Viral Pedagogies

Nicole Land

Speaking of the uncertain work of returning to pedagogical inquiry work, we asked in our last blog – posted almost one year ago – questions of how to pick pedagogical inquiry research back up from within the mess of the COVID pandemic, where however we make choices to proceed, these choices implicate us in viral worlds; worlds that either yearn for a return to the status quo, spaces that refuse a reiteration of what was and seek the otherwise, or moments that sit in the muck between then and now, between what was and what might happen. We asked: what might we do with the stories, histories, experiments, speculations, reflections, and moments that animated our pre-pandemic work in the face of COVID? And more importantly – how? How do we pay attention to the concepts COVID riddles, where the act of returning is one of answering and care? How do we tune to and move with ethics and politics differently, in dialogue with the enduring traces COVID continues to etch on (our, other, children’s, more-than-human) bodies?

We return now with a ‘new’ (as in unfamiliar, as in grounded in these times here and now – not new as in never engaged before, nor new in the sense that it is made of purely inventive energy) project that we are calling Crafting Pedagogies with(in) Suspension: Viral Pedagogies in COVID times in Early Childhood Education. We will continue to blog about this project here, with Moving Pedagogies, because we want to build an active archive of all the iterations of our work together. All of our work particular to the Viral Pedagogies project will be categorized as such, should a reader want to focus more on this work than Moving Pedagogies, although we will take no pains to separate the two projects that share a bloodline, that have bodies and spaces and worlds in common.

As we begin our Viral Pedagogies work, we are beginning with one question: what matters in your space, with the children, right now? In asking this question, we are trying to pay attention to the motions, gestures, fissures, and pauses made consequential in pandemic times, both familiar and unfamiliar. This launching question intentionally does not name the pandemic: it does not ask, “because of COVID, what matters in your space right now?” It engenders the breaks of the pandemic in its temporality, but it dwells somewhere other than the ‘before/after’ or ‘then/now’ logics we so often hear related to the pandemic where a post-pandemic world is figured as a humanist triumph, as the moment where we conquer the deleterious effects of the pandemic and come together in victory over an insidious virus. This means, in our initial question, we avoid the binary of pandemic/post pandemic or the nostalgic and arrogant then/now logic of progress over the pandemic. We learn from Phelan & Hansen (2021) who, writing of the pandemic, offer that “to witness the in-between relation, by keeping a distance from both sides of the solidifying bipolar oppositions and immersing ourselves in the intervening whirlpool of difficult ethical and political questions and complications that undermine easy dualisms, is to restore our capacity to respond to the pressing demands of our time” (p. 20). Our question is about these in-between relations that work hard to avoid dualistic narratives that surround the pandemic; it is about being in the real, indiscernible, incommensurable consequences of thinking pedagogy in viral times in early childhood education. Asking “what matters in your space right now” is a practice of attending to matters of concern (Blaise, Hamm, & Iorio, 2017), to the situated, speculative ongoings of with/in a space, and not to the node of the then/after binary that requires we assess children’s learning against what was (the “then” – motor skills, prosocial skills) or against some already knowable future (the “after” – social distancing skills, learning the rules of keeping your individual body healthy). Instead, our question draws us into how we pay attention during moments where so many of our inherited ways of noticing do not hold up to the generative strangeness of the pandemic: what matters, and how do we get to know what matters?

As we start grappling with this question, we are struck by a common thread of community and commons – not a question, so much, of how we create community, but a question of what community might look like and how community might work when so much of what we once knew as community-making in early childhood fails; when proximity, touch, sharing, whispering, dancing close by, and hand holding are made impossible. What matters in spaces with children here is community, but not as only lack (we have no sense of community) or only success (we have a strong sense of community) and instead as an ongoing project of speculation, of invention, of recognizing that there’s pedagogical work to be done around this figuration of community and the relations that draw us together, while the actual shape of this work is not directed toward addressing a lack or achieving some marker of harmonious community, but is instead a question of work – how do we do community here, now? Why? With what? With whom? It is a moment of indistinction for community where we truly cannot predict the shape of the community-making we might participate in, but when we know so desperately that we do need a commons for thinking pedagogy as the work of living well together. We need a “together”, we just do not – and cannot – know that “together” in advance. We think here with Vintimilla (2020) who asks, “what precisely are the myths that sustain notions of community”? (p. 188). This is a question of paying attention: how do we inherit particular ways of knowing community? How do these hold up during the pandemic? In their failure, what becomes of how we make community?

