When the Tears Just Pop Out of Your Eyes: Reconfiguring Social-Classed Literacies through a Posthuman Teacher Education Pedagogy

by Stephanie Jones, Breanne Huston & Karen Spector - 2019

This chapter draws on theories of new materialisms that assume the discursive (language, ideology, emotions) and the material (physical space, material objects, bodies) are always entangled and act together to produce phenomena. We use these theoretical concepts to persuade readers that the ways we perceive, judge, and discriminate based on social-class difference are literacies that we acquire and produce across time and space. The authors argue that these literacies are acquired by the body through our material-discursive intra-actions and are often felt viscerally, even when we donít have access to language appropriate for articulating what we know. We use vignettes from teacher education courses to support a call for tending to the body, space, social-classed texts, and emotions in the design of curriculum and pedagogy aimed at approaches to teaching and learning that are sensitive to social class.

Randall was just five years old when he sat with Stephanie (first author) in the kitchen area of the informal learning space that was housed in his neighborhood. He visited this space, known as the Playhouse, after school every day that it was open, typically about three days a week. He hadn’t gone to school on this day, and so he arrived quite early, while Stephanie was cutting up vegetables and fruits and doing other things to get the space ready for a couple of dozen children to pour through the doors searching for snacks and friends, ready to pick up their projects where they left off or to change course entirely and start something new.

Stephanie sliced the big bunch of cucumbers that she had picked up at the local food bank and listened to Randall as he talked about things he liked and didn’t like, things he wanted to do and didn’t want to do. As the conversation carried on, Randall began talking about things that worried him.

“Sometimes tears just pop out of my eyes!” he told Stephanie.

“They do? Tell me about that.”

“Like when I went to the mall with my grandma. There was a man standing there with a sign that said he was poor. And when I saw him tears just popped out of my eyes.”

Tears welled in Randall’s eyes again as he told the story.

“I was just so worried about him, where he would sleep, what he would eat.”

“I worry about people I see, too,” Stephanie told him.

“Yeah. It’s just so sad. So sad.”

Variations of this conversation continued that day—and, really, across several years thereafter—as Randall, his playmates, Stephanie, and many other adults who spent time at the Playhouse discussed things that were on their minds. Human struggle and suffering were often on their minds: people not having enough food or somewhere safe to sleep; people being deported or taken to jail; people being treated badly because of their skin color, the language they spoke, their gender or sexuality, their body shape and size, their ability to find work, and so on. The adults responded pedagogically to these concerns, both as they bubbled up into discussions and then through impromptu and planned events, activities, and other opportunities designed for the children to continue experimenting with issues that were of interest and concern to them.

Human struggle and suffering come in many forms and are often entangled with one another in complicated ways that transformative pedagogies should work to productively unravel. In this essay, we highlight moments in a graduate-level teacher education course when students became affected and expressed emotion through visceral (somatic) encounters with social class, poverty, and classism and how newly reconfigured social-class literacies emerged from these experiences. The ways people perceive, judge, and discriminate based on social-class (and other) difference are literacies that are produced, frayed, and reconfigured across time and space (see, e.g., Franklin-Phipps & Rath, 2019; Jones, 2013; Jones & Spector, 2017; Jones & Vagle, 2013; Jones & Woglom, 2013, 2016; Thiel & Jones, 2017). When learning is occurring, these literacies continue to come into being, to emerge and shift, to take and lose shape, to fray at the edges or from the middle.

Based on scholarship inspired by process philosophy, we endeavor to further develop the idea that learning always involves fray, an idea we came to through Holbrook and Cannon (2019), Ellsworth (2005), and Massumi (2015), among others. In their chapter based on experiences in pedagogical places of sorrow and remembrance, Holbrook and Cannon (2019) curated an unusual scholarly text that invited “learning selves to fray, to be open to different directions of thinking and action, and to refuse efforts to know once and for all” (p. 30), even as they described their own coming undone. For them, fraying was like breaking down the clean line of a hem, or unmaking a plan, or “reach[ing] compassionately toward the other” (p. 35).

