Education and Global Futures research group hosts two international seminars

The Education and Global Futures (E&GF) research group has launched its local, national, and international activities by hosting two invited seminars in recent months.

Education Policy in Uncertain Futures: Reassessing Neoliberalism, 14 May 2019.

This seminar was strongly attended by the research community in ESRI and the Faculty of Education. Dr Karen Pashby, co-leader of the group, introduced the aims and focus of E&GF: to explore the important role education must play in preparing people for uncertain futures shaped by technological, economic, political and environmental changes. Reiterating the importance of reconsidering neoliberalism within the context of policy and praxis in education research, she invited speakers to consider whether and how neoliberalism as a concept applies to policy contexts for global futures, and to what extent we need a new vocabulary?

Dr. Karen Pashby

We took advantage of hosting Katariina Mertanen, an early career researcher from the University of Helsinki, as a visiting scholar. Katariina joined two very established scholars, Dr. Christine Winter from Sheffield University and Professor Matthew Clarke from York St John University, to respond to our provocation. The speakers brought a range of perspectives to the topic from their empirical research and theoretical work.

Katariina opened the discussion with her presentation, entitled Not a single one left behind’? Researching youth policies and youth support systems in the era of neoliberal political rationality”. Drawing on examples from her PhD research, her ‘genealogy of problematisations’ highlighted the multiple discourses that go into policy framing, including those connected to neoliberalism.

Highlights included:

  • Troubling how ‘young people’ and ‘civil society’ are constructed and presented as categories.
  • Tracing discourses of employability and therapization aimed at increasing human capital.
  • Showing how education and training are presented as convenient solutions to social problems.

Katariina Mertanen


Next, Chris Winter’s presentation, “The Geography GCSE curriculum in England, global development and neoliberalism: an inquiry”, drew on research related closely to practice in schools. Her presentation examined four questions: what is the relationship between global development discourses in curriculum and neoliberalism? Are these discourses racialised? What are the implications for a culturally diverse society? What hope for the future?

Highlights included:

  • Arguing that curriculum as policy (and the allocation of values) encourages attention to subjectivity (Butler).
  • Illustrating the colonization of minds through racist categories and language embedded in everyday texts (Fanon).
  • Mapping paths beyond neoliberalism: voice, imagination and hope.

Dr. Christine Winter

Finally, Matthew Clarke presented his paper, “Neoliberalism as political theology: Deicide and dismemberment”. He utilised a ‘political theology’ framework to explore neoliberalism in education.

Highlights included:

  • Illustrating how neoliberal subjectivity exists as a combination of attitudes, imaginaries, beliefs and practices.
  • Arguing that going beyond neoliberalism requires letting go of our need for redemption.
  • Exploring alternative modes of anarchic political subjectivity.

Prof. Matthew Clarke

Dr. Sam Sellar, the other co-leader of the group, responded as discussant, synthesising key themes from the three presentations and inviting wider reflection on the seminar topic. He asked presenters and participants to think about neoliberal subjectivity as a trap and provoked reflection on the complicity of critical educational theories and practices.

Dr. Sam Sellar

Attendees continued the conversation over drinks to conclude an engaging afternoon on a topic that deserves continued and sustained conversation.

Global Education Policy in Evolving Network Societies, 9 September 2019

This seminar brought together national and international participants for three panel sessions that involved short inputs from invited speakers followed by sustained small and larger group discussions. It provided an opportunity to: (a) take stock of different perspectives on a range of network theories and methodologies that have been taken up in education; and (b) consider promising lines of theoretical and methodological development.

The panels were organised around three key questions to be explored interactively amongst participants:

  1. How do network governance regimes compare across national contexts and transnationally?
  2. What are the limitations and possibilities for improvement of current methodological approaches for capturing the structures, processes, and impact of network governance?
  3. What are the strengths, weaknesses, and opportunities for innovation within current theoretical approaches to studying networks and governance?

Dr Andrew Wilkins, Dr. Philip K. Chan, Prof Radhika Gorur

The first session compared different national and international modes of network governance:

  • Governance assemblages: Mapping productive alignments and strange entanglements, Andrew Wilkins, University of East London
  • Networked governance in action: Aid infrastructures and the politics of harmonization and alignment, Radhika Gorur, Deakin University
  • Public education reform and network governance: The case of Chinese state-owned enterprise schools, Philip K. Chan, Monash University

The second session examined methodological approaches to network governance:

  • Capturing evolution: Examining network generation and change through time, Emilee Rauschenberger, Manchester Metropolitan University
  • Higher education industry and its future: The role of market devices in making markets, Janja Komljenovic, Lancaster University
  • Commercial (networks hiding) in confidence, Anna Hogan, The University of Queensland

And the third session explored theoretical approaches to studying networks and governance:

  • The governance of SDG4 and the strange non-death of the nation[1], Sotiria Grek, University of Edinburgh
  • 1996: The OECD education policy assemblage, Greg Thompson, Queensland University of Technology
  • Enacting alternative networks from the ground up: Education/policy collaboratories, Stephen Heimans, University of the Sunshine Coast on behalf of Parlo Singh, Griffith University

The event provided many opportunities to meet new colleagues and to encounter diverse perspectives on new modes of education governance around the world. The group continued the conversation at a drinks reception hosted by The Anthony Burgess Foundation.

These seminars showcased the focus of the Education and Global Futures research group on big global trends in education and our commitment to bringing together diverse groups of national and international scholars to debate the most pressing education policy issues today. The 2019/20 ESRI seminar series will continue this debate with a thematic focus on Education in uncertain times.

