Playful zoom-thinking with water by Dr Helen Clarke and Dr Sharon Witt


Our first blog post follows our October CEEN workshop: ‘Thinking-with water: engaging with flows’, in which we invited participants to dip their toes into playful and artful collective experimentations. In response to Kerry’s blog (September 2020) and the continued social distancing requirements of Covid-19, we sought to ‘do zoom communications differently’ – thinking and creating ideas and spaces bodily. Keen to slow down and pause whilst paying attention to participation, sensorial encounters and material engagements, we invited participants to share experiences through the chat box, as a place for lively conversations. We worked online with the provisos that silences were generative, blank spaces on paper were fine and any decision to turn the camera off was part of the flow of the workshop. We were grateful for the spirit of generosity as participants took up invitations to collage and engage in co-production, co-composition, and co-experimentation (Koro-Ljungberg 2016).

In recent months several online events have shown us that there may be other ways to engage digitally – through meditation, soundscapes and lively chat. We were unsure what was going to emerge from this participatory event, which was uncertain and new territory for us. Outcomes were unknown and open, yet we were confident and trusted that something would happen in lively entanglements of water, participants, and theory.  This blog is a reflection and development of our experience preparing, delivering and reflecting on our workshop.


Preparing for the workshop: identifying the source of the flow

Zoom worlds seem very distant to the ‘South Country’ landscapes (Thomas 2009) which have become a focus of our research attention: the Hanger at Selborne; the ancient Yews at Kingley Vale; the chalk cliffs at Freshwater Bay; the Solent at Salterns Beach; Little Horsecroft Copse.


Inspired by Country et al. (2016: 456) these places have ‘enabled our learning, our meeting, the stories that guide(d) us, and the connections we discuss(ed).’ Places have significantly impacted on our pedagogical endeavours, mutually co-constructed our thinking and informed our reading and walking practices. Serendipitous encounters with water have presented themselves and we have become entangled in fluid assemblages. Water has been a constant refrain in our work. We have found ourselves immersed in watery intra-actions, including paddling in chalk streams, meteorological rain mediations with students, caught unexpectedly in rainstorms on fieldwork and curriculum-making   with Masters’ students and a watery glitter vortex. Emotions have been stirred: humility, curiosity, care, respect, and response-ability.  We are in no doubt of the need to avoid romantic notions and to consider the messy realities of watery worlds, the troubling specificities of water: water destroys, floods, contaminates, eludes. Water can be troublesome, it can be scarce, cold, and can strike repeatedly and violently.

wateriness is everyday … it accompanies us ….

wateriness is a refrain …. in life, in research, in us…

water led us to a workshop theme …

water accompanied us to a workshop

Delivering the workshop: in full flow

An introductory question at the workshop placed participants in relation with water – How have you been with water today? It was a very watery day. In Hampshire, water lashed at the windows, puddles hindered the drive to present. All participants had become entangled with water: walking the dog, washing hands, children at the beach in wetsuits, noticing the height of the stream, taking bins out, drinking water, cycling through the rain, rehydration.


Our zoom space was to provide a ‘simultaneity of stories’ (Massey,2005:9); a multiplicity of layered and complex tales, which flowed across the digital space from Nottingham, Birmingham, the Peak District, Bath, and Devon. Outside, it was raining – across the country. On screen, we gathered as an online assemblage of desks and chairs, people in their everyday lives, water experiments, on screen chat, papers, and a watery collage.

From a torrent of zoom chat emerged found poems and lyrical thinking to invite readers to participate and engage with ideas, feelings and realities shared (Janesick: 2016). These poems are our attempt to become more playfully rhizomatic in the ways we approach theory and sharing knowledge-in-formation. For example, ‘What does water do?’

Water ripples

Water caresses

Water flows

Water quenches thirst

Water sustains

Sometimes petrifies me.

Water rushes

Water gives life, cleanses





Water carves, reflects, splashes

washes away

makes waves

makes us up.

