Where the cat was? Thinking-with Whimsy as generative acts By Dr Helen Clarke and Dr Sharon Witt

  ‘Whimsy is a whole new world to me’

 Photo Credit: Sarah Chave 

 At the recent March CEEN seminar, we were privileged to share a whimsical thinking space with curious and generous colleagues. Lively discussion affirmed both our belief that ‘whimsy’ is a significant force in everyday lives and practices, AND also that any notion of whimsy evokes paradoxes that challenge and provoke.

We greeted whimsy with openness, an opportunity for collective provocation and responses. We also acknowledged whimsy as slippery; as ‘intangible as a jellyfish out of water’. Whimsy is hard to grasp, difficult to articulate but, together, we tried …

The following ‘found poem’ offers a celebration of seminar events as unfolded ‘doings’, ‘matterings’ and possibilities’ (with format acknowledgement to Jayne Osgood, 2019).


Whimsical doings

Disruptions to the taken for granted,

the habitual,

living in the not-yet known,

without rigid boundaries.

Creating art for a more-than written response,

Learning in a different way,

Beginning to do education differently,

saying ‘yes’ to the unexpected,

in the moment,

interrupting our set ways,

following our curiosity,

and being open in our programming.


bodily, and graphical practices





a way of living,

driven by the drive of discovering

the greatness of small things

in comfortable chaos.

Strange, astonishing and funny-

whimsy makes you think of other things,

surprising discovery,

curious play,

absences, presences,

multi-species and material encounters,

lightness and hope.


Whimsical matterings

noticing, listening, playing, making,

wandering and weaving,

generalising and specialising,

observing, exploring, experimenting, digressing,

swimming, making, and remaking, mending,

reflect-ing, mull-ing, question-ing,

feeling, being-with, sitting-with,

encountering and interweaving.


Whimsical possibilities

Untangling whimsy as a concept,

challenge to norms, prescription, and pre-determined outcomes,

enacts ‘going out of your comfort zone’ towards the unpredictable,

decentres the ego,

wonderful interventions,

small in stature; large in ambition,

playing with words –decanters the go,

treading between tragedy and comedy,

folding resistance back into the system,

opening opportunities with the everyday.


And so,

whimsy is paradoxical and provocative,

it affects and effects our practices.


How can I open myself to what I do not yet know? (Somerville, 2008:210)

What could whimsy be?

What could it activate?

What is generated when whimsy is activated?

We must acknowledge there are some paradoxes in thinking-with whimsy now. We live in troubled and difficult times and think-with current events in Ukraine. Is whimsy appropriate at a time of loss? Is there whimsy in darkness? Is whimsy intrinsically joyful and playful?  Can whimsy be an accompaniment to trauma? Perhaps it’s a type of response-ability in troubled times? We have found that embarking on a ‘collective adventure’ to think-with whimsy has been a generative and thought-provoking way of staying with the trouble (Haraway, 2016: 130).

Photo  Collage Credit: Helen Clarke

‘We must dare to make the relay; that is to create, to fabulate, in order not to despair’ (Haraway, 2016: 130). 


Haraway, D. (2016) Staying with the trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene (Experimental Futures). Durham, North Carolina: Duke University Press

Osgood, J. (2019) PheelyDoings: a poem. https://phematerialisms.org/

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



With thanks to CEEN colleagues for their thinking and participation.