Recycling Piaget: Post-Humanism and Making Children’s Knowledge Matter

Teresa K Aslanian. Educational Philosophy and Theory. Volume 50, Issue 4. 2018.


Ramona wandered into the dining room to seek comfort from her father. She laid her cheek against the sleeve of his plaid shirt and asked: ‘Daddy, what are you studying?’ Once again, Mr. Quimby threw down his pencil. ‘I am studying the cognitive processes of children,’ he answered. Ramona raised her head to look at him. ‘What does that mean?’ she asked. ‘How kids think,’ her father told her. Ramona did not like the sound of this subject at all. ‘Why are you studying that?’ She demanded. Some things should be private, and how children thought should be one of them. She did not like the idea of grown-ups snooping around in thick books trying to find out. (…) ‘Well I don’t think you should,’ said Ramona. ‘It’s none of your business how kids think’. (Cleary, 1981, pp. 159-160)

The excerpt above is taken from the children’s book by Cleary (1981) Ramona Quimby, Age 8. Taking into account the enormous influence psychologist Jean Piaget (b.1896-d.1980) has had on the field of education, we can imagine that Ramona’s father, who was studying to become a school teacher in the early 1980’s, was studying Piaget’s theory of children’s cognitive development. Ramona’s offended reaction reflects the growing skepticism within the field of education to Piaget’s developmental stage theory, which presumes adults can know about the cognitive development of any individual child, based on Piaget’s studies of a small group of his own and colleagues’ children. Though developmental psychology continues to exert a stronghold over the field (Woodhead, 2007), the ethical quandaries raised by Piaget’s generalized representations and interpretations are widely challenged (Lourenço, 1996). Due in part to the rise of childhood studies and sociological views of childhood, Piaget’s methods which relied on experiments to decipher what concepts children were or were not capable of understanding at any given time, is increasingly described as a culprit of a deficit-oriented view of children (Rautio & Jokinen, 2015). Thus Piaget is positioned as a cornerstone of education theory, but a cornerstone which a budding post-developmental paradigm seeks to displace, challenging the dominance of developmantalism (Murris, 2017; Osgood, 2014; Ryan & Grieshaber, 2005).

In this article, I propose that there is more to Piaget’s theories regarding ‘how kids think’ than has been seized upon in the field of education through stage theory of children’s cognitive development and criticism of the same. In order to read Piaget’s work in a new way, I explore it in the context of new discoveries within neuroscience and a posthuman theoretical perspective.

Research using posthuman theory is currently gaining momentum and legitimacy in the field of education (Pedersen & Pini, 2016), contributing to an ‘ontological turn’ (St. Pierre, Jackson, & Mazzei, 2016). The material environment of educational arenas have been a primary focus of such research, but also children’s encounters with objects, animals, and other material phenomena (Rautio, 2014; Rautio & Jokinen, 2015; Tesar & Arndt, 2016). Posthuman perspectives on gender (Osgood, 2014), the body in an educational setting (Rossholt, 2012a, 2012b, 2017) and infant and toddler agency have also been explored (Duhn, 2015). The links between children’s conceptions of the world and posthuman methodology has yet to be discussed; and as a result of those links, the potential posthuman methodology may hold for incorporating children’s perspectives and knowledge into research. In this article, I want to explore the connections between posthuman theorizations of the world and children’s conceptions of the world. My aim is to engage in a theoretical discussion about the potential of posthuman theoretical perspectives for research seeking to address or incorporate children’s perspectives.

Knowledge production and dissemination is a constantly changing, plastic process connected to social practices and cumulative scientific innovations. When certain knowledges emerge in a field, other knowledges are pushed into the background (Burke, 2010). In an attempt to limit loss, to reap and recycle old knowledge into the production of new knowledge, this article contributes a novel perspective on children’s knowledge about the other-than-human world using Piaget’s aged research on children’s conceptions of the world and Barad’s recent posthuman theories. I suggest that intriguing resonances between children’s conceptions and posthuman theories could provide valuable insights into the potentials of posthuman research methodologies for research that seeks knowledge from children’s perspectives.

The future of Piaget?