Their work drew from Ellsworth (2005), who sought to break down walls that frequently separate concepts integral to learning and literacies: cognition/affect, mind/body, discursive/material, and knowing/being. Instead of sharp contrasts, Ellsworth (2005) showed us how these concepts are expressed together in a process-oriented, relational pedagogy: a “thinking-feeling, the embodied sensation of making sense, the lived experience of our learning selves that make the thing we call knowledge” (p. 1). When we reach the limits of what we already know, feel, and can do, we enter the always uncertain place of learning, where habitual practices fray, opening us up to the possibility of different ways of moving with and for the world.

Affect makes this transformation possible and was defined by Massumi (2015) as a pre-personal “margin of manoeuvrability, the ‘where we might be able to go and what we might be able to do’ in every present situation” (p. 3). The goosebumps or tingles we experience when reading a poem, seeing a sunset, or hearing fingernails scrape across a chalkboard are manifestations of affect, the frissons (shivers) of encounter that “arise . . . from a place that can be neither accessed nor authenticated through propositional or referential language” (Ellsworth, 2005, p. 8). In this paper we reserve affect for the more-than-human force that increases or diminishes a body’s capacity to act, while we use emotion for “the way experience registers personally at a given moment” (Massumi, 2015, p. 3). Randall’s tears “popping out” and his sadness are significant, but they are only partial, emotional expressions of the affective events he experienced.

We begin with an analysis of Randall’s expression of social-classed literacies in the moments while he told the story about seeing a man with a sign near the mall. This is an important way to begin this work, we believe, because it illustrates how affect and emotion take part in producing the literacies through which we make (and unmake) sense of the world. We had many out-of-school experiences with Randall and his family in their neighborhood and therefore can perceive more clearly (although still only partially) some of the ways in which his social-classed literacies had been configured. In contrast, as we move to women’s narratives situated in a teacher education course, we have less firsthand experience with their out-of-school lives and cannot address the complex nuances across their more than twenty years of encounters that produced social-classed literacies. What we can do is observe and write through some of our experiences with teacher education students, their becoming affected, and their expressions of emotion in a course that was intentionally designed to materially-discursively produce and reconfigure social-classed literacies. We will conclude with a call for using posthumanist—or feminist new materialist—theories for designing courses that tend to the body, space, social-classed texts, affect, and expression of emotions to encourage a fray that unmakes and so makes new literacies possible.


Randall was just a child of five when he told the story of tears popping out of his eyes as he saw the man with the sign near the mall; however, he had been configuring and reconfiguring literacies of social class and economic struggle for some time before the day he saw that particular man. To begin to understand the thinking-feeling that produced Randall’s tears and sadness, we first need to discuss the contexts in which Randall spent much of his time: at home with his family and in his neighborhood. We’ll use this as an example of assemblage, which includes things such as “bodies, actions and passions, an intermingling of bodies reacting to one other” and “acts and statements, incorporeal transformations attributed to bodies” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 88). These intermingling bodies, objects, statements, and histories produce particular kinds of literacies about things, people, places, and ideas. Importantly, these literacies are not located in an individual, but rather circulate through assemblages that include human bodies. Specifically, we see the expression of strong emotions as traces of lived-through encounters folded into bodies. As Mazzei and Jackson (2019), feminist post-qualitative theorists, argued:

Posthuman literatures and literacies . . . [are] not reliant on the particular creation of a unique human being. . . . [I]t is always an assemblage of forces, bodies, affects, and things that produces utterances and texts in their many varied forms. (p. 173)

Thus, Randall’s social-classed literacies are not his own, nor are they stable; rather, they are encountered in relation to the assemblages he is plugged into.

Randall lives in a small city in Georgia with his mom, grandma, grandpa, and three siblings, in a three-bedroom, one-bathroom duplex in a neighborhood of similar homes. The neighborhood sits on the outskirts of the city and is very close to a part of the county that is predominantly farmland, where horses, cattle, and chickens are raised and cared for. Public transportation is difficult to access from Randall's neighborhood, and there are no sidewalks on which people can walk the mile or so to the main road, where they can get to a gas station, a Mexican food market and shop, and a Dollar General store. It is very common to see multiple people walking in the street or jumping off the street into the ditch and yards on either side of the road to get away from traffic speeding along the long stretch of road, which has no stop signs, stoplights, or sidewalks.

