Hyperbureaucratic impacts of digital education management machines

Licínio C. Lima, Professor catedrático do Instituto de Educação e investigador do Centro de Investigação em Educação (CIEd) da Universidade do Minho, Braga, Portugal.

Digital education, which currently manifests itself in multiple forms, requires the digitization of the respective educational organizations and their administration (WILLIAMSON, 2016). It is in this context that the reference to machines for managing education is justified, far from being just a metaphor. Today, in schools and universities, we are subjects and objects of electronic administrative actions, of algorithmic decisions, of cybersurveillance. All areas of education and its organization and administration have shown themselves to be subject to modernization and rationalization processes based on information and communication technologies, namely through digital platforms that promise high speed and efficiency, putting an end to bureaucracy. Artificial intelligence, among other resources, will revolutionize educational administration, rational decision-making based on complex calculations, reliability, storage and integrated management of large amounts of data. But will these changes, already underway, guarantee the reduction of bureaucracy in educational organizations and their management? And will they be compatible with the democratic management of education (MEIRA, 2019)? The essay “Education management machines: digital domination and augmented bureaucracy” presented by the author uses classical studies on rational legal domination and discusses these and other problems from a critical perspective, admitting that the promises of de-bureaucratization can lead to a new and more powerful electronic bureaucracy, or hyperbureaucracy (LIMA, 2012).

For four decades, the author has been seeking to contribute to the construction of a sociology of educational organizations, starting from the Center for Research in Education at the University of Minho. Having devoted special attention to education policy and administration, including theoretical and empirical research on the tensions between democratization and modernization of education, democratic management and bureaucratic management of schools, he started in the last decade a research project that studies the impacts of the new managerialism on education, namely in terms of governance, management and evaluation processes.

Image: DreamsTime.

Informatization has had a great impact on education management and has led to the dematerialization of its processes. It is, however, fallacious to conclude that such dematerialization has guaranteed the promised reduction in bureaucracy. Firstly, because the rational-legal type of domination is institutionalized, having resulted from long-term socially constructed rationalization processes. Secondly, the use of computer platforms and other digital devices have proved capable of realizing various dimensions of bureaucracy that only fast and reliable devices could really achieve, aiming at universal rules, uniformity and standardization (SELWYN, 2011), objectivity, calculation and measurement, surveillance and remote control over administrators and administered. Finally, because technical and instrumental rationality expands without precedent, making use of information and communication technologies, flat organizational structures, centralized planning, the use of written rules and digitally inscribed on platforms, of digital modes of supervision that, in global terms, are hybrid and apparently contradictory, but which, however, have not prevented the investigation from refuting the thesis of rupture with organizational bureaucracy.

Bureaucracy was not only not fought, nor dethroned, but it was increased from the moment it dematerialized and adopted speed and certainty, producing automated decisions and monitoring their effective fulfillment. This augmented bureaucracy, or hyperbureaucracy, represents one of the most extraordinary processes of heteronomous government in education, of loss of autonomy and freedom of actors, although, paradoxically, in the name of their autonomy and possibility of choice (GRIMALDI; BALL, 2021). Subjugated to an intensified formal rationality, it tends to produce an education that is as much more irrational in substantive terms as it is more rational in formal terms. It is with the increased bureaucratization of education, made possible through the machines for education management, that the ethical and aesthetic, relational and emotional, democratic and participatory dimensions, of humanization of human beings, among others, are potentially diminished, eventually rendered impossible.


GRIMALDI, E. and BALL, S. J. Paradoxes of freedom. An archaeological analysis of educational online platform interfaces. Critical Studies in Education [online]. 2021, vol. 62, no. 1, pp. 114-129. e- ISSN: 1750-8495 [viewed 18 August 2021]. https://doi.org/10.1080/17508487.2020.1861043. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/17508487.2020.1861043

LIMA, L. C. Elementos de hiperburocratização da administração educacional.  In: LUCENA, C.; SILVA JÚNIOR, J. R. (orgs.). Trabalho e educação no século XXI: experiências internacionais. São Paulo: Xamã, 2012. pp. 129-158.

MEIRA, M. A difícil relação entre burocracia eletrónica e democracia na administração educativa em Portugal. Educação & Sociedade [online]. 2019, vol. 40, e0206742. ISSN: 1678-4626 [viewed 18 August 2021]. https://doi.org/10.1590/ES0101-73302019206742. Available from: http://ref.scielo.org/ymwg28

SELWYN, N. It’s all about standardisation. Exploring the digital (re)configuration of school management and administration. Cambridge Journal of Education [online]. 2011, vol. 41, no. 4, pp. 473-488. e-ISSN: 1469-3577 [viewed 18 August 2021]. https://doi.org/10.1080/0305764X.2011.625003. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/0305764X.2011.625003

WILLIAMSON, B. Digital education governance: data visualization, predictive analytics, and ‘real-time’ policy instruments. Journal of Education Policy [online]. 2016, vol. 31, no. 2, pp. 123-141. e-ISSN: 1464-5106 [viewed 18 August 2021]. https://doi.org/10.1080/02680939.2015.1035758. Available from: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/02680939.2015.1035758

To read the article, acess

LIMA, L. C. Máquinas de administrar a educação: dominação digital e burocracia aumentada. Educação & Sociedade [online]. 2021, vol. 42, e249276. ISSN: 1678-4626 [viewed 18 August 2021]. https://doi.org/10.1590/ES.249276. Available from: http://ref.scielo.org/sc8f7s

External links

Educação e Sociedade – ES: www.scielo.br/es

Facebook Educação e Sociedade: https://www.facebook.com/ES.cedes/

Instituo do Minho: https://www.ie.uminho.pt/pt

LinkedIn Educação e Sociedade: www.linkedin.com/in/educação-e-sociedade

Lícinio Carlos Lima: https://cied.uminho.pt/user/328

Twitter Educação e Sociedade: https://twitter.com/ES_cedes


Como citar este post [ISO 690/2010]:

LIMA, L. C. Hyperbureaucratic impacts of digital education management machines [online]. SciELO in Perspective: Humanities, 2021 [viewed ]. Available from: https://humanas.blog.scielo.org/en/2021/09/16/hyperbureaucratic-impacts-of-digital-education-management-machines/


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