Communicative constitution of controversial debates


This subproject explores the communicative constitution of MOOCs and polemic exchanges on MOOC forums. It seeks to understand how and why polemic interactions do or do not unfold online on the global educational dispositive edX. Sub-project three examines how the materiality of the platform and its forums, the reflexive capacities of teachers and learners, as well as the interactions themselves, enable forms of agency in the context of online education.

MOOC dispositives such as edX are constituted as entanglements with(in): university institutions; digital technologies; new and old educational roles, identities and subject positions; intentions, theories and practices of the actors involved; big data generated by users, developers, researchers; digital technologies; as well as interactions between MOOC organizers and participants.

While the dispositive of edX comes with certain affordances and invitations, teachers and learners have reflexive capacities that may lead to unexpected uses of this pedagogic dispositive. Sub-project three therefore focuses on the following aspects of edX MOOCs and forums:

  1. The forms of agency that emerge as teaching teams develop MOOCs and configure their forums.
  2. The interactional uses and dynamics occurring on forums of humanities and social science MOOCs.
  3. The material-discursive (pre-)configuration of forum interactions and the unfolding of discussions of essentially contested concepts for educational purposes.


Phase one of this project focuses on the way the discursive and material features of the MOOC dispositive (pre-)configure educational agency and online interaction. Here, we focus on the way members of teaching teams reflexively configure their MOOCs and their forums. The goal is to identify the forms of educational agency that emerge as pedagogical intensions and practices of teaching team members get entangled with the invitations, affordances and limitations of the dispositive.

Phase two of sub-project three zooms in on the types of interaction that do or do not unfold on the forums of selected MOOCs. Here we zoom in on the interactional level, while also exploring how these interactions link up with the affordances of the dispositive, as well as with the societal contexts that may inform debates around essentially contested concepts in the social sciences. The goal is to develop insight into the interactional dynamics that occur on the forums through the analysis of stance taking. We will zoom in and out on forum threads, in order to conduct a structural analysis of the types of interactions that do (not)occur, and netnographies of selected polemics on MOOC forums in order to unravel the discursive materiality of debates about issues such as statehood, corporate social responsibility, or international law. Our aim in this paper is to create a typology of stance taking moves occurring in debates unfolding on MOOC forums.

Phase three pulls all the threads of sub-project three together in an overarching analysis of the way the discursive materiality of the edX platform, the reflexive discursive practices of teaching teams, and the online interactions on the forums, generate new, entangled forms of subjectivity. This will allow us to critically assess the claims and assertions of the global dispositive called edX.


     Research work:

Keynote lecture for the 25th DiscourseNet Conference on Global Dispositives

(Pre)configuring pedagogic agency in the global dispositive of edX: the discursive-material dimension of MOOCs and their forums.

Online interactions are always enabled and constrained by the discursive – material characteristics of the dispositives in which they are embedded, as well as by the ways in which these dispositives are configured and used. This paper examines how MOOC dispositives pre-configure and shape possibilities for social interaction among MOOC participants and teachers. We will demonstrate that the agency of MOOC participants and teachers performed online cannot be abstracted from the material possibilities offered by the platform under examination. In order to substantiate this point, we focus on three case studies. Each study focuses on a social science MOOC taught on the MOOC platform edX. We will ask how forum interactions are embedded in the overall material-discursive architecture of each MOOC. We will focus on the question how assistants and professors of each MOOC conceptualize and assess (the place of) forum interactions in their respective courses? We will also investigate to what extent the intentions of the teaching teams materialize in the practical organization of each MOOC. The data used for this study include qualitative interviews with professors and assistants, screenshots of different editions of the MOOCs under investigation, as well as selected forum interactions. This study is embedded in a poststructuralist relational ontology and in a constitutive view on communication. The analyses have been conducted with the support of the CAQDAS package NVIVO12.

Cite as: Zienkowski, Jan ; Lambotte, François. (Pre)configuring pedagogic agency in the global dispositive of edX: the discursive-material dimension of MOOCs and their forums. 25th DiscourseNet Conference on Global Dispositives (Tyumen, du 12/11/2020 au 13/11/2020).

You can watch the presentation here:


AUPTIC presentation

Les interactions sur les forums des MOOCs en sciences sociales : comment les aspects discursifs et matériels des MOOC préconfigurent l’interaction et la subjectivité des participant.e.s et enseignant.e.s en ligne.

L’interaction en ligne est toujours rendue possible et contrainte par la réalité discursive et matérielle des dispositifs dans lesquels elles sont intégrées, ainsi que par la manière dont ces dispositifs sont configurés et utilisés. Cette présentation examine comment les MOOCs – en tant que dispositifs – préconfigurent et façonnent les possibilités d'interaction sur des forums. Une bonne compréhension de la mise en œuvre des subjectivités des participant.e.s et des enseignant.e.s des MOOCs demande l’analyse de l’organisation matérielle de la plateforme sur lesquels les MOOCs sont développés et enseignés. Nous nous concentrons sur trois études de cas. Chaque étude se concentre sur un MOOC en sciences sociales enseigné sur la plateforme edX. Nous nous focalisons sur la façon dont les interactions sur les forums sont intégrées dans l'architecture discursive et matérielle de chaque MOOC. Nous nous concentrons également sur la façon dont les assistant.e.s et les professeurs de chaque MOOC conceptualisent et évaluent (la place) les interactions du forum dans leurs cours respectifs. Nous étudions également dans quelle mesure les intentions des équipes pédagogiques se matérialisent dans l'organisation pratique de chaque MOOC. Nous analysons des entretiens qualitatifs avec des professeurs et des assistant.e.s, des captures d'écran de différentes éditions des MOOCs, ainsi qu’une sélection des interactions en ligne. Les analyses ont été réalisées avec le support du logiciel NVIVO12. Nos analyses intègrent une approche poststructuraliste de l’organisation matérielle et discursive de la communication en ligne.

Cite as: Zienkowski, Jan ; Lambotte, François. Les interactions sur les forums des MOOCs en sciences sociales : comment les aspects discursifs et matériels des MOOC préconfigurent l’interaction et la subjectivité des participant.e.s et enseignant.e.s en ligne. 4ième colloque international (Louvain-la-Neuve, du 11/11/2020 au 13/11/2020).

You can watch the presentation here:


Contact person: 

PI: Prof. François Lambotte, Social Media Lab; PostDoc researcher: Dr. Jan Zienkowski