One consequence of taking multiplicity seriously is that concluding becomes difficult in new ways. If, as I have argued, imagination is multiple because practised or performed in different ways, and if these performances are ongoing and potentially ever changing, what can be said to ‘tie it together’, ‘wrap it up’, or ‘give the last word’? This is a problem that Annemarie Mol acknowledges in her 2002 book The Body Multiple. She lessens its brunt by calling her final chapter simply ‘Chapter 6: Doing Theory’. She spends this chapter in thinking through the ways her account of multiple atherosclerosis might interfere with contemporary practices of science, medicine, philosophy, and social science, and beyond. In this way, she sidesteps the need for too much ‘tying up’ and she can leave readers with the picture of different atheroscleroses that sometimes co-exist, mutually include, tensely include, and interfere with one another (Mol 2002: 151–184).
Mol’s multiplicity interacts in these ways because she works in one site, a particular hospital, and atherosclerosis is carried between departments by human bodies. What she is interested in is how atherosclerosis in one part of the hospital can be both different from, and yet fit together with, atherosclerosis in another.
My multiplicity shares this problem to some extent. These five imaginations I see in practice happen to greater or lesser extent at each of these schools – along with others too. They meet in classroom practice and also here in this book. But instead of wondering how multiple performances come together in practice I wonder how they can be theorised as related but separate. My solution is to extend the imagery we use to think about multiplicity.
Images of Gathering
For my work there are various ways of gathering together multiplicity. I will describe these through the figures of the umbrella, the fence, and the braided river.
An umbrella is a collection of spokes that come together at the top in one common node. Using the umbrella image for dealing with multiplicity we would work to find the common ancestor, the cause of the family resemblance. In this case we would ask, as White (1990), Warnock (1976), McGinn (2004), and others have done, what do all these imaginations have in common? What does this tell us about what imagination is, really? This is to imagine that all imaginations are deviations from the pure form, poor copies of the original. The umbrella image for doing conclusions, then, draws us into a Platonic discourse of model and copy. We would ask which – of performing oneself as imaginative, representing the world in minds, thinking of otherness, making relationships or making connections – is closest to being the real imagination.
An alternative that has been popular at least since Wittgenstein’s later works has been to imagine conclusions as a fence. The fence image I am using is that of a series of posts standing in a row. Each imagination, this would say, bears a resemblance, but now we are not interested in the ancestor but only in the sameness and differences between siblings. Using the fence image for doing conclusions we rest in difference, stuck with the static and separate. Different imaginations are different, we would say, and they will (or should) remain different.
The final option I will present here is one I will image with the braided river (talking in terms of flows comes from the work of Mol and Law 1994; Mol and de Laet 2000; and Pickering 2008). The South Island of New Zealand has a range of mountains like a spine running up its length. At one point the rivers that flow from this mountain range run over a large flat plain, the Canterbury Plain. Through this area the rivers run wide, many channels of water flowing separately for long distances before joining together again. The bridges that span these rivers are lengthy, a challenge for children convinced that good luck will come to she who can hold her breath for their entire span. After floods, the stones that divide the water have moved and the channels are aligned differently. To understand the flows of water would require taking account of the water, the stones, the contours of the land, the tree trunks that are washed down from the upper forests, the placement of bridge struts, the paths made by thirsty stock animals, and the history of flood and drought.
Using the braided river to image the gathering work that endings are supposed to do allows us to talk about how things are done differently – but, given the many other elements in play, to not assume that they will or should remain separate. Water flows come together and separate along the course of the river, and over time they merge and realign. Their particular separateness at a given time depends on the accommodations and resistances of stones and tree trunks, bridges, and stock animals (Pickering 1995). Likewise, imaginations are being done differently in the classrooms I write about, but they may not remain as they are, or even remain separate from each other.
To follow the flows we would have to find some way to name them, to label them as particular. Whatever label we choose would be a tool allowing us to recognise each flow as distinct but able to be merged again with others. This is what we do when we name imaginations we see in classrooms and follow their movements.
