Walking together apart – how mobile material methods can help us think towards better educational futures

Walking together apart – how mobile material methods can help us think towards better educational futures

Whilst working from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us have been bound to our chairs and desks, suffering screen fatigue, isolation, and anxiety. In this context, an invitation to ‘get up and move’ enticed seven of us, all at different stages in our careers, to take part in a refreshing research opportunity. This blog offers some insights which emerged as we walked, talked, wrote, crafted, and immersed ourselves in walking as a methodological practice.

An invitation: ‘Get Up and Move’

Framed by the feminist approach of Collective Biography (Gannon and Davies, 2006), we shaped a practice of walking together-apart which involved us in walking in different geographical locations at more or less the same time in relation to an agreed aim. This helped us shape walking together-apart as a mode of knowledge-making that is relational, embodied, and collaborative, and that (we think) offers the means to think and work towards better, more hopeful educational futures.

Walking as method

Walking is an embodied, mobile, materialist research methodology which challenges the positioning of language and human interaction as the central feature in research (Taylor, 2020). It creates opportunities for research that is embodied, multi-sensory, emergent, relational, situated and bound to time, context, and location. Further, walking methodology reveals how geographies and histories are shaped by colonialist practices (Springgay and Truman, 2018).

In our Get Up and Move project, we experimented with paying attention to the places and spaces where we were walking. We adopted a materially engaged and situationally immersed research positionality, allied to Karen Barad’s feminist posthumanist orientation where ‘knowing does not come from standing at a distance and representing but rather from a direct material engagement with the world’ (Barad, 2007, p.49). This methodology involves a research orientation to the not-yet-known and to knowledge as a space of possibility.

Walking together-apart

The COVID-19 pandemic continues to take its toll as we process and experience the traumas of living with the virus and the uncertainty regarding potential new viral mutations, fluctuating infection rates, and accompanying new bodily practices of mask-wearing, and varying governmental and personal restrictions on social freedoms. Within these new and harsh conditions, the lockdowns imposed to slow down the spread of COVID-19 offered educational opportunities to connect online in new ways.  
Using a feminist posthumanist walking as methodology and Collective Biography approach, we engaged in a series of walkings, writings and reflections, creating and co-creating knowledge together-apart. Collective biography focuses on the collaborative production of written memories and a collective re-thinking and re-writing of meanings. It is a feminist method for moving beyond the individual towards a practice of co-authorship (Fairchild, 2021) in which research productions are collaboratively produced and ‘owned’.
Collaborative Biography challenges traditional individualistic social science approaches and privileges the moments as they happen. It encourages us to pay attention to the mundane, the micro, and that which is often taken for granted.

The walks

We enacted the methodology of walking together-apart in three walks: the first was in a familiar place which focused on noticing; the second was in an unfamiliar place and sought to attend to bodies and bodily sensings, and the third was at dawn focusing on the elements and atmosphere.

After each walk, we recorded individual stories in which we attended to embodied moments, collecting these in our ‘treasure chest’ (our shared online site). Later, together-apart in online group discussions, shared themes, and experiences emerged in a process of collective re-creation of memory and meaning. Through this iterative telling, listening, and writing process, particular things came to matter.

Data experimentations

Our ongoing encounters in researching our walking insights together-apart encouraged us to engage creatively with the data. Our treasure chest encompassed multiple forms of data – photographs, videos, written text, poems, sounds, and recordings of online conversations.

In a ‘first pass through the data’ we sifted through the folder, responding to what was there. Sharing these responses led to conversations that sprawled in unanticipated ways ranging from how our bodies meet the world – cold teeth, runny nose, wet socks – to big discussions about colonialism, misogyny, violence, and poverty.

As we continued thinking, writing, talking, and crafting, certain moments resonated, providing us with themed scents to pursue and paths to wander. Our knowledge-making was rhizomic, a botanic metaphor of a plant stem which creeps underground sending out roots and shoots, and which we use, following Deleuze and Guattari (1987), to describe the complex, nonlinear, erratic and nomadic nature of knowledge production.

