(Re)thinking rhetoric and reality: engaging with difference to see something new.
This paper presents a productive model for thinking about non-representationalist methodological approaches. Emanating from a four-year study of the daily experiences of eleven Irish male primary school teachers, this paper surveys the ‘post-qualitative’ space; the subject and agency; methodologies materialised, and ‘more and other than reflexivity’ researcher subjectivity. Two main points are highlighted throughout the paper. First, agency is considered to be an on-going enactment between human and nonhuman worlds. Male teacher identity is constituted through culture: teaching as a feminine profession; discursive practices: how care and male teachers are viewed by society; the school environment: enclosed and open spaces, as well as work colleagues: jobs male teachers are asked to do. Agency, in this sense, is constantly evolving and producing new truths. Second, the relational nature of difference impacts on our knowledge making practices. Difference, when considered as patterns whose effects highlight and make evident the entangled structure of the changing world, becomes a useful tool to bring new realities to life. Diffraction, the methodological term that marks differences from within rather than held at a distance, challenges the traditional three-fold structure of words, knowers and things underpinning a Cartesian epistemology. This paper advocates Karen Barad’s (2007) theory of diffraction as an effective tool for thinking about social-natural processes. Barad’s theory disrupts widespread reliance on the existing optical metaphor of reflection, where ideas get bounced back and forth but nothing new is seen, towards a reality in which words and things emerge together in a natural ebb and flow of cause and effect. Overall, this paper aims to bring the reality of entanglements to light by highlighting the specific material linkages between subjects and objects and how these intra-actions matter. Neither words nor things pre-exist one another but emerge through intra-actions with the world. Subjects and objects do not exist independently but only through constant engagement with their surroundings. Matter and meaning are entangled. In times of change, choice and challenge, we are once again faced with two-way traffic: difference and the gravitational pull of humanism. Whilst, we will always bring tradition with us into the new, this paper proposes a critical rethinking of science and the social in their relationality. The themes advocated in this paper may have important implications for contemporary understandings of masculinities in Irish primary schools and offer much to think about theoretically and methodologically in times of change, choice and challenge.