Confronting the datafication of schooling via technical democracy: Problematising the agonistic and pluralistic im/possibilities of ‘hybrid forums’

Year: 2021

Author: Lewis, Steven, Holloway, Jessica

Type of paper: Symposium

Schooling has become a key target of the ‘data deluge’ (Anderson, 2008; Kitchin, 2014) and is now increasingly subject to modes of accountability that both rely upon and produce new forms of digital data. Within this thoroughly ‘datafied’ world (Lupton, 2016; Smith 2016), the datafication of schooling has led to a series of ontological and epistemological shifts concerning who and what schools, teachers and students are; as well as how they are known and understood (cf. Wyatt-Smith, Lingard, & Heck, 2021; Lewis and Holloway, 2019). Arguably, the space of public education is rapidly being ceded to obscured algorithms and technical data specialists, both of which are frequently beyond the purview – or even the comprehension – of the teaching profession and public.            Despite the building critique regarding datafication, there remains a palpable lack of consensus for how society should best respond to the growing prevalence of data and, relatedly, the lack of transparency for how such data shape our public and private lives. One such strategy draws on what Callon, Lascoumes and Barthe (2001) describe as technical democracy. Here, ‘hybrid forums’ of citizens and specialists help to penetrate the otherwise closed space of expertise by fostering a more democratic dialogue between technical expertise and social concern. This purportedly bridges the divide between expert and ‘lay’ ways of knowing and acting, and thereby challenges the delegation of authority to experts. We would suggest technical democracy aligns with democratic thinkers who see ‘deliberative democracy’ as the ideal means for both eliminating conflict and achieving consensus-derived resolution (cf. Habermas, 1996; Rawles 1997). However, the work of political theorists like Mouffe (1999) and Connolly (2005) provides a compelling lens for problematising the very premise that consensus should be a virtue of democracy. Rather, they argue that democratic politics should embrace conflict as a productive means for pursuing pluralistic values, perspectives and identities. Thinking with theory (Jackson & Mazzei, 2013), this paper seeks to problematise the hybrid forum in terms of producing agonistic and pluralistic im/possibilities. Drawing on vignettes developed from our previous respective research (e.g., interviews with teachers, school leaders, policymakers, technical specialists etc.), we produce a series of ‘contrast models’ (Connolly, 2005) for simulating what hybrid forums might offer towards realising democratic practices and outcomes.