire performers took turns in telling the stories of a Kurdish unaccompanied minor, a young Pakistani man, and an Iranian woman and their experiences in Scotland. These narrations were candid and often bittersweet, taking the audience on the asylum seekers’ journeys, oscillating between the fear of state persecution and the sensations of loss, hope, and homesickness. The stories evoked the grief caused by broken families and the joys experienced through new-found friends as well as the frustrations and struggles associated with having to start from scratch and the potentials and expectations that new beginnings hold.

The performance was followed by a panel discussion, chaired by Jenny Munro from Beyond Borders Scotland. The panel comprised Professor Anthony Good, Social Anthropology; Phil Jones, manager of the Glasgow Night Shelter for Destitute Asylum Seekers; and Steven Ritchie, one of the three performers. The panellists were joined by two young men whose stories we had just heard: Tony and Aras.

Since Aras had listened to the script of his own story for the first time, he was eager to praise the performer: “It was great. You told it better than I could have!” Tony and Aras spoke to the audience about their new life in Scotland, while Phil explained how the Night Shelter’s work attempts to mitigate the difficulties faced by asylum seekers in Glasgow. Steven, who was also involved in interviewing asylum seekers, revealed more about the process of recording and retelling their life stories.

Issues surrounding the asylum process in the UK were clarified by Prof Good, who has frequently acted as an expert witness on asylum appeals in the UK and other countries. Contrary to the stories we had listened to, he elaborated, the Home Office structures its interviews with asylum seekers in a way that does not accommodate a chronological order of their experiences. Questions are often phrased ambiguously so that asylum seekers’ answers could vary, in turn leading to an intentional undermining of their credibility – a credibility required for gaining refugee status.

After a vote of thanks to the performers, panellists, and sponsors, the event ended with much applause and a donation appeal. The audience donated a total of nearly £200, which was equally split to support the work of Amnesty International and the Glasgow Night Shelter.

Aimed at making the people behind immigration numbers visible again, it was a successful evening – as one attendee later commented: “I’ve been to a few discussions on refugees and asylum seekers in Scotland, but this was the first to have a more creative take with the monologues, which I thought worked really well. It’s always helpful to have a more personal take, because numbers and places are difficult to bring to life.  I thought it was great all in so thanks for putting it together.”

Grit Wesser organised The Asylum Monologues event with Helene Frössling (Scottish Graduate School of Social Science) and Hannah Cook (Centre for African Studies), and in collaboration with Beyond Borders Scotland and Ice&Fire. The event was co-supported by the Global Justice and Global Development Academies’ through their joint Innovative Initiative Fund.

Peace in Colombia?

This blog post by Gwen Burnyeat, Wolfson PhD scholar at UCL, was first published by the London Review of Bookson 1 December  2016. In this piece, Gwen comments on the recent development in the post-referendum context and the adoption of a new peace agreement in Colombia.

Photo: School-Children in Pereira draw their hopes for peace, August 2016, by Gwen Burnyeat.

Photo: School-Children in Pereira draw their hopes for peace, August 2016, by Gwen Burnyeat.

The new peace accord between the government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia was signed in Bogotá’s Colón Theatre on 24 November. It was a more sober ceremony than the extravagant signing of the first agreement in Cartagena on 26 September, a week before Colombians narrowly voted against it in a referendum. The second signing was a closed event, and only President Juan Manuel Santos and the Farc commander, Timochenko, gave speeches. A subdued group of Colombians in the main plaza in Bogotá watched it on a big screen. The right-wing TV channel RCN, meanwhile, held a panel featuring only figures opposed to the deal, for ‘balance’.

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Building Bridges, Not Walls: Bauman’s Reflections on the Present-Day ‘Migration Panic’

profile-jgIn his second book review as a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador, James Gacek considers Zygmunt Bauman’s Strangers at Our Door and the popular panic that often surrounds mass migration.

Zygmunt Bauman’s (2016) book, Strangers at Our Door, provides a significant contribution to a growing discussion which counters the illusory panics of mass migration. Bauman explores the origins, contours and the impact of ‘moral panic’ seemingly spreading across Western, liberal democracies, and dissects the present-day ‘migration panic.’ Such migration panic, he contends, is witnessed within anxiety-driven and fear-suffused debates percolating within Western societies. While moral panic is not a new concept—one in which articulates that some malevolent force of ‘evil’ threatens a society’s well-being, coupled with the anxieties ostensibly overwhelming felt within such societies (c.f. Cohen, 1972)—what is new is the feeling of fear spreading among an ever-growing number of people within Western nations.

