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Thinking with Theory in Qualitative Research: Viewing Data Across Multiple Perspectives

Thought does not need a method. . . . Method in general is a means by which we avoid
going to a particular place, or by which we maintain the option of escaping from it.
—Deleuze (1983, p. 110)
In our chapter, we situate our work, which we call
thinking with theory,
not as a method with
a script but as a new analytic for qualitative inquiry. Every truth, Deleuze (1983) wrote, is of
a time and a place; thus, we work within and against the truths of humanist, conventional,
and interpretive forms of inquiry and analysis that have centered and dominated qualitative
research texts and practices. We proceed with hesitation and a sense of instability, because as
readers will see, there is no formula for thinking with theory: It is something that is to come;
something that happens, paradoxically, in a moment that has already happened; something
emergent, unpredictable, and always rethinkable and redoable. Discussing his power/
knowledge analysis, Foucault (2000) explained, “What I’ve written is never prescriptive either
for me or for others—at most it’s instrumental and tentative” (p. 240). Following Foucault, we
want to caution readers that thinking with theory does not follow a particular method; rather,
it relies on a willingness to borrow and reconfigure concepts, invent approaches, and create
new assemblages that demonstrate a range of analytic practices of thought, creativity, and
Describing “how” to think with theory—or what it “is”—is ruined from the start; thus,
we add to the literature of previous critiques and deconstructions in the milieu of research
after humanism that attempts to loosen a grip on stable structures and endeavors to shake
off exhaustive and exhausting habits of method (see, e.g., Clarke, 2005; de Freitas & Palmer,
2015; Koro-Ljunberg & MacLure, 2013; Lather, 1993, 2007; Lenz Taguchi, 2012; MacLure, 2009;
Scheurich, 1995; Snaza & Weaver, 2014; St. Pierre, 1997, 2011; Taylor & Hughes, 2016). We also
recognize that there is a significant body of work that has attempted to do inquiry differently
Thinking With Theory
Alecia Y. Jackson and Lisa A. Mazzei
A New Analytic for Qualitative Inquiry
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials71 8
given such deconstructions. Some of this questioning has resulted in narrative research (e.g.,
see Barone, 2001; Clandinin, 2007; Clandinin & Connelly, 1999, 2000), life history (e.g., see
Cary, 1999; Munro, 1998; Weiler & Middleton, 1999), experimental writing forms (e.g., see
Lincoln, 1997; Richardson, 1997), and performance ethnography (Denzin, 2003; Gannon,
2005; McCall, 2000), to name a few, as researchers have sought to minimize the corruption and
simplification of attempts to make meaning in postpositivist and constructionist paradigms.
Such questioning has resulted in innovative inquiry; however, we argue, method still remains
tethered to humanism.
While we have tried to distance ourselves from conventional meanings and uses of many
words from our vocabulary in the writing of this text, we are still burdened with much of
the language that comes from our humanist history—such as
And surely, we cannot
think “analysis” differently without also disrupting notions of “data,” “voice,” “experience,”
“representation,” and so on; as prompted by our readings of Deleuze, these signifiers cannot
hold the same places as they did in humanism. As readers will encounter further down in
this chapter, each of those concepts and practices, although they have been deconstructed,
assumes its own structure and carries its own ontological and epistemological weight, given
the philosophical framework from which it flows (for previous deconstructions of inherited
humanist terms, see, e.g., Clough, 1992; Denzin, 2013; Haraway, 1991; Harding, 1991; Jackson,
2003; Jackson & Mazzei, 2009, 2012a; Lather, 2012; Pillow, 2003; Scott, 1988; St. Pierre, 2000;
Stronach & MacLure, 1997; Weedon, 1987). We take the position that humanist concepts in
qualitative inquiry (such as data, analysis, voice, etc.) can be put to “strange new uses” (Deleuze
& Guattari, 1987, p. 15) when animated in different philosophical frameworks, much like
the concept “power” shifts from a
to a
when moving from structural to
poststructural frameworks. It follows, then, that the signifier “data analysis” as it is conceived
and practiced in postpositivism and constructionism needs to be thought differently to
make the “postqualitative turn”
(St. Pierre, 2011). Thus, concepts and practices (i.e., “data”
and even “analysis”) are used cautiously and hesitantly, with a specific force in particular
Chapters in qualitative textbooks—even entire books—are devoted to teaching data
analysis as mechanistic coding, reducing data to themes and/or writing up transparent and
“transferable” narratives; such approaches preclude dense and multilayered treatment of
data (see, e.g., Bazeley, 2013; Bernard, Wutich, & Ryan, 2016; Miles, Huberman, & Saldaña
2013). We are not alone in our assertion that conventional qualitative data analysis, involving
technical coding and thematic extraction, has its foundation in positivism—with its emphasis
on sorting, simplification, and generalizations—and is actually data
rather than
robust analysis (see, e.g., the special issue of
Qualitative Inquiry, 20
(6) on postcoding and
the special issue of
International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26
(6) on
postqualitative inquiry). Our point here is that signifiers “data” and “analysis” have taken hold
and have become “so transparent, natural, and real that we’ve forgotten they’re fictions. We
accept them as truth” (St. Pierre, 2011, p. 623). Therefore, we respond to Lather’s (2007) urge
“to grasp what is on the horizon in terms of new analytics and practices of inquiry” (p. 1). We
refer to our process as a “new analytic” to make way for the invention of something different
that cannot be fully prescribed. Nevertheless, we have been tasked to write about what we
might be doing when we think with theory and engage in this new analytic, so this chapter
will offer a temporary and “arrested” (Derrida, 1981) glimpse into the inside of such a practice.
In this present moment of qualitative inquiry (Denzin & Lincoln, 2011), we play at the edges of
what might be going on when thinking with theory happens, when the possibility of thought
is “on the horizon.”
This new analytic that we offer is “always in the process of exceeding itself in its own carrying
forward” (Massumi, 2013, p. xii). Like Whitehead’s process philosophy (Whitehead, 1967, p. 72),
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 719
the reality
the process. An entity’s being, in this case our process methodology, is “constituted
by its becoming.
This is the principle of process
” (p. 23, emphasis added). In other words, a
process methodology—thinking with theory—is both its own generative movement as well
as its own effect. Bell (2014) wrote that “as Whitehead makes clear, the facts so dear to the
positivists [and we would add conventional qualitative researchers] are simply abstractions
that come at the end of processes” (p. 85). We posit, later on in this chapter, that thinking
with theory does not come at the end of anything but is emergent and immanent to that
which is becoming. The “actual world,” according to Whitehead (1978), is a process. It is, as
a process philosophy and in our case a process methodology, about our
2013, p. xvii). It is about a creativity that overcomes habitual repetitions and sedimented, or
inherited, ways of being.
In the remainder of this chapter, we follow the contours of what happens when
the work of thinking with theory is done as a process methodology, one that gives up
static properties of linear method and even cyclical, iterative stages and procedures of
conventional qualitative data collection and analysis, in favor of dynamic becomings and
generative differentiations. That is, a thinking with theory process methodology is entirely
ontological: “not a thing but a doing” (Barad, 2007). We recognize that in naming yet
another practice in qualitative inquiry, we are creating realities and making worldings.
However, we see the invention of new concepts—such as our thinking with theory—as part
of the “new” empirical practices in qualitative research (Jackson, 2016; St. Pierre, 2015).
And, unlike other methods, we hope that our process methodology stays on the move
and that it is not reduced to simply another way of doing something
data collection
(assuming that theory is not some form of data or that data are not produced by theory).
Rather, thinking with theory has already happened and is happening in each “now” of
philosophically informed inquiry (St. Pierre, 2011): Thinking with theory is entangled in a
space-time assemblage and impossible to extract and individuate. According to Whitehead
(1967), “Space-time is nothing else than a system of pulling together of assemblages into
unities” (p. 72). It does not adhere to a privileging of instants that can be stacked alongside
one another, nor does it align with a container model of research in which all elements
(e.g., time, the subject, locales) are separable and distinct.
In the next section, we present our view of the necessity of theory in qualitative inquiry,
with particular attention to the sort of thinking that it produces and is produced by; we
position thinking not only as epistemological but also as an ontological creation of realities.
