Books (Are Not Like People): A Postdigital Fable

Costello, Eamon, Soverino, Tiziana and Girme, Prajakta (2021) Books (Are Not Like People): A Postdigital Fable. Postdigital Science and Education. ISSN 2524-4868


What are books? In 2054, where reading and writing have been banned, a scholar in a dystopian academy known as University V might legitimately pose such a question. This article uses speculative fiction as a form of narrative enquiry to explore the socio-materiality of the iconic educational artefact of the textbook. It gives an empirical account of socio-material practices of textbook use (and non-use) gathered from a series of interviews with online distance education students. We analyse these interviews via speculative fiction. We engage in a sense-making activity of the student testimony by narrating their story, via a scholar looking back at our times from a post-literature future. We seek to contribute to a relative dearth of future studies that use real student data. We give an example of how speculative fiction may be used as a form of research method to analyse and interpret such data. In so doing, we seek to cast a light on current educational practices, to show how books and people are entangled. As people, objects and spaces of education intertwine, they call our attention to the interplay of form and function. They decentre the human actor. We attempt to show how form legitimates certain types of knowledge, certain people, indeed people themselves from other non-human actors. We conclude that knowledge is not disembodied, is not stable and is not locked up in books. In our final analysis, we conclude what may seem obviously true, that books are not like people.

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