The vital materiality of data infrastructures: Creating a world of their own

Year: 2021

Author: Clutterbuck, Jennifer

Type of paper: Individual Paper

In the ever-increasing digital governance of education, the ways digital infrastructures govern through the power of their vital materiality is seldom considered. Data and the infrastructures that digitalise them are used in the reimagination of education globally, its purpose, processes and even its participants. Educational practitioners and students are ‘re-formed’, that is, formed again of the data, becoming datafied doppelgangers within the educational ‘ecosystem’.To illustrate how data infrastructures develop their own affective agency, this paper draws on research into the student management platform, OneSchool. OneSchool, launched in 2008, was built by the government organisation that continues to use it today, to manage more than 560 000 students’ data across 1254 public schools in Queensland, Australia. The research identified the ways in which OneSchool’s affective agency was established from within the relationships and intra-actions of its development to have an enduring effect over educational practitioners and their practices. This intra-active becoming of OneSchool’s agency and materiality is presented through an ethnographic perspective to reveal the creation of a digital educational governance ecosystem. As is the nature of ecosystems, it was identified through the interactions between the human (Central and Regional Office staff, school leaders, government and non-government bureaucrats and technocrats) and non-human components (policy, data, digital infrastructures, facilities) in both physical and virtual spaces. The research was informed by empirical data that were gathered from interviews with 68 current and past Queensland government and education department personnel. It is of significance that these participants traversed the borders of the hierarchical geographies of education systems: schools, Regional and Central Offices thus providing a unique systemic view. The research identified how OneSchool processes were originally determined from the management habits of educationalists within Queensland bureaucratic and school environments. Over the past decade OneSchool’s vital materiality is shown to have evolved to a stage where it is recognised as rising up to both govern and look back at those who originally informed its development. Significantly, OneSchool’s, and data infrastructures’ more broadly, vital materiality is identified as impacting the at times contentious and problematic creation of digitalised truths about students, schools, and schooling. Determining how data infrastructures’ vital materiality governs in ways that are seemingly independent of those who brought them into being, is of importance to educational practitioners and organisations who seek to control their development, purchase, and use.