Tapping into the sensorial and affective possibilities of the arts, we invite slow, situated pedagogies that keep plastics ‘in sight and in mind’. Our pedagogical work with educators and young children envisions early childhood pedagogies that rethink management approaches (reduce, reuse, recycle) and refigure young children’s relationships with waste. Rather than thinking about managing plastic waste, we explore thinking with plastics. By ‘thinking-with and being-with’ (Haraway, 2016) plastics we stay with the tensions of plastic’s indeterminacy. We take seriously the notion of waste futures and plastics unruly movements in ecologically precarious times. We wonder what it means to live ethically in a plastic world.
Deluge of Plastics
One effect of plastic’s ubiquity is the myriad ways young children encounter the excesses of a plastic world and its place as a material enmeshed in socio-political life. As researchers we posit that plastic and its omnipresent relationality necessitates a consideration of our encounters with plastic as what Gabrys, Hawkins and Michael (2013) call “sites of responsibility” (p. 5). By exaggerating the presence of plastics in one early childhood classroom, we think with the concept of a deluge of plastics to consider how educators and children might respond to the overwhelming plastics crisis. We take seriously the material effects of plastic and our pedagogies of excess work to make visible the centrality of plastics in contemporary society. It is the possibility of plastics’ active contribution as an embodied and entangled participant in an encounter that new relations may emerge and “bleed out from the intensity and immediacy” (Pink, 2009, p. 34) of the local and situated.
Disrupting the Logics of Plastics
Gathering, paying attention, noticing, and lingering guide our movements and invitations. As we gather empty plastic water bottles and fill them in with plastic gathered from the classroom and beyond, we carefully curate the plastic classroom. With more than 100 plastic bottles suspended from the ceiling, sitting on shelves and gathered in groupings on the floor, the plastic bottles make their presence known to the children. As each plastic bottle is filled with everyday plastic items such as beads, diapers, straws, and plastic shopping bags, we begin to notice the logics of plastics. Paying attention to the logics of plastic means recognizing that plastic is efficient and malleable. Plastic seals, preserves, separates, and binds. Disrupting plastic’s ubiquity requires from us careful acts of noticing that challenges the logics of plastic as an inevitability. Plastic seals, preserves, separates, and binds. The precarious logics of plastic remind us that it is toxic, uncontrollable, and always exists in relation to something else. Above all, plastics are unruly and unstable shape shifters that “blur all issues of persistence and permanence” (Bensaude-Vincent, 2013, p. 24). By exaggerating plastics presence in the classroom, our pedagogies of excess seek to draw attention to and disrupt the logics of plastics.
Moving with Plastic Bottles
Our intentional work is guided by the question: How might we invite children to attend to plastic?
One day in late fall, the two educators, two researchers and pedagogist working on the project begin to notice something unexpected as they sit amongst the 8 toddlers and dozens of plastic bottles.
Although the morning begins with educators carefully placing the plastic bottles throughout the classroom, over the first hour dozens of bottles alongside eight toddlers begins to move; bodies and bottles bounce and shake, tap and dance across the room. One educator sits beside a large grouping of bottles that settle into a small corner of the classroom. As three of the toddlers notice the pile of plastic bottles, they move closer and jump in. Soon four others follow. It is as though the plastic bottles gather the toddlers rather than the toddlers gathering the plastic bottles. The role of protagonist seems fluid, shifting from child to bottle and back again. As children and plastic lay together, their collective movements seemed to mimic each other as bodies cover bottles and bottles cover bodies. This playful companion-like dance continues throughout the morning.
The educators and researchers meet later that day to discuss the encounter. As we revisit the video and photos of children and bottles in a heap together, we notice that the images leave us with a sense of discomfort. Our intentional work must stay with the tensions of ‘thinking-with’ and being-with’ plastics. By keeping plastics ‘in sight and in mind’, educators and children together with plastics refigure plastic waste futures through emerging relations. We wonder what it means to befriend plastics as children and bottles seem to frolic together as playmates, and considering these emerging relationships, how our pedagogical work disrupts the notion of plastic as an inevitability of life in the 21st century? The reality of plastic’s permanence seems to be reflective in the heap of plastic bottles and children spilling over as more children and bottles join the growing mound. We sit with the tension of bodies and bottles, of pasts and presents, and of plastic futures.
Bensaude Vincent, B. (2015). Plastics, materials and dreams of dematerialization (ch. 1). In J. Gabrys, G, Hawkins, & M. Michael (Eds.) Accumulation; The material politics of plastic. New York, NY: Routledge
Gabrys, Hawkins and Michael (2013). Introduction; From materiality to plasticity. In J. Gabrys, G. Hawkins & M. Michael (Eds.). Accumulation; The material politics of plastic. New York, NY: Routledge
Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the Trouble; Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.
Pink, S. (2009). Doing sensory ethnography. Thousand Oaks, CA: SAGE.