In her book, The Future of Hegel, Malabou (2005) re-reads Hegel, attending to previously overlooked nuances in his texts and seizes upon his concept of plasticity. Though Hegel only touches upon the term in his concept of time and the future, Malabou (2005, 2007) emphasizes plasticity as the ‘dominant motif of interpretation and (…) of our time.’ Malabou relates plasticity not only to Hegel’s concept of time and the desire for transformation implied in it, but also to recent discoveries pointing toward biological and neuronal plasticity within the field of neuroscience. Plasticity offers both a theoretical framework for research, as well as a method of analysis (Ulmer, 2015). Applying plasticity to text, Malabou (2007, p. 439) extends Derrida’s de-construction and claims ‘there is always something other than writing in writing,’ a something other which holds potential for transformation rather than de-construction. She terms the act of reading text utilizing this ‘something other,’ a plastic reading.

Inspired by Malabou’s (2005, 2007, 2010, 2011a, 2011b) concept of a plastic reading, in this article, I read Piaget, focusing on some of what I consider to be overlooked aspects of his work on children’s concepts of the world. I reflect on how these aspects may be understood when considered alongside of new materialist/posthuman theory. Through engaging with Piaget’s texts as plastic, I aim to recycle and reshape old knowledge into possibilities for new knowledge. I suggest that dormant within the texts is something undiscovered and of value for research in ECEC, ‘lying low and hidden in language like a sleeping animal’ (Malabou, 2011a).

As data, I use excerpts from Piaget’s (1929/1967) early qualitative work in his book The Child’s Conception of the World and read them along Barad’s (2003, 2007) theories put forth in her book Meeting the Universe Halfway: Quantum physics and the entaglement of matter and meaning, and her article Post Humanist Performativity: Toward an Understanding of How Matter Comes to Matter. After reading Piaget’s work along with Barad, I consider ethical ramifications of posthuman knowledge creation in the field of ECEC.

Unraveling Piaget

Piaget’s work as a qualitative researcher is wide reaching and influential in the fields of psychology and education, but both his findings and methodology are consistently challenged (Lourenço, 1996). His work spanned many decades within which arguably occurred several paradigm shifts, from constructivism, to social constructivism and finally by his death in 1980, to postmodernism. His study of children’s cognitive processes was groundbreaking in its time in that it took children seriously as thinkers and made a scientific effort to understand their thinking as a group equal to, but differing from adults (Woodhead, 2009). His findings raised the popular and scientific perception of children’s cognitive potentials, but have also been the subject of ethical scrutiny. His conclusions regarding children’s modes of understanding the world on the basis of a narrow sample of interviews and experiments with his own and his colleagues’ upper-class, Swiss children is widely criticized as culturally biased, and his findings based on these data have been cast doubt upon (Lourenço, 1996). However, Piaget’s research aims had a complexity which some argue has been reduced, instrumentalized, and misinterpreted by its popularization in the field of education (Burman, 2008; Lourenço, 1996). While Piaget sought to understand how children think and perceive the world, his results were popularized as a description of the child’s gradual ability to think and reason correctly, or, as an adult would. This mode of understanding does not necessarily reflect the complexity of his work which Piaget described as involving an interest in understanding children specifically, and different modes of thinking, rather than a desire to define when children do or do not have certain concepts (Burman, 2008).

Piaget transposed knowledge from the field of biology about organisms and their interaction with their environment into a theory of children’s cognitive development. A popularized reduction of his theory has produced an image of a child developing in a uniform deterministic manner, isolated from the social world. His focus on biological development has been interpreted as deterministic in spite of his description of the child as organism, in constant mutual interaction and mutual development with its environment (Piaget, 1952). With the increased popularity of the idea of social construction of reality in the 1970s, the biological basis of Piaget’s theory rendered the knowledge he produced invalid, old. Though the environment in which a child as organism exists includes the social environment, Piaget’s focus on the material and biological world was increasingly perceived as less relevant than Vygotsky’s focus on the child as a social being who is constructed in relation to its social environment (Feldman, 2003).Today, research within neuroscience describes the biological and the social as interwoven and the ramifications of this interconnectivity is increasingly reflected upon within education research (Youdell, 2016). Biological plasticity and the effect of experience on the brain and nervous system renders Piaget’s understanding of the child as organism in mutual interaction with the environment not only relevant, but also harmonious with ideas of interconnectivity expressed in posthuman thought.

