Growing a bigger entanglement: From a Finnish cup of coffee to a special issue of QI!

Over a year ago, a couple of early ESRI blogs told the story of how the Space, Place and Social Justice in Education international seminar that we ran at ESRI in July 2012 had first emerged. They also noted some of the directions and relationships that were emerging out of it. With ‘early days’ enthusiasm,  those blogs also promised an update on any progress that the loose community established at the seminar might subsequently make in working out the theoretical, methodological, practical and political implications of their discussions for education and social research. Well, by way of freeing that hostage to fortune, we’d like to flag a special issue of the journal Qualitative Inquiry that we (Geoff Bright, our former colleague Helen Manchester, and Sylvie Allendyke) have recently edited and that is out ‘on-line first’ right now.

By way of an introduction, colleagues may remember the back story to the 2012 seminar as presented in the blog Growing a bigger conversation. The seminar had its initial germination in an informal conversation over coffee at the European Conference of Education Research (ECER) in Helsinki in 2010 where a session of papers convened by the Ethnography network of ECER had prompted a fairly ‘robust’ discussion about the use of spatial terms in ethnography of education: ‘site’, ‘field’, and such like. That discussion connected strongly to a set of urgent questions about how spaces and places – physical, social, electronic, private, collective, imaginary – impact on fairness and the distribution of power in education.  From its informal beginning, that conversation grew steadily with the help of a number of organisations: two of the official ECER ‘support networks’, the Social Theory Special Interest Group at BERA, and the journal Ethnography and Education and, after a year of ground work, the seminar duly took place with papers being heard from around 40 scholars from four continents. And, if we might be excused a moment of smugness, it felt like a great success. The difficulty, of course, was how we might sustain such a network beyond the initial energy and euphoria. In light of that concern, an intention to publish had been part of our plan from the start.  Now, eighteen challenging, stimulating and (if we’re brutally honest) sometimes frustrating months on from the seminar itself, we are pleased to draw colleagues’ attention to Qualitative Inquiry Vol 19, no 10, our special issue on Space, Place and Social Justice in Education.

The special edition

As we started to put together the SI, we started to think of growing an ‘entanglement’ rather than simply a conversation. Borrowing the idea of justice as an ongoing process of ‘entanglement’ from Karen Barad, we use the term to crystallize our editorial introduction to the papers that we’ve brought alongside each other (see Space, Place, and Social Justice in Education: Growing a Bigger Entanglement: Editors’ Introduction).  All of our contributors draw on spatial theories to spiritedly accelerate the growth of that entanglement and, in doing so, boldly disrupt dominant methods in educational studies, changing the unit of analysis and inviting researchers to look across spaces and places of learning to examine how our lives are entangled with a myriad of others, to register how artefacts and texts link different spaces, and to explore social, political, economic and material forces at work in learning.

The opening contribution sets the adventurous tone. Cardiff-based Valerie Walkerdine’s paper, Using the Work of Felix Guattari to Understand Space, Place, Social Justice, and Education, adds to a recent trend in sympathetically unsettling the received Deleuze and Guattari couplet by focussing more emphatically on the contribution of Guattari.  Walkerdine works with Felix Guatarri’s writing on territorialities to unpick notions of space, place and performances and practices of self. She draws on ideas of rhythm and refrain, linking them to the ‘affective base of experience’. Excitingly, social justice is placed well outside its conventional theoretical territory and described as a ‘cartography of a dreamed-of-future’ where there is much ‘imagination work’ to be done.

Phil Roberts and Bill Green’s paper, Researching Rural Places: On Social Justice and Rural Education, develops an Australian perspective on the political and methodological challenges involved in researching rural education. On the back of a detailed account of rural educational achievement in that country, the authors log the persistent disadvantages experienced by rural communities, noting the “geographical blindness” of conventional, distributive notions of social justice which effectively essentialise rural educational disadvantage by fixing the rural as a discrete and uniform category. In response they build on earlier work which experiments with problematizing space in relation to equity and rural education, exploring “space as an axis of social justice” and working with “place as a key reference-point for researching rural education”.

