Saturday, 1 April 2017

Shame on shame

Shame is the product of many forces  (Probyn 2005, p. 148)

Initially when considering the concept of shame for my research study, I shied away from it. Like others, there is a tendency to avoid shame especially when it is connected to ourselves and our own teaching. Despite my attempts at distancing, shame has emerged in several ways through my research project and in students’ reflective commentaries related to their clinical encounters. At the start of my study I conducted a small online survey for final year medical students to reflect on their Obstetrics learning. Shame was mentioned by several students in terms of their personal feelings of helplessness, in being in a space at a time that exposed them to the realities of practice. It was also noted in relation to students questioning how a health’care’ worker could shamelessly behave in a disrespectful manner to others, as well as shame regarding the medical profession for allowing these behaviours to persist.  Others like Dwyer (1994) have found that medical students feel ashamed about their powerlessness. As indicated above, shame is generally associated with negativity and guilt.

In her book, Blush, Faces of Shame, Elspeth Probyn (2005) asserts that the English term shame originates from the Gothic word ‘Scham’ related to "being covered"  (p. 168). An example of this ‘covering up’ was expressed by a midwife who explained to me in an interview how she avoided others feeling shame around her circumstances, by putting on ‘an emotional mask’. In many respects health professional education encourages such responses, providing few opportunities for the expression of emotions or vulnerability.

Yet shame is in us and around us permeating our becoming-with others both human and non-human. Educational theorist Michalinos Zembylas (2008) asserts that “shame is crucial in identifying the political and ideological processes” into which we are socialized and that we experience (p. 266). Shame can be used as an emotional channel for interrogating our practices. He encourages us to work with and through emotions such as shame, demonstrating the usefulness as a productive opening for re-evaluating what has been and is to come. Probyn (2005) also suggests that shame provides a channel through which we can question our value systems. It can be “a switching point rerouting the dynamics of knowing and ignorance”  (p. 105).

In considering shame through a feminist new materialism lens, there is an interplay of forces. These forces intra-act through dynamic inter-relationships that influence our affective capacities and sensibilities impacting on what we do and how we do it.

Shame provides an avenue that registers interest and awareness of others (Probyn 2005). It seems to offer new opportunities for change that need further exploration. By taking up an affirmative focus on shame we can stay with the trouble (Haraway 2016) engaging with these affective capacities to foster deeper learning about our relationships.

In the image above I have copied a photo (CC BY-SA 2.0) of Auguste Rodin’s sculpture titled, Eve after the Fall then used the iPastels App on my iPad to add an umbrella. This image attempts to symbolize how we try and hold shame away, protecting ourselves from possible negativities.


Dwyer, J. 1994. Primum non Tacere: An ethics of speaking up. Hastings Centre Report. 24(1), 13-18. DOI 10.2307/3562380

Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the trouble. Making Kin in the Chthulucene, Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Probyn, E. 2005. Blush: Faces of Shame. Minneapolis: Universityof Minnesota Press.

Zembylas, M. 2008. The politics of shame in intercultural education. Education, Citizenship and Social Justice.  3(3), 263–280. DOI 10.1177/1746197908095135

Thursday, 15 September 2016

Unrepresenting representation

Fingerprints provide a symbolic representation of our unique identity through the shaping of ridges on our skin. While fingerprint recognition is widely used as an accountability mechanism and gateway for access, it indicates only a certain aspect of our identity, an imprint that can be replicated. Much is separated out and excluded.

When we consider our research processes, truthful representation of reality has been a foundational requirement. But what is left out? In conventional qualitative research we interpret data and draw meaning in and through our choice of measurements and observations to represent reality in a trustworthy and reliable manner. There is an assumption that through clear and determinate boundaries of independent entities we can replicate reality. The process usually involves seeking out commonalities to develop themes with hierarchical relationships and connections that assist in finding a deeper understanding of the processes under research.

