Returning to Re:

“The pandemic has left a mark on all of us in disproportionate ways. The prospect of re:opening from the pandemic, with all of its assumptions, complexities, and uncertainties, has caused us to pause and consider what re:opening actually means. We offer the prefix re meaning both “again” and “back” (Oxford University Press, 2021), as a way to consider our relations with/in histories and futures. The : after re intensifies this relationality by “amplifying what has come before it” (histories) and “directing us to the information following it” (futures) (Grammarly, 2021). The preposition re:, meaning “in the matter of,” “concerning” (Oxford University Press, 2021), draws us to the urgency of what matters and what concerns us in the now. Thus, we conceptualize re: as a liminal space/time between pasts and futures, a bumpy space where disaggregated research practices, theoretical frameworks and methodologies meet, resist and transform. Taking the preposition re: as a proposition, we engage Donna Haraway’s provocation to stay with the trouble of what concerns us and of what matters in conversation with Sara Ahmed’s incitement to build and ruin from/with/in this liminal space/time of re:.”

– From the 2022 York Graduate Students in Education Conference call for proposals

In the following article, we discuss our arrival to re: as the theme for the 2022 York Graduate Students in Education Conference. We explore our call for proposals, its questions, and what continues to linger with us beyond “re:” as an event. With the PNO’s fall edition centered on the theme of “returning,” we, Alicja, Jenna, Lisa, and Tesni, four members of the conference organizing committee, gathered to consider the significance of “return” that enveloped the field of education then, as it does now. We offer the PNO a series of reflections on our decision making as well as provoking lines of thought that we hope might invite readers to take return seriously. We invite you to follow our imperfect processes in these reflections as make an attempt to engage in pedagogies of “re:turn”.

Why “re:

This idea of return—to a supposed normal; to spaces of study and teaching—was a central concern from the earliest conference committee meetings in November 2021. The committee’s tasks of conceptualizing, planning, and hosting an academic conference amid the uncertainty and unpredictability of the Covid-19 pandemic was engulfed in the societal and institutional push to reopen and return “back to normal.” As we sat in the tensions and messiness of return, our early discussions of the conference theme reflected the complexity of what it meant to return; soon enough, a list of re: terms and questions materialized within the committee, emerging as central to our conference theme. We wrote: “reconnection or reopenings;” “we are in the time/moment/wake of reopening;” “reimagining the old ‘normal’;” “rethinking conference in this moment.” Re:turning, re:imagining, re:connecting. The prefix or preposition “re” seemed to hold the weight of all our concerns and experiences. Re: signified much of what provoked us; and in turn, what we hoped our conference may provoke.

Re: opened a generative space to invite our questions and concerns about what the pandemic has revealed or cast a harsh light on, what possibilities it has opened, and what responsibilities we have within it. The process of thinking about re: as a prefix, meaning both again and back, hinted at our relations with histories and futures and resonated with our feelings of being in the midst of something significant, a pivotal moment full of potential and consequence. Re: as a preposition takes the call a step further as it attends to the now, signifying “in the matter of” and “concerning.” We saw this preposition as a proposition to pay attention to the now, to the matter of education, and to our concerns. It instills a sense of urgency in its contingency.

What follows, the colon, amplifies what comes before it and directs our attention to what comes after. It implies a liminal space in-between. We felt that this was an important function of the conference, too, animated through the concept of re:. It was our enabling constraint, this in-between. We noticed the time, the opportunity for pause, for redefining what was essential in education and pedagogy was passing us by. Back to business as usual was, instead, the resounding desire. In the spirit of the colon, we wanted to linger on the in-between as a method of resisting moving on too quickly.

Biesta (2013) reminds us that our educational concerns must engage “with the difference between what is desired and what is desirable” (p. 55, emphasis in original). Thinking of re:, our committee saw a desire, being expressed seemingly everywhere, to re:turn to normal rather than to re:make and re:define (or altogether destroy) “normal.” Animated by Donna Haraway’s (2016) invitation to stay with the trouble and Sara Ahmed’s (2017) summons to ruin what ruins, re: was our way to interrupt this desire. We asked: what does it mean to stay with the trouble in the midst of a pandemic while surrounded by urgent pleas to reopen, return to normal, reestablish? Reestablish what? What might this urgency cause us to neglect? How to connect to a theoretical provocation that encompasses the educational implications of the pandemic as well as its political, ethical, philosophical, ontological and epistemological possibilities? What is it we desire in this space-time, keeping in mind a responsibility to address and disrupt the ruin we are re-inheriting?