His family identifies as Black, and the neighborhood residents are predominantly Black and Latinx (mostly Mexican) families. His grandparents regularly talked about the hope they had that the church and God Himself would relieve the suffering in the Black community and that of poor people from all racial backgrounds. Even when there were very disturbing events in the national news—such as the violence around Confederate flags being exhibited in the U.S. South, the mass shooting in a black church in South Carolina, or police brutality against Black and Brown people—Randall’s mother and grandparents believed that prayer and empathy would help heal those who were suffering.

Randall’s mother and grandmother took the children to church every Sunday morning, and they would spend most of the day there, returning in the afternoon looking spiffy in their church clothes and smiling brightly from the energy the church gave them. Randall’s grandfather regularly picked up extra food at the food pantries and walked door to door asking all the families if they could use some potatoes, boxed bread mix, or canned goods. It was the grandpa who would tell us (the outside adults who spent time in the neighborhood) who in the community was most in need of food or other kinds of help, and he wasn’t shy about expressing his own family’s struggles with basic resources.

For all of Randall’s short five years, he had been immersed in the material-discursivity of not having much and living around other people who also didn’t have much, alongside a narrative of being blessed and grateful. The dwellings where he lived were modest and appreciated, and the physical landscape of the neighborhood was humble and used extensively by the children in their play. And while there had historically been tensions between the black and Latinx families in the neighborhood, those divisions were now diminished as children played with one another across language and ethnic differences, creating a more unified sense of community than had existed in the past.

Living amid these multiplicities, Randall was encountering, configuring, and reconfiguring literacies of social class all along (e.g., Jones, 2013; Thiel & Jones, 2017). These literacies were “detached fragments,” or partial traces of a broader, communally-embodied way of knowing and being within the uncertainty of material resources: an orientation toward sharing and giving to those who are also in need, and a belief that God loves everyone and economic struggle is not to be punished or looked down upon, but to be shared through empathy and doing one’s best to help alleviate suffering.

So when Randall saw the man with the sign near the mall, he didn’t simply “see” or “read” a man with a sign; rather, he was affected—a force from outside impinged upon him, producing a reaching-out compassionately to another with an open, uncertain, fraying edge. In this relational encounter, all of Randall’s thinking-feelings and registered emotions about social class and the suffering created by a lack of basic resources were knitting together something new.


Randall is but one child who inspires and motivates us to teach social class and “poverty” differently from mainstream practices, which are often grounded in deficit ideologies about poor and working-class folks (for example, the deficit-riddled and classist work by Ruby Payne critiqued by so many [Bomer, 2008; Sato, 2009], as well as some more “progressive” work that continues to circulate classist discourses fueled by ideas of meritocracy [Jensen, 2009]). But it’s not only the content around social class, poverty, and classism that concerns us in the work of teacher education; it is also the theories that animate the pedagogies at work in such classroom settings.

In what follows, we write through some of our sense-making of what emerged when we were teaching a course called “Social Class, Poverty, and Class-Sensitive Pedagogy” and discuss how it was possible for different people to become affected or have emotions surface at different times. The course aims at a broad and deep education in issues of social class as a foundation for educators to configure new (and reconfigure old) literacies of social class and classism in society, their lives, and their classrooms. Our students were racially and ethnically diverse women who were dual-degree undergraduate/MEd students, MEd students, EdS students, and PhD students, with a wide range of teaching experience in P–16. It was our intention to actively engage them intellectually, affectively, and creatively, through their bodies and in different physical spaces (i.e., in the formal classroom as well as different community spaces). This design reflects our theoretical understandings of feminist new materialisms (e.g., Alaimo & Hekman, 2008): an orientation toward pedagogical design that is not concerned with “outcomes,” but rather with the fully embodied experiences of students with spaces, materials, and ideas in their ongoing journey of becoming. In the next sections we present narrativized accounts of becoming affected and expressing emotions as students are “in a dissolve: out of what is just ceasing to be into what it will already have become by the time it registers that something has happened” (Massumi, 2002, p. 200).


“This is hard,” the student said to Stephanie.

She said this during a ten-minute break in the class meeting, while Stephanie was pulling up video clips to share in the next part of the class. She glanced at the student but then continued typing in titles on the computer as she said, “I know it is. It is hard, and I really appreciate how you are so present in class.” Then she glanced at the student.