To use the braided river image for an ending we would be able to talk about the resistances and accommodations—including the histories of those—that make teachers do imagination differently in their classrooms. But we wouldn’t be forced to say that their imaginations are always kept distinct and separate. The needs of students, the policies of schools, fashions in educational theory, curriculum and politics, and experiences of teachers, all are subject to ongoing change. In the time I write, each imagination was stable enough to be recognisable as an individual stream. But the imaginations teachers are doing can and probably will change. During each school day teachers did imagination in various ways. Maybe over time teachers will come closer to doing one or other of the imaginations I have described here, or maybe to others I have not. Over the course of a school day, or a school year, or on return after the holidays, these changes might be great enough to see teachers’ practices of imagination form an entirely new stream or to merge with an existing one.
Generative Concepts: Who
I have said that part of the job of endings is to gather and summarise. This is what I have been writing about as I write about the images umbrella, fence, and braided river. These are all ways of imaging possible ways of collecting up. I have associated the umbrella image with the belief that there is one real imagination, its true form, and that multiplicity comes from a deviation from that form. The fence image I have associated with the Wittgensteinian notion of family resemblance – things that are related but different. And the braided river I have used to image differences that are achieved in relation to the surroundings and that change course, that connect, and separate in new ways as the surrounding relations change.
But gathering is only one part of what endings generally do. Another one of their jobs is to be explicit about what writers intend for readers to walk away with. These are the ideas that writers hope might ‘travel’. For some scholars such as Mol, Star, and Sørensen, the question of how well ideas travel is intended to replace the belief in the primacy of ‘truth’. The argument runs thus: we don’t live in a foundational world where the aim is to represent the real, but in one where knowledge is more or less useful, more or less good at becoming related to other things. In a relational world truth is not a particularly useful ideal – things seem true when they are good at relating to material entities. This is not to suggest that what I have said here is not true – the stories I have told certainly did happen in classrooms. What I want, though, is to move beyond truth and to wonder about how well my analysis moves into new relations across time and space. This is to talk about how well they interfere or how well they travel.
The question, then, for doing this afterword is about which concepts I hope might travel well. I have two types of answer. One concerns the information contained in this book. Under this heading we might think of the ideas I have written about, and which readers might share with others in their own writing, in conversation, or in teaching. To me these include ways of thinking about the foundational and relational, the stories of classrooms, and the five ways of doing imagination – as telling a good yarn, imagining oneself other, forming pictures in the mind, having a friend, making connections. I hope these are important ideas, and I hope that readers will find them useful and interesting to talk and write about. Readers will, I hope, also find bits that, for their own reasons, they set into motion.
But there is a second way in which I hope the concepts in this book might travel. I borrow this idea from the writing of Donna Haraway, who uses figures like the cyborg and the modest witness to provide models of what she regards as good actors (see Haraway 1991; 1997). For Haraway these are the type of actors necessary to the science that she hopes for. Her figures are able to know and act in new and ethical ways. I have also written about figures able to know and act in ethical ways, but they give a less science-fiction first impression. My figures are ideal instantiations, making complete the tendencies I have watched in real people and felt in myself.
I have presented two such figures. One masquerades as myself, though she is rid of many of my confusions and is consistent in her actions. She is the ethnographer I aspire to be more than the ethnographer I am. She struggles to be aware of the imagination she is using as she does her work. She notices how these affect what she is able to see and write about, and how she is able to understand. She learns to notice these imaginations from the work of primary school teachers. From one, Shirley, she learnt to notice her own representational practices. With another, Justine, she learnt to imagine herself other, and from Mr Robertson, she became aware of presenting herself as creative. From Diane, Michaela, and their colleagues, she realised the value in thinking and imagining with others, and with Mrs Rich she pushed herself to make patterns of thinking explicit. She hopes that other ethnographers might think of her as something akin to one of their ethnographic subjects, someone to learn to think with.
