Thursday 12 December 2019

Apparatus of my PhD

My PhD thesis is now complete and available online in the University of the Western Cape repository at

It was, is, and will be an apparatus in which boundary-making practices were and will be made, determined by different agential cuts such as my research questions. The text that is now available online enables more cuts to be enacted by myself and others. I’m delighted that such new relationships with my research have the potential to expand the project beyond the academic product of a doctoral research thesis. 

Barad (2007:146) points to 6 significant aspects of apparatuses 

1.    are specific material-discursive practices
2.    produce differences that matter which include boundary-making practices that are formative of matter and meaning, productive of, and part of, the phenomena produced
3.    are material configurations/dynamic reconfigurings of the world
4.    are themselves phenomena which are constituted and dynamically reconstituted as part of the ongoing intra-activity of the world
5.    have no intrinsic boundaries but are open-ended practices
6.    are not located in the world but are material reconfigurations or reconfigurings of the world that re(con)figure spatiality and temporality as well as (the traditional notion of) dynamics (i.e. they do not exist as static structures, nor do they merely unfold or evolve in time and space)

In my thesis I argue that medical students’ learning experiences in Obstetrics are crucial in influencing their future practices as doctors. Graduation is not the closing off of undergraduate curricular learning but a cyclical becoming-with past/present/future intra-actions. Although there is a growing body of work describing the detrimental impact of disrespect in maternity care on new mothers and their neonates, little is revealed about the impact on students. I look forward to widening conversations with others in Higher Education taking up the theoretical lens of Feminist New Materialism.

My hope is that such engagements can lead to different material-discursive practices as those described in the research project, which have been silenced through current trends in professional practices where disrespect to women in labour tends to remain hidden, and in some situations, even normalized. It is likely that more questions will arise as a collective relationship develops around those readers interested in exploring students’ response-abilities in Obstetrics and what this means to curricular task teams in health sciences training institutions.

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

Sunday 3 September 2017

Assemblage agency

In my research study, the signature-logbook-student-event creates an assemblage that has a powerful influence in shaping what matters in student learning. Rather than the logbook providing a passive recording of student learning it seems to drive the students’ actions and inactions.
The concept of the assemblage was conceived by Deleuze and Guattari (1987). It is complex; more than a collection of elements working together. This English term originates from the French word “agencement” which gives emphasis to the agency and potential associated with the intra-actions (Barad 2007) of the elements in an assemblage. There is a process of becoming through the arrangements and connections with other concepts (Phillips 2006). According to Jackson and Mazzei (2016:105)
the agentic assemblage is a hub of emergence and possibility with various agents coming in and out of focus….. consider forces, vitalities, things, that act on and through vital materialities to produce the assemblage that we also become with/in  
Our work as educators and researchers immerses us in the process of becoming-with different assemblages. Assemblage theory moves us beyond a humanistic view of self-containment and self-regulation. Rather, each of our bodies can be seen as a part of the “material relations” that influence and “structure the other material relations [that are] around it” (De Freitas & Sinclair 2014:34).

Assemblages change over time and space. In the Deleuze dictionary Graham Livesey (2010:18) describes assemblages as “constellations of objects, bodies, expressions, qualities, and territories that come together for varying periods of time to ideally create new ways of functioning”. This productivity and generation of newness has important implications for education.

The image above was created on my iPad using StickyBoard


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

De Freitas, E. & N. SInclair (2014). Mathematics and the Body Material Entanglements in the Classroom. Cambridge University Press. New York.

Deleuze, G., & Guattari. F. (1987). A thousand plateaus: Capitalism and schizophrenia.
Trans. B. Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.

Jackson, A. Y. & Mazzei, L. A. (2016). Thinking with an Agentic Assemblage in Posthuman Inquiry. In C. A. Taylor and C. Hughes (Eds.), Posthuman research practices in education. Palgrave Macmillan, New York.

Livesey, G. (2005). Assemblage. In A. Parr (Ed.), The Deleuze dictionary.. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.

Phillips, J. (2006). Agencement/assemblage. Theory, Culture & Society, 23, 108-109.

Tuesday 15 August 2017

Moving with and through multimodality

How do we engage with difference in productive ways?

This is a question that I continue to ask myself in my teaching and research project related to women’s health and human rights. Thinking in terms of diversity foregrounds subjectivity and issues of classifications that are often unhelpful, at times, even humiliating. The concept of multimodality as a field of inquiry and an under-utilized tool for working with differences seems to offer much potential. It can be used both in the classroom and in research.