However representation is considered to be reductionist by a growing “post” movement of new feminist materialist theorists such as St Pierre (1997), Sellers (2013) Davies et al (2013) and MacLure (2013). Traditional practices in qualitative research are argued to be static, linear and stable, limiting in establishing a hierarchy through codes, themes and sub-themes, and appear to reduce difference to sameness thereby not capturing the dynamic reality of doing, thinking and becoming. The choice of categories  can wash out the richness of the data by prioritising some aspects at the expense of others and seeking commonalities rather than difference. By keeping a focus on sameness there is a re-presentation without producing something new. Joel (2010) uses examples from different mediums to illustrate the problematic nature of this repetition, where we ought to “resemble rather than dissemble” (p. 117). Furthermore as Braidotti (2006) points out, representations of others can be oppressive, even abusive.

It is no longer what happened that matters so much
but rather what is happening now
and what can happen next (Vannini 2015, p.12).

Unlike qualitative research, post-qualitative research is non-representational. it goes beyond representing what happens with explanations related to the events but rather attempts to find something new by creating possibilities for the emergence of novel potentials. Davies et al (2013) suggest that this opening up is “a moment-by-moment ethical questioning that asks how things come to matter in the ways they do” (p. 680). Through this dynamic and fluid process new revelations emerge, such as the potential to develop a pedagogy that shifts beyond accepted habits of practice. The flow is not necessarily structured or certain. To produce something new rather than to replicate sameness, there needs to be experimentation and the materialization of an indeterminancy that can move beyond pre-defined structures and boundaries (Barad 2007).

The increasing trend to turn away from traditional humanistic qualitative methodologies opens up a more expansive space for the influence of different relationships to be acknowledged (St Pierre in Denzin and Lincolm 2011). Barad’s (2007) relational ontology explains how multiple relationships (including the agency of the material) interrelate and interfere to produce an enactment that we may observe. According to Vannini (2015) who draws on the work of Thrift and Dewsbury (2000) non-representational research styles
aim to enliven rather than report, to render rather than represent, to resonate rather than validate, to rupture and reimagine rather than to faithfully describe, to generate possibilities of encounter rather than construct representative ideal types  (p. 15).

The image above was drawn using the 53 App on an iPad by combining drawing, writing and a selfie.


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Braidotti, R. (2006). Transpositions on nomadic ethics. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Davies, B., De Schauwer, E., Claes, L., De Munck, K.. Van De Putte, I., and Verstichele, M.  (2013). Recognition and difference: a collective biography. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26:6, 680-691, DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2013.788757

Joel, M. A. (2010). Representation and Difference. In (Eds.) P. Anderson & P. Harrison. Taking-Place: Non-Representational Theories and Geography. Farnham. Ashgate.

MacLure, M. (2013). Researching without representation? Language and materiality in post-qualitative methodology, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(6) 658-667.

Sellers, M. (2013). Young children becoming curriculum: Deleuze, Te Wharriki and curricular understandings. Routledge.

St Pierre, E. A. (1997). Methodology in the fold and the irruption of transgressive data. Qualitative studies in education 10(2), 175-189.

St Pierre, E. (2011). Post qualitative research: the critique and the coming after. 2011. In Denzin & Lincoln (Eds), 4th Ed. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research.

Vannini, P. (2015). Non-Representational Methodologies Re-Envisioning Research. New York & London: Routledge.

Saturday, 5 March 2016

Blogging backwards

The 2016 iPads in Higher Education Conference is happening soon in San Francisco. I will be there presenting my experiences of this blogging journey.that has facilitated my learning and writing for a PhD research study. The iPad is an extension of my being and becoming-researcher, affording a potential of creativity with and through the many image-making options. The process of making-images with blogging has enabled me to explore my thoughts and ideas in dynamic ways.