We extend our process methodology to illuminate the generative aspects of both theory and
thinking, both of which we position as process oriented. Then, we make an argument for the
use of postfoundational frameworks that offer what we view as the vital epistemological and
ontological positionings that inform inquiry in this type of scholarship. Following that, we
illustrate in a deliberate and transparent fashion what analytic questions are made possible by
a specific theoretical concept and how the questions that we use to think with emerge in the
of our practice of “plugging in.” We end the chapter with questions that we wish to
leave with readers and implications for
that our discussion raises.
The Necessity of Theory
The meaning of an event can be rigourously analyzed,
but never exhaustively
, because
it is the effect of an infinitely long process of selection determining that these two
things, of all things, meet in this way at this place and time, in this world out of all
possible worlds.
—Massumi (1992, p. 11, emphasis added)
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials72 0
In a paper presented at the American Educational Research Association in April 2004, Patti
Lather stated, “The turn that matters in this moment of the ‘post’ is away from abstract
philosophizing and toward concrete efforts to put the theory to work.” Thinking with theory is
our attempt to put to work philosophical ideas and various theories toward a rigorous approach
to developing a new analytic practice for qualitative inquiry. We use theory not to exhaust
possible explanations but to open up previously
approaches to thinking about what
is happening in our research sites and encounters.
We would like to clarify how we are approaching the concept of “theory” because that word
takes on many different meanings in the academy. For our purposes, we are not referring to the
development of theoretical models of specific phenomena, which is the way the term
is often used in fields such as educational psychology, policy, or leadership studies. Neither are
we referring to “traditional grounded theory” that forgoes “contradictions and inconsistencies”
or that differentiates between theory or, more specifically, “data that are ‘constructed’” versus
“data that are ‘pure’” (Clarke, 2005, pp. 11–18). Instead, we are using this term as it is often
used in contemporary, humanities-based disciplines to refer to more philosophical questions
about what counts as knowledge, what counts as “real” in educational settings, and who has
the authority to determine this.
Why in our own work do we view theory as a necessity? For researchers engaged in
methodological discussions, questions of what counts as knowledge and reality, and how
researchers produce (and are produced) by research practices, are of continuing importance (see,
e.g., discussions in this and previous editions of
The SAGE Handbook of Qualitative Research
As we approach research in contexts described by Deleuze (1989) as “situations which we no
longer know how to react to, in spaces which we no longer know how to describe” (p. xi), we
embrace the practice of putting theory to work in a move that begins to create a language and
way of thinking methodologically and philosophically together that is up to the task.
It is our view that reading and using theory is necessary to shake us out of the complacency
of seeing/hearing/thinking/feeling as we always have, or might have, or will have. Without
taking seriously the epistemological and ontological orientations that both ground and limit
us, research can become little more than a focus on method, rather than a troubling of both
what counts as knowledge and reality and how such knowledge and reality are produced.
MacLure (2009) wrote about her interest in the capacity of theory to offend: “I suggest that
theory’s capacity to offend is also its power to unsettle—to open up static fields of habit and
practice” (p. 277). Like MacLure, we agree that the value of theory in our work “lies in its power
to get in the way: to offend and interrupt . . . to block the reproduction of the . . . obvious, [and
to] open new possibilities for thinking and doing” (MacLure, 2009, p. 277).
How does theory move us beyond an imperative to “know” toward the interrogation of
unproblematized practices in social research? As Deleuze, in dialogue with Foucault (1977), put
it, “A t he ory does not totalise; it is an in strument for multiplication and it also multiplies itself. . . .
As soon as a theory is enmeshed in a particular point, we realise that it will never possess the
slightest practical importance unless it can erupt in a totally different area” (p. 208). In our
Thinking With Theory in Qualitative Research,
we wrote about borrowing theoretical
concepts (e.g., power, desire, marginality, intra-action) from philosophers in disciplines other
than our own, to enable an “eruption” of new questions and previously unthought knowledge
(rather than a reproduction of what was known based on our own experience as women in the
academy and that of our participants). These “eruptions” were analytic questions that emerged
in the middle of things and moved thought beyond an easy sense—something we will discuss
in more detail below. Such a practice for us resulted in using theory to produce questions about,
for example, how Foucauldian power was functioning in our research with first-generation
academic women or the ways in which these women resisted attempts to be defined and located
by others. Thus, we use theory not only to trouble received practices and ways of knowing
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 72 1
but also as Deleuze’s “instrument for multiplication.” We do so to “open up the possibility of
different modes of living . . . not to celebrate difference as such, but to establish more inclusive
conditions for sheltering and maintaining life that resist models of assimilation” (Butler,
2004, p. 4).
We want to emphasize that we are not “enhancing the street cred of theory by sticking some
examples ‘into’ it, which would amount to mere ‘application’” (MacLure, 2009, p. 281). Our
analytic practice
specific concepts as we work theory and data together to illustrate how
everything shifts and multiplies on this uneven terrain. To think with Deleuze is not merely to
“use” select concepts presented by Deleuze and Guattari (e.g., nomadism, rhizome, li nes of flight,
smooth and striated spaces) and to illustrate these figurations with examples from data. Rather,
to think
Deleuzian concepts engages with “new processes more than new products . . .
to energize new modes of activity that seem to offer a potential to escape or overspill ready-
made channelings into the dominant value system” (Manning & Massumi, 2014, p. 87). That
is, we put theory to work to see how it functions
problems and opens them up to the
Theory is responsive, not merely an application or a reflection.
For example, we consider not how a particular theorist defines “assemblage,” be it Deleuze
and Guattari (1987), Massumi (1992), Bennett (2010), Buchanan (2015), or Whitehead (1978).
Nor do we look for examples from our field notes or transcripts that are illustrative examples of
what “counts” as an assemblage. To extend this point, we have, for instance, reconsidered how
we treat voice in qualitative inquiry both
an assemblage and its
function in
an assemblage,
to see how it works—not as something to be mined in the textual artifacts of our research or
as something to which we ascribe meaning by a focus on what our participants say (Mazzei &
Jackson, 2016). By putting a concept to work, we begin to think voice as that which is entangled
in the intra-ac tion of things and doings in an assemblage—bodies, words, histories, materialities,
affects, and so on. Theory, according to MacLure (2009), “stops us from forgetting . . .
that the world is
laid out in plain view before our eyes, or coyly disposed to yield its secrets
to our penetrating analyses” (p. 278).
Foucault (1977) said, “Theory does not express, translate, or serve to apply practice: it
practice” (p. 208, emphasis added). It is this
of theory that we turn to next, as we
describe the work of thinking in our new analytic for qualitative inquiry.
Thinking: In the Threshold of Things
[A]s soon as people begin to no longer be able to think things the way they have been
thinking them, transformation becomes at the same time ver y urgent, ver y difficult,
and entirely possible.
—Foucault (1981/2000, p. 161)
In our book,
Thinking With Theory in Qualitative Research,
we use the figuration of “the
threshold” to situate both our relationship with and the work of theory in qualitative inquiry;
here, we extend that figuration to describe how we position the practice of
in our
research encounters. We explained that in a threshold, things enter and meet, flow (or pass)
into one another, and break open (or exit) into something else. Above, we argued that theory
is necessary in our work because it keeps knowing and being in the middle of things, in a
state of in-between-ness, as always becoming. The threshold incites change, movement, and
transformation of thought in qualitative inquiry (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012b; Manning, 2013).
For a moment, in a threshold where thinking happens, everything and everyone become
something else. The in-between-ness of the threshold offers up a temporary but forceful site for
problematizing and thinking the new. Deleuze and Guattari (1994) wrote that “philosophy is
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials72 2
the art of forming, inventing, and fabricating concepts” (p. 2), and it is this that our practice
of thinking in research encounters promotes; that is, we avoid traps of reinscribing analytic
practices that can lead to generalities, themes, and patterns that are bound to representational,
dogmatic logic and instead pursue practices that open up thought.
In their book,
Thought in the Act,
Manning and Massumi (2014) attempt to give words to
the encounter that they describe as practices of modes of thought. Their project, much like ours,
is to activate, create, and set things in motion. They wrote, “Techniques are not descriptive
devices—they are springboards. They are not framing devices—they activate a practice from
within. They set in motion” (p. ix). Thinking in the threshold never stands with-out, isolated
and elevated; rather, thinking keeps things on the move, keeps things
thus, thinking
is not only epistemological but also ontological in its ability to create new worldings. The
threshold of thinking reminds us that there is radical possibility in the unfinalized because of
the constitutive and generative aspects of all texts. Thinking, then, happens in the middle of
things. It
things: “Thought strikes like lightni ng, with sheer ontogenetic force. It is
. . . .
Thinking is of potential” (Massumi, 2002, p. xxxi-i).
In a threshold, thinking flows, seeking connectives to interrupt (and to be interrupted);
thinking is a productive force in its potential for difference. Manning and Massumi (2014),
citing Deleuze, write, “The middle is not an average, but an excess. It is through the middle
that things grow” (p. 33). We engage thinking as a site of transformation and recognize that for
anything to become—be it data, theory, the subject, knowledge—there needs to be movement:
another break, another connectivity, more contamination. An excess that procreates. However,
we heed Massumi’s (1992) warning that becoming “cannot be adequately described. If it could,
it would already be what it is becoming, in which case it wouldn’t be becoming at all” (p. 103). In
other words, work in the threshold cannot be described using representational logic—thinking
is not reflection, or reception, or contained in the mind. Thinking is not “outside” a project but
sprouts as a line of flight from within. Thinking takes on prehensive qualities: “a noncognitive
‘feeling’ guiding how the occasion shapes itself from the data of the past and the potentialities
of the future. Prehension is an ‘intermediary,’ a purely immanent potential power” (Robinson,
2014, p. 219). Thinking is, in our process methodology, an onto-epistemological creation of the
new from
Thus, thinking is a rhythmic opening onto and into newness; thinking, in a process
methodology, emerges into and continues
potentialities of creativity. Just as we
theorize thinking within particular ontological and epistemological frameworks, we argue
problems erupt from and carry with them philosophical attachments. In the next
section, we explain how we use concepts and theories in the “posts” to challenge the outlines
of traditional inquiry.
Epistemological and Ontological
Assumptions in Thinking With Theory
While the projects that inform both our individual and collaborative work have relied on
orthodox research practices in many ways, all of the poststructural and posthumanist theorists
whom we have used and continue to seek out demand that we attempt to decenter some of the
traps in humanistic qualitative inquiry: for example, the subject, data, voice, narrative, and
meaning making (see Jackson & Mazzei, 2009, for a developed critique). Our methodological
aims are against postpositivist and interpretive imperatives that inhibit the inclusion of
previously unthought “data” (Mazzei, 2007; St. Pierre, 1997) and thus limit interpretation,
analysis, and meaning making. It is such a rethinking of methodology that gets us out of
the interpretive trap of trying to figure out what the participants in our study “mean” via an
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 72 3
analysis that privileges humanist data as the primary source of knowledge. In other words, it
moves us away from analysis in the sense described above and toward thinking with theory as
what we do. Thus, in this section, we make a case for using philosophical frameworks in the
“posts” for a new analytic in qualitative inquiry.
Before proceeding further, and to map our analytic practices in the “posts,” it is important
that we do more than gesture to the traps of humanistic inquiry referenced above. This move
of decentering requires that we foreground assumptions that precede thinking with theory
and how what we propose is different in every way. In other words, we are not just using a new
language or substituting thinking with theory where before we might have said “data analysis.”
We are actually enacting a different practice—no more coding, sorting, sifting, collapsing,
reducing, merging, or patterning. In the same way that we presented, above, a discussion of the
necessity of theory and the work of thinking, we must also present a discussion that lays bare
the epistemological and ontological assumptions that produce a way of
that is not data
analysis in a particular stage in inquiry. Thinking with theory produces new analytic practices
that go beyond an adherence to these epistemological and ontological assumptions, resulting
in practices that are
produced by
such assumptions.
For readers new to this discussion, we provide a brief illustration of how the assumptions
regarding the subject and agency are conceived differently in poststructuralism and
posthumanism and the implications for the analytic practice we propose. These distinctions
are offered not for the purposes of definition but for the purposes of further clarifying how
the framing of problem posing in thinking with theory emerges in the theoretical frameworks,
producing a thinking not possible otherwise.
Humanism (and by extension humanist inquiry) draws from Rationalist philosophers of
the 17th century who claimed that knowledge of the world is mediated by innate structures,
and these innate structures lead us to the universal, unchanging structure of reality. The word
refers to something essential and universal with a defining quality that is shared
by everyone, regardless of race, class, gender, history, or culture; “it is a condition, timeless
and localized” (Davies, 1997). A humanist view of research is predicated on a language that
searches for stable, coherent meanings and origins of things—the essence of the “thing itself
that is out there, objective, waiting to be perceived. Thus, the word
is a humanist
signifier in that it evinces an essential nature that stabilizes meaning about people who belong
to a particular identity category, such as woman, that we can therefore research and “know.”
Reality, then, is produced by the language we have at our command (and that commands us,
in the structuralist view). In this way, rules that organize, regulate, and normalize language do
the same with identity, with research, and with analysis. These “order-words” contain implicit
presuppositions or commands “current in a language at a given moment” (Deleuze & Guattari,
1987, pp. 8487).
In humanist inquiry, with its emphasis on epistemology and essentialist understandings,
we can understand the individual subject who knows and who can act. It is also the essentialist
humanist subject as researcher who can know and understand a single, external reality, one
that grounds our claims about the world. This researcher and her subjects also possess agency,
something that (in humanism) can only be had by humans and is seen as their ability to act
on or act in the world by virtue of free will; that is, to ascribe agency to someone is to imply
that one is a voluntary actor making choices that are intentional rather than determined. If
researchers adhere to this notion of agency, then they can rely on participants to give an account
of their experience that can then be reproduced and verified as authentic. What emanates
from humanist centering is a supposedly coherent narrative (flowing from a conscious,
reflective, stable subject) that represents truth—something to be served up, prior
analysis. However, our methodology, our thinking with theory, makes very different
assumptions about not only the subject and agency but also the implications of those signifiers.
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials72 4
Thinking with theory disrupts the centering compulsion of traditional qualitative inquiry: Our
project is about cutting into the center, opening it up to see what newness might be incited.
Like Massumi (1992), we too are bored with endless repetition and seek such newness.
Positing the ends of conventional analysis or the failures of interpretivist inquiry does not
mean that we give up on the practice of research or the production of knowledge.
We do make very specific assumptions about data, voice, the subject, agency, and truth as
produced by an ontological and epistemological commitment to the poststructuralism and
posthumanism. A recognition of the limits of our received practices does not mean that we
such practices; instead, we work the limits (and limitations) of them. As Spivak (1990) explained,
The critique of humanism in France was related to the perceived failure of the European ethical
subject after the War. The second wave in the mid sixties, coming in the wake of the Algerian
revolution, sharpened this in terms of disciplinary practice in the humanities and social sciences
because, as historians, philosophers, sociologists, and psychologists, the participants felt that
their practice was not merely a disinterested pursuit of knowledge, but productive in the making
of human beings. It was because of this that they did not accept unexamined human experience
as the source of meaning and the making of meaning as an unproblematic thing. And each one
of them offered a method that would challenge the outlines of a discipline. (pp. 788–789)
Challenging “the outlines of a discipline” is how we use philosophical frameworks in the
“posts” in a thinking with theory methodology.
The humanist subject is one that we give up when we move from postpositivist,
constructionist, and other foundational frameworks that privilege consciousness, experience,
and meaning. How we position the subject’s perceptions and experiences (both our own and
that of participants) and stories as a source of meaning or truth is against humanism: We
confront the limits of a reliance on the subject’s perceptions of her experience and a narrative
voice to “make meaning.” We
use a subject’s perceptions/stories, but not in the sense that
we assume fullness and truth, nor do our research encounters need to happen via procedural
methods that produce “data” (see Jackson & Mazzei, 2016). We may refer to research materials
and encounters as data, but we reject the positivist and postpositivist implications of the term
and put to
the unruly and performative materialities of our inquiry (Denzin, 2013). We
make no humanist distinctions among theory/data/concepts and instead view each as agential,
rather than something to be captured. Our project, thinking with theory, is only possible in
postfoundational frameworks that produce new concepts, or with theories or theorists that
MacLure (2009) describes as sharing a certain slant:
They are all disenchanted with (though not necessarily wholly dismissive of) the legacy of
Enlightenment rationality, its faith in progress through the application of science, and its
privileging of mind over bodies and matter. They do not subscribe to the self-perfectibility of
the humanist subject, and are interested in the realities and subjectivities that are occulted by
Western culture’s triumphant stories of progress, reason and order. (p. 279)
We use the theories, concepts, and research encounters and materials that we have at our
disposal to open up that which we think we cannot think without, to map what emerges in a
the threshold with theory to open up meaning and new connectives. This new analytic can
only be produced in an ontology and epistemology that offers an “undoing” (Butler, 2004) of
humanism, displacing many of the normalizing features of humanist inquiry.
Given this state of affairs, it is difficult, and perhaps unnecessary, to draw clear distinctions
between how data, data collection, and analysis function or work. Approaching analysis as
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 72 5
something that happens
all the records of research have been collected burdens the
researcher with making such distinctions. Distinctions between what counts and doesn’t count
as data (see the special issue of
Cultural Studies <=> Critical Methodologies, 13
(4), on data).
Distinctions between when is an interview, who “speaks” in an interview, or what is happening
in an interview (see, e.g., Jackson, 2009; Kvale & Brinkman, 2008; Mazzei, 2013b). Distinctions
about when and where data analysis occurs (St. Pierre & Jackson, 2014). Distinctions between
what or who acts with an agential force (see, e.g., Jackson, 2013a; Lenz Taguchi, 2009; Lenz
Taguchi & Palmer, 2013; Mazzei, 2013a; Rosiek & Kinslow, 2015; Taylor, 2013). In returning
to the concept of agency discussed above, if there is no essentialist humanist subject that is
the sole purveyor of agency, then there is no separate, individual person, no participant in an
interview study to which a single voice can be linked—all are entangled. In fact, given the
posthuman and new material turn, other agents in research encounters can be plugged into a
thinking with theory methodology.
People ask us at conferences and in workshops, “Will any theory or concept do?” or “How
do you choose your theory or concept?” As we have discussed above and will further elaborate
via an extended example in the next section, what we have learned is that the questions
ought to be different: What is the doing of/with the concept or theory, and where is the doing
happening? Is the theory relegated to a certain “place” in the project (e.g., Chapter 2 of a
dissertation), or is it entangled in the production of thought and practice: Is it thresholding?
What distinctions are being made in the research, and how do those distinctions hinder the
unthought (which, according to Foucault, is always already part of our projects)? Why, we ask,
is a research text that foregrounds the experience of the “subject” that wishes to answer the
question, “What does it mean?” considered more clear, authentic, and more full of potential
to incite change than an analytic text that produces questions about “How does it work?” or
“What is it doing?” For example, as we have discussed above, in interpretive and perhaps even
critical methodologies, importance is given to “rich, thick description,” “making subjugated
voices heard,” or “women’s experiences”; we do not doubt that projects that aim to “theorize
gender” use particular theories and concepts to center their frameworks. Yet we have already
shown how the practices of interpretive and even critical work are centering and potentially
stabilizing traditions and categories, grounded in humanism. Our point is that thinking with
theory uses concepts in the making of new assemblages, renders meaning unstable, and allows
for multiple entryways and exits in thought; theories and concepts in “the posts” are those that
are uniquely situated because of their ontological and epistemological force.
So to think with theory is to “enter a text wherever you are” (Spivak, 1976, p. lxxv); that
is, as we have worked with “plugging in,” we have come to understand the significance of
reading and co-reading.
When we are asked by others, “How do you choose your theory?” our
response is always something about how, in our analytic practices, we think
whatever we
are reading at the moment. To co-read is to read theory alongside other texts; we read interview
transcripts, field notes, news and social media, and other materials
theory as “part of
our mental furniture” (Spivak, 2014, p. 77). Spivak (2014) explains reading and thinking with
theory this way:
It is a ver y difficult thing, reading theor y well. When we are reading this way, we are internalizing.
Theorizing is a practice. Our own way of thinking changes, so that when we are reading, all of
the theoretical reading begins to organize our reading, not because we are applying it. Reading
theory is like athletics. First-class athletes do not think about moves they make. They do not
“apply” what they have been taught. It comes in as a reflex, and if you look at the “instant
replay,” you watch muscle memory perform. That is how one “uses” other people’s theory—
with respect, preparing oneself to be able to read it, following through. In order to prepare
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials72 6
yourself that way, you enter the protocol of the other person’s theory, enter its private grammar,
so that the theory transforms you. (p. 77)
We have co-read texts produced from/about/with cheerleaders, working-class girls, first-
generation academic women, and White teachers
(i.e., alongside) Foucault, Derrida,
Deleuze, and Barad—following the conceptual grammar and allowing transformations to
emerge (Jackson, 2010, 2013b; Mazzei, 2008, 2011). In this way, we can never “inductively
analyze” as conventional qualitative research or grounded theory methodologies would
have us do. We need a thinking with theory process methodology with-in postfoundational
frameworks to give us the concepts, languages, and practices that enable a knotting of texts
together, a doing that proceeds from the middle of things—a new analytic practice that
enters and exits sideways in an immanent (un)folding where distinctions fall apart. It is made
possible only by plugging in not merely concepts but an entire ontological and epistemological
orientation. As Spivak (2014) asserts, deep engagement with the theoretical terrain is necessary;
for example, to produce a new analytic about Foucaultian power, insight into his theory of
the subject, knowledge, and agency is essential. To continue this example, a thinking with
theory methodology would not seek to understand how a research participant
makes meaning
of power—such a proposition (attached to interpretivism) misses a Foucaultian
point entirely. Foucault’s concept of power is infused with ontological and epistemological
commitments that disrupt humanist and interpretive assumptions of the subject, knowledge,
and agency.
We don’t claim to have a lock on what a thinking with theory methodology looks like,
nor do we claim to have exhausted the theoretical concepts that can do the work of eruption
and provide the terrain for thresholding to occur. We do, however, see great potential in
postfoundational paradigms, borrowed from the humanities, sciences, and other social sciences,
that are enveloped in what is referred to as the ontological turn, the new empiricisms, and the
new materialisms within a posthuman framework (e.g., Alaimo & Hekman, 2008; Bennett,
2010; Colebrook, 2014; Dolphijn & van der Tuin, 2012). These paradigms demand a shift from
to a reconsideration of what demands are placed on objects (things) used in inquiry: a
shift from what we can know about an object (method and epistemology) to what a particular
when we enact inquiry—thus, objects of knowledge become doings with ontological
force, not inert things waiting to be interpreted. As previously discussed regarding the subject
and agency, the ontological turn and the new empiricisms bring different perspectives on how
things, as doings (including the physical and the material), become “agentially real” (Barad,
2007) in this
mise en scène
. All objects are “more than one” (Manning, 2013): not multiple
objects, but the object multiple (Mol, 2003), always becoming and acting with its own agency,
independent of human use or interpretation. Thus, the emphasis moves from using method
to “research” how humans perceive or experience the world to an interrogation of how every-
thing is
the world (Barad, 2007) or how worldings are in-formed (Manning, 2013). Mol
(1999) explains that the new ontologies are not a politics of
(can know or speak) but a
politics of
realities take shape and how those realities are entangled.
Qualitative researchers have taken up theories and concepts in the new ontologies and
new empiricism to produce philosophically informed inquiry that are enactments, rather
than conventional, methods-based research. This work is occurring by scholars from a range
of disciplinary traditions, all situated within what we described above as the ontological turn
and new empiricisms. What this portends for qualitative inquiry is a turn from a focus on the
epistemic problematics of research methodology to a conception of social science inquiry as
ontologically generative of new relations and modes of being in the world. Examples of this work
are inspired by Deleuze and Guattari’s philosophy of immanence (Coleman & Ringrose, 2013;
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 72 7
de Freitas, 2012; Mazzei & McCoy, 2010), feminist materialism (see the special issue of
Gender &
Education, 25
(6)), neopragmatism (Rosiek, 2013; Verran, 2012), and indigenous studies and
research methodology (Garroutte & Westcott, 2013; Higgins, 2016; Tuhiwai Smith, 2005).
Thinking with theory is a product of the ontology and epistemology presented thus far.
