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The Children Young People and their Communities (CYPC) Provocations series is intended to build new conceptual, theoretical and methodological knowledge around a topic of interest to the group. This is the first in a series of methodological provocations.
~ written and compiled by Dr Lucinda McKnight
Provocation 2: Ontological Stuck Places: Inventing and Imagining Alternatives
The second CYPC provocation session focused on the reading: Lather, P. (2016) Top Ten+ List: (Re)Thinking Ontology in (Post)Qualitative Research, Cultural Studies, Critical Methodologies, 16(2), 125-131. The question that “provoked” us in relation to this reading was one Patti Lather herself poses in the article: if scholarly critique has lead us to ‘stuck places’, how do we invent or imagine alternatives? Associate Professor Tim Corcoran, in leading and facilitating this session, asked us to float our responses and see where the discussion might take us, rather than following a formal agenda. Where did we become stuck, in reading? Which phrases resonated? What’s in this reading to push our thinking further? Where can this take us, in a world in what is measured is what is important? “How can we do something other than tired ‘earnest advocacy’”? What matters, other than the human? Do we even want to explore this?
In a new materialist spirit, instead of offering minutes for our meeting, we present here a poem, a diffraction, rather than reflection, of what we discussed, which calls some of our ideas into being in new assemblages. This chimes with Lather’s call (2016), following Karen Barad and Bruno Latour, to invent rather than critique, with critique just leading us to “stuck places”. The poem is followed by responses from participants.
stuck places: minutes
by Lucinda McKnight
Responses to the poem from participants
- I love it. You have distilled the key points of the discussion of Lather. Insightful connections between concepts/things/space etc. but particularly between understanding, thought and ruins. The chairs, cockroaches and trees presents perhaps the most challenging for me. I really valued being extended by the connections and the concepts. The mirror and machines reminds me of a series I have recently been watching called Black mirror – challenging yet plausible interactions between technology and people.
- This is what i thinkfeel as I read stuck places: minutes …
Spaced and measured I like the lemons
I need some sting … a peppered provocation
- Seemed like a free-form list of terms, short-of-breath, like the poem had a word limit. I wondered what a reader (i.e. someone not a part of the discussion) could do with the words. Uncertain-puzzling not uncertain-openness.
- Where are we going Lucinda?
‘You can’t use those words Lucinda’, they look at her, incredulous.
Liberatory, freeing but…
‘…you must read this, know this, say this, do this. That’s right Lucinda’. They smile.
Where are we going Lucinda?
These responses in themselves demonstrate pressing questions. The original sparse poem does distil language, emphasising its material qualities, and evading troublesome grammatical elements that have a dualistic and humanist basis, such as subject and object. The poem also avoids the ontological clash enacted by prepositions, such as “on”, or “into” that do not work with posthumanist or new materialist onto-epistemologies of things not existing prior. Yet if we are left with these word lumps and word clumps, what meaning can be made of them? This enacts the conundrum of trying to be posthuman when our language and other frameworks are humanist.
We wrestled with this in the meeting, and even in the responses. In the final poem response above, the writer refuses the posthuman flattening of the human, in our “journey” or “adventure”; both are humanist tropes begging for a leader figure. If we could flatten the human, give up Cartesian binaries, what does this mean for research? What does this mean for education? What would we be relinquishing, and do we even want to relinquish it? Snaza and Weaver (2014) ask us to imagine a school curriculum that does not make the human/animal distinction, yet then say we are so mired in humanism it is not yet possible to go there. If this new curriculum seems a ridiculous proposal, perhaps it is worth thinking on the way women, children and people of colour were once blatantly and still are, perhaps less blatantly, “othered” by the humanist project.
For our next provocation we will be attempting this ridiculous, impossible and essential imagining of breaking down the human/animal binary, with our reading: