The penultimate episode of Happy Valley on BBC TV included a very tense scene that helps to explain polycontextuality and why it is useful for educators.
It seems like the whole country was gripped by Happy Valley – a psychologically charged drama about a police woman and a psychopathic murderer. Apologies if you haven’t been watching, but if you have you will remember the scene in which the murderer, Tommy Lee Royce (aka TLR), communicates with Ryan, the police woman’s grandson using a games console. By the way, Ryan is the estranged son of the murderer.
The scene shows Ryan and TLR in their respective places or situations – Ryan in the privacy of his temporary bedroom in his family’s secure safehouse and TLR in his temporary hideout. In each case the context is heightened by the way the respective sets have been shot to reinforce the danger, isolation, and darkness that both characters share.
The tension in this scene comes from the illicit connections they make through the games device. That connection becomes a third place of complicity: TLR, the murderer, seeking to recruit his offspring to his cause and Ryan, the son, desperately trying to understand who he is as a growing adult devoid of any parents (TLR had been responsible for Ryan’s mother’s suicide shortly after he had been born).
The digital network connection between their respective rooms is full of life and threat, therefore. They tentatively begin to type and talk, establishing and committing to a forbidden pact of being in touch with each other on their own terms
The dramatic scene above rveals the authenticity of digital connectivity as a valid and vital space situated within other realities.
Each person breathes from different air and senses their respective spaces in their own way. What happened before and what will happen next (their circumstances) are unique and remote, in many ways characterised by and sharing a common disconnection. But the vibrancy of the moment comes from the experience they make together in their digital space..
For the educator, polycontextuality explains how the digital tools we use can act as portals to intense situations. They are spaces to go to (they have utility), but they are also places in which life’s circumstances find focus and connection in and amongst everything else that may be happening and which may hold significance for the learner.
Existing in many contexts, therefore, helps us to understand the value of learning ecologies too – that we exist as dynamic entities in constellations and assemblages. We are imbued with value and living affordances, wittingly and unwittingly – we exist, therefore we are!
The connection is not a third place as meaning a home from home neutral space (Oldenburg, 1998), but it forms a different kind of third situation; one that can take a dominant role in moments of vibrant exchange and which, therefore, needs to be understood for its social significance.