Furthermore, we assert that thinking with theory is not to be confused with data analysis
in conventional humanist inquiry in which data produced by interviews and field notes, for
example, are given primacy in meaning making. Everything is entangled and nothing remains
the same. The structures and methods on which we have relied can no longer be counted on to
serve us: Data analysis in conventional humanist inquiry relies on the construction of coherent
and interesting narratives that center the conscious, meaning-making subject. Thinking with
theory highlights the networked functioning of thought and thus opens up the possibility of
previously unthought approaches: not about what things mean but about how things work.
We elaborate this further in the next section as we illustrate what we think we’re doing when
we think with theory.
“Plugging In”: What We Think
We’re Doing When We Think With Theory
In this section, we describe what we think we are doing when we think with theory. Above,
we made epistemological and ontological claims about how recognizable terms and practices
in traditional qualitative inquiry have become so common sense that it is time to abandon
them to invent a new science that stays on the move—what we have named above a
new analytic
for qualitative inquiry. In particular, we are working against
divisions between data and theory, between data collection and data analysis, between research
participants and philosophers, and so on. We wonder: How do these divisions hinder us? What
protection do they offer? How do they entrap us and close down thought? Who decided on
these distinctions anyway? Why must data and theory be positioned as oppositional to each
other? As Spivak (2014) wrote, “Definitions are halfway houses” (p. 78), and we see these
divisions similarly—as temporary, transitional, and poised for reintegration into difference.
We explained earlier in the chapter that we use the figuration of the threshold as that
space where things enter and meet, flow (or pass) into one another, and break open (or exit)
into something else. Our process methodology, then, is about a between-the-two (Jackson &
Mazzei, 2012b) that incites change, movement, and transformation of thought in qualitative
inquiry. Extending this idea further, we go to Manning (2013), who, when writing about affect,
stated that it “activates the threshold that disperses it, always anew. To ‘threshold’ is to create
a new field” (p. 28).
Creating a new field, by thresholding, we release ourselves from the ensnares of oppositional
thought and allow things to disperse. Thinking with theory as a process methodology becomes
a production of knowledge that might emerge as a creation out of chaos (Grosz, 2008). Thinking
and knowledge are not conceived as a final arrival but as the result of working the betweenness,
as we plug all texts into one another: “Life is always between. Too often, life is conceived as
that which frames the already-constituted—life as human, life as organic” (Manning, 2013,
p. 22). For us, this is how we have always worked in this space of flows, intensities, and change.
In thinking about how to describe our new analytic, we encountered a little phrase by Deleuze
and Guattari (1987) that captures these doings: “plugging in.” They wrote, “When one writes,
the only question is which other machine the literary machine can be plugged into,
be plugged into in order to work” (p. 4). In our thinking with theory, we urge an activation
of multiple texts, or machines: data that are always already from everywhere (not limited
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials72 8
to one or even the most current project—or even as something “collected”), wrestlings and
enchantments (Bennett, 2010) with theory, working against conventional qualitative research
methods that we have discussed above, previous writings, traces of data, reviewer comments,
words of participants, and so on ad infinitum.
As a practice of activating, or thresholding, always in-between (Gale & Wyatt, 2009), we
advocate a “plugging in” of ideas, fragments, theory, selves, affects, and other lifeworlds as a
nonlinear movement, always in a state of becoming. As we wrote in our book
Thinking With
Plugging in to produce something new is a constant, continuous process of making and
unmaking. An assemblage isn’t a thing—it is the
of making and unmaking the thing. It
is the process of arranging, organizing, fitting together. So to see it at work, we have to ask not
only how things are connected but also what territory is claimed in that connection. (Jackson &
Mazzei, 2012a, p. 1)
“Plugging in” captures the activity of thinking with theory as a production of the new,
the assemblage in formation
. Because making and unmaking produces ceaseless variations
possible, “an assemblage establishes connections between certain multiplicities drawn from
each of these orders, so that a book has no sequel nor the world its object nor one or several
authors as its subject” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 23).
We situate “plugging in” as analytic practices of
(and, perhaps,
that are
not meant to be hallmarks of the approach but as the makings and unmakings of an assemblage
(Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). We want to emphasize that we noticed these
as they
were happening—and had happened before in previous projects
during the making of an
assemblage that became our book. “Make a map, not a trace,” wrote Deleuze and Guattari
(1987), so our map of thinking with theory cannot be traced: “Plugging in” as a reinvention
and reintegration becomes different from itself with each new reconfiguration. As we referred
to earlier, this is a machinic working of multiplicities that are not predetermined but
functions in relation to everything else that is plugged in.
That is, we did not make a list of
things that we thought we ought to do before we set out to analyze.
Thus, we present these
as becomings (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987) in our new
analytic of thinking with theory (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012a, p. 5):
1. Putti ng philosophical concepts to work by disrupti ng the theory/data binar y by decentering
each and instead showing how they
constitute or make one another
2. Being deliberate and transparent in what analytical questions are made possible by a
specific theoretical concept and how the questions that we used to think with did not
precede our analytic practice (as research questions might) but
emerged in the middle
“plugging in”
3. Working the texts repeatedly to “deform [them], to make [them] groan and protest”
(Foucault, 1980, pp. 53–54) with an overabundance of meaning, which in turn not only
creates new knowledge but also shows the
suppleness of each when plugged in
4. Disrupting “when” and “how” this work occurs—refusing it as a stage
a procedure and
using it as the
process itself
We want to use our invention of the four
above for two purposes in this section:
(1) to position thinking with theory in poststructural and posthuman research frameworks and
(2) to try to explain what we do when we think with theory. We do not take each practice in
turn, therefore recognizing both the difficulty and problematics in creating such divisions in
that which is knotted.
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 72 9
We go to a specific example in our work to emphasize this “post” turn in analytic practices
that characterizes our work. As we have written, the practice of coding (as is often equated
with analysis) requires that researchers pull back from the data in a move that concerns itself
with the macro, producing broad categories and themes that are plucked from the data to
disassemble and reassemble the narrative to adhere to these categories. In our study with first-
generation academic women, we found that a focus on the macro was at some levels predictable
and certainly did not produce different knowledge. That is, we could present major themes
and patterns in a writing up of the findings: imposter syndrome, continuing male privilege,
double standards, and the importance of mentoring. Each of these themes would have been
“grounded in data,” and we could have created “rich, thick description” by staying “close to
the data”; that is, as good qualitative researchers, we would have theorized from the bottom
up, inductive style. However, these inductive practices would not have resulted in different
knowledge because our formulation of the categories would have been simply driven by our
experience and that of our participants, devoid of any philosophically informed concepts that
would jolt us out of received ways of knowing. We argued that
coding takes us back to what is known, not only to the experience of our participants but also
to our own experience as well; it also disallows a repetition that results in the production of the
new, a production of different knowledge. A focus on the macro produced by the codes might
cause us to miss the texture, the contradictions, the tensions. . . . A focus on the macro . . .
locks us into more of a territorialized place of fixed, recognizable meaning. (Jackson & Mazzei,
2012a, p. 12)
A recognition of the limits of our received practices did not mean that we rejected such
practices; instead, we worked the limits (and limitations) of such practices. To stop at coding,
in other words to produce an “easy sense” (Mazzei, 2007), would have allowed us to affirm
our own experiences as women in the academy and to fall short in our attempts to work the
limitations of such practices. Not working the limits would have resulted in a failure to produce
previously unthought questions and knowledge.
Thinking with theory acknowledges that we alone are not the authors of the research
assemblages that we create; all other texts and agents (both human and more than human)
insert themselves in the process—they emerge, bubble up, capture us, and take us onto lines
of flight. The texts themselves become “agentially real” (Barad, 2007). To transform both
theory and data and to keep meaning on the move, we return to the threshold and to a
discussion of the crafting of analytic questions that emerge with the help of each theorist
and theoretical concept that we think with—an image that we have experienced as having
Manning, Massumi, or Colebrook reading over our shoulder and asking a series of questions,
using theory as practice. Again, these are not
questions or concepts (any more than first-
generation academic women are
data), but they are concepts as previously discussed that
emerge from broad, philosophical abstractions and that activate thought as they are “plugged
in” and entangled with how lives are lived so that each produces a “shared deterritorialization”
(Deleuze & Guattari, 1987, p. 293). Prompted by analytic questions that flow from concepts, all
texts (i.e., theory and data and selves) become something else, something new.