[1] With acknowledgement to Colin Crouch

Manchester Met experts appointed to help improve communication skills of Greater Manchester’s young children

Professor Deborah James and Dr Julie Marshall to support GMCA’s Pathways to Talking project

Education and health professionals at Manchester Metropolitan University are assisting a government initiative that will support under-fives living in Greater Manchester find their voice through communication and language.

The Greater Manchester Pathways to Talking project will support the scale up and implementation of the current speech and language and communication pathway of the GM Early Years Delivery Model, which aims to give all children in Greater Manchester the best possible start in life.

Professor Deborah James from the Faculty of Education and Dr Julie Marshall from the Faculty of Health Psychology and Social Care at Manchester Metropolitan University will support with the implementation of the pathway, the evaluation of its success and turn the learning from the project into tools for practice in the future.

The initiative is supported by the Department for Education’s Early Outcomes Fund that was awarded to eight area areas in the UK to make sure all children who need it, get help to develop speech, language and communication.

Professor James said: “Julie and I are delighted to be able to support the development of the Early Years Model in Greater Manchester, working alongside the leaders from health and early years’ education to create system change. Greater Manchester has a national reputation for leadership in early intervention and in the speech and language profession and this successful bid to the DfE (for over £1.5M) demonstrates that. We are looking forward to working across faculties to combine our expertise in integrated workforce development and early communication, speech and language research. Research shows that inequality in children’s outcomes before school tends to persist across the life-course. Addressing social inequality requires a whole system approach. This project aims to accelerate the roll out of the integrated system in Greater Manchester to ensure that all children in Greater Manchester get support, if they need it, to develop language and communication.

Prof James and Dr Marshall will work with multi-agency early years speech and language leaders from all 10 Greater Manchester localities to support the leadership of integrated services. The academics will help develop an implementation action plan and include tools to coach each locality’s leadership team using relationally-based coaching, strengths-based perspectives and training in community participation and co-design. They will work closely with Julian Cox, Head of Research Policy and Strategy, and colleagues at the Greater Manchester Combined Authority to use population data to shape the implementation of the Pathway to maximise it for all families.

Professor James added, “Integration of services is a priority for system transformation. We hope that this collaboration will provide new knowledge of how to create change using relationally-based approaches”.

The aim of the pathway and the Early Years Delivery Model is that more children will start school with the communication and language skills they need to be successful lifelong learners, reducing inequalities and increasing life chances for all children.

The launch of the Pathways to Talking project was at Manchester Metropolitan University on June 13.

Holding the Family in Mind

The fourth 1001 Critical Days conference for Newcastle upon Tyne took place on June 11th 2019 during Infant Mental Health Week. The annual conference promotes the 1001 Critical Days agenda. Three services in the North East: NEWPIP, the Perinatal Community Service, and the Family Community Hub in the East of the City described their services providing vivid descriptions of practice with families. The conference explored links between the realities of adversity during early childhood, with contributions from Dr Wendy Thorley on the ACES approach and supervision practices for the workforce with Dr Rebecca Johnson from the Solihull Approach. Dr Ian Robson invited the 200 participants of the conference to develop the City’s narrative of Early Help using creative and visual methods. The conference is organised by Newcastle upon Tyne’s Collaborative Learning and Strategic Planning group (CLASP). CLASP members come from the key partners in health, social care, statutory and community services who provide services within the 1001 critical days. This group was chaired by Deborah James from its inception in 2015 until 2018 when she left Northumbria University to join Manchester Metropolitan University. This year she was invited back to chair the meeting. Her opening address is provided below.


Good morning everyone. It’s so good to be here with you.

I want to start this morning with where we left off last year. In her summing up of last years’ conference, Dr Caroline White took up the personal story Ellie Fletcher Robbins, who, you may remember, presented, with the perinatal teams from Northumberland Tyne and Wear NHS Foundation Trust, to this conference.  Ellie talked about the mountaineering work of recovery through perinatal mental illness. In her summing up, Caroline imagined Ellie at the top of the mountain; she saw her sending lines down to the climbers below – helping others on their own climb. Over this year, Ellie and I have been working towards that vision in the development of a small networking grant to the Wellcome Trust Medical Humanities Fund.  The grant, if successful, will enable us to consider some of the conceptual resources that form the braids in those lines. The conceptual resources that form part of our working practices, are deeply rooted in our biographical narratives which themselves are entwined in the narrative infrastructure in our dwelling places.

If we are lucky, our biographical narratives are entwined in the history of our families. Those family stories can guide in how to live a good life in the face of adversity.

When we face the threat of dying on the mountain, it is the concepts embedded within the stories that remind us how to find love, keep faith and persist in hope.

If someone has already taken that route up the mountain and left a guide of how to tackle it, we can also use their prior experience to help us find a way to survive. We can graft our own experience into theirs and use their guide to help with our own survival.


All these braids in the line – our own family stories, our understanding of what it means to lead a good life and our ability to graft into other stories of survival – depend on our ability to extract meaning for ourselves from what we see and hear. Extracting meaning from the world around us is, I think, enabled or disabled by our sense of belonging to a family, a place, and a society. If I do not have a sense of belonging, the stories that might guide my survival are not accessible to me.

Belonging – becoming and going on being – these are the life lines – that yes, are rooted in the first 1001 days, but we need these lines to be available to us throughout the life course. When we are in pain we tend to recoil, take our limbs into ourselves, at such times, it is hard to reach out and grab hold of the lifelines.

As workers, I wonder if our most important role, is to create space where people can, unfold, just enough, to reach the lines that their families, their histories and their dwelling places have already thrown down for them.  Contemplate that image for a moment – how would it change our practices?

Ellie has sent in this image – her family – her son, James, who is holding because he was held.

