Lets get critical…

 Critical theory recognises there are multiple, often contradictory, claims to knowledge. A diversity of ways for seeing and being. Critical theory challenges dominant world views, mediated through discursive practices, managed and controlled by those with the political and economic power to control, and disguise their control, of the media and platforms of the public sphere. To adopt critical theory is to set out to uncover oppression, work towards emancipation and freedom to access resources and challenge discriminatory practice.  Critical theory is a political choice.

Critical pedagogy calls for teachers and students to be aware of the politics of education. Freire says teaching has a political agenda and staff bring political notions into the classroom. Promoting awareness of the inclusive/exclusive parameters of virtual learning environments is a political action. It draws attention to alternative ways of being and gives sound to excluded voices. In an increasingly digital society, to be shut out from the digital platforms of the public sphere is to be marginalised and excluded. Higher education offers possibilities to ensure graduates seek out and challenge exclusion rather than replicate and reinforce exclusive behaviours.

Critical pedagogy ‘…may refer to anti-capitalist education, anti-racist pedagogies and feminist pedagogies; training in social activism and mastery of social theory; individualised education in critical thought and community problem-solving; studies of language and of social structure; education for raising consciousness and for dismantling social boundaries; and pedagogical work inside the classroom and in other public spheres.’  (Amsler, 2010: 21)

Critical theory as technology critique.

Feenberg calls the relationship between technology and ideology the technical codes.   Deleuze and Guattari (1972) refer to codes being the organised social areas where capitalist systems ‘territoralise’ desire and creativity for example gender, psychiatry, law, finance, consumerism, the family unit. Desire is attached to production and consumption but Deleuze and Guattari claim social class is not the site of repression and revolution; it is a strand of social relations but not the only one. In the same way they challenged Marxism they challenged Freudian views of the unconscious claiming it was not innate but socially produced; continually rewritten by society and history. This is Foucauldian territory but back to Feenberg who calls for a philosophy of technology via the ten paradoxes which suggest ‘…most of our common sense ideas about technology are wrong.’ (2009:3) and a critical theory of technology or critical constructivism saying ‘…technology is not universal or neutral with respect to values. Technology is value laden like other institutions that frame our everyday existence.’ (Feenberg 2011:6)

I’m looking for the places where critical pedagogy and technology come together.  In my reading I have been encouraged by the following:

Freisen says the theory of the relationships between technology, media, education and social change have not been recognised in eLearning research. Freisen calls critical theory a ‘philosophy and a research methodology that focuses on the interrelated areas issues of technology, politics and social change.’ It’s central purpose is the destabilization of ideology in order to ‘…generate alternative knowledge forms, specifically, those shaped by social interests who are democratic and egalitarian.’ (Friesen 2008:1)

Saljo calls for learning technologies to have ecological validity ‘…[digital] technologies do not merely support learning: they transform how we learn and how we come to interpret learning. The metaphors of learning currently emerging as relevant in the new media ecology emphasise the transformational and performative nature of such activities and of knowing in general.’ (Saljo 2009:53)

Keri Facer looks to learning futures and says if education is no longer about autonomy but has become a site for interconnections between human, cultural and technological resources then ‘…the need to work towards the creation of an educational encounter that makes visible these diverse resources and works actively to overcome the inequalities and injustices they may cause, is increasingly urgent.’ (Facer, 2011:55)

I’m sympathetic to postmodernist theory; in particular when applied to virtual representation and have been encouraged to find I’m not alone.

Giroux says ‘…postmodernism’s central insights illuminate how power is produced and circulated through cultural practices that mobilize multiple relations of subordination….Instead of assuming postmodernism has vacated the terrain of values, it seems more useful to address how it accounts for how values are constructed historically and relationally. And how they might be addressed as the basis of ‘precondition of a politically engaged critique’. (Giroux, 1994:5)

A resistant or political postmodernism seems invaluable to me in helping educators and others address the changing conditions of knowledge production in the context of emerging mass electronic media and the role these new technologies are playing as critical socializing agencies in redefining both the locations and the meaning of pedagogy.’ (Giroux 1994:3)

