By Audrey Jean (FEEL researcher)
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.
PhEMaterialist encounters with glitter: the materialisation of ethics, politics and care in arts-based research
In this special edition on PhEMaterialisms, Jayne Osgood and Rebecca Coleman wrote a paper based on a workshop they organised in 2018. They worked around a seemingly unassuming object that, when looked at more closely, enables reflection and experimentation in arts-based and care-inspired new materialist feminisms: glitter. Jayne, in a previous publication about glitter, explained that “glitter’s inseparability is perhaps the point here. It is everywhere, it gets everywhere, it becomes-with and shape shifts, it infiltrates and infects, it resurfaces and sends oscillating affective charges through water, air, and earth, through bodies” (Osgood, 2019).
The workshop, part of Goldsmiths’ Methods Lab series named “How to do sociology with…”, explores what happens when materials, objects, and atmospheres of social research are put to the fore. Jayne and Rebecca have chosen to use glitter as a point of focus; by making available various types of glitter (biodegradable, plastic, repurposed) and other objects that were made to interact with glitter put upon them (newspapers, natural objects such as pebbles, or also recycled objects), they worked on understanding the new ways in which we could conceive and do materialist work.
Jayne saw glitter as a means to disrupt and understand differently the normativity of developmentalist logic in the shaping of early childhood studies (and curriculum). For her, glitter has agency: with Rebecca they write that “glitter does something; it provokes, agitates, and sets in motion a raft of affective flows and forces within the workshop”. Glitter would be, in a way, alive—and Rebecca follows glitter as it moves across different worlds, making new cultural meaning, with for example young women or LGBTQ activism.
Rebecca, who kindly offered a quote, explains that “it was a real treat to write with Jayne! We began talking when we were cleaning up after the workshop about how we might write about the process of organising and running it, and the kinds of questions it had sparked for us. We wanted to bring to the forefront these processes – the affective and embodied as well as the practical – and connect these with work in feminist new materialisms and in feminist theory and methodology more widely concerning care, ethics and politics”.
Using Haraway’s concepts of seriousplay and natureculture, as well as contemporary research on feminist new materialisms (including academics from this special issue), Jayne and Rebecca explored their troubling and generative encounters with glitter. By making such a workshop, they also wanted to explore and make visible the labour around its organisation. For them “the purpose of this paper is not to make apparent what unfolded within the workshop in any great detail but rather to make visible and heard the affective charges, invisible labour and ethical dilemmas that working with glitter generates”.
As both Jayne and Rebecca prepared the workshop, they took note of the affective labour involved in planning such an event. By wondering not what glitter is but what glitter does, a core of new materialisms where matter is dynamic and transformative, they also wondered what organising an arts-based workshop does to the people involved. Working with glitter as arts-based practice has proven to hold unanticipated pedagogical abilities. Jayne and Rebecca look a this through terms of ethics, politics, and care. The invisible work around the workshop, and the agency of glitter, have been at the forefront of their research. Analysing not the objects produced in particular, but the dynamics and affects around them, has expanded their understandings of feminist new materialisms.
By exploring the discomfort and uncertainty around such an organisation, and offering questions or reflections about traces of embodied affect, Jayne and Rebecca have examined the ways in which social sciences can work with nonhuman things: in this case, the ever elusive yet overpowering materiality of glitter. They say “we are viewing ourselves and the human and nonhuman participants at the workshop as entangled with the world”. They looked at how these entanglements worked with affect; Jayne and Rebecca also made apparent overlooked matterings as political care. What about guilt and anxiety around the sustainability of glitter, and the unethical ways in which biodegradable mica glitter is produced (with child labour often involved)? What happened before, during, and after the workshop?
As a deliciously subversive yet subtle act, Jayne and Rebecca have managed to follow Haraway’s call to “stay with the trouble”. More broadly, they both looked at what new materialist methods and practices might contribute to an understanding of educational and social research—as well as political and pedagogical practice. By considering “what we do with what it does”, Jayne and Rebecca have given us a thorough account of the matter around this glitter workshop: a way to, maybe, explore the stickiness and solidity of matter around us?
Rebecca Coleman, Sociology, Goldsmiths, University of London, firstname.lastname@example.org
Jayne Osgood, Centre for Education Research & Scholarship, Middlesex University, email@example.com
You can access the journal for free here: https://journals.hioa.no/index.php/rerm/issue/view/397. Article cited: https://journals.hioa.no/index.php/rerm/article/view/3669. 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