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Where does materiality take us? Posthuman methodological pathways for maker literacies research

Amélie Lemieux, Mount Saint Vincent University Jennifer Rowsell, Professor of literacies and social innovation, University of Bristol

Over the last decade, the landscape of research on materiality in educational studies has shifted from an emphasis on semiotic modes to one that considers material relationality and affective dynamisms, especially in literacies research. In our recent article (Lemieux and Rowsell, 2020) published in Literacy, ‘On the relational autonomy of materials: Entanglements in maker literacies research’ we argue that literacy studies are undergoing this shift in classroom-based research studies that use maker education as a way to take the pulse of matter (Barad, 2007), and we do so by drawing on Elizabeth Grosz’s (2017) de/construction of human perception, reason and intuition to theorise the relational autonomy of materials. In particular, we argue that Grosz’s concept of human rationalisation of perception constitutes a first step in acknowledging how materiality works (and is perceived) in makerspace contexts. We further maintain that human intuition serves as an entry point into the relational dimension of materiality, in that it speaks to non-representational dynamisms (for instance, sense-making and intuitive mobilisations serve as valid ways to understand the world). In turn, these relational dimensions inform posthuman practices of looking at entanglements between humans, nonhumans, and more-than-humans rather than focusing on such fixed measurement entities as dispositions, performance or attainment (for a rhizomatic analysis of teacher dispositions, see Strom, Margolis, & Polat, 2019, and for a detailed discussion of critical posthumanism in literacy studies, see Kuby, Spector, & Thiel, 2019).

‘Human intuition serves as an entry point into the relational dimension of materiality, in that it speaks to non-representational dynamisms (for instance, sense-making and intuitive mobilisations serve as valid ways to understand the world).’

As education scholars working at the intersectionalities of literacies and the arts, we are interested in answering the following questions: 1) How does materiality enact its relational agency between humans, nonhumans and more-than-humans in makerspace classroom settings? 2) How do materials enact their relational autonomy in makerspaces? These two questions generate necessary conversations around posthuman research methodologies (Peppler, Rowsell, & Keune, 2020), neomaterialist maker work (Sheridan, Lemieux, Do Nascimento, & Arnseth, 2020) and embracing messiness (Rowsell, Lemieux, Swartz, Turcotte, & Burkitt, 2018) in maker literacies research.

Drawing on two funded maker research projects that address coding and computer programming in our Literacy article, we developed a definition of the relational autonomy of materials, which ‘presents mutual relationships – a sense of entangled relationality – between humans and objects’ and established that ‘working with the emergence of material combinations, adjusting to the friction between surfaces and apprehending textual play, are all human actions that speak to the relational autonomy of materials and frame tinkering as an assemblage – a dynamic construction and deconstruction of literacy events’ (Lemieux & Rowsell, 2020). In other words, making is a matter of being a part of the entanglements (the relationalities) between materials, humans, nonhumans, felt dimensions, expressions of frictions and ‘push back’, including the socio-material realities in which these take place. It is our hope that this theorising will nurture future research conversations accounting for reciprocity and equity in makerspace research studies as we think with relationality as opposed to constructivist ways of knowing in literacies and learning sciences.  

Such studies are significant for the field of education because they offer posthuman methodologies (Peppler, Rowsell, & Keune, 2020) to think with materiality and composition as, for instance: multimodal stances as ways to turn to the world (Rowsell, 2020); craftivism in maker education as it relates to gaming (Rowsell & Shillitoe, 2019); understanding how materials influence makerspace design (Keune & Peppler, 2019); and dynamisms of neomaterialist relationality between humans, nonhumans and more-than-humans in makerspace research (Sheridan, Lemieux, Do Nascimento, & Arnseth, 2020). Future research could investigate how these considerations for relationality might influence curriculum design and implementation, and we encourage readers to radically pursue those avenues and get in touch with us via email or on Twitter (see author biographies for details).


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Grosz, E. (2017). The incorporeal: Ontology, ethics, and the limits of materialism. New York: Columbia University Press.

Keune, A., & Peppler, K. (2019). Materials-to-develop-with: The making of a makerspace. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(1), 280–293.

Kuby, C. R., Spector, K., & Thiel, J. J. (2019). Posthumanism and literacy education: Knowing/becoming/doing literacies. New York: Routledge (Expanding Literacies in Education Series).

Lemieux, A., & Rowsell, J. (2020). On the relational autonomy of materials: Entanglements in maker literacies research. Literacy, 54(3), 144–152.

Peppler, K., Rowsell, J., & Keune, A. (2020). Editorial: Advancing posthumanist perspectives on technology-rich learning. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1240–1245.

Rowsell, J. (2020). ‘How emotional do I make it?’: Making a stance in multimodal compositions. Journal of Adult and Adolescent Literacy, 63(6), 627–637.

Rowsell, J., & Shillitoe, M. (2019). The craftivists: Pushing for affective, materially informed pedagogy. British Journal of Educational Technology, 50(4), 1544–1559.

Rowsell, J., Lemieux, A., Swartz, L., Burkitt, J., & Turcotte, M. (2018). The stuff that heroes are made of: Elastic, sticky, messy literacies in children’s transmedial cultures. Language Arts, 96(1), 7–20. Retrieved from

Sheridan, M. P., Lemieux, A., Do Nascimento, A., & Arnseth, H. C., (2020). Intra-active entanglements: What posthuman and new materialist frameworks can offer the learning sciences. British Journal of Educational Technology, 51(4), 1277–1291.

Strom, K. J., Margolis, J., & Polat, N. (2019). Teacher professional dispositions: Much assemblage required. Teachers College Record. Retrieved from


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