C&S SIGN Seminar Series (Jayne Osgood)

Becoming a ‘mutated modest witness’ in early childhood research.

DATE & TIME: 16th January, 12.30-1.30

LOCATION: W156, Middlesex University, London, NW4 4BT


Jayne Osgood (Middlesex University)

Keywords: feminist new materialism, Haraway, childhood research, affect, materiality, bodies

Abstract: This 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 materials in early childhood contexts – 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 reawaken concerns 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. The more speculative and experimental approach to researching early childhood taken in my current research involves putting feminist new materialist philosophy into practice. In this paper I offer an account of the affordances that are made available by taking up Haraway’s figure of the ‘mutated 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 that seeks 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.