Knowledge is subjected to cultural selection (Burke, 2010). Complexities rarely make their way into the popular imagination. The popularized translation of Piaget’s findings included those aspects of his work that was valuable for the sociocultural needs of the field of education at a particular point in history. Since Vygotsky’s social constructivism grew in popularity within the field of education and postmodern views of children and learning gradually gained status in the 1980s, the popularized interpretation of Piaget’s work has been increasingly met with contention and resistance (Woodhead, 2007). Old knowledge is displaced as new knowledge enters into new cultural arenas (Burke, 2000). Piaget’s work continues to exert influence in the fields of psychology and education, but in some circles within academia striving for a sociological account of childhood, his thought is increasingly being rendered invalid (Lourenço, 1996) and is in danger of being consigned to the academic rubbish bin of knowledge (Woodhead, 2009). Though concerns and criticisms of Piaget’s representational findings and culturally biased methods and conclusions are highly relevant, I argue that the dominant focus on the problems in Piaget’s work obscures a valuable potential that lies dormant within his data material. In an attempt to metaphorically look through the academic rubbish bin and recycle old knowledge, I draw upon Piaget’s early work on the quality of the child’s conception of the world and try to understand this old knowledge through Barad’s (2003, 2007) theorizing. Can Piaget’s qualitative studies be understood in new ways when read along side of posthuman theory?

Karen Barad’s Posthumanism

A range of researchers in the field of ECEC have recently begun to employ a new materialism and a posthuman perspective (F. ex. Lenz Taguchi, 2013; MacLure, 2013; Osgood & Giugni, 2015; Otterstad & Nordbrønd, 2015; Pacini-Ketchabaw, 2012; Rautio, 2014; Rautio & Jokinen, 2015; Rossholt, 2012a, 2012b). A posthuman understanding of materiality poses a critique on humanism as an ontological assumption underlying knowledge production and assigns epistemic relevance to the other-than-human, including objects, animals, weather, and other life forms. The Cartesian idea of the human individual as a self-contained subject set apart from the material world and other life forms, is challenged (Barad, 2003). Research based on a posthuman perspective contains many threads and draws on science, philosophy and sociology, often building upon and in tension with each other (Hein, 2016). In this article I focus on one thread of posthuman thought, the ideas of Karen Barad, a theoretical physicist who combines philosophy and physics in her understanding of the posthuman.

Building on physicist Niels Bohr’s discoveries within the field of quantum physics, Barad (2003) works with the concept of agential realism. For Barad, understanding through representation, wherein a known is known by a knower is ‘simply a Cartesian habit of mind’ (Barad, 2003, p. 807) that produces a limiting and perhaps ultimately false worldview. Avoiding representation and definitions, a posthuman perspective allows the researcher to tell new stories and observe the abundance of constellations humans are involved in. I will address two of Barad’s main ideas which I believe can shed a new light on Piaget’s work on children’s modes of thinking; intraaction and agential realism. Barad (2003) describes the nature of the world as in a process of becoming through matter responding to matter. The human and other-than-human participate in this practice, so that what we regard as human is in fact a mixture of both human and other-than-human matter.

Practices of knowing and being are not isolatable, but rather they are mutually implicated. We do not obtain knowledge by standing outside of the world; we know because ‘we’ are of the world. We are part of the world in its differential becoming. The separation of epistemology from ontology is a reverberation of a metaphysics that assumes an inherent difference between human and nonhuman, subject and object, mind and body, matter and discourse. Ontoepistemology—the study of practices of knowing in being—is probably a better way to think about the kind of understandings that are needed to come to terms with how specific intra-actions matter. (Barad, 2003, p. 829)

Barad (2003) describes Bohr’s experiment in which light was found to behave both as a wave and as a particle, depending on the experimental framework applied. The experiment is associated with, but not the source of, what has been termed ‘the uncertainty principle,’ a principle that holds that the nature of the world is impossible to definitively define, but is in a process of becoming through matter responding to matter. Barad (2003) calls this process of phenomena becoming together intraaction. Intra-action contrasts the concept of interaction wherein independent objects are theorized as having inherent boundaries. She explains that ‘phenomena are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting “components.”’ (Barad, 2003, p. 815) Meaning does not arise from independent objects, but through related phenomena that includes the human and the other-than-human which together produce themselves as phenomena.

