Psychodata: Disassembling social-emotional learning, edutech and policy

Ben Williamson, University of Edinburgh

Thursday, November 6, 4pm – 5.30pm

Room 351, Education Building, University of Sydney

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An event cosponsored by the SSESW Education Policy Research Network and the Socio-Tech Futures (STuF) Lab.

Psychology and economics are powerful sources of contemporary governance, and are increasingly influential in education policy and practice. In this context, social and emotional learning (SEL) is becoming an educational priority in many parts of the world. Based on the measurement and assessment of students’ ‘noncognitive’ skills, SEL consists of a ‘psycho-economic’ combination of psychometrics with economic analysis, and is producing novel forms of statistical ‘psychodata’ about students. This presentation examines how psychological and economics experts are producing policy-relevant scientific knowledge and statistical psychodata to influence the direction of SEL policies, by following the development of SEL as it has travelled transnationally through the advocacy of psychologists, economists, and behavioural scientists, with support from think tank coalitions, philanthropies, edtech companies (e.g. ClassDojo), investment schemes, and international organizations (e.g. OECD). These emerging efforts to measure SEL instantiate ‘psycho-econometric governance’ within education, part of a political rationality in which society is measured effectively through scientific fact-finding and subjects are managed affectively through psychological intervention.

Ben Williamson is a Chancellor’s Fellow in the Centre for Research in Digital Education and the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh. He maintains the research blog Code Acts in Education, tweets @BenPatrickWill, and wrote Big Data in Education: The digital future of learning, policy and practice (Sage, 2017). 

Digital Intermediation: Towards transparent public automated media – Jonathon Hutchinson

‘Algorithm’ Image courtesy of Dimitris Ladopoulos 

Friday 8 November, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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The contemporary media ecosystem operates on digital intermediation: it is one that consists of the cultural, economic and expertise capital exchange of cultural intermediation that would otherwise be associated with traditional media, combined with social influencers and large-scale automation. That is, contemporary media is most successful in reaching its desired audience when it engages in digital intermediation that utilises the content production expertise of social influencers who engage the affordances of algorithmic calculations of social media platforms. Youtubers and Instagrammers, for example Zoella, DanTDM, Gigi Hadid or PewDiePie, have all expertly designed their content production around platform characteristics that expose their creative expertise to a large specialist and engaged audience. Bärtl (2018) notes that 85% of all consumed YouTube content is produced by 3% of the top channels, suggesting there is an increasing homogenisation of content diversity across these platforms. It is in this environment where single media producers experience high exposure and impact for their content, while public interest media are struggling to remain relevant. How then, might our public institutions engage digital intermediation to increase the exposure of public interest media?

This presentation will first highlight how successful YouTube and Instagram social influencers operate by defining the function of the Digital First Personality. It will then unpack how automation operates, namely recommender systems, on digital platforms by focussing on the YouTube algorithm through what I argue as digital intermediation. Third it will look at the current state of public institutions engaging digital first personalities and digital intermediation by focussing on the German case study of Funk. Finally this presentation will provide a number of recommendations on how our public institutions can and should be adopting strategies to remain relevant in the contemporary media ecosystem.

Dr Jonathon Hutchinson is a lecturer in Online Communication and Media at the University of Sydney. He is currently a Visiting Research Fellow on the Algorithmed Public Sphere project at the Hans Bredow Institute, Hamburg Germany. His research explores Public Service Media, cultural intermediation, everyday social media, automated media, and algorithms in media. He is the NSW Representative on the Executive Committee for the Australian and New Zealand Communication Association (ANZCA), the Secretary for the International Public Service Media Association, RIPE, and is the current Program Chair for the Association of Internet Research (AoIR). Hutchinson is an award-winning author and his latest book is Cultural Intermediaries: Audience Participation and Media Organisations (2017), published through Palgrave Macmillan.

Tom McDonald and Tommy Tse – Hong Kong University

Friday 25 October, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

“Pulling the sheep’s wool”: Online thriftiness, labour relations and domesticity in a Chinese factory

This paper draws on data collected during ethnographic fieldwork in a factory in southeast China to describe the significance of a group of activities colloquially known as “pulling the sheep’s wool” (haoyangmao). This wide-ranging set of thrift-oriented practices involves gaining rewards and discounts by collecting various credits and points, most often through online shopping, news and payment platforms. This paper shows how these activities are reshaping the rhythms and structures of everyday factory life, bringing into sharp focus competing demands between online and offline, work and leisure, while also challenging the distinctions between these domains. Although recent studies have sought to reposition thrift as a consumptive practice through which the concept of the house is enacted, we demonstrate how thrift acts in a factory environment largely unmoored from notions of domesticity, instead delineating social boundaries between production line workers and managers while also fostering communal behaviours amongst labourers. This leads us to argue that there is a need to acknowledge how thrift can operate independently of the home and family.