Water combines, replenishes and


Water changes – carving, bending.

You never meet the same water twice.

Water swirls and sparkles.

Water allows things to dissolve together


We conversed with water. This was conversation, not rooted in speech, but in the Middle English origins of the word, where to converse is to live among, to be familiar with and become intimate with. Water was the lead performer and teacher in our encounters. To consider the world and materials ‘in conversation’ requires a fundamental shift in our sense of who we are as researchers and human beings, in relation to our planet.


Reflecting on the workshop – ripples continue to flow

We made deliberate interruptions to habitual digital zoom practices. Participants were encouraged to experiment with materials: paper, water, mark making items. Playful practices were encouraged. Distance was mitigated by intimacy and sharing. With a desire to abandon routine ways of creating meaning, assigning merit and judging worth, we drew on our senses and more than purely rational cognition. Within playful contexts creativity bubbled up to the surface, we glided into action with different ways of building knowledge percolating through the digital space. This proved to be insurrectionary… challenging bureaucratized and silo-ed thinking and practice’ (Brookfield, 2019). One colleague shared: ‘I loved playing with the water and then playing with how it was possible to interact with the video camera as a means of playing with the audience! It’s given me food for thought in how zoom can work in other ways.’ There were serendipitous distractions too. Another participant found droplets of water on the grass, tried to carry the stalks indoors and the droplets fell … grass came indoors to the artwork … water itself resisted capture.

So, in thinking-with water what kinds of relations and responses were provoked? What was stirred up? Significant thoughts emerged – of temporality, playful interruptions, transformation and change, collaging, and water-worlding.

One respondent wrote: ‘When you ask what that stirred up – it did the opposite. It calmed me right down…being made to stop and dip my hands in water and play with pens was a great antidote. The fact that this was connected to theoretical thinking and rationales as a wider grounding for the work was extremely important – we weren’t just playing with a bowl of water!’ Perhaps seeking to do things differently can help us to keep spaces open for material encounters and create space to come to the surface and breathe.

Water prompted learning about ‘worlding’. Our watery worlding was informed through cultivating attention, active engagement, and entanglement in a water-paper-drawing-writing-materials assemblage. As Foley (2017) writes:

‘Worlding… is an active, ontological process; it is not simply a result of our existence in or passive encounter with particular environments, circumstances events or places… It is above all an embodied and enacted process – a way of being in the world – consisting of an individual’s whole-person act of attending to the world

The potential to be affected by materials was realised by participants:

‘Markings are made just with water and they change as the water spreads, evaporates etc. I was thinking of how water can hold and gradually erode our physical, emotional and mental knots.’

I wasn’t enjoying the misty rain this morning but this afternoon I’ve loved my engagement with it – playful rather than trying to fight against it.’


It makes me think back to the oil pipeline protests in America. The fact that water source was going to be destroyed. That is a powerful tool.’


Stewart (2012:128) refers to the affective nature of the world with ‘bodies literally affecting one another and generating intensities: human bodies, discursive bodies, bodies of thought, bodies of water.’ Collage aided our expression of these everyday affects.

Collaging prompted learning with water Collage is…’a way of relational knowing … which involves multisensory responses in a particular moment…. produced in collaborations (Somerville 2008:212). We began our watery collage before the workshop.

The collage changed course with a torrential wave of contributions during and after the zoom event, with emergent ideas and contributions from participants. We worked with St Pierre’s notion of a ‘cacophony of ideas’, which swished, eddied, churned and whirled in entanglements:

I imagine a cacophony of ideas swirling as we think about our topics with all we can muster—with words from theorists, participants, conference audiences, friends and lovers, ghosts who haunt our studies, characters in fiction and film and dreams—and with our bodies and all the other bodies and the earth and all the things and objects in our lives—the entire assemblage that is a life thinking and, and, and . . . All those data are set to work in our thinking, and we think, and we work our way somewhere in the thinking (St. Pierre, 2011:622).