Providing a holding space. A space where we are refreshed, a space where our shared cultural concepts of what it means to do good work are renewed and reinvigorated. That is what CLASP is all about. It is our ambition to use this conference to create such space.

This is your day.


Deborah James: Professor of Educational Psychology, School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies, Faculty of Education, Manchester Metropolitan University.

Summary of Literacy and Language group meeting, 1 May 2019

ESRI’s Literacy and Language research group came together for the second time on 1 May 2019. The group’s work draws on a wide variety of perspectives to understand literacy and language learning in and out of school settings. Group members are interested in policy and wider thinking about what literacy and language is or could be. Th meeting took 6 presentations from members.

The thread started with Huw Bell’s thinking on metalingustics which seems like a question of lexical knowledge. However, we don’t actually understand well what it is to know a word, which Huw likened to a Hedgehog: we can each recognise the whole and share some common understanding of a word but each may know a different spine of its meaning. And we don’t actually know how language is acquired! The national curriculum 2014 was introduced with a focus on grammar – metalinguistic knowledge. This can in some cases leave children feeling less confident in their use of language, which is a gift that they already bring to school.

Steph Ainsworth picked up from this theme as she described the affective nature of learning grammar. Steph’s study found that when working with students on an optional grammar course there could be strong affective responses to the revelation of the artefact of a language that students had been proficient in all of their lives, illustrated by one student’s strong sense of wonder at the lack of a future tense in the English language. Steph makes the case for wonder in learning!

Abi Hackett spoke about the everyday lives of parents and really young children up to 3 years, looking at the more than human dimension, space and objects. In her fieldwork she observed a group of parents and children on a farm visit where, in the waiting room, one child plays out the day as a cat. This was a clear example of multimodal literacy, movement, sound and multiple meanings in the communication: playfulness of being a cat, difficulty in waiting, passing time. Was this a social appeal for kindness and playfulness? Which meanings are true and does it matter? Abi challenges that it would have been planned out and for the benefit of adults, and draws from the example of other cultures that language is not the preserve of the human: indigenous societies understand that the spaces we inhabit nature and the land itself have language.

Martin Needham spoke about City Play project which coaches children in nurseries on physical activity which will be useful later for team sports. Coaches employed narrative techniques such as going on a bear hunt: green cones for forest, white for snow. Martin asks whether this will change the quality and enjoyment of the physical techniques being practices. Like Abi he is interested in the posthuman, looking at interaction between people and objects. Why should children engage with literacy activities? What is affective and motivating about them? Why should you engage with stories if you don’t find time to enjoy them?

Gee Macrory picked up on this theme with her work on young children’s experiences of and attitudes to a new orthography, French and Spanish, in the primary classroom in her Reykjavic project. She found that whilst language learning needs to be fun and engaging if it is seen only as such it will be given little emphasis in favour of English learning which is seen as more important. And this can instigate a vicious circle where if MFL learning is not given the time it needs, teachers may focus on fun, which leads to it being seen as trivial and hence little time is allocated for it, children then struggle to learn rules or patterns and show progression.

Finally, Pura Ariza’s thinking on bilingualism looks at trainee teachers’ understanding of it, and looks at ways of promoting language diversity and building multilingual classrooms. She looks at the downsides of how MFL focuses mainly on northern European languages, and EAL which focus on English deficit which assert language hierarchies and inequalities. These models obstruct bilingualism and prevent students reaping the benefits – in a society where communicating in other languages is increasingly important! She asks whether understanding MFL can develop a better pedagogy for multilingualism?


ESRI at the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting in Toronto

This year a record fourteen ESRI researchers travelled to Toronto to attend the American Educational Research Association (AERA) Annual Meeting from the 5th-9th of April. The AERA conference is the world’s largest gathering of education scholars and a showcase for groundbreaking studies on an array of topics.

The theme of this year’s meeting was ‘Leveraging Education Research in a “Post-Truth” Era: Multimodal Narratives to Democratize Evidence’. With this, AERA challenged researchers with the question of how, in a so-called “post-truth” political era, when evidence is shunned and emotion is exploited, can we make research matter to lessen inequality and increase educational opportunities? An extremely relevant but rather formidable task, to say the least.

The Manchester Metropolitan contingent was led by Professor Kate Pahl, Head of ESRI, who contributed to two presentations. The first was in collaboration with fellow ESRI member Professor Maggie MacLure and visual artist Steve Pool, entitled ‘Odd encounters “Theory”’. This paper explored the contribution of theory in inquiries into ‘oddness’ in educational settings, working with films and voices of young people to explore what it means to feel Odd in the classroom and beyond. Their work drew on philosophical approaches, aiming to go beyond the often nominal references to ‘co-production of knowledge’ by directly involving the students from the class, who gave a message to the conference as part of the film.

In the words of Steve Pool, an artist working on the Odd project and PhD Candidate, “AERA was a fantastic opportunity to meet and work with the wider ESRI team, the sheer scale of the conference impressive and it felt a privilege to be introduced to so many new people with ideas that will certainly direct my future research”.