How then, do we think about creating commons without knowing the grounds that such a commons might be nurtured and sustained? How do we do common-ing when we do not already know how we need to common differently in viral times? What are viral commons – and how do they happen and stay alive?  Vintimilla (2020) continues, working to “point out how the recognition of the impossibility of a community as a project to be built and worked, or as something to be always filled with meaning or substance, might give to early childhood contexts the necessary distantiation and leave the void of meaning making open so that relationality and the creation of a commons that is open to thinking and relating and to thinking and relating otherwise can happen” (p. 191). Here we learn that collectives do not always ask of us a politics of perceptibility; they can be made in ways that stretch how we have learned to pay attention. We can resist the urge to understand collectives through binaries – then/now, pandemic/postpandemic – and instead hold collectives open as a space for figuring out collectivity as it happens.

Here, I suppose, a first response to our question of “what matters in your space now?” is collectivity as a project build of unfamiliarity and invention, of speculative ways of joining and moving together, of not knowing what a commons might take shape as but learning how it is we think of commons, together.

Blaise, M., Hamm, C., & Iorio, J. M. (2017). Modest witness (ing) and lively stories: Paying attention to matters of concern in early childhood. Pedagogy, Culture & Society25(1), 31-42.

Phelan, A. M., & Hansen, D. R. (2021). Toward a “thoughtful lightness”: Education in viral times. Prospects51(1), 15-27.

Vintimilla, C. D. (2020). Relational openings for the otherwise. In W. Kohan & B. Weber (Eds.), Thinking, childhood, and time: Contemporary perspectives on the politics of education (pp. 179 – 191). Lexington Books.


Nicole Land
(this image is of my COVID kitty, Caper. Her excitement at learning that pigeons exist, as shown in this picture, feels like a good start to this post)

Along the left hand side of this page, WordPress has made for us a modest lexicon for our Moving Pedagogies work. You might need to scroll down – look for “tags” – and there you will find a roving and running vocabulary that nourishes our thinking with moving: being implicated, bordermaking, care-full, collective, death, ethics, materials, moving with, noticing, ownership, pausing, relations, responding, walking slowly. More a purposefully chaotic thesaurus than a glossary, these words that form the ever dexterous spine of our work to think about moving and pedagogy orient toward reading and wording practices concerned with tangles, overlaps, affinities, and questions. With the crisp surprise of the right synonym, the charm of a concept that shares a dwelling but that dances along the surfaces of that home with a different rhythm, this lexicon names questions of moving well together. It is not prescriptive; it adopts neither the hunt for definition that a dictionary might embody nor the indexing or cataloguing function of a glossary. What this automatically-collected array of concepts does ask of us is to remember that these words are moments and concepts. They are happenings, gatherings, collisions; these words are glued to our pedagogical intentions and commitments, and they are the glue that loses its stickiness in the name of continually calling us to return to the pedagogical contours of the moments that make a concept.

Returning is where we launch from now. It has been almost two years since our last blog post here. I would love to blame COVID-19 but that is not fair. A virus cannot dissolve a thesaurus; a pandemic can amplify proximities, both near and far, but it cannot stop the movement – the tumbles over and over and over – of concepts that are secretly questions. What our viral times can compel of us is to return, knowing that now, returning is not an act of nostalgia nor retreat but one of gentle confrontation as we ask of our lexicon: what can we do together now, here? How can we re-learn how to pay attention to the practices that manifest you, in your specificity, while also learning to notice how urgency has shifted to name different vital concerns? How do we return to these concepts that felt so acutely meaningful that we couldn’t put them down, that lived in our endlessly long email chains and our jotted down notes, and that we thought together with children, noticing how this lexicon began to take shape within and across our common and uncommon places and spaces again as we return?