Unlike a typical qualitative research question that
a project and is used to pave the
way for a so-called appropriate “method” to construct meaning, analytic questions emerge in
the middle of things as lines of flight (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987). This work does not occur as
a stage
a process but is rather
process methodology itself. In the middle of co-reading
multiple texts, the doing is not to create meaning but to show how an assemblage is made or
how thinking occurs as prehensive. We view our book,
Thinking With Theory,
as taking readers
from one assemblage to another; different analytic questions, flowing from concepts that
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials730
are entangled with theory and philosophy, produce interminable potentials for plugging in.
The analytic, rhizomatic thresholding of co-reading and allowing questions to emerge in
the middle of things can take on many variations, but we will illustrate how we work our
methodology with the following example. We first present a research artifact, followed by a
discussion of the emergence of two analytic questions.
In what follows, we read and plug into multiple texts: feminist poststructuralist and
posthumanist theories; the transcript of our interview with Brenda, a participant in our
study with first-generation academic women; Barad’s concept of intra-action; Deleuze and
Guattari’s concept of desire; our aim of providing an example of our new analytic, as well as the
potential for the new; our own received histories that we want to trouble; the unthought that
is unnamable; and so on. Rather than a “zeroing” in, a “plugging in” presents a complicated
reading that is much richer than an easy sense produced by the reductive procedure of starting
with coding and returning to experience.
The excerpt that follows is from a qualitative study in which we interviewed 10 women
professors and administrators in the academy who are first-generation college graduates. We
want to make the point that we did not “begin” our project with these interviews; in fact, we
already held theory and concepts as “mental furniture” (Spivak, 2014), and we asked ourselves,
“What might add to the arrangement of our thinking?” So while we illustrate with one research
artifact from one participant in our study and present only two analytic questions, a similar
process of thresholding could be used if we worked with multiple research artifacts at the
same time. In response to an earlier question that the interviewer asked Brenda about what
relationships in her life had changed as a result of becoming an academic, she provided the
following response:
I did end up divorced because he [my husband] wanted me to quit school. He was fine
with me moving around the countr y when he needed to go to school, but he had a ver y hard time
doing that when I wanted to go to school. I mean in theory, it’s the old thing about it’s easier
believing in feminism than it is living with someone who’s a feminist. Right?
Like most people intellectually understand that women are human beings too, but it’s hard to
live with it sometimes, and so I—looking back on it, it was like I was having an affair because I
got to school, and I got so much positive feedback from people, and I absolutely loved everything
I was doing. And of course, I spent a lot of time studying and writing and all of that stuff, and he
just simply got jealous and would say things like, “I don’t think you’re smar t enough to do this.
You have to choose between school and me.” And that kept up for a while, and I finally said,
“I choose school because I’m a lot happier there.”
Now I have a [new] partner, and while I was finishing the dissertation, it was like, oh, my God. He
was like jealous too because I had to spend so much time in the final editing. . . . But he finally
has kinda come around.
If we were to take a conventional approach to analysis, we could present a discussion
supported with isolated excerpts from all the women who participated in our study of how
relationships had changed after they became academics. But in thresholding texts, we posit
a series of questions or, rather, the questions emerged through our thinking with various
theoretical concepts that disperse thought to open up different questions and knowledge
from a reading of Brenda’s account and that of the other women from our study. Instead
of focusing on the obvious nature of gender relations and sexist practices evident in the
excerpt above made evident by a focus on experience (a positivist and empiricist practice of
replication), we illustrate by
thinking with
the following theorists and concepts to pose a set
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 73 1
of analytic questions that sprout from diffractively reading the theory and data through one
another (for a more lengthy illustration of a diffractive reading, see Lenz Taguchi & Palmer,
2013; Mazzei, 2014). While many theorists and/or concepts could be mobilized, we focus on
two for purposes of illustration, Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) concept of
and Karen
Barad’s (2007) concept of
. Let us emphasize once again that these are not the only
analytic questions made possible, but these questions
emerge in the middle
of “plugging in”
as the process itself
Deleuze and Guattari:
. For Deleuze and Guattari, desire is about production. Desire’s
production is active, becoming, transformative. It produces out of a multiplicity of forces.
We desire, not because we lack something that we do not have, but we desire because of the
productive force of intensities and connections of desires. Thinking Brenda’s account together
with Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of desire prompts the following analytic question:
does desire function to produce a “partner” for Brenda in the form of her intellectual peers
what does the presence of intellectual peers produce?
In other words, how does desire work, and
who does it work for? What does desire produce, and what are the intensities and connectives
at work?
It is the work of Karen Barad and others named “new materialists”
or “material feminists” (Alaimo & Hekman, 2008) to ask how our intra-action with other
bodies (both human and nonhuman) produce subjectivities and performative enactments not
previously thought. Barad’s work can be seen as an enactment of the ontological shift made by
Deleuze in a philosophy of immanence. Such a shift produces an ontoepistemological stance
(Barad, 2007) in which practices of knowing
being cannot be isolated from one another
but rather are mutually implicated and constitutive. To think of
knowing in being
that is
neither merely a reinsertion of the material nor a privileging of the material is to “fashion
an approach that brings the material back in without rejecting the legitimate insights of the
linguistic turn” (Hekman, 2010, p. 7). Such fashioning prompts the following question:
does Brenda intra-act with her world, both human and nonhuman, in ways that produce
different becomings?
To engage our new analytic by reading Brenda’s account through the insights of desire and
intra-action is to engage questions about how Brenda is simultaneously producing material
effects (leaving her husband for her intellectual lover as a production of desire) and how she
is simultaneously materially and discursively produced (as becoming woman and as no longer
wife). Hekman (2010) wrote that “theories, discourses, have material consequences” (p. 90), and
it is these intra-actions and transformative forces of desire that have much to say. A diffractive
reading (Barad, 2007), that is, reading Brenda’s account through the insights of both desire and
intra-action, produces a consideration of how Brenda is both constituting and constitutive of
the discourses perpetuated in a traditional patriarchal marriage:
He was fine with me moving around the country when he needed to go to school, but he had a
very hard time doing that when I wanted to go to school. I mean in theory, it’s the old thing about
it’s easier believing in feminism than it is living with someone who’s a feminist. Right?
A diffractive reading also points to the material effects produced by her embrace of the
intellectual life that is not just a life of the mind but, indeed, becomes a life of the body as well,
for example, when Brenda recounted, “It was like I was having an affair because I got to school,
and I got so much positive feedback from people.”
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Part IV Methods of Collecting and Analy zing Empirical Mater ials73 2
Brenda’s description of the affair that she was having with her doctoral work evokes desire
(in a sexual/sensual sense), pleasure (in an intellectual and sensual sense), and production
(of satisfaction in the affirmation she receives at school and of change in her decision to leave
her marriage). Deleuzian desire produces both an effect and affect—the action to forfeit the
constrictions of her “material” relationship toward pursuit of the relationship produced in her
intra-action with her intellectual lover. We can also go to Barad here to consider the materiality
of texts. As Brenda encounters the thrill of the affair with her intellectual work, the “pages” and
thoughts take on a material force. They are no longer merely words, and school is no longer merely
a place of affirmation but a space in which affect and intensities are produced, both producing
Brenda in a mutual becoming.
So, to reiterate, thinking with theory in qualitative inquiry eschews a use of concepts for
what they
and instead puts to use concepts to show how they
what they
and perhaps what they
. To leverage this doing, we have explained how analytic
questions flow from concepts, and we use texts in a “repetition of difference” to reveal the
suppleness and mutual constitution of texts (data, theory, concepts, selves, affects, histories,
lives, etc.). Earlier in in this chapter, we offered the figuration of the threshold as a way to
situate our “plugging in,” or how we put the data and theory to work in the threshold to create
new analytic questions. As Deleuze and Guattari (1987) wrote, “Machines make thought itself
nomadic” (p. 24); therefore, all of these aforementioned texts/literary machines, when plugged
in while in the threshold, produced something new, something different. Thought (or analytic
practice) emerges while diffractively reading all texts in an assemblage of “continuous, self-
vibrating intensities” (Deleuze & Guattari, 1987,
p. 23).
