Technology, Schools and the Decentralization of Culture
First Monday

Technology, Schools and the Decentralization of Culture by Brian Carolan

Abstract
Most analyses of culture and technology have been fascinated, even transfixed, by all the wonderful things that can be created and shared using digital tools. Rarely have these cultural analyses explored the issue of how such technological tools are going to impact how individuals interact and organize around cultural content that is fluid and contested. This is particularly problematic for schools as technological tools allow students to reject, share and contest the fixed content that has historically been disseminated through a narrow range of books and pedagogical strategies. This paper seeks to develop a theoretical model of culture that can account for change in what was, and still is, considered by many social scientists to be impermeable structural boundaries. By conceptualizing technology as a symbolic tool, it is hoped that the model of culture developed in this paper can begin to explain how social relations in institutions such as schools can change in a manner that will upset existing hierarchical social relations.

Contents

Introduction
Culture
Technology as a Transformative Semiotic
Culture & Technology: A Liminal Moment
Technology: Three Processes of Change
Changing School Culture
Implications for Future Research on Technology and the Culture of Schooling
Conclusion

 

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Introduction

The amazing ability of technology, in particular, the Internet to hurl text, images, and sound with tremendous speed, efficiency, and affordability has made it much easier for the average person to create, share and experience culture (O'Connor, 1997). Prior to this technocultural revolution, most tended to enjoy cultural products created by others. This process of experiencing culture produced by others reflects and reproduces a pattern of asymmetrical and hierarchical relations that dominates social interaction. In this model, those able to create culture possess superior cultural capital compared to those who simply experience the products produced by others. The dichotomous categorical distinction between those who produce and experience culture has been maintained by limiting access to the tools necessary to produce and disseminate cultural products.

Nowhere is this control over access to cultural products more evident than in schools. The majority of individuals involved in the schooling process are in a disadvantageous social position that requires them to consume and value the cultural products produced by others. Successful schooling requires one to adhere to a prescribed set of cultural content delivered through a narrowly defined curriculum. This traditional and narrowly defined curriculum is delivered to the individual by instructors who are responsible for inculcating the student with a set of norms that perpetuates the relationships among groups in the social system (Bowles and Gintis, 1976).

However, the infusion technology into the schooling process may very well be upsetting this categorical distinction between producers and consumers of culture. This paper will explore how the culture of schooling is being reshaped by the infusion of technology in the schooling process. This reshaping is due in part to the ability of technology to allow individuals to construct meaning, challenge what is considered to be academic knowledge, and share these new interpretations with others. Technological tools can be used in the schooling process in a manner that encourages producers and consumers of cultural products to contest meaning, beliefs, and practices. The ability to alter accepted academic knowledge and share these alternative perspectives will impact the social relations between producers and consumers. According to the flexible model of culture to be developed in this paper, technology will enable each individual to create, share, and experience a multitude of cultural products. This proliferation of cultural products will alter social relations and potentially cause a change in authority relations in the schooling process. Once individuals are given the tools to create cultural products such as knowledge, who is in a position to evaluate the authenticity and quality of that product?

In order to provide support for this line of inquiry, this paper will first identify a flexible model of culture that will serve as a theoretical backdrop. This model is in opposition to the predominant structural models of culture that de-emphasize individual agency and stress stability. Technology will then be conceptualized as a profane cultural symbolic product that can be used by individuals in a variety of manners with unintended consequences. This product is analogous to a tool that empowers individuals to challenge and construct knowledge. This modernist perspective will examine how technology will alter the relations among students, teachers, and knowledge. This point should illustrate how technology is helping push the move towards a more expressed culture that will alter this traditionally dichotomous cultural landscape, inspire new forms of and ideas about culture, and enrich the life of the average student who does not possess what is commonly referred to as "cultural capital" (Bourdieu, 1990). An outline for future empirical research on this issue will conclude this paper. It is hoped that the theoretical framework developed in this paper can be used to drive further investigation.

