CYPC Provocations series — Provocation 2: New materialisms

 

world

[Image Description: A large synthetic model of a globe covered with raised tessellated pattern, part of Epcot theme park,  set against a background of blue sky and clouds, suggestive of a planet]

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.


Reading: Lather, P. (2016) Top Ten+ List: (Re)Thinking Ontology in (Post)Qualitative Research, Cultural Studies, Critical Methodologies, 16(2), 125-131

~ written and compiled by Dr Lucinda McKnight

Provocation 2: Ontological Stuck Places: Inventing and Imagining Alternatives

Patti Lather

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

 

truth

humanism

lens

 

politics

lemons

ethics

 

understanding

thought

ruins

 

tradition

translation

tectonics

 

chairs

cockroaches

trees

 

abattoirs

 

Responses to the poem from participants

  1. 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.
  1. This is what i thinkfeel as I read stuck places: minutes …

How neat

How tidy

Spaced and measured I like the lemons

I need some sting … a peppered provocation

inconvenient

  1. 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.
  1. Where are we going Lucinda?

Impenetrable?

Re-othering?

Re-bounded?

‘You can’t use those words Lucinda’, they look at her, incredulous.

Playful.

Possibility.

Liberatory, freeing but…

‘…you must read this, know this, say this, do this. That’s right Lucinda’. They smile.

Re-bounded?

An adventure.

Whose adventure?

Where are we going Lucinda?

Further thoughts

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:

Pedersen, H. (2013) “Follow the Judas Sheep: Materialising Post-Qualitative Methodology in Zooethnographic Space.” International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education 26, (6), 717-31.

References

Lather, P 2016. Top ten+ list: (Re)thinking ontology in (post)qualitative research. Cultural Studies Critical Methodologies, vol. 16, no. 2, pp.125-131.

Snaza, N. & Weaver, J. 2015. Education and the posthumanist turn. In: SNAZA, N. & WEAVER, J. (eds.) Posthumanism and Educational Research. New York: Routledge.

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CYPC Provocations series — Provocation 1: Post-qualitative research: towards post enquiry

genewilder-ww-meme-start

[Image Description: A man (Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder) in a brown top hat, with purple velvet suit, a purple paisley shirt and a large beige bowtie. He stands with his head propped on his right hand, looking at a person to the right of the screen. Text reads: ‘Post-qualitative methodologies? Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination and there you can be free’.]


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.


Further reading: Stephen Heimans , (2016),”Fieldwork in philosophy, emancipation and researcher dis-position”, Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 16 Iss 1 pp. 2 – 12

~ Compiled by  Professor Amanda Keddie, CYPC Program Leader

Provocation 1: Post qualitative research: towards post enquiry

Elizabeth Adams St Pierre

The huge lecture theatre was packed. We all sat enthralled listening to her keynote address. Small and slight, she spoke to us in a cultivated American twang: ‘traditional qualitative research is ruined,’ she told us, ‘it is incommensurable with the ‘posts’ and we must imagine new ways of doing qualitative research that is different from the beginning…’ Elizabeth had just thoroughly chewed up and spat out all manner of positivist research especially the recipe-like structure of traditional qualitative research. I looked around the room from my vantage point in the front row. Some of us ‘posties’ (or wannabe posties) were nodding wisely, maybe even feeling a bit smug. We knew and loved Betty’s work (enough, indeed, to call her Betty). Amid the slightly smug smiles, we were also feeling troubled and more than a little clueless (well I certainly was!) about what something different from the beginning could possibly look like. Others in the audience were shifting in their seats a bit uncomfortable about what she was saying (maybe these were the qual people who used NVivo), others were frowning and feeling a bit indignant (maybe they were mixed-methods or quant people), yet others seemed completely lost (maybe they had never heard of post qualitative research).

In her address, whatever our response, we were challenged to think about the problems of inserting our research into the recognizable structures we were comfortable with. These structures, she told us, could never do anything but reduce, distort and misrepresent the worlds we were trying to capture. She made us uncomfortable.