The ‘Odd Theory’ presentation was part of an AERA Symposium entitled ‘Odd Encounters: Other-Than-Conventional Relations in School​’ that was organised by Professor Rachel Holmes to showcase ESRI’s Arts and Humanities Research Council (AHRC) three-year interdisciplinary ‘Odd’ project. Other participants included Rachel Holmes and Becky Shaw (of Sheffield Hallam) presenting ‘Odd Experiment 1: Sensing the School’, as well as Christina MacRae and Amanda Ravetz (School of Art, MMU) presenting ‘Odd Companions: a snaggle of voices’. This paper mobilized ‘the materialities and motions of ethnographic writing’, as proposed by Kathleen Stewart, to develop a felt understanding of children’s social relationships in early childhood, and explore researcher positioning in the early years classroom.Kate Pahl also presented ‘Reimagining Contested Communities: Collaboration as an Act of Hope in an age of post-truth’ alongside Elizabeth Campbell, a Professor from Appalachian State University. This session was part of a Roundtable on Collaborative Writing, organized by Kate Pahl, with contributions by Joanne Larson and George Moses (University of Rochester) and Lalitha Vasudevan (Teachers College). Jaye Johnson Thiel was the discussant.

As well as presenting with the Odd Futures Project, ESRI Professor Maggie MacLure participated alongside colleague David Rousell in an international symposium organised by herself and Professor Liz de Freitas, entitled ‘Rethinking Ethnography in the Posthuman Turn’. The symposium, attracting around 200 engaged attendees, focused on the contested past and potential futures of ethnography in the era of ‘the critical posthumanities’ (Braidotti, 2018). Maggie and David presented ‘Participation without observation: toward a speculative ethnography’. Informed by the Philosophies of Deleuze and Ruyer, the presentation called for a reconceptualising of ethnographic participation away from a project of observation, description and categorisation and towards one of empirical and ontological experimentation. Following this discussion, Liz de Freitas presented ‘Posthuman Ecologies: The Future of Ethnographic Environ/mentality’. In this, Liz issued a challenge to conventional ethnographic concepts such as ‘thick description’ and ‘presence’. She critiqued them as practically ill-suited to the realities of digital life in the Anthropocene, and a near future that may see the convergence of the biological, the digital, the sensual, and the social.

Further to this, Maggie also presented ‘Witches and wild women: bad girls of the Anthropocene’. This paper critiqued the notion of the ‘bad girl’ in relation to feminist and poststructuralist theory, and proposed the witch as an agent of positive, transformative method. This was an invited presentation in the symposium ‘Bad Girl Theory and Practice: Qualitative Research in Post-Truth Times​’, organised by Patti Lather of Ohio State University.

ESRI members Professor Liz de Freitas and Senior Lecturer Richard Dunk together presented their paper ‘Ghosts, Zombies, and Other Spooky Creatures: New Methods for Visualizing Agency and “Presence” in Classrooms’, as part of a Round Table Session entitled ‘Entanglement of Poetics, Visual, and Auto-Ethnography: Transformative Possibilities of Arts-Based Educational Research’. This paper discussed the use of experimental digital visual methods, often-unchartered territory for education researchers, analysing the productive insight for teachers and researchers that can be gained from the visible aesthetics of combined digital images.

Whilst at AERA Liz also presented ‘Plugging Into the Electric Body: Rethinking Bio-Data as Worldly Sensibility’ as part of a roundtable session entitled ‘Biosocial Futures: The Policy Implications of the Life Sciences in Education’ chaired by Taylor Webb of the University of British Columbia. In this paper, Liz highlighted the necessity of a theoretical framework to understand the effects of the increasing use of self-regulatory technologies, such as skin sensors, in experiments, and the role of this method of research in creating the “biosocial subject”.

Research Fellow Dr Steph (Daza) Curley chaired a symposium session entitled ‘Dare We Centre the Transnational — the Global Majority? How the Global-Local Happens’. She co-designed the session with the other panellists Roland Sintos Coloma, Jeong-eun Rhee, Binaya Subedi, Sharon Subreenduth and Rachel Johnson. Steph’s presentation focused on Spivak’s aesthetic education for expanding mind-set capacity towards a critique of quantum reason to come. Following Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason and Spivak’s A Critique of Postcolonial Reason, Steph’s current project works at the limits of onto-epistemology necessarily non/located between the universe or planetary uselessness of human life and the push to be useful in the capitalcene or Anthropocene or whatever (s)cene is be/coming. At AERA, Steph drew from a working paper, co-authored with Rachel Johnson, entitled ‘Becoming Collaborative: Decolonising UK Policy-based Funding for Global Research with Official Development Assistant Eligible Countries’, which stems from a Global Challenge Research Fund (GCRF QR) workshop she ran in July 2018 with 13 Co-Is from 7 ODA-eligible countries.

While at AERA, Steph also met with international colleagues to organise future activities and she supported Division G and the Postcolonial Studies in Education Special Interest Group (PoCo SIG). With Aparna Mishra Tarc and Jeong-eun Rhee, Steph will take a lead role in revitalising the PoCo SIG and supporting new leadership.

The photo above was taken after the symposium and includes four panelists and two audience members. From left to right are Roland Sintos Coloma, Lisa Weems Renae, Jeong eun Rhee, Steph Curley, Binaya Subedi.

Alongside academics from The University of British Colombia (Sharon Stein and Vanessa de Oliveira Andreott), ESRI member Dr Karen Pashby and Education Tutor Marta da Costa presented their paper ‘Mapping the Tensions in Typologies of Global Citizenship Education: From Description to Critique’. In this, they discussed the gaps and conflicts that emerge from different international conceptions of what exactly comprises ‘Global Citizenship’ and how it should be taught. This presentation was part of a paper session entitled ‘Democratic Citizenship Education: Policies, Frameworks, and Multiple Platforms’ convened by Carole R. Collins from Ayanlaja, Eastern Illinois University.