Our experimentations in collaborative writing (Cranham et al., 2023, f.c.), string figuring and collage, and painting with data in hybrid classrooms were swept by the affective, exhilarating processes of becoming-we, leaving us joyfully animated in nurturing collaboration.

Insights for education

Walking as a methodological practice unveiled insights to knowledge-making in the following ways:

First, such approaches are slow. They require time and space to linger in the moment and to experience and learn with the world as it is encountered.

Second, the methodological practice of attentive noticing enables us to apprehend the significant role of the more-than-human (for example, objects, animals, nature). This displacement of human exceptionalism can be life-affirming and produce more generous and inclusive research and education practices.

Third, through an ethical process of care, trust, honesty, and open collaboration, ‘I’ became ‘we’, and ‘mine’ became ‘ours’, enabling knowledge creation beyond the individual. The knowledge that emerged was transversal, becoming an affective flow across the group, materialising in shared moments of laughter, insight, and silent musing.

 Fourth, embracing the unknown involved trusting something exciting would emerge and a willingness to take a risk. 

Fifth, creative open-ended methods disrupt current thinking and help recast what matters in education. They reject disciplinary boundaries and goal-oriented approaches, resisting current neoliberal practices that tend to promote individualised competitive practices over collaboration.

 

Walking and Collective Biography helped us envisage and enact more relational, embodied, collaborative, inclusive and joyful research practices – these, we think, can help inform better educational futures for students and staff.

Key Messages

The COVID-19 pandemic enabled using online spaces to connect and do research in new ways.

Walking as a methodology offers possibilities for research that is embodied and attends to both the human and nonhuman world.

Collaborative approaches have potential to disrupt neoliberal practices that promote individualised competitive practices that dominate the academy.

Such approaches are slow and require developing care-full relationships founded on trust and ethical engagement

Other blog posts on similar topics:

Eliane Bastos

Eliane Bastos

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Eliane is an Education PhD Researcher at the University of Bath (UK) interested in understanding how primary school children come to reflect their learning into the everyday through storying with objects, and how longitudinal ocean learning experiences may enable an ontological turn towards children’s understanding of the human-ocean relationship as human as ocean.

Eliane’s research is located within a relatively new field – Ocean Literacy, which is concerned with the understanding of the ocean’s influence on us and our influence on the ocean. She has been active as a practitioner in the field of ocean literacy for over 7 years working with partners in the UK and internationally to accelerate ocean literacy in society, including playing a key role as a founding member of the We Are Ocean collective and as a Board Member of the European Marine Science Educators Association.  

Hannah Hogarth

Hannah Hogarth

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Hannah is a PhD researcher in the Department of Education, University of Bath. Her doctoral inquiry explores the relationship between childhoodnature encounters and play in an urban forest school.

Co-researching with young children alongside non-human nature, she is interested in finding ways to create knowledge collaboratively using creative, playful and embodied methods inspired by feminist, posthuman, relational and materialist approaches.

Carol Taylor

Carol Taylor

Professor of Higher Education and Gender

Carol is Professor of Higher Education and Gender in the Department of Education at the University of Bath where she is Director of Research and leads the Learning, Pedagogy and Diversity Research cluster.

Carol’s research focuses on the entangled relations of knowledge, power, gender, space and ethics in higher education and utilizes trans- and interdisciplinary posthumanist and feminist new materialist theories and methodologies.

She is currently co-leading a University of Bath Research Beacon Living Well Now and in 2050. Carol is co-editor of the journal Gender and Education, and a member of the Editorial Boards of Qualitative Research, Teaching in Higher Education, Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning and Journal of Posthumanism.

Carol’s latest books are Fairchild, N., Taylor, C.A., Benozzo, A., Carey, N., Koro, M., & Elmenhorst, C. (2022). Knowledge Production in Material Spaces: Disturbing Conferences and Composing Events. London: Routledge; Taylor, C. A., Ulmer, J., and Hughes, C. (Eds.) (2020) Transdisciplinary Feminist Research: Innovations in Theory, Method and Practice. London: Routledge; and Taylor, C. A. and Bayley, A. (Eds.) (2019) Posthumanism and Higher Education: Reimagining Pedagogy, Practice and Research. London: Palgrave Macmillan. 

