Digital affect

The emergence of internet technologies is a significant influence on student experiences of school. One notable shift is how affects circulate between student bodies in the online/offline spaces that constitute the contemporary school. Now the dominant internet-based platforms and applications in a school (most commonly ‘Learning Management Systems’, email, and educational apps) profoundly shape the emotions, moods, and feelings of students. The ways in which the internet is used in/for school, therefore, underpin the production of student subjectivities. As such, the internet is not simply a space where information is transmitted or exchanged between teachers and students. Instead, the internet is a key site in moulding students’ values, beliefs and behaviours.


These issues map onto a wider ‘affective turn’ in education systems over the past 20 years or so (Ecclestone & Hayes 2009). In many countries schools are now expected to show due attention to the affective ‘well-being’ and ‘positive emotional health’ of students along a number of lines. One prominent focus has been supporting the development of students’ emotional intelligence and emotional learning – focusing on qualities such as empathy for the emotions of other people, and the ability to regulate one’s own emotions. Conversely, fitting with the recent austerity drive in faltering Western economies, increasing emphasis has been placed on the development of  student ‘resilience,’ ‘grit’ and ‘buoyancy’. In the UK, much of these imperatives are delivered through the subject areas of ‘Personal, Social, Health & Economic’ education alongside ‘Social, Moral, Spiritual & Cultural’ education. All told, schools have been impelled to demonstrate a commitment to fulfilling what Williamson (2012) refers to as ‘emotional-cultural’ imperatives alongside the ‘technical-economic’ traditionally seen to shape educational practices. Increasingly, digital technologies are framed as a means of positively influencing students’ affective capacities.


Schools in the digital age, it would seem, are expected to be as ‘high touch’ as they are ‘high tech’ (Williamson 2012). For example, Emot-Control is a multi-platform internet-based resource that collects self-reports on emotional states. The tool also includes an animated, virtual assistant that uses expressive facial features and synthesized speech to offer empathetic feedback to users (Feidakis et al. 2013). The Beyond Blue program BRAVE is a free online application that teaches children to identify signs of anxiety and when they should use coping strategies (Henebery 2016). ClassDojo allows teachers to see into the classroom through a mobile digital application which promotes a form of surveillance where character and emotions become the objects of scrutiny. These modes of affective monitoring of students has been termed ‘psychopedagogy’ – a method of approaching the child through the lens of positive psychology (Burton 2007).


Against this background, our study seeks to explore how student bodies are managed and shaped by the regulation of affect through their use of the internet in/for school. Yet, while students internalise and enact dominant affective codes and norms through their use of the internet, they also engage in subversive, and/or resistant behaviours. Our research will be separated into three broad sections that capture themes that have emerged as central to how student bodies are managed and shaped by dominant discourses of digital affect:

  • Intensity – ‘oscillations, reverberations, and resonances of affective intensity and the connections and disconnections that such intensity brings forth on online exchanges’;
  • Sensation – ‘materiality of technologies at the core of networked affect along with the interrelations among human and nonhuman bodies as they “inhabit” networked digital media’;
  • Value – ‘networked communications as sites of immaterial and affective labour, analysing the creation and accumulation of value and the complex ways by which affective value ties in with political economy, human agency, and the networked technologies with which many of us now daily engage’ (Hillis et al. 2015, p.14).


If we are genuinely interested in obtaining a comprehensive understanding of students and their experiences of digital schooling then these are crucial aspects of our investigations.



Burton, D. (2007). Psycho-pedagogy and personalised learning. Journal of Education for Teaching 33(1), 5–17.

Ecclestone, K, & Hayes, D. (2009). The Dangerous Rise of Therapeutic Education. New York, NY: Routledge.

Feidakis, M., Daradoumis, T., Caballe, S., and Conesca, J. (2013). Embedding emotion awareness into e-learning environments. International Journal of Emerging Technologies in Learning (iJET), 9(7), 39-46.

Henebery, B. (28 Jan, 2016). Beating the back-to-school-blues. The Educator. Retrieved

Hillis, K., Paasonen, S., & Petit, M. (Eds). (2015). Networked Affect. Cambridge. MA: The MIT Press.

Leys, R. (2010). The turn to affect: A critique. Critical Inquiry, 37, 434-472.

Massumi, B. (2015). Politics of Affect. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press.

Williamson, B. (2012). Effective or affective schools? Technological and emotional discourses of educational change. Discourse: Studies in the Cultural Politics of Education, 33(3), 425-441.