Things that grow/Things that die: Uneasy assemblages of human and non-human relational ethics and what is undocumented in early childhood education documentation practices

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstract


What happens when you re-turn (Barad, 2014) to the relational ethics of the non-human in the documentation in early childhood education (ECE) classrooms? In this paper I re-turn to the documentation of three and four-year old children who watched the hatching of eggs and cared for young chicks before they were returned to a commercial hatchery. However, on this re-turn I shift from a focus on the intra-activity between the children, documentation and teacher to storying a more troubling and uneasy assemblage (Bone and Blaise, 2015). Bringing focus to the non-human life of the chicks and the entwined relational ethics, illuminate the affective intensities of what is unthought, unsaid and unwritten. The purpose of my paper is to think with theories from posthuman and feminist materialisms, to wonder if a focus on what is undocumented in documentation practices can illuminate a more nuanced relational ethics.

The notion of documentation practices as agential calls for a shift away from teachers, children and families as the centre of attention. Instead, posthuman and feminist materialist theories (Strom et al 2020) bring attention to the lively intra-activity (Barad, 2007) in-between the material, social and discursive. Some scholars study the agency of materials involved in documentation practices such as cameras and sticky labels (Merewether, 2018; Magnusson, 2018; Elfström Pettersson, 2015), whilst other studies focus on educational discourses (Elfström Pettersson 2017) and shifts from what documentation means to what documentation can do (Albin-Clark 2020). Pedagogical documentation and narration that entwines political and ecological agendas are associated with the Common Worlding movement (Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2019). There is an urgent need to understand the relational ethics entangled with the interrelationships between children, teachers, other species and the natural world (Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2019).

The theoretical framing for this paper is a diffractive methodology based on the notion of a re-turn. From Barad’s notion (Barad, 2014), I am turning over and looking afresh at documentation but from a space and time that is different from my first encounter (Murris and Bozalek, 2019). The methodology involved diffractively reading two visual bricolages. The first included imagery and narration documented by a teacher about the actions and responses of three and four-year-old children who watched chicks hatch from eggs and cared for them over time. A second documentation is imagined from the original and involved experimentation and a re-creation of what might have been unsaid and undocumented about the non-human life of the chick.

As a form of research creation, I turn my attention to relational ethics and the entwined response-ability. From this vantage point, my methodological and ethical thinking moves from feeling responsible to non-human life, to notions of response-ability and the capacity and ability to respond (Barad, 2007; Bozalek et al. 2018). Thus, considering the non-human and more-than-human participants in my ethical processes (Taylor, 2016; Fairchild, 2017) involved an entanglement between the documentation, the chicks, the school, the children and teachers and the research process.

In contrast to that easy assemblage of smiles, care, excitement, fluffy chicks and rich learning gains in the first documentation, my second imagined documentation illuminates a more troubling uneasy assemblage (Bone and Blaise, 2015). Notions of non-human life, death and entwined relational ethics provoke affective intensities from what was unthought, unsaid, unwritten and undocumented.

Through such diffractive readings of visual bricolages that traced both easy and uneasy assemblages, the significance of my research does not offer conclusions but rather opens questions for both early childhood classroom education and research practices:

What are the tensions between children’s learning about animal care and the consequences for the non-human life of animals? How much can these conversations be had with very young children and what are the challenges for schools wanting to engage with commercial hatcheries?

How does the world of documentation practices relate to the common worlds of children, non-humans and more than humans?

Can imagining what is undocumented in documentation practices generate new methodological approaches in posthuman and feminist materialist research creation?

What does re-turning to more uneasy assemblages reveal about relational ethics and the entangled response-ability of children and animal relationalities, and how it is to live and die well in late-stage capitalism and the Anthropocene?
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 8 Sept 2022
EventBERA - University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
Duration: 6 Sept 20228 Sept 2022


Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address


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