 

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Culture

The theoretical model of culture from which this analysis operates is one that explains culture's relationship to social organization and interaction. Therefore, the model is primarily interested in culture's causal significance. For the purposes of this essay, Swidler's (1998) definition of culture should provide a good starting point. Culture, according to Swidler, consists of symbolic vehicles of meaning, including beliefs, ritual practices, art forms, and ceremonies, as well as informal cultural practices such as language, gossip, stories, and rituals of daily life. These social processes of sharing, modes of behavior, and outlook in a community take place through these symbolic forms (Hannerz, 1969). This definition captures much of the social interaction that occurs in the culture of schools.

Model 1 (see below) is a unidirectional model of culture and this will provide a foundation from which a more dynamic, flexible model of culture will be constructed.

To develop a less rigid theoretical model of culture, this paper will rely on two concepts first proposed by Hannerz (1969) and subsequently clarified by Swidler (1988). This model of culture rests on the fact that all cultures possess diverse, often conflicting symbols, rituals, stories, and guides to action. These conflicts play themselves out in all contexts, school being a fine example. For students to navigate these boundaries, they must dig into, what Swidler (1988) calls, a cultural "tool-kit". This kit provides individuals with the pieces necessary for constructing different strategies of action. Both individuals and groups activate different pieces from this kit to do different things in different situations. This general theory of culture does not consider individuals to be "passive cultural dopes" (Garfinkel, 1967), as in Model 1, but rather active, sometimes skilled users of culture (Swidler, 1998). The second concept, strategies of action, provides the individual with a degree of agency that is not present in Model 1. Given the assumption that individuals possess a "cultural tool-kit", the individual can enter and exit the permeable boundaries erected by certain groups. Model 2 represents this attempt to construct a flexible, interactive model of culture that will help explain how technology can alter social interaction within the culture.

Since this model of culture assigns the individual a degree of agency in altering the macro-structure in which one's cultural reality exists, it is necessary to further conceptualize agency. Individual interaction with culture occurs within multiple structures that constrain an individual's life. The term structure, though powerful, is problematic for social scientists, as it has been poorly defined. Moreover, common usage of the term implies that individuals have little influence over the structures that dictate cultural interaction (Sewell, 1998). Most structural analyses of culture tend to assume a far too rigid causal determinism in social life (see Model 1). This is in direct opposition to Model 2 which this paper seeks to develop. Most structural arguments of culture have difficulty explaining change. Since this paper is suggesting that technology can significantly alter the relationship between the producers and consumers of cultural knowledge, it is necessary to explain how change can occur in this model. Agency will be defined as the individual's capacity to reinterpret and mobilize an array of resources in terms of cultural schemas other than those that initially constructed that array (Sewell, 1998). These resources are contained in the individual's tool-kit. Goffman (1959) successfully shows that all members of society employ complex repertoires of interaction skills to control and sustain ongoing social relations. Individuals, of course, differ in their extent of control of social relations and in the scope of their transformative powers, but all members exercise some agency in the conduct of the daily lives that occurs in multiple structures (Sewell, 1998). This point is exhibited in Model 2.

Structures, a key element in both Models 1 and 2, are constituted by mutually sustaining cultural schemas and sets of resources that empower and constrain social action and tend to be reproduced by that action. Structures are dynamic and they are the continually evolving outcome and matrix of a process of social interaction. It may be useful at this point to examine the loosely bounded structures that guide interaction in and among taste publics. More flexible and vigorous interactions can occur as technology can potentially impact the cultural boundaries among these structures. Here, Gans's (1999) taxonomy of taste publics provides a good point to begin an analysis of the boundaries among groups possessing varying degrees of cultural capital. According to Gans, individuals belong to loosely bounded taste publics in which the cultural resources at their disposal are relatively similar to other individuals in the group. The relationships among members in these publics exist because the choices of, and access to, "tools" are based on similar values, aesthetic standards and resources. Those that make similar choices are members of the same taste public. Because each taste public has distinctive tools at its disposal, it also activates similar strategies of action. These taste publics are not well-organized groups, but merely analytic aggregates to be used by the social researcher (Gans, 1999). According to Gans's taxonomy, the five taste publics are high culture, upper-middle culture, lower-middle culture, low-culture, and quasi-folk culture. These generalizations are useful when considering the relationship between the valued cultural products produced by high culture, and the way in which this value is transmitted to individuals in other, lesser-valued, taste publics through various social institutions.