Tears were welling in her eyes.

Stephanie stopped typing, stopped talking, and turned slowly to the student.

They were both silent, looking at each other, as the tears spilled over and ran down her cheeks.

“I’m sorry,” Stephanie said again. “I know this is hard.”

And they were silent some more.

Again, the quiet, the tears, and much as with Randall, the limited language available to articulate a fraying are traces of the pedagogical encounter that had just been endured and was still being lived through and producing reconfigured social-classed literacies. The affect circulating through the classroom assemblage during the first part of class welled up into bodies and registered as tears. What we know and are still coming to know cannot yet be expressed through traditional school literacies.

The student was telling us that she was in distress, heavy with the embodied responsibility of becoming in a different way. It hurts to fray. She was reconfiguring her literacies of social class through personal writing about social-class histories, reading a social narrative (e.g., Rachel Lloyd's Girls Like Us, 2012), reading a contemporary social-class issues book (e.g., Michelle Alexander's The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness, 2010), doing activities to make visible the “invisible workers” who sustain our collective lives on the university campus, viewing video clips about Indian Boarding Schools in North America, watching a TED talk on income inequality and the negative effects of an entire society with increased gaps between the richest and the poorest in any given place (e.g., that by Richard Wilkinson), and sharing personal stories, including the story about Randall and his encounter with the man with the sign at the mall. Much of the course foregrounded inescapable truths about income and wealth inequality, the violence of classism, and the brutality of a capitalist system that repeatedly exploits certain groups of people while simultaneously benefiting other groups of people.

It’s all too much. It tears at the fabric of the world we’ve imagined.

This is hard.

For this particular student and a number of others, the fray that was making newly reconfigured literacies possible was also producing guilt and sadness and, and, and . . .


There was a lot of movement during our class meetings: pulling chairs into a circle, sitting on the floor in small groups, working in the hallways, sitting at clusters of tables, gathering at whiteboards to write and draw, and out-of-class assignments that asked students to notice their bodies (and related affect and expression of emotions) as they moved in and out of different places (restaurants, stores, coffee shops, gas stations, etc.). This movement of bodies is intentional, as we believe that configuring and reconfiguring literacies about social class is an embodied practice—something that comes to be as we encounter different material-discursive spaces, moving from place to place, gathering in different groups for different purposes, and doing our best to be aware of how our bodies respond as well as how we perceive others’ bodies.

During one class meeting when students had an option of working with others or alone, one student went to work feverishly. An intensity of concentration, memory, presence, and emotion. Fury upon passion upon determination upon confusion.

Upon hope.

Many of her classmates were working with similar dedication, the room bubbling with questions, stories, research connections, insights, ideas. But we watched her.

This student had chosen to work alone, as she often did despite having a tangle of good relationships with her classmates. We had read “The Literacies of Things: Reconfiguring the Material-Discursive Productions of Race and Class in an Informal Learning Centre” (Thiel & Jones, 2017), in which the authors argued that material objects are inscribed with social-classed and raced literacies. They used the example of the metal bars installed across all the windows of the Playhouse as an indicator that the neighborhood was dangerous, potentially criminal, and therefore in need of protection from the very people the Playhouse was supposed to serve. The metal bars, in this predominantly Black and Latinx working-class neighborhood, produced particular ways of making sense of the place and the bodies that inhabited that space. Following a discussion of the article, we invited students to use an assortment of materials (string, paint, markers, paper, glue, stickers, Post-Its, popsicle sticks, etc.) to think through one of the many concepts the authors had used (e.g. thingpower, place-making, feminist new materialisms, material-discursive apparatus, and intra-action).

She went right to work.

Shoulders hunched, eyes narrowed, teeth biting down sharply on her lips, she moved back and forth between her work on the whiteboard—where she was sticking Post-Its, taping string, jotting words, and scribbling drawings—and her belongings, which were sprawled on the table across the room, and the collection of materials spread at the front of the room. She was methodical. Determined.

When she finished, she let out a deep sigh and locked eyes with Breanne (second author), totally unaware that Breanne had been observing her work.

