Academic (CC) by Tim Ellis

Academic (CC) by Tim Ellis

I am doing a talk on the topic above and it occurred to me that Bourdieu offers, once again, an interesting interpretation of the changes and acts of resistance brought about by digital media.

In a review study for JISC, Helen Bethan asserts that “Digital literacies define those who exhibit a critical understanding and capability for living, learning, and working in the digital society”. Although this is a very broad definition of what means to be versed in the spaces digital media creates, it anticipates a number of skills that need to be learnt to explore the potential of this new medium.

If looking at current school and HE curricula is anything to go by, we can say with a great degree of certainty that this type of literacy is more often than not overlooked. And even though some institutions are committed to the implementation of technology as a form of projecting a modern image of themselves, many times they overlook the need to foster a critical understanding of being online. This not only applies to students, but also to staff. If on one hand, we have come already a long way to understand the mechanics of digital media, on the other hand we have overlooked the meaning of adopting or rejecting these social practices and the values associated with them. And this is, in my opinion, where we are missing a trick or two.

There is no doubt that digital media is encouraging new practices, but as Miller (2011) points out, its users also carry a lot of practices from the offline world into the online one, hence making it a far less idyllic place than firstly anticipated by a more enthusiastic literature. Now that technology is no longer news but rather part of our social world, it’s high time we started looking at it from a more mature lens. I am interested in understanding individuals’ digital habitus and how the distinction that such practices convey contrasts with the practices of those who resist the online world. Bourdieu would describe this as deviant practices capable of initiating change, provided the structures on which the deviant practitioners operate allow it.

A crucial condition of change is a ‘critical crisis’, which, as Bourdieu alleges, provides a turning point likely to transform practices and individuals’ professional sense of identity as structures and dispositions come into disruption. It could be argued that education is being affected by the current global economic uncertainty at the same time its meaning is being questioned. In an attempt to remain relevant, institutions look at the implementation of technology as a response to the crisis felt by its structure. What they often forget is to consider the social agents that operate in it, their habitus and the dispositions they have long cultivated to succeed in a given structure. This often results in a clash between individuals’ habitus and the field’s aspirations to renew its structure, because they no longer identify with each other.

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