The idea that traditional qualitative research is ruined – that it is incommensurable with the ‘posts’ – is not a new one and has been thoroughly debated by many academics and researchers. But it is an idea that, as researchers who align with and draw on the ‘posts’, we must continue to grapple with. These tensions were the focus of our first provocations session for our CYPC (Children Young People and their Communities) group where we discussed an Adams St Pierre reading: A Brief and Personal History of Post Qualitative Research. In this paper, she argues the impossibility of an intersection between conventional humanist qualitative methodology and ‘the posts’. In our discussion we talked about the significance (as Adams St Pierre argues) of aligning ontology and epistemology with methodology – ‘methodology should never be separated from epistemology and ontology (as if it can be) lest it become mechanized and instrumental and reduced to methods, process, and technique’ (2014, p. 2). We reflected on our own experiences, on the flawed nature of our research and on how we could to do things differently.

We began by considering the matter of misalignment – perhaps best illuminated in the existence of positivist qualitative methodology. We noted our experiences of reading research that purported to be poststructural but didn’t follow through in its form and design. We noted the times when we felt uncomfortable with methodological certainty and with times where we had to abandon or temper our ‘posts’ to fit conventions.

…we’ve just had an experience recently with one of the top ranked international journals in our field where we submitted a paper and it wasn’t even sent out for review because we needed to make more explicit our methods and our methodology … but all the stuff was kind of in there, it was using a feminist kind of post-structural lens around what we were doing and we kind of grappled with it but the comment that we made at the end of it was ‘Okay, this is the game’, you know this is what we have to do, and we re-wrote it, we framed it in the language that they speak to and it’s now gone out for review…

Reflecting on this tempering of our posts, we thought about the importance of playing the game – it’s safe.

I think we do go for tried and true and proven methods and accepted things, because it’s safe.

Tried and true. Certainty in methods, process and techniques. No messiness, no fragments, not too many complexities. A nice neat little 7000 word package.

…all of those things you do and know are actually reinforced through the field. They’re recognised through the field. They’re the orthodoxies of the field, and they get you published, they get you grants, they do all that stuff, so they become safe in lots of ways that restrict us from thinking of unsafe spaces, you know if the opposite to being safe is unsafe we’re not gonna to choose unsafe.

…the field constrains itself in lots of ways. The convention of the field is very restrictive. Ultimately I’m restricted by language. I’m ultimately gonna write it or say it in some form and that is inherently constraining. Ultimately the materiality of language restricts what actually happens, what is say-able and doable.

Ok, we agreed, our research is contained and curtailed by certain orthodoxies and our research is necessarily flawed by these orthodoxies and the language we use to pin it down. So, is the point to good poststructural research to recognize this?

I mean you’ve got to recognise it’s flawed. And I think that the posts do recognise that … any account is unstable, it’s contextual, it’s contingent it’s all those things … it’s only a momentary account of something; you could ask me the same thing a week later and you could possibly get a different response to it. There is a flaw in trying to render it so that it’s methodologically secure. So we end up with tools [to try to reflect security/certainty] … I’ll interview them and talk to them because that will get their understanding, but we know that … through the posts that we can’t – there is no absolute understanding, you know? It’s all provisional, it’s all contingent, it’s all contextual and it’s all unstable, you know? It’s knowable and thinkable for this moment in these confines. If we can accept that, we can move forward.

But can we move forward, we thought? What if we become stuck?

we can become immobilised by the contradictions … the posts overwrite humanists and you end up with humanist methodologies with post lenses through them to unsettle them and you know? Um the issues of authenticity, issues of critique and all those sorts of things, validity … those things become de-stabilised. And I think all of us accept that, and grapple … and recognise that; it’s taking it to that next level and saying ‘Well what would it look like if you were true to it?’ It’s bloody tricky! You know?

Well, what would it look like? What would it take? How might we step outside and produce knowledge in different ways?

Bad habit: inserting our work into the recognizable, comfortable structure of humanist qualitative methodology.

Good habit: not inserting our work into the recognizable, comfortable structure of humanist qualitative methodology. We must unlearn our humanist habits.

…it’s the ‘unlearning’ which is so critical to this. It’s unlearning all the habits.

…we do tend to repeat the ways that we know the world, even if we pretend we’re not.

Good habit: we must be transparent and critical about our positionality.

 …we are historical, and we are embedded, and you always will be and you bring those with you to that moment.

