Zombies, Technology, Capitalism


I’ve become a little obssessed with zombies lately, thanks to a couple of recent calls for book chapters. A colleague and I were successful in our proposal for the first one, for a book called  “Zombies in the Academy: living death in higher education”. We’ve proposed a chapter looking at VLEs and the zombification of learning and teaching in HE.

The very general thrust is that VLEs (such as Black(magic)board, and VOODLE) replace face-t0-face ‘human’ learning with undead digital teaching. These VLEs have rapidly spread across the sector (virally?) without being explicitly demanded by either teachers or students. The embedded pedagogy of these VLEs is restrictive  and they offer a level of social control and conformity not possible with more traditional teaching practices.

In our chapter we have deliberately eschewed the Romero zombie (the brain eating hordes) and have gone back to basics, discussing the Voodoo zombie, as a cypher for racialised slavery, and in early films such as White Zombie and Plague of Zombies a critique of proletarian slavery. By doing this, and with the odd nod to the Frankfurt school’s critiques of capitlism, we hope to foreground how VLEs are being used as a tool for  social control by post industrial capitalism, creating one dimensional men, and women.

White Zombie film poster

White Zombie film poster

Anyway in preparation for this chapter i’ve been watching a lot of zombie films and reading a lot about zombies. In order to leverage as much as i can from this i’ve recently proposed a further chapter for a similiar book on Monstrous Cultures where i hope to explore how the zombie has changed over time from Voodoo to Romero, and how the  this shift (in particular the removal of the ‘master’) is politically significant (and disempowering). Fingers crossed on that!

There are a couple of zombie related sites out there which i should mention in case i’ve whetted anybody’s interest, and to help me keep track of them.

There’s the zombies in the academy blog, the zombie research society (Romero is on the advisory board). Margaret Twohy has written quite an interesting masters thesis about the evolution of the zombie from voodoo to virus. I’ve just finished reading Jamie Russell’s Book of the Dead, which i would thoroughly recommend to anybody interested in zombie films.

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About digitalscholar

I am a sociologist with an interest in new technology. Previously I’ve worked on a number of projects at Lancaster University and the Open University looking at the use of new technologies and social media by researchers. I was also a social sciences teaching fellow at the foundation centre at Durham University teaching sociology and anthropology. I am now a senior lecturer at the University of West London's Institute for Teaching, Innovation and Learning where I oversee the foundation provision and support retention. I'm sure I'll still be interested in, and occasionally blog about, tech related things. I use this blog to post thoughts about using new technologies in my professional academic life and wider thoughts and links relating to technology more generally.
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9 Responses to Zombies, Technology, Capitalism

  1. Tim Hunt says:

    … and the lecture theatre is not a tool of social control and conformity?

    Used well, a VLE can be a greet tool for communication between humans at times an places when they could not meet face-to-face.

    Most VLEs provide tools that let students take a more active part in controlling their learning, if the teachers choose to use them.

  2. Thanks for your comment Tim!

    You are, of course, absolutely right and I hope our chapter doesn’t fall into a lazy F2F good/ online bad dualism.

    I think the emphasis will be on the level of managerial control afforded by VLEs, over F2F. In White Zombie the sorceror’s eyes are a recurring motif of control (thirty odd years before Foucault’s reworking of the panopticon!) and i think that this is significant. Within VLEs it is easy to measure and manage the learning and teaching process, in a way that was more difficult (but not absent!) from F2F. I also think that it’s significant that VLEs are *not* a response to demands from students or teaching staff (this is my opinion at the moment!).

  3. Tim Hunt says:

    Thanks for your response.

    Have you ever read http://docs.moodle.org/en/Pedagogy#Social_Constructionism_as_a_Referent ? Those are the view of Martin Dougiamas (Moodle founder) on what the point of a VLE should be. Sadly, VLEs are rarely used like that in practice.

    My particular role in all this is as a software developer working on Moodle’s quiz (eAssessment) module. While that can be (ab)used to just measure students, I hope that it is used to:
    1. allow students to practice skills, where it is within the computer’s ability to manage that.
    2. provide feedback instantly, with the opportunity to act on that feedback immediately. Hence assessment is a chance to learn, not just be graded.
    3. let students and teachers diagnose the extent of their knowledge, in order to diagnose what needs to be studied/taught.
    Working on Moodle, I do have contact with a small, self-selected, technically literate, subset of teachers who are demanding new features in Moodle, but they are a very small minority.

  4. Thanks, i’ve had a quick read of the moodle documents. I definitely think that e-learning of the sort you describe is a very useful and powerful tool, but i worry that there are certain forms of learning (and assessment) which are easier to do online (quantitative stuff like multiple choice tests) which benefit some subjects and students over others. and i worry that this is not an accident of technology, but a symptom of a wider process across HE (increasing student numbers, increased fees, prioritisation of STEM to name a few). I think our chapter will take a critical view of the social/political context in which these technological developments have taken place, using zombiefication as a metaphor for the power relations that exist within society.

  5. There are quite a few zombies in my classes. I have found no certain cure for their condition, but pulling the plug on their laptops does help.

    Dr. Strangelove
    http://www.strangelove.com/videos
    http://www.strangelove.com/blog

  6. Dave Paul says:

    Really glad you are doing research on this. I am gonna reblog about this topic on cyborgology. Great post and I can’t wait to read the book!

    -Dave

  7. Pingback: My life as a media-zombie | Digitalscholarship Blog

  8. Pingback: What we need now is sabotage | Bankrupt.com Blog

  9. Pingback: VLEs are being used as a tool for social control by post industrial capitalism. Discuss. | sue watling

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