top of page

Unrepresenting Representation

Fingerprints provide a symbolic representation of our unique identity through the shaping of ridges on our skin. While fingerprint recognition is widely used as an accountability mechanism and gateway for access, it indicates only a certain aspect of our identity, an imprint that can be replicated. Much is separated out and excluded.

When we consider our research processes, truthful representation of reality has been a foundational requirement. But what is left out? In conventional qualitative research we interpret data and draw meaning in and through our choice of measurements and observations

to represent reality in a trustworthy and reliable manner. There is an assumption that through clear and determinate boundaries of independent entities we can replicate reality. The process usually involves seeking out commonalities to develop themes with hierarchical relationships and connections that assist in finding a deeper understanding of the processes under research.

However, representation is considered to be reductionist by a growing “post” movement of new feminist materialist theorists such as St Pierre (1997), Sellers (2013) Davies et al (2013) and MacLure (2013). Traditional practices in qualitative research are argued to be static, linear and stable, limiting in establishing a hierarchy through codes, themes and sub-themes, and appear to reduce difference to sameness thereby not capturing the dynamic reality of doing, thinking and becoming. The choice of categories can wash out the richness of the data by prioritising some aspects at the expense of others and seeking commonalities rather than difference. By keeping a focus on sameness there is a re-presentation without producing something new. Joel (2010) uses examples from different mediums to illustrate the problematic nature of this repetition, where we ought to “resemble rather than dissemble” (p. 117). Furthermore as Braidotti (2006) points out, representations of others can be oppressive, even abusive.

It is no longer what happened that matters so much

but rather what is happening now

and what can happen next (Vannini 2015, p.12).

Unlike qualitative research, post-qualitative research is non-representational. it goes beyond representing what happens with explanations related to the events but rather attempts to find something new by creating possibilities for the emergence of novel potentials. Davies et al (2013) suggest that this opening up is “a moment-by-moment ethical questioning that asks how things come to matter in the ways they do” (p. 680). Through this dynamic and fluid process new revelations emerge, such as the potential to develop a pedagogy that shifts beyond accepted habits of practice. The flow is not necessarily structured or certain. To produce something new rather than to replicate sameness, there needs to be experimentation and the materialization of an indeterminacy that can move beyond pre-defined structures and boundaries (Barad 2007).

The increasing trend to turn away from traditional humanistic qualitative methodologies opens up a more expansive space for the influence of different relationships to be acknowledged (St Pierre in Denzin and Lincolm 2011). Barad’s (2007) relational ontology explains how multiple relationships (including the agency of the material) interrelate and interfere to produce an enactment that we may observe. According to Vannini (2015) who draws on the work of Thrift and Dewsbury, 2000) non-representational research styles

aim to enliven rather than report, to render rather than represent, to resonate rather than validate, to rupture and reimagine rather than to faithfully describe, to generate possibilities of encounter rather than construct representative ideal types (p. 15).

The image above was drawn using the 53 App on an iPad by combining drawing, writing and a selfie.


Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Braidotti, R. (2006). Transpositions on nomadic ethics. Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Davies, B., De Schauwer, E., Claes, L., De Munck, K.. Van De Putte, I., and Verstichele, M. (2013). Recognition and difference: a collective biography. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26:6, 680-691, DOI: 10.1080/09518398.2013.788757

Joel, M. A. (2010). Representation and Difference. In (Eds.) P. Anderson & P. Harrison. Taking-Place: Non-Representational Theories and Geography. Farnham. Ashgate.

MacLure, M. (2013). Researching without representation? Language and materiality in post-qualitative methodology, International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 26(6) 658-667.

Sellers, M. (2013). Young children becoming curriculum: Deleuze, Te Wharriki and curricular understandings. Routledge.

St Pierre, E. A. (1997). Methodology in the fold and the irruption of transgressive data. Qualitative studies in education 10(2), 175-189.

St Pierre, E. (2011). Post qualitative research: the critique and the coming after. 2011. In Denzin & Lincoln (Eds), 4th Ed. The Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research.

Vannini, P. (2015). Non-Representational Methodologies Re-Envisioning Research. New York & London: Routledge.

bottom of page