BUT:

not in a normative way.

…transparency is not a tool of validity. To use it as such is disingenuous because it’s trying to occupy a normative position and it can’t, you know?

or a confessional way.

…it’s as if you could lay yourself bare on a table and almost essentialise yourself by a purge, and now I move forward having done this sort of confessional validity of all my flaws, and all my limitations … ‘Here I am! Now you know me!’

or an uncritical way.

…just because they’ve lived it and been in it, and formed ideas doesn’t mean what they think about it is right or wrong for that matter. You’re actually putting stuff out there to have others evaluate how you’ve come to know something. And some of the, I guess ‘dilemmas’ around reflexivity, or, or, you know, declarations, or however you want to put it is that people often equate that with ‘Okay’ … but there’s a level of uncriticality to some of that.

Ok, we need to be clear about our researcher positionality in a non-normative, non-confessional and critical way. We wondered whether this was what Adams St Pierre meant by a critical ontology of the self. In her paper she speaks of encouraging her students to ‘practice a critical ontology of themselves to experiment with what is yet to come. To summon those still missing people. Might that exquisitely empirical work be post-inquiry,’ she asks?

Yeah, I’m trying to work out what she means by that.

…I wonder if that’s what she’s actually meaning as a starting point? Or is it something different? So … and whether it … it can be anything but normative? I don’t know, I’m struggling with that … to me that suggests what you were just saying about questioning, or being transparent about your own subjectivities, and critiquing those and where they’re coming from. And being aware of how they shape the research processes and products, um, which you know is not something new. I’m just wondering, am I getting that wrong? What is a critical ontology of the self, if not that?

I don’t think that’s what she’s asking for … she refers to the critique of that stuff that’s already been done, and pointed out some limitations sort of thing. So maybe, maybe, I think she’s probably calling for a new version of it or something, and I don’t know what it looks like.

Me either.

Maybe, it’s all about her point that we must begin with theory, we thought. Theorizing ourselves? Maybe we are the missing people?

I mean this is where I bring, I come back to queer theory, which is about imagining, you know kind of quite radically re-configuring, re-imagining what it means to be human or what might constitute a human or a kind of intelligible human, so I wonder if it’s something to do with that?

Good habit: beginning with theory.

…I really like the bit where she says … something about ‘To think with theory one must first read with theory’

BUT:

at deep level.

…so I think this whole thing about dabbling in the post-structural theorists without necessarily reading them in all that much depth is a problem… I don’t know how much people really read it.

If you want to use Foucault, you must read everything Foucault wrote!

not a superficial level.

…not theoretical hairspray, a bit of Bourdieu, a bit of Foucault.

not as an abstraction.

‘Know this theory, know that theory, here’s this or that theory, you choose … disconnected abstracted. Rather than, ‘Why do you need theory?’, ‘What would theory help you do?’, and ‘To understand yourself as a researcher, what does theory, how does theory help you?’

Ok, we need to begin with theory, but at a deep level, not in superficial ways and not in abstracted ways.

What would Foucault do?

…no recipes or formulas. We must refuse to repeat the same descriptions. We must be-do-live something different. We must refuse what we are, what we do, the world we create. Once we understand that, our work becomes very urgent, very difficult and quite possible (Adams St Pierre, 2014).

What can we imagine? You can be free if you truly want to be.

Last night on the news, they had a story about Gene Wilder dying, and they played that scene out of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory where he’s singing that song about pure imagination. When I heard that last night I was thinking about academic work, and academic life, and how …. ‘cos the song goes something about ‘Come with me and you’ll be in a world of pure imagination and there you can be free, if you truly want to be’. Sometimes I think that part of this is trying to push toward a practice of freedom and a way of thinking that … we’re not even able to imagine a different kind of reality or a different, kind of way things could be done … if we really deeply engage with the posts, they can help us re-imagine how things are and then maybe we can know things differently. 

 genewilder-ww-meme-end

[Image Description: A man (Willy Wonka, played by Gene Wilder) in a brown top hat, with purple velvet suit, a purple paisley shirt and a large beige bowtie. He stands with his head propped on his right hand, looking at a person to the right of the screen. Text reads: ‘If we really deeply engage with the posts, they can help us re-imagine how things are and then maybe we can know things differently, we can be free’.]

