Utopias and Dystopias


Image by STCroiss. Creative Commons license CC:BY:NC:SA

During Block 1, we will examine and discuss how digital culture and digital education are often described as either utopian (creating highly desirable social, educational, or cultural effects) or dystopian (creating extremely negative effects for society, education or culture).

The purpose of exploring digital and e-learning cultures in this way is not to suggest that e-learning actually is utopian or dystopian - though you may of course wish to argue that it is - but to understand how these common kinds of stories of the web, technology and online learning shape and influence our understanding of what’s possible and desirable in our own practices as learners, students and teachers.

Hand and Sandywell (2002) describe three utopian claims about information technology, and three dystopian ones. These will help you think about how our films and readings in this block are positioned in relation to issues of democracy, access and resistance.

 

Utopian claimsDystopian claims
Information technologies based on electronic computation possess intrinsically democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ democratic properties or dispositions). Information technologies possess intrinsically de-democratizing properties (the Internet and/or worldwide web is an autonomous formation with ‘in-built’ anti-democratic properties or dispositions).
Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to democratizing global forces of information creation, transfer and dissemination. Information technologies are intrinsically neutral, but inevitably lend themselves to control by de-democratizing forces (hardware and software ‘ownership’ equals anti-democratic control).
Cyber-politics is essentially a pragmatic or instrumental task of maximizing public access to the hardware and software thought to exhaustively define the technology in question. Cyber-politics is essentially one of resisting and perverting the anti- democratic effects of the technology in question.


Hand, M. and B. Sandywell. 2002. E-topia as cosmopolis or citadel: On the democratizing and de-democratizing logics of the internet, or, toward a critique of the new technological fetishism. Theory, Culture & Society 19, no. 1-2: 197-225. (p.205-6) 

Pay attention to the words ‘intrinsically’, ‘inherently’, ‘inevitably’ and ‘essentially’ in the table above - these are important in week 1, when we start to explore some utopian and dystopian accounts of digital culture and e-learning, and look back at some early examples of writing on e-learning to consider how these ways of thinking have affected online education today. We’ll draw on the concept of ‘technological determinism’ as a way of understanding the thinking behind these accounts and examples.

Then, in week 2, we move to exploring utopian and dystopian visions of the future, and examine the use of metaphors in expressing and shaping our understanding of what might happen to education and learning in light of the rise of MOOCs, in particular. 

Last modified: Wednesday, 21 October 2015, 4:28 PM