Reflecting Allowed

Maha Bali’s blog about education

More articles on social justice and digital colonialism

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Reading Time: 4 minutes

I’m still reading around these topics a bit more intensively than usual and taking notes and blogging just to keep my thoughts a bit clearer and share.

So first, Rajiv Jhangiani shared on Twitter this open access book on Design Equity – It is about design more broadly, so I started by reading the chapter on Information Equity since it’s most relevant to my context (I assumed).

Some quotes:

if people in a society do not have access to information they need to advocate for their interests, that society is not really a democracy.

This made me think of how one of the key ways an authoritarian regime enforces its power and hegemony is by making information obscure, unfindable, confusing, or nonexistent.

The other thing I really liked about the chapter is the emphasis on how information equity impacts both personal agency and social capital. Well, social capital is also a chicken and egg thing, right?

Information is key to building social capital and is a key benefit of having social capital—to finding and meeting and interacting with people who will benefit you and offering them advice and support in return

And I am thinking of how VC enables this kind of thing. Well PLN and connectivism/networking in general…but VC too. We always said VC helps build social capital so not really a surprise, but still.

The chapter goes on to talk about how governments and corporations can restrict our personal agency by limiting our access to important information- but also by tapping into our data in ways we don’t understand and using it for surveillance.

And here is the key point about why access is not enough (a reminder of Nancy Fraser on economic justice vs cultural and political):

Let’s say that we were able to provide everyone with the same access to the same information in the same format. Would that solve the problem? Would everyone have personal agency, the ability to build and sustain social networks, and the opportunity to participated in democratic society? It depends on what the information is and whether or not everyone is able to understand and use it

The article also talks about what is needed for key stakeholders to participate in decison-making. One key thing is obviously that they need to know where and how to find information in a timely manner. They should also know which paths to take if they wanted to participate or participate in decison-making, and more importantly than all this, their participation should impact the final decisions, or else it’s more like that lip-service listening i mentioned before. Involve people and let them talk but do nothing about it. Illusion of participation.

And then this really important point about process and, as I have always said, a process itself may be unintentionally or intentionally exclusionary. It may be implicit or explicit..even participatory situations are exclusionary to some groups of people.

When are you allowed to speak and what recourse do you have if the decision goes the other way? You also need to feel comfortable speaking up. Who do you think is comfortable speaking up in a public meeting? Who do you think people in power might be more inclined to listen to or agree with? Who might not feel comfortable going to a public meeting at all?

And that is something we recognize in Virtually Connecting very much. That we are synch video and livestreamed and recorded is probably uncomfortable if not downright intimidating For many of the people for whom VC advocates and attempts to offer opportunities for building social capital.

The two other articles I am reading and will comment on soon are

Paul Prinsloo shared this powerful one by Michael Kwet: Digital colonialism: US empire and the new imperialism in the Global South. It speaks very clearly and strongly about how the US and its corporations are able to exert a new imperialism by economic and cultural and political digital means. The economic comes from dependence on GAFAM tech corporations for devices and software used in global South countries in education and all kinds of advancement (including what you purchase and what you rent) and also cultural and political in terms the kinds of data collected and the reinforcement of both state and global imperial surveillance.

How will the Global South be impacted by the spread of digital technology? More importantly, should the Global South adopt the products and models of US tech giants, or should they think differently and pursue other options? Can the countries of the Global South shape their own digital destiny?

I haven’t yet finished the article but am really looking forward to his suggestions for taking a different approach, which the abstract promises is “a different ecosystem that decentralises technology by placing control directly into the hands of the people to counter the rapidly advancing frontier of digital empire.“. I may use this and the above book chapter as articles in my class next semester! Inshallah

The third article which has been on my reading list for some time and I have finally gotten around to reading (but not yet finished!) Is Sarah Lambert’s Changing our (Dis)Course: A Distinctive Social Justice Aligned Definition of Open Education which also (like Hodgkinson-Williams and Trotter) builds on the work of Nancy Fraser and others. She defines social justice as

A process and also a goal to achieve a fairer society which involves actions guided by the principles of redistributive justice, recognitive justice or representational justice.

The three categories she uses here seem to be parallel to economic (redistributive), cultural (recognitive) and political (representational) justice. it’s probably the same thing? I probably need to read more closely. But I was particularly struck by the key difference between recognitive and representational. To recognize different cultures is important but not the same as having those cultures present, participating and representing themselves. Reminds me also of the pluralist feminism idea of going beyond recognition.

Lambert’s paper takes the approach of analyzing some key texts on open education for how they refer to these different principles of social justice. I’m excited to read more of it.

I will keep posting notes as I read further, as (clearly) my reading is non-linear.

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