Project: Matter as Creative Agency – Formations in New Materialist Intramodal Pedagogy

Research questions and hypotheses, theoretical approach and methodology

The key problem for this project is the impact of materiality in pedagogical processes. In order to explore this problem, our project will elaborate with three work packages. The first work package (WP1) consists of a theoretical study in which we will explore questions about productive philosophical and theoretical positions concerning intramodal pedagogy. The working hypothesis of the study is that the diffractive patterns of the anti-hierarchical and post-humanist aesthetics of new materialism and the Hegelian idea of a contradictory being will enable new perspectives on the becoming of formation as well as on the aesthetics and ethics of teaching, which in turn radicalize the understanding of democracy, knowledge, and creativity in pedagogy.

The second work package (WP2) consists of an empirical study in which we will explore pedagogical and aesthetic processes in praxis and the possibilities of forming an intramodal pedagogy that is attentive to the agency of matter in a wider extent. The empirical data originates from praxis within Expressive Arts, with a particular focus on the pedagogical processes where agential matter is of central importance. The third and last work package (WP3) consists of tasks regarding administration and communication of the project. The project will be exploring six research questions – the first three questions relate to WP1, whereas the last three questions will be explored in WP2:

  1. How can we understand the notion of formation in pedagogy from a new materialistic perspective?
  2. How is this new materialistic idea of formation theoretically entangled with the praxis of teaching, ethically and aesthetically?
  3. How does this new materialistic idea of formation potentially relate to pedagogy as a societal and political phenomenon?
  4. Which features characterize the entanglement between subjects, human bodies, and other matters in these aesthetic processes of becoming?
  5. What is needed for knowledge to come into being in the intra-action of subjects, bodies, and other matters?
  6. How do these matters, which entangle bodies and things, emerge in intramodal pedagogical situations? How does matter pose questions and display its agency in these processes? How is the position of the subject affected by acknowledging the agency of matter?

Theoretical approach

Theoretically, this project will use post-humanist theory, and especially the orientation termed new materialism (Haraway 2004, 2016, Barad 2007, Bennett 2010, Groz 2018). New materialism argues that matter has an agential potentiality in itself, which is not always identified and represented by human language (Bennet 2010). It promotes the idea that humans are embedded within more than just human networks and therefore are not autonomous agentic forces in the world. Therefore, we need to rethink agency and subjectivity. The novelty of new materialism is its critique of anthropocentric thinking, while still being open towards exploring intra-connections and entanglements between human beings and other non-human phenomena in situations of knowing and learning. The entanglements that emerge and take form in these situations are entanglements of the human and the non-human.

The theoretical physician Karen Barad is a key figure in this orientation of thought, and she regards all bodies – not only the human body – as agents in ongoing performativity (Barad 2003, 2007, 2010, Juleskjær 2019). In her line of thought, the notions of matter and phenomenon are crucial. What is vital for Barads idea of matter is that it is not limited to signifying materiality as we commonly do, but also includes discursive matters, such as language and ideas. Barad proceeds from the premise that discourse and materiality are two sides of the same coin, and this she terms matter. She uses the notion of intra-action to emphasize relations that involve human as well as non-human matters, unlike the notion of inter-action, which is limited to the human being (Barad 2007). The notion of phenomena, which Barad borrows from the quantum physicist Niels Bohr, describes the temporary products of intra-action, i.e. not objects but “instances of wholeness” (ibid. 118–119). While matter is both a stabilizing and de-stabilizing process of repeated intra-activity, phenomena emerge from this intra-activity. This indicates that phenomena should be seen as effects of this intra-activity, as a continuous entanglement between different phenomena. Through intra-actions, temporary demarcations are created. Phenomena enable and maintain their becoming with the world by entangling, connecting, disconnecting, and dispersing with others (ibid.). Phenomena are not, therefore, ended results, but rather constantly ongoing materializations expressed in forms and movements (ibid.). Phenomena are specific for the circumstances that they take part in creating, together with other phenomena from previous intra-actions. We never know and could never anticipate how phenomena or knowledge will emerge – we only know that they have done so and will do so in a continuous agential becoming with the world. These ways in which Barad uses the notions of matter, phenomena, and intra-action will be indicative of the project.

