Rhizomatic networks

Scholars have claimed that in a network society surveillance has become post-panoptic. Arguing that Foucault’s conceptualization of surveillance fails to engage directly with contemporary developments in surveillance practices, Haggerty and Ericson (2000) draw on the theoretical framework of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari. They use the rhizome to explain two primary characteristics of the surveillant assemblage: ‘Its phenomenal growth through expanding uses, and its leveling effect on hierarchies’ (p. 614). The digitization of school life has given this assemblage entry into educational contexts.

Traditional modes of physical school surveillance such as tracking attendance and feedback between student and teacher can now be performed remotely. Students and teachers are under continuous surveillance in school, their personal information can be captured in a permanent record by individuals and groups they may never encounter, and data from diverse geographical locations and historical moments can be mined, collated, and analyzed with ease (Marx 1985). Not only has the digitization of schooling allowed students and teachers greater access to information, it has also given administration and other [commercial and public] agents greater power to monitor bodies and minds.

The increasing use of the digital in teaching activities includes the implementation of e-learning platforms. All three schools in our study use Compass, a software program that allows staff and parents to monitor students to varying degrees in real-time. Students also have the capacity to self-monitor on this system. Through this platform student information, learning tasks, reports, medical notes, attendance, timetables, and so on can be shared. The use of this program is mandatory and is seen by staff as a great help for school management. Also part of this digital surveillance assemblage are various applications used in-class as pedagogical tools. As one teacher notes: ‘With all these new programs, students can’t escape you anymore’.

Another teacher celebrates the pedagogical effectiveness of the Office Mix program (Interactive PowerPoint). With a few clicks, a teacher can generate a report on student participation, time spent on tasks, quiz results, and so forth:

One of the markers that prompted me to re-examine how I was teaching was seeing how long students took to get through particular tasks. When I saw that many of them were taking over an hour to do something I thought would only take about fifteen minutes, it opened my eyes. The information was enough for me to really slow down the pace of the class and rethink how I was teaching as well as the content I was covering.

Because of a software program, the teacher can draw conclusions about his students’ habits and change his own teaching strategies accordingly. Yet while he can track his students through this application, his activities are also identified and recorded on the system. This mode of surveillance resonates with a rhizomatic network where the teacher is simultaneously the watcher and the watched, altering the hierarchies of observation. The rhizomatic network also reaches beyond the school as a bounded physical space. For instance, the Assistant Principal of Lakeside explains that a ministerial directive mandated schools to respond to online harassment that occurred at any time of the day or night, any day of the week:

The justification was that these behaviours impact on relationships and those relationships occur partially during the school week, and therefore we think you should take a step out of that. That’s radically different … if 15 years ago a couple of girls called each other bitches in the shopping centre on a Saturday afternoon, it happened. Even if they were a bit antsy with each other on the Monday, we wouldn’t be talking to them about what they did on Saturday afternoon. But now, if one of the kids comes in with some screenshots where the other one called them a bitch on Facebook, suddenly we’re taking action.

The digital school facilitates the process of surveillance in a rhizomatic network that extends its reach from the physical to the virtual and from public to private while bringing more actors into the realm of surveillance. Yet this extension does not necessarily mean a leveling out of power dynamics (Hier 2003). In the case of the digital school, power seems to retain a top-down flow. While the rhizome is useful for mapping out the ontology of the surveillance network as both a multi-directional process freed from border constraints and as an assemblage of ‘things’ in a technological environment, it tends to flatten notions of power and must be supplemented with other constructs for comprehensive analyses of discipline and control in the digital school as an open socio-political system.

 

References

Haggerty, K.D. & R.V. Ericson .(2000). The surveillant assemblage. British Journal of Sociology, 51(4), 605-622.

Hier, S. P. (2003). Probing the surveillant assemblage: On the dialectics of surveillance practices as processes of social control. Surveillance & Society, 1(3), 399-411.

Marx, G. T (1985). The surveillance society: The threat of 1984-style techniques. The Futurist, 19(June), 21-26.