Recently a group of students mimed the life history of a woman who was trapped in an oppressive relationship showing the detrimental impact this had on her health. The students chose to create and improvise different scenarios on a linear time scale through this woman’s short life to illustrate how disempowerment contributed to the progression of her cervical cancer, a preventable disease. She was denied access to health care in the early stages of the disease, later faced judgemental health professionals and could not take up their recommendations — a not uncommon narrative for many women living in South Africa. The gestures and movements performed by the medical students made a major contribution to the impact of the collective students’ learning in our 3 hour workshop. This event was a critical moment in which I was struck by the value gained in using a different mode of communication, and by removing language from the action. It felt like an “absent presence”, a notion drawn from Derrida, that Kuby (2017) refers to and describes as beings and doings that appear to be absent yet are present. Such ontological insights are different to the usual that focus on knowledge production through information and facts (an epistemological perspective).

Unlike the traditional teaching methods generally used in medical education, miming has the capacity to engage with our emotions by eliciting the affective domain. This affordance was noted in a research study in anatomy where miming the function of the different cranial nerves proved to be a valuable mode for learning. From this study, Dickson and Stephens (2015) suggested that miming “epitomizes multimodal active learning” as students need to visualize, anticipate and perform their gestures in meaningful ways.

The field of multimodality is not new. The value and meaning-making drawn from and through signs and symbols has been used since the earliest days of humankind as in hieroglyphics and rock art. In education, Michael Halliday (1978) appears to have introduced the associated field of social semiotics. Semiosis is about making meaning. Social semiosis refers to the meaning making in social processes which relates to the actors, the environments and the resources such as modes (Kress 2010). Modes are numerous and can include text, image, gestures, posture, speech, music, gaze and variations of these components acting as forms of representation and communication.

Modes are also fluid and dynamic. They differ through time and in different contexts. Drawing on her chemistry background, Norris (2004:92) identifies the value of discerning modal densities that refer to the modal intensity and complexity that influences processes. Karen Wohlwend (2011:144) takes this further noting that the level of density of a mode shows “which actions and practices are most socially relevant within an event”. In other words, the relationships of the modes indicates the density intensity. In our classroom scenario, the students’ gestures and their gazing were foregrounded in contrast to the textual and aural modes that usually dominate communications in learning spaces.

What has been striking for me has been the value of creating and opening up spaces for a multimodal pedagogy to emerge. By moving away from a structured and prescriptive classroom I have noticed how the creativity of learners unleashed has the potential for promoting deeper learning and engagement. A shift beyond traditional written and representational texts through roleplays, drama shows, video recordings, poems, music and other modes enables the co-construction of the experimental encounters to emerge in the classroom. These material-discursive practices create movements that elicit an affective intensity (Massumi 2015) into the teaching space. It feels as if the multiple modes actually facilitate engagement with controversial and difficult issues such as termination of pregnancy.

As difference emerges through multiple mediums and resources, new potentials are created for engagement. It is the relationships in the event that are important as they can determine new ways of doing and being for both students and myself as we navigate some of the challenges of obstetrics learning. There is much more exploring to be done in this field as Jewitt (2008:9) points out

To realize the full potential of multimodality research also needs to make links between what is happening in the classroom and why it is happening – to ask how the micro social interactions of the classroom inflect, reflect and connect with the concerns of macro educational and broader social policies.

The image above is a photograph taken of an artefact I created at a recent workshop on multimodality then transformed on my iPad using Photolab and Adobe Photoshop Mix.


Dickson, K. A. and B. W. Stephens 2015. It’s all in the mime: Actions speak louder than words when teaching the cranial nerves. Anatomical sciences education.  8(6): 584–592.

Halliday, M.A.K. 1978. Language as Social Semiotic: The Social Interpretation of Language and Meaning. London: Arnold.

Jewitt, C  2008. Multimodal discourses across the curriculum. In: Encyclopedia Of Language And Education. 2nd Edition. Springer US, New York, pp. 357-367. ISBN 978-0-387-32875-1 (Print) 978-0-387-30424-3 (Online)

Kress, G. 2010. Multimodality: A Social Semiotic Approach to Contemporary Communication. Routledge, London, New York.

Kuby, C. R. 2017. Why a paradigm shift of ‘more than human ontologies’ is needed: putting to work poststructural and posthuman theories in writers’ studio, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education.
Massumi, B. (2015). Politics of affect. Cambridge: Polity.
Norris, S. 2004. Analyzing Multimodal Interaction: A Methodological Framework. London: Routledge.

Wohlwend, K. E. 2011. Multimodal discourse analysis and the playing/design nexus. In Playing their way into literacies. Reading, writing and belonging in the early childhood classroom. Teachers College Press. New York and London.

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.