C&S SIGN lunchtime seminar series

Becoming a ‘modest witness’ in early childhood research (Professor Jayne Osgood)

Date & time: POSTPONED

Location: C106, College Building, Middlesex University, London


Abstract:

The paper aims to reconfigure some entrenched ideas about early childhood by considering the possibilities that are generated when attention is turned to everyday habits, ordinary routines and mundane situations that play out in early childhood contexts and that are integral to the ways in which we think. As a feminist researcher, moving from a decade-long preoccupation to critique, problematise and deconstruct to a place of embracing and enacting new materialist philosophy in my more recent work, I am confronted by a cacophony of ambivalences. There is little doubt that working with feminist new materialism presents certain ontological and epistemological shifts in the approaches that can be taken to think more expansively about our relational entanglements in early childhood contexts; it involves embracing uncertainty and not knowing. Yet, the traces of post-structuralism that coarse through me reawaken fears that de-centring the human might somehow risk obscuring humanist concerns such as social class inequalities, racism, male privilege, the persistence of patriarchal systems. All issues that have a very real bearing on experiences of childhood, and therefore concerns that I want to keep central to my work. Hence, over the past couple of years I have undertaken an experimental approach to researching ‘diversity in early childhood’, one that involves putting feminist new materialist philosophy into practice. In this chapter I offer an account of the affordances that are made available by taking up Haraway’s figure of the ‘modest witness’ and keeping in play one of the most significant concepts in feminist epistemology, that of situated knowledge (Haraway, 1997). I argue that rather than diminishing humanist concerns this framework offers the means to exercise heightened ethical responsibility; a worldly responsibility (Haraway, 2008), where the researcher must be attuned to so much more than only the human actors in any given scenario. This approach celebrates the conceptual elasticity that feminist new materialism offers in a quest to not find nor seek solutions, but rather generate new ways to think about, and be in the world. Taking a small number of seemingly insignificant embodied and material events and haptic moments from one London nursery, and starting from materiality, I offer a generative account of seeking to work with Barad’s (2007:384) conceptualisation of ethics as onto-epistemological, as she states: ‘ethics is about mattering, about taking account of the entangled materialisations of which we are part, including new configurations, new subjectivities, new possibilities – even the smallest cuts matter.

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