This week I recorded my perception of the emotions and physical feelings of members of staff and students I was in contact with. The easiest thing in the world would have been to represent each person using emoji. I rejected that mode of visualisation because emoji don’t represent emotions; they represent facial expressions, and facial expressions are not a reliable guide to emotional states [Crawford, 2021]. Instead, I’ve represented each person as a flower because we are part of the natural world (I don’t believe in immaterial ‘souls’–sorry!) and because human physical, emotional, and mental lives more generally are actually quite fragile, the latter sometimes leaving us vulnerable to manipulation [Coons and Weber, 2014]. I have not indicated who each person is to preserve their privacy.
This visualisation could be used to provoke a discussion of the collection of data on children’s emotions and well-being in schools (and universities) and how it is shaped by government agendas [Williamson, 2017: 131]. This might turn into a deeply intrusive and constant governmental audit or ‘database government’ [Williamson, 2017: 73] not only of behaviour but of one’s physical, emotional and internal mental life. [To get a feel for how affective detection systems work, have a play with this but it will want access to your camera.] Do you have what policy-makers regard as the “right” emotional states for teaching or learning? If not, should we nudge you (or, perhaps, give you a really sharp elbow?) in what we regard as the “right” direction? [Anagnostopoulos, Rutledge, and Jacobsen, 2013: 1-2] tell us that policy makers use standardized performance data to distribute money and evaluate pay for teachers. If you are not evaluated as sufficiency chipper a teacher, will you be docked pay or just not be promoted?