Tom McDonald is a media anthropologist dedicated to using ethnographic engagement to achieve a richer understanding of how digital technologies, media and material culture come to mediate ongoing transformations in the communicative practices, economic behaviours, social relationships and human subjectivities of people in China and beyond. Tom joined the HKU Department of Sociology in August 2015. Prior to this, he was a Research Associate at the Department of Anthropology, University College London.

Tom’s first solely-authored monograph, Social Media in Rural China: Social Networks and Moral Frameworks (2016, UCL Press), details the findings of 15-months of ethnographic fieldwork in the Chinese countryside, examining how social media use reconfigures social relations and morality. A separate co-authored volume, How the World Changed Social Media (2016, UCL Press) expands on the wider findings of the larger comparative UCL Why We Post study, to which my ethnography formed a central contribution.

Tom’s research increasingly focuses on economic concerns, reflecting the rapid convergence between digital money and media in China. His current project examines the adoption of digital money platforms amongst migrant factory workers in China and documents the effects such platforms on a range of everyday exchange practices and infrastructures, with a particular focus on consumption, savings, investment, and remittances.

From Shanzhai chic to Gangnam style: Seven practices of cultural-economic mediation in China and Korea

Constantly readapting to the asymmetrical global flows of fashion, the economically soaring Korean and Chinese fashion industries have demonstrated non-linear development and differential co-creation of fashion as cultural value through new forms of cultural mediation. This presentation examines the social construction of ‘fashionability’ – namely, what is ‘desirable’ and ‘fashionable’ – with reference to the concept ‘cultural mediators’ that foregrounds agency, negotiation, and the contested practices of market actors in cultural production. It zeroes in on the cultural mediators’ attitudes and positions in the two markets by drawing on 25 in-depth interviews with industry veterans. It shows that the mediators in South Korea and China increasingly occupy hybrid occupational roles and social positions across industries and sectors yet achieve limited success in countering the status quo of Western fashion through mediation. The analysis contributes to the literature with a categorisation of seven mediation practices that shape the valuation of fashion products (i.e. ‘fashionability’) in two ways. Empirically, this categorisation illuminates how cultural mediators make reference habitually to the broader social and cultural contexts to co-construct cultural-aesthetic objects. Theoretically, it advances a “cultural-economic approach” to the understanding of cultural mediation and challenges the reductionist viewpoint of actor-network theory through the notion of a matrix of cultural-economic agency.

Tommy Tse is an Assistant Professor at the Department of Sociology, The University of Hong Kong. He specialises in East Asia’s media and cultural industries, creative labour and sociology of fashion. His work has appeared in Information, Communication and Society, Journal of Consumer Culture, Journal of Business Anthropology, International Journal of Fashion Studies among others. In 2015, Tse was the visiting scholar at the Communication University of China, Beijing, and at the Fashion Institute of Design, Donghua University, Shanghai. In 2018, he was a Research Associate at London College Fashion and a Visiting Scholar at UCL Anthropology Department.


Anthropocenic Global Capitalism: Conflicts, Crises and Ruptures of Time – Wayne Hope

Wednesday 23 October, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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Evidence from geology, climatology, atmospheric chemistry, geochemistry and oceanography suggest that the earth has experienced a historic step-change in the relationship between human species and the natural world. In anthropocenic terms, human action and earth dynamics have converged; they can no longer be seen as disparate entities. Human inhabitants of the planet have perpetrated, and are facing, unprecedented environmental shifts. They include biodiversity loss, anthropogenic climate change and disruptions to the carbon cycle and nitrogen cycle. In a warmer world and a depleted biosphere, multiple risks emerge: melting ice flows, rising ocean acidity, extreme weather events, damage to agricultural systems and unequal social suffering. Most centrally, it is now evident, in retrospect, that the switch from organic surface energy to underground fossil energy has intertwined the time of earth with the time of human history.