Karen Barr

Karen Barr

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Karen has taught at Sheffield Hallam University for 15 years, mainly on courses relating to education and early childhood.

She is studying for a PhD in Education at the University of Bath and the title of this research is ‘Affect and discursive-materiality in Early Childhood Studies placement assemblages’. This project considers placements as contingent and emergent assemblages of human-nonhuman forces; it explores the material aspects of placement contexts; how these material aspects come to matter discursively; and how affective forces influence students’ experiences.

Karen’s study takes up posthuman theory to investigate how placement works as a material-discursive affective assemblage and how that produces learning. Its aims are to contribute a novel way of considering placement and to make a methodological contribution through its creative research practices that attune to affective flows, rhythms, and momentary intensities, which often go unnoticed in learning events.

Elisabeth Barratt Hacking

Elisabeth Barratt Hacking

Deputy Head of Department / Senior Lecturer, University of Bath,

Elisabeth has published widely in the field of environmental education and global citizenship education. She has been involved in numerous educational research, evaluation and development projects relating to childhood and environment, education for sustainability and global citizenship education with nurseries, schools, children and young people, teachers and leaders. Much of this research has employed participatory methodologies in school contexts. 

Elisabeth is interested in advancing theory, policy and practice in the area of childhood and environment. With Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles and Karen Malone, she has been instrumental in creating the new concept ‘childhoodnature’ through editing the international ‘Research Handbook on Childhoodnature: Assemblages of childhood and nature research’ (2020). Most recently, the new concept, ‘relational becoming’ (with Carol Taylor, 2020) brings together work in global citizenship, environmental education and childhoodnature to rethink education in a posthumanist frame, that is, beyond anthropocentric notions which privilege (powerful) human exceptionalism. 

Working with a group of interdisciplinary researchers, the ‘nature relations’ research group, Elisabeth is working on ways of embedding childhoodnature and Relational Becoming within climate change education in schools and early years settings.  She is also Co-investigator of a University of Bath interdisciplinary research Beacon: ‘Living Well now and by 2050.’  

Joy Cranham

Joy Cranham

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Joy Cranham has over twenty years of experience in the Primary Education sector.  Her doctoral research in the Department of Education at the University of Bath focuses on preventative approaches to safeguarding.  The essence of her research is how families construct knowledge collaboratively, enabling greater criticality and confidence to discuss concerns about safety and risk.  Joy’s interest in collaborative writing simultaneously derives from her commitment to non-hierarchical educational practices and modes of knowledge productions
Sally-Jayne Hewlett

Sally-Jayne Hewlett

PhD Researcher, University of Bath, Department of Education

Sally-Jayne Hewlett has a background in working with young people aged 16-25 with learning difficulties and / or disabilities and specialist tutoring in higher education. She is currently completing doctoral research in the Department of Education at the University of Bath. Her research focus uses critical realist methodology to explore the invisible, hidden and complex realities of accessibility in higher education through the lens of academics. Collaborative writing simultaneously is congruent to Sally’s interest in innovative and accessible methodologies for knowledge production.  

References and Further Reading

Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham and London: Duke university press. Barad, K., 2007. Meeting the universe halfway 

Cranham et al., 2023 (f.c.). Not mine, not yours, but ours: Collaborative writing simultaneously together-apart. In Hughes, C, Taylor, C. A., Salazar Pérez & Ulmer, J. (Eds.) The Routledge International Handbook of Research and Methods in Transdisciplinary Feminism. London: Routledge.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F., 1987. A thousand plateaus: capitalism and schizophrenia. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press. https://www.upress.umn.edu/book-division/books/a-thousand-plateaus

 Fairchild, N., 2021. Pedagogies of place-spaces: walking-with the post-professional, PRACTICE, DOI: 10.1080/25783858.2021.1968279 https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/full/10.1080/25783858.2021.1968279 