This materiality of the images and the iPad continues as a force that shifts me in the blogging process, opening up connections. The blogs map my rhizo-thinking that leads to further connections with unexpected moves. It has been an experimentation into an unknown territory with a purpose to foster my reading, writing and thinking skills -- my nomadic wandering. This “rhizomatic zigzagging flow” has happened as ideas “link, connect or collide with another, and produce something new or different” (Lenz Taguchi & Palmer 2013:675).  

Looking back through my blog posts over the past 16 months, I am reminded of the highlights at different stages and the shifts in my thinking as new encounters contributed to new knowledge.  My objective of blogging as a tool to assist my personal research journey is different to the many blogs that aim to market educators’ knowledge or to share ideas and information. While the google analytics related to each of the 55 posts is an interesting reflection of viewer’s choices, these statistics are not relevant to my study. What is striking is that the most viewed blog was Sketching my approach in DBR. Now, six months later, I am planning to move away from Design Based Research as I take up a critical posthuman stance where categorization of human-centred activities is not relevant.

A challenge to me in this process was considering whether I ought to enter into conversations with comments made related to my blogs. I resisted doing this online. Is this non-responsive-ness a responsible action?

Above is a collage using the PicFrame App on my iPad. This collection of images created for my weekly blogs illustrates the wide range of Apps used and topics covered that are associated with my research on student learning in Obstetrics. Some of the images were published on the blogs and others not, such as the central swimmer who is only publicly visible now.  

Like the students who sometimes feel that they are “thrown into the deep end”, this study has left me simply treading water at times wondering what we are doing as educators of student learning.  One student interviewed felt that the theory taught does not readily equip them for “being thrown in” where “they just have to deal with it”. Yet learning to swim still does not fix the upstream problems (in a struggling health system) that trickle down, like the unavailability of equipment (such as tape measures for checking the baby’s head circumference) and certain essential medications.

Lenz Taguchi, H. & Palmer, A. 2013. A more ‘livable’ school? A diffractive analysis of the performative enactments of girls' ill-/well-being with(in) school environments, Gender and Education, 25:6: 671-687.  DOI: 10.1080/09540253.2013.829909

Friday, 19 February 2016

Alternative angles

From my school days I so clearly remember learning the basic law of reflection that states that a light wave’s angle of incidence equals the angle of reflection. Optical reflections have continually fascinated me whether in the outdoors, in my work as a rehabilitation specialist and more recently with cellphones and tablets on which we can take selfies that can be playfully distorted.

Reflective practice has become increasingly incorporated into medical education with the belief that self-awareness and critical thinking enhance professional development. Reflection is said to help us to make sense of an experience. To teach reflection is
to encourage the development of a habit of processing cognitive material that can lead the student to ideas that are beyond the curriculum, beyond learning defined by learning outcomes, and beyond those of the teacher who is managing the learning. 
Moon 2001:15

The many paths that reflection has taken since John Dewey first introduced the concept of the reflective practitioner in 1932, demonstrate the wide uptake of this dimension to pedagogical practices. There have been a growing number of educational theorists picking up different angles of reflective practice. To name just a few, Brookfield (1995) explains critical reflection in relation to influences of dominance and power. Kolb (1964) proposed a 4-step experiential learning cycle, Mezirow (1998) identified the transformative potential of reflection and Schon (1983) asserted that reflection is more valuable through a linear time frame that recognizes reflective action before, during and after an event.

When I worked with first year Health Science students in a module on developing their professionalism, the reflective dimension was a core component of the curriculum. Students had to write weekly reflective commentaries and hand these in, initially as hard copies then later by uploading the Word docs into a Learning Management System, like posting a letter. In my role as one of a group of facilitators, I conformed to instructions to allocate marks to these reflective commentaries according to set criteria. It irked me. I wondered how this practice could become more constructive and productive.

In my recent research findings a student openly shared that these reflections (and course evaluations) become a chore, something that just had to be done to get ticked off. This mindset appears to set a pattern of thinking for future years.  His insights are shared by others. How do we as educators bring a turnaround to these kinds of negativities?