This blog is itself a collage, of text, found chat, visual gifts, movement, image, thinking, collegiality, generosity of ideas and participation…These were ‘… arranged and re-arranged… to produce new possibilities, new ways of thinking and knowing that have not been previously thought’ (Franklin-Phipps and Rath in Kuby et al 2019:147). Co-emergent collages are generative data stories (Koro-Ljungberg, 2016). Ours is not an artistic piece, but a pedagogical documentation, a making in the moment. It includes photographs of watery encounters, lines from texts we found significant in our explorations, emerging ideas and questions, images from the workshop – of hands, intra-actions of water, paper, ink, rain … marks, patterns and traces. It is collecting, energising, intensifying, temporary and contingent. In the words of participants:

I felt the water was directing my mark making as I got into it.’

The story keeps flowing the water goes where it wants.’

For us, the collage continues to raise new questions:

How to collage experience?

How to collage dialogue?

How to collage companionship?

How to flow hands into art into paper into ….

 words into ideas … How to water wateriness?


The wateriness of water Merewether (2019:105) reminds us of our ‘relations of responsibilities inherent in a world where all matter is vibrant and agential.’  We appreciate that water will always elude our total knowing, and this encourages us to ponder on how we intra-act with each other.

Thank you to CEEN for the opportunity to think again with water and attention. We appreciated the engagement, enthusiasm and warmth of the workshop participants. Paying attention and going with the flow, we value the chance to extend conversations, engage in playful co-experimentation that open new possibilities through thinking-with water and respected colleagues and friends. The story keeps flowing as our collage is on-going and provokes our thinking. We invite you to respond to the latest iteration of the collage and to your own new watery encounters.



Country, B. Wright, S., Suchet-Pearson, S., Lloyd, K., Burarrwanga, L., Ganambarr, R., Ganambarr-Stubbs, M., Ganambarr, B., Maymuru, D. & Sweeney, J., (2016) Co-becoming Bawaka. Towards a relational understanding of place/space. Progress in Human Geography. 40 (4), 455-476


Foley, J. (2017) ‘Word the World Better’ postcard, part of Engineering Fictions box set of scores (Dublin: CONNECT) (


Janesick, V.J. (2016) Poetic Inquiry Using Found Poetry and Identity Poetry to transform qualitative data. In A. Reinertsen (Ed) Becoming Earth. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers, 31-40


Koro-Ljungberg, M. (2016) Reconceptualizing Qualitative Research: Methodologies without Methodology. London: Sage


Kuby, C.R. Spector, K. & Thiel, J.J. (2019) Posthumanism and Literacy Education. Knowing/ Becoming / Doing Literacies. London: Routledge


Massey, D. (2005) For space. London: Sage


Merewether, J. (2019) New materialisms and children’s outdoor environments: murmurative diffractions. Children’s Geographies, 17(1), 105-117

Neimanis, A. (2017) Bodies of Water Posthuman Feminist Phenomenology. London: Bloomsbury 


Somerville, M. J. (2008) Waiting in the chaotic place of unknowing’: articulating postmodern emergence. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 21 (3), 209-220


St. Pierre, E. A. (2011) Post qualitative research: The critique and the coming after. In N. K. Denzin & Y. S. Lincoln (Eds.) The SAGE handbook of qualitative research, Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE, 611-625.


Stewart, K. (2012) Ordinary Affects. Durham and London:  Duke University Press


Thomas, E. (2009) The South Country (Nature Classics Library). Dorset: Little Toller Books.







2 thoughts to “Playful zoom-thinking with water by Dr Helen Clarke and Dr Sharon Witt”

  1. Really appreciated that you didn’t (and don’t here) over-romanticise water or the experience. And the workshop content is great to see here as collages/poems etc. A great lesson all round in playful Zoom-thinking!

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