A Discussion of Barad Vol. II:
Diffractive Reading in Qualitative Research
Dave Harris

I have described my general approach in an Introduction to Vol. I. There, I focus mostly on Barad’s overall ontology. Here, I attempt to grasp what is meant by ‘diffraction’ and ‘diffractive readings’ . I have summarised Barad herself, and several subsequent articles, some of which are summaries themselves. Particular interests in the substantive topics of the diffractive readings guided my selection, although this is clearly partial.

Having tried to clarify what is meant by diffraction and diffractive reading in Haraway and Barad, I examine how the concepts have been used to open up new aspects of topics as claimed. Barad’s own more recent articles provide some initial examples. I have tried to gain some sort of independent grasp of the material she diffracts by reading for myself some of the work she cites , especially Fernandes (1997) (see Volume I), Anzaldúa (2012) and Hayashi (2010). Later articles are summarised in more detail than would be possible in a proper article, and there are links to even longer summaries of my own on my website. I got to some from ‘snowballing’, tracing the frequently-cited ones, and from using a bibliographic database. I am very grateful to those authors who made acquiring their work easy by posting versions of them on Researchgate
Some writers (like Udén) have identified the main themes in such work as differentiating between ‘reflection’ and ‘diffraction’ models. I have suggested an additional frequent emphasis on being ‘affirmative’ when discussing different approaches. Each article I have read also makes claims for a greater open-ness following from a diffractive approach – toward earlier educational theory, to educational policy, or to research data. I conclude that this affirmativeness particularly runs the risk of reproducing the problematic relativism of earlier ‘social construction’ approaches.


It is interesting that Barad (1998) offers an insightful comparative reading of Foucault and Butler, using Böhr to extend and elaborate their accounts. She says she wants to develop a '
productive appropriation and elaboration of [Butler's] theory' ( p 91), to extend her work to nonhumans,and to reconsider exactly how the materialisation of norms come to constitute bodies.  Foucault also needs to be extended to include the natural sciences and nonhumans, and to rethink causality and agency without limiting this to discursive effects.  Other commentators are also discussed, urged to reconsider concepts like 'materialisation' and to include a range of practices implied in reproductive technology to avoid a limiting focus on foetal agency (in the case of Casper). Her own approach has been 'inspired' by Böhr's anti-foundