"Not Just an Object": Making Meaning of and from Everyday Objects in Educational Research for Social Change

By Pillay, Daisy; Pithouse-Morgan, Kathleen et al. | Educational Research for Social Change, April 2019 | Go to article overview

"Not Just an Object": Making Meaning of and from Everyday Objects in Educational Research for Social Change


Pillay, Daisy, Pithouse-Morgan, Kathleen, Naicker, Inbanathan, Educational Research for Social Change


Objects Repurposed

Encountering objects

Family objects

Cultural objects

Memory objects

Objects transcend black and white

Objects work in transversals

Objects open becomings

Disruptions refocused us

To speak back, provoke, dispel . . .

Produce questions, entry points

Pause, change direction!

Re-launch ourselves

Make new connections

In diverse contexts

Walking with students

Mapping with students

Know our students

Inspired to read and write

Improve educational practices

Social change and equity

As Claudia Mitchell (2017) has pointed out, the study of objects is well-known in fields such as archaeology, art history, communications, fine arts, museum studies, philosophy and sociology-but is still developing in educational research. Owing to the post-social turn in the social sciences, emphasis on objects in social science research has gained momentum with researchers being called upon "to decentre the human actor from the heart of analysis and to recognize the constitutive influence of nonhuman actors [such as] material objects" in social science research (Humphries & Smith, 2014, p. 478). According to Candlin and Guins (2009), the developing body of research in relation to objects can be best described as eclectic, and not neatly grouped under "object studies" or "object culture" (Candlin & Guins, 2009, p. 3). Rather, they advocate adopting a more supple, looser categorisation such as "object study" and the "study of objects" (Candlin & Guins, 2009, p. 3), where the study of objects, conceptual and material, is opened up for study in varied ways and with potential for interdisciplinary work.

This "Not Just an Object" themed issue was inspired by Claudia Mitchell's (2017, p. 15) deceptively simple question, "What can an educational researcher do with objects and object study?" Mitchell's interest in objects spans different research settings in Canada and South Africa where she has engaged with teachers and artefacts of school as memory prompts (Mitchell & Weber, 1999). In South Africa, much of the work in educational research is essentially focused "on access to material resources such as text books, schools, desks, electricity, water and toilets" (Mitchell, 2017, p. 15). Significantly, Mitchell noted that the "materiality of such material resources, grounds object inquiry research in the everyday world." She highlighted the point that human entanglements with objects and things of the everyday can serve a transformative function in educational research. The study of objects is, thus, particularly focused on the idea of appreciating the local and the everyday as sites for creating different knowledges (St. Pierre, 1997). Everyday knowledge becomes a site for creative meaning-making that can "challenge hierarchical educational practices" (Pahl, 2017, p. 29) and enhance outward movement and connectedness between and across education spaces.

According to Mitchell (2017, p. 16), valuing the local knowledge of participants within an "[object study] participatory framework" highlights the agency of the participant who chooses to voice or symbolise a particular object. One of the central features of objects in research is their potential to evoke "new stories" (Pahl, 2017, p. 33). When individuals talk about their chosen objects, the objects and the stories they construct and narrate are linked, and also combine as part of an overall new "way of knowing" (Pahl, 2017, p. 33).

Pahl (2017) has drawn attention to the marginalisation of the different experiences and knowledges that educational researchers and participants embody alongside particular dominant kinds of knowledge practices. She has shown how object study can foreground particular concerns and questions about "what it is to be human, about whose lens counts, about the boundaries of disciplinary knowledge in an encounter with the everyday" (Pahl, 2017, p. …

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