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Doctoral researcher (80-100%) in the project “Algorithmic Sorting in Education” at Zurich University of Teachers Education

Job offer
Start: September 1st, 4 years fixed term contract.
The position is affiliated to the convention theorist Kenneth Horvath

PROJECT DESCRIPTION

Unravelling the interplay of pedagogical imaginaries & technological visions in the shaping of AI-based EdTech. The potential employment of AI-based technologies in school education has yielded considerable debate regarding their social consequences. Against this background, this study asks how actors from two key fields of practice – teaching and technology – envision and shape the role of algorithmic sorting in education. Building on French pragmatic sociology, the project employs a qualitative research strategy that combines focus groups (to unravel normative, pedagogical, and technological visions and assumptions that guide how actors reason about algorithmic sorting in education) with in-depth case studies (to investigate how these visions and assumptions relate to everyday professional practices). On this basis, the study promises to significantly further understanding of how AI-based tools might transform social sorting in education and will allow to identify key points to be considered for designing and using algorithmic sorting in an equitable and sustainable manner.

Research objective. One of the crucial trends in the digital transformation concerns the uses of artificial intelligence (AI). Although mostly still in a development stage, AI-based technologies have already yielded considerable debate regarding their social consequences. While proponents argue that AI-based sorting will enhance educational equity by radically personalizing teaching and learning, critical scholarship argues that algorithmic black-boxes might actually reinforce rather than abolish educational disadvantages. Whether or not AI-based technologies will ever develop into equitable and practicable pedagogical tools will depend on many choices made during their development and implementation. The problem that motivates the proposed project is that we know little about how these various decisions are made, negotiated, and justified. Against this background, this study asks how actors from two key fields of practice – teaching and technology – envision and shape the role of algorithmic sorting in education. Although the relations, intersections, and tensions between these two fields are crucial for understanding how educational technologies function as pedagogical and social devices, they have so far hardly ever been studied in their interplay.

Methodology. The project builds on French pragmatic sociology to grasp the complexity of normative considerations, socio-technical visions, institutional settings, technologies, and everyday work situations at play in these processes. The project employs a qualitative research strategy that combines two components: (A) Focus groups („qualitative experiments“) are organized to unravel normative, pedagogical, and technological visions and assumptions that guide how actors reason about algorithmic sorting in education. (B) In-depth case studies are conducted with participants from both fields to investigate how these visions and assumptions relate to everyday professional practices. On this basis, the study promises to significantly further understanding of how AI-based tools might transform social sorting in education and will allow to identify key points to be considered for designing and using algorithmic sorting in an equitable and sustainable manner.

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From reductive to generative crisis: businesspeople using polysemous justifications to make sense of COVID-19

Ioana Sendroiu (2022)

American Journal of Cultural Sociology. Online first

Abstract. Both lay understandings of crisis moments and influential psychological models of cognition in times of uncertainty emphasize how crises limit thinking. Conversely, scholars as diverse as Foucault, Swidler, Bourdieu, and Butler have elaborated generative conceptions of crisis, which specify crises as moments of change, transformation, and heightened cognition. The research presented here takes up the question of how crises become thinkable, as actors gradually make sense of a newly uncertain context. Against a backdrop of polarization on the topic, in-depth interviews with 60 businesspeople navigating the coronavirus pandemic show that they see public health and economic well-being as interrelated. This has important effects on how businesses interpret and implement government directives and public health guidelines, from choosing to close before being mandated to do so, to staying closed even when allowed to reopen. Taken together, these findings substantiate generative models of crisis while drawing attention to the polysemous justifications elaborated by actors as they navigate shifting cultural and social scaffoldings.

Extract: “Polysemous crisis justifications
In elaborating this polysemous conception of crisis, I draw on Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006 [1991]) theory of justifications (see also Lamont 2012).Footnote 3 Simply put, they theorize that actors consistently shift among modes for justifying and evaluating their interests and goals (Boltanski and Thévenot 1983, 2006 [1991]). This helps solve the question above, regarding the cultural mechanisms underpinning the generative view of crisis.
Indeed, Boltanski and Thévenot elaborated their model in response to Bourdieu’s more unitary view of habitus, a view that is also implicitly part of Bourdieu’s model of crises. For instance, in Homo Academicus, Bourdieu (1990) details the struggles among different actors using a variety of frames or perspectives in order to compete for prominence during the 1968 protests in France. But these frames emerge out of these actors’ positions within pre-crisis fields: tenured professors take a perspective on the protests that differs from nontenured academics, representatives of less prestigious disciplines (such as sociology!) are more amenable to the protests, and so on (Bourdieu 1990; see also Strand and Lizardo 2017). For Bourdieu, then, these competing frames are rooted in actors’ structural positions, rather than any one actor having the ability to wield competing justifications.
Boltanski and Thévenot (2006 [1991]) meanwhile argue that actors justify their positions by appealing to different (and diverse) logics; for instance focusing on profit maximization when making use of a market logic, or emphasizing civic solidarity when engaging with a civic logic. In turn, subsequent empirical research has shown that actors will draw from a range of such logics in justifying their claims to money and recognition (Levi and Sendroiu 2019). A multiplicity of grammars of worth can even explain diversity in definitions of personal worth, which Lamont (1994; 2009) operationalizes in terms of money, morals, and manners.” (p. 7/8)

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