“What did you come up with?” Breanne asked. The student stood back so we could see the labels she’d written across the top of the whiteboard: REALITY and DESIRE. Strings of Post-Its linked the two juxtaposed words, with phrases and questions scribbled across each one, including:

Bodies in a space.

Cultural “norms.”

Classroom culture /(over) comfort.

What’s the research say?

What really is a “safe space”?

Where do you do your homework?

Below the word “REALITY” she had taped a black-and-white copy of a classroom map that featured a seating chart marked with the smiling faces of elementary school students and their names. They were organized in neat rows, dutifully facing the bottom of the paper, which was labeled with a bold “Front” and occupied by the “Teacher’s Desk.”

Below the word “DESIRE,” she had sketched something different: A classroom that still bore the “Front” label, but where couches, oversized chairs, and beanbags replaced the desks and “Crafts Area” replaced “Teacher’s Desk.”

“It’s so awful,” she told Breanne, her voice shaking as she explained that this was the classroom where she student-taught. “They have to sit in these same places every single day in alphabetical order, except to switch it up so that boys and girls don’t sit next to one another. And they can never move unless they ask first.”

At once, Breanne saw it: The likeness between the black-and-white rows of the seating chart and the bars described in the article, producing literacies to make sense of children, to control their bodies and keep them at a distance. That part of the room and everything in it were all charged up, vibrating at a new frequency, and the student’s emotions seemed to come from a sense of unfairness and oppression and powerlessness—hers and the students’.

But it also came from a place of hope. Of desire, as she herself had termed it. Of a belief that the past of this particular classroom could be imagined differently. Just as the bars had been removed from the windows of a learning center, these rows of desks were in the process of being unmade.

We see this as an exquisite example of affect being a synonym for hope. Our student’s encounters in the material-discursive classroom produced a “margin of manoeuvrability” wherein she could imagine herself and her classroom becoming different (Massumi, 2015, p. 3). The shakiness in her voice might have indicated an in-the-moment fraying, or becoming, which is just another way of saying learning. The shakiness speaks from a place that can never be fully accessed or explained through traditional literacies; it can only be lived through.

This becoming registers the understanding that “control” isn’t only about the language of discipline and behavior management but also about that of physical spaces—material objects and bodies, arranged in a space, that produce literacies about social class and race, about children and education. This student was affected through her engagement with an article/new concepts/material objects/space, which in this case produced determination, sadness, frustration, anger, optimism, and hope—all as she moved her body around her sense-making creation. While we cannot (nor would we wish to) predict what outcome might be produced by being affected in assemblages that put us into contact with different social class–related ideas, we can predict that providing access to different ideas, analytical concepts, material objects, the physical space and materials to create, and time in class to do so, will cause literacies of social class to fray, change, be reconfigured, and become embodied and expressed through emotion.


It was the second class meeting. Stephanie asked students to find a blank page in their notebooks and begin writing about a place that was important to them. She asked them to focus on the details of the place—to write so that the place in their memory could be felt in the present—and after they had had time to write, she asked everyone to go back to that place and write about it in a different way. Breanne felt both relief and nervousness as Stephanie invited the students to write. She had been out of town for the first class meeting and was anxious to become part of the fledgling classroom community. She and Stephanie had decided together that she would participate in class that day as a student in order to ease in and get to know everyone. Breanne was being affected by the writing invitations. She did not want to “mess it up” with this first writing by revealing too much or too little of herself in a way that might be out of joint with practices that were already being negotiated. She knew she should trust the process; she knew she should embrace the writing and the invitation to share that would follow, but her formative years in K–12 schooling caused her to tighten up and withdraw. She remembered being forced to share before she was ready. She remembered when the inability to perform well on the spot meant her teachers’ and peers’ disapproval. All of these memories began bubbling up into her chest and manifesting in a racing heart and sickening feeling.

It was hard.

And then Stephanie asked the group to pause their writing, and she began to read her own writing, offering up to everyone in the room pieces of herself, her memories, her life. As Breanne listened, her heart slowed, her muscles relaxed, and something new became possible. When Stephanie came to a stop and invited the writing of others, Breanne could feel the intensity all around her—in the quiet sighs and deep breaths of the students, in the motion of pens and pencils across paper, in the flipping of pages, and in the settling in of bodies as they set to the task of writing.