Dr Jane McDonnell, Senior Lecturer in Education Studies, presented her paper: ‘Promoting ‘British Values’ in a post-secular policy nexus? Narrative research with social studies teachers’. This paper reported recent research with teachers of RE, PSHE and Citizenship in secondary schools in England. The research employed life history methods to explore how these teachers are negotiating the current advice to schools on promoting ‘fundamental British values’ and its impact on their work as values educators. The research was funded by an internal RKE Research Accelerator Grant, and was presented as part of the roundtable ‘Beyond Traditional Methods: New Development in Citizenship Education and Civic Engagement’.PhD researcher and artist Kate O’Brien presented her poster entitled Akari’s problem: Dimension, connectivity and topological thinking in fiber mathematics. In this, she explored the mathematical practices of fibre artists and, in particular, practitioners who employ weaving technologies in the production of their work. She refers to this contextual practice of making mathematics and textiles as fibre mathematics. The paper analysed one student’s work process and issues –‘Akari’s Problem’– to explore how the loom operates as a rich experimental field for the (re)creation of mathematical concepts like dimension and connectivity. Engaging with the sheer breath of scholars and specialists at AERA, Kate held a number of thought provoking conversations with pre-service teachers, museum administrators and a wide variety of education researchers.

We’ve created a summary of ESRI colleagues’ tweets from the conference here.

The week was a great opportunity to exhibit, analyse, and create global conversations around some of ESRI’s most innovative research, as well as learn from (and with) education scholars from around the world. The dramatic skyline of downtown Toronto provided a lively backdrop upon which to build and strengthen collaborative networks both within and outside the department. We are very thankful to all at AERA for organising such an energising conference, and look forward to being engaged, entertained and challenged once again at next year’s meeting in San Francisco.


The National Art Education Association Convention 2019

On March 14-16, Dr Laura Trafí-Prats, Senior Lecturer in the School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies at Manchester Metropolitan University and a member of ESRI, attended the National Art Education Association (NAEA) Convention in Boston, USA. The NAEA was founded in 1947, and it is the only professional association in the USA exclusively dedicated to art educators. Its membership is large and composed of art teachers, representatives of higher education art programmes, museums, art organizations, artists and art education students, predominantly from the USA but also from Canada and countries in Europe, South America and Asia. The conference included more than 1000 sessions, comprising papers, panels, workshops, interactive sessions, and keynote lectures. The latter featured Professor Howard Gardner, writer of Multiple Intelligences, and artist Amy Sherald, who painted the now famous portrait of Michelle Obama, among other artists and scholars from Massachusetts.

Laura presented two papers. The first one was in a seminar for the Research in Art Education Interest Group, and within a panel titled New Materialisms and the Reclamation of Language in Children’s Drawing. Other speakers on this panel were Christopher Schulte (Penn State University), and Christine Marmé Thompson (Penn State University – Emerita). The panel looked at recent research on the role of language in children’s drawing, with specific attention given to everyday practices where drawing is embedded in the dynamics of language as representation and generative excess. The paper that Laura delivered as part of this panel was titled Carrying the line with Sylvie: Drawing as an immanent predicate in early childhood practice.

In this paper, Laura examined the powerful persistence of logocentric practices in the uses of drawing in early childhood education, where children’s drawings come to matter by using them as a platform to produce words, sentences, narratives, and symbols. She argued that such an approach presupposed that drawing begins with an individual intentional child, who in the course of being educated, learns to use language as a way of putting order in his expressive a-representational manners through naming and declaring (MacLure, 2016). This view of the child as commanded by language displaces a materialist conception of drawing as a thinking that shapes in the process of making where accidents, unplanned, non-intentional marks can be lines of flight and the origin of new concepts and thoughts (Deleuze, 2003). This is a thinking of drawing that rather than depending on ideas, intentions and languages resides in the body, sentience and actual and virtual lines of becoming (Ingold 2013; see also Atkinson 2018). Using a theoretical framework inspired by Deleuzo-Guattarian and new empiricist theories, the paper proceeded to discuss the emergence and development of different classroom performances associated to drawing and connected to a three year old, Sylvie.

The second paper was presented at the Early Childhood Art Educators Interest Group and was titled An Aesthetic and Emplaced Approach to Thinking with Materials in Early Childhood Education.Taking as inspiration a unit that Laura has designed and taught for the first time this year in the Early Years and Childhood Studies Programme at Manchester Metropolitan, Laura outlined and discussed a curriculum for early childhood educators centred on thinking with materials through places in the community (such as museums, gardens, artist studios and makers labs). She discussed how these places can become important assets for young educators who seek to involve children in material, aesthetic and sensuous forms of learning while confronting a lack of resources and professional support in their own centres.


Reconceptualising early childhood literacy beyond anthropocentricity

ESRI members presented a symposium at the Reconceptualising Early Childhood Literacies Conference in Manchester on 7 & 8 March, 2019. The symposium was organised by Abi Hackett and it included the following presentations:

“Vibrations in place: sound and language in early childhood literacy practices” Abigail Hackett and Michael Gallagher, MMU.

“Visual methodologies after the post-human turn: Child participatory research involving action cameras in an after-school club” Lucy Caton, MMU.

“Using the virtual to explore what happens when adults “don’t talk” but instead use space, sound, materials, and bodies to converse with children?” Charlotte Arculus and Christina MacRae, MMU.

“Video-sensing the world in aesthetic collective practices with young children” Laura Trafí-Prats, MMU, UK and Evelyn Gutierrez, Alexandra Park Children’s Learning Community, UK

Discussant: Maggie MacLure, MMU

Discussant’s comments

It seems a shame to comment on this lovely collection of papers. I’m reluctant to arrest the flows of sense that they have released, and lock them back into the ‘fetters’ [1] of representation that each of the presenters is so determined to resist. So I won’t comment on the papers one by one. Instead, I’ll try to tap into some of the synergies and resonances that flow through and connect the papers.