Re: challenged us to consider what might be desirable, to pause in our in-between and ask questions, engage in dialogue, share re:flections and, indeed, re:connect with each other towards—through a dialogical, slow, difficult process (Biesta, 2013)—re:defining what might be desirable, even with our knowledge that “the outcome of this process can neither be guaranteed nor secured” (Biesta, 2013, p. 3).

What is it that calls to us?

Conceptualizing, planning, and hosting re: was necessarily fraught with uncertainty and challenged the ideological and conceptual creativity of a committee tasked with thinking beyond the institutional practices of academic events that were, before, so familiar. We hoped we might host an in-person conference even though mercurial mandates and lockdowns forced us into contingency. We were, as Phelan & Hansen (2021) describe, “living or thinking at a standstill….slightly out of sync with one’s time…suspending the urgency to identify and deal with perceived problems in typical ways and opening ourselves up to new ways of thinking” (p. 24). Mourning the conviviality of shared space and yet recognizing this as a necessary rupture in scholarly custom, we began to see the logistics of the socially-re:sponsive (and re:sponsible) virtual format as also functioning at the level of discourse of re:.

After many months of planning with these new ways of thinking, re: took its eventual shape as a three-day virtual conference with attendees joining from Canada, the United States, Japan, Kenya, Brazil and England. The conference program invited attendees to answer the call to linger in the ruins of the pandemic and its possible futurities with opportunities to connect and provoke our individual research interests. We stretched virtual possibilities as we created an abundant program including presentations from knowledge keepers and Indigenous elders, graduate student papers, panels, salons, and creative works curated in a virtual galle-re:. After seven months of co-llaborative planning, the committee was humbled by the outpour of interest that made re: the most widely attended student conference ever hosted by our faculty.

Across papers and stories shared at re: in March 2022, the before, between, and possible times were put into relief, paused on in moments of study, and speculated upon, respectively. Presenters and attendees expressed what educational questions and praxis have been in play to cope through educating during Covid-19; what they were re:imagining for education beyond that moment; in what ways they were re:working—or, as the call described, ruining—what has long been taken for granted; and what they re:mained both hopeful and concerned for and about in the time of re:turn. The conference provided a site for togetherness, sharing time, virtual space, worries, questions, goals, and re:sponsibilities as a powerful rupture: the ruining of what ruins.

This summer, as we, Alicja, Jenna, Lisa, and Tesni, conceptualized our reflections on the conference’s invocation of re:, we invited presenters and attendees to re:turn to the conference and share insights about re: as a theme, as a series of questions, and as an event. We asked that they reflect on the ways that the theme re: provoked their thinking about research, about this particular moment, about education, and whether and in what ways their conference experience may still linger in their thinking, months later. Several conference presenters and attendees answered our invitation, in which we had proposed the creation of an “exquisite corpse poem”—where individual, isolated fragments of writing are compiled to create one “exquisite”, if perhaps disjointed, body of text. The poem, structurally and metaphorically, embodies the immense value and impact of co-llaborative effort. The process of constructing the poem illuminated how each fragmented line revealed significant insight into the complex chorus of voices, perspectives, and collective efforts necessary to forge a path forward for the field of education. We share the poem, re: as bricolage – fragments, lingerings below, with thanks to our contributors for answering our invitation.

re: as bricolage – fragments, lingerings

Thank you to the following authors for their generous contributions in co-creating this poem: Leah Brathwaite, Jenna D’Andrea, Tesni Ellis, Alicja Frankowski, Helen Yaqing Han, Lisa Johnston, Shezadi Khushal, Marika Kunnas, Helen Liu, Ezgi Ozyonum, Justin Patrick, and Sheetal Prasad.

I still cannot grasp what it is that calls to me in this image.

“Our task,”
in this liminal space and time of re:
“is to make trouble.”[1]
re: as opportunity:
to actively challenge,
pause and consider what re:opening actually means.

re: as bricolage:[2]
finding and re:combining objects
to create new meanings and narratives.
To juxtapose
the current cycle of major events
with past cycles of historical violence.

re: as re:membering:
twitching to attend to the
incommensurabilities and violences of theories–
stitching and piecing together
a Frankenstenian body of
harmonized knowledge.
What timbre of voice speaks
so that we re:cognize this body?

re: as re:newal:
re:turning to what is sacred
and what needs to be re:envisioned,
rather than side by side depictions of historical events re:peating themselves

[1] The call for conference papers was provocatively grounded in Donna Haraway’s (2016) description of “our task” during these “disturbing times, mixed-up times” (p. 1).