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Report from an IIF Event – Academic Freedom: “national security” threats in Turkey, India and the UK

Can the university be a space where academic freedom reigns while restrictions are increasingly threatening voices and lives outside its gates? Or must spaces for politics be opened up on and off campus in order to address the invasion of national security (and capitalist) logics into the realms of open enquiry? On 27 October 2016, scholars and activists engaged these questions with a focus on the variable effects of the securitisation of university space in Turkey, India and the UK.

A panel on Turkey included academics and students who have lost their jobs as a result of the broader crackdown on dissent following the failed coup in July. They highlighted the connections between increasing violence in the Kurdish regions of Turkey—which precipitated the “Academics for peace” petition that has been used as a pretext for dismissing many signatories from their posts—and the attempts of the state to impose controls on its critics. They asked if the focus on the plight of academics may mean that this violence recedes from the view of international publics. Efforts to maintain solidarity among those now outside the academy and those still within it, as well as initiatives to take the university outside spaces the government controls, provide hope for continued resistance in fearful times and carve out a more universal idea of the University as institution and spirit that always has had to be fought for and salvaged from strategies of subjection from various quarters, not only outside the University. In this way, this panel was inspiring for all university struggles, not just those related to Turkey.

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Brexit, Northern Ireland and UK-Irish Relations

CB profileThis post by GJA Director, Professor Christine Bell, was first published on the Centre on Constitutional Change blog on 26 March 2016, co-published with European Futures.

Amid pronouncements about the UK as an island nation, scant media or political attention has been paid to its only land border with the EU – between Northern Ireland and the Republic. However, says Professor Christine Bell in this extended analysis, the impact of Brexit on the institutions built up as part of the Peace Process would be considerable.

The EU referendum and the possibility of ‘Brexit’ raise distinct questions for Northern Ireland as a devolved region within the UK as part of the peace process. In the referendum debate, more attention needs to be given in the rest of the UK to Northern Ireland, the one part of the UK which has a land border with another EU country.

Political Divisions and the EU Referendum Campaign

The first key question as regards the EU referendum’s impact in Northern Ireland relates to the distinctiveness of its political settlement: how will the Brexit campaign affect political relationships – ever fragile – within Northern Ireland?

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MBA Team Syria: Making a Difference to the Community

DSC00990As a part of the Strategic Leadership course on Edinburgh’s MBA programme, a group of five students organised a social event to help draw awareness to the Syrian refugee crisis. In this guest post, Debjani Paul offers an overview of the event, which centred around the the personal life experiences of three Syrians now settled in Edinburgh – Aamer Hanouf, Hussen Al Ajraf, and Amer Masri.

With the rising global concerns including climate change, an increase in global population, poverty, and terrorism, world leaders have much to focus on. It is becoming a new norm for companies to be socially responsible by promoting sustainability and contributing at least in one of the global concerns, also known as Corporate Social Responsibility. This is the ethical way to do business that every future leader should practice.

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Equality and the Democratic Deficit

This post by Global Justice Co-Director, Dr Tahl Kaminer, reports from the first Urban Justice Lab Symposium: ‘Who Saved the City?’. Follow the link at the bottom of the post to our Lecture Library to view videos from the day and to find out more about the Urban Justice Lab and what it does.

Who Saved the City

The recent exposure of a letter by David Cameron to Oxfordshire County Council (as reported in the Oxford Mail, and The Guardian), in which the PM berates the council for front-line budget cuts, generated a minor storm on social media. Less than a fortnight earlier, Annette Hastings of the University of Glasgow presented the findings of a Rowntree Foundation report, which lucidly depicted the application of cuts to front-line budgets of city councils across the UK. Her eloquent and precise presentation demonstrated vividly why the government’s cuts necessarily hit front-line spending, and particularly the poor.

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Serving women in Iraq and Syria: has UNSCR 1325 made a difference?

Rosie Ireland is a student on this year’s LLM in Human Rights at The University of Edinburgh. This is Rosie’s second report as a Global Justice Academy Student Ambassador – from the 2015 Montague Burton Lecture, which was delivered by Frances Guy on 2 November. Frances Guy is the Head of the Middle East region at Christian Aid. Rosie’s report outlines the key points made during the lecture, which was entitled ‘Serving women in Iraq and Syria: has UNSCR 1325 made a difference?’.

It is nearly the fifteenth anniversary of the UNSCR 1325; the first ever resolution aimed to enhance the role of women in peace building. Frances Guy analysed the effectiveness of the resolution in the context of Iraq and Syria in relation to four key areas: participation, protection, prevention, and relief and recovery.

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