Further reading: Stephen Heimans , (2016),”Fieldwork in philosophy, emancipation and researcher dis-position”, Qualitative Research Journal, Vol. 16 Iss 1 pp. 2 –

Not Enough Voices – Sean Michael Morris keynote

[Image Description: A man in a top hat, with sideburns, a handlebar moustache, and a pince-nez, is holding an old-timey contraption with a very large hearing trumpet to his left ear.]

In this keynote given at the Digital Pedagogy Lab Institute at the University of Mary Washington Sean Michael-Morris talks about the act of radical listening and its capacity to amplify voices that have been silenced; about the universalising (and dehumanising) assumptions underpinning the origins of instructional design and its contribution to today’s sterile and depoliticised online learning environments; and, of the messy, hopeful, riotous, entangled, and subversive act of learning.

Learning is a subversive act.

It is not an act of recall. It’s not an act of imitation, regurgitation, repetition. It’s never passive.

Learning is a subversive act, and so must teaching be — not out of compulsion, but from logical necessity. If learners are to move from what-we-know into what we do not yet know—from recall to emergence—or more importantly, from oppressed to liberated — then teaching must also deal in what we do not yet know. It must deal in the stuff of real struggle.

Emergence isn’t pretty. It’s not a flower opening. It’s rough, complicated, unruly, embarrassing… and in that way full of wonder.

“To teach in a manner that respects and cares for the souls of our students is essential if we are to provide the necessary conditions where learning can most deeply and intimately begin.” ~ bell hooks

Learning is not safe. In fact, to learn is to take a risk, to become an aerialist, to put your head in the lion’s mouth. Learning is a death-defying act. And though it takes place largely within the confines of silent classrooms and sterile learning management systems, within the mind of the learner, riots can occur.

How can we orient classroom encounters (online or otherwise) away from being ‘user spaces’ (characterised by instruction, direction, quantified learning objectives, conditioned recall and application) towards being ‘learning spaces’? How can we listen better and listen with a silence not born of apathy or indifference but one which is pregnant with hope, which yearns for justice, and which is attuned to the murmurings of difference?

What would your course look like if you rewrote its learning objectives as per Sean’s (only half-in-jest) suggestions below?

At the end of this course, you will:

  • Give tongue to interesting thoughts of your own soul;
  • Gain from dialogue the power of truth;
  • Abhor and detest your enslavers;
  • Understand how the silver trump of freedom rouses the soul.

Pssst. The keynote is great and worth a read. And if you like the keynote and are curious about Sean Michael Morris’ work, check this out: ON LOVE, CRITICAL PEDAGOGY, AND THE WORK WE MUST DO

 

Why we post – lecture with Prof. Danny Miller

On Wednesday (11 May 2016) I went to a lecture organised by the RMIT Centre for Digital Ethnography with Prof. Danny Miller talking about an ERC-funded project investigating the reasons we engage with social media*. I expected nothing less of Anthropologists, but it was still such a relief to listen about good, rigorous, and intellectually exciting ethnographic scholarship on social media and digital engagement.

*Hint: they are varied, culturally-inflected, and always changing. 

‘Why we Post’ is a global anthropological research project on the uses and consequences of social media.  The European Council for Research-funded initiative involved a team of 9 anthropologists who spent 15 months living in 8 countries in communities such as:

  1. two English villages with a largely homogenous population
  2. a factory town and a rural town in China
  3. a community on the Turkish-Syrian border
  4. an IT complex set in villages within south India
  5. a low income settlement in Brazil
  6. a politically marginalised port city in Chile
  7. a small town in  Italy with high levels of unemployment
  8. a semi-urban town in one of Trinidad’s least-developed regions

The project has resulted in 11 Open Access books, a website, a fantastic blog with lots of case studies, and an e-learning course offered via FutureLearn.

The project is also on Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube.

Here are some of my takeaways from the talk:

 

POLYMEDIA

Cost used to be the main consideration in choosing a media platform; this is now not the case and users these days ‘flip’ across platforms. Platforms can only be understood in relation to each other. “People use social media wantonly — they flip from platform to platform irrespective of temporality, affordances, restrictions.”

