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Linnea Bodén, Hillevi Lenz Taguchi, Emilie Moberg, and Carol A. Taylor

Relational materialism was first articulated and framed within Actor Network Theory. In educational research, the concept has emerged with the growing influence of Agential Realism and New Material Feminism, and in the engagements in the “turn to materiality” and/or “turn to ontology.” A relational materialist approach to educational studies can be narrowed down to three key principles: the principle of general symmetry; the principle of material semiotics; and the principle of method. The enactment of relational materialism depends on how these principles come to work in the engagement with central educational problems, such as subjectivity, performativity and practice. Relational materialism takes the starting-point in the problems and concerns of human and material actors or agents, for whom the research can make a difference. While doing so, it acknowledges the methodological difficulties and possibilities when carefully attending simultaneously to discourse, materialities and their relations. Striving towards a methodological sensibility, the enactment of relational materialism in education research entails the emergence and creation of more and multiple methods to know the multiple realities of education. This also makes it possible for relational materialist research to become productive of new and additional educational realities that can, perhaps, make an affirmative difference to the actors or agents concerned.

Article

Conventional approaches to qualitative research seek to distill and capture meaning through a sequence of determined, progressive methodological steps that serve to synthesize difference toward a series of overarching claims regarding human experience. This approach reifies contemporary neoliberal values and, as a consequence, short-circuits any possibility for progressive social change. Through conventional research practices, the principles of security, schizoid, and statistical society accelerate, extending normalizing processes of governmentality, and producing a docile citizenry adverse to key elements of an engaged democracy. In such circumstance, risk is identified as the production of findings that are ambiguously defined, not attending to values of certainty and generalizable outcomes. As a consequence, conventional methodological practices fail to engage the postmodern condition—fragmented experiences with inconclusive outcomes are displaced by methodologies bent on merging difference into foreclosed meaning. Contrary to conventional approaches to research, post-foundational orientations emphasize relational logics that maintain difference within the inquiry project itself. A provocative example of this extends from newly materialist approaches to qualitative inquiry that emphasizes the productive possibilities inherent in difference and, as such, displace the simplified dialectical reasoning of conventional approaches in favor of more dialogic recognition of diffractive patterning. In this sense, open-ended difference makes possible previously unrecognized (even unthought) possibilities for being otherwise. As such, newly materialist approaches to inquiry manifest alternative ontological and epistemological practices that are not available to the conventional methodologist; they make possible an open-ended vision of the future that is necessary for radical democratic action. Furthermore, the fluid nature of such methodologies align well with Foucault’s explication of parrhesia, a means of truth-making that creates new possibilities for becoming otherwise. The intersection of newly materialist methodologies with parrhesia challenges methodologists to risk the very relations that secure their expertise, establishing a moral challenge to the impact of past practice on the possibilities inherent in the future.