Databite No. 103: Christo Sims

Disruptive Fixation

09.06.17 - 4:00 pm

Data & Society Research Institute
New York, New York

Data & Society's speaker series – Databites – is geared toward engaging our network and the broader public on unresolved questions and timely topics of interest to the D&S community.

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Disruptive Fixation: School Reform and the Pitfalls of Techno-Idealism

Data & Society welcomes author, professor, and ethnographic research designer Christo Sims to discuss his new book, Disruptive Fixation: School Reform and the Pitfalls of Techno-Idealism (Princeton 2017).

As historians of science and technology have shown, the philanthropic possibilities of new media technologies are repeatedly idealized even though actual interventions routinely fall short of reformers’ good intentions – often dramatically so. Given this track record, how does enthusiasm for techno-philanthropism manage to faithful renew and what does a given intervention or movement accomplish even as it is largely unable to make good on its aims? 

This book talk addresses these questions by drawing on an ethnographic case study of a recent attempt to reinvent schooling for the digital age. Sims argues that projects of idealistic tech-reform move through “cycles of disruptive fixation” that tend to remake and extend many of the social predicaments that reformers aim to fix. By looking at these issues ethnographically, he draws attention to the nuanced roles that elites, experts, the media, and the intended beneficiaries of reform―in this case, the students and their parents―play in perpetuating the cycle. The talk concludes by arguing that “failed” cycles of reform are nevertheless effective at channeling and absorbing unwieldy political currents, in large part because they offer structurally unthreatening ways for people to affirm and experience commitments to unmet moral and political ideals. 

WHEN: Wednesday, September 6, 2017

3:30pm Doors open. 

4-5pm  Public talk + Q&A. 

5-7pm  Reception: food and drink provided. Books will also be available for purchase.


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