SCALABLE SOCIALITY

Scalable Sociality is one of the  ‘discoveries‘ of this project. Here’s an excerpt from the official definition

We have concluded that the key to understanding (the question of how people socialise on social media) is through what we will call‘scalable sociality.’ Prior to social media, we mainly had private and public media.

Social networking sites started with platforms such as Friendster, QZone and then Facebookas a kind of broadcasting to a defined group rather than to the general public, in a sense scaling downwards from public broadcast.

By contrast some of the recent social media such as WhatsApp and WeChat are taking private communications such as telephones and messaging services that were mainly one-to-one and scaling upwards. Often these now also form groups, though generally smaller ones. Also these are generally not a single person’s network. All members of the group can post equally to all the others.

If we imagine two parameters – one consisting of the scale from private to public and the other from the smallest group of two up to the biggest group of public broadcast – then as new platforms are continually being invented they encourage the filling of niches and gaps along these two scales. As a result, we can now have greater choice over the degree of privacy or size of group we may wish to communicate with or interact with. This is what we mean by scalable sociality.

However this is just an abstract possibility. What people actually do is always a result of local norms and factors. In each society where we conducted fieldwork, we saw entirely different configurations of these scales as suits that area.

Danny shared a particularly fascinating anecdote which highlighted how easy it is to  assume a universality of experience on  certain issues. In this case, the issue of privacy. Discourses in Western cultures tend to cluster around concerns regarding the intrusive nature of social media, and a resultant loss of privacy, for example, the accidental oversharing of information on platforms such as Facebook.

However, in the example Danny recounted, social media use had quite the opposite effect. 17-year Cici works in a factory in South China and shares a dormitory room with three other roommates. Cici first heard of the word ‘privacy’ on a TV soap opera but her first experience of it only came about when she decided to message her boyfriend on QQ, a popular chat platform in China, instead of speaking to him–something I’d imagine would be quite difficult in a room of 4 people speaking at the same time.

AlexiaMaddoxtweetPrivacy

 https://twitter.com/alexiamadd/status/730288733262516224
Another example of scalable sociality in a cultural context is what Miller calls ‘The English Goldilocks’
“The English use scalable sociality to make sure that their relationships are neither too hot nor too cold. They like their relationships best when they are sort of grey, like the weather.” to keep people at a social distance, i.e. they use social media to make sure their
The concept of scalable sociality also relates to degrees of privacy and the size of the group, for example in Miller’s study of 11-18 year olds in a school in a UK , students shared ‘ugly snapchat selfies‘ amongst close friends or on a one-to-one basis as a mechanism for creating trust and bonding. Twitter was the next scale up where they socialised amongst friends angled their address and photos to suit a larger audience. Instagram is located at the total opposite end of Snapchat. Where Snapchat selfies are private, intimate, and ‘ugly’, Instagram photos are picture perfect and is a platform where engagement with strangers is desired and routine.

This reminded me of a meme that was recently shared on my Facebook feed:

PolemdiaplatformDogs

 

Speaking of MEMES…

Memes are apparently the moral police of the internet. They they tend to be shared as moral commentaries, for example, to disparage a certain political view the poster doesn’t agree with. Meme posters tend to be relatively shy people who don’t usually like explicating their values in long, comprehensive posts and so they share memes instead.
“Memes tell you who you should be and who you shouldn’t be”, therefore they are “one of the normative gestures of the internet”.
Of course as with everything else, memes, and their meanings, circulate differently in different cultural contexts. For example the South Indians send religious memes to their friends throughout the day to enhance their karma.

Some further points

  • Social media has made communication more visual (but I note that Facebook for example hasn’t been inclusive of of blindness until very recently).
  • Twitter is where one performs one’s clever and funny persona, Instagram is the platform where one shows off “a different kind of Bordieurian aesthetic — a sense of careful crafting…”
  • Interesting photo generalisations: men in England usually associate themselves with beer; women with wine;
  • Public-facing social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc. only account for a component of the totality of social media. Social media also includes hidden conversations on Facebook, Whatsapp, etc.
  • Social media is not a representation of everyday life. It is a far more conservative rendition of life than offline life is.