Giroux calls for greater flexibility between approaches ‘…educators need to avoid the modern/postmodern divide that suggests that we can do either culture or economics but that we cannot do both…cultural politics matters because it is the pedagogical site on which identities are formed, subject positions made available, social agency enacted and cultural forms both reflect and deploy power through their modes of ownership and mode of public pedagogy…[with reference to Adorno and Marcuse] the most important forms of domination are not simply economic but also cultural and that the pedagogical force of culture with its emphasis on belief and persuasion is a crucial element of how we both think about politics and enact forms of resistance and social transformation.’ (Giroux, 2004:32)

On research design or the construction of effective pedagogy for virtual places

‘Although educational design has a twenty year history going back to 1992, most educational researchers confound research goals and methods… Researchers with postmodern goals are focused on examining the assumptions underlying contemporary educational programmes and practices with the ultimate goal of revealing hidden agendas and empowering disenfranchised minorities. Although increasingly evident among researchers with multicultural, gender or political interested, research in the postmodern tradition is rare within the field of educational technology.’ (Reeves et al 2010:60)

It is Feenberg who offers a consistent and contemporary account of the fullest social impact of internet technology; one which supports the social construction of technology (Bjiker et al) and recognises how the coercive mechanisms of power are threaded throughout the internet alongside potential for subversion and resistance.

In (Re)Inventing the Internet (2012) Feenberg and Freisen describe how the internet has remained a contested technology between utopian and dytopian rhetoric, but which supports agency and enables challenge and change through connection, interactions and recipocracy. ‘If technology is neither a realm of rational consensus nor is it a mere tool of its owners and managers’  it cannot be seen as an ‘…independent variable’ but one ‘co-constructed’ by the social forces its organises and unleashes.’ (Feenberg and Freisen, 2012:3)

‘What is most innovative and politically significant about the internet is its capacity to support collective reflection on participant interests.’ (Feenberg and Freisen, 2012:15)

These seems these are places where critical pedagogy and technology critique can most usefully come together.


Amsler, S. (2010) Education as critical practice in Amsler, S., Canaan, J. E., Cowden, S., Motta, S. and Singh. G. (eds) (2010) Why critical pedagogy and popular education matter today. C.SAP: Higher Education Academy Subject Network for Sociology, Anthropology, Politics.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1972) Anti-Oedipus. Trans. Robert Hurley, Mark Seem and Helen R. Lane. London and New York: Continuum, 2004. Vol. 1 of Capitalism and Schizophrenia. 2 vols. 1972-1980. Trans. of L’Anti-Oedipe. Paris: Les Editions de Minuit.

Facer, K. (2011) Learning Futures. Education, Technology and Social Change. Routledge.

Feenberg, A. (2009) Ten Paradoxes of Technology. Presented at the 2009 Biennial Meeting of the Society for Philosophy and Technology. Techne 14:1 Winter 2010

Feenberg, A and Freisen, N. (eds) (2012) (Re)Inventing the Internet: Critical Case Studies. Rotterdan: Sense Publishers

Feenberg, A. (2011) Agency and Citizenship in a Technological Society. Lecture to the Course on Digital Citizenship, IT University of Copenhagen, 2011. http://www.sfu.ca/~andrewf/copen5-1.pdf

Freisen, N. (2008) Critical Theory. Ideology, Critique and the Myths of E-Learning. Ubiquity vol 9 issue 22

Giroux, H. (1994) Slacking Off: Border Youth and Postmodern Education. Journal of Advanced Composition. Vol 14, no 2 pp347-66

Giroux,H. (2004) Critical Pedagogy and the Postmodern/Modern Divide: towards a pedagogy of democratisation. Teacher Education Quarterly, Winter 2004.

Reeves, T. C., McKenny, S. and Herrington, J. (2010) Publishing and perishing: The critical importance of educational design research.  Australasian Journal of Educational Technology 2011, 27(1), 55-65

Saljo, R. (2009) Digital tools and challenges to institutional traditions of learning: technologies, social memory and the performative nature of learning. Journal of Computer Assisted Learning, (2012) 26, 53-64

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