EFI Seminar: Futures in Progress, Dr Pip Thornton and Dr Jeremy Knox

This event is being hosted by the Edinburgh Futures Institute

Link to book tickets

Dr. Pip Thornton: Language in the age of algorithmic reproduction: a critique of linguistic capitalism

In an age of digital technology, language has become far more than a means of human communication, creativity or expression. Increasingly written for – and ‘read’ by – algorithms, when words become data, they carry more than linguistic meaning, and as such are valuable commodities in the advertising marketplace. Nobody knows this better than Google, which made its fortune from the auctioning of words through AdWords; a form of ‘linguistic capitalism’ (Kaplan, 2014) in which the aesthetic value of language is negated at the expense of its exchange value. But what are the residual cultural or political effects of this algorithmic exploitation of language? What is gained and what is lost when words become data? This paper argues that the liquidation of language into data, and the speed in which it can be processed, reproduced, interpreted and capitalised, has consequences that are both linguistic and political. In addition to the critique, I would also like to offer a means of resistance against the algorithmic acceleration of linguistic discourse in the form of an artistic intervention. In order to make visible – and interrupt – the workings of linguistic capitalism I have developed a research/art project called {poem}.py which uses poetry, the Google AdWords keyword planner and a second hand receipt printer in an attempt to rescue language from the algorithmic marketplace; re-politicise it (Benjamin, 1936), and reclaim it for art. This paper explains the genesis of the project, including demonstrations of the different modes of intervention I am currently exploring.


Dr. Jeremy Knox: Can Higher Education Teach for Data Citizenship?

The increasing ‘datafication’ of higher education appears to be grounded in instrumentalist and solutionist rationales that overlook key opportunities for critical engagement with contemporary digital technologies. Whether through attempts to measure the performance of the sector, the design of analytic dashboards intended to streamline teaching, or the production of software ostensibly capable of ‘personalising’ learning, various forms of ‘datafication’ are occurring in a broad range of higher education activity. However, these examples illustrate a framing of data-intensive digital technologies as tools for higher educational management, in which inner workings are largely concealed, outputs are assumed to be straightforwardly beneficial, and little scope is provided for critical reflection on the social, economic, and political implications of ‘datafied’ teaching and learning practices. This talk will suggest alternative visions for ‘datafication’ in higher education teaching; concerned, not with the institutional application of veiled ‘data science’ techniques for the purposes of ‘enhancing’ existing teaching and learning practices or making sector processes more efficient, but rather with centring and exposing data-intensive technologies as a pedagogical concern, and as an essential part of developing future citizens. This will draw upon: ‘citizenship education’, which has tended to focus on individual rights and responsibilities, as well as the role of the institution (for critical perspectives see Nicoll et al. 2013); ‘digital citizenship’, which has engaged more directly with the performing of citizenship in ‘digitised’ and non-institutional contexts (e.g. Isin and Ruppert 2015); and ‘data justice’ (e.g. Hintz et al. 2019), which calls for a broad revisioning of debates about the ethical use of technologies around long-standing social justice concerns. This talk will outline work undertaken as an EFI and Global Academies Fellow during 2019, as well as various projects from the Centre for Research in Digital Education at Moray House School of Education.

Hintz, A., Dencik, L., Wahl-Jorgensen, K. 2019. Digital Citizenship in a Datafied Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Isin, E. & Ruppert, E. (2015). Being Digital Citizens. Rowman and Littlefield: London.

Nicoll, K., Fejes, A., Olson, M., Dahlstedt, M. & Biesta, G. (2013). Opening discourses of citizenship education: a theorization with Foucault. Journal of Education Policy. 28(6), pp.828-846



Date of Event
Appleton Tower, rm 2.14
Research Area
Data Society