Gannon, S. and Davies, B., 2006. Doing collective biography: investigating the production of subjectivity. Maidenhead, England: Open university press. https://link.springer.com/chapter/10.1007/978-94-6091-615-1_10

Springgay, S. and Truman, S.E., 2018. Walking methodologies in a more-than-human world. Abingdon: Routledge. https://www.routledge.com/Walking-Methodologies-in-a-More-than-human-World-WalkingLab/Springgay-Truman/p/book/9780367264956 

Taylor, C. A., 2020. Walking as trans(disciplinary)mattering: A speculative musing on acts of feminist indiscipline. https://www.researchgate.net/publication/341470739_Walking_as_transdisciplinarymattering. In Taylor, C. A., Ulmer, J., and Hughes, C. (Eds.) (2020) Transdisciplinary Feminist Research: Innovations in Theory, Method and Practice. London: Routledge. pp. 4–15. https://www.routledge.com/Transdisciplinary-Feminist-Research-Innovations-in-Theory-Method-and-Practice/Taylor-Ulmer-Hughes/p/book/9780367500511 

The Promise of Donna Haraway’s Philosophy: Knotting Together Better Educational Futures

The Promise of Donna Haraway’s Philosophy: Knotting Together Better Educational Futures

As we have grappled with critical questions in our research and teaching, all of us contributing to this blog have been energised by Donna Haraway’s work. This blog explores the promise of Haraway’s philosophy for knowledge, learning and education. Donna Haraway’s philosophy offers conceptual and practical resources for navigating the complexities of contemporary educational problems.

Reconceptualising knowledge, learning and education with Donna Haraway

Haraway’s major early intervention was to challenge traditional notions of objectivity – which she called ‘the God trick’ (Haraway, 1988). She argued that objectivity was a Western masculinist, patriarchal tradition, which presumed researchers could be impartial, observe and produce ‘Truth’. This damaging fallacy has conferred epistemological status on science delegitimizing many other ways of knowing. Haraway opposes ‘the God trick’ with the concept and practice of ‘situated knowledges’ which pose a feminist critique demonstrating that knowledge practices are ‘political’ and that some knowledges have been (illegitimately) disqualified by dominant science. Recognising that all knowledge is located and relies on partial perspectives allows for the inclusion of lived material realities and feelings that shape our educational experiences.

The concept and practice of learning is central to Haraway’s oeuvre. Learning happens in the world, attending to our being-in-relation with the world and other species. Learning is an enactment: she calls it a ‘corporeal cognitive practice’ (Haraway, 2016a: 277), a material semiotic co-composition of relational acts of thinking and doing. Learning comes about through specific, mundane, embodied acts of communication that forge partial connections across the differences (of race, class, geography or species) that divide us.

Haraway’s philosophy, and its promise for education, demonstrates the need to move beyond human exceptionalism. It is an urgent call for us to take responsibility for how humans have produced alarming natural-cultural conditions, and to take action to address these. The task of shaping better human/planetary futures has been recognised as core to education as an ethical-political project (Strand, 2020). Haraway’s philosophy offers an affirmative biopolitics that can be useful in extending curricula on global education (Barratt Hacking and Taylor, 2020). Her transdisciplinary thinking, feminist situated ethics, and situated politics of knowledge might be the basis for renewing educational approaches for composing more relational futures.

How has Haraway’s philosophy been influential in our research? 

Carol has taken up Haraway’s philosophy outlined in When Species Meet (2008) to rethink what comes to matter in educational relations. Her work addresses the question: How can multispecies knowings and matterings give us hope to build a better world for the future? Haraway (2008: 134) uses multispecies thinking to argue for ‘compassionate action’ to promote well-being for individuals, species and communities. Carol has considered how such thinking can be the foundation for different forms of educative flourishing by fashioning education as a form of posthuman Bildung that bring new possibilities for knowledge/praxis (Taylor, 2016). Carol has also considered how nonhuman-human relations can centre around play and pleasure in ways which make consequential differences in our lives as academics (Taylor, 2017).

