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Tracing the postdigital: Approaches and parameters of postdigital research
The launch of Postdigital Science and Education helped generate a burst of new scholarship about this emerging turn in educational research and theory. Yet, what it means to do postdigital research remains obscure to many. Ongoing debates around definitions, combined with the complexity of analysing digital activity within rich contexts that are also social, material, political, economic, and so on, make it challenging to understand what postdigital research is without already having done some. Meanings of the postdigital emerge from within the processes of postdigital research. Further, while some individual contributions to postdigital research may be grounded in particular disciplines, the postdigital perspective also benefits from interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary knowledge. All of this points to a need for flexibility, and principled, rather than prescriptive, research and scholarship practices. It situates postdigital research in the tradition of compositional and inventive research approaches, and this paper traces that relationship. This paper is co-authored by teachers and students of a pilot course within the postgraduate Education Futures programme at the Edinburgh Futures Institute at the University of Edinburgh. The course, Postdigital Society, introduced students to postdigital theory while they simultaneously produced exploratory postdigital analyses of technology-related topics (e.g. an Alexa EchoDot, employee monitoring software, the technological configuration of the course). Rather than starting with pre-set methods, students collaboratively identified, developed and combined methods through trial-and-error and dialogue. Through this, we discussed what makes an analysis “postdigital”, and played with creative ways of tracing the relations between digital and non-digital. We draw on our experiences of the course (including verbal and online discussions, work produced for assignments, and teacher and peer reviews of that work) in combination with literature on methods and postdigital and related approaches, to distil some key methodological and ethical considerations for postdigital research. We ask how postdigital research connects to, and is distinct from, other approaches that understand technology as entangled with the social and material (e.g. sociomaterial, complexity, philosophy of technology), and from other “post” traditions (e.g. post-modernism, post-feminism, or post-humanism). We then ask what constitutes quality in this kind of research; and what principles might inform future postdigital research.