Making Digital Counterpublics

MLA 2014 Panel

To teach is not to transfer knowledge but to create the possibilities for the production or construction of knowledge. ~ Paulo Freire, Pedagogy of Freedom

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Drawing on the idea that Habermas’ public sphere is an as yet unachieved ideal, scholars such as Nancy Fraser and Michael Warner have argued for the need to recognize alternative or parallel publics. Amid discourses regarding the value of the humanities, this session takes for granted that digital tools and platforms may be combined with engaged civic pedagogy to facilitate counterpublic formation for marginalized populations, activist organizations, and community outreach.

Each of these papers presents a project which argues, in one form or another, that a different type of pedagogical experience is produced by involving students in “making” and “doing” things which engage social spaces beyond the walls of the classroom or the time allotment for the class. This is an experience which not only enhances the students’ learning but seeks to actively engage the public, re-imagining the space academia might inhabit in 21st century education and civic discourse.

Ed Reform by Undergrads

“Ed Reform by Undergrads: Giving Rural Students a Voice”

Skallerup teaches at Morehead State University, in the heart of Appalachia. According to the Federal statistics, every county in Morehead State’s service area is either “distressed” or “at risk.” Rural Eastern Kentucky schools have low graduation rates and low test scores and Kentucky ranks 40th out of 50 states for high-speed internet access. All of this adds up to a population of students who come to Morehead State underprepared, unfamiliar (at best), and uncomfortable with (or even hostile to) technology.


“From MOOC to POOC: Plurality, Participation, and JustPublics”


The JustPublics@365 initiative seeks to create informed citizens by acknowledging that issues of inequality cannot be addressed by the media, academics, social activists, community leaders, or policy makers who work in isolation. Instead, “hybrid” practitioners, who combine the best of these worlds, must work together for the public good.

To this end, one of the main components of JustPublics@365 is an open online course, “Reassessing Inequality & Reimagining the 21st Century: East Harlem Focus.” Rather than build upon the MOOC model, which emphasizes massiveness of scale, we underline the necessity of deep participation and collaboration in education and activism. Our Participatory Open Online Course (POOC) has as its central goal the creation of a space that fosters multiple levels of engagement and dialogue with multiple publics around issues of inequality in East Harlem.

Beautiful Social

A Beautiful Social Collaborative


In the digital media collaborative, Beautiful Social, students perform the public work of digital literacy instruction to co-create social media strategies with nonprofits and community based organizations. In its first two years, students have run more than 45 projects, free of charge in the Philadelphia area. Beautiful Social fosters a sustainable, economical, and effective model for teaching and learning where organizations receive free assistance and students gain real experience.

Fashioning Circuits

“Fashioning Alternative Publics: Student Maker Spaces”


Fashioning Circuits is, a project in the Emerging Media and Communication program at UT Dallas. Coursework for Fashioning Circuits is completed through independent studies in which students read and discuss theories of fashion, gender, and global labor. Students perform critical analysis of wearable media on a group blog and produce wearable media objects, most commonly with the open source Lilypad arduino. One of the focuses of the project is to help students envision themselves as makers. The supportive and inclusive environment in which all participants are amateurs dedicated to co-learning fashions an alternative public that draws upon the ideals of Pierre Lévy’s “collective intelligence” while challenging dominant discourses of hyper-masculine brogrammer culture.

Conference Conversation


“I’ve empirically found that meaningful work is contagious” - Aimme Knight

During the Panel Presentation as part of the conversation and insuing Twitter conversation, many resources that helped to futher expand the ideas behind this panel were mentioned. Below is a collection of these resources.