Nikki (Fairchild, 2017) has drawn on The Cyborg Manifesto (1991) to reconceptualise young children’s gender identities. Haraway uses the cyborg both as figuration and ontological position to explore the breakdown and fluidity of technological, natural and cultural bodily boundaries. Nikki’s research shows how the cyborg figuration ‘moves beyond traditional notions of the feminine body’ (Benozzo et al., 2019: 89). Her doctoral thesis considered how girls are expected to perform and act in certain ways (Fairchild, 2017) and how the cyborg can ‘produce[s] new articulations of gender at the same time as making traditional gendered societal roles ‘available’’ (Taylor & Fairchild, 2020: 520). The cyborg subverts gender and provides new political possibilities for women.

In Staying with the Trouble, Haraway posits ‘lived storying’ (2016b: 150) as ‘the most powerful practice for… becoming-with each other’. Shiva has written of co-storytelling as a way of making-together, co-theorizing and co-enduring (Niccolini, Zarabadi & Ringrose, 2018). Lived storying foregrounds the care-full response-ability required when researching participants’ experiences. Towards the end of her PhD thesis writing, the COVID pandemic put the world into multiple lockdowns and made racism intelligible in new ways. Shiva’s PhD participants are from British Bangladeshi backgrounds, they live in overcrowded households and, like other BAME populations, suffer disproportionate social and educational inequalities (Booth, 2020). Their COVID storyings speak of histories of exclusion, troubled times and uncertain futures.   

‘No adventurer should leave home without a sack’ writes Haraway (2016b: 40) in Staying with the Trouble. Haraway learned about the carrier bag theory of storytelling from Ursula Le Guin (1989). During her PhD, Anna experimented with a Bag-lady positionality (Moxnes, 2019), figuring herself as an (elderly) woman collecting whatever she found carrying everything with her in bags. For Anna, the carrier bag theory became a story of research, a methodological and methodic concept, a feminist force enabling her to do research differently. Carrier bag research provides a compass ‘to think otherwise’ – it changes our understandings of the world we live in and how we make meaning about it.

In our work together, Haraway’s philosophy gives us the courage to find philosophical and practical ways of troubling dominant educational thinking, research and writing (Zarabadi et al., 2019). Haraway’s philosophy informs our collaborative research experiments in theory, method and practice enabling us to continue to think of new ways to produce academic knowledge differently.

Some Final Thoughts

Haraway’s books are not easy, but they repay the focus, immersion and concentration needed. Haraway makes you think about how you can do research and teaching differently and in more creative ways. Her writing is an encouragement to slow down, ponder, not rush to action too quickly, and to focus on details and specificities. She offers intellectual resources to contest neoliberal imperatives of competitive individualism, performativity and measurement. Haraway’s philosophy provides a stimulus to new, creative, experimental ways of producing knowledge; her generative, ecological, life-affirming thinking offers important insights for reshaping educational thinking to contest the damages of the Anthropocene.

Citations and Further Reading

Biography of Donna Haraway 

Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective – Haraway, 1988

Situated Knowledges – Monika Rogowska-Stangret

Manifestly Haraway – Haraway, 2016

Rethinking Ethical-Political Education – Strand, Torill

Reconceptualizing international mindedness in and for a posthuman world – Barratt Hacking and Taylor, 2020

When Species Meet – Haraway, 2008

Is a posthumanist Bildung possible? Reclaiming the promise of Bildung for contemporary higher education – Taylor, 2016

Producing Pleasure in the Contemporary University – Taylor, 2017

Earthworm disturbances: the reimagining of relations in Early Childhood Education and Care – Fairchild, 2017

Simians, Cyborgs, and Women (The Cyborg Manifesto) – Haraway, 1991

Disturbing the AcademicConferenceMachine: Post‐qualitative re‐turnings – Benozzo et al., 2019: 89

Towards a posthumanist institutional ethnography: viscous matterings and gendered bodies – Taylor and Fairchild, 2020

Staying with the Trouble – Haraway, 2016

Spinning Yarns: Affective Kinshipping as Posthuman Pedagogy – Niccolini, Zarabadi & Ringrose, 2018