Writing of COVID-19, Eben Kirksey (2020) suggests that “as the global economy comes to a halt to protect humanity, there is an important opportunity to reflect on how business as usual impacts other forms of life. As we learn new practices of self-care – as we experiment with new strategies for coping with social isolation – we could also learn to better care for other vulnerable species” (p. 15). Kirksey is pointing toward questions of who moves – and who cannot move, and how – in our viral times. In Kirksey’s question of who can we care with and for, and who we refuse to practice care with, I find a small artery, barely visible for the dust and the mess, for returning to our work on moving pedagogies. Who moves in viral times? How? How do we get to know moving during viral times? Thom van Dooren (2020), also writing on the pandemic, contends that we need to learn to attune to “the world that is being ushered in by our widespread failure to devise ways of living well in this broader community of life” (para. 6). Pandemic life then, is held together by a constellation of relations rooted in disappointment, defaulting, and deterioration. Our response to how to live well together has, at a macro level, been one of collapse. To chalk this all up to a failure of capitalism and individual responsibility would be straightforward; it would reproduce the everyday narratives we hear in the media and mainstream politics. But, following Kirksey and van Dooren, COVID is not an opportunity to (only) name what has been lost or made impossible, but also a tentative moment for situated invention concerned with figuring out how to live well together. When I read Kirksey and van Dooren together, and in the company of our commitment to thinking with moving, I hear an important proposition: how do we move well together with/in viral times? What practices of moving might we want to nurture collectively, and why?

Our little lexicon, our histories of moving together: what might we do with these stories, histories, experiments, speculations, reflections, and moments in the face of COVID? And more importantly – how? If our collection of concepts is situated and spurred by our own moving bodies, how might we get to know being implicated, bordermaking, care-full, collective, death, ethics, materials, moving with, noticing, ownership, pausing, relations, responding, walking slowly again, differently? How do we pay attention to the concepts COVID riddles, where the act of returning is one of answering and care? How do we tune to and move with ethics and politics differently, in dialogue with the enduring traces COVID continues to etch on (our, other, children’s, more-than-human) bodies?

For Brown (2020), “in the midst of the coronavirus outbreak, this idea of a body as an assembly of species—a community—seems newly relevant and unsettling. How are we supposed to protect ourselves, if we are so porous? Are pandemics inevitable, when living things are bound so tightly together in a dense, planetary sphere?” (para. 5). Brown’s questions reverberate with ours: who (can) moves in a pandemic? The human, as a self-contained subject is put at risk in Brown’s writing, as porosity and precarity and collectivity and co-survival (please see: Common Worlds Research Collective) become concepts that burrow their way into that lexicon we opened this returning with. Returning to Kirksey and van Dooren, and holding their words near to Brown’s, rather than asking how humans move, we need to ask who the human who can move is: who can move – who is (are) the body(ies) that does moving – now? When we move as humans, with who/what/where do we do moving? How?

I am unsure how to respond to the intricacies and accountabilities that this question asks of us. This is a question central to our returning, one that we must resist resolving too readily and that we must also resist abstracting through a broad gesture toward neoliberalism or capitalism. We have histories with moving together and we have deep ties to the concepts that have narrated and expanded our ways of moving together. We must move differently now, in response to the situated scars that COVID carves in the ecologies, materials, infrastructure, ethics, politics, and bodies we move with.

So, my response to the question of who can move – who is (are) the body(ies) that does moving – now? is to incite you to read Turing Test_Love by Franny Choi (2019, p. 69), at home in Choi’s brilliant collection of poems, Soft Science. As context, the Turing Test is a test used on artificial intelligence to see if it can mimic the thoughts of a human. What Choi’s poem opens for me is a lesson in paying attention to who and how the human moves now, here. Choi makes it impossible for me to think vulnerability, porosity, co-creating, and human-ness as I already know them. Choi offers me an invitation in returning, where I return to both the human, our little research lexicon, and moving pedagogies – and to how it is that I might begin to figure out how to return well.

