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Ecologies of Touch

Schofield, Lindsay Michelle (2021) Ecologies of Touch. Doctoral thesis (PhD), Manchester Metropolitan University.

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Abstract

This thesis aims to explore how literal notions of touching as well as being touched figuratively can be put to work through thinking-with-touch in education and midwifery contexts. Specifically, it examines the stains of developmental psychology and Early Childhood (EC) trajectories that haunt such contexts. In order to explore how students’ bodies flow through their studies of early childhood, it also considers how babies and students become-with the HE classroom, baby-room and worldly materiality; the visible and invisible boundaries that maternal deprivation and attachment theories produce; how developmental theories of psychology are anchored in the policies and practices of EC; and how all that is the discursive, affects. This thesis goes on to propose that these explorations have the potential to open bodies towards the precarious landscapes pedagogues navigate with ECS students and the possibility of new ways of being. Traditionally, cartesian abstractions and humanistic framings of EC – based on fixed ways of seeing and knowing, results in some students, babies, children and families being viewed from deficit perspectives with futures foreclosed. In recent years, however, the theoretical lens of new materialism(s) has opened up new ways of understanding the complexities and intra-activity of EC, and childhood learning and teaching encounters, reconceptualizing the ‘human’ as a more-than-human ensemble. There has also been a surge in feminism towards the troubling of dominant EC abstractions and norms, as well as resistance to humancentric perspectives in EC research that assume it is able to represent and act knowingly on an inert world, with some theorists pointing to new possibilities which offer different approaches to engage both ethically and politically in an affirmative exploration of EC. This thesis builds on and addresses gaps in the existing literature, by troubling the 'conventional conceptions for how we understand and research' the 'human child in early childhood contexts' (Osgood and Robinson, 2019:122) through a deep immersion in feminist thinking and the neologisms of spacetimemattering (Barad, 2017), mothersick, Bowlb(arbar)ian and (gh)host(ile)(ly). A (post)qualitative study was conducted in two physical spaces. The first of these spaces was the baby-room in an Early Childhood Education and Care (ECEC) setting in South Manchester, and the second was Higher Education (HE) Undergraduate (UG) Early Childhood Studies (ECS) teaching and learning environments, in Greater Manchester (GM), in the North West of England. There were also a number of virtual, past and present, material, ephemeral and ethereal research sites that seem disparate, yet connected – the hospital, my own memories, motherhood, midwifery, HE lecturer and research diaries, bodily sensations, imprints. Through the thesis, it is argued, powerful psychological developmental theories that reverberate through human and nonhuman bodies haunt student and pedagogue bodily knowledges and histories. Finally, it is suggested that ethically, HE pedagogues have a duty of care to think beyond the immediate teaching and learning classroom and consider how we touch the lives of UG ECS students, in unknown but often imperceptible and sensed ways.

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