BLOG POST: You vs. Your Non-Human Counterpart! – Abdul Al Lily
I am fascinated by the notion that there are enduring, deep-rooted power relations (whether conscious, active, explicit or otherwise) between and amongst human and non-human actors. These politics are exercised, mostly unconsciously, as part of daily educational, professional and wider social practice. I am now writing this blog from Wolfson library, and I really wish I could play some music, but other readers will not let me. Because of the regulations, I cannot eat either, although I have my lunch in my bag and I am starving! I wish I could just lie on the floor and do my reading, but it would not look good! My back hurts; the chair is badly designed. What can be seen from these complaints is that any human actor (e.g. me at the library) is bound up with a vast power network of both human actors (e.g. other readers, librarians, maintenance staff, etc.) and non-human actors (regulations, social values, the way in which the library and its components are constructed, etc).
In our daily life, we often face difficulties getting the right balance of power between ourselves and other human actors, e.g. older brothers, parents, children, partners, colleagues, flat-mates, housekeepers and receptionists. In some situations we are powerful, whereas in others we turn out to be powerless. Regardless of how rich you are and how much prestige you enjoy, when you get in a taxi, the driver has a degree of power that can be exercised over you! We also sometimes want to ensure the right balance of power between us and non-human actors. Can you not do what you are doing now? Or, can you do what are you are doing now in a way different from how you are supposed to do it? If not, this is simply because what you are doing is actually imposing its power on you and in this situation has more power than you do! There are even power relations between one and oneself. This is perhaps why a term such as ‘self-discipline’ exists, whereby we are the ones trying hard to assert control over our own behaviour, especially in the public domain.
So, what are the educational implications of such a situation? The University of Sussex seems to want to change the power relations between students and their classrooms. Thus, the University has attempted to play with the balance of this power by giving the former more power over the latter. That is, the University has supplied students with more flexible chairs allowing students to sit in almost whatever position they like and has turned all walls into whiteboards, authorising students to write on just about whatever wall they want. Another example is that the University of Manchester, where I did my master’s, has adopted Blackboard, meaning that all my interactions with this system could be recorded and traced. Tutors looking through the browsing history could see a great deal about my engagement and working patterns, such as what I was reading, even the time of day I was reading it and how long I spent doing so. All these examples refer to considerable changes in the balance of power between the inferior, the superior and the technological structure that all must interact with.