The Great Online Migration. Covid-19 and the Virtualization of American Public Schools
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The Covid-19 pandemic has been associated with the accelerated deployment of the virtual economy. As societies protected themselves from contagion by limiting interpersonal interactions, a wide range of activities - education, work, social relations, learning, spirituality, leisure, business and politics - quickly reassembled in distancing mode. And as the pandemic stretched out from weeks to months to over a year, these reorganizations started to look permanent. This conference by Marion Fourcade will explore this “great online migration” through the prism of the virtualization of public schools in the United States. Elementary and secondary schools (or K-12 in American jargon) offer a particularly useful vantage point for analyzing the promises, failures and long-term implications of the digital switchover forced by the onset of the pandemic. Not only have these institutions found themselves at the center of controversies over the legitimacy of lockdowns, but the transition to “distance learning” has been particularly radical and difficult.
Finally, the schools’ transformation during this period reveals the growing dependence of public services on technology providers, which strive not only to service new needs, but also to reinvent them in their own image.
Marion Fourcade is Professor of Sociology at UC Berkeley and Distinguished Visiting Professor of Sociology at the Institute for Advanced Study (Princeton) for 2019-2020. She is the author of Economists and Societies: Discipline and Profession in the United States, Britain and France, 1890s to 1990s (Princeton University Press, 2009). Her current work focuses on the politics of wine classification and taste in France and the United States and on new forms of stratification, morality, and profit in the digital economy. A book from this project, The Ordinal Society (with Kieran Healy), is under contract with Harvard University Press.
Reading: Fassin, D./Fourcade, M. (2021, eds): Pandemic Exposures. Economic and Societies in the Time of Coronavirus. Chicago: HAU Books