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.

Transdisciplinary,

bodily, and graphical practices

 

fey,

fleeting,

eccentric,

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). 

References

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

 

Acknowledgements

With thanks to CEEN colleagues for their thinking and participation.

Thinking Posthuman Photography as Data Collection by Heather Wren

As part of my PhD data collection, I co-led a workshop in Norway with a creative teacher who conducted a landart workshop with students from a Folk School. My aim was to see how empathy  emerges from the relationships between the human and nonhuman when students and the environment are co-creating. Much of my data collection comprised of photographic images and a padlet collage was made of these with students own images too (alongside writing, sounds, video). When sifting through my second set of photographs I noticed that some of the images had become distorted with light when I was trying to capture different angles of the landart making session. This made the images look like something else, something ghostly, and it made me think about the importance of distortion, differing lights and shadows, absences and lack of aesthetic to my understanding of environmental  empathy.

 

Figure 1 Photos of landart making

This led me to think about how photography plays a part in non-human centred research.

Photography has historically been viewed in relation to the dualist notion of the photographic subject/object, limiting its outcome to what it means only to the human. A photograph usually depicts something that is familiar to us which is then interpreted through a projection of our own linear sense of space and time. This means that the photograph is the property of the photographer and favours representations designed to be viewed only by a human eye: ‘The message of photography is that we, the humans are species apart, because we possess the rational view of the world, we own the vantage point from which everything can be observed as a reflection, a copy and a representation’ (McKinnon, 2017). If this is the case, a photograph which depicts human relations within the environment is understood as a story which is told from the perspective of the human only and is therefore laden with inequalities through the exclusion of the natural world itself.  These inequalities are often further extended through the eyes of other humans who can read and depict the image in a different light and is quite often used as a political instrument for their own gain. Here the photograph becomes a superficial political object which changes over time. However, the photograph is much more than that if viewed from a non-human centred perspective. Up until now ‘both the photographer’s vantage point and the process of watching photographs has emerged as only one component within a whole, very complex fabric of relations’ (Azoulay, 2021, p18). By taking a non-human centred perspective the photograph can be viewed as an ontological and material event where attention is paid to agencies that are in operation when making, or taking, a photograph, expanding the possibilities of photography beyond just the object.  So how can this be done? The starting point is to attempt to unravel the entanglements which are present within the action of photography to begin to question the ethics of the power relations within them.

So, what do I need to consider when taking a Photograph? Firstly, I need to understand where the camera came from and how I managed to gain access to being able to use one. What is entangled in the construction of the camera? What materials are used in its making and how are they resourced? Are the metals ethically mined? Are the plastics degradable? Is the glass ethically made? How are the mechanics constructed to make the camera work? Who put the pieces together? What happens in the moment that the shutter is pressed? How does the eye and hand play a part and how is the body extended during this action? These questions are important because ‘Materiality refers here to a decision to focus upon the materials of engagement such as the processes of production and their subsequent power relations; the invisible workers that build components; and the otherwise black-boxed complexity of interactions that make the photographic event possible’ (Azoulay, 2021, p6). These questions allow me to think deeply about the ethics of photography in my data through the material circumstances of the existence of the camera and what it produces. This makes photography both material and ontological at the same time.

Other questions I need to take into consideration are why do I have access to a camera? What are my privileges that allow me to be able to buy a camera and use it? My camera is semi-professional, and my lenses are very expensive so not everyone would be able to afford to own one. With images having the power to inform and move people politically, the photographer who can afford to buy a camera finds themselves in a position of power with huge responsibility. As Sontag (1977) argued, the image alone does not constitute meaning, it is the way it is displayed that are a huge part of how the image is interpreted by others. Explaining this further Butler (2008) argues that when we interpret a photograph, we view it under the structure that it is displayed, and it is this structure which causes the affective transmission of the image. This means that any photograph which is displayed by a human is deliberately meant to cause affect and emotion in some way.

This can still be seen with images which are displayed for media purposes. However, with the invention of smartphones there are more people who do have access to cameras these days, making photography less exclusive and enabling the blurring of boundaries between borders or laws (MacKinnon, 2017). This means that the structure that Butler refers to is slowly being dismantled and the image can no longer be reduced to an object which is interpreted for a specific meaning, rather it now ‘pertains to particular contextual resonance’ (MacKinnon, 2017, pg3).

So, coming from a non-human-centred perspective, Posthuman photography moves away from showing what the world looks like to showing the relationships between interconnected entities without suggestion of beginning, ending or representation. As MacKinnon (2017, pg3) argues we need to ‘think of photography as a multiple, proliferating structure that reproduces itself through exponential multiplication, simultaneously engaging in visual, economic, social and political production’. This means that I, as the researcher/photographer am no longer the only author of the image even though it is me who decides what to capture, it is produced by all the entities that are interconnected in the moment the photograph is taken. The trick is to ensure that the agency of the other interconnected entities’ are present in the gathering and understanding of the data. So where do I begin?

Allen (2016) argues that although conventional understandings of the camera see it as ‘dumb matter’ (Massumi, 2002, p.173) without agency because it is not a living thing and is entirely operated by humans, there are ways in which it can gain some agency through alternative methods. I argue that one of these methods is to understand as much as possible the entanglements within the production of the camera as I have previously highlighted, and to use it ethically with these in mind. The method discussed by Allen (2016) is that of accidental activation of the camera. However, both of these methods do not give intrinsic agency to the camera so this is something that would need further exploration.

However, Allen (2016) provides some clear explanations of how to choose and look at photographic data from a non human-centred perspective. Drawing from Koro-Ljungberg and MacLure (2013) Allen argues to move away from photographic data which seems familiar to make it more problematic. This means shifting away from sifting through photographic data to find trustworthy, reliable material which accurately ‘mirror’ photographic objects, because this often excludes problematic data which, when acknowledged, could lead to a form of ‘newness’ in the research. To do this Allen (2016) draws from Lenz Taguchi (2010) to use a methodological strategy called ‘exorbitant deconstruction’ (pg.14) which involves a ‘turning, bending and twisting’ of conventional thinking ‘to try and displace the meanings of it; in order to identify…..what other analysis might be possible’ (pg.14). Allen uses this idea to choose some photographs which were previously discarded due to them representing nothing in the data.

Figure 2 Photo of nothing – Allen (2016)

To action this choice, affect theory is drawn upon through the use of Maclure’s (2013) strategy which moves away from coding to feeling the ‘wonder of data’. However, instead of waiting for a specific ‘gut feeling’ of the data, Allen (2016) turns to ‘affect nothing’ where no feeling has been felt from the images. To ‘analyse’ Allen then uses a technique which was first used by Springgay and Zaliwska in 2015 called ‘edging’ which helps the researcher to move away from trying to impose meaning onto the visual images by paying attention to the edges of representation. Here ‘newness’ of the research is created by choosing the previously discarded images and reading them in a non-traditional way. However, I argue that by choosing and reading the images, there is still an element of human-centredness so again, further exploration of this is needed.

