30 SES 11 B, New Materialist Methods in ESS/ESD Research in Action
Within various ontological, relational, animal, and material turns, ‘New Materialist’ research is emerging across the social sciences often based on Deleuze (1994) and Deleuze and Guattari (1987). In general, however, there is little detailed advice on how this kind of post-qualitative endeavour is to be conducted. Assemblage theory has some distinctive implications for ESE research. This paper applies the Deleuzo-Guatttarian theory of assemblage to ESE to get a sense of what assemblage research might procced and achieve.
An assemblage is said to be made up of “corporeal, technological, mechanical, virtual, discursive, and imaginary” elements that are in interaction (Renold and Ivinson 2014). Deleuze and Parnet (1977) remind us of the need to focus on the process and impact of how various things come together – how they are composed or assembled despite and because of their differences. But, across the social sciences, Buchanan (2015) notes that there has been something of a failure to be clear about the implications of assemblage theory for empirical research from a Deleuzian perspective. In part, Buchanan shows why it has been difficult to be clear, coherent, and true to the ideas of Deleuze and Guattari. The contemporary view suggests not overly specifying research practices in line with a perhaps misplaced view that they might be unspecifiable. Another problem comes from how meanings are perhaps getting lost in translation as terms, such as ‘agéncement’ get translated from French. As a result of these confusions, there is a need to find a viable way to apply Deleuze and Guattari’s ideas adequately to ESE practice and research and explore their benefits.
New Materialist perspectives share a desire to work in post-paradigmatic ways to challenge linguistic and social constructivist approaches and require a rethinking of how materials and discourses relate (Gough 2016). Researchers and pedagogues taking a New Materialist stance, more often drawing on secondary sources, make arguments that have possible consequences for now we do ESE. New Materialist orientations should have consequences for how we envisage planning, enacting and researching environmental and sustainability programmes. However, with some exceptions (see below), these efforts remain under-represented in the literature, not that well worked out theoretically, and only latterly critiqued in conversation in environmental and sustainability education ESE (see Gough, 2016, Buchanan 2016, 2016, Hein 2016).
Some progress in the application of New Materialism is apparent in ESE mostly looking to describe and analyse learner experience rather than signposting what environmental education researchers might want to proceed. New materialist ESE research (for example, Fawcett 2002, Lloro-Bidart 2016, Taylor and Pacinin-Ketchabaw 2015, Pacini-Ketchabaw 2015) has sought to
- Challenge the binary of culture/nature and the idea of human stewardship of nature,
- Document learning via embodiment & learning through encountering the non-human
- Consider learning via gesturing, sounding and moving
- Consider learning with and through the encounter with other species.
Some new materialist researchers within and tangential to ESE have sought to discern what assemblage research comprises. There is a desire to move away from recipe-based approaches to what are seen as limited humanist traditional research and, instead, to work in new ways, to experiment with what research can be, and how it might ensue (Clarke and McPhie 2016, Ross and Mannion 2012, Mannion and Gilbert 2014, Van Poeck and Lysgaard 2016). A small but increasing number of authors in different sub-fields employ Deleuzo-Guattarian ideas including assemblage thinking (Leander and Rowe 2006, Hultman and Taguchi 2010, Rautio 2013, Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw 2015, Duhn 2012, Green and Duhn 2015, Fox and Alldred 2014, 2017). These sources are shown to offer accessible exemplified lines of direction for ESE assemblage research.
Methodology I wish to challenge the view that DeluzoGuattarian approaches to research is difficult to specify or enact. My experience is this is the achievable and can be evidenced in an accessible way. Deleuze and Guatarri’s philosophy is concerned after all with any theory’s usability, what theory can do, and questions of immanence (what does an entity become), rather than questions of identity (what is this?). The hope is that offering some tool-like orientations to get started may be all that is required. Using some examples from past empirical studies, some use of original sources, and a number of selected secondary sources on ‘assemblage theory’, I discern some orientations and implications of Assemblage Research within ESE. It will not be possible for these to be seen as a one-size fits all recipe but, like a musical score, without that much marking up, I suggest lines of future orientation for onward performative use in ESE The goal is to show process: how programming in ESE and, performatively, through the use of photographs and some empirical evidence from transcripts, to show how data collection and analysis can ensue. In the paper, I using images and narrative, I show how four assemblage research orientations (see Fox and Alldred 2014, 2017) for data collection and analysis were enacted. Drawing on a number of sources using assemblage thinking the following orientations to data collection and analysis were employed: 1. Analyse and collect from the middle. Researching in the midst, analyzing from the middle 2. Evoke significance. Attending to practices and performances of how desires, affect and influences impact in a given moment in time 3. Engage with the more-than-human. The third orientation asks us to attend to the more-than-human entities, practices and processes, at times, perhaps, noticing what other species are noticing. 4. Attend reflexively to our own capacities. We will have to reflexively draw upon our experience as researchers within research assemblages. We too are often implicated as participants within the very assemblages we research Photographs and extracts from transcriptions are used in the paper presentation to exemplify how data from different ESE pedagogies can be collected and analysed via assemblage orientations to provide expressions of the lived experience of learners. As assemblage researchers, we need to evoke worthwhile significance and communicate the intensities of learners’ experience to provoke and re-create the onward goals of ESE programming.
Conclusion Assemblage research of this kind can, I argue, provoke a distinctively expressive and productive account – an evocation of young people’s lived experiences as enfolded with, in and of a place – and to show how research findings can also hopefully be evocative and provocative of further response in practitioners and consumers of research. Assemblage research, like assemblage pedagogy in ESE, will seek to interrupt existing education assemblages to explore extant and emergent expressions of purpose and the ‘lines of flight’ being made available. Assemblage researchers need to accept that they must practice from the middle, relate, and entangle with other species, involve the human and more-than-human to actualize capacities in research. Lastly whether in interviewing, in visual methods or in reporting – across the research cycle, researchers seek to evoke and perform new practices and expressions of more sustainable ways of life. Adopting these orientations to assemblage research, I show that there are ways of attending to both learner experience, place, and the process of researching this experience as ontologically emergent in relational way. In doing this, I hope to argue for some benefits (amid some warranted caveats and risks) of taking an assemblage approach in ESE.
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