By Audrey Jean (FEEL Researcher)
“PhEmaterialism combines feminist posthumanism and the new materialisms. Its abbreviation foregrounds the entanglement of educational scholars interested in working with feminist new materialist and posthuman ideas and pedagogical practices. Grounded in a genealogy of poststructural, postcolonial, postqualitative, intersectional feminist, and queer work in education, PhEmaterialisms is a theoretical assemblage itself: the “Ph” refers to posthuman thinking and doing; its phonic, “phem,” refers to multiple feminisms; its “E” refers to education in the broadest sense; and “materialisms” comes from neo/new materialist thought. The ‘ph’ is pronounced ‘f’ so that sound and letter formation bring posthuman and feminism together in one expression.”
PhEMaterialisms (PhEM) is a network of researchers, practitioners, educators, artists and activists engaging with feminist posthumanism and new materialism research methodologies in education. As an international working group, it was formalised at their inaugural conference in June 2015. 4 years after, PhEM researchers Katie Strom, Jessica Ringrose, Jayne Osgood, and EJ Renold have managed to create, assemble, and edit a special issue dedicated to PhEm in the volume 10 of Reconceptualizing Educational Research Methodology (No 2-3, 2019). Titled PhEMaterialism: Response-able Research and Pedagogy, this labour of love welcomed 14 contributions from 29 researchers from all around the globe.
This blog post is the first of a series showcasing the 14 articles from this special issue with the editorial team. The series will include exclusive quotes getting deeper into the thoughts, feelings, motivations, and challenges faced by the authors in the SI as they were writing their contribution— a sort of “how it’s made” paragraph showing the behind-the-scenes of what it means to be a PhEM researcher.
This entry in particular will go in more depth about the Editorial written by Katie Strom, Jessica Ringrose, Jayne Osgood, and EJ Renold— how they have “stayed with all the “trouble” presented by [their] mixing and mingling with one another,” giving some context for the volume of this special issue.
Katie, Jessica, Jayne, and EJ assess that our thinking in education is outdated and inadequate for adapting to current realities in schools— with a rising neoliberal “corporate” education movement, climate change, white supremacy, massive population displacements, and the pervasive sexist and heteropatriarchal environment in which learners as well as educators are being held under. We need a shift in research and thinking practices. We also need to explore the world through new frameworks, in order to adapt to the changing educational complexities: this is what PhEM is trying to provide. The cornerstone of this special issue can be found, they suggest, in “response-able research practices”: arts- based and creative methodologies, posthuman subjectivity, and research-activisms.
This special issue is filled with original, thought-provoking FEELings— or also FEEL-provoking thinking! The editorial team shared some brief thoughts, doubts, feelings and doings about collaborating and working on the editorial together:
Katie Strom says that “my favorite thing about writing the editorial was the way theoretical politics of location piece emerged. As I wrote in that section, I do a lot of autoethnographic writing (from a posthuman lens) and made an assumption that Jessica, Jayne, and EJ would craft something similar to what I called my “auto-theoretical assemblage.” We exchanged our contributions to this section over email, and Jessica sent hers first: a piece inspired by Greta Thunberg as a “pheminist phiguration.” EJ sent a brilliant poem, and Jayne’s followed, making me laugh with delight at her message— “I’d like to contribute a pHart!” (posthuman art). My initial knee jerk response when seeing these much more creative mappings was to question myself— “was my approach too linear? Too literal?” but after some reassurance from my co-editors, I appreciated that these were patterns of difference. We had each plugged in the same task—to locate ourself in terms of how we came to feminist posthumanisms—and each of us produced something expressing the situated assemblages in which we are embodied and embedded. It was a lovely moment of living our theory.”