The products (art, information, etc.) produced by the high culture taste public - and the ability to access and mobilize these cultural resources - is dictated by the tools one possesses. This analysis will work towards the idea that technology, as a metaphorical tool, can equip individuals with the skills necessary to access and utilize the cultural products produced by other taste publics. Moreover, the ability to create and express these products to members outside of one's loosely-bounded taste public will transform the relations among these conceptual categories. Admittedly, the use of Gans's five taste publics exaggerates the extent to which publics are bounded and coherent structures, but they are a useful an analytic tool that can be used to show how the products of one public can be accessed by members of other publics using technology as a powerful mediating force.

This paper seeks to examine how cultural products can be transferred among taste publics through the use of technology in educational institutions. Therefore, it is primarily interested in a social exchange of goods that is promoted by the intermediary of technology. Having established that individuals possess varying degrees of agency based on the tools at their disposal and their position in and among taste publics, this paper will now turn towards the ontological position that helps explain how an individual activates strategies of action and interacts with the structures that conjoin interaction.

This relational ontological model of cultural interaction focuses on transactions or ties. These relations occur in certain structures. Relational analysts studying culture typically treat categories as problem-solving inventions and/or by-products of social interaction (Tilly, 1998). Gans's five taste publics are a good example. Culture, using this ontological position, is a shared way of understanding that intertwines closely with social relations, serving as their tools and constraints instead of constituting an autonomous sphere (Tilly, 1998). Therefore, taste publics can be viewed as networks of individuals that exchange products and interact with surrounding structures. Instead of imagining culture as an autonomous sphere in which like members of a public exchange ideas, which then constrain behavior, relational analysis treats culture as shared understandings and their representations; individuals operate in frames of understanding constructed by previous interactions, anticipating one another's responses on the bases of those frames, and modifying those strategies of action as a consequence of shared experiences. In such a view, culture intertwines unceasingly with social relations; culture and structure are simply two convenient abstractions from the same stream of transactions (Tilly, 1998).

Networks of individuals interact with the structures that loosely bind their relations. As Model 2 illustrates, individuals do possess the agency required to influence the structure of the transactions that occur in and among taste publics. These cultural transactions tend to be influenced by two dimensions: the degree of localized common knowledge that individuals in a transaction deploy and the extent of scripting for such a transaction that is available jointly to the individuals (Tilly, 1998). These two dimensions are similar to the tool-kit and strategies of action.

Sociologists concerned with culture, according to Tilly (1998), have sometimes considered scripts to lie at the core of social interaction, with the process of socialization committing newcomers to scripts and sanctions that minimize deviation. Scripts alone provide uniformity, knowledge alone promotes flexibility - and their combination promotes flexibility within established boundaries. These fluid boundaries of interaction between producers and consumers of culture allow one to access the scripts and common knowledge of other groups, thereby impacting the way in which members of different groups interact.

Social interaction can be represented by Figure 1 (below). With little scripting or local knowledge, individuals either avoid each other or engage in shallow improvisations - a common feature of schooling culture. In other cases, scripting can be extensive and common knowledge meager, as when students attend a school assembly. This circumstance can be considered a thin ritual - weak ties, high transaction costs; most reserve it for special occasions and escape it when they can. Where common knowledge is extensive and scripting slight, there is deep improvisation; as in a rare, lively and extemporaneous debate in a social studies classroom. Extensive common knowledge, strong ties, and frequent improvisation reinforce each other. The model of culture put forth by this paper suggests that technology can encourage this type of robust and fluid cultural interaction.

