ACCS 2018 Panel – Fearful Futures and How to Navigate Them

Next week I’m going to be heading to Japan to attend the Asian Conference on Cultural Studies with some of my UEA colleagues from the School of Education and Lifelong learning.

The conference theme is: ‘Fearful Futures: Cultural Studies and the Question of Agency in the Twenty-First Century’. It looks like an amazing event, with some really interesting panels and speakers. The full programme can be found here . It’s a provocative and interesting theme to tackle that speaks to the current climate, and I’m really interested to see the sorts of research and discussions that come out of the event!

Our panel details are below. We’ll be tweeting about the event on our joint twitter page (@CCSEResearch), so follow along if you’re interested! If you’re in attendance, come and see us! I’m excited about the event, and have to say, our symposium sound pretty damn awesome.


10:00-11:30 | Room 506 (5F)

Saturday Session I, Symposium
Session Chair: Harry Dyer

Fearful Futures and How to Navigate Them

Harry Dyer, University of East Anglia, UK
Esther Priyadharshini, University of East Anglia, UK
Victoria Carrington, University of East Anglia, UK

The goal of surviving and thriving in the 21st century is increasingly challenging, as is the task laid out to educators in preparing students for uncertain and increasingly precarious futures. Research suggests that young people are increasingly concerned about their futures (Young Women’s Trust, 2017) yet equally feel unprepared for what this future holds for them (Adobe, 2016). The task of preparing students for these precarious futures not only increasingly involves financial and social discussions, but, as this symposium explores, also involves dealing with broader discussions around their hopes and fears of and for their futures, and the pressures and expectations of their presents.

This symposium brings together three research projects aimed at exploring issues in education around understanding and navigating fearful futures. The first paper deals with exploring concerns around daily practices online, using a case study of a young British female to critically probe the impact and reach of data in contemporary culture and the discursive regimes that have grown up around it. The second paper explores ontological issues around “futures”, using extracts from interviews with youth about their predictions of dystopian futures in order to argue how such conceptions can be read as a refusal to accept neo-liberal “realities”. Finally, the last paper presents ethnographic fieldnotes from a “flat earth gathering”, looking at what the recent resurgence in flat-eartherism tells us about the impact of uncertainty on knowledge and the role of education in a post-truth world.
Anticipating the Apocalypse: Monstrous Educational Futures
Esther Priyadharshini, University of East Anglia, UK
Ideas about the future are often limited by what already appears to be on the horizon. However, such conceptions can present the future as a landscape for rational choice, with the possibility to colonise and rectify it with “correct” visions, where the process of education can be narrowly conceived as protection or insurance for this future. To avoid these pitfalls, educators have been called to engage with the ontological problematic of the “future” – its not-knowable nature – and to consider the radical implications of this notion for education.

One way of facilitating an engagement with the unpredictable, unprogrammable future is to connect with youth preoccupations that exceed our rational boundaries of how one ought to prepare for the future. Using extracts from interviews with youth about their visions of dystopian futures, this presentation hopes to explore the distinction between dystopia and disutopia, and show how such imaginings can also be read as a refusal to accept neo-liberal realities and assumptions as underpinning a world yet-to-come. These visions of apocalyptic or dystopian futures also reveal a range of positive affect, such as relief, pleasure and a cautious hopefulness in anticipating the passing away of current certainties – of identities, structures and relationships – to clear the ground for new and better worlds. Working with these visions of apocalyptic futures could provide one way of injecting new energy into educational discourses about the future and how to face them.
Sophie’s Dilemma: Data, Labour, Education, Literacies
Victoria Carrington, University of East Anglia, UK

This paper is interested in identity, technologies and their intersection with complex data algorithms. Broadly, it explores the broader implications of the increasingly intimate and customized experience of using personal digital devices and the accumulation of data that follows as a consequence. In particular, it attempts to think through some of the issues raised for schooling and for those of us who have in interest in texts as forms of power, linked to identity and the potential for equity. It begins with a young British woman, Sophie, and her interpretation of the customization of advertising and news she encounters on her mobile phone. To unpack Sophie’s perceptions and experiences, the paper turns to a discussion of the impact and reach of data in contemporary culture and the discursive regimes that have grown up around it. It then turns to issues of identity, text and schooling and concludes by outlining the argument that we need to urgently
engage with data as a key cultural text and narrative, opening critical debates around the ways in which it is collected and used as well as on the ways in which its collection, analysis and use impact on the potential for individuals to participate effectively in their social, civic and economic worlds.

Ethnographic Fieldnotes From a Flat Earth Convention: Social Media, Conspiracy, and the (Re)Shaping of the World
Harry Dyer, University of East Anglia, UK
In recent years, the internet has facilitated the resurgence of a number of dwindling groups with extreme and fringe beliefs, providing spaces for like-minded curious people to meet and discuss their thoughts and ideas. Many of these groups have received a lot of attention and research, such as the rise of alt-right neo-Nazis, and the growth of sexual sub-communities. Yet one rapidly growing area has received little academic exploration, despite picking up a wealth of media attention and a number of noted celebrity followers. That is the resurrection of a belief in a “flat earth”, which appears to have found a healthy community on social media platforms such as YouTube and Facebook. Indeed, since 2015 there has been a notably large increase in the number of Google searches for “flat earth”, and the most popular YouTube flat earth video has over 4 million views.

Perhaps the academic shyness towards this growing community stems from a reticence to take this community seriously and treat them with academic rigour, yet exploring their presence and resurgence may help us understand a range of issues, such as the current scepticism towards science, the rise of disinformation, and the manner in which social media is (re)shaping the ways we experience, known, navigate, and understand the world. Reporting on ethnographic field notes and observations taken from a 3-day UK flat earth convention, this paper discusses the rise of flat earth believers, and what this phenomenon tells us about knowledge in a post-truth world.

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One thought on “ACCS 2018 Panel – Fearful Futures and How to Navigate Them

  1. It will be a great symposium by the Critical Studies in Education group at UEA. Esther will be talking about risk and how youth conceptualize ‘futures’ while I will be talking about big data, identity, & critical data literacies. If you are there, come and say hi. We will also be inviting contributions to a new special edition of the online journal Digital Culture & Education (DCE) that picks up some of these issues and expands/explores them.

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