BAME groups hit harder by Covid-19 than white people, UK study suggests

Dancing at the Edge of the World – Ursula Le Guin

Working Across/Within/Through Academic Conventions of Writing a Ph.D.: Stories About Writing a Feminist Thesis – Moxnes, 2019

Feeling Medusa: Tentacular Troubling of Academic Positionality, Recognition and Respectability – Zarabadi et al., 2019

Authors

Professor Carol A. Taylor

Professor Carol A. Taylor

Professor of Higher Education and Gender in the Department of Education, University of Bath

Professor Carol A. Taylor is Professor of Higher Education and Gender in the Department of Education at the University of Bath where she is Director of Research and leads the Learning, Pedagogy and Diversity Research cluster. Carol’s research focuses on the entangled relations of knowledge, power, gender, space and ethics in higher education and utilizes trans- and interdisciplinary feminist materialist and posthumanist theories and methodologies. She is currently exploring the relations between feminist praxis and quiet activism, women’s academic leadership and mentoring, and institutional power. She is engaged in various experiments in doing academic writing differently. Carol is co-editor of the journal Gender and Education. Her latest books are Taylor, C. A., Ulmer, J., and Hughes, C. (Eds.) (2020) Transdisciplinary Feminist Research: Innovations in Theory, Method and Practice. London: Routledge and Taylor, C. A. and Bayley, A. (Eds.) (2019) Posthumanism and Higher Education: Reimagining Pedagogy, Practice and Research.

Dr Nikki Fairchild

Dr Nikki Fairchild

Associate Head (Research and Innovation), School of Education and Sociology, University of Portsmouth

Dr Nikki Fairchild is Associate Head (Research and Innovation), School of Education and Sociology, University of Portsmouth. Her research interests include posthumanist and material feminist theorizing to articulate more-than-human subjectivities in Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC). Her recent research centres on place/space in classrooms and gardens, this has been enacted using walking-with methodologies. She is also part of any International collective which challenges the knowledge practice in conference spaces. The collective enacts arts-based research-creation workshops at conferences to consider how human, non-human and other-than-human bodies interact. The collective has recently been awarded a Special Commendation for the BERA Anna Craft Creativities in Education 2020 Prize.

Shiva Zarabadi

Shiva Zarabadi

PhD research candidate at UCL Institute of Education

Shiva Zarabadi is PhD research candidate at UCL Institute of Education. Her research interests include feminist new materialism, posthumanism and intra-actions of matter, time, affect, space, humans and more-than-humans. In her PhD she uses walking and photo-diary methodologies to map these relational materialities. She is the co-editor of the book Feminist posthumanisms/ new materialisms and Education (Routledge 2019) and the leading author of the journal article “Feeling Medusa: Tentacular troubling of academic positionality, recognition and respectability” (2020) in Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology, and chapters “Post-Threat Pedagogies: A Micro-Materialist Phantomatic Feeling within Classrooms in Post-Terrorist Times”(2020) in Mapping the Affective Turn in Education Theory, Research, and Pedagogies,  “Re-mattering media affects: pedagogical interference into pre-emptive counter-terrorism culture” in Education Research and The Media(2018) and a co-authored article ‘Spinning Yarns: affective kinshipping as posthuman pedagogy in Parallax(2018).

Dr Anna Moxnes

Dr Anna Moxnes

Associate Professor at the department of Pedagogy, University of Southeastern Norway

Dr. Anna R. Moxnes is an Associate Professor at the Department of Pedagogy at the University of Southeastern Norway. Anna’s research interest is feminism and new materialist perspectives. Her recent projects involve both higher education and early childhood practices, including children and animals, and children and aesthetics, in Early Childhood Education and Care institutions, but also classroom teaching and materiality in Early Childhood Teacher Education ECTE) and research connected to education of mentors for students in teacher education. These research interests brought her in contact with international researchers, which have expanded her professional network and her writing experiences. Right now, she is co-editing a book about research-projects in ECTE in Norway. In 2019, she was honored with a Norwegian national prize for teaching.