Imaginaries of Inequalities in Emergency Remote Education

New open access publication from the RED team!

Büchner, F., Bittner, M., & Macgilchrist, F. (2023). Imaginationen von Ungleichheit im Notfall-Distanzunterricht: Analyse eines Policydiskurses und seiner Problemrepräsentationen. MedienPädagogik: Zeitschrift für Theorie und Praxis der Medienbildung, 20, 347-373.

Cover images from policy documents in Germany. All the kids are white and wealthy, families pictured are heteronormative.

A policy study by RED’s local team in Germany has just been published in the journal MedienPädagogik. Using Bacchi’s “What’s-the-Problem-Represented-to-Be” approach (e.g. Bacchi 2012), we reconstructed the sociotechnical imaginaries (Jasanoff 2015) in the policy discourse around emergency remote education. For this purpose, we partnered with the CoBiS project at the University of Flensburg. The CoBiS team has built an extensive archive of educational policies related to COVID-19 in Germany. Initial results of this study were presented in 2022 at the autumn conference of the German Educational Research Association‘s division on Media Education. We are now happy to present the final publication.

Overall, the paper suggests that a key sociotechnical imaginary is a particular kind of “frictionless” living. But where would frictionlessness take society? How does an imaginary of frictionless living reproduce or transform relations of inequality?

This paper understands emergency remote education as a sociotechnical phenomenon and analyses its construction in the policy discourse during the Covid-19 pandemic. It asks how remote education is imagined in German federal states’ policy documents and how socio-digital inequality is represented as a problem in these imaginaries. Based on the thematic document collection ‹CoBiS – Covid 19-Corpus des Bildungssystems›, a policy analysis was conducted using the ‹WPR approach›. Findings suggest a ‹sociotechnical imaginary› of frictionlessness. The paper illustrates this imaginary through three aspects: (1) frictionless living spaces, (2) friction through inequality and (3) equality through technology.

It is shown that through the imaginary of frictionlessness in the policy discourse, ideas and visions of educational subjects are generated that favour affluent, privileged and middle-class white contexts and at the same time disadvantage marginalised, deprived and minoritised contexts. Overall, the paper proposes a framework for inclusive media education to critically reflect on sociotechnical imaginaries invoked in policy discourses. 

For more details, feel free to peruse (and perhaps automatically translate!) the full paper (open access; German) here:

(Image credits: The images are taken from the front covers of policy documents in Germany. Credits are given in full in the publication.)