Breanne began writing, too. She wrote about the old pecan trees that lined the driveway where she had grown up. Her father had grown up there, too, the youngest son of a distinguished university professor who had hired a poor farmer to plant those trees many decades earlier. That poor farmer was a father of six children, the youngest of whom grew up to be Breanne’s mother. The story of those trees that one of her grandfathers had hired the other to plant had fascinated Breanne as a child, and as she grew up under their shade, they came to represent her life—the entanglement of two worlds, poor and not, that were supposed to be kept separate.

Breanne emerged from her writing with everyone else and entered into a space of sharing with her table-mates. She took courage from the murmured readings happening around her, and like Stephanie before her, she added her voice and a piece of her story to the couple of dozen others that were filling the room.

These words, written and shared by all the members of the classroom community that day, were something quite different from the kind of reflective writing that is prevalent across many classroom spaces. One reason for this is that Stephanie did not ask students to “reflect” on their experiences with social class, nor even about a place that necessarily represented any social class–specific experiences. She invited a different kind of writing, one that evoked embodied memories of physical spaces, material objects, landscapes, and multiple perspectives. The purpose of this kind of writing is different from that of reflective writing, which is generally intended to provide students with the time and space to order their thoughts and to communicate those thoughts to someone who may (or may not) read them thoughtfully and provide some form of feedback or assessment concerning the predetermined and desired “outcome.”

But this writing—diffractive writing—that we produced and shared on the second day of class (and continued writing and sharing throughout our time together) was unconcerned with a predetermined outcome. Rather, it sought out difference. As Spector (2015) described it, while reflection returns merely an image of the same (see Barad, 2007), “diffractions do produce differences; in fact, if a difference doesn’t emerge, then a diffraction hasn’t occurred” (p. 448). This writing moved us. It affected us in unexpected ways, and through this writing we expressed emotions and literacies that were already written in our bodies, and we also found new ideas that were only now within the space of maneuverability that Stephanie’s invitation had made possible.

For Breanne, the pecan trees were always there, and so was her knowledge that her mother and father grew up in ways that were classed differently, but the invitation to write about a place that was important to her and then to think about it in two different ways in the classroom assemblage, including the expectation that the writing would exist in community with others in the class, produced new connections. The assemblage led to new and creative ways for her to think about her family experiences with social-class literacies, ways that had the potential to invite more intense discussions and (dis)connections than a reflective writing of the already known.

With diffractive writing, “openness is essential,” because “if the material can’t pass through, there is no diffraction” (Spector, 2015, p. 449). Diffraction can be an experiment with uncertainty, where we “lean over the edge of predictability” to knowingly explore what might emerge beyond what has been in the past (Jones, 2014, p. 7), or it can be like being swarmed from the outside, our gates being broken open so that there’s nothing we can do about it. Both produce differences that matter.


We hope that readers might be engaging with this chapter in a way that offers a reconfiguring of their own literacies around teacher education pedagogy and issues of social class and poverty. In other words, we hope readers are reading diffractively, that you aren’t reading and expecting an already-known outcome to the chapter, but rather leaning over the edge of predictability, being open (or opened) to being changed, and refusing to remain the same.

Perhaps some of you are tilting your heads, nodding, squinching your noses, or widening your eyes— expressing a tension, a fraying at the edges, some kind of opening that may feel irreconcilable in the moment but will surely produce some difference. What that difference might be is something we can’t predict, and indeed we perceive that difference to be something that will continue to shift and change and become different yet again. This orientation toward openness, change, and unpredictability is something we assume just is. In other words, we believe that the ontological underpinnings of some process philosophies and some posthumanisms assume that assemblages are never static.

Nothing is ever repeated in exactly the same way.

When we take this belief into teacher education (or any kind of education, for that matter), all sorts of goals and practices unravel at the seams, or fray. Most obviously, a traditional “input-output” model of teacher education that values specific, measurable outcomes becomes nonsensical, but even a lot of progressive and justice-oriented teacher education pedagogies still hold tight to a (more progressively stated) notion of inputs and predictable outcomes. As Franklin-Phipps and Rath (2019) stated about their posthuman teacher-education pedagogy, they aren’t working toward a stable objective for their students, such as being “antiracist”; rather, they are designing material-discursive pedagogical spaces that might prompt more nuanced and complex literacies that continue to be reconfigured in a shifting, always racialized world.

