This new paper explores the politics of educational design … exploring how the coercive logics of neoliberal schooling are baked into the design of everyday physical objects such as classroom chairs
This paper analyses three examples of ‘innovative’ new chair designs now being sold to schools with promises of disciplining students’ bodies to achieve classroom order, ‘learning gains’, efficient cognition, and even a corporate atmosphere in the classroom
These chairs are examples of the growing influence of ‘libertarian paternalism’ in education – these are material designs that are intended to coerce, manipulate and ‘nudge’ students in their own self-interests.
We draw on notions of disciplinary/hostile architecture and the idea of ‘coercive design’ from critical design studies – where individuals are directed by the designed objects that they encounter and undesirable behaviour is made uncomfortable, awkward, and frictional.
These chairs are sold as solutions to physiologically manipulate students into overcoming behaviours that might impinge on their school studies (fidgeting, walking around, slouching, and even failing to align vital organs to optimise blood flow to the brain).
The marketing of these products draws on superficial readings of ‘learning science’ and ‘neuroscience’ – making allusions to studies from top universities – and generally trying to appeal to time-poor schools under pressure to be ‘evidence driven’.
The chairs frame classroom environments along individualised and de-socialised ‘learnified’ lines – narrowing the types of students (and types of student bodies) that are deemed to be acceptable in a classroom.
Of course, although being sold as innovative and disruptive designs, these are deeply conservative products – promising to *not* disrupt the fundamental order of the classroom, and to reinforce the basic idea of students staying their seats and working.
Selwyn, N. (2023). The modern classroom chair: Exploring the ‘coercive design’ of contemporary schooling. Power & Education, https://doi.org/10.1177/17577438231163043