Designing flexible futures: Globalization, technological change, and institutional conflict in the Los Angeles public school system
Torin M. Monahan, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, United States
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute . Awarded
This project researches the design of information technology infrastructures in Los Angeles Unified School District. It situates the building of these infrastructures within a larger political and economic climate of globalization and identifies conflicts resulting from the organization's transition from Fordist to post-Fordist production models. In public education, Fordist production practices of standardization persist, embedded in durable architectural forms, pedagogies, policies, and organizational structures. Yet, these territories are currently undergoing transformation, facilitated by information technologies, to post-Fordist regimes of flexible production, privatization, and labor outsourcing. This shift is documented and analyzed in the present research.
Throughout a year of ethnographic fieldwork with the Los Angeles public school system, I studied global and technological change across six domains: space, pedagogy, organization, policy, governance, and imagination. Findings include an emergent organizational form of fragmented centralization , where decision-making authority is becoming more centralized while accountability for centrally made decisions is becoming more distributed and decentralized; the growth of an occupational group of information technology (IT) specialists that are splintering longstanding power dichotomies between teachers and administrators; and the reliance on metaphors by these IT specialists to describe the design of technological infrastructures, such that symbols acquire agential force in design processes.
Whereas in contemporary social science research on globalization, flexibility is increasingly seen as exploitative, debilitating, and destructive, I argue that this is because the focus of such studies has been on existing demands upon individuals and communities to adapt to globalization and its effects. As a supplement to—rather than substitute for—this critique of flexibility, I introduce a theory of structural flexibility to describe a largely uncharted path, latent within the logic of post-Fordism, for creating enabling and empowering conditions for students, teachers, and other actors in the system. This argument for structural flexibility is developed across each of the domains studied (space, pedagogy, organization, policy, governance, and imagination), and existing examples of its occurrence are provided.
Monahan, T.M. Designing flexible futures: Globalization, technological change, and institutional conflict in the Los Angeles public school system. Ph.D. thesis, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
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