The tool of technology is flexible enough to permit individuals to break routine and rapidly exchange knowledge. This can empower individuals by providing a medium in which new social ties in and among taste publics can be developed. In other words, technology can activate one's agency in a manner that enables one to develop new ties in and among taste publics. More fluid and robust interaction can occur as technology can potentially make one less dependent on a narrow range of inherited social scripts. Applied to a school context, social interaction may rely less on tradition and more on the construction of new meaning and mutual understanding. For example, consider how language has evolved in the online world - less formal structure, greater frequency, new meanings, etc. The duality between producers and consumers, common in Model 1, is blurred as improvisation becomes more prevalent and valued in educational institutions.

 

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Technology as a Transformative Semiotic

Having posited a model of culture that assigns individuals a degree of agency within flexible structures, this section will address the actual process by which technology can enable individuals to cross and transform loosely demarcated boundaries among taste publics. Individuals that can access and utilize technological tools, according to this line of inquiry, will be in a position to construct and interpret cultural knowledge in new and contested ways. The ability of individuals to float among various taste publics will likely upset the duality between producers and consumers of academic knowledge that is prevalent in schooling culture.

Analytically, then, technology can be viewed as a part of the social system. As part of this system, it can be viewed as a sign from which actors cannot entirely separate their subjective states of mind (Alexander, 1998). However, it has rarely been considered in this more subjective way as a cultural product that possesses multiple meanings. Rather, most analyses of technology rely on Marxist postmodern interpretations that suggest technology is a material variable, "a force of production" (Marx, 1962). From the perspective of this paper, this interpretation of technology is limited by its unbending emphasis on structural constraints. A deeper analysis of technology views it as a discourse, a system of signs that is subject to semiotic constraints and responsive to social and psychological demands. This view is more in line with the flexible model of culture that was developed in the previous section.

Examining the process by which the semiotic of technology has been incorporated into our collective tool-kit will illustrate how it influences social relations. Initially, the cultural semiotic of technology was surrounded by a transcendental and mythical discourse that conveyed ideas of salvation and damnation (Alexander, 1998). This sacred status prevailed until the mid to late 1980's when the personal computer became a more significant sign in our shared collective knowledge. This movement away from avoidance coincided with a shift in our cultural understanding of technology. Objects are initially isolated because they are thought to possess mysterious power (Alexander, 1998). The advent of the personal computer, the large-scale use of other digital machines, and the World Wide Web collided in such a way as to destroy the mystery that surrounded technology and kept it isolated from taste publics. Technology has only recently become profane sign. The scripts acquired by individuals that instruct how to use technology have become more widespread and the knowledge concerning the use of such devices has spread throughout the taste publics. Technology, in other words, is now considered an element in the culture and individual personality systems as well; it is both meaningful and motivated. Technology, therefore, is not an element of unreal salvation and apocalyptic fantasy that is held at a distance. Technology is simply a common cultural tool that does not exist in isolation from the social system. It intersects with numerous structural elements and its potency to alter the organization of social interaction must be considered.

Many have examined the impact of technology on our culture. These analyses have ranged from the concrete, imagistic, utopian, and satanic (Alexander, 1998). This present analysis of technology and its impact on academic knowledge is by no means concrete as it is not based on any empirical reality. Nor is it placing a value on its impact; thereby shying away from utopian and satanic forecasts. It does tend to be imagistic as it is putting forth a model of culture in which the current unidirectional duality between producers and consumers of academic knowledge is blurred as meaning is contested and reconstituted. Technology has only recently been freed from the unreal fantasies that surrounded its discourse and the model put forth here attempts develop this emerging imagery.

