Community within Viral Times

Nicole Land

We have spent the last two months working at reading the context of each COVID classroom – and feeling the power, dismay, and irregularity in referring to classrooms for their context amid ongoing pandemic ebbs and flows. It feels strange – and maybe it always should – to ask “what matters in this classroom in viral times?”. This is a question of method (how do we pay attention differently during viral times?) as much as it is of curriculum-making (how do we participate with children in the crafting of a relevant, meaningful, ever shape-shifting curriculum in dialogue with viral worlds?). Since a thread of this project is to imagine how we might collaborate digitally when our researcher and educator co-researcher bodies cannot physically meet in the same room, we have been experimenting with keeping what we are calling a “Running Chat”; a Google Doc where we put our writing-on-the-move and note connections or dwell in the disjunctures of what we notice differently in education spaces right now. We gathered over Zoom this week to re-turn, to revisit, what we have written so far in the Running Chat and to look toward some concepts that we want to work at for the last few months of our viral pedagogies project (although we know the project will live well past the day our funding runs empty). What is emerging for us is a profound focus on community-making as a question of living well together: how do we come together now? How do we think about creating more livable worlds and community together with children in viral times, when we are in and of COVID worlds?

The question of how to nurture more livable worlds is one we borrow from a rich landscape of thinking pedagogy in early childhood education and that we learn from our colleagues Cristina Delgado Vintimilla and Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw (2020), Fikile Nxumalo (2020), and Narda Nelson and B. Denise Hodgins (2020) – and from many other collaborators. What is emerging as we grapple with this question of more livable viral worlds is the slippery concept of community: how do we come together in COVID times? It is critical that this does not fall, for us, into a question of instrumentalism or outcome, where we might instead ask how we make a healthy, thriving community during COVID. Instead, we want to take community itself as a question in dialogue with viral times; and not a question to be resolved, but one to struggle with. We do not want to resolve community – naming a ‘perfect’ COVID community and its reproducible contours or replicable practices is not our work here. We take seriously Vintimilla’s (2020) contention that “community never presents itself as something to be sure of our complete – as something possible: it is always incomplete, unstable; it gives itself always to be thought, once again, because of its own possibility” (p. 20). This means that community is a process, one energized by impossibility and life-making, where we make possible small moments of meaningfully coming together without relying on the discourse (one so prevalent in ECE) of community as an achievement, or community as a metaphor for meaningful practice. We hear Vintimilla (2020): “imaginaries of community will always fail, are indeed rooted in failure, and that it is precisely that failure which creates the condition of possibility for community, which instantiates the aporia of nothing-in-common, of an empty space of common signification” (p. 17). If imaginaries of community always crumble in the face of complex contexts, that means that we need to think community without nostalgia and without the arrogance of assuming that we can, indeed, live something that would hold up to the concept of ‘community’. We also want to hear Vintimilla and Berger (2019) who propose that “perhaps we dwell in relationships rather than build them” (p. 188), which situates community-making as a practice in vulnerability, in life and living and figuring out how to life together, rather than a practice firmly oriented toward producing – building – a community rich in concepts we already know well (identity, expression, capacity building, child development). Community is taking the risk of vulnerability and situatedness in the face of systems of capture and commodification.

We have a few tentative gestures toward such a project: how might we see care in community as the work of resisting the ‘new normal’ of the pandemic, where the ‘new’ normal carries with it the inequitable vestiges of the status quo? How can we seek something besides what already is, or what is deemed new or novel or best pandemic practice amid neoliberalism’s continual hunt for productivity, in our desire for community making? Can we pause here and be horrified at the way those words come so easily together: best pandemic practice. We wonder this question of community as resistance – can community be about saying no to highly-lauded pandemic practices that create subjectivities of control, compliance, and adaptation in a world rapidly dissembling around us? We do not want pandemic best practices; there is nothing best or practicable about living in viral times and we refuse the moves of subsuming pedagogy into publishable pandemic practices aimed at smoothing over the mess of our current worlds with children. How then, can we do community as saying yes to the otherwise, to the something else, without knowing what exactly that something else may be? We think too about precarity and community, when for so long our myths of community were grounded in predictability, assurance, and stability, but now community dialogues with the very real possibility that any tiny node of community-making could be thrown into chaos tomorrow should COVID’s flows and features change. What does community ask of us in viral times – in the face of instability, where we could be asked to completely disassemble all we know tomorrow should COVID demand, how can we get to know what a viral community might look and feel like, what a viral community might invite? We return to Vintimilla (2020) here, in her offering that “it is only in the impossibility of defining community that something worthy of the name community can happen” (p. 7). Community is risky; community is messy; community is a verb and not a victory. Put differently, we want to think community with pedagogy and not with production.

There are two, or perhaps we might find it is just one, threads that we are tuning our attention to now in thinking community and viral pedagogies. We want to see these threads as something to pour time and energy into, something to commit to and declare as our concerns. We borrow from Vintimilla and Berger (2019) who offer that “labouring demands that we collectively experiment and work at it, as well as let ourselves be disappointed, troubled and even exhausted in the birthing of the multiple possibilities that a common project might bring” (p. 192). This means that we want to carry these two threads as provocations toward a common project of thinking community, where we do not want to position these as research questions but instead take them as tentative responses to the question “how do we live well together in viral times?”. First, we want to think with bodies: how do our bodies come together in COVID times? How do community and bodied relations intersect? Hesitation, desire, risk, hope: these are all relations we carry in our bodies and see manifested in the ways we move our bodies with children. To think bodies with community is also to note the wavering engendered by the pandemic as we move our bodies; there’s a pause that marks the pedagogical struggle of fleshed interrelations where we ask, do I want our bodies this close? Do I need to wash my hand after a high five? Is a hug okay here? There’s a question here, we think, about how it feels to be a body in a hyper-vigilant state while thinking community with pedagogy. Second, we are curious about thinking childhoods and community amid viral times. Children are profoundly non-innocent and are active participants in keeping one another safe – is this care? Is this community? We think to a concept doused in neoliberalism and in individual control over one’s body, but that feels relevant for reimagining here: what becomes of consent in community in COVID times? How do we ask how we can be in proximity and put one another at risk, while in the same beat asking how we can be close and form bodied relations? How do bodies become a site of COVID politics in community, where we might not resolve questions like consent but might muscle them like pedagogical provocations?

Here, it feels right to reiterate our orienting questions: how do we come together now, here, in COVID worlds? How do we think about creating more livable worlds and community together with children in viral times, when we are in and of COVID worlds?

Nelson, N., & Hodgins, B. D. (2020). Unruly voices: Growing climate action pedagogies with trees and children. In S. Elloitt, E. Ärlealm-Hasgér, and J. Davis (Eds.), Researching early childhood education for sustainability (pp. 150-165). Routledge.

Nxumalo, F. (2020). Place-based disruptions of humanism, coloniality and anti-blackness in early childhood education. Critical Studies in Teaching and Learning (CriSTaL)8(si1), 34-49.

Vintimilla, C. D. (2020). Relational openings for the otherwise. In W. Kohan and B. Weber (Eds.), Thinking, childhood, and time: Contemporary perspectives on the politics of education (chapter 11). Lexington Books.

Vintimilla, C. D., & Berger, I. (2019). Co-laboring: Within collaboration degenerative processes. In B.D. Hodgins (Ed.), Feminist research for 21st-century childhoods: Common worlds methods (pp. 187-195). Bloomsbury.

Vintimilla, C. D., & Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2020). Weaving pedagogy in early childhood education: On openings and their foreclosure. European Early Childhood Education Research Journal28(5), 628-641

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