To conclude, I have learned that in order to use photographic data in my non-human-centred research I need to think ethically about the use of the camera by paying attention to the materiality of its construction and the entanglements that are involved in this. I also need to think about the power relations involved in taking, selecting and displaying my photographs. Techniques such as giving agency to the camera body and the entanglements involved in the image creation, then deconstructing the image in different ways to create ‘newness’ need to be drawn upon. And finally, exploration of how to decentre the human even further needs to be implemented. To do this I will begin by seeing the camera body as an extension of my own and think about how the vibrations of my body animate with what the image gives and withholds (Lorenz-Mayer, 2018). I will then create an ongoing embodied dialogue with my camera to explore the ethical relations of the entanglement within it for my PhD.

References:

Allen, L (2016) Photos of (no)thing: The becoming of data about sexuality at school. Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology 2016, 7(1).

Azoulay, A (2015) Civil Imagination: A Political Ontology of Photography. Louise Bethlehem, trans, Verso, London, p 23.

Lorenz-Mayer, D (2018) Snapshot. [online] available at: https://newmaterialism.eu/almanac/s/snapshot.html. Accessed 3.1.22.

MacKinnon, L (2017) Toward a materialist photography: the body of work. Third text, 30 (3-4). Pp. 149-158.

LET’S TALK: Music Conversations: A combined CEEN blog by Nancy Katingima Day and Ursula Crickmay

What I appreciate about writing a blog is its flexibility, so here is a chance to be a ‘fly on the wall’ to some conversations.  We have both been grappling with the concept of decolonisation in music and music education in our own research and have had a chance to explore more through the Music Research Network reading group.   These conversations are not about answers but about the struggle and the excitement of that journey of discovery.  As a start, it may be helpful to have a look at this clip to have an indication of some of the issues we are thinking about: ‘Rosie Bergonzi – I’m not a hashtag’

Ursula:  I am in a process of trying to understand the concept of decolonisation at the moment.  In particular, I am trying to understand what decolonising music education might mean, for me, for curriculum, for assessment, for research, for students I might work with.  Learning more about this in the last year has made lots of the work I’ve been involved with in the past more complex, more problematic.  I am writing from a place of deep uncertainty, but as Nancy and I discussed what we might write for this blog, she posed a question which was about when music could be decolonising.  I am still not quite sure what this might mean, but I have had an experience recently in my PhD research which felt like an example of working in a more equal space.

Nancy:  Our discussions recognised that running discourse on matters pertaining to decolonisation felt, for me at least, too ominous to engage with.  It is hard to talk about decolonising without thinking of colonising, if nothing else, to make sure one does not fall back into the same trap.  Many would agree that there is no justification for any kind of colonisation, overt or covert, intended or unintended.  Unfortunately for me, the more I critically examined decolonisation (de-colonisation, de/colonisation or any other conceptual ways one can think of), I became disturbingly cognisant of how easy it is to use any available trump card, such as ‘I am the colonised one’ and ignore how I have also ‘colonised’.  Therefore, my explorations of undoing, dismantling, deconstructing (or whatever other verb appropriate) has been and is a realisation that decolonisation is a rather complex phenomenon and may not be as ‘universal’ as it may appear.  What it has affirmed however is how music and the creative arts are powerful tools for understanding and questioning both colonisation and decolonisation.  The task is challenging, but not impossible.

Ursula:  My recent experience involves a group of young people with autistic spectrum disorders, some professional musicians and me as a researcher, making our own music together from a range of different starting points.  The group has been working together on Zoom for the past year, since their regular in-person sessions have been disrupted by the pandemic.  What has struck me over the past half term in which I’ve been part of the group is an amazing level of acceptance of difference.  We each (music leaders, young people, researcher) come differently to the group.  We embody difference, we bring different instruments, different prior musical experiences and radically different levels of what would usually be considered instrumental ‘skill’.  Our instruments include our voices and violins, cello, euphonium, drum machine, recorder, maracas, chime bars, oboe, keyboard, clarinet and flute.

To reflect on the diverse sound worlds we inhabit I made a short collage as part of my research activities, bringing together some of the different music that got referenced by the group in a single session:

Zoom itself as a platform and medium of music making regularly asserts itself in the sessions: connections break, sound is delayed or sometimes builds up an echo of its own that takes 30 seconds or more to clear.  The only option in the midst of what might be chaos is to stop and listen.  Each sound is listened to and perhaps it is this that validates it, that welcomes it into the space which is somehow constantly flattened by the vagaries of Zoom and who or what may be heard at any one time.  The music leaders still hold a responsibility for the space, for keeping it safe and supportive, for opening it up musically, but the group is characterised more by responsiveness than by holding in a restrictive sense.

Nancy:  I am similarly reminded of a time when my Dawida cousin was getting married in 2019 at the Eastern part of Kenya.  I had the privilege of participating in the musical experience that accompanies this kind of social event.  From a distance one could hear the women ululating at the arrival of the groom’s family, but something was peculiar.  I was certain I was hearing the Obokano, the 8-string lyre from the Abagusii tribe found at the Western part of the country, considered one of the largest lyres in Africa (Varnum, 1971).  It is at that point that I realised that this was in fact a ‘mixed’ marriage – East meeting West, in a manner of speaking.  My excitement at the possibilities the music experience was going to offer puzzled my sister who was with me.  But why should she be interested in two tribes coming together to marry when we are products of a similar kind of union?  Encountering ‘difference’ was not a new phenomenon for us.  However, for my Dawida relatives it was a new and novel experience which meant that it was potentially an emergent one.  They were set to encounter their ‘difference’ in an unanticipated manner, and I was getting a front seat view of it unfolding before me.

I therefore note what you mention of music leaders and their responsibility within a musical space and appreciate the lead Abagusii musician who essentially kept the entire event coherent through music, even in the face of what may have appeared as chaos.  He facilitated various ‘musical conversations’ despite the differences between the two cultures in various ways.  He led everyone in song as he played the Obokano, determining the pace of engagement while at the same time listening to the negotiated space.  He played his instrument to Dawida songs and to Abagusii songs, to secular songs and religious songs.  He created new songs, adopted old ones, extended new meanings and overlooked others that were not relevant to the music event.  This technical competence and flexibility was fascinating to observe (though I imagine very few people were observing this master at work like I was).  For me, he was a true example of leading everyone in dealing with ‘difference’ and it was liberating.  Having said that, one could argue that there was some form of overt control, directorial, centralised domination by this Abagusii master musician of the musical proceedings of the day.  Or was it?  Was it ‘colonial’ when we all joined in ever so willingly, whether or not we knew how to?  Is the responsibility to lead an encounter so as hold all entities coherent within necessarily ‘colonial’?

Ursula:   I have also wondered about these questions, both within immediate acts of music leadership, but also in the wider context of my work – is it fundamentally a ‘colonial’ practice?  In the past I have worked with mostly classically trained musicians in a diversity of settings in the UK.  My own education has mostly been in Western Art Music – what is often referred to as classical music, including, for me, instrumental tuition, choral training and learning about the standard European canon of composers from Bach to Beethoven, Brahms and Bartόk.  Noted, it’s easier to run off a list of men whose name begins with B than it is to include a woman in the list, but with a bit of head scratching I might include Amy Beach and Lili Boulanger.  It still took me a surprisingly long time to notice that all those composers had white skin.  Why did it take so long?  Probably because I was white and all the musicians I was working with were white – not exclusively, but predominantly.  Thank you in particular to musician Rosie Bergonzi (see the YouTube clip above) for calling me and others out on this at a networking event last year when she reflected on the pervasiveness of an informal apprenticeship culture amongst creative music leaders which favoured a replication of the same bodies taking up their places at the front of room.  Had we really not noticed that everyone else there was white?  I guess we hadn’t.