The Posthuman Piaget

In his book, The Child’s Conception of the World, Piaget (1929/1967) investigated the way children understand the world through a series of qualitative interviews in which Piaget or his team members asked children a variety of questions regarding objects and the natural world. Piaget’s aim was quintesentially humanist: to discover the child’s natural conceptions of the world. In this section, I want to attempt to stretch and squeeze posthuman knowledge out of these attempts at representing children’s modes of thought, reading that which is presented as fixed and stable as malleable and generative. We can by no means assume that all children view the world the way the children in Piaget’s studies did, or even that the children in Piaget’s studies viewed the world according to his interpretations. My intention is not to find a ‘truth’ about children’s conceptions of the world and posthumanism, but to engage in a theoretical discussion about the potential of a posthuman methodology to access children’s perspectives, based on Piaget’s conversations with children and posthuman theory.

I will focus on two qualities of children’s conception of the world that Piaget deduced from interviews with children: animism and participation and consider Piaget’s descriptions of these qualities along with Barad’s (2003, 2007) theorizing.


Under is an example of one of the conversations Piaget engaged in with children where ‘I’ is the interviewer and ‘C’ is the child:

I- Does this bench know it is here?
C- yes.
I-You really think so? Are you sure or not sure?
C- Not sure.
I-What makes you think perhaps it doesn’t know?
C-Because it is made of wood.
I What makes you think perhaps it does know?
C- Because it is here. (Piaget, 1929/1967, p. 175)

Interpreting children’s responses from within a humanistic framework, Piaget found that children engaged in animism, explaining that ‘the child’s thought begins with a lack of differentiation between living and inert bodies since it possesses no criterion by which to make the distinction’ (Piaget, 1929/1967, p. 229). For Piaget, the ‘criterion’ was gained through a growth of intelligence. Intelligence for Piaget was a process of mutual growth between human, as an organism, and the environment the organism, or, the human, exists in and with, a kind of growing together with a specific environment, wherein both the environment and the child as organism accommodate toward each other (Hundeiede, 1985). This understanding can be understood both in relation to Barad’s concept of intra-activity, wherein human and other-than-human phenomena produce each other, as well as research within neuroscience that illustrates the brain’s plasticity in relation to environmental stimuli.

According to Piaget (1929/1967), until the child develops an understanding of itself as a subject, the child perceives the world as ‘a continuum of consciousness. (…) it is not strictly either knowing or feeling that the child attributes to things but a sort of elementary awareness and will (…)’ (Piaget, 1929/1967, p. 231). Likewise for Barad, agency is not limited to humans, nor is it ‘an attribute of “subjects” or “objects”’, but rather ‘it is “doing”/“being” in its intra-activity. Agency is the enactment of iterative changes to particular practices through the dynamics of intra-activity.’ (Barad, 2003, p. 827) Children understand the world, according to Piaget, as ‘a continuum of life, such that every object possesses activity and awareness in some degree.’ (Piaget, 1929/1967, p. 233)

Piaget points toward the growth of the child’s understanding of themselves as subject as the process which begins the ‘dissociation of ideas’ (Piaget, 1929/1967). Since it is precisely a ‘disassociation of ideas’ that Barad attributes to a ‘Cartesian habit of mind’ (Barad, 2003, p. 287), it could stand to argument that until children develop this Cartesian habit of mind, they may perceive the world something like Barad (2003, p. 815) explains, as ‘phenomena’ which ‘are the ontological inseparability of agentially intra-acting “components.”’

