Post Humanism, Materialism, New Materialism, Posthumanist Theories

Jacqueline Barreiro on Storytelling, Pedagogy, and Post Humanism

September 27, 2019

By Dvorah Silverman

A wave of scholars are taking up theories of new materialism and post humanism in the field of educational research. Over the summer, I had the opportunity to sit down with one such scholar, Jacqueline Barreiro, doctoral candidate in SFU’s Curriculum Theory and Implementation program, Sessional Instructor for the Faculty of Education, and Associate Editor of SFU’s graduate-run Educational Review Journal. Her doctoral inquiry focuses specifically on the educational implications of posthumanist theories as pedagogical tools of critique. Jacqueline was the lead Editor for the Spring 2019 Special Issue, Performative and Relational Ontologies in Education and is currently the Co-Editor of the Intra-view section of the Matter: Journal of New Materialist Research.

Informing her scholarship is over twenty years of experience as teacher and principal in the K-12 system and at the University level in the United States, Ecuador, and Canada. Jacqueline was particularly transformed by her experience working as a teacher, and then principal, at a school in the rural Ecuadorian Andes. The culmination of Jacqueline’s experiences orients her towards engaging in research and pedagogical practices that improve conditions for students.

How did you first become interested in new materialism and posthumanism in relation to the field of education?

In one of my first classes at SFU, I was introduced to Bruno Latour’s book, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. I found it so interesting and rich. After reading his book, I began to explore social theory to understand what he was critiquing. Then, I began to read more about Actor-Network Theory (ANT), which asserts that we are all actors (human and non-human) in the fabric of society. For instance, the whole agentic arrangement of us, the computer and recording is now an event that creates an interview. It has a special setting and component that is creating something new. This interview is an actor in that sense.

Karen Barad is another scholar who has greatly influenced my thinking. She is a leading scholar in the area of new materialism. She has taken the notion of performativity further by conceptualizing the world in constant emergence, in constant becoming. Moving beyond notions of the structural society, new materialism and post humanism are process-oriented theories, and thus imagine social life as emergent. In other words, we never are, we only become.

How are you using new materialism and post-humanism theory in your educational research?

I would not say I am using the theories; my research is post-humanist research. It has been said before, that we might be in, or moving towards, a post-humanist condition. Post-humanism does not mean that the human is not important. Instead, it moves away from the Cartesian humanist project, which positions the human at the center and in separation from nature. Posthumanism decenters the human and highlights the materiality, relationality and state of becoming of social formations. For example, the (neo)liberal ideal that individuals can determine their future disregards the relationality of life. When you disregard relationality it is very easy to assign success to some and failure to others. When you account for relationality this idea shifts.                                                          

This notion of relational performativity and becoming provides the grounding for social justice, because it means that in every single turn of life we have the opportunity to make it better. It is not just about fighting against the structure, but it is about being accountable to all of your connections and how you are entangled. That is why for me new materialism and post-humanism hold so much social justice potential.

How does your research move beyond the pedagogical dualism between teacher and student, to include the educational ecology?

I’m writing stories. These stories are of my practice as a teacher and principal in the Andes. The stories come to me, rather than me looking for the stories. The entanglements between story and the theory I’m reading have the potential to produce something new as the reader engages. In this sense, and following Deleuze’s concepts of the virtual and the actual, I would say that the stories have the potential to become this virtual opening for the reader, creating possibilities for more engaged, just, and caring pedagogies that encourage readers to actualize their practices in their own local situations.

Speaking to your work with the Education Review Journal, why do you think collaborative graduate scholarship is important for the field of education?

SFU’s Education Review Journal has a mission to be a venue for making knowledge public and accessible, and to facilitate the promotion of graduate student scholarship in the Faculty of Education. The idea is that graduate students have a safe space and will receive the extra support they require to publish. A project of the journal that I am very proud of was editing the Special Issue (March, 2019), Performative and Relational Ontologies in Education. I hope the articles, interviews and other scholarship featured in the issue has helped spread posthumanist ideas and concepts in the Faculty of Education and beyond. Of course, bringing the special issue to publication was a team effort and here I would like to highlight the work of Dr. Poh Tan as the Editor in-Chief and Daniel Ferraz as the Managing Editor.

In the Special Issue, we invited Iris Van Der Tuin to collaborate for the anchor article of the Journal. Through the process of working together, she invited me to become the Co-editor of the Intra-view Section of, Matter: Journal of New Materialist Research (first issue to be published in December 2019). To have the opportunity to work with all these well-know scholars in the field of new materialism is extremely exciting.

What have some of the key challenges been in applying new materialism and post-humanism to your research practices?

It is always difficult when you are doing something that goes against the current. When you submit papers about new materialism to journals or conferences often reviewers are either uninterested, or lacking the knowledge of the theories themselves to adequately review submissions. As a result, scholars in the field of new materialism are tasked with defending the basic theoretical concepts prior to presenting the inquiry itself. In this sense, there is an extra burden when working with posthumanist theories. This is one of the aspects that needs to be changed.

What are you working on now and what’s next?

I am focusing on writing stories and completing my thesis. I am contributing a chapter called,  “Rethinking causality through children’s literacies”, to be published this year in, Rethinking Language and Literacy Pedagogies with New Materialities, edited by Suzanne Smythe, Diane Degeneis, and Kelleen Toohey, where I share one story of a little kid and his literacy becomings.

I will also be working with SFU’s Educational Review to organize its first Symposium on October 19, 2019 to celebrate and acknowledge authors from its 2019 publications. Hope to see you all there!