I think there are strong resonances, and perhaps not surprisingly. You can tell that these papers are an expression of the shared values and interests of a genuine research collective. As a colleague of the presenters, I hover on the edges of the collective, and count myself fortunate that they sometimes let me play!

But in addition to the connections and resonances, it is also important to note how each of the papers is anchored in a particular research project or intervention. It’s clear that the project is the beating heart of the matter for each of the presenters. There’s a real commitment to socially-engaged empirical research, even while each of the papers is also stretching empiricism to its limits, infusing it with theory and reanimating it with the potentialities of the virtual. It is this conjunction of faithfulness to the empirical minutiae, coupled with the embrace of open-ness and uncertainty, that assures that inquiry is both grounded in place, sensation and embodiment, and capable of taking flight and creating new spaces for thought.

Let me talk briefly, then, of the resonances. Firstly, all of the papers can be identified broadly with a resistance to the dominance of conventional language. In their different ways, each paper finds language to be inadequate to an understanding of the complexities of young children’s sense-making practices. And each paper mounts a critique, explicit or implicit, of the dominance of language in qualitative research methodology. All of the papers are struggling therefore to engage with the stuff that evades ‘capture’ by language – affect, sensation, sound, gesture, movement, rhythm.

The papers also testify to a certain absurdity and violence inherent in adults’ relentless mission to explain, represent, and render children and their digital adventures intelligible; to know exactly what things mean. All of the presenters are very clear that the critique of representation is an ethical undertaking. They would contend that there is an intimate and non-accidental link between the anthropocentrism inherent in representational language, and the ocular preoccupations of the professional or academic observer. They seem, to me at least, to condemn what D.A. Miller [2] called the ‘panoptic immunity’ of the liberal subject, who claims the prerogative to interrogate and expose the lives of others without reciprocal obligation. Kathleen Stewart [3] detected similar privilege in ‘the ethnographic code’. I think the presenters would say that this tends to impose an essentially colonial relation: it suppresses what is vital and energetic in more-than-human encounters, and keeps potential, change and difference in its place.

All the presenters are looking therefore for resources to release, or at least tap into, that which exceeds capture and domestication by language and conventional digital methods. They pull, push and stretch language and visual media to their limits, twisting and perverting them to release some of their profane energy. They try to sense the secret rhythms picked up by cameras and video technology; to achieve a haptic vision that, in Eva Hayward’s term, apprehends with ‘fingery eyes’ [4]; to hear with the body and not just the ears; to acknowledge the fleshiness and the materiality of language and digital life. They are looking, in other words, for that which might deterritorialise language and open onto the new.

The collective work reflected in these papers is contributing to the development of multi-sensory ethnography. I think it is also building, or rediscovering, a synaesthetic ontology and methodology. That is, it is inventing practices of sensing – modes of attuning to the complex interplay of the senses in sensing the world. This is particularly relevant for research on early language and literacy. There is a growing body of research evidence that young children themselves make sense of the world synaesthetically: in other words, by mobilising all of their senses. This capacity declines, or goes underground, as adults learn how to enforce that brute separation between words and world, thought and feeling.

The more-than-human, or non-representational orientation evidenced in these papers presents researchers with complex and paradoxical challenges. We are forced to grapple with our own human-centrism; to twist ourselves into a variety of undignified postures in the attempt to catch that which cannot be caught, glimpse things just out of the frame, or the corner of the eye, behind one’s own back; in the interstices and the accidents.

We will of course fail. We will end up once more explaining, representing, orchestrating, domesticating, romanticising, judging – partly through fear of risk to children. But also because these acts are wholly implicated in what Deleuze called the dogmatic image of thought, which still largely prevails. So our artistic imagination will reassert its privileges. We will get carried away by our own rhetoric. We will be impressed by our own good and common sense and fall in love with ourselves all over again. And that ineffable sense of relationality, singularity and potentiality will fade once more.

But sometimes, something will open up. And sometimes, something will get through.


[1] Deleuze, G. (1994), Difference and repetition (P. Patton, Trans.), New York: Columbia University Press.

[2] Miller, D.A. (1988), The Novel and the Police, Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press.

[3] Stewart, K. (1996), A Space on the Side of the Road, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

[4] Hayward, E. (2010). Fingeryeyes: Impressions of cup corals. Cultural Anthropology25(4), 577-599.


The Reconceptualising Early Childhood Education Conference: An account from ESRI participants

ESRI researchers participated in the 26th International Reconceptualising Early Childhood Education Conference held in Copenhagen, Denmark in October 2018. The conference topic this year was Inequality in Early Childhood Education and Care.

This year it was the strongest representation of Manchester Metropolitan University at a RECE conference to date, so it was a rare chance for us to both hear more about each other’s current research as well as to build on our collaborative networks. As a result of our work at the conference, multiple new and exciting opportunities have emerged for our on-going research.

The conference itself offered plenaries in the mornings followed by parallel sessions, which removed some of the formality. The atmosphere was friendly and supportive, with informative discussions after each panel that offered constructive peer assessment.

The Manchester Metropolitan contingent included Lisa Taylor, Headteacher from Martenscroft Nursery School and Children’s Centre, who gave a paper with Ian Barron, Professor of Early Childhood Studies, called ‘That roar which lies on the other side of silence’: critical and creative engagement with UK government policy regarding educational provision for two-year olds. Their paper presented findings from the 2-Curious Project, longitudinal research that involved professional development sessions and follow-up interviews with staff from early childhood settings and has illuminated the complexities in challenging hegemonic ideas about two year olds and their families.