I don’t think I’ve been totally oblivious to the problematics of this as I’ve built partnerships with communities in, for example, Hackney, Tower Hamlets or North Westminster.  I’ve considered it as I’ve thought together with musicians, colleagues and project partners about working in relational ways, about co-creativity, about the idea of ‘access’ and the positives and negatives this word might carry.  I’ve supported musicians as they feel themselves moving into their own spaces of vulnerability as they connect with different participants.  I’ve arranged collaborations between those classically trained musicians and musicians from other cultures.  As I make this list, I am reminded of Rosabal-Coto (2019) who talks about the habit of music scholarship always looking for ‘the good’ in music learning and music socialisation, and asks whether the recent burgeoning of interest in decolonisation in music education may simply be the latest manifestation of this: how many different agendas have I tried to stick myself onto over the years while I try and find validation and resources for this work?  Is this just the latest one?

Nancy:  These are difficult questions we must keep asking ourselves especially because for a large part of our professional lives as musicians or music teachers we have been responsible for musical conversations in various ways.  But I think there is a distinction between responsibility and responsibility that dominates, though it is a fine line.  It easily becomes apparent, often tacitly, when that line has been crossed.  The effect is often recognisable – the weakening conversations and connections, the disruption to the rhythm of the event, the pregnant silences…  I think music making has a way of making us listen, to encounter otherness and difference (sonorous, physical or affective) and to take responsibility in different ways at different points of the engagement.  For instance, on that joyful day we danced and sang songs we had never heard in our lives because we were led in an inviting sort of way and were willing to follow.  I remember watching the person next to me sway in dance and I imitated.  I could hear the responses to the unfamiliar songs fumbling through a string of syllables of words that only made sense to those who understood the language.  We were all spectators (watching and listening to each) and participants (responding and moving with one another) at the same time more so because of the differences we were negotiating within that musical space.  We gave, we took, and we laughed.  We were in full flow musical conversation.

Ursula:  There is plenty to problematize about the PhD project I’ve reflected on here through a decolonising lens, but after a year of constant uncertainty in which questions of decoloniality have layered on top of radical upheavals in all other areas of musical life, my non-critical response was simply that it was a relief to be able to join this space for a time, to be accepted in my own uncertainty, and I felt that I had joined others who were happy to be there, not quite knowing.

Nancy:  I think one’s willingness to join in and participate is such a crucial part of being able to have conversations especially within safe spaces such as those found in the creative arts.  It’s not about how much or how well one can articulate within such a space but about being willing to be open to the experience, to listen, recognise difference, engage with each other and allowing oneself to be transformed.  This approach to conversation affirms our humanity.

So here is our invitation to you.  Let’s talk…

 

References

Rosabal-Coto, G. (2019). The day after music education. Action, Criticism, and Theory for Music Education, 18(3), 1–24. Retrieved from http://act.maydaygroup.org/volume-18-issue-3/act-18-3-rosabal-coto/

Varnum, J. (1971). The Obokano of the Gusii: A Bowl Lyre of East Africa. Ethnomusicology, 15(2), 242-248. doi:10.2307/850469

Philosophical Vagabondery??? Count me in!! by Jonathan Doney

For the past nine years, I have been part of a community of people, a collection of raggle-taggle thinkers and explores who have read together and talked together and journeyed together. When I was invited into this family, it operated under the title The Post-structural Reading Group. These folk immersed me in theory and thought. We spent a year or so working through Foucault’s Order of Things. Each month we sat in a group, shook our heads, sucked on our lips, and said things like ‘Well, no – I don’t know what he means there either!’. We were consoled that this thinking business was hard. The group changed; people came, others went. We celebrated successes, and we commiserated in disappointments. Sometime we shared lunch too! Reading Foucault led us to new places in our thinking; we read Derrida, Baumann, Moi, Osberg, Biesta, Harraway, Springer, Chantelle Mouffe and many others. As we read, our horizons were extended, and we diverged, shifted focus; one reading led to another, that to another, and another…

We journeyed together, in the company of others. The group always had a non-hierarchical character; we created spaces within the performative neoliberal business and busyness to pause, reflect, and share our insights and our ignorances, to think freely, to engage critically with each other and with those from other places. All of this put us in encounter with theories that cut through – and often disrupted – our thinking in ways that cannot be undone.  We explored together new territories that we hadn’t even known existed. Gradually the focus shifted, we were covering new ground; responses to neoliberalism, geopolitics, democracy, indigenous agency, relational understandings of place/space, post-human approaches and understandings. A couple of years ago, we began to recognise that our title no longer reflected our reality – we were no longer a post-structural reading group – perhaps at best we had become a post-post-structural reading group…We considered our identity and our future.

Were we the Emergent Theories Reading Group? That title was too static; it spoke of a reform that was complete, finished, finalised and fixed. We did not recognise ourselves in those terms…we are travellers, moving, never still for long. We recognised that where we were is not where we will always be. In terms of many of the notions and ideas that we were encountering, we were – we are – as Hannah Arendt has it, ‘newcomers’, we are ‘not finished but in a state of becoming’ (Hannah Arendt, The crisis in education.  In Between past and future: Eight exercises in political thought. (New York: The Viking Press 1993): 185).

Yesterday we met again; this family of travellers. Circumstances recently have demanded that we meet virtually, that our thoughts are shared across the ether, that we Zoom into each other’s living spaces or Team into each other’s kitchens or ‘Connect on-line’ in some other way. We talked about the affordances of digitality, of the constant changes to the ways in which we communicate.

   Attribution: Snufkin Image © Tove Jansson, 1946.

After we had met, I contemplated our discussions, our sense of always being in a state of becoming, and I was reminded of Tove Jansson’s Moomin character Snufkin. He is described as a ‘philosophical vagabond who wanders the world…’. He meets new people with an openness and curiosity, a willingness to learn, to further his journey of becoming. I think that is what we are doing when we meet, when we talk, when we share our insights and our ignorances; when we share our successes and our disappointments. We continue with our becoming…

We meet about monthly in term time, if you want to join us in our travels, let me know at and ask to join the Emerging Theories Reading Group. That’s where we settled for our name – something active and in disequilibriation, something that recognises our state – individually and in community – of becoming, of our individual and collective philosophical vagabondery.

 

Aesthetic responses as a de/colonial method by Fran Martin and Fatima Pirbhai-Illich

 

“ The creative process is an agency of transformation. Using the creative process to heal or restructure the images/stories that shape a person’s consciousness is a more effective way of healing. When you allow the images to speak to you through the first person rather than restricting these images to the third person (things of which you speak), a dialogue – rather than a monologue – occurs.” (Anzaldúa,  2015, p. 35)

 

A few years ago we started using aesthetic responses in our research, and as an approach to assessment in an Initial Teacher Education course in Canada. We first talked about this at Exeter in a CEEN Creative research methods seminar on October 30, 2019, where we stated that “We regard our de/colonial praxis as a critical inter-relation that is post-oppositional and incorporates a politics of refusal” (Pirbhai-Illich & Martin, 2020). There are a number of ideas in this statement that need unpacking. Why do we write de/colonial with a slash? Why do we talk about de/colonial praxis rather than decolonising the curriculum? What do we mean by a critical inter-relation that is post-oppositional? And what is a politics of refusal!

