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Policy discourses are characterised by claims that the university should be ‘transformative’, and that education itself is in need of ‘transformation’. However, these discourses are open to critique, towards more nuanced understandings of educational continuity and change from STS perspectives.
Policy discourses in contemporary higher education are characterised by frequent claims not only that education should be ‘transformative’ in terms of its role in society, but also that education itself is in urgent need of ‘transformation’. These statements may initially appear laudable, accompanied by mission statements addressing ‘global challenges’, social justice, or claims regarding inclusive engagement in learning. However, these discourses and the attendant practices that surround them could benefit from critical scrutiny and contestation, particularly given that they sit in radical tension with neoliberal regimes of surveillance, audit and performativity pervading the contemporary university. The term ‘transform’ is derived from the Latin transformare, meaning ‘to metamorphose’, implying not mere enhancement, but a fundamental altering. Inherent in this call for metamorphosis is the notion that education is fundamentally flawed and in need of radical reshaping. Frequently, this is accompanied by technosolutionist discourses proposing digital technologies as the means by which this desired metamorphosis may be brought about. In this ‘scorched earth’ imaginary, all existing epistemic and educational practices are assumed to be problematic and in need of remediation, or even an implied destruction, accompanied in in some cases with the implication that educationists themselves are a problem to be solved. Although there are clear imperatives for educational practices to be improved and challenged, this absolutist position raises questions regarding centuries-old practices of education, such as the embodied, co-present lecture or seminar, and the secluded, ephemeral, embodied and private epistemic practices and cultures of study, experimentation and teaching. This panel invites papers from a range of STS perspectives which take a critical approach to these discourses and the underlying assumptions that they convey. Participants are encouraged to consider alternative conceptions such as maintenance, stewardship, adaptation, and care, in order to provide nuance, and counterweight to these dominant discourses of educational ‘transformation’.