A panel convened by Dr Laura Trafi-Prats, Senior Lecturer, was chosen as a plenary panel. It included papers by Dr Trafi-Prats and Dr Abigail Hackett, Research Fellow, alongside Christopher M. Schulte, Assistant Professor of Art Education and Early Childhood Education at Pennsylvania State University. The title of the panel was Mattering, knowing, ethics and care: Post-human approaches to parenting in neoliberal times. It explored everyday parenting experiences through “materiality, emplaced knowing and children’s and adults’ sensory engagement with places” (Hackett, 2017). Working against neoliberal conceptions of good parenting that characterise current parenting policy, the panel challenged a normative language that targets minority, immigrant and working-class families, and the prioritization of economic return over issues of ethics, democracy and social justice.

Dr Trafi-Prats’ paper was entitled Thinking-doing parenthood with a posthumanist ethics of care and being alongside other kinds. It sought to mess with the assumption that parenting is a human to human relation about becoming human, and ask what else can be thought and done in parenting when it is considered through the troubling of the human and animal division developed by feminist science studies and posthumanist ethics of care. Dr Hackett’s paper was called Inchoate literacies; leaking, entwining, messy ways of parents and children being in the world. It considered the role of words and articulation within parenting practices, and wondered about the potential for young children’s literacies to foreground entwining, leaking and refusal to articulate as modes of being in the world.

Dr Christina MacRae, Research Fellow in ESRI, and Thekla Anastasiou, Lecturer in the School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies, organised a symposium with Teresa Aslanian from Oslo Met. University called Rethinking care: care-matterings in the Toddler Room. There was a common motivation across the three papers to think about ways that care is entangled with the non-human in the nursery classroom.  When care is only located within the adult-child dyad, an emergent ethics of care-mattering is overlooked. Our panel opened up the notion of care as something less stable, more diffuse and distributed across both human and non-human. Thekla’s paper was based on her doctoral work and was titled A Becoming Monstrous Assemblage: ‘Caring about Mary’. Christina’s paper was titled: Schema: care-mattering in the nursery school, and used data from her current longitudinal ethnographic research project in a classroom for two-year olds called “The Sensory Nursery”. Dr Martin Needham, Associate Head of the School of Childhood, Youth and Education Studies, gave a paper in a session on new materialist and posthumanist perspectives in studying children called Building memory and communication in body and mind. He presented findings from an evaluation of preschool children’s and practitioners’ responses to introductory movement sessions delivered by football coaches in early years settings, and the importance of body movement to the development of cognition.

Charlotte Arculus, ESRI White Rose Doctoral Student, presented a paper as part of an early years arts-based panel: Actual children, unique situations: improvisation and immersive pedagogy: A collection of vignettes from a collective of artist-educators. Her paper foregrounded the practice of improvisation, as well as attending to the affective role of both the materials, space, and sound created through an immersive environment, and explored the absence of adult speech and the possibilities that this non-representational space opens up for very young children.


At the RECE Business Meeting, recognising the strong theoretical contribution made by Manchester Met to the RECE community, we were invited to submit a proposal for Manchester Met to host the RECE Conference in 2020. This invitation was welcomed and supported by our Faculty of Education and a proposal will be submitted by the end of November 2018.


Researchers from the Education & Social Research Institute participate in the 2018 European Educational Research Association Conference

Researchers from ESRI participated in the four-day conference of the European Educational Research Association in September.

Held in Bolzano, Italy, the conference attracts 2, 500 researchers annually. This year’s theme was ‘Inclusion and Exclusion, Resources for Educational Research?’.

In a session on accountability in schools, Dr Linda Hammersley-Fletcher, Reader in ESRI, presented a paper (written with co-authors Dr Sam Sellar of ESRI, Dr Emile Bojesen of the University of Winchester and Professor Matthew Clarke, York St John University) entitled ‘Rethinking teacher professional development using a conversational research methodology’. The authors drew from philosophical perspectives on accountability as responsibility, presenting two empirical case studies of educational leaders who are working to develop more democratic leadership and accountability cultures in a Multi-Academy Trust (MAT) and a Teaching Schools Alliance (TSA). The paper provided a response to the question of how we can re-invent educational accountability in an era of datafication without subordinating teacher professional knowledge.

Dr Steph Ainsworth, Senior Lecturer in Primary Education, presented data from a project (conducted in collaboration with Dr Jeremy Oldfield, also at Manchester Metropolitan University) that sought to quantify key constructs in the area of teacher resilience. This presentation shared survey data that demonstrates the importance of contextual factors on the process of positive adaptation in teachers. Although individual factors such as self-esteem, emotional intelligence and self-care were found to be associated with higher levels of positive adaptation in teachers (e.g. wellbeing and job satisfaction), aspects of the school environment (e.g. support from management, workload and support from colleagues) were found to be just as important. The implications for policy and practice were discussed within the context of a prevailing discourse which tends to place the responsibility of ‘being resilient’ at the feet of individual teachers.

Dr Matthew Carlin, Senior Lecturer, presented a paper entitled ‘A Worker’s Education’ as part of a symposium developed with colleagues from Aalborg University in Denmark. The symposium opened up a discussion about the ways that schools are currently preparing students for integration into a globalized, techno-fetishized work force. Matthew’s paper drew on a range of philosophical texts in order to demonstrate how school-based forms of manual, practical, and collaborative work can be integrated into public school curriculum in a way that serve as a buttress against the immateriality of contemporary pedagogical trends and the associated existential desperation endemic to students’ vocational future.