 

It is quite a task to explain these in the limited space of a blog without over-simplifying them, but we feel it is necessary to do so since it is the ways these ideas work together that underpin how and why we use aesthetic responses and why we refer to this as a de/colonial method.

 

De/coloniality.

 

There has been a proliferation of articles, seminars, courses, activism and strategic plans in higher education that incorporate the term ‘decolonisation’. One of the most notable aspects of this proliferation is that it is accompanied by a proliferation of interpretations of the term and what it might mean in terms of practical action.  In some respect this is to be expected because one of the key features of decolonisation is that it will take different shapes depending on the context – it is a process that has to be directly connected to, situated in, and responded to, the specific ways in which colonisation has played out at a local scale. However, there is also the risk that the proliferation of activity is more about performativity (the desire to be seen to be doing something) than about genuine personal and organisational change. Here we therefore set out how we understand the term and why we write it with a slash.

 

Following Bhattacharya (2018) we use the slash between ‘de’ and ‘colonial’ to indicate that there is ‘… no utopian decolonising space that is separate from colonising spaces because we are all, always already in ‘relationship with colonising discourses and materiality’ (p. 15). This signals to us that it is imperative to understand what those colonising discourses and materiality are before we can begin to find ways of ‘de-linking’ (Mignolo, 2007) from them.

 

Coloniality, colonial discourses and materiality.

 

Colonialism is the Western imperial/colonial expansion from Europe across the world with the intention of acquiring full or partial political control over other countries, occupying it with settlers, and exploiting it economically. It is the practice of domination, of the violent subjugation of one nation by another, conquering its population and forcing its own language and cultural values upon its people.

 

Coloniality is the underlying logic of all Euro-Western modern/colonial imperialisms (Quijano, 2007) that is the ongoing legacy of colonialism. It is a knowledge system that classifies phenomena on the basis of ‘objective’ characteristics, putting them into categories that are arranged in a hierarchical structure. Coloniality is perpetuated through institutions of power (e.g. legal systems, education) which privilege Euro-Western ways of being, doing and knowing on a global scale (Grosfoguel, 2011). Grosfoguel (2011) identifies 15 ‘entangled, global hierarchies’ including:

 

  • a racial/ethnic hierarchy that privileges European people over non-European people
  • a gender hierarchy that privileges males over females
  • a sexual hierarchy that privileges heterosexuals over LGBTQ+
  • a spiritual hierarchy that privileges Christians over non-Christian/non-Western spiritualities
  • an epistemic hierarchy that privileges Western knowledge over non-Western knowledges – a hierarchy that is institutionalized in the global university system
  • a pedagogical hierarchy where Cartesian western forms of pedagogy are considered superior over non-Western forms and practices of pedagogy

 

A discourse refers to the way language is used to shape what and how we think about our lives, our relationships with others, and society. In the process of classification and labelling, a discourse creates objects and thus impacts on people’s lives – how they see themselves, how others see them – making it discourse material. Colonial discourses are oppositional  because they put White, Western, European peoples and cultures (who are positioned as rational, modern, advanced, and civilised) in opposition to non-White, non-Western, non-European peoples and cultures (who are positioned as magical, exotic, violent, backward and uncivilised) thus rendering difference (to the Euro-Western standard) as inferior.

 

De/colonising our praxis as educators.

 

The analysis of colonial ways of being, doing and knowing we have described above provides us with a way forward for understanding how we can begin to move into de/colonial spaces in which to theorise and practice. We describe this as a post-oppositional (Keating, 2016; Bhattacharya, 2017) space that involves a politics of refusal, because we refuse to continue dividing the world, through our praxis, in binary, oppositional, either/or ways. Our use of the term praxis is an example of this, as it represents our understanding that theory and practice are not separate entities; they are inextricable entangled, always already in relation with each other in the same way that decoloniality is always in relationship with coloniality. Therefore, although we refuse to continue engaging in oppositional praxis, we do not reject coloniality because that would be tantamount to refusing its existence. Rather, we understand that merely by being alive we embody coloniality because we have each, in different ways, had our identities shaped by it. We also understand that, because there is no utopian decolonial space, we are complicit in perpetuating the systems and structures that uphold colonialism while also, at the same time, seeking to disrupt them.  It is for this reason that our praxis is conducted in a space of critical inter-relation, which aims to de/colonise educational relationships rather than decolonising the curriculum.

 

We focus on de/colonising educational relationships because it is these that support systems. Social and educational systems do not act separately from the people who uphold them. If a system is perpetuating harm it is only doing so because we are complicit in those harms. If the system is objectified as external to our own complicity, it makes it possible to see it as separate to us, to vilify it and want to change it as if it creates harm without our involvement – another, better system is all that is needed. If we do not acknowledge our complicities or change our own habits of mind and being and the ways in which we are implicated in the system, then we will carry those habits of mind and being with us. De/colonising our praxis and, through our roles as teacher educators, working with pre-service teachers to de/colonise their praxis, involves:

 

  • Raising awareness of, and developing an understanding of coloniality;
  • Identifying and acknowledging our relationship with, and complicity in, colonising ways of being, doing and knowing and how this influences our identities and practices;
  • Pluralising (and thereby expanding what is considered legitimate) the range of perspectives and knowledges we draw on to help us reflect on and expand our beliefs and worldviews
  • Grounding these in post-oppositional pedagogies

 

Aesthetic responses as a de/colonial method.

 

As explained above, coloniality permeates every aspect of being human. Through the hierarchies of knowledge and language, it colonises the mind; through the hierarchies of race, sexuality and gender, it colonises the body; through the hierarchy of spirituality, it colonises the spirit (Seifert, 2018). Therefore, our praxis uses a mix of knowledges that engage all three levels of mind, body and spirit, placing them in conversation with each other through a process of critical intra and inter-relation. Here we demonstrate how this affects our assessment of pre-service teachers in an Initial Teacher Education degree in Canada.

 

The course that we teach is in the final semester of the programme. The pre-service teachers come to the course with a script about themselves as ‘good’ people, as caring teachers. When the work we do with them reveals the ways in which they are complicit in the harms that coloniality continues to wreak they display a range of emotional responses including being confused, angry, fearful, in denial and in a state of paralysis. Working with and through these emotions is described by Anzaldúa (2009) as ‘shadow work’ – work that requires the development of ‘shadow literacies’[i] (Bhattacharya, 2017).

 

Doing shadow work requires a revolution within where darkness is not met with fear, but understood, articulated, explored, and shared with the world, enabling us to create healing images for ourselves and for our families, our communities, our nation . . . and perhaps the world (Bhattacharya, 2017, p. 113).

 

Our intention, rather than engaging in a ‘blame game’ where students feel attacked for something they do not feel responsible for, is to challenge the shadows of [their] family, community, and nation that they have inherited, and to do so ‘with honey’. Working ‘with honey’ involves an orientation of humility, of love, of sharing of our own selves and wounds as an invitation for pre-service teachers to do the same. Crucial to this is the fostering of a safe space. We show our vulnerability and approach relationships with an open heart “ holding a safe space and offering unconditional positive regard and support to others who are walking through their own dark forests” (Bhattacharya, 2017, p. 117).