Conclusion: Doing Inquiry Differently
In this chapter, we have situated our new analytic, which we call
thinking with theory,
as a
process methodology that functions within and against the structures of traditional forms
of inquiry that have proliferated and normalized qualitative research texts and practices.
Thinking with theory relies on postfoundational frameworks that inform theory, thinking,
and analysis, and we have made this point by illustrating in a deliberate and transparent
fashion what analytic questions are made possible by specific theoretical concepts and how
the questions that we use to think with emerge in the middle
of our practice of “plugging in.”
Thinking with theory, in the threshold, does not seek to answer questions, as in traditional
qualitative analysis: Questions provoke answers; they close down thought. Whitehead eschewed
an emphasis on problem solving, driven in response to a specific line of questioning; instead,
he advocated problem posing as a way of opening up thought (Stengers, 2011). In discussing his
work as that of an empiricist, Deleuze, in acknowledging his thinking as informed by Whitehead,
stated, “The aim is not to rediscover the eternal or the universal, but to find the conditions under
which something new is produced (
)” (Deleuze & Parnet, 2007, p. vii). Our process
methodology speaks to this imperative to pose problems, to open up thought, to seek newness,
and to consider the Deleuzian question, “How do things work?” Thus, we end the chapter with
that our discussion raises. In the spirit of Whitehead and Deleuze, we pose problems
that might produce newness. Like becoming, our process method is “forever deferring its own
completion” (Massumi, 2013, p. xii), for once it has become actualized, it is no more.
What “advice” do we offer those who are
working with new and developing scholars?
We advocate first and foremost an integration of theory and application in the development of
so-called research methods courses, qualitative dissertations, and preparation of manuscripts
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Chapter 32 Thinking With Theory 73 3
for publication. To develop this next generation of scholars, a robust engagement with the
theoretical terrain is necessary in what St. Pierre (2011) wrote about as “a call for philosophically
informed inquiry accomplished by inquirers who have read and studied philosophy” (p. 623),
or what we have written about above as simply thinking with theory.
What has been absent in many curricula and approaches to mentoring doctoral students
and new scholars who move into the territory of qualitative inquiry is an integration of theory
and application where “research” is treated as linear stages and series of procedures. In such
a model, courses are treated as teaching students how to master methods, rather than how
to think about inquiry as a process that is not thinkable without first a consideration of the
epistemological and ontological, or rather ontoepistemological positionings (Barad, 2007) that
make possible a way of thought and questioning.
Furthermore, developing scholars should be encouraged, or rather required, to think
together on a plane of immanence in any “analysis” that they undertake. It is important to
recognize the limits of making distinctions and can thus no longer be acceptable to relegate theory
to a literature review chapter of a dissertation, for example, or similarly to partition manuscripts
into sections that preclude such integrations. The implications, of course, extend to journal editors
and reviewers who need also to ask for such in manuscripts reviewed for publication.
What might be the future of inquiry, in this new analytic?
In our new analytic, we would like to see more examples of process approaches that seek to
“imagine and to fight against ‘ready-made’ models” of inquiry (Stengers, 2011, p. 11). In writing
about Whitehead’s process philosophy, Stengers emphasized that he wanted to “dismember
thought.” We deem such dismembering necessary for opening new ways of thinking that
are produced by a rigorous engagement with theory, examples of which we have cited above.
As we stated earlier, we wish to see fewer examples of inquiry that outline method and/or
that approach inquiry as a series of lockstep stages. Rather, we would like to see inquiry that
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... In Thinking with Theory in Qualitative Research, Jackson and Mazzei (2012) call on qualitative researchers to explore the analytical possibilities of thinking with and across theory, data, and the traditional methodological boundaries of interpretivism. They argue that traditional methods of qualitative research, such as "mechanistic coding, reducing data to themes and writing up transparent narratives that do little to critique the complexities of social life," represent insufficient and simplistic approaches that "preclude dense and multi layered treatment of data" (p. ...
... According to Jackson and Mazzei (2012), one of the most direct methodological implications of thinking with theory is that researchers must ask what and how specific relations are produced in addition to a critical interrogation of who and what is producing them. Rather than centering the subject of inquiry and intentionally extracting data that fits a neat, coherent narrative about that subject, the product of this post-qualitative research is really its process: the repeated plugging in of data sets across multiple theoretical frameworks and conceptual perspectives in a way that diffracts representation and interpretivism into difference, rather than solidifying it into some stable truth. ...
Full-text available
A translanguaging lens in educational research focuses on social, cultural, and power dynamics of language and multilingualism in practice. It also represents a potentially transformative pedagogical practice that centers the languaging practice, power, and agency of multilingual learners to transgress classroom language borders. However, translanguaging research that focuses on only the social aspects of classroom languaging can be subject to critique for failing to disrupt material inequities related to language and power in the classroom. This conceptual paper explores how thinking across multiple frameworks can generate innovative methodological approaches to knowledge production for translanguaging inquiry in the context of EL and multilingual education. Exploring how translanguaging can be plugged into Blumer’s Symbolic Interactionism, Foucault’s Discourse, and Barad’s Agential Realism, this paper thinks within and against these frameworks to highlight important analytic provocations for now only how translanguaging relations emerge, but also what methodological territory is claimed in the process. A central concern of this paper is the methodological implications of posthumanist theories to develop material-discursive translanguaging inquiry.
... In our read of diffractive methodologies, we consider Jackson and Mazzei's (2012) "requirements" for "plugging-in" (picked up from Deleuze and Guattari) as highly accessible touchpoints (not instructions) for engaging the type of "assemblage thinking-with" that other critical posthumanist and material feminist scholars describe to be crucial when moving towards the type of knowing-in-being that the Life Lines data and diffractive analysis calls for. For Jackson and Mazzei (2012), attending to the qualities and intensity of "plugging-in" involves demonstrating three "maneuvers:" 1) disrupting the theory/practice binary by decentering each and instead showing how they constitute or make one another; 2) allowing analytical questions that are used to think with to emerge in the middle of plugging in; and 3) showing the suppleness of both theory and data when plugged in. ...
... In our read of diffractive methodologies, we consider Jackson and Mazzei's (2012) "requirements" for "plugging-in" (picked up from Deleuze and Guattari) as highly accessible touchpoints (not instructions) for engaging the type of "assemblage thinking-with" that other critical posthumanist and material feminist scholars describe to be crucial when moving towards the type of knowing-in-being that the Life Lines data and diffractive analysis calls for. For Jackson and Mazzei (2012), attending to the qualities and intensity of "plugging-in" involves demonstrating three "maneuvers:" 1) disrupting the theory/practice binary by decentering each and instead showing how they constitute or make one another; 2) allowing analytical questions that are used to think with to emerge in the middle of plugging in; and 3) showing the suppleness of both theory and data when plugged in. (p. ...
Full-text available
This article shares what surfaced during diffractive analysis of data from a participatory arts-engaged research project called Life Lines. Drawing on material feminism, studio-inquiry practices were designed to assist young adults in creatively speculating alongside researchers over varied conceptualizations of identity, including dominant explanations centering on cognitive development and alternative framings emphasizing materiality’s role in subjective formation. Lines as both culturally inscriptive “engines of theory” and as materially sensitive artistic inquiry practices were enlisted to open new insights about how it is for young adult bodies to sustain developmentalism’s “cruel optimism” about coherence, stability, and progression.
... In educational research, this ANT approach to research shares many premises with a post-qualitative approach to doing situated inquiry (Gunnarsson & Bodén, 2021;Jackson & Mazzei, 2012;MacLure, 2013;Mazzei, 2013). Post-qualitative inquiry is grounded on a feminist critique of the material-discursive binary that structures material realities as inaccessible beyond representations of language. ...
... The analytic assemblage with NVivo privileged, that is it enacted and made possible, a representational thinking that asserted 'voice' as a reflection of truth and representation of essentialist subjectivity. It oriented the research at understanding and interpreting what the interview data meant, such as coding to uncover 'what is in it' (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012;Mazzei, 2013). This analytic assemblage enacts patterns of sameness that involve creating silences, which can be traced when the analysis is assembled in other ways. ...
