Friday, 12 October 2012

Regulation in Education, Technology and Society

Pierre Bourdieu produces this fascinating diagram in his "Reproduction in Education, Society and Culture":

You'll have to click on it to view it full-size to see what he's doing. He explains it like this:

"This diagram is intended to suggest the logic by which the system of determinations attached to class membership (circle A) acts throughout an educational career, restructuring itself as a function of the varying weight of any given factor (e.g. cultural capital or income) within the structure of factors at the different stages of the passage through education. broadly distinguished here as primary, secondary (A1), higher (A2) and post-graduation (A3). It must be borne in mind that within this system of factors constantly restructured by its own action, the relative weight of the determinations due to Transformed form of initial class membership steadily declines to the advantage of the academic determinations which retranslate them. The lines indicate correlations between variables and the arrows indicate genetic processes. The dotted arrows are used to suggest the determinations which operate through the internalization of objective probabilities in the form of subjective expectations. In other words, the diagram seeks to represent some of the mechanisms through which the structure of class relations tends to reproduce itself by reproducing those habitus which reproduce it."
The factors which relate to the ways in which individuals find themselves at different social strata as a result of the reproductive education system are:
"(1) Distance from centre(s) of cultural values (concentration(s) of intelligentsia) and from educational and cultural facilities; structure of academic and cultural opportunities of groups belonged to (neighbourhood, peer group). (2) Other demographic characteristics (sibling order. family size. etc.) specified by class membership (differential selection) and social definition. (3) Security of Cultural and employment; income and income prospects; environment and working Class social conditions; leisure, etc. (4) Dispositions towards school and culture (i.e. vis-a-vis learning, authority, school values, etc.); subjective expectations (of access to school, of success, of advancement by means of school); relation to language and culture (manners). (5) linguistic capital; previous knowledge; capital of social connections and prestige (testimonials); information on educational system, etc. (6) Average income; average income at beginning and end of career; speed of promotion; position in economic and social structures, particularly in the various fields of legitimacy and in power structure. (7) Relation to class origin and education, depending on academic record and eventual class membership. (8) Diploma; old boy network."
This diagram has fascinated me for a long time. It is fundamentally cybernetic - Bourdieu was heavily influenced by the systems sociology of Parsons. It's interesting to think what he might have done with Luhmann had he looked carefully. But maybe that's something for me to do...

I think that whilst Bourdieu's focus is on reproduction, and indeed reproduction is very important, my concern (as I said yesterday) is regulation. Bourdieu's worry, deep down, was that an education system which reproduced social inequality would eventually produce an unviable society. He was right. But I think now more than ever, rather than describing the mechanisms of reproduction (which have only really fed the careers of sociologists), we need to think about what a viable society looks like. Education is a reproductive force - but in its function it is regulatory. As our thinking about education is now being transformed by post-industrialisation, marketisation, technology, personalisation, etc, I think we need to re-examine the reproductive function of education as a regulatory system and to see it in the context of broader regulatory systems within society.

Here there is the need to think about the relation between the regulatory functions of education and the regulatory functions of technology. As I argued yesterday (amidst my angst at the prospect of being without work - although my University has done that to practically everyone now...) people are the regulators of society. Bourdieu's worry is that the system for making the regulators (education) makes them from a mould which reproduces unviable patterns of class structures. This, he would argue, is because education is controlled by the elite who wish to preserve their position. I'm sure that was true in Bourdieu's France of the 1960s and 70s, and probably elsewhere too. Is it the case now?

I think it's more complex. Technology complicates the picture. It affords learning without state regulation. It asserts its own hegemony - the power of the global technology companies is wielded for the maximising of profit, not for the good of society. Corporate expediency replaces principle and individuals are atomised, which in the process compromises the deep social solidarity that is necessary for politics and (ultimately) emancipation.

But then education itself is in a process of industrialisation and marketisation. Governments are pulling-back from regulation and state support as education is increasingly seen as a commodity, and a factor in global competitiveness. In the post-industrial world, education simultaneously promises conviviality and solidarity on the campus, whilst participating in the atomisation of individual accreditation and certification. And within this setting, education is still doing the reproductive work that Bourdieu highlights.

But people are the regulators of society. The biological and psychological effect of injustice and entrapment is fury. Any society must worry if it produces too many angry people. The function of government is to prevent that happening (Ibn Khaldun's remarkable 14th century definition of the function of government still stands: "to prevent injustice other than that which it creates itself"). The job of preventing injustice is going to get harder. The priority of government must be to understand how to do it in complex times.

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