In the excerpt above, the mere presence of the bench in the room along with the child rendered the bench aware in the child’s eyes. I believe we can say that the child attributes agency to the bench, or what Piaget (1929/1967) terms an ‘elementary awareness.’ Piaget likens a child’s growing ability to distinguish between living and non-living things to the growth of intelligence, or what Piaget terms the socialization into adult thought (Piaget, 1929/1967, p. 28). Adult thought is culturally contingent. The Cartesian discursive tradition positions things, people and nature as inherently separate from each other, each of which are assigned positions in a hierarchy of consciousness that likens consciousness to potential for agential participation in human meaning-making. Outside of Western culture however, the fluidity of materiality, human and non-human phenomena are age-old concepts found in for example pantheistic and Buddhist religious thought (Iles, 2008). If children’s perception of the intra-action of living and non-living things is a result of an immature or still growing intelligence, we may be able to compare this ‘intelligence’ to a cultural accommodation, the attainment of what Barad likens to a ‘Cartesian habit of mind’ (Barad, 2003, p. 287). Children’s process of gaining intelligence, a similar worldview to adults in other words, can be likened to the time it takes for children to join the Cartesian discursive tradition of their culture, or their socialization into adult thought (Piaget, 1929/1967, p. 28).


Children’s responses also described experiences of reciprocal participation with the natural and material world. For children it can seem that nature is alive, responsive and in direct communication with them (Piaget, 1929). In our daily lives we can observe that for many children, objects such as a favorite blanket or pacifier are imbued with a caregiving force (Wood, 2005). Piaget observed that young children tend to experience a participation of action and purpose with things and nature which is the result of a lack of differentiation between thought and things (Piaget, 1929, p. 147). Piaget gives the following example of this phenomenon:

I- Does the moon move or not?
C- It follows us.
I- Why?
C- When we go, it goes.
I- What makes it move?
C- We do.
I- How?
C- When we walk. It goes by itself. (Piaget, 1929/1967, p. 147)

The idea is that there is participation between the will of things and the will of the child can be viewed either as magical, anthropocentric thinking, or, as Piaget describes it ‘ontological egocentricity’ (Piaget, 1929/1967, pp. 166-168). However, if we read these ideas through the lens of Barad (2007), it can be understood as an intuitive sense of the entanglement of matter and meaning and the co-productive, relational nature of agency. Personally, I remember perceiving the moon in all its vibrancy ‘coming with me’ as I sat in the back seat of our car at night as a young child. While perceiving the moon moving along with me reveals an anthropocentric conception of the world, its perceived ability to do so, and involvement with me also reveals an experience of mutual agency between myself and the moon wherein the Cartesian ontological stance is shifted, from ‘I think, therefore I am’, to ‘I relate, therefore I am’—and by extension, ‘I relate to it, therefore we are’ (Bird-David, 1999). This idea of participation can be understood from a posthuman perspective as the perception of knowing and being as inseparable, the result of the mutual production that is the intra-action of human and other-than-human phenomena. Children’s tendency to experience participation with the other-than-human world mirrors Barad’s (2003) idea of agential realism, wherein human and other-than-human phenomena produce or reconfigure themselves through relations. So that ‘it is not that there are no separations or differentiations, but that they only exist within relations’ (Barad interviewed in Kleinman, 2003, p. 77). Barad calls these differentiations that arise out of relations, ‘agential cuts.’ The individual becomes an individual in its meeting with other phenomena which produces a difference that in turn creates a ‘cut,’ or separation, but the separation is a matter of perception resulting from phenomena meeting, rather than actual inherent, physical separation or otherness between phenomena.

From Knowledge about Children, to Children’s Knowledge

In children’s literature, things, animals, and natural phenomena are often in direct communication with children, and the material world is often in an equal and participatory relationship with human or anthropomorphized non-human animals. Concepts such as animism and participation can be identified in the way literature for children is imagined and practiced (Jaques, 2015; Tesar & Arndt, 2016). Can children’s concepts of the world also hold potential for addressing children’s issues in education research? Can a posthuman perspective enable children’s knowledge to guide research, rather than knowledge about children?