 

We therefore began embedding arts-based, aesthetic approaches into the course assessments. Pre-service teachers were asked to create two aesthetic pieces, one mid-semester and one as their final assignment, choosing any arts-based medium to demonstrate their embodied emotional, intellectual and spiritual responses to their experiences of the course. They were also asked to provide a written explanation of each aesthetic piece, making reference to course content, readings and the tutoring experience[ii]. An example of one pre-service teacher’s mid-semester and final aesthetic responses can be found at the end of the blog.

 

For us, the use of aesthetic responses is de/colonial in several respects. It views the world as interconnected, interrelated and interdependent and is an alternative way of engaging pre-service teachers in reflective practice that moves away from the compartmentalization of individuals, communities, disciplines and knowledges. It is a relational, holistic approach that engages mind, body, and spirit as the pre-service teachers express their embodied responses to the course through art. It blurs the boundaries between academic and everyday knowledges, inviting individuals to bring what they know into their work as they grapple with the ways in which they embody coloniality, and explore their relationships ‘between self and other, self and community, and self and disowned part of the self with respect to social justice work’ (Bhattacharya 2017, p. 111).

 

We have found that aesthetic responses support pre-service teachers in sticking with their discomfort, exploring it and thus disrupting the dominant narrative that they have embodied for so long. Only then can there be a path to healing –  between themselves and their relations with others. Our role, as guides / educators (at the living centre) is to enable the journey but not offer solutions or do the work for them – they become their own teachers at this point.

Mid-semester aesthetic response

The light bulb is a symbol of knowledge and thought. The glass enclosure represents the education system and its boundaries. One boundary that challenges me is education and teaching’s non-neutrality and that I might unconsciously exclude children who do not share my ways of being as a middle class, white, settler-Canadian. The light bulb is my own space as an object/relation model. But the boundaries should not be solely determined by me – a relational space creates an environment for students’ identities and knowledges in a way that fosters agency and relationships. With this in mind, the globe of the bulb is breaking to symbolise the disruption of my own Eurocentric norms. This is a reflection of my developing openness and understanding of more holistic approaches to learning. The honeybee trapped in the bulb symbolises personal power and community. I have come to learn that power will be in all relationships and therefore will be present in my teaching. I am learning to recognise that I can use power positively to equalise relationships in the classroom through co-constructing meaning with and through my students’ funds of knowledge. Likewise, the roots symbolise my own networks of funds of knowledge, but also serve as a reminder to delve deeper when connecting to others. Lastly the colour scheme I have chosen is shades of yellow, black, grey, brown and a hint of blue. Yellow represents my own enlightenment as I develop an awareness of this new knowledge; the darker shades symbolise the tendency to understand differences as distinctions.

 

Final, end of semester, aesthetic response

The light bulb remains a symbol of knowledge and my learning in this course and throughout life. It is now illuminated with a bright white light that shines through the translucent paper representing the process of my teacher beliefs and ways of being and doing expanding to include more holistic approaches to learning. It continues to represent the education system and its boundaries and the bulb continues to break but does not shatter because my privileges and norms may continue to be unintentionally concealed from me. The translucent paper illustrated the disruption of my Eurocentric norms and the use of my own identity to start incorporating relational and decolonial pedagogies in my everyday teaching. The honeybee is still trapped but its new position symbolises my longing to share power with the students rather than using my power to unknowingly silence my students’ voices. I recognise that power will be present in all relationships and that I can have a role in sharing and distributing this power. With this in mind, flowers have blossomed from the roots in my drawing. This network of plant growth symbolises my own funds of knowledge and how they might connect to students’ funds of knowledge. The splotches of colour that surround the light bulb represent what it means to be literate – not simply the ability to read and write, but also environmental, racial, emotional, technological and many more literacies. Lastly, critical literacy is a social practice; it is part of our everyday lives as we “read” the world around us. I want to challenge myself to act on these new understandings and to be more successful in developing meaningful learning experiences that evoke engaged responses from my students.

 

References

 

Anzaldúa, G. E. (2009). Speaking across the divide. In A. Keating (Ed.), The Gloria Anzaldúa Reader (p. 282– 294). Durham, NC: Duke University.

 

Anzaldúa, G. E. (2015). Flights of the imagination: Rereading/rewriting realities. In A.

Keating (Ed.), Light in the dark: Luz en lo oscuro: Rewriting identity, spirituality, reality

(p. 23– 46). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

 

Bhattacharya, K. (2017). Walking through the Dark Forest: Embodied Literacies for

Shadow Work in Higher Education and Beyond, Journal of Black Sexuality and Relationships, 4(1), p. 105-124.

 

Bhattacharya, K. (2018). Coloring Memories and Imaginations of “Home”: Crafting a De/Colonizing Autoethnography, Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies, 18(1), p. 9-15.

 

Grosfoguel, R. (2011). Decolonizing post-colonial studies and paradigms of political-economy: Transmodernity, decolonial thinking, and global coloniality. TRANSMODERNITY: Journal of Peripheral Cultural Production of the Luso-Hispanic World, 1(1), 1-37.

 

Keating, A. (2016). Post-Oppositional Pedagogies, Transformations: The Journal of Inclusive Scholarship and Pedagogy, 26(1), p. 24-26.

 

Mignolo, W. D. (2007). Delinking, Cultural Studies, 21(2), 449 – 514.

 

Pirbhai-Illich & Martin (2020). Beyond Possession: De/colonising the Educational Relationship in Higher Education. In Kumalo, Siseko (Ed). The South African Epistemic Decolonial Turn: A Global Perspective. South Africa: University of KwaZulu-Natal Press.

 

Quijano A 2007. Coloniality and modernity/rationality. Cultural Studies, 21(2-3):168–178. https://doi.org/10.1080/09502380601164353

 

Seifert, M. (2018). Performing the Hyphen, Revista Brasileira de Estudos da Presença, 8(4), p. 691-718. https://www.redalyc.org/jatsRepo/4635/463558199003/html/index.html#B9

 

[i] Bhattacharya defines emotional and shadow work literacy as ‘the idea that by connecting with the  [students’] heavy emotions, we [the students and us] were able to use these heavy emotions to journey into dark spaces within ourselves that were wounded from being dehumanized’ (2017, p. 114) by coloniality.

[ii] Each pre-service teacher worked with a student of First Nations Descent for an hour a week between weeks 5-12 of the course, using culturally responsive and de/colonising pedagogies.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

‘On creativity and resourcefulness’ by Justin Dillon

The British Museum describes its “Arctic culture and climate” thus: “the objects in this immersive exhibition reveal the creativity and resourcefulness of Indigenous Peoples in the Arctic […] It tells the powerful story of respectful relationships with icy worlds and how Arctic Peoples have harnessed the weather and climate to thrive”. The exhibition epitomises why museums contribute to defining our culture, challenge what we think we know and provide us with a mirror by which to judge ourselves and our values.

The Arctic Peoples live on the front-line of climate change. People have lived in the Arctic for over 30,000 years developing rich cultures which are well illustrated by artefacts, photographs, audio-recordings and video. However, the last 300 have seen major, irreversible changes resulting from colonisation, exploitation and environmental damage. A graphic visualisation of the actual and predicted retreat of the sea ice from 1979-2100 shows just how much the traditional way of life is under theat. The Arctic Peoples are likely to be the world’s first climate migrants.