 

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Culture & Technology: A Liminal Moment

A more accurate image of technology is one in which individuals use it as a tool in order to enjoy a blend of both expressed and experienced culture which may make this convenient duality non-existent. This imagery is fostered by the model of culture from which this analysis operates. However in order for this to imagery to play itself out, one must recognize that we are as a culture at a "liminal moment" (Turner, 1990) in which it is difficult to classify cultural products such as knowledge. Turner continues to describe liminal entities as being neither here nor there; they are betwixt and between the positions assigned and arrayed by law, custom, convention, and ceremony. These entities are not transfixed in one's social scripts. As such, technology as a liminal entity is expressed by many symbols in many societies that ritualize cultural transitions. The present symbolic shift from the sacred to the profane is a fine example of this liminal state.

The liminality associated with the introduction of technology into the schooling process has provided some insight into the way in which the culture of schooling is organized. There seems to be two images of school organization, juxtaposed and alternating. The first is of a school that is structured, differentiated, and hierarchical with many types of evaluation separating members in terms of "more" or "less". This image of a highly structured and differentiated culture is the one that dominates most schooling institutions. This image is a product of Model 1. The second image, which emerges during a period of liminality, is of a school that is somewhat unstructured and relatively undifferentiated community who submit together to the general authority of elders. From this, it can be inferred that social life is a dialectical process that involves the reinterpretation and negotiation of cultural signs. Technology, when viewed as a semiotic, is a powerful sign that can shift one's relationship to surrounding structures. To take this further, technology can upset the organization of taste publics in a manner that moves closer towards Turner's second image of social organization.

 

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Technology: Three Processes of Change

These transitional states of liminality are tumultuous. The imagery developed thus far has suggested that this transition is seamless. However, danger lies in transition; simply because transition is neither one state nor the next, it is undefinable (Douglas, 1990). The "danger" to social organization is created by three intersecting processes. These three processes help explain how the profane semiotic of technology can affect the relations among the elements in Model 2.

First, as part of the social system, technology can assist in the creation of works of expression - art, knowledge, literature etc. Even before the advent of the World Wide Web, digital technology made it tremendously easy to create (O'Connor , 1997). As O'Connor points out, for example, word processing programs have made it easier for writers to write, revise, store, and retrieve their work, and also provided tools like spell checkers, dictionaries, and thesauruses for their easy use. Many artists and design types fell in love with programs like PhotoShop, MacPaint, and Director, which allow one to carry on one's love affairs with shape, texture, and color in a whole new and exciting realm. Then take music: there are many groups for whom a computer is their most important instrument. In the playing, recording, and live performance arenas, technical advances have greatly lowered the cost at time of creative musical expression. And the fields of film-making and video have benefited greatly via digital editing, not to mention the amazing special effects that are possible today. And there is every indication that the ingenuity of those creating this hardware and software that so facilitates the creation of culture will continue to ease the task of those who wish to express themselves creatively.

The second process by which technology can influence social interaction is though it ability to transmit cultural content (O'Connor , 1997). Any piece of content that can be digitized can also be rocketed around the world, often in a matter of seconds. A student from a private school in New York City can scan images of her work - unless the actual work itself is digital, which saves a step - onto a simple Web site which allows a teacher she's always respected to review her portfolio from the comfort of his apartment in his Los Angeles - and to send her e-mail with any comments he might have. Musicians can send attached files with music, and create Web pages embedded with sound files, so that they, too, can display their wares to anyone with the proper equipment, anywhere in the world. Film and video capabilities on the Net are still developing, but most analysts feel that the incredible bandwidth growth rate will remove technical impediments in these areas as well.

The third manner in which technology can enable individuals to cross and transform loosely demarcated boundaries among taste publics is through its ability to provide access to a myriad of cultural content (O'Connor, 1997). As things currently stand, one who has a reasonable PC/modem set-up can access a bewildering array of cultural choices without moving from their chair. One need only look at any popular Internet portal to see the gigantic number of sites that exist, waiting only for a click of the mouse before they display their wares. For those who say that forms of entertainment/culture such as music and film are still almost impossible to get - at any level of quality - over the Net, a bit of research into such issues as the growth of bandwidth and the history of Moore's Law should indicate clearly that, within a matter of years (at the most), the quality of film and music in the "convergence" medium (i.e., television fused with the Net in turn fused with hi-tech in turn fused with things we can't even imagine now) will match and surpass that which we now enjoy through television, radio, and print. The Net may not only match and eventually surpass the quality of previous media, but, in fact, provide one with entirely new ways to create for and entertain each other that have not previously existed. Real-time, interactive experiences; activities involving people over tremendous distances; virtual reality offerings; and many other capabilities promise to make the "old days" of simply sitting before a teacher in a desk and intently listening - even to the most fantastic teacher - seem like an incredibly limiting experience.