In developing my own teaching initiative with fourth year students I have had opportunities to experiment with reflective practice without the pressure of assessment needs and conformity to a designed curriculum. My angles of teaching have changed. Moving away from a structured linear controlled approach I engage with rhizomatic thinking and practice. This opens up possibilities for connections and multiplicities where mapping differences can bring new insights.

Students upload their reflective commentaries on Google Drive to share with each other. This can initiate deeper thought across individual boundaries. Apart from normalizing their challenging experiences in obstetrics there is growing evidence of something else happening. It appears to be a circulation of affect that offers the potential to act in different ways. Perhaps the sharing of reflections in the online space (which can feel quite risky for some students) offers the potential for ‘asignifying ruptures’, one of the principles of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the rhizome.. There is a break in habits of thinking, a breaking off of development, or rupture in one direction to start a new and connected development in another direction (Deleuze & Guattari 1987). Possibly the process of sharing reflections facilitates a movement towards a ‘Body without Organs’ that O’Sullivan (2006:19) suggests “is a kind of strategy, or practice, that allows an opening onto the realm of affect”, a plane of becoming, a gap of potentialities.

The image above was drawn using the Visualator App on my iPad. I was illustrating the effect of looking through multiple and different lenses to create something new and exciting. It gives an idea of the effects of differences that overlap with each other.

Brookfield, S. 2010. Critical reflection as an adult learning process. In N. Lyons (Ed.), Handbook of reflection and reflective inquiry: Mapping a way of knowing for professional reflective inquiry (215-236). Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.
Deleuze, G., & Guattari, F. 1987. A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia (B. Massumi, Trans.). Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.
Dewey, J. 1933. How we think: A restatement of the relation of reflective thinking to the educative process. Boston: D. C. Heath and Company.
Kolb, D. 1984. Experiential learning: Experience as the source of learning and development. Englewood Gliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Mezirow, B. 1998. On critical reflection. Adult Education Quarterly. 48:3:185-198.
Moon, J., 2001. PDP Working Paper 4. Reflection in Higher Education Learning.
O’Sullivan, S. 2006. Art encounters Deleuze and Guattari: thought beyond representation. Palgrave MacMillan. New York.

Schön, D. 1983. The reflective practitioner. New York: Basic Books.

Monday, 1 February 2016

My affective turn

'Affect' is a relatively recent concept that has led to the so called ‘affective turn’ (Clough 2006). It offers a refreshingly new theoretical understanding of the interrelationships that occur in the body and mind. Theorizing with and through affect can be an enabler for change. The usefulness to education and pedagogy is becoming increasingly evident (Hickey-Moodey 2013, Hickey-Moodey & Page 2016, Zembylas 2006).

What is affect? There are several interpretations that map affect’s complexity. By choosing a Deleuzian understanding of affect, I focus on the intensities and capabilities that power the body to move or be moved. This is a stance away from representation.

It appears that Brian Massumi (2002) was first to put forward the notion of the ‘affective turn’ drawing on insights gained from Spinoza, Deleuze and Guattari. In Massumi’s (1987) Forward written in A Thousand Plateaus, he defines affect as “a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another and implying an augmentation or diminution in that body's capacity to act”. Massumi (2002:36) asserts that affect is the “perception of one’s own vitality, one’s sense of aliveness, of changeability”.  There is an openness to affect that is determined by the body’s potential. Hickey-Moodey (2013:80) offers more detail explaining how affect varies as our “embodied capacities are increased or decreased by sounds, lights, smells, the atmospheres of places and people”.

There seems to be very little that has been published about affect in terms of curricular matters in Health Sciences education. This is not surprising as medicine is a scientific discourse that relies on evidence-based practices governed by clear accreditation standards. Therefore a turn to affect can be problematic, perhaps disrupting ‘business as usual’. In Ducey’s (2006) study with allied health care workers, she noted that “affect is not subject to the usual forms of measurement and analysis, so that the political responses its modulation calls forth are emergent and unpredictable”.

