Listening to children: A diffractive methodology

Youth Research Centre Seminar Series 2016

Professor Bronwyn Davies, Professorial Fellow, Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

Facilitated by Professor Jane Kenway, Honorary Professor, Melbourne Graduate School of Education.

In her book Listening to Children Professor Bronwyn Davies develops the concept of emergent listening.  Emergent listening, as conceptualized here, is a practice, an idea and ideal of attending to difference in all its multiplicity as it emerges in each moment in-between oneself and another. It responds not so much to what is already known, but to what is yet to come. What it is to be in encounter with another, in this emergent sense, is specifically not to be bound by what you already know; rather, each moment is an engagement with the ongoing possibility of coming to see life, and one’s relation to it, in new and surprising ways. Listening in this way involved Professor Davies developing what Barad calls a diffractive methodology—not drawing on usual metaphors of reflection and reflexivity but on diffraction. Barad’s radical intervention is to draw our attention to the representationalist trap social science researchers have fallen into, or never quite pulled ourselves out of. Representationalism is based on Newtonian geometrical optics--an optics that envisages boundaries of separate entities with clearly demarcated interiors and exteriors. She offers instead a physical optics, thus taking us to “questions of diffraction rather than reflection” (Barad 2008 122).

Professor Bronwyn Davies

Bronwyn Davies is an independent scholar based in Sydney and a professorial fellow at the University of Melbourne. She is a writer, scholar and teacher and has been a visiting professor in the last few years in the US, Sweden, Denmark, Belgium, Finland and the UK. She is well known for her work using collective biography, her work on gender, literacy and pedagogy, and for her critique of neoliberalism as it impacts on university work. Her most recent books are, Listening to Children: being and becoming, and her first work of fiction for children, a new version of Pixie O’Harris’s classic story The Fairy who Wouldn’t Fly. She is currently writing a book called Remember me... tracing the web of family, several papers on disability with her Belgian colleagues, and a book with her Waikato colleagues called Becoming ethical subjects: children and communities. More details of her work can be found on her website at