31 SES 06 A, Developing Skills and Strategies for Writing at School
The posthuman approach to the analysis of literacy draws mainly on the works of Karen Barad (2007), Jane Bennett (2010) and Brian Massumi (2015), among others. The multiplicity of perspectives contained within the broad concept of “posthuman” includes new materialism (Bennett, 2010), diffractive analysis, agential realism (Barad, 2007), or rhizomatic analysis (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). These conceptual variety has been reflected in the diverse approaches to literacy, considered in a broad sense (see Leander & Ehret, 2019) going from the analysis of movement and sound as interaction with matter (Hackett & Somerville, 2017) to the role of digital technologies in literacy and its relation with children (Burnett, Merchant, & Neumann, 2020), and a crisis in the concept of research data (MacLure, 2013).
The diffractive analysis proposed by Barad (2007) provides researchers a tool for the understanding of the complex web of interconnections between the human and the non-human during an event. Based on quantum physics, Barad proposes a methodology of analysis in which the same reality may be approached from different overlying views, and it has been applied to research on literacy in recent years (Burnett, Merchant, & Neumann, 2020; Mazzei & Jackson, 2019; Rautio, 2019). Diffractive analysis is complemented by the concept of “minor inquiry”. Briefly, it is characterised by the attention to the tiny elements in a single event, which often escape our attention. Minor inquiry in a classroom context takes on a relevant role as it brings us closer to the small connections taking place in the school, conditioning its development, and that often underpin the children's classroom experience (Murris, 2016; Wohlwend, Peppler, Keune, & Thompson, 2017).
Finally, our research is based on the New Materialism, from the perspective formulated by Barad (2007) and Bennett (2010). The consideration of the agents involved in a literacy event as matter (whether human or non-human) makes it possible to erase the boundaries between subject and object, in such a way that the human being is no longer considered as the cause or the effect of an event (Barad, 2007). Affect, on its part, is defined as a process in which matter affects and is affected, in a dynamic and bidirectional way (Massumi, 2015). These concepts open the door to analyse the way in which children relate to matter through intra-action (Boldt & Leander, 2017; Gallagher, Hackett, Procter, & Scott, 2018; Ehret, 2019). Besides, the concept of entanglement, understood as the lack of separate entities emerging through intra-action (Barad, 2007) helps us to interpret the subtle network of connections through which children configure their world in an ongoing process.
Our proposal addresses a literacy event in a classroom context from the perspective of new materialism. Our objectives are:
1. To approach literacy in childhood relying on the affective encounter between the human and non-human elements of the classroom.
2. To analyse the literacy process diffractively from the materialisation of time and space in the event (spacetimemattering) (Kuby, Gutshall Rucker, & Kirchhofer, 2015).
Our research was part of a wider project carried out in a primary school in southern Spain, in an urban context. The general project focused on the literacy practices of a group of 25 children aged 7 and 8. Most of the children had Spanish as their mother tongue, except for one of the girls, Fatima, of Moroccan origin and Muslim religion. The methodology is based on classroom ethnography, which allows the researchers direct contact with the children and their environment. The data gathering was made through participant observation, conversations with the children, and the analysis of the documents and products created by the children in the classroom. The analysis presented here focuses on the processes around one of the tasks carried out during the researchers' presence in the classroom. This task was centred on the development of literacy through purposeful writing, addressing different genres of writing. Specifically, the children were asked to describe a series of well-known monuments from different countries. Our analysis concentrates on the way Fatima, the only girl non-Spanish girl in the group, approached the task. From a diffractive perspective, we focus on the different ways in which Fatima intra-acts with humans and non-humans in her task, and how she affects and is affected by the images described. Minor inquiry becomes a key tool for our analysis, since we become aware of the processes taking place in front of/with us through our attention to the subtle details of the event. Finally, we incorporate into our analysis a non-representationalist approach to data, in the way suggested by MacLure (2013) and Jackson and Mazzei (2012). From a posthuman approach, we as researchers are immersed in the event itself, are part of it, and are affected, and affect, matter.