Jessica Ringrose reported that working on the editorial “brought back old challenges of how to ‘represent’ phematerial thinking within the confines of academic publishing formats like ‘editorials’: what does a Phematerialist editorial look like and do? How could we reference and do justice to all the amazing contributions?” She also said: “it was challenging to work together in a way that meant you had to renounce your control of your own habitual writing practices; we had different ideas about what ‘playing’ with text and matter meant and its implications for our research ‘findings’ and representing ideas and knowledge; there were some lightbulb moments when I realised some of my own deep attachments to feminist intersectional methodologies linked to more conventional structural positions and methodologies for understanding and addressing power relations, diagnosing and defending… But at the same time, I was trying to stretch and bend and work with diffractive currents, it didn’t have to all neatly fit together, to stay with the trouble of others convictions and doing-wantings. It was definitely a process of boundary bleeding, deterriotiralisations and re-matterings!”
EJ Renold notes: “making time to experiment with the not-yet of a process was a nurturing part of how we co-composed our editorial for this special issue. For me, locating how we became entangled with phematerialist doings started with crafting the image, ‘Skirting Medusa’. This image diffracts the Ruler Skirt with my medusa tattoo and not only puts bodying at the heART of my praxis, but captures the multiplicity of sex, gender and sexuality becomings in a speculative journey of youth research-activisms.
In the making of the image I started to have ideas of how to work further on a previously crafted poem, and ‘Medusa Risings’ began to form—a three stanza piece that helped score the situatedness of becoming a phematerialist researcher in the field of RSE. Each snaky stanza tells the story of a rhizomatic, relational and collaborative process and is riddled with hyper-links that connect out to multiple locations (a book, a policy, a film, a tweet etc). My entry thus became a re-entry into an existing run-a-way praxis to see what might unfold.
Medusa has since risen again— this time, in a lively discussion with a 13 year old member of an arts-focused LGBTQ+ group who I’ve been supporting in the development of our forthcoming LOVE*AGENDA conference. Our shared passion for all things Medusa-esque sparked the making of queer Medusa—a making however that was prematurely stilled by the sudden closure of schools in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. Nevertheless, I trust in the not-yet of what this queer Medusa might be/come and how they might take shape in the new normal of virtual phematerialist risings.”
Jayne Osgood referred back to the PhArt, or phematerialism “photographic art-work” she created for the SI, which drew together the affective and material momentum of the articles in the collection; opening up new ways of generating politically motivated knowledge.
Through entangled practices:
Practices that matter.
More than gathering re-presentations
Of a world out there
We resist the God-trick
Recognise our infected, affected place
And so, engage in world-making practices:
Practices that make a difference.
Our practices are with the (k)not-yet-knowns:
Practices that create more liveable worlds.
We are troublesome creatures
Descendants of witches, still burning bright.
Through our doings
Our agitating and activism
Our practices refuse to accept the status quo
Practices that generate, potentiate something more.
It is through practices of
Activating that the
Mattering of Matter
The thing-power of stuff
Takes on another life
Generates affective forces
That makes a difference to what we know
How we feel
What do we do with what is provoked, brought to life?
What is our response-ability?
By bringing the out of place
To a place
Glitter, rulers, play-doh and string
Take our investigations to other
Intensely productive places
That underline what matters.
(PheelyDoings: a poem, Osgood, 2019)
Throughout this editorial, PhEM is explored not only as a label but moreso as a way of researching, thinking, and being; touching upon where it was coming from and where it might evolve. PhEM is, first and foremost, a loving-researching-experimenting-crafting community in the face of today’s difficult political, sociological, and educational climate.
So, if you have not read it already—hopefully the blog inspires you to get the special issue on your to-do list! It is for you to “contemplate and ponder what PhEMaterialist thinkingfeelingdoings can make possible for reconceptualising educational research methodologies” and for “undertaking response-able research that can make a difference in the world”. This has been a long-coming and history-making labour of love for PhEMaterialism, so a big thank you for the editors and contributors; you can access the journal for free here. Enjoy!
Katie Strom, Assistant Professor of Educational Leadership, California State University, USA, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jessica Ringrose, Professor of Sociology of Gender and Education, UCL Institute of Education, UK, email@example.com
Jayne Osgood, Professor of Childhood & Gender, Middlesex University, UK, firstname.lastname@example.org
EJ Renold, Professor of Childhood Studies, Cardiff University, Wales, UK, email@example.com