Modest witness(ing): Experimenting with ethical relations in the early years

Year: 2015

Author: Blaise, Mindy, Hamm, Catherine, Mario Lorio, Jeanne

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

For the past ten years, early childhood scholars have situated early childhood education as a place for ethical practice (Dahlberg & Moss, 2005). Olsson (2009), Lenz Taguchi (2010), and others are putting to work Deleuze & Guattari’s experimental ontology to open up and produce such ethical practices and possibilities with early childhood teachers. At the same time, the emerging field of environmental humanities has been discussing the ‘Anthropocene’ and its devastating effects on the future (Rose, 2011). These philosophers are concerned with broad questions of ethics, the environmental challenges facing all life (not just humans) on earth, and how we might rearticulate ourselves to be “…members of multispecies communities that emerge through the entanglements of agential beings” (Rose, et al 2012, p. 3). This paper brings together these two lines of inquiry about ethical practice and aims to consider the role of early childhood education within the Anthropocene. More specifically, we, the authors of this paper, are involved in a continuing, collaborative, multisensory and multispecies ethnography that is working with these ‘big’ ethical questions. With teachers and children, we are experimenting with what we call, ‘pedagogies for the Anthropocene’ to produce ethical practices and possibilities that begin to address relations of response-ability (Haraway, 2008). Haraway’s notion of response-ability is always experienced in the company of significant others and lies not within a set of universal principles, but in everyday practices and imaginative politics that rearticulate relations.

We are working with early childhood teachers and children across two early years settings in Victoria, Australia in the project, “Out and about”. This study entails us going ‘out and about’ with early childhood teachers and children encountering-with the common worlds we are a part of. This work involves engaging early childhood teachers with ideas that sit outside the dominant discourse of developmental psychology. We do this by drawing from the diverse approaches taken within environmental humanities (Rose, et al 2012) to work with early childhood teachers to experiment with different ways of becoming-with the world. For this paper we highlight how Haraway’s (1997) figure of the modest witness, combined with Rose’s (2004) notion of witnessing are brought together to encourage teachers to rethink what it means to ‘observe’ in terms of ethical response-ability (Haraway, 2008.) Emerging findings show how modest witness(ing) reworks observations traditionally considered apolitical, distanced, and judgmental towards meaning making that is a form of open-ended dialogue and worlding.