 

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Changing School Culture

Technology has been conceptualized by this paper as a semiotic and physical tool that can alter the social interaction in and among individuals in taste publics. However, this transition to a more changeable and less hierarchical taste structure will be resisted by those who have benefited from the unidirectional model of culture in which the consumers of others' content were somewhat passive receptors. This traditional image permeates most schooling situations. As social interaction in the culture potentially shifts to a form that is less hierarchical and more symmetrical, it is necessary to examine how this modernist tool is going to upset its surrounding structure.

The traditional model of culture has asymmetry and hierarchy as its two primary organizing dimensions. Consequently, due to the nested nature of culture (Vaughan, 1996), these patterns are replicated in everyday social interaction. Consider the relationship between student and teacher. In this traditional relationship, content, delivered through certain cultural codes (Bernstein, 1971), is transmitted from top-down. This unidirectional relationship is maintained by the few strategies of action the consumer has as a result of the minimal tools that one possesses.

Since technology has the ability to alter this hegemonic relationship, certain boundaries will be contested. In school, one of these many boundaries will be the legitimacy of academic knowledge. Cultural hegemony, according to Bell (1990), signifies the dominance of a single group in shaping the prevailing world view which gives people an interpretation of the age. The tension between the accepted academic content promoted by those in advantageous social positions (teachers, academics, legislators, etc.) and new forms of subjective, creative content has yet to play itself out. The point simply is that social relations will change. The traditional is stodgy and orthodox institutions such as schools are on the defensive about their ability to change (Bell, 1990). This modernist tool of technology permits one to express oneself within new and negotiable limits, further challenging cultural boundaries. Bell asks, how can modernism shock if there is nothing left to shock? The answer is quite simple - the cultural content produced and distributed by technology has not even come close to exhausting its potential. Experiment is still being normalized by the cultural mass, the distribution sector of cultural production. This cultural mass makes up a majority of today's newly empowered students for whom technology has provided a much needed voice.

As voices collide in this hegemonic relationship, social organization will be upset. Consider how textbooks, long considered sacred deposits of knowledge, may be altered by technology. The sequential textbook locks students into a journey which deems it inappropriate to either go back or forward in the sequence if it distracts them from the matters at hand dictated by this year's curriculum outline (Chou et al., 1993). The concept and practice of graded classes follows this division of knowledge. Imagine what would happen to graded classes if the computers contained within them a comprehensive system of information, multimedia in character and accessible to children from the fourth grade on. Try to predict what would happen or where a student would choose to go who begins with a document on the Civil Rights Movement and serendipitously explores the related hypermedia links. The notion of sequence and the sacrosanct attitude towards developmentally appropriate material would probably collapse and be revealed as the significant prejudices of the print world that is dominated by high cultural products. Further, the modern prejudice in favor of verbalization as the preferred mode of discourse will yield to the resurgent power of visualization in the postmodern world. The former's near hegemony will diminish and a new intelligence similar to the state of knowledge in the pre-print world will emerge (Chou et al., 1993).

The sociological truism is that a societal order is shored up by its legitimations, which provide the defenses against its despisers (Bell, 1990). As technology allows each individual to personalize the cultural content, and the pace through which one will consume that content, determining what is and what is not legitimate will be more uncertain than ever. Technology can be used in a manner of unlimited self-expression. However, limits to such expression will evolve and the dialectic will continue. The task for the social science community is to explain how these changes will impact the organization of our social interaction.

