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.

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