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AERA 2015 Paper Preview

I will be heading to Chicago, Illinois this weekend for the 2015 American Educational Research Association (AERA) Conference – the largest educational conference in the United States.  This will be my first time presenting at AERA.  If you are attending I hope you will consider joining me for my paper presentation, which is part of a dynamic session where four papers will be presented:

New Perspectives on College Student Identity
Monday, April 20, 2015
10:30 AM – Swissotel, First Level, Zurich G

My paper is entitled Beyond Development: Postsecondary Ethical Responsibilities in College Student Identity and Subjectification.  I am sharing my slides, and hope you will read on for a brief overview.

Central Question

This paper centers what I consider to be an important question: As educators in the 21st century, what is our ethical responsibility in relation to human technological subjectification? As digital technologies proliferate, thinking through the ethics of becoming-digital is of paramount importance for college student educators.

Domains of Education

I utilize two of Gert Biesta’s (2014) domains of education to examine this question.

First, socialization, which “has to do with the ways in which, through education, we become part of existing traditions and ways of doing or being” (Biesta, 2014, p. 4).  I articulate the position that all of our current theorizing on college student ‘development’ and ‘identity’ is tied to the domain of socialization.  Even recently articulated social constructivist or integrationist models, such as the Model of Multiple Dimensions of Identity (Jones & Abes, 2013) make assumptions based on normalization, even while accounting for environmental and personal differences.  Processes of socialization are important for college student educators; however, socialization through ‘development’ and ‘identity’ has become an epistemological project.  As such, emphasis on socialization has not allowed us to fulfill our ethical responsibilities to students and the world.

Subjectification, according to Biesta (2014), consists of educational responsibility to possibilities of the not-yet; events or phenomena “that are not entirely determined by existing orders and traditions” (p. 18).  Subjectification is an ontological process of emergence and becoming, allowing “individuals [to] resist existing identities and identity positions and speak on their own terms” (Biesta, 2014, p. 7).  As such, it cannot be controlled, predicted, or planned for – subjectification is not a learning outcome, as I state. Biesta (2014) articulates that subjectification as ethical pedagogical practice leaves us empty-handed as educators, forcing us to relinquish our control.  It is for precisely this reason that Biesta (2014) believes subjectification to be an important domain of education.


I build on Biesta’s ideas of socialization and subjectification, discussing how the digital technologies of today have forced college student educators to confront the limits of ‘development’ and ‘identity’ as ethical projects.  Digital spaces challenge our normative assumptions about these concepts.

Drawing on an example from Maxine, a human becoming that ‘participated’ in my dissertation study, I discuss how we can view social media spaces as both socializing force and force for possibilities of subjectification.  In this example, I draw heavily on how technological forces impact these processes for Maxine.

However, I extend this discussion, questioning whether subjectification is a solely human process.  In the larger paper, I discuss how technological spaces also go through processes of socialization and subjectification. For technologies, these processes occur as human (organic) and technological (inorganic) forces act on the spaces.  In other words, social media spaces can and should be seen as adhering to existing structures as well as speaking on their own terms.

Ethical Call

In the final section of the paper, I discuss what this means for educational ethics.  For me, I believe college student educators must move beyond development.  Rosi Braidotti (2013) calls for a new vocabulary, used by researchers and practitioners “willing to take the risk of ridicule by experimenting with language that shocks established habits and deliberately provokes imaginative and emotional reactions” (p. 87).

For me, this new language comes from complexity sciences, postqualitative researchers, and posthumanist philosophers.  I incorporate this language liberally throughout my paper.

Ethically, I believe that college student educators must embrace post-identitarian language. Digital spaces disembody ‘identity.’ Distributed digital spaces challenge our understanding of ‘development’ as a controllable, linear process.  While we must account for the role of digital technologies in processes of socialization, we must also be open to the radical possibilities of the not-yet that distributed digital spaces present. We must embrace the ethical call to open possibilities for subjectification.

I conclude by discussing relationships – organic and inorganic – and our responsibility as educators to re-invest in relationships.  While we have a responsibility to relationship with other human becomings (organic), we also must account for our inorganic relationships – to distributed technological spaces and devices or technological forces.  We must also recognize that digital spaces are intra-acting (Barad, 2008) – opening new possibilities for understanding ethical responsibility as educators.

In this regard, my paper challenges the field to move in a postqualitative and posthumanist direction – beyond development and identity (epistemological projects) – into becoming-digital – an ontological engagement with organic and inorganic forces and possibilities for subjectification.


Barad, K. (2008). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Biesta, G. J. J. (2014). The beautiful risk of education. Boulder, CO: Paradigm Publishers.

Braidotti, R. (2013). The posthuman. Malden, MA: Polity.

Jones, S. R. & Abes, E. S. (2013). Identity development of college students: Advancing frameworks for multiple dimensions of identity. San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass.

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