Massumi in conversation with Zournazi (2002) equates affect with freedom and hope, noting how uncertainty can be empowering. He refers to a “charge of affect”, asserting that affect offers “a way of talking about that margin of manoeuvrability, the ‘where we might be able to go and what we might be able to do’ in every present situation”  (Zournazi 2002:212). He explains it as the opening of thresholds of potential in which we can experiment. Through our bodies we have the experience of affect, the intensity as well as the experience of the movement.

I have recently chosen affect as a leading theme in my study because it offers a pragmatic approach that foregrounds experiences and movement. My interest is in the process of learning, a continuum of events that can transform individuals and practices. This movement that is affected and can be affected is a shift away from binary thinking such as what is right and wrong, object versus subject and culture/nature dualisms. I am exploring what emerges through the in/determinate teaching process.

In my study an example of an affective response could be the distancing that occurs when a student feels helpless in a difficult situation. Several students have described the intensity of disgust at witnessing disrespectful behaviours in their clinical encounters in Obstetrics and how this has led them to walk out of the room. The seeing and the hearing of abusive behaviour has energised these students to move away.  

The image above was drawn on my iPad using iPastels. It depicts a metal spring that has the potential and charge that affect theory conveys. Many new possibilities arise from the intra-actions that influence the affective dimension of learning.

Clough, P. (ed.). 2007. The Affective Turn: Theorizing the social. Durham and London:. Duke University Press.

Hickey-Moody, A. 2013. Affect as Method: Feelings, Aesthetics and Affective Pedagogy.  In (Eds.) Coleman, R & Ringrose J. Deleuze and Research Methodologies. Edinburgh University Press. Edinburgh. pp. 79-95.

Hickey-Moody, A. & Page, T. 2016. Introduction, Making, matter and pedagogy. In A. Hickey-Moody T. Page  (Eds)  Arts, pedagogy and cultural resistance: New materialisms. Rowman & Littlefield. London.

Massumi, B. 1987. ‘‘Notes on the Translation and Acknowledgments,’’ in Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Zembylas, M. 2006. Witnessing in the Classroom: The ethics and politics of affect. Educational Theory. 56:3: 305-324.

Zournazi, M. 2002. Hope: New philosophies for change. New York. Routledge.

Sunday, 24 January 2016

Racing tracks

To my surprise the image of a racing track was drawn by a couple of my research participants. They were asked to reflect on their involvement in the obstetrics curriculum. One drawing was created by a doctor educator and the other by a student who had recently completed the obstetrics’ eight week rotation in his fourth undergraduate year. These two drawings have produced an affect and effect on me as I continue thinking about them, their differences and the effect of these differences. I wonder about the tracks and about the pertinent connections made to the medical curriculum and student learning.

The clinician educator pointed out the curriculum as a clearly structured track designed through evidence-based practice, yet interrupted and mediated at measured and defined points by evaluations and assessments. Student resilience was central, marking its overriding importance in student performance and achievement.

This drawing reminds me of the competitive, individualistic nature of much of the medical curriculum. The obstetrics rotation is just a small chunk of the larger curriculum that aims at a speedy throughput to fill the national need for more doctor graduates. The starting point for the Health Sciences Faculty is at the first year orientation session and the endpoint at graduation from where students embark on their challenging career as interns, community service practitioners, medical officers, then possibly leading on to registrars and specialist consultants. It is a structured path set out for students and mediated by accreditation standards.

The other racing track drawn by a student participating in one of my focus group discussions showed a different perspective. He drew his car on the track with flags at different points indicating caution. The central area was filled with the distinct branding logo of the car he proudly drives. He explained how he considered his learning as a race to achieve the curricular requirements. During his obstetrics block, this was facilitated by his speedy driving (well over accepted limits) to reach an unexpected night time delivery that enabled him to attain the required number of deliveries. He did reflect on the irresponsibility of “driving like a lunatic”.

