Thursday, June 18, 2009

The New Panopticon

Haven't spent much time here for a while as I prepared for the final oral review of my dissertation. That is done, now to tweak the dissertation and send it off to the publisher.

One of the dimensions of my dissertation research was to generate a theory of basic patterns of social behavior. The patterns that I observed led me to formulate a theory which I called "Keeping Your Distance".

Here is the abstract.
This analysis began with inquiries into the substantive area of distance education using the classic grounded theory method. Analysis revealed a pattern of problem solving behavior, from which the theory “Keeping Your Distance” emerged.

The theory is an integrated set of concepts referring to the conscious and unconscious strategies that people use to regulate distance, physical and representative, in their everyday lives. Strategies are used to control physical, emotional, and psychological realities and to conserve personal energy in interactions with individuals and/or institutions.

Keeping Your Distance is presented in terms of a conditions/consequences/covariance theoretical model adapted from Glaser (1978), Theoretical Sensitivity. Conditions evoke a system of strategic response patterns which result in consequences. Responses and their consequences change conditions and result in additional adjustments, made on an ongoing basis. For all social interactions, people use a personalized algorithm of engagement that mitigates conditions and consequences and preserves optimal distance.

Keeping Your Distance provides a theoretical starting point for considerations of the changing notions of distance. In part, these changes have been brought about by developments in the fields of Information and Communication Technology (ICT) and online social networking.

This emerging, multivariate, conceptual theory may be of interest to scholar-practitioners examining distance education, psycho-social processes and critical pedagogy. Elements of this theory may be of use to higher education policy makers charged with instructional design, institutional advancement and marketing.


My dissertation research grew out of an interest in various aspects of distance or distributed education. One of the reservations that people have about distance education is that is perceived as distant, as in alienating and devoid of human contact. This may have been the case in the early days of technology, however as ICT technology has advanced the opportunity for people to manage their distance from institutions is seen as a good thing. As it turns out, it looks like people may prefer to keep their distance.

I read an article this morning about The Digital Evolution of Surveillance

Ash, K. (2009, June 17). The digital evolution of video surveillance. Education Week: Digital Directions-Trends and Advice for K-12 Technology Leaders. Retrieved June 18, 2009, from http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2009/06/17/04videosurveillance.h02.html.

This article and many others discuss the great effort and money that place-based education institutions expend on the illusion of security and safety. However, the more I read about the draconian measures that many institutions adopt, the more I am reminded of Foucault's discussion of Panopticon.

Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish: The birth of the prison (1st ed.). New York: Pantheon Books.

Foucault discussed education specifically and observed the relationships between power, control, conformity and education. Sad to think that this is the direction that institutional education is moving; toward environments of more oppressive control.
The theory of Keeping Your Distance suggests that people will avoid institutions that try to restrict autonomy in this fashion. If institutions want to support learning, as opposed to education then they will consider ways that people can acquire learning with out exposing themselves to the risks and oppression associated with institutions that put such a premium on surveillance and control.

1 comment:

Dennis Phillips, Ph.D. said...

Very interesting ideas. We have been working on a learning environment that will both supplement the face-to-face traditional method and provide for anyone to provide courses and take courses in a free online learning management system. I look forward to reading more from your research. Thanks for sharing.