Over the past few weeks, I’ve begun presenting some of the research for the Engaging Futures book for the first time, at the 7th Annual Conference on the New Materialisms in Warsaw and the Debates in New Materialisms II: Feminism, Politics, Corporealities, Onto-Epistemologies event in London. The papers have focused on workshops with teenage girls held in the summer of 2016, where they collaged imaginations of their futures. These workshops will constitute one case study chapter in the book.
The 2016 workshops drew on image-making sessions with teenage girls in 2003, where I’d asked them to collage experiences of their bodies (see The Becoming of Bodies, 2009). Change and transformation had emerged as key in these earlier collages.
Anna’s collage, for example, highlights how understandings of a person may change depending on whether they are based on looks and appearance or ‘what’s inside’.
In juxtaposing a photograph of herself with images from mainstream women’s magazines and writing ‘I wish’, Fay’s collage indicates what she experiences her body to be, and what she would like it to become. Here, then, the issue of change and transformation – the future-orientation of the becoming of bodies – is key.
In the 2016 workshops, I took up this emphasis on futurity. However, rather than focus on the collages themselves as outputs, I want instead to concentrate on the making of the collages. This is to shift attention from an analysis and interpretation of the collages as finished products to the methodological process itself.
In part, this involves what, in the context of a concern with affect, Kathleen Stewart (2007) and Lisa Blackman and Couze Venn (2010) have termed a different kind of ‘noticing’. In our Introduction to Deleuze and Research Methodologies (2013), Jessica Ringrose and I suggested that this is a noticing of the becoming of the world; in these workshops, it is a noticing of what is happening in the room, and what happens afterwards with what is produced.
One way of noticing what was happening in the workshops was to document them with photographs.
This process involved me focusing on specific movements and activities in the room, which included thinking about how to visually document the girls, the materials and the room in line with the ethical approval I had been granted, where participants and the school must be anonymised. Photographing the table on which the resources for collaging were spread and the collages made was one way of doing this.
After the workshops, I also cropped the photographs so that the girls’ faces and school uniforms (where the school badge was embroidered) and other identifying signs in the classroom were not in the picture.
In these photographs, the relations between human and non-human materialities are highlighted; hands, paper, glue, scissors, craft materials, the table, chairs, cutting, tearing, sticking, participate in the making of the collages. This may be a mundane point to make; but it is also a noticing of what happens in and with this methodological process.
Practices such as photographing and cropping are important, both in terms of how a social scientific researcher’s eye becomes trained on certain things during the research itself, and the kinds of images that may be published and circulated. I am not suggesting that social scientific ethical guidelines are unnecessarily restrictive or unhelpful, but rather that the ways in which they inflect and become entangled with the research process may not always be reflected on. For example, in the images from 2003, I blanked out the faces of the participants in the Polaroid photographs that became part of some of the collages, but did not explicitly acknowledge or write about the ethical decision-making involved in this, or the technique and its effects/affects.
In noticing what happens in a room and afterwards in the process of making images suitable for dissemination, a range of questions are posed.
* What kinds of ethical problems regarding inclusion, anonymity, and ‘impact’ do visual and inventive methodologies raise?
* How are these problems considered and made explicit in the dissemination of research?
* What human and non-human materialities emerge as significant in the processes of doing research?
* Are the text-based modes of disseminating the data, outputs and findings of research that are conventionally used – essays, books, etc – appropriate for such research processes?
I recognise that in some ways posing further questions of ethics, noticing, documenting and disseminating is frustrating. However, at the same time it draws attention to the relative novelty of taking seriously the methodological process. And it is also an integral part of an experimental, inventive or speculative methodology concerned with futurity. As Alex Wilkie, Mike Michael and Matthew Plummer-Fernadez put it: 'methodology becomes less a case of answering a pre-known research question […] than a process of asking inventive, that is, more provocative questions where intervention stimulates latent social realities, and thus facilitates the emergence of different questions' (Wilkie et al 2014: 4).
Blackman, Lisa and Venn, Couze (2010), ‘Affect’, Body and Society, 16(1): 7–28.
Coleman, Rebecca (2009) The Becoming of Bodies: Girls, Images, Experience, Manchester: Manchester University Press.
Coleman, Rebecca and Ringrose, Jessica (2013) ‘Introduction: Deleuze and Research Methodologies’, in Coleman, Rebecca and Ringrose, Jessica (eds.) Deleuze and Research Methodologies, Edinburgh: Edinburgh University Press.
Stewart, K. (2007), Ordinary Affects, Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Wilkie, Alex, Michael, Mike and Plummer-Fernadez, Matthew (2014) 'Speculative method and Twitter: Bots, energy and three conceptual characters', The Sociological Review, online first, 14.08.2014: 1-23.