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Powers forming the digitized teacher subjectivity: Self-technologies and algorithmic powers

Conference contribution
Authors Annika Bergviken Rensfeldt
Thomas Hillman
Mona Lundin
Louise Peterson
Annika Lantz-Andersson
Published in Foucault at 90, University of West Scotland, Ayr campus. June 22-23 2016, Scotland.
Publication year 2016
Published at The Linnaeus Centre for Research on Learning, Interaction, and Mediated Communication in Contemporary Society (LinCS)
Department of Education, Communication and Learning
Language en
Keywords teacher subjectivity, self-technology, algorithmic powers, Facebook, social media
Subject categories Educational Sciences, Technology and social change


This paper explores how social media sites, exemplified by activities within a large Facebook group of teachers with an interest in IT in the classroom, are part of forming a certain desirable teacher subjectivity, which can be defined as digitally present, competent and networking. Rather than presupposing or idealising social media activities, we are interested in how the teacher subjectivity is shaped by both social and technological powers. Empirically, we draw on material produced by collecting the interactions within a Facebook group with over 13,000 members between 2012 and 2015. This group is focused on ‘flipped classrooms,’ often described as a grass-roots movement of teachers interested in changing classroom practice by engaging students in pre-class activities through social media, user-generated content and online educational resources. This ‘movement’ is thereby heavily imbued with how social media operates and the ideals of a digitally competent, networked and self-managing teacher subjectivity. Our aim is to theorize and problematize the subjectivity formed in and by social media activities in the group. In particular, we want to address algorithmic powers (Beer, 2009), i.e. various filtering and sorting computational actions that shape what subjects encounters online. These actions are dependent on the data input of subjects, who thereby produce their own algorithmic profile. With this approach, we stress the user’s function as provider of profiled marketable data rather than solely as content provider (van Dijck, 2009). The questions raised concern how subjects conduct themselves and how social media surveillance mechanisms like algorithmic profiling co-constitute the subjectivity? We examine three distinct but intertwined aspects of how the Facebook group activities give shape to the subjectivity we call the ‘digitized teacher.’ Firstly, ways technologies of the self (Foucault, 1988) operate as teacher subjects are modifying and operating upon ‘digital selves’ by posting, commenting and liking. Secondly, ways Facebook algorithms individually curate and profile feeds and content based on algorithmic surveillance of user behaviour and input data within and outside the group. Lastly, we problematize how we as researchers co-produce social media surveillance and the subjectivity formation of the digitized teacher based on the methodology used. Beyond adding to educational research on emerging practices of liberal self-conducted powers shaping the digitized teacher subjectivity, the main contribution of this paper is to address questions of how self-powers are fuelled by surveillance powers, for example, as the notion of algorithmic powers seem to become incorporated in subjects’ own conduct of themselves. References Beer, D. (2009). Power through the algorithm? Participatory web cultures and the technological unconscious. New Media & Society 11(6), 985–1002. Foucault, M. (1988). Technologies of the self. In: L. H. Martin, H. Gutman and P. H. Hutton (Eds.). Technologies of the self. (pp. 16–49). Amherst: University of Massachusetts Press. Van Dijck, J. (2009). Users like you? Theorizing agency in user-generated content. Media, Culture & Society, 31(1), 41–58.

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