The field of education builds to a large degree on scientific knowledge about children. Children have only recently been granted attention as a group of competent subjects, whose rights and needs are attended through and protected in society. The field of childhood studies aims at further developing children’s voices and perspectives (Qvortrup, Corsaro, & Honig, 2009). Though children’s own observations and expressed viewpoints are increasingly being incorporated into research, adult perspectives continue to frame research on children (Rautio & Jokinen, 2015). Rautio and Jokinen (2015) suggest that seeking out a child’s perspective inevitably reflects adult viewpoints pointing out that what we choose to ask, frames what children are heard in relation to. If we consider conceptual understandings as a type of framing, we can say that children’s perspectives differ from adult’s because of the different conceptions children and adults hold about the world. Children’s knowledge about the natural world that deviates from scientific knowledge is framed within educational science as pre-conceptual or as misconceptions (Smolleck & Hershberger, 2011). The prefixes pre– and miss– refer to ways in which the conceptions do not correlate to current adult scientific understandings. Piaget’s theory of children’s cognitive development relies on an underlying idea that the ability to understand such scientific knowledge is the goal of children’s cognitive development. This view positions the final ‘stage’ of cognitive development, scientific knowledge, as valid knowledge, while what children know through their own experience is termed a misconception or preconception, positioning children as deficient in comparison to adults.

Within anthropology, it is acknowledged that people from non-Western and indigenous cultures hold conceptions of the world that differ from modern Western conceptions. If we look at children’s knowledge from an anthropological standpoint, we can see the child’s conceptions of the world as a type of local knowledge. For Geertz (1993), in order to take ‘the natives point of view,’ the anthropologist must set their own conceptions aside in order to try to understand the conceptions of the peoples they are studying, taking the ontological perspective of ‘the other.’ Children’s conceptions of the world are children’s knowledge; they are the concepts through which children make meaning in the world and as such are more than preconceptions or misconceptions. Children’s knowledge matters, and for children, matter seems to matter.

Some Posthuman Ethical Challenges

The paradigm of developmental psychology, shaped largely around Piaget’s work, is increasingly viewed as unethical within some academic circles, while the posthuman paradigm is often positioned as an ethical alternative (Osgood, 2014; Rautio & Jokinen, 2015). Because posthumanism is positioned in opposition to that which is considered unethical, there may be a danger that ethical holes in posthuman research are invisible to us, that we don’t see the holes in our own ‘bucket’ (Tesar, 2016, p. 595). Since particular ethical quandaries arise out of particular ontological underpinnings (Tesar, 2016), posthumanism not only gives rise to a new approach to ethics, but also to new ethical concerns.

For Barad, ethics is not something we add, not an active choice, but a fact of life and a mode of understanding what it means to matter (Dolphijn & van der Tuin, 2012). Barad (2003) proposes that understanding the world as entangled materializations produces an awareness of a world that is inherently ‘an ethical matter.’

We (but not only ‘we humans’) are always already responsible to the others with whom or which we are entangled, not through conscious intent, but through the various ontological entanglements that materiality entails. (Barad, 2007, p. 393)

What are the ethical ramifications of Barad’s posthuman thought in the context of childhood studies and ECEC? Barad’s posthuman ethics emphasizes that everything we do, think and say matters (Davies, 2014, p. 4), but when both human and other-than-human phenomena are agentic, the traditional hierarchal position of the human in the other-than world is untethered. In the absence of individualized agents intentionally producing ethically correct and incorrect responses, it is the entanglement and intra-action of phenomena itself which produces an already ethical world based on our mutual entanglements (Barad, 2007; Braidotti, 2013). What quandaries does this produce within the normative field of ECEC? A posthuman view moves away from mutual vulnerability as basis for ethics, and toward the idea of mutual appreciation of interdependence (Braidotti, 2013). Does a focus on the entangled and ever-changing ‘whole’ avert attention away from individual needs and adult responsibility? Does blurring the lines risk losing the contours of something important about children, that also matters, for example, their biological immaturity, vulnerability, and dependence on adults for their healthy physical and mental development?

Barad (2007) reconfigures humanist ideas of care and responsibility for ‘the other’ in her work, describing ‘the other’ not as a separate figure, but as a part of ‘we’ (humans and other-than-human phenomena), refuting the exclusivity of ethical responsibility to humans. The material world is thereby assigned some responsibility for the practices we humans engage in. As teachers and researchers, what does it mean to assign responsibility to other-than-human phenomena? Might it lessen our compulsion to act protectively, on children’s behalf? Posthuman research challenges us to avert our gaze from our accustomed representative view of the child. As researchers strive to perceive children, things and ourselves as not fixed, but as fluctuating and becoming, uncertainty can dominate what we are trying to interpret, explain, or explore, such as in the work of Rautio (2014), quoted below.