The exhibition is a collaboration between museum professionals and Arctic community leaders, scholars, story-tellers, artists, educators, hunters, herders and seamstresses. It is, appropriately, vast and unlike any other exhibition that I have seen. As an educational experience, it questions the nature of contemporary schooling; boundaries between subjects don’t exist, traditional wisdom is acknowledged and objects teach us without words.

As a lesson in comparative education, our way of life doesn’t come out of it very well. While we might feel pleased with ourselves for taking out the recycling or using a ‘bag for life’, the Arctic Peoples are literally on another planet. How would you make a bag in the Arctic? You need something that is strong, waterproof and light. The Yup’ik in southwestern Alaska, like many Arctic communities, make bags (kellarvik) from fish skin (iqertiit). Eat the salmon, scrape the skin, soak it in urine, rinse and then rub with fish oil or animal brains to soften them and then tan them in the open air. Different conditions affect the tanning process, so an intimate knowledge of the weather is necessary to make a good bag. Seams are sewn with sinew from beluga whale or caribou.

 

Fish-skin bags (photo. British Museum)

 

It’s not just the choice of material or the initial preparation of the bag that shows creativity and wisdom intertwined. The construction and the decoration show how every part of an animal is considered useful.

 

Fish-skin bag detail (photo. British Museum)

 

The fish scales face outwards on most of the bag. However, to make the decorative strip, the skin is reversed so that the scales face inside the bag leaving a softer texture facing outwards. The material is coloured brown by rubbing it with a mineral, such as ochre (an iron-rich clay) or by dyeing it with the bark from the alder tree. The perforated white band is thought to be made of oesophagus which is held in place by a thread thought to be caribou throat hair. Seal oesophagus (nerutet) is inflated and then freeze-dried outside during the winter which results in it being bleached white. Arctic People’s use the weather as a tool in the manufacturing process.

Such objects manifestly demonstrate astonishing levels of resourcefulness. The relationships between materials, culture, weather and human creativity are illustrated in every part of the exhibition. We see humanity and the environment as one.

Videos and photographs allow us to hear the voices of Indigenous people and to see celebrations and other aspects of communal life. The exhibition also challenges our views of the relationship between humans and other animals – witness Brian Adams’ photograph of Marie Rexford preparing whale meat.

“Marie Rexford prepares muktuk, frozen whale skin and blubber”,

From the photographic series “I am Inuit” by Brian Adams

As someone who researches museums, botanic gardens and science centres, I am constantly impressed by the pedagogic techniques that exhibition designers use to engage the public. Erminia Pedretti and Ana Maria Navas Iannini (2021) write about the emergence of “fourth-generation science museums” which are committed to “criticality, social responsibility, and civic agency” (p. 1). However, it’s not just science museums that are becoming more vocal in challenging existing hegemonies – “Arctic culture and climate” shows that the museum sector more generally is helping to create a better future by questioning our views of the past.

During the pandemic, museum attendance has plummeted. Originally scheduled to run from October 2020 to February 2021, the exhibition closed permanently in early February, as a result of the pandemic. The good news is that the Museum created a digital page which includes a 14-minute curators’ tour.

Reference

Pedretti, E., & Iannini, A. M. N. (2021). Towards Fourth-Generation Science Museums: Changing Goals, Changing Roles. Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education, 1-15.

 

Opening Possibilities for New Subjectivities, Action and Hope by Sarah Chave

I feel rather nervous writing a blog post at the start of 2021. 2020 unrolled in ways unforeseen and ended with further unexpected and daunting twists and turns. There has been much heartache for many and unexpected difficulties, as well as some positives. Thinking about 2021, and some of the ‘New Year’ themes people often write about seems challenging to say the very least. Education, does, however, have a part to play in responding to these challenges, particularly education which foregrounds creativity and opening spaces for possibilities of new ways to be in the world together.

In Sustainable and Democratic education: opening spaces for complexity, subjectivity and the future (2020) I argue that education has the potential to enlarge ‘the space of the possible’ (Davis et al. 2004:4) rather than replicate the existing possible. Such education can encourage emergence of the new, including new subjectivities (ways to be in the world and to relate with others, including the other than human).  It can open possibilities for unforeseen and unforeseeable futures. ‘Enlargement of the possible’ is needed now more than ever before, in this era of the Anthropocene, where Western hubris threatens both human survival and that of myriad others on our shared planet.

Education, particularly Western education founded on ideas such as rationality, autonomy and static conceptions of the world, needs to be re-envisioned if it is to have potential to enlarge the space of the possible, including other possible ways to be in and know the world. Such re-envisioned education needs to encourage playful engagement with the abundant materials and possibilities of the thick present. It needs to make time and space for encountering others, for listening, for attentiveness, entanglement, entwining, tenderness towards the other and a willingness to enter into encounters in what Topolski (2015:176) calls ‘the space between I and we’. Such encounters require ‘carefully listening to available voices’ and ‘actively de-centring the taken-for-granted human voice and the re-centring of more-than-human voices’ (Jickling 2018: 35).

 

I recognise that encouraging emergence of the new can be problematic, raising for example questions such as what if what emerges is not seen as desirable and who gets to decide. Education can be a place to explore these questions. Ideas and inspirations can be drawn from a range of sources (see Chave 2020) including Indigenous thinking on relationality (for example see Little Bear 2000, 2016, McGregor 2009, Donald et al. 2012), feminist ethics of care (for example see Gilligan 1982,Tronto  and Fisher, 1991, Puig de la Bella Casa 2017)  and Arendt’s (1974 [1958]) thinking on immanent ethics. Arendt proposes forgiveness and mutual promise-making as a way to respond to the unboundedness, unpredictability and irreversibility which arises when the new is inserted into the world and taken up by others in unforeseen ways.

These are hopeful ideas. This is not hope arising from what Dryzek (2005) calls a ‘Promethean’ view in which we rely on human ingenuity to find ways for us to return to and continue with ‘business as usual’. Instead it is hope founded on approaches which challenge the myth of separateness whilst also not erasing the uniqueness of each participant in the world. It is hope which values all humans and parts/participants of the wider natural world, as well as the inter and intra connections between us. Having hope is not always easy. I am grateful to the poet Evelyn Araluen Corr, a descendant of the Bundjalung Nation, who shared with me that in her Indigenous language the concept of hope includes a sense of ‘acting as though hope were possible’. This opens a way to act for and towards hope even in situations which appear hopeless: a situation many understandably feel in the world today. It emphasises the necessarily active nature of hope – a focus on ‘doing’ rather than ‘contemplation’ – calling to mind Orr’s (2007:1) assertion that ‘Hope is a verb with its sleeves rolled up’.

 

Wishing you an active and hopeful 2021!

Sarah Chave, January 2021

ssc203@exeter.ac.uk

 

References

Arendt, H. (1974 [1958]) The human condition. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Chave, S. (2020) Sustainable and democratic education: Opening spaces for complexity, subjectivity and the future. London: Routledge. [available from http://bit.ly/2VRhXnP 20% discount with code BSE2, also available on kindle]

Davis, B., Phelps, R. and Wells, K. (2004) Complicity: An introduction and a welcome.  Complicity: An International Journal of Complexity and Education, 1(1):1-7.

