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.


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