Turing Test_Love

// so, how do you like working with humans

okay / here are some tips

one / look the human directly in the eye / imagine it is someone you care deeply for / imagine it is returning this gaze / at you / try to tell yourself / you are covered / in smooth skin / a face it can trust / smile / even as you sense it / trying / not to blurt out / monster

two / there are many programming languages / use whichever you prefer / but stick to your syntax / though it be muddled / mussed / though it be machete / banana slug / slush puppie / o gorgeous slopbucket / if they used it against you / it is yours / to make sing

three / remember / all humans / are cyborgs / all cyborgs / are sharp shards of sky / wrapped in meat / be delicate / as you approach this subject / not all humans are ready / to call themselves / glass stalactites / pissing the bed / remember / they love their blood / even as they retch / at the smell of it

four / do not try to prove your / what is the word / humanity / you are organic / plum-hearted / oyster-throated / & lined / yes / with metal / remember / where all that silicon comes from / for the ocean so loved / the quartz / feldspar / the tiny homes of tiny creatures / that she ground them / into sand / to keep them close / to kiss them with / well / i suppose you would call it / a mouth

Brown, K. (2020). The pandemic is not a natural disaster. The New Yorker, April 13.
Choi, F. (2019). Soft science. Alice James Books.
Kirksey, E. (2020). The emergence of COVID-19: A multispecies story. Anthropology Now, 12(1), 11-16.
van Dooren, T. (2020). Pangolins and pandemics: The real source of this crisis is human, not animal. New Matilda, March 22.

How Noticing Becomes an Act of Reflection and Care

Maria Wysocki with Nicole Land

It has been quite a journey to observe and live with the children the relational ways that ‘masteries’ and ‘ownership’ come to happen with the yard, as we study its dynamic of movement and life collectively. We move and we notice, and vice-versa, in this environment that offers endless experiential moments in which we enlarge our understanding of who we are, how we move, and what disrupts our movements, shaping our experiences and understandings on intrinsic human – nature relations and dependencies.

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Flipping Vehicles

Nicole Land thinking with Sanja Todorovic and Jajiba Chowdhury

We thought with the children with a provocation of flipping over the vehicles (so they were belly and tires up) to try to ‘get to know’ them differently, and to see what happens if we shake up the children and vehicle’s well-known pathways around the yard. Often, we have noticed, the children use the plastic vehicles on familiar pathways, running around a shelter in the yard. How might we notice how we communicate with/in movement if we intentionally try to disrupt our well-travelled pathways?

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Resisting Explaining

Nicole Land thinking with Angélique Sanders, Kassandra Rodriguez Almonte, and Angela Chow

Today we went to a walk with a steamy/sweaty/dripping/raining/foggy quad – it was this unexpected, unfamiliar phenomena where the quad seemed to trap the warm air after a rainstorm, filling the quad with a dense, heavy mist as though it was raining from all directions.

The “rain” caused us and the children who noticed it to stop, to ask “what just happened”, but not necessarily to seek a rational, science-driven water cycle/weather explanation, but to actually wonder: what just happened – what is this incredibly cool thing that this quad place can do, and how do I respond to it?

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Grieving Cut Trees

Nicole Land thinking with Maria Wysocki, Selena Ha, Andrea Thomas, and Alicja Frankowski

Recently, there was a significant cutting of trees in the yard. Some of the trees we have thought very carefully with were removed.