Donald, D., Glanfield, F. and Sterenberg G. (2012) Living ethically within conflicts of colonial  authority and relationality. Journal of the Canadian Association for Curriculum Studies, 10(1). Dryzek, J. (2005) The politics of the earth: Environmental discourses (2nd Edition). Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Gilligan, C. (1982) In a Different Voice: Psychological Theory and Women’s Development.  Cambridge,  MA: Harvard University Press.

Jickling, B. (2018). On Wilderness. In Jickling, R., Blenkinsop, S., Timmerman, N. and De Danann Sitka-Sage, M. (eds.) Wild Pedagogies: Touchstones for re-negotiating  education  and the environment in the Anthropocene (Palgrave studies in educational futures). New          York: Palgrave MacMillan, pp.23-50.

Little Bear, L. (2000) Jagged world views colliding. In Batisse, M. Reclaiming Indigenous  voice and  vision. Vancouver: University of British Columbia Press. Also available           from:             http://www.learnalberta.ca/content/aswt/worldviews/documents/jagged_worldviews       colliding.pdf [Accessed 14.10.2019].

Little Bear, L. (2016) Blackfoot metaphysics ‘waiting in the wings’. Congress of the Humanities and Social Sciences Big Thinking Lecture 1.6.2016. Available from: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o_txPA8CiA4 [Accessed 18.11.2018].

McGregor, D. (2009) Honouring our relations: An Anishnaabe perspective on environmental justice. In Agyeman, J., Cole, P., and Haluza-Delay, R.  (eds.) Speaking for ourselves: Environmental justice in Canada, Vancouver, BC: University of British Columbia Press, pp.         27-41.

Orr, D. (2007) Optimism and hope in a hotter time. Conservation Biology, 21(6):1392-1395. doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-1739.2007.00836.x

Puig de la Bellacasa, M.  (2017) Matters of care: Speculative ethics in more than human worlds, 3rd Edition. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Topolski, A. (2015) Arendt, Levinas and a politics of relationality, (Reframing the boundaries: Thinking the political). London: Rowman & Littlefield International.

Tronto, J. C. & Fisher, B. (1991) Toward a feminist theory of caring. In Abel, E. & Nelson M. (eds.)  Circles of care. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, pp. 36-54.

 

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.

THE SOUTH COUNTRY

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

soothes

drowns

submerges

refreshes.

Water carves, reflects, splashes

washes away

makes waves

makes us up.

Water combines, replenishes and

rushes.

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.

 

References

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) (www.engineeringfictions.wordpress.com)

 

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Let’s Never Do the Time Warp Again by Sarah Campbell

 

IMAGE CREDIT By Jay8085 – originally posted to Flickr as Astronomical Clock, Prague, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8371316

Time. It’s a slippery one. It drags when we’re bored and evaporates when we’re up against deadlines. Surely there are more minutes in the Teams-meeting-hour than there are in the Friday-pub-hour? But no, we all get the same allocation each day. Since mid-March, time has felt even more warped than usual – a shadowy, parallel 2020 is passing by, unlived but faithfully planned in my paper diary; visits from family that couldn’t happen, tickets to theatre shows that were cancelled. We’ve stepped out of time, and yet time keeps happening.

I have always been interested in the elastic properties of time, and especially how this relates to ideas generation and the creative process. It is something I think about a lot in delivering my role in the Arts and Culture team at the University. The mission of the Arts and Culture Strategy is to ‘activate creativity’, and that takes time – time to plan, time to deliver, time to support, time to meander, time to question, and time to try and fail and try again. Within the team, we talk about ‘holding space for purposeful encounters’ and we do this by devising programmes and ways of working that create spaces for others to enter into. These spaces are often physical (ie. getting artists and scientists in the same room) but they can also be philosophical (ie. gaining insights into different mindsets and worldviews) and have needed to be digital and virtual over the last few months. These spaces also have a temporal quality – we all need to commit to attending the meetings and workshops, to listen closely and reflect on what we hear, to be present and contribute fully, and to spend time in between reflecting on what we’ve learnt.

Time and creativity interact in so many interesting ways. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi writes about the “transformation of time” as being one of the key ingredients in ‘flow’, a state of complete absorption in a task, where a “merging of action and awareness” takes place. ‘Flow’ states are periods of intense focus, experienced over a number of hours, but creativity needs more than just the bonfire; it also needs the slow burn, experienced over months and years. James Dyson first started working on his bagless vacuum cleaner in the late 1970s; fifteen years and over 5,000 prototypes later, his design gained market success. Sometimes it takes years to hone an idea, and sometimes it takes years for a brilliant idea to find its moment. Artist Carmen Herrera, the subject of a solo show at the Whitney in 2016, had been creating ground-breaking paintings since the 1940s but did not sell a single work until 2004, at the age of 89 (patriarchy, much?).

Between these extremes lies the middle-distance of ideas generation – those days and weeks of percolation that are needed to process inspiring content and generate something new and of value. I have yet to find a shortcut across this percolation time. Have you ever tried hatching an idea before it is ready? For me, an idea isn’t ready when it is still tangled up and bogged down in the source material and is yet to find its own form. And to resolve this, more time is often the solution – either turning inwards and allowing for more unconscious mental processing, or turning outwards and workshopping my scruffy, lumpen ideas with others.

Of course, in some contexts, a lack of time is just the ticket for ideas generation. The ‘Crazy-8’ technique (fold a sheet of paper into a 2×4 grid and then generate 8 ideas in 8 minutes, one per square) deliberately applies time pressure to by-pass self-consciousness, critique and judgement. Setting a race against the clock and generating a lot of ideas quickly are efficient means of clearing away superficial and obvious thinking and excavating down to the weird and wonderful, where genuinely new ideas are to be found.

So how does all of this play out in the day job? To share one example – Arts and Culture runs an annual programme of Creative Fellowships, where we pair University of Exeter researchers with creative practitioners in any discipline. We deliver three per year. The creative practitioners are paid for a 4-5 week commitment to spend time with their research hosts, and we ask for 1-3 dissemination events towards the end of the process to share any learning. The premise is simple, but the beauty lies in the detail. This is not about the arts illustrating the science – *yawn* – but about divergent creative practices, methodologies, interests and perspectives colliding. We want both parties to come away thinking differently about what they do.

4-5 weeks is not very long, especially when there is often a lot of new information to absorb and process. This year, we conducted the selection process in July, so that the creative practitioners and academics could have some early conversations before starting in earnest in September. We made this change in response to feedback from previous cohorts who felt their creative juices were only just starting to flow as the Creative Fellowships were concluding. With the added excitement of COVID-19, we have also relaxed the time-window for delivery. We usually focus on October-March for the rich conversations and then programme the dissemination events in the spring. However, forward-planning now feels like a relic of a previous age, along with indoor eating at restaurants and attending music festivals. What used to be my bread and butter – getting people in a room for an event and inviting an audience – is currently off the menu. Instead, we are inviting the Creative Fellows and their hosts to work responsively, capitalising on moments when we can spend time together in person, and finding online alternatives when we can’t. As a team, we are learning to ‘hold space’ in new ways, and to ‘hold time’ more lightly.

