Becoming Learner

Becoming-Learner: Coordinates for Mapping the Space and Subject of Nomadic Pedagogy

Becoming-learner._Coordinates_for_mappin (2) (1)

Rachel Fendler


How can the process of “becoming learner” be observed, documented, and shared? What methodology could be used to discuss nomadic qualities of learning mobilities? This article argues in favor of an arts-based research approach, specifically social cartography, as a tool that can encourage young people to reflect on their identity as learners. Attentive to the deterritorializations, transgressions, and disruptions that characterize the learning process, it develops a mobile strategy for following the learner. This argument engages the philosophy of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari to explore a pedagogical framework that expands our social imaginary of learning.


becoming-learner, social cartography, eventful spaces, learning imaginaries, a/r/tography

“Where does learning take place? The immediate answer is, of course, everywhere. Educational discourse today emphasizes the role of lifelong learning, which acknowledges the ever-increasing access we have to mobile technologies and open educational resources, as well as the demand for constant personal improvement, as required by today’s knowledge society. However, in spite of the perceived multiplication of learning opportunities available to young people, in the context where my research takes place in Catalonia, Spain, there is a serious problem with early school leaving. Nationally, the amount of students who do not study beyond compulsory education (i.e., after turning 16) hovers at 30%, which is twice the European average (European Commission, 2011). The disconnect between possible learning practices and real student engagement reveals an uneasy relationship between formal and nonformal learning. As David Buckingham (2007) suggests, certain types of digital competence are not formally recognized in the traditional school curriculum, giving rise to a class of activity that some have come to label “invisible learning” (Cobo Romaní & Moravec, 2011).”

The Eventful Space of Learning

‘To address the learner, rather than learning, is a mobile project, one capable of giving an account of learning experiences that transition within, beyond, through, and around formal educational settings.’ [p 787]

‘To study mobilities therefore implies the use of so-called mobile methodologies: research that rejects working from fixed positions and which does not take boundedness for granted.’ [p 787]

‘Invoking the term eventful space  is a way to imagine the itinerant space of the learner, as opposed to the fixed location of the school.’ [p 787]

Nomadic Pedagogy

‘The eventful space emerges as a useful concept, referring to a territory defined by practice-based learning, inhabited by a network of people, ideas, and objects in movement. Thinking of place in terms of practice is a strategy for uprooting the inquiry and setting it in motion, to better follow the mobile and transitory learning trajectories of young people.’ [p 787]

‘In relation to nomadic practices, the eventful space of learning becomes a space of experiential learning.’ [p 787]

From Site to Situation

‘Having evolved, in part, from action research, a/r/tography maintains a strong commitment to developing a collaborative, relational dynamic that produces the conditions for learning from within the investigation itself. In other words, “a/r/tographers are concerned with creating the circumstances that produce knowledge and understanding through artistic and educational  inquiry laden processes” (Irwin & Springgay, 2008, pp. xxv-xxvi, italics in original.).’ [p 788]


‘This position has a strong pedagogical bent; casting research as living inquiry demystifies it, bringing research closer to our personal experiences and expanding the criteria regarding who possesses the acceptable know-how needed to produce knowledge. At the same time, it redefines the finality of a research project. Rita Irwin and Stephanie Springgay advocate that, in addition to arguing for (or against) a thesis, research can also be modeled as an exegesis, diegesis, or mimesis. These three options—a critical interpretation, a narration/re-telling, or a showing, respectively—provide new answers to the questions: What does research achieve and what shape does it take? [italics/bold mine pp 788]

‘An investigation that aims to map places of learning is not based on a hypothesis; it does not aim to clarify where learning takes place, or what the best conditions for learning are. Instead, it responds to the alternatives listed here, developing a diegesis and mimesis (a writing and a showing) about places of learning. The introduction of other languages— visual, narrative, performatic, and so on—adds greater complexity to an inquiry and offers new ways to conceptualize pedagogical space.’ [p 788]

‘A methodology of situations is developed through social interactions (being with), where learning “is never predictable and is understood to be a participation in the world, a kind of co-evolution of those learning together” (Irwin & Springgay, 2008, p. xxvii).’ [p 789]

‘According to this characterization, doing a/r/tographical research is a way of constructing an eventful space of learning. As demonstrated by the slash (“/”), a/r/tography mobilizes the in-between spaces between art, research, and education, locating research in a contiguous dynamic of collaborative practice. This practice constructs and deconstructs different relational configurations in and through time, reflecting the nomadic experience of becoming-learner.’ [p 789]


In terms of a research methodology, place-making gives ethnographic practice the double task of, on one hand, understanding how a group of people signify space through practice and, on the other, demonstrating and giving an account of this signification through the ethnography itself. This proposal is appealing because it acknowledges the active role of the researcher not only as an interpreter, but as one of many actors in the place of study. In this sense, place making shares with a/r/tography an understanding that research creates the place of inquiry, to study it. In a context where the goal of the research is to study learning spaces with students, place-making explicitly shows that that these imagined territories are not external to the research itself. Instead, the research process creates a learning space that can be used to experiment with and experience the eventful space of learning.’ [p 789]

‘Like Pink achieves through place-making, social cartography can be used to focus on the subjective qualities that give places meaning, bringing them to light by providing first-person accounts of the different ways of being and learning. In doing so, the act of mapping encourages participants to narrate themselves as learners in relation to their day-to-day practices and surroundings.’ [p 789]

Social C/a/r/tographies and the Rhizome 

‘Deleuze (1997/1993) writes that “a list or constellation of affects, an intensive map, is a becoming” (p. 16). This observation resonates with the example just provided. If affects  in this context refer to a person’s capacity to act (Bonta & Protevi, 2006, pp. 49-50), then mapping, as illustrated here, is a way to capture the event of becoming learner. Doing social c/a/r/tography is, in effect, a way to create an eventful space  (Deleuze and Guattari might use the term haecceity ) that does not fix an experience but multiplies it, allowing the material (texts and images) to be constantly reconfigured through different interventions with the yarn. This example of a rhizomatic representation of the learning experience illustrates how mapping becomes a way to inquire into one’s personal learning process without resulting in a reductive, closed interpretation.’ [p 791]