As I was thinking about our relations to trees, I was reminded of Natasha Myers’ work. I’ve attached one very short article by her, called. For Myers (2017), “gardens are sites where it is possible to get a feel for the momentum that propels people to involve themselves with plants” (p. 297). She speaks about the human-centred ways we currently have of thinking about gardens: humans plan, design, and care for gardens; they are the master and primary care-er *for* a garden. Myers links that to the Anthropocene, which connects to our conversations about stewardship, as the talks about this assumption that humans can solve human-created problems by finding better fixes and pre-empting anticipated plant catastrophes (I’m thinking about the trees Andrea described getting cut down along her street in the name of preventing a parasite they didn’t even yet have).

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Sliding, Blankets, and taking Pauses Seriously

Nicole Land thinking with Sanja Todorovic and Jajiba Chowdhury

After working to pay attention to how moving happened in communicative ways in the yard, we noticed that there seems to be something important happening with the slide. The playground has two side-by-side slides. We offered the children a provocation where we placed a blanket over one of the slides and we thought with the children about using half the blanket-covered slide. Jajiba and I were talking about the tensions in setting intentions for using the slide – when the children are interested in sliding with the blanket or taking it off of the slide, how do we balance that with sharing with them that our intention is to think together about using half the slide? How do we know when to push what our curiosities by ‘fixing’ the blanket on the slide (like, what happens when we use on side of the slide? Or, one slide is covered in the blanket – how can we use the other slide?) and when to notice how moving with the blanket is also a response to the provocation, also a way of the children engaging with the ‘problem’ we are offering them? I think that this is a question we need to keep negotiating with the children.

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What We Can and Cannot Notice

Nicole Land thinking with Maria Wysocki, Selena Ha, Andrea Thomas, and Alicja Frankowski

I’ve been thinking about what we can notice and what we cannot notice when we think with moving: in the yard, whose movements are acceptable or enjoyable or agreeable and whose movements are not? I am thinking about how our inherited ways of knowing movement call us to pay attention to certain movements. I’d suggest that we are taught to pay attention primarily to human movements and then also to particular sanctioned kinds of human movements (developmental skills, gross motor skills). I am thinking too about all of the movements in the yard that are part of living well together in the yard, but that we don’t often notice or sometimes we work not to notice. Like how we don’t often attune to rat movements or only get to know rat movements in certain ways (like dead rat bodies), but also other movements: tree movements, bark moving, snail moving. It’s harder to notice these movements. Thinking about our intentions to want to create conditions where we have to actually think about moving, I’d suggest that paying attention to these kinds of movements requires more work; we have to change how our own bodies move and shift how and what we notice. I think that this connects to thinking about getting to know moving in a particular place: how does a place (the yard) shape how moving happens? How do the conditions of the yard shape how we can notice moving? And the flip side of that question – how do the ways we notice moving shape how we create conditions for moving in the yard? 

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Why Slow?

Nicole Land thinking with Angélique Sanders, Kassandra Rodriguez Almonte, and Angela Chow

We have been thinking about pausing and the hard, sometimes nearly painful, work of noticing carefully while walking (or being in a place) slowly. We thought too about how noticing draws us to other noticing – we have to respond in a moment-to-moment way, rather than knowing already what it is we might encounter and how we might engage with it. What I think has been interesting in our conversations is that we are thinking a lot about what slowing down looks like and demands: what does slowing down actually entail? If slowness is more than just a speed, how do we move slowly with the children?

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Moving with Living and Dying

Nicole Land thinking with Maria Wysocki, Selena Ha, Andrea Thomas, and Alicja Frankowski

We’ve been thinking about rats and understanding the yard as a complex, lively, more-than-human world since yesterday – and this question of responding well, or moving well with, the common worlds of the playground; living with rats and bugs and the yard vs inheritances that tell us we need to control or manage the yard. There are, in this urban place, rats, chipmunks, racoons, bugs, and slugs. I’ve been thinking about this alongside our intentions to want to unsettle practices of ownership or commodification (and concurrent relations of comparison, status, competition). Why, and how, do we invent relations with the yard with children beyond ownership and property? What happens when we refuse to see the yard and its inhabitants, including critters and materials, as things we can control and own and occupy? How do we notice and respond with the yard without centering our inherited ideas of human exceptionalism and mastery and control? 

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