Our results focus on the exact moment in which Fatima is asked to write a description of Taj Mahal. The image affects her and connects her with her religion. From that moment on, an affective encounter (Massumi, 2015) emerges, in which the image of Taj Mahal becomes vibrant matter (Bennett, 2010), as well as Fatima and the rest of children in the classroom. All of them are part of this event, in which affect and intra-action re-configure the classroom space and the proposed task itself. The role of the researchers is also transformed, as they become part of this ongoing redefinition of spacetimemattering (Barad, 2007). In this way, a task initially conceived as part of a process leading to the development of literacy become the scenario of a world-becoming, newly created through the spontaneous and unpredictable intra-action of children and matter, human and non-human, all of them integrated as an apparatus in which the experience of literacy transcends the learning-to-write process. Our conclusions address relevant questions for the educational practice. We explore the relation between matter and meaning in children, understood as a whole, and thus we (re)consider the impact of the school tasks addressed to children and the role of “distractions”. The powerful emergence of the affective encounter, and the intra-actions of matter triggered by it, gives us a glimpse of the way in which young children re-create the world in their entanglements. In our particular research, these entanglements are conditioned by Fatima’s cultural heritage, and may be helpful in the understanding of multicultural diversity in the classroom. Ultimately, our conclusions have profound implications for literacy teaching, as they highlight the many dynamic, emergent and non-representational elements that are part of the literacy process in school.
Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the Universe Halfway. Quantum Physics and the Entanglement of Matter and Meaning. Duke Univerity Press. Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant Matter: a political ecology of things. Duke University Press. Boldt, G. M., & Leander, K. (2017). Becoming through ‘the break’: A post-human account of a child’s play. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 17(3), 409–425. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798417712104 Burnett, C., Merchant, G., & Neumann, M. M. (2020). Closing the gap? Overcoming limitations in sociomaterial accounts of early literacy. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 20(1), 111-133. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798419896067 Deleuze, G. & Guattari, F. (1987). Thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia. University of Minnesota Press. Ehret, Ch. (2019). Proliterate Rhythms of Screen Time and Homework. The Reading Teacher, 72(4), 533–538. https://doi.org/10.1002/trtr.1776 Gallagher, M., Hackett, A., Procter, L., & Scott, F. (2018). Vibrations in Place: Sound and Language in Early Childhood Literacy Practices. Educational Studies, 54(4), 465-482. https://doi.org/10.1080/00131946.2018.1476353 Hackett, A., & Somerville, M. (2017). Posthuman literacies: Young children moving in time, place and more-than-human worlds. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 17(3), 374–391. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798417704031 Jackson, A. Y. & Mazzei, L. A. (2012). Thinking with theory in qualitative research. Viewing data across multiple perspectives. Routledge. Kuby, C.R., Gutshall Rucker, T., & Kirchhofer, J.M. (2015). ‘Go be a writer’: Intra-activity with materials, time and space in literacy learning. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 15(3), 394-419. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798414566702 Leander, K.M. & Ehret, C. (Eds.) (2019). Affect in literacy learning and teaching. Pedagogies, politics and coming to know. Routledge MacLure, M. (2013) Researching without representation? Language and materiality in post-qualitative methodology. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(6), 658-667. https://doi.org/10.1080/09518398.2013.788755 Massumi, B. (2015). Politics of affect. Polity Press. Mazzei, L. A. & Jackson, A. Y. (2019). Diffracting. Posthuman literacies in a Minor Language: Expressions-to-come. In Candace R. Kuby, Karen Spector, & Jaye Johnson Thiel (Eds.), Posthumanism and Literacy Education. Knowing / Becoming / Doing Literacies (pp. 170-174). Routledge. Murris, K. (2016). The posthuman child. Educational transformation through philosophy with picture books. Routledge. Rautio, P. (2019). Diffracting. Theory that cats have about swift louseflies: a distractive response. In Candace R. Kuby, Karen Spector & Jaye Johnson Thiel (Eds.), Posthumanism and Literacy Education. Knowing / Becoming / Doing Literacies (pp. 228-234). Routledge. Wohlwend, B., Peppler, K. A., Keune, A., & Thompson, N. (2017). Making sense and nonsense: Comparing mediated discourse and agential realist approaches to materiality in a preschool makerspace. Journal of Early Childhood Literacy, 17(3), 444-462. https://doi.org/10.1177/1468798417712066
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