For us, a posthuman (feminist new materialist) approach to thinking about teacher education, and specifically pedagogy in justice-oriented teacher education, positions us to see the classroom as mutliple material-discursive assemblages that are always already entangled with multiple other assemblages. There is no way to seize control over such complex processes, such as the decades of material-discursive experiences in our teacher-education students' lives around issues of social class, classism, and poverty. But posthumanism helps us to see that the always dynamic, moving, becoming-different spaces of maneuverability produce new literacies for children like Randall, or the students in our classes, or ourselves.

In designing pedagogical spaces through a posthumanist lens, our work as pedagogues is not to attempt to stamp out a predictable new version of truth or a new sense of certainty. Instead, we can curate some aspects of the classroom assemblage so that they invite some of our habitual boundary-making processes to fray. And as we have highlighted in this paper, fraying can be hard, it can be painful, and it can be scary, as students become affected by the forces of the classroom assemblage and (at least partially) express their being affected through emotions. Thus, as pedagogues we can expect that expression of emotions will occur, and we might anticipate that such expressions might surface in these very moments of uncertainty, where what was once known has begun an unraveling, where learning happens and literacies are reconfigured.

For example, in this specific course, doing social class differently is hard when we move beyond the habitual ways that educators often repeat sound bites related to “poverty,” such as statements about poverty impacting language learning, brain development, social skills, parental involvement, and so on—all the deficit-classed literacies that circulate so easily). When we tuck our fingers into the fraying fabric of social class and tease it apart for sharing and analysis, it becomes impossible not to acknowledge that we are all implicated in—always already entangled with—social-class divides, classism, elitism, the affluent, the poor, the working class, class-based bias and discrimination in society, and the social and economic systems that make these categories possible.

Sometimes we are so affected by this encounter that our tears pop out, our voice shakes, our heart races. It’s our body already knowing what our language cannot speak: Massumi’s (2015) pre-personal “margin of maneuverability,” where we feel the pain of the fray, the hurt of learning.

The classroom teacher cannot make her students learn through sheer will and interesting assignments, but she can go a long way in being thoughtful about the material-discursive conditions she works to effect that might support the kind of meaningful learning that she hopes will happen. And of course it will happen at different rates and intensities for different people, not because their realities are different, but because reality is itself multiple.

Buchanan (2015), again drawing from Deleuze and Guattari (1987), explained, “There is one reality, but that reality is multiple in and of itself and we need conceptual tools like Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage to disentangle it and render visible its constitutive threads” (pp. 386–387). For example, as the teachers in the classroom, we were intentional and pedagogical in the selection of course readings, the creation of learning activities, the movement of bodies and material objects in the classroom, the integration of writing, and the timing of all of these in relation to other experiences in the course. All of our beliefs and understandings about materiality/discourse/affect/emotions informed these decisions and gave us reason to expect that students would have these kinds of experiences at varying intensities, but we also knew that we could not control or even predict specific outcomes for our students or when and how they would emerge.

Thinking with assemblages will not suddenly make your classroom activities unfold differently, but it makes thinking about, with, and through them in different and generative ways more possible and more accessible.

It cuts differently.

In the classroom assemblage, this means understanding that even when bodies are organizing themselves into the familiar arrangement of rows of desks in alphabetical order, other things are happening, too. It means that despite the expectation that we are all separate from our surroundings, able to control ourselves and our actions no matter the situation, circumstances, or emotions, and no matter the extent to which we succeed in that, other things are happening, too, and we are never “separate from,” but always "in relation with.”

It means that it is more possible to expect these other things to emerge in one form or another and not to see that as an essential failure of the individual human(s) involved.

It makes it possible to know in your body the classed realities of the world we live in and even perform them with precision, yet to be unable to speak them with words (like our student who stopped everything when she said “this is hard”), for your voice to shake with the acknowledgment of the violence and the desire to make something different, and for tears to pop out of Randall’s eyes with the same acknowledgement and desire.


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Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 121 Number 13, 2019, p. 1-18
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 23004, Date Accessed: 5/20/2022 10:55:51 PM

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