Barad is inspired by Bohr who claimed that we are never able to step outside of reality and observe it objectively and externally (Barad 2007, 2010). With instruments and interpretations, we always intervene and transform the objects we study, and the way in which we observe the world will affect the discoveries we make. The becoming of reality and how it could be interpreted is determined by how we design our research, which means that our research will materialize in specific and not entirely objective ways (Bohr 2013). This implies that we, as researchers, must pay close attention to how we design our instruments and tools. We are dependent on language; but there is, at the same time, a world that we are a part of and entangle with, according to Bohr. We are both participants and observers simultaneously and we entangle and materialize with the world in how we narrate and describe it. We could never reach an understanding of the essence of the world – all we can do, according to Bohr, is to try continuously to reach different descriptions of relating with the world (Bohr 2013, Favrholdt 2009). Within a post-qualitative research tradition, following Bohr, the researcher herself is considered to be the instrument of the research, which places greater importance on how we construct and use ourselves as apparatuses of knowledge. For this, we will rely on Barad’s (2007) idea of apparatuses, which is her term for concepts in which we establish boundaries for the configuring of matters and phenomena.

Methodology

In developing an apparatus of knowledge, we are inspired by what Malou Juleskjær (2020) calls a sensorium. This notion originates from the Latin word “sensus” and describes the part of the brain that apprehends shifting sensory experiences, which includes sensation, perception, and interpretation of experiences – that is, both experienced in the body and in relation to other phenomena (ibid.). We have combined this notion with the notion of haptics, which indicates that the body is oriented towards being touched as well as touching other phenomena. Our apparatus of knowledge will, therefore, be called a haptic sensorium.

The haptic sensorium strives for perceiving, and becoming a part of, the multiplicity in which each body finds itself. According to Barad (2007), to touch and to be touched are constantly ongoing processes in a world that we are already a part of. There is no specific boundary between the body and the outside or inside of the body. The body becomes active by being touched by the things we explore through the eye, the ear, the skin, the genitals, and the stomach, etc. To succeed, the boundaries between phenomena must dissolve, broaden, disperse, disconnect, and intermingle.

The haptic sensorium helps us in mixing a variety of senses, enabling a wider openness towards the world in which we participate. This allows greater attention to appearances of unconscious bodily effects during the processes. Taken together, the haptic sensorium draws our attention to how phenomena emerge, move, switch, disconnect, transform, and entangle with the world (Ingold 2011, Staunæs & Kofoed 2015).

The next step is to describe the processes and discoveries we make through our haptic sensorium. The philosophers Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and their interest in the cartography inspire this part of the project (Deleuze & Guattari 2015). One common way of interpreting a map is to see it as a representation, as an image that is added as a grid over the world. This makes the living, complex, and inconstant parts of the world formalized. Contrary to this map, the cartography lacks any beginning or end. Every point could be considered a starting point – it depends on how you choose to orient yourself. To map is here an ontological assumption about the world that always contributes to a production of knowledge about it (ibid).

One particular form of cartography that Deleuze and Guattari are interested in is what they call the rhizome. This figuration directs attention to flows that move in multiple directions towards unlimited growth. Contrary to the tree as a metaphor, the rhizome has no lifeblood, no roots, or synchronized growth. A new rhizome could be created in the middle of a tree or a crotch. This openness means that the rhizomes are surrounded by uncertainty since it necessarily contains aspects that, at least in a specific moment, is not possible to think (ibid). What the rhizome focuses on is to observe unpredictable and non-linear movements of phenomena in order to find assemblages that enable these phenomena to emerge and to be attentive to the unexpected and unplanned affections that create the intensity and potentiality for transformation in a situation. The term assemblage was introduced by Deleuze and Guattari (2015), with the literal meaning “arrangement”, “connectivity” or “composing”. Assemblages are never fixed; they are collective elements that generate and produce effects.