 

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Implications for Future Research on Technology and the Culture of Schooling

In order to examine how technology is impacting the traditional culture of schooling, one must first make explicit the theoretical model from which one is operating. This paper has attempted to do this. The model developed in this paper emphasizes the nested nature of culture in which social bonds are the primary transmitting force. This ontological perspective is relational in that it examines social life through its interpersonal transactions or social ties. This perspective wholly rejects the common approach to culture analysis which emphasizes the individual. Individual analyses are attractive, nicely simplified geographic analogies, reassuring references to individual decision-making, insistence on efficiency. They lend themselves nicely to retroactive rationalization (Tilly, 1998). However, such analyses of culture fail to the extent that the essential causal business takes place not inside individual heads but within social relations among persons and sets of persons. Model 2 accounts for these complex social transactions.

Cultural analyses would benefit from the shift to a more relational ontological perspective. Given that, it is then necessary for one who is studying technology and culture of schooling to examine the relationships, such as those that occur among teachers, students, and content. It is in this liminal relationship that one will recognize how expressive technological mediums are challenging the fundamental assumption that the teacher is the distributor of knowledge.

Recent analyses of technology and schools have uncovered the shift towards a more constructivist pedagogy in which knowledge and other cultural products are socially constructed. Rarely have these analyses ventured into its impact on social relations among participants in the schooling process. If a major organizing dimension of schools is the distribution of content, the logical extension of these analyses would be the impact on a school's social organization. Other popular analyses have focused on the pedagogical benefits of using technology and its potential to produce more desirable outputs (for example, see Sandholtz, Ringstaff, and Dwyer, 1997). Here, too, the point has been missed. An unexpected byproduct of this technological revolution has been the emergence of a generation of students weaned on multidimensional, interactive media sources, a generation whose understanding and expectations of the world differ profoundly from that of the generations preceding them. Examining the relationship between these generations, represented by the tensions among teachers, students, and content, will provide much insight into the way in which technology is impacting our larger structures.

 

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Conclusion

Social interaction in a culture is dominated by the structures in which it is bound. Most models of culture grant a great degree of influence on these structural constraints. By developing a more fluid and dynamic model of culture, this paper sought to demonstrate how the introduction of a new and profane semiotic can alter the relatively fixed patterns of social interaction. Using schools as an example of where this change may occur, Model 2 attempted to show how new patterns of social interaction can develop with the introduction of new tools that enable the production and dissemination of new cultural products. By opening up the process of cultural production and distribution, schools may become exposed to new ideas regarding academic knowledge. This may upset the authority of those who have been passing on long accepted ideas regarding legitimate academic knowledge. Using a relational ontological position that shows how cultural products are socially constructed, the model of culture proposed in this paper shows how social relations can change. This is the primary weakness of most models of culture - they cannot account for change.

Technology may be able to influence the relations among individuals in schooling institutions. Future research needs to track these changes as they may very well develop in a more hierarchical manner and horizontal manner. Though technology can promote a more horizontal pattern of social organization, other factors in the model may counter this tendency. The liminal moment provided by technology is a wonderful opportunity for social scientists. Developing a theoretical model is a critical step in examining these phenomena. It is hoped that this paper is a step towards this direction. End of article

 

About the Author

Brian Carolan is a Ph.D. candidate at Teachers College, Columbia University, in the Sociology of Education program. His research interests include social networks, language and technology. His dissertation examines the interaction between social organization and language in online learning environments. In addition to his full-time studies, Brian is on the staff of Teachers College Record, a scholarly educational journal.
E-mail: carolan@exchange.tc.columbia.edu

 

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Editorial history

Paper received 1 May 2001; accepted 14 July 2001.


Contents Index

Copyright ©2001, First Monday

Technology, Schools and the Decentralization of Culture by Brian Carolan
First Monday, volume 6, number 8 (August 2001),
URL: http://firstmonday.org/issues/issue6_8/carolan/index.html





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