Digitalizing tradition: Staging postcolonial elite school identities in the online environment

Cameron McCarthy, Koeli Moitra Goel, Brenda Nyandiko Sanya, Heather Greenhalgh-Spencer, Chunfeng Lin

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapterpeer-review


This chapter probes deeply into the tangled historicities that animate British-bequeathed elite schools now operating in new competitive transnational educational markets in selected post-developmental states. The scenarios of this competition are increasingly moving online in photo and video-sharing websites such as YouTube, Facebook and Flicker and in the websites that individual schools are creating to consecrate their school heritages. Drawing from data gathered in a nine-country international study of schools across the world, the theoretical and methodological emphasis in this chapter is on extending the ethnographic focus of this research to a discursive and textual analysis of an emerging digital environment. We examine closely the work that elite institutions in two specific postcolonial societies are doing with their historical archives, preserved cultural objects, architecture, emblems, mottos and their school curricula as they marshal these cultural resources at the crossroads of profound change precipitated by globalization and attendant neoliberal imperatives. This change is articulated across the whole gamut of global forces, connections, and aspirations. It is in relation to and through these dynamics that postcolonial elite schools must now position and reposition themselves - acting and intervening in and responding to new globalizing circumstances that often cut at right angles to the historical narratives and the very social organization of these educational institutions with legacies linked to England. Globalizing developments have precipitated efforts on the part of these schools to mobilize their rich heritages and pasts as a material resource and not simply as a matter of indelible and inviolate tradition. History, then, we maintain in this context, cannot be reduced to the realm of epiphenomena of securely linear school chronologies. Instead, drawing on Walter Benjamin’s “Theses," we look at the way in which postcolonial school histories are “active in the present” and the way in which schools in India and Barbados are adroitly and selectively managing their school identities in the light of globalization. The results of these interventions are not guaranteed. They often run up against the revolution of rising expectations of school youngsters and their parents, the taste for global cultures and global futures indicative of the global ambitions of the young, and the pressures of alumni and other stakeholder interests which must be navigated.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationEducating for the 21st Century
Subtitle of host publicationPerspectives, Policies and Practices from Around the World
PublisherSpringer Singapore
Number of pages22
ISBN (Electronic)9789811016738
ISBN (Print)9789811016714
StatePublished - Jan 1 2016


Dive into the research topics of 'Digitalizing tradition: Staging postcolonial elite school identities in the online environment'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this