Understanding the capitalist relations of power involved here requires that we rethink industrial capitalism in the historical context of a world system built upon unequal socio-ecological exchange between core and periphery. From a contemporary perspective, the formation of global capitalism has intensified the anthropocenic feedback loops associated with CO2 emissions /climate change and the universalised organisational frameworks of profit extraction and socio-ecological destruction. I will argue that an epochal conjuncture between the Anthropocene and global capitalism generates a cluster of time conflicts centred around time reckoning, temporality and the denial of coevalness. These time conflicts materialise in regard to the earth system and fossil fuel extraction, carbon-based commodity fetishism and global warming/greenhouse tipping point scenarios. Taken together, these materialisations of time conflict are generating a three-fold crisis within and across the earth system, global capitalism and human species being. Extrapolations of these crises will, in my view, rupture the dual epoch of anthropocenic global capitalism. I conclude by assessing the ramifications of this scenario.

Professor Wayne Hope Wayne Hope is a Professor in the School of Communication Studies at the Auckland University of Technology, New Zealand. His specific areas of research include: New Zealand media history and public sphere analysis, the political economy of communication, sport-media relationships and globalisation and time. He is the author of Time, Communication and Global Capitalism (Palgrave, 2016). The book was described by one reviewer as follows: “a virtuoso work of synthesis, provocative and pathbreaking. It needs to be read by anyone interested in the ways we live now, where we might be headed and how we might arrive at destinations not at the neoliberal route map.” Wayne’s research has also been published in a range of journals including Media, Culture & Society, the International Journal of Communication, Time & Society and tripleC: Communication, Capitalism & Critique. He is founding co-editor of the international online journal Political Economy of Communication (www.polecom.org). Within New Zealand, Wayne has appeared regularly as a media commentator on television and radio when not writing pieces against neoliberalism in The Daily Blog.

What can the playful voice teach us about media literacy? – Jacqueline Vickery

Friday 18 October, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

MECO Seminar Room, S226, John Woolley Building A20, University of Sydney

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Media education is often built upon democratic ideals of empowering young people to creatively express themselves and “find their voice.” However, youth do not always share these same values, or rather, they may not express them in the same ways as adults. Drawing from experiences leading media workshops for teens in foster care, this talk explores assumptions that both adults and youth make about the value of youth-produced media. At a time when young people are just as likely to learn media codes and conventions from professionally-produced commercial media as they are from memes and amateur digital culture, how does their playful resistance and appropriation of media challenge frameworks of media literacy?

Dr. Jacqueline Ryan Vickery is Associate Professor of Media Arts at the University of North Texas and Director of Research for the Youth Media Lab, a unique collaboration between media researchers and media creators that helps young people use media to create more inclusive and just communities. Drawing from qualitative, feminist, and ethnographic methods, she researches the media practices and representations of marginalized youth, with a particular focus on informal learning, equity, and media literacy. She is the author of “Worried About the Wrong Things: Youth, Risk, and Opportunity in the Digital World” and co-author of “The Digital Edge: How Black and Latino Youth Navigate Digital Inequality.” In the summers she facilitates a storytelling and media workshop for teens in foster care.

Darwin’s Animoji: Histories of Animation and Racism in Facial Recognition – Luke Stark, Microsoft Research

Thursday 10 October, 3.00pm – 4.30pm

New Law School Annexe SR 440, University of Sydney

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Facial recognition systems are increasingly common components of smartphones and other consumer digital devices. These technologies enable animated video-sharing applications, such as Apple’s animoji and memoji, Facebook Messenger’s masks and filters and Samsung’s AR Emoji. Such animations serve as technical phenomena translating moments of affective and emotional expression into mediated, trackable, and socially legible forms across a variety of social media platforms.

Through technical and historical analysis of these digital artifacts, the talk will explore the ways facial recognition systems classify and categorize racial identities in human faces in relation to emotional expression. Drawing on the longer history of discredited pseudosciences such as phrenology, the paper considers the dangers of both racializing logics as part of these systems of classification, and of how social media data regarding emotional expression gathered through these systems can be used to reinforce systems of oppression and discrimination.

Luke Stark is a Postdoctoral Researcher in the Fairness, Accountability, Transparency and Ethics (FATE) Group at Microsoft Research Montreal. His scholarship examines the history and contemporary societal impacts of AI and other digital media facilitating for social and emotional interaction. His work has been published in venues including Social Studies of Science, Media Culture and Society, History of the Human Sciences, and The International Journal of Communication. He has previously been a Postdoctoral Fellow in the Department of Sociology at Dartmouth College, a Fellow and Affiliate of the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University, and an inaugural Fellow with the University of California Berkeley’s Center for Technology, Society, and Policy. He holds a PhD from the Department of Media, Culture, and Communication at New York University, and an Honours BA and MA in History from the University of Toronto.