Writing in South Africa, Pam Christie investigates the way that contradictory contemporary global/local dynamics play out in the context of the historical geographies of colonialism and apartheid in South African schools (see Space, Place, and Social Justice: Developing a Rhythmanalysis of Education in South Africa). Using the Lefebvrian approach of rhythmanalysis she draws on the triad of practice, representation and lived experience to analyse the domestic education policy setting. Rhythmanalysis – a “double act of noticing and understanding [that] requires both sensual and intellectual attentiveness” – foregrounds the multiple scales and rhythms of practice that produce social space. And it does so, Christie contends, in such a way as to steer our attention towards possible pressure points for change.

In her paper, Becoming-Learner: Coordinates for Mapping the Space and Subject of Nomadic Pedagogy, Rachel Fendler (writing from Barcelona) proposes a mobile methodology that follows the ‘nomadic’ learner through the ‘eventful space’ of their life-wide learning journey. In doing so she disrupts any lingering notion of fixity within the field of educational ethnography. Drawing attention to the way in which a nomadic pedagogy frames learning as a process which occurs when subjects enter into unfamiliar territory, Fendler centralises the notion of unfamiliar territory as an issue for the social justice agenda to consider. As a nomadic subject, she proposes, a learner is involved in becoming-other, engaging in a relationship with his/her surrounding in a process of (continual) deterritorialization. Making specific reference to a/r/tography, she explores a practice that might be called “yarning” to experimentally map the rhizomatic contours of such deterritorialisation.

Indeed yarn, or ‘thread’ at least – as an instantiation of entanglement – finds itself woven into the contribution of Beth Cross and her co-researchers’ article, too. Cross and her Scottish co-participants, Caroline McFarlane, Ian Brookes and Kerry McInnes, completely embrace the mission of QI, approaching participatory research writing as a lived enactment of social justice which seeks to challenge interconnected and often invisible barriers faced by service users. Using what they term “embodied methodologies”, their practice literally weaves into visibility the practice of researching, writing and representing difference; differently (see Platforms, Plateaus, and String: A Disability Diverse Research Team’s Account of Spatial Challenges and Strategies Within Research Dissemination Spaces)

Cambridge-based Liz Taylor’s paper, The Case as Space: Implications of Relational Thinking for Methodology and Method, reconsiders case study research, questioning in particular the ‘boundedness’ of the case. By drawing on Doreen Massey’s work on the relational conceptualisation of space, she invites the QI readership to consider what she refers to as the ‘thrown-togetherness” of emergent things and the mutual constitution of the local and the global. In this article, places, rather than being points on a map, become spatio-temporal events and space is articulated as “the sphere of a multiplicity of trajectories”. Liz Taylor asks us to consider writing and analysis as a “meeting place with its own ‘spacetime’.

In School Ethos and the Spatial Turn: “Capacious” Approaches to Research and Practice, former colleague of ours Helen Manchester (now at Bristol) and Sara Bragg also work to disrupt the boundedness of the ‘case study’ – and of the ‘school’, as well – through the metaphor of capaciousness. They consider ‘school ethos’ as a moving and dynamic concept, foregrounding the following: porousness and permeability in relations between the research space, the researcher and others; identity work; emplacement in social, sensory and material geographies; and more psychoanalytic concerns such as the ‘containment’ of difficult emotions

In her article, (Dis)Orientations in Past, Present, and Future Encounters, London South Bank University-based Yvette Taylor reports on aspects of a major UK research project, Fitting into Place? Class and Gender Geographies and Temporalities (Taylor, 2012a), which charts gendered, generational transitions from the North East England industrial landscapes of one or two generations ago, to a current present and ‘regenerated’ future. In this particular paper, she focuses on young UK women’s experience of time and space, drawing our attention to the way in which gender, generation and class intersect in temporalised notions of responsibility, failure and success.

In the final paper, Spaces of Power/Knowledge: A Foucauldian Methodology for Qualitative Inquiry, Alecia Jackson – writing from the south of the US – argues that Foucault’s theory of power and knowledge is spatial in both concept and practice and that power/ knowledge provides a framework in which to situate processes of relating justly. She engages with power/knowledge as a co-implicated relation, moving from a notion of space as enclosure towards an idea of space as dynamic, mobile and creative and in doing so effectively takes us right back to the Baradian notion of justice as entanglement from which we started.

Geoff Bright and Sylvie Allendyke

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *