In June 2018, I attended a workshop at Lancaster University called “Staying with Speculation”. This wasn’t long after the publication of my paper on “speculative method in digital education research” (Learning, Media & Technology, 2017) and I was keen to think about next steps for the work. The workshop was organised by Luke Moffat and colleagues in sociology at Lancaster, and it was a really good event with lots of discussion and the development of ideas for a special issue on the same topic. At the workshop, I met Shawn Bodden, a doctoral researcher in Human Geography who also happened to be based at the University of Edinburgh. We have a few people in common but I doubt we would have met otherwise – and the meeting proved really fruitful. Over the following year we worked together on an idea that was sparked at the workshop – the role of the ‘glitch’ in producing speculative orientations to the future – and this week one outcome of that work is this new publication:
Bodden, S. and Ross, J. (2020, online first) Speculating with glitches: Keeping the future moving. Special issue, Staying with Speculation. Global Discourse.
The paper explores the glitch as a generative problem which is capable of introducing unanticipated possibilities and futures into situations. We understand the glitch as a sociomaterial encounter rather than merely a technical error, and argue that it calls for (re)consideration of here-and-now possible futures through practices of response and repair. Exploring the ways that people seek to respond to glitches, we consider two case studies in which unexpected problems provoke those involved to speculate playfully and practically about new possibilities. In the first case, a malfunctioning ‘Teacherbot’ incites new challenges and pedagogical opportunities in an online learning environment. In the second, Hungarian activists creatively use infrastructural and political problems to make new spaces of protest and to press the government to respond to their concerns. Considering these empirical cases allows us to observe how playful and disruptive dispositions have worked to question the terms of possible futures in the real world, and to unsettle the seemingly given terms of power-relations. Glitches are not a panacea, but they can provide an impetus to act from within situations that are uncertain, and can therefore point to new trajectories and possible futures.
One of the cool things about this journal is that each article they publish is accompanied by a reply, so in addition to our paper, there is also a thought-provoking response from Joe Deville –
Deville, J. (2020, online first) ‘A reply to Speculating with glitches: Keeping the future moving by Shawn Bodden and Jen Ross: Covid-19 as glitch: A provocation for speculative ethics?’, Global Discourse, (Special Issue: Staying with speculation).
In this reply, Deville ponders whether Covid-19 can be seen as a glitch – exploring its role as an interruption and the dangers of ‘blind optimism’ in relation to its possible effects. He concludes that:
COVID-19 as glitch is very unlikely, on its own, to prompt major shifts in our relationship to the world. But we can hope that it opens up new spaces for critical thought.
Drawing on our discussion of the “temporalities of contemporary life that amplify the potential for glitching” (Deville 2020) to examine what Covid-19 is doing or might do as it breaks down infrastructures and makes them visible seems to offer something really generative to our thinking about the present moment and about speculation. So, I appreciated this reply a lot.
Co-authoring this paper and the discussions it has led to has been an extremely positive experience. At its best, working in a university offers these chance encounters with extremely smart and interesting people, and (occasionally) the time and space to try to make something new together. Thanks to Shawn, and to Malé Luján Escalante and Christine Mortimer (co-editors of the special issue), Luke Moffat, and all the participants at the 2018 workshop. Thanks also to the Coding the MOOC teacher research team – one case study from this paper came from the first outing of the Teacherbot in EDCMOOC!