I wonder how differently the curriculum plays out for less privileged students who do not have their own transport or opportunity to make an extra trip at night. What about the positionality of students in terms of different forms and access of transport in relation to their curricular needs?

Through my engagement with the materiality of the data emerging from the drawings of these two research participants, new insights are emerging. My own connection with these images and resultant inquiry and curiosity is opened up through my personal limitations imposed by a visual impairment that prevents me from being a driver.  The image above (created using the 53 App on my iPad) foregrounds a car tyre and its tread. The shape and size of the tyre indicate the status of the car while the pattern of the tread gives the finer detail that can add insights into the relationship of the vehicle and the driver. The flag denotes the marked segments of the curriculum or the warning signs for danger.

MacLure (2013) points out the value of wonder in research methodologies. As I wonder with and through these two drawings, I feel the material forces, and sense how affect is constituted by the intra-active entanglements between the data and myself (Barad 2007).

MacLure (2010) refers to Massumi’s (2002:17) “exemplification”, a writing method where details in examples are important as they provide “microexamples” which can open up connections to inform theory.  MacLure (2010:277) states that “theory’s capacity to offend is also its power to unsettle – to open up static fields of habit and practice”. She asserts that “theory in educational research has not interfered enough” (MacLure 2010:281).

Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

MacLure, M. 2010. The offence of theory, Journal of Education Policy, 25:2, 277-286.

MacLure, M. 2013. The wonder of data. Cultural Studies ↔ Critical Methodologies 13:4: 228–232.

Massumi, B. 2002. Parables for the virtual: Movement, affect, sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Saturday, 16 January 2016

Responsibility and accountability

a resp image.jpg

“Questions of responsibility and accountability 
present themselves 
with every possibility; 
each moment is alive with different possibilities 
for the world's becoming 
and different reconfiguring of 
what may yet be possible” (Barad 2007:182).

The opening up of the possibilities of responsibilities presents many pedagogical challenges in medical education. In resource-constrained teaching environments, I wonder how far socially just pedagogies can extend?

This week I had the privilege of interviewing three midwives at a local Midwife Obstetrics Unit (MOU) -- part of the Public Health System’s Day Hospital group. These midwives teach our students during their busy duties. One key concern raised was that many women who arrive in labour to deliver their babies are hungry. The women come from impoverished conditions where food is scarce, and the birthing units do not supply anything to eat.

In terms of response/ability and accountability, is there scope for students in their Obstetrics learning block to engage with these basic needs that directly influence women’s health? The traditional approach to learning Obstetrics in Year 4 is to provide a service and to develop the skills and competence to become proficient doctors. However the comprehensive Primary Health Care approach taken up by the South African health system is more complex engaging with the broader societal issues such as the social determinants of health. When we acknowledge the entanglement of our relationships, different perspectives with potential possibilities may be helpful.

The lack of food is a material force that limits human flourishing. Barad (2014) claims that we need to acknowledge the material forces that play out in our intra-actions, moving away from a human-centred (anthropocentric) gaze. In support, Fenwick (2009) suggests that materiality is often dismissed when professional responsibility is analysed.  

With the increasing focus by medical schools on social responsibilty (SR) and social accountability (SA) these societal difficulties are now contributing to a more integrated approach towards healthcare in context. In the image above (drawn on my iPad using the Doodle Buddy App) I reflect on the entanglement of pedagogical practices in the context of multiple and divergent needs.

Barad, K. 2007. Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Barad, K. 2014. Diffracting Diffraction: Cutting Together-Apart, Parallax, 20:3, 168-187,

Fenwick, T. 2009. Rethinking professional responsibility. In Reconceptualizing professional learning: Sociomaterial knowledges, practices and responsibilities. (Eds) Fenwick & Nerland). Routledge. Abingdon.