Digital first: being sensitive to epistemic politics

    Research output: Contribution to conferenceConference paper presented at Conference (not in Proceedings)


    ‘Digital First’is an emerging paradigm in the College of Indigenous Futures, Arts and Society at Charles Darwin University (CIFAS 2019), where Indigenous teachers and learners comprise a growing proportion of the university and there are strong connections between the university and both urban and remote Aboriginal communities.This paradigm is coming to infuse both teaching and research within many areas of the university, and offers both challenges and opportunities to research and teaching staff. As a member of a small ‘Ground Up’ team of researchers and educators who work collaboratively with Indigenous elders and knowledge authorities as well as government and non-government organisations, this transition carries implications for our ongoing research collaborations and everyday practices ( As a researcher and educator facilitating gradual transitions to ‘Digital First’ ways of working, I am involved in developing online profiles and e-portfolios for researchers showcasing their professional skills, exploring digital formats for presenting, recording and archiving research materials, and developing micro-credentials which can recognise community-based research skills exhibited by Indigenous and other researchers. Supporting connections between research and learning, also involves reshaping online course materials so as to support community-based learners, and developing forms of practically based research training and assessment suitable for students operating in Aboriginal languages and prioritizing oral and visual forms of presentation. Thefirst part of the paper takes the embodied work of crafting these new practices and technologies as a site of research, and offers several ethnographic episodes arising within this research and teaching work. These episodes emerge at the intersection of community-based research and learning practices, and new forms of ‘Digital First’ technologies and ways of operating where surprises and challenging demands often arise. For example, requests to accommodate group enrolment and learning within course structures as community-based researchers push to enroll in research diploma courses in groupswhich encompasssenior and junior learners; grandmothers and grandchildren. The apparent necessity of developing ways of accounting student/researcher identities as relationally configured in place, rather than appearing independently from the outside. And, the conceptual hijinks required when developing online research resources and findings that are explicit about their performative capacities in use. The second partlooks to juxtapose these ethnographic accounts with work produced by an earlier generation of Ground Up researchers exploring possibilities of online learning and digitally mediated knowledge work. In the early 2000’s a number of initiatives were established by groups of CDU based researchers, and Yolŋu colleagues and collaborators in East Arnhem Land. The program Teaching from Country established processes for conducting online distance education in reverse, with Yolŋu lecturers teaching from remote places, to students in urban centres( While the program‘Indigenous Knowledge and Resource Management in Northern Australia(IKRNMA): Making collective memory from computers’ explored tools for capturing, storing and using digital objects concerning collective life and place. Writing about these efforts, Verran and Christie (2007) described the work of Yolngu elders struggling against the grain of digital technologies designed to represent, to use them in ways that were actively performative in expressing the remaking of an ancestral reality. At the same time, exploiting the possibilities the technologies offered for representation in achieving political ends in dealing with representatives of mainstream Australia (2007: 214). My suggestion is that juxtaposing these sets of research materials allows each to be read as enacting a relational ethics of Digital First; that is, to enacta working‘cosmopolitics’. Cosmopolitics is a term that was first coined by Isabelle Stengers’ to denote an on-going exploration of who or what may participate in the composition of a shared world, and how (Stengers 2005). In their recent book, Mario Blaser and Marisol de la Cadena pick up on this term, and the associated concept of ‘political ontology’, to foreground the need for a minimalist translatingframe when considering performative practices capable of working multiple worlds. They suggest other interpretive options such as ‘...political economy and political ecology, formulated with ideas of nature and economic growth, are insufficient (at times even unable) to think antagonisms that, for example, involve things like mountains and forests that emerge asresources through some practices but also as persons through other practices’ (2018: 5, see also Blaser 2009).As such, cosmopolitics denotes a politics across worlds that lacks –or even more strongly, denies the necessity of –a common ground as a precursor to performative action (Dányi & Spencer 2019). Looking back to thearchive examples of online learning and tools for managing digital objects helps to make visible ways of working technologies as social and material assemblages, and to reveal a relational ethic of digital design.This relational ethic remains significant asarrangements of Digital First university curricula and assemblagescome to life.Learningto work such an ethics carefully and well may be an important step for the novice Digital First cosmopolitician seeking to participate in new forms of digital design and pedagogy.
    Original languageEnglish
    Publication statusPublished - 4 Oct 2019
    EventAnnual Conference of the Assoication of Internet Researchers - Queensland University of Technology, Brisbane, Australia
    Duration: 2 Oct 20195 Oct 2019


    ConferenceAnnual Conference of the Assoication of Internet Researchers
    Abbreviated titleAoIR
    Internet address


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