Reader Dr Karen Pashby and Research Associate Dr Su Corcoran presented data that was generated as part of a British Academy project that brings together critical scholarship in education for sustainable development and global citizenship in order to critically engage with United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 4.7. In a session on Promoting Social Justice, Dr Pashby and Dr Corcoran presented ‘Barriers and enabling factors to teaching ethical global issues in support of SDG 4.7: Participatory research with teachers’. This presentation shared early findings from surveys and expertise-sharing discussions with secondary (and upper secondary) teachers in England, Finland and Sweden regarding their motivations for teaching ethical global issues in complex ways, as well as factors that enable or prevent them from doing so. Later, Dr Pashby (co-authored and presented with Dr Louise Sund of Maladarlen University) shared early findings from workshops with the teachers in a presentation entitled ‘Bridging 4.7 through ethical global issues pedagogy: Combining critical work in Environmental and Sustainability Education and Global Citizenship Education’. A common critique of both fields is the reproduction of colonial systems of power. This presentation shared key themes emerging from teachers’ discussions of a pedagogical approach grounded in post- and de-colonial theoretical resources.

Ethnographic research on youth participation

Janet Batsleer, Principal Lecturer in Youth and Community Work at Manchester Metropolitan University, and Dr Harriet Rowley, with their Turkish colleague Demet Lukuslu of Yeditepe University, presented a set of papers at a symposium dedicated to the four-year EU HORIZON 2020 project “Spaces and Styles of Participation” (PARTISPACE). Professor Dennis Beach chaired the symposium with Professor Elisabet Öhrn acting a discussant, both of the University of Gothenburg. The papers drew on cross-country comparative findings from eight EU cities, and, in particular, ethnographic case studies of youth participation. Prominent themes across the papers included:

  • How different spaces and places structure and are in turn structured by young peoples’ activities;
  • The borders created by pedagogic and philanthropic interventions designed to enhance young people’s participation in public life one the one hand and young people’s reappropriation of spaces which become places on the other;
  • Narratives constructed by young people of formal, informal and non-formal modes of participation and how styles of participation involve processes of resignification;
  • The opportunities and challenges of doing a multi-sited ethnographic study which simultaneously involved other research methods including action research, biographical interviews, focus groups and surveys.

Through the use of rich case study material and the mobilisation of theoretical tools, the material highlighted forms of participation that are about resistance, struggle, association and expression, exploration and experimentation in the pursuit of alternative ways of living, being and acting according to young people’s aspirations, motivations and interests. This led to an exploration of the central claim from the PARTISPACE study; that there needs to be a great re-awakening in Europe to the democratic potential of the creative spaces of civil society. Janet and Harriet enjoyed presenting their work at this opening symposium of the Education and Ethnography strand, and really appreciated engaging with colleagues from the Education Faculty at the University of Gothenburg.

Policy studies and the politics of education

Dr Emilee Rauschenberger, Professor Moira Hulme, and Professor Robert Hulme presented a paper entitled ‘Trials, Toolkits, and ‘Global Evidence’ Banks’. The presentation considered how Randomised Controlled Trials (RCTs) fit into the global script of evidence-based education and how and why the approach is being adopted and adapted in a variety of international contexts. More specifically, the presentation highlighted the background, methodology, and social networks of the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) and its strategy for influencing educational decision-making in England. Next, the presentation explored the recent international spread of its approach and its Teaching and Learning Toolkit to Australia, Chile, and Scotland. Through the study into these cases utilizing 15 interviews with key informants and network analysis, the presentation considered: Why and how is the RCT-based approach in education, as exemplified by the EEF, being adopted and translated in other countries? And what types of international networks exist, or are forming, to further the use of RCTs to build a ‘global evidence bank’ for educational decision-making? Following the presentation, there were questions and a helpful discussion about the implications of the EEF’s work, the underlying contextual conditions promoting the use of Toolkits in various contexts, and reflections on how policy networks may be better captured over time as they evolve.

Dr Rauschenberger also organised and participated in a joint Symposium entitled ‘Teach For All in Europe and Beyond: Examining the emergence and impact of a globally-marketed education policy’.  The symposium featured her research into the origins of Teach For All in the original programme model, Teach For America, and its first recreation abroad as Teach First in the UK. Her paper, Teach For America vs. Teach First, highlighted the similarities as well as critical differences between the corporate-backed teacher education model in the two countries and discussed how Teach First emerged in 2001-3 through the efforts of policy entrepreneurs and network-building. Her presentation was followed by a paper presentation by Katrine Nesje which examined the Teach First initiative in Norway and a paper presentation by Seyda Subasi which detailed the development and components of Teach For Austria. The symposium attracted a number of attendees, including individuals from the US, Lithuania, and Australia, who asked further critical questions into the funding and influence of these expanding models.  From the discussion, the symposium appeared to achieved its goal of raising critical awareness and prompting further questions that will helpfully stimulate research into the expanding role of private interests in the teacher education sector.

Reflexivity and educational research

Professor Kate Pahl, Head of ESRI, presented a session on ‘Re-thinking Literacies with communities: Literacy as a collaborative concept’ as part of a session on ‘Revisiting communities and spaces: Considering longitudinal affiliation and reflexivity’ organised with co-presenters Professor Annette Woods, Queensland University of Technology, and Catherine Compton-Lilly, University of Wisconsin-Madison. The session focused on ways in which researchers’ reflexivity governed and guided understandings of the field – how do we engage with the places where we do research and what do we bring as well as how do we learn from those engaged encounters? The subject of Kate’s presentation will be presented in a forthcoming book with Mike Grenfell entitled ‘Bourdieu, Language-Based Ethnographies and Reflexivity: Putting Theory into Practice’ (New York: Routledge 2019).

ESRI researchers look forward to participating in next year’s conference in Hamburg.