I also wrote about the relational teacher. She is a figure that all teachers embody to a greater or lesser extent. She is responsive to student need and flexible enough in her teaching practice to shift her lessons, while still retaining an overall picture of what she wants her students to achieve. Each teacher had an overall picture of what imagination she wanted her children to be able to do – and this depended on her own biography and on her students’ needs and parents’ wishes, as well as more the institutional requirements of school and curriculum. These varied from the need to form pictures in one’s mind, to present oneself as imaginative, to think oneself other, to be friends, and to make connections. Some, however, were better than others at broadening their intentions as student interest and need wavered. I credit Justine, Michaela, and Mrs Rich in particular as doing work that resonates with this figure.
Ending the Ending: Futures
I have gathered the five imaginations with the image of the braided river. I have given some ‘take-home messages’ for ethnographers and teachers: figures that act in what I believe are ‘good’ ways. What about for readers who are not, or not only, interested in theory or in good ethnography and teaching? What about for readers more broadly interested in children and imagination? In the end, as I used Shirley’s words to say at the beginning, what seems to matter about imagination are the futures our performances make possible. What about the challenges that imagination is called upon to solve?
Each teacher I worked with had at least an implicit vision of the future, and for each teacher, their students’ ability to imagine would partially determine their success there. For Shirley (chapter four), the hope is for children to be able to think in wholly new ways and able therefore to find paths out of our current and future collective crises. For Mr Robertson (chapter five), it is a future in which some students are succeeding in impressing others through their presentation of themselves as humorous. For Justine (chapter six), it is a future riddled with personal traumas that children are able to mitigate and negotiate through their ability to imagine themselves other. For Diane and Michaela (chapter seven), the vision is of children able to bond with others in the mainstream community despite their intellectual disadvantages. And for Mrs Rich (concluding chapter), the vision is of self-reflective individuals good at thinking and thinking about how they think.
These are some possible futures and possible future humans. There are multiple others, and multiple potential ways of performing imagination for ‘the future’.
From each teacher I learnt something about an entity that we might call the relational imagination. This should be thought of as something to aim towards in our practices, including our ethnographic practices. From some teachers we learnt about imagining together. Among other things, this is a matter of finding ways to imagine ourselves as particular types of group, cooperative more than competitive, with shared goals (see chapter seven). For this to work well we need to notice difference as well as sameness, and accept that our intentions need to be broad enough to withstand a certain amount of mangling (chapter six). We need always to focus on making connections in our thinking, being able to recognise and make more complex patterns than just lines and sets (chapter eight). Doing all these things successfully will require discipline as well as humour (chapter five) and we will have to keep in sight that we are intervening even when we represent (chapter four). It is my belief that we should work towards doing this type of imagination for our future possibilities for good knowing and good living, stuck as we are in our classed and classing bodies. We might aim to embody this new figure: the relational imaginer.
My question has always been about what to do next. How can we use imagination to solve our public problems? What do we want our children to be able to do for their – and our – future? In a way this takes us back to the teaching imagination, to ask simultaneously about the imagination we want children to be able to do and the imaginative habits we might use to support this. Key, I think, is recognising what I assert from the start: that imagination is something we do and that we do in relation to the people, words, objects, and environments we are surrounded with. Noticing our surroundings, and noticing what is made possible with these, is a start. Moreover, when we recognise that imagination is material and relational, then we notice that it can be done differently: in multiple – though not just any – ways. Giving children tools to be able to notice and do different imaginations, and to notice that different imaginations might be useful given different surroundings, is a second move. This means helping children to become flexible and responsive imaginers. And third, what I think is so powerful about imagination in human life is that it gives us an ability to generate new things. These don’t have to be massively innovative, or hugely powerful, or wildly creative to be important. Finding a popular way to present oneself, or a surprising way to visualise a problem, or to make a new relationship, or to tell a good story: all these are important. We should value newness even in its most simple forms. Newness can be as simple and difficult as putting two things together that used to be apart so that people don’t have to switch between. Newness can be as simple and difficult as finding ways to play together and work together and think together so that we can go on into the future more together than we were.