Conference Paper
Full-text available
The practices of doctoral education are intricately entangled with technologies. This methodological paper examines the practical concerns involved in doing the analytic work in a networked learning setting with Actor-Network theory (ANT). It is a story about engaging with ANT as a companion in an ethnographic research project on teaching practices in Sweden during the Covid-19 pandemic. The empirical examples are pulled from online interviews in the pandemic outbreak and two ways of assembling the analytic practices of those interviews. On the premises that method and technology are non-neutral, the focus is on how the interviews are analysed and the modes of knowing that they form. For example, the paper examines how computer-assisted qualitative data analysis software acts on the analyses of the interviews and the knowledge patterns made possible and what signals are silenced. A second analytic assemblage is deployed that traces those signals. Based on the empirical examples of doing analyses, the paper discusses how analytic assemblages change and move research and the researcher in unpredictive and performative ways that troubles the expectations of a singularised doctoral journey.
... Drawing on memories, notes, writings, imaginations, dreams, and reconstructions of a seductive conference experience, we think our seduction narrative dreaming/s with Baudrillard (1979Baudrillard ( /1990) and a motley crew of space and affect theories (Arendt & Tesar, 2019;Jackson & Mazzei, 2012). We write and think theory with stories. ...
Full-text available
In this paper we engage Baudrillard's (1979/1990) writings on seduction to 'dream up' seduction as an ethical and generative-destructive force of qualitative research. Beginning with a dreamy conference seduction, we argue that seduction keeps us qualitative researchers thinking, moving, risking, and being passionate about our work and each other. As a playful, sometimes frivolous, yet deeply terrifying process, seduction moves us beyond ourselves and into theoretical unknowns; enables us to risk ourselves in ethically listening to others' truths. We show and argue that conferences can be ripe spaces for the spread of contagious sapiosexuality and urge qualitative researchers to experiment and play with conference seductions.
... 821). Hence, I present data much like the transformative and becoming entanglement that emerged, as a continuum threading across agents, beings, and knowing (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012;Barad, 2014). ...
Full-text available
This dissertation details a doctoral research project that considered how embodied experience to place and the more-than-human world within the Florida Everglades might influence the existent entanglements of human-nature connectedness. I explored my immersive connection to place and experience with the more-than-human through a multi-methodological approach. Applying multiple data collection tools such as participant-observation of human and the more-than-human, walking, purposeful sitting by the water, kayaking, and multimedia channels, I captured irrevocable moments in time and space within the Florida Everglades. Withal, through semi-structured interviews, I conversed with representatives of the Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Miccosukee Tribe of Indians of Florida. With this dissertation deliverable, I provide the reader with an introduction to the complexities of the matter, a contextual understanding of the subject, research question and subclass questions, research methodologies, and methods that prompted and supported the proposed research project. Further, I present the ongoing entangled emergence of themes and subthemes such as awe, connection, colonialism, power relations and utilitarian biophilic typology.
... Or my dissertation advisor used to ask me, "Candace, what is that theory asking of your data?" Then somebody asked me at that conference if I had read your 2012 book, Thinking With Theory (Jackson & Mazzei, 2012). And I said, no. ...
Full-text available
This article is derived from a webinar series conversation titled “Post Philosophies and the Doing of Inquiry,” co-hosted by Candace R. Kuby and Viv Bozalek. This article is based on a conversation that the authors had, facilitated by Candace Kuby, on November 19, 2020.
... Acknowledging the spectrality in photos as visual data evokes the Derridean notions of trace and difference (Peim, 2005 (Derrida, 1997). Or as Jackson and Mazzei (2012) write: ...
In this article, we share some poststructuralist ideas for interacting and intra-acting with photos as visual data in qualitative inquiry. The discussion of photos as visual data has mostly drawn from representational perspectives. Furthermore, poststructuralist theorizing has been mostly utilized to discuss discursive data. Drawing from poststructuralist ideas, like Derrida’s discussion of the absent-presence, we offer a poststructuralist glance at photos as spectral visual data. We view such approach as liberating of visual texts and as denotative of the unfinalizability of meaning. To illustrate our point, we engage into a dual mode of narrative, of both words and images, that is photos. Following a brief overview situating the use of photos as data within a representational framework in qualitative research, we illustrate our poststructuralist glance inspired by a Derridean framework. As an epilogue, we share reflections in the form of questions aiming to challenge our narrative in this article.
Background: The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic presented undergraduate racial and ethnic minority nursing students with unprecedented educational restrictions as their communities were also affected disproportionately by COVID-19. This study explored the lived experiences of racial and ethnic minority nursing students in the southeastern United States during the pandemic. Method: Semistructured interviews using a qualitative framework and methodology of post-intentional phenomenology were conducted with one Muslim, one multiracial, and three Black nursing student participants. Data were analyzed in an iterative process using poststructural concepts of lines, rhizomes, and space. Results: Students experienced abrupt challenging changes and isolation with the onset of pandemic restrictions. Barriers created by the pandemic and by routine educational experiences were met by creating alternate pathways to maintain forward progress. Conclusion: Undergraduate racial and ethnic minority nursing students experienced pandemic restrictions within a larger context of their lived experiences. Nurse educators can use these experiences to create better relationships between these students and nursing education. [J Nurs Educ. 2022;61(8):483-487.].
This study investigates the relevance of praxis and practice-based learning processes as a part of professional knowledge formation through the case of worldview education in ECEC teacher education. Drawing theoretically and methodologically from praxeological research tradition, the study aims to explore how student teachers experience participatory learning and the role of practical implementation of worldview education as part of their professional knowledge formation. The data analysed here consist of in-depth interviews and learning diaries of seven Finnish ECEC student teachers who participated in a six-month participatory group learning process as a part of their degree studies, together with six more experienced in-service teachers. The results indicate that students consider it important to have a social space for shared professional knowledge construction. Students also considered that their learning process contributed to a deeper understanding of ECEC praxis as an essential part of professional knowledge. The study suggests that the annexation of elements connected to practical wisdom cultivated as a more systematic part of professional knowledge construction in ECEC teacher training is, according to learner experience, valuable in supporting the development of ECEC teacher student professionalism. Furthermore, the findings designate an understanding of professional reflection as a shared meaning-making and understanding generating activity.
This paper is about the ontology, the materiality and logical structure of art. While I am not trained in the visual arts or architecture, nonetheless I see there are many points of overlap, regions of co-occupation, that concern art and philosophy, and it is these shared concerns that I want to explore. I want to discuss the ‘origins’ of art and architecture, but not the historical, evolutionary or material origins of art – an origin confirmable by some kind of material evidence or research – but rather, the conceptual origins of art, what concepts art entails, assumes and elaborates. These of course are linked to historical, evolutionary and material forces, but are nevertheless conceptually, that is to say, metaphysically or ontologically separable from them. Art, according to Deleuze, does not produce concepts, though it does address problems and provocations. It produces sensations, affects, intensities, as its mode of addressing problems, which sometimes align with and link to concepts, the object of philosophical production, the way philosophy deals with problems. Thus philosophy may have a place, not in assessing art, but in addressing the same provocations or incitements to production as art faces, through different means and with different effects and consequences.
This paper asks what it is to claim empathy, voice and authenticity as the grounds of feminist research. It explores representational practices that refuse such grounds by residing in both situated and constantly changing intersections of interpretation, interruption and mutuality. The typical investments and categories of ethnography are challenged so as to put under theoretic pressure the claims of scientificity. Grounded in a study of women living with HIV/AIDS, also challenged is the ethnographer as "the one who knows" whose task is to produce the persuasive text the elicits reader empathy. Finally, the paper probes what is at work in the concepts of "voice" and "authenticity" in ethnographic work.
St. Pierre examines poststructuralism by investigating the following terms: language; discourse; rationality; power, resistance, and freedom; knowledge and truth; and the subject. While understanding that terms like "poststructuralism" and "humanism" have no stable meanings, she distinguishes these two strands of thought. In general, humanism looks for the essence of a concept. Poststructuralism, however, notes that such a search inevitibly reinscribes power relations by fixing on one particular meaning rather than looking at how the concept works. It seeks to question the foundations that support many assumptions that support much of contemporary thought. For example, humanism bases its thought on the use of reason. While poststructuralism does not reject reason entirely, it does does recognize that reason is neither transcendent nor absolute. She also explores poststructuralism's relationship with feminism, which she believes is positive. Poststructuralism can complement feminism by questioning the basis for structures that dominate and marginalize women.