As the first meeting begun with a group of four children initiating a rampant running-around and screaming I was already torn. Was I to participate or to observe? Did I want them to run? Did they want me to run? Who or what was I meant to be? (…) I began to question not only my role but my size, my clothing, my voice, my sense of who I was and what I wanted. I became very lost and confused until I realized that a predetermined or consistent way of being that I thought I needed to have would not even fit my overall approach: the notion of intra-action according to which entities don’t pre-exist their encounters. I proceeded to find ways of being that would surface, fluctuate and evolve as the various encounters in our meetings did. (Rautio, 2014, pp. 465-466)

Rautio (2014) narrates her quandaries which reflect her commitment to researching children without assumptions regarding who the children were or what the encounter would be like, but rather to be open to their common intra-action. Indeed, Barad (2007, p. 24) advocates for the ‘uncertainty’ of quantum physics as an antidote to scientific reductionism and representation. Is uncertainty always ethically superior to certainty? In arguing against a Cartesian view, a new kind of binary is created that creates a potential blind spot in posthuman research. Calvert- Minor (2014, p. 126) criticizes Barad, claiming that ‘the manifold human field of conceptual and intersubjective relations must constitute the center of epistemic practices.’ Does responsible action demand a subject, an individual agent who acts intentionally? In Braidotti’s (2013, p. 102) work which grapples with the ethical implications of a posthuman turn away from the human as fixed subject, she concludes that ‘One needs at least some subject position: this need not be either unitary or exclusively anthropocentric, but it must be the site for political and ethical accountability, for collective imaginaries and shared aspirations.’ Though issues of subjectivity, responsibility and identity are grappled with, (Braidotti, 2013; de Freitas & Curinga, 2015; Herbrechter, 2012; Lenz Taguchi, 2013) the posthuman desire to conceptualize outside of a Cartesian framework encourages research that points specifically away from old modes of thinking, perhaps burning rather than building bridges between old and new knowledges.

Paradoxically, we notice shades of certainty involved in posthuman thought, a view of the world which is finally, correct, or more correct than a Cartesian view and that avoids the pitfalls of previous generations of thinkers. But can and should such modes of thinking be discarded? Barad acknowledges that the field of quantum physics alone is not capable of fully explaining social and cultural phenomenon (Barad, 2007, p. 24). The accumulation of knowledge is associated with the forgetting of knowledge (Burke, 2010). The idiom ‘Don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater’ suggests the danger of throwing out something wanted and valued when trying to get rid of something unwanted and unvalued. Discarding knowledge may be necessary up to a point, but it entails losses as well as gains.

Making Children’s Knowledge Matter

In this article, I have tried to approach the texts of Piaget (1929/1967) and Barad (2003, 2007) as plastic, and to recycle Piaget’s research into new formations, by waking the ‘sleeping animal’ (Malabou, 2011a) in Piaget’s texts and extending his concepts into a post-developmental world. Children are spending more and more time in ECEC institutions from an earlier age, a fact that demands ethical engagement with research practices that inform the human and other-than-human aspects of pedagogic environments children inhabit. Posthuman perspectives offer an ethic of interconnectivity and can contribute to a broader understanding of the child in the context of ECEC centers. However, a sharp turn away from Cartesian ideas of known and knower may leave research vulnerable to a tendency to avert attention away from issues related to children’s particular biological limitations/potential and other age-related distinctions—aspects Piaget (1929/1967, 1952) addressed, traditionally understood through a Cartesian lens, a ‘baby’ which we may not want to throw out with the bathwater.

This article contributes to research exploring children’s perspectives in education research, and the development of the posthuman research paradigm in the field of ECEC. I suggest the links between children’s knowledge and a posthuman framework hold potential for research seeking to serve and access children’s perspectives. A posthuman perspective demands new ethical considerations, as it provides a unique potential to make children’s knowledge matter in education research.