A favourite COVID-19-related tweet, posted by @WhaJoTalkinBout back in May, captured perfectly my experience of lockdown: “It’s the third month of March, every day is Wednesday, and the time is either light or dark.” Tricksier than a government advisor on a day trip to Barnard Castle, time has been flouting all the rules over the past six months. But there are silver-linings to be found. In this in-between-time, it’s possible to trial new ways of working and living. Many things are more difficult but some things are easier – our Hyperlocal project, offering 10 small arts commissions to Devon and Cornwall artists to respond to their immediate domestic environment, went from idea-germ to fully-fledged final artworks in just five weeks. The disruption to normal life allowed us to move far more quickly, pull together partnerships more rapidly, and get word out to a broader audience. If there are things you want to disrupt and change, I would suggest now is the perfect time.

 

LINKS

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi – https://www.headspace.com/articles/flow-state

James Dyson – https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2016/may/24/interview-james-dyson-vacuum-cleaner

Carmen Herrera – https://whitney.org/exhibitions/carmenherrera

Creative Fellowships – https://www.artsandcultureexeter.co.uk/creative-fellowship

Hyperlocal – https://www.artsandcultureexeter.co.uk/hyperlocal

 

Sarah Campbell is the Associate Director for Arts and Culture University of Exeter

 

‘Worlding’ in a world of blended teaching and learning by Dr. Kerry Chappell

                                             Photo by Ian Cumming

Welcome to this, the first of the CEEN blogs for the 2020/2021 academic year. I’m not a hugely experienced blogger, but it’s something I’ve been encouraged to do more, and can increasingly see the value of, to create spaces for open-ended ruminations and debate. I hope CEEN colleagues and those who find a connection to our work will therefore join in with these ruminations and debates, either to step forward to write a blog, or to comment and debate on the monthly postings. So here goes……

In my first public blog, for BERA, in February of this year, I asked the question Where do we go from here with creativity and creative pedagogy? I offered insight into the principles of creative pedagogy that I had written about with my colleague, Teresa Cremin, in a recent systematic review. Little did I know that a month later, the fundamental assumption of face-to-face practice underpinning those pedagogies would be left by the wayside. We all rapidly shifted to online teaching, meetings and research – sometimes I sat for eight hours at a stretch staring at my colleagues in the virtual ether, working hard to connect, and research/practice creative pedagogy. It wasn’t always especially satisfying, but we muddled through.

When I finally got some leave my optician put me on post-operative eye drops – apparently, we stop blinking when we work on screens all the time – my corneas were like well-used chopping boards. Not only this, but I also began to identify a sense of unease[i] – about what, I wasn’t sure. As lockdown lifted slightly, and face-to-face interaction became more possible, I began to understand where this unease came from. I was speaking to people with them in ‘real’ view, albeit at a 2 metre distance; with my professional background in dance education, I was able to take on a small project working with local Dartmoor-based MED theatre company on an outdoor socially distanced performance; I sat in a room with a colleague (at a distance) as we needed to work on a physical resource together. I realised what the sense of unease related to.  It was about the connection through moving, what Erin Manning calls  ‘body worlding’[ii]:

Movement is one with the world, not body/world but body worlding. We move not to populate space, not to extend it or to embody it, but to create it.

I had lost part of this capacity to create the world and my relationships in it; I still had my movement but, on screen, somehow, I wasn’t able to fully enter into ‘worlding’; I was being pushed into a body/world divide, which as Manning articulates above is not the whole picture. I am perhaps, like other dance colleagues, more heightened to this particular source of unease, but I think when we turn our attention to it, it’s something we can all identify with.

We now all face a new academic year that will be at least ‘blended’, and probably, at times, fully online again. I feel that I’m being challenged (sometimes in the extreme!) to imagine how I can, not just muddle through, but honour the creative pedagogic principles that I research and try to practice, whilst not being able to engage fully, bodily, in worlding. In the context of this blog, I’m especially wondering about this in relation to our Creative and Emergent Educational-futures Network. We have wonderful colleagues and students in the network researching, practicing and teaching in an array of areas: music education experiences through a posthuman lens; decolonising educational relationships in HE; transdisciplinary education; pedagogical innovation in religious education; student-resistance through space; experience of pedagogical change in dance education. We are all reliant on our ability to create ideas and spaces bodily. And yet, we are now all working to design teaching and research partially or wholly through screens, sometimes needing to work asynchronously through an array of new digital tools. This honestly feels challenging to body worlding.

So I find myself turning to our conversations about pluriversality[iii]. In 2019, CEEN colleagues made a shared commitment to explore this concept, as and when appropriate to our academic practices.  By this we mean that we respect, acknowledge and work with varied systems of being-knowing (including for example embodying, decolonising, posthumanising); we entangle ourselves in research/teaching from within these practices not outside of them; we often (but not always) work with dialogue, pushing ourselves into pluriversal engagements with humans and other-than-humans; we aim to see/experience/shift power differentials, continually trying to find our own blindspots, to de-centre, and not always seek consensus.

So, I’m asking how can we apply these ideas to make the best of our current predicament? I’ve come across tantalising glimpses of new solutions that embrace some of these elements of pluriversality – group visualisation techniques on Zoom using narrated scripts to draw participants into shared imaginary worlds (these are not the usual body worldings, but have some qualitative similarities); data collection methods using the good-old postal service to deliver carefully crafted scrapbooks for participants to share artefacts and arts-based responses; clever use of digital sharing platforms to offer spaces for participants to share data/ways of being-knowing in multiple media, pushing well beyond word-based formats that may have been relied on pre-COVID, and which see digital platforms as allies. These are small beginnings and they (perhaps to me anyway) always seem to come with a desire to integrate body worldings when possible. But they do give me hope that we can find new, positively emerging educational and research futures as a response to our current constraints.

I do still have unease though – amongst other things I worry that fast-scholarship style, neoliberal institutional approaches will colonise asynchronous digital delivery, will ‘package up’ academic knowledge, simplifying and commodifying it. I worry that body worlding will come to be seen as a nice ‘added extra’ rather than a necessity. I worry that pedagogies grounded in care, access, kindness, inclusion, relationality, creativity…. will struggle to translate through screens without staff given time (not just resource) to figure out how to do all of this.

But it’s early days in the 20/21 academic year, so I’m trying to stay alert to my unease, whilst exploring multiple emerging options; trying to learn from colleagues and hear their unease too. Perhaps most of all I’m trying to keep a shared sense of humour over the sometimes seemingly every-changing guidelines. I have my DanceLab colleagues to thank for this in helping to get as close as we can in our choreographic experiments to body worlding, and to use this as a starting point for any online/practice-based teaching I’ll be doing.  I’ll leave you with this example to hand, alongside the conundrums ruminated upon above.  If you would like, please respond below, and/or if you would like to offer a blog post in the monthly series, please contact CEEN PGR, Heather Wren:

Kerry Chappell is the leader of CEEN and an Associate Professor within GSE at UoE

[i] Thanks to my colleague Dr Katie Natanel for debates which helped me see this as a productive force

[ii] Manning, E. (2009). Relationscapes: Movement, Art, Philosophy. Massachusetts: MIT Press

[iii] Blair Vasconcelos, A. & Martin, F.with Wren H. (2019). Plurality, Plurilogicality and Pluriversality: A Literature Review. Unpublished: available on the CEEN website https://socialsciences.exeter.ac.uk/education/research/networks/ceen/researchprojects/pluralisingdifference/