[2] French anthropologist Claude Levi-Strauss (1966) uses the term bricolage to describe the method of finding and recombining diverse objects to create new meanings and narratives.

I still cannot grasp
what it is that calls to me in this image.

re: as re:orientation:
a critical consciousness within the creative process
that is not necessarily affixed.
re:imagining education for the future
ought to come with the goal of

To make trouble,
we must “ruin what ruins.”[1]
As re:searchers, educators, storytellers,
re: calls us to re:sponsibility.
To re:think and re:engage educational possibilities:
“to build from the ruin.”[2]

And yet,

I still
cannot grasp
what it is that calls to me in this image.

[1] Our conceptualization of re: was also powerfully moved by Sara Ahmed’s (2017) provocation to “ruin what ruins” (p. 40) and “to build from the ruin” (p. 232).

[2] Ahmed, 2017, p. 232.

What lingers?

While reviewing our recollections of re: within the concerns that lingered with the participants, we drew on curriculum scholar Alan Block (2020), who, writing in the early days of Covid-19, said, “[t]hose of us who will be fortunate to survive will experience the world into which we reenter as fundamentally changed. We will have changed” (p. 195). This has already come to pass. Block suggests enacting radical hope, a belief “that there might be a future even though the nature of that future remains unknown” (Block, 2020, p. 196-197). For our part, as graduate students gathered at re:, we refused to romanticize the past “normal”, interrupting and resisting the thoughtless desire for a simple return. Instead, staying with this particular trouble, as Haraway (2016) suggests, compelled us to sit in a radical hopefulness that might even point out our own imperfections.

In her keynote address “The Possibilities of re: as a Haudenosaunee Discourse”, Dr. Kiera Brant-Birioukov reminded attendees that dealing with the trauma of uncertainty and loss is cyclical and familiar to nations that have taken care of this land for thousands of years. Amy Desjarlais echoed this with a disruption of our conference theme in the opening ceremony. Desjarlais’ problematized re: itself through a language lesson; she drew attention to the colonial and imperial legacies of Latin phonetics that worked to assimilate Anishinaabe culture and language(s) to English-language-speaking ways of knowing. Instead, Desjarlais offered us “Nii”, related to “I” in English; but with Nii, an active relational self is entangled with ways of looking inwards to consider where our responsibility lies.

Thinking about a conference as a call to responsibility and a call to act, we wonder if the words on the pages of our papers, or phrases that keep sticking with us from presentations, might sit in alterity, pointing us to grounded commitments that suggest a mutable witnessing. If we dare to be with plague, as Block (2020) suggests, how might we move past “conference”, past “paper”, or past taken for granted gatherings to a gentle witnessing of change as being?

Block’s (2020) radical hope is a way of thinking about education and educational spaces “to find our way to a future we do not yet know and cannot yet imagine” (p. 200). In this way, we hoped then, and continue to hope, to do more than imagine a pandemic as a romanticized route or gateway into finding something new. Rather, framing the pandemic in all of its messiness might offer us more everchanging fragments, never solidified, but always radically hopeful. Block’s invocation of Eagleton is useful here: “In the face of cultural devastation, this ‘hope is what survives the general ruin’” (Eagleton, 2015, as cited in Block, 2020, p. 197). In taking Ahmed’s proposition that “when we build, we ruin” (2017, p. 232) we suggest building is entangled with and indeed an enactment of radical hope.

As a conference committee we were consumed by the prospect of re:turn–the complexities, uncertainties, hopefulness, and responsibilities it carries–and the expansive possibilities signaled by a prefix, a proposition, and a colon. Situated in the in-between, re: offered the space for punctuative pause, challenging us to stay with the trouble. Re:, in all the ways it was weighed and disrupted by presenters and attendees, continues to resist, fragment, radically defract, ruin. Re: lingers. In returning to re: we endeavor to hold that space open; to stay in the trouble of its own unmaking, its tensions, its before, during, and yet to come.


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