physical spaces hold a quality that can be felt
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…affect is itself a real condition, an intrinsic variable of the late-capitalist system, infrastructural as a factory. Actually, it is beyond infrastructural, it is everywhere, in effect. Its ability to come second-hand, to switch domains and produce effects across them all, gives it a meta-factorial ubiquity. It is beyond infrastructural. It is transversal. (Massumi, 1995, pp. 106 - 107)
Here, Massumi (1995) proposes the ubiquitous nature of affect, where affect can be used to explain the “invisible, nonrepresentational…part of the ubiquitous backdrop of everyday life” (Bissell, 2010, p. 272). Massumi (1995) further contributes that affect equates to intensity, and not emotion as it is frequently described. Emotion as described by Massumi (1995) is attributed to being subjective, and personal. However, and perhaps in avoiding creating yet another binary, Massumi (1995) does not propose that affect is objective. Instead, affect is described as “unqualifiable…not ownable or recognizable” (Massumi, 1995, p. 88). Zembylas (2021) highlights that affect “is a much broader term denoting modes of influence, movement, intensity, and change” (para. 2). Moreover, affect offers a “wider perspective on ‘affect’ highlighting difference, process, and force” (Zembylas, 2021, para. 2). This is explained by Dernikos et al. (2020a):
…affects are the forces (intensities, energies, flows, etc.) that register on/with-in/across bodies to produce and shape personal/emotional experiences. In other words, affect is not what you feel, as much as it is an event that forces you to be(come) affected, to feel some-thing (p. 5; emphasis in original).
To ‘feel some-thing’ is the way affects and feelings are sensed, registered and understood by the human body, and these embodied ways of knowing engage with “sensation, memory, perception, attention and listening” (Blackman & Venn, 2010, p. 8).
When affect is considered as part of the ‘affective turn’, that has reinvigorated the social sciences over the last two decades, and education research over the recent few years, Zembylas (2021) describes how,
…the affective turn in education expands our thinking and research by attempting to enrich our understanding of how teachers and students are moved, what inspires or pains them, how feelings and memories play into teaching and learning…What the affective turn contributes to education and other disciplines is that it draws attention to the entanglement of affects and emotions with everyday life in new ways. More importantly, the affective turn creates important ethical, political, and pedagogical openings in educators’ efforts to make transformative interventions in educational spaces. (para 2)
As a concept, ‘affective atmospheres’ is derived from cultural studies (specifically, geography) to explain the “emergence and circulation of affects, which are embodied forces or intensities that are both produced by and produce bodies” (Verlie, 2018, p. 15). Affective atmospheres brings attention to the collective, non-representational background of “affective, embodied conditions for representational acts and practices” (Ash & Anderson, 2015, p. 34), and provides a theoretical backing to consider the “diffuse, collective nature of affective life” (Ash & Anderson, 2015, p. 34). Studies in affective atmospheres demonstrate the vast potential for understanding and articulating learning situations, and as such, this thinking is gaining momentum in educational research (see for example Dernikos et al., 2020b; Finn, 2016; Murris & Haynes, 2018a; Snaza, 2020; Verlie, 2018; Verlie & Blom, 2021; Wolfe & Rasmussen, 2020; Zembylas, 2020). This includes reframing the traditional humanist perspectives of school and classroom climate through the affective to consider the nonhuman influence (Mayes et al., 2020; Verlie & Blom, 2021).
Murris et al. (2018), during their research in a South-African, grade-two classroom utilised posthuman thinking and practice, including affective atmospheres. They note that,
An atmosphere may feel static and sedimented, but they are always ‘on the move’ and intra-acting with everything and ‘nothing’…We have come up with various contradictory ideas to name the atmospheres we sensed as we watched and diffracted with the footages: discomfort, awkwardness, surprise, embarrassment, horror, shame, amusement, belittlement, tension, conflict. (p. 162)
Murris et al. (2018) highlight that the atmospheres were ‘sensed’ and the problematic nature of naming an atmosphere which is dynamic and always already reconfigured. I acknowledge the tensions that are created in applying a non-representational field of study where the products are intentionally named through the use of affective atmospheres (Murris et al., 2018). Similar to the tensions that are experienced in adopting a posthumanist perspective from a human body, I dwell in and ‘stay-with’ these tensions in these theoretical offerings.
Affective atmospheres is suitably nestled in the arms of posthumanism as it similarly aims at decentring the individual as it “instead prompts us to think about how different configurations of objects, technologies, and bodies come together to form different experiences of ‘being with’” (Bissell, 2010, p. 272). Here, Bissell (2010) highlights the importance of considering the various forms of matter that constitute and reconfigure spaces and the intra-action between these bodies. In addition, Barad (2012b) explores the “material-affective dimensions” of touch to describe its “physicality, its virtuality, its affectivity, its e-motion-ality, whereby all pretense of being able to separate out the affective from the scientific dimensions of touching falls away” (p. 3). Affective touching is not about physical objects coming together but understanding the full-ness of space – as an abundance and not as a darkness (Barad, 2014). As such, reconfiguring space as more than just an inert background is important, as the affective atmospheres that constitute spaces are in constant communication, informing bodies and their movements in everyday life, including the classroom milieu. Affective atmospheres give voice to the collective of material-discursive practices and provide a mechanism to articulate the language of the differences that are occupied in affective spaces; for example, the classroom which is disproportionately focused on the human presence. This is why, as a concept, affective atmospheres has been fittingly put to work with material-discursive practices in this study. From an affective atmospheres and material-discursive position, the humanistic tendencies of research traditions are decentred to include the agency of human/nonhuman bodies equally.
To consider that all bodies, including the human body, are being ‘touched’ (to borrow from Barad) by the affective atmospheres of a space, is indeed a different way of thinking about teaching and learning spaces, particularly inside and outside of classrooms. In doing so, this research contributes significantly to understanding teaching and learning practices and how teachers respond, or not, to these unseen, non-visual cues. Affective atmospheres was therefore fittingly applied to the context of this research to explore how early school years’ teachers perceive nature and how this informs their pedagogy through a posthumanist lens. In addition, Massumi (1995) draws on quantum mechanics to consider how affect describes “the interface between implicate and explicate order” (p. 99), a fracturing of these binaries by highlighting the space in-between. Similarly, Barad (2007) proposes the reconfiguring of boundaries between “interior” and “exterior” as “an ongoing process of the material (re)configuring of boundaries – an iterative (re)structuring of spatial relations” (p. 181). Here, space is defined not as “a collection of preexisting points set out in a ﬁxed geometry, a container, as it were, for matter to inhabit…[but where] boundaries that are enacted are…not in space but of space” (Barad, 2007, p. 181; emphasis in original). As such, drawing on the theory of affect presented here, the concept of affective atmospheres provides a mechanism to explain these “spatial relations” (Barad, 2007, p.181) that human bodies are always already experiencing: informing and being informed by. As discussed in the previous section, this PhD thesis gives emphasis to the troubling of binaries and dualisms, such as through the work of material-discursive practices. Affective atmospheres provided a similar mechanism for this troubling as it conceptualises the agency of spaces and gives voice to the collective material-discursive practices that are in constant, dynamic intra-activity within and of them.
The final consideration in the theoretical entanglement underpinning this research is childhoodnature. Childhoodnature is an emergent concept that describes the inherent connection between childhood and nature from a posthuman frame. As such, it is suitably used alongside material-discursive practices and affective atmospheres in this study. I now move to explore this central concept of childhoodnature.