Impossible Goals, or a Requiem for Hope: a Response to Kidcrooked

As I finish my first year of Masters Studies in sociology at Queen’s University, I have discovered I have learned many things besides the academic material from my courses. I am a Teaching Assistant for the first year introduction to sociology course; I am responsible for 2 tutorial groups, totaling 34 new post-secondary students, guiding them, teaching them, and marking their work. What I see from many of them is idealism and perhaps a hope that things may one day change, whether it has to do with inequality of the LGBT etc. movement, access to internet, socioeconomic status, or marginalization of particular groups of people due to their work or ethnicity. In fact, I recently learned of the new posts (here and here) while I was showing the site to one of the more inquisitive students. I agree with the position that there is an outrage or at least strong positive interest in marginalization and inequities in society.

Given my participation on this project revolved around digital pedagogy, I will try to formulate a response to the recent posts by Kidcrooked that critiques some thoughts, while also stays in the topic of digital learning. As usual, my post will remain theoretical until maybe the day comes when I want to make it into something more than a simple response.

One of the statements that stood out to me was the idea that there is always a ramp present in the digital world, for the democratization of the internet. I humbly disagree. If anything, there are rapid movements to destroy this ramp, though I would suggest this ramp is a half-baked one, under construction. They are destroying something that hardly existed. The end of accessibility before it began. The internet was not conceived under the contexts of democratization of information, it was built towards that by like-minded users who wanted to share their life. Like everything else, life itself has been given a price-tag. Many people pay to set-up their exhibits of themselves, they pay to learn what is going around them as they huddle in their homes, they pay for constant and immediate connections to the world around them. To gain access to academic journals we must pay, to go to school we pay, to utilize digital teaching tools we pay. Freedom of expense is a fantasy, one generated by hidden fees covered by taxes, tuition prices, and student levies. Corporate interest has, and is continually, taking over construction of these ramps of accessibility. A school cannot afford valuable online resources? Too bad, you must make do with what you have. I am sure some schools could hire their own students from the computer science departments to make more effective teaching tools than we currently have. We are taught from the outset to struggle and overcome inequalities presented to ourselves, making inequalities seem like something natural, that to overcome inequality makes you stand above it. Once overcome, we are often presented with three choices: to forget it in our exhaustion, to tacitly consent to reproduce it in ways we do not consider, or to place yourself back in it to help others rise above it. A difficult choice, influenced by our cultural, economic, and symbolic capital. Nevertheless, before I stray too far from my point, the ramp of accessibility is not there, rather it is a pay-to-use elevator. Welcome to the floor you can afford.

A point of contention is the idea that we will write about the internet as an “age of an equalizer.” There are fundamental powers at work in the fight for internet equities that cannot even be seen. If anything, we will write about the internet as an age of extreme symbolic violence, a clash of capital, in a Bourdieusian sense. The fight for the internet is only just beginning, and more than likely will not end favourably for the average person or academic. Attacks on net-neutrality are made daily. Bourdieu shows us with his notion of the hierarchical field that there are so many agents working against change, that even to break away from the hierarchy and start a new one causes the old order to adapt. If the internet has equalized anything, it has equalized the ability of dominant social structures to adapt equally as fast, if not faster, than innovative material can be dispersed. With the democratization of the internet also comes the availability of incorrect ideas being available, whether they are anti-progressive views, or misinterpreted or willfully twisted concepts and theories. I recently showed a video from the Feminist Frequency series on Youtube to my tutorial groups, and a large majority of the students were less than impressed as they dug down to the deeper issues. Yet for many, this is seen as the face of modern feminism, simply because it is so easily accessible. As much as we hope the internet will be what we want it to be, it is little more than an idealization, something that cannot be achieved if full democratization is enabled. To disable a full democratization is playing on the borders of those fundamental inequalities we wish to destroy.

In terms of internet being an equalizer in the educative processes, in its present shape it most definitely is not. Access gaps due to lack of infrastructure can be crippling to new students competing with those who have access to these things. Schools that are underfunded lack the resources to help their students, who again have to compete with higher funded schools which have more technological resources. The more funding available, the greater access to knowledge, and this is in a broad sense, not just a social science angle. Where money lies, power lies, and the field is reproduced.

There cannot be equality where there is always a power that creates a fundamental imbalance, even when it cannot be precisely located or hidden in a plain sight obscurity. Often we are staring at this imbalance of power. Even as I type this I know my computer is better, faster, and thus more efficient than many others. Other students are faced with slower computers, which means more “wasted time” (in the sense that you must wait for things to load, to download, etc), and less time is dedicated to actual research, merely on a technicality.

Furthermore, for every principle of inequality that is being solved, another one appears, because the roots of our problems are like a weed: deep and hard to find. Even with progressive ideas such as open-access scholarly journals, we are still faced with inequalities in terms of knowledge accessibility. If we cannot understand the material in the journals, what use is it to us? It is not even a primary matter of being “high-brow” or “well-read,” it continually goes back to fundamental inequities of economic and cultural capital that are generated and handed down in society.

In accordance to the introduction of this post, Kidcrooked discusses the introduction of gadgets, and the Canadian cultural mosaic. Baudrillard identified in 1984 that a cultural mosaic is a myth, it is artificial. It is a delusion to hide the real culture, the “capitalist centralization of value.” These gadgets, though useful, as I described earlier are niche pieces of equipment set not to benefit the people, but to gain profit. We can look to the most innovative of designs, those that can do the most, and wonder why they are suppressed, or never make it out of proto-type stages. As I discussed before in this post (and thus will not repeat myself at length), unless the gadget will turn a profit, it will not be generally available to the market. In the case of 3D Printers, it will not be long before they are entirely regulated by both government and corporative powers.

In the end you may ask, reasonably, how is it that I feel the field or dominant social structures are constantly reproduced but we are making undeniable advances in society? To this I suggest that dominant social structures integrate changes on their own terms. Every change is done with the subtle consent of power, as it learns to control and integrate the new order into the old. Technological advancements in the classroom can only be achieved with the approval of the hierarchy. What can be accessed is a matter of economic capital (power). New cultural capital values are approved or disapproved. Schutz once suggested that the fundamental anxiety of society is the fact we know our finiteness. Bourdieu continues this line of thought suggesting that we are always in a search for recognition. Inequality will be, and always has been, generated on the premise that we are better than someone else, and will take available means to achieve it. To be recognized is to surpass others, and competition, especially in this society, breeds this. There are a multitude of factors that will allow, for example, one school to get ahead of another, to get more funding, donations, better teachers, and so on. Students will always try to be better than one or another, whether it is competition for admission to a prestigious institute, or stacking their résumé for a job. Until the corporative interests surrounding education, particularly technological education, is entirely dismantled with a suitable substitute, competition and therefore inequality will continue to persist.

Perhaps I have become too vitriolic. Although yes, it is our job as scholars to respond to both the historical institution and work to change inequalities, we are pitted against a monster of enormous proportions. It is no exaggeration to say we must stand up to the very fabric of social reality. A virus so vile it infests the most miniscule and obscure vein of the social body, and readily adapts to healing processes, creating a task that almost endless, and designed to destroy all hope through displays of power, greed, and distrust manifested in the forms of institutions we hold most dear.

Works influencing this piece

Baudrillard, Jean. The System of Objects,and Simulacra and Simulation.
Bourdieu, Pierre. Pascalian Meditations.
Marcuse, Herbert. One Dimensional Man.
Schutz, Alfred. Collected Papers Volume One: The Problem of Social Reality.

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