The “Digital Subjects” of Twenty-First-Century Education

On Datafication, Educational Technology, and Subject Formation

Authored by: Felicitas Macgilchrist

Handbook of Cultural Studies and Education

Print publication date:  November  2018
Online publication date:  November  2018

Print ISBN: 9780815385080
eBook ISBN: 9781351202398
Adobe ISBN:


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How are young people constituted as subjects in schools today, as digital technology becomes increasingly widespread? Buzzwords for twenty-first century education include “creativity,” “critique,” “collaboration,” “communication,” or sets of core skills that are often linked to the now classic flexible, entrepreneurial selves of neoliberal imaginaries (Miller & Rose, 2008; Sennett, 1998). This chapter overviews recent critical scholarship on education and technology in the twenty-first century, highlighting three aspects: practices, datafication and subject formation. It then explores subjectivation in more detail, looking closely at one worked example to map the kinds of future students imagined in current policy. Mainstream policies for education in a digital world foreground three digital subject figures: the User, the Critic, and the Maker. Each of these, in some ways, reestablishes dominant power relations and relations of inequality in today’s schools. On the margins of the policy discourse are, however, further subject figures which interrupt dominant imaginaries: The Expert, the Ecosoph, and the Social Designer. The chapter suggests that these marginal subject figures illustrate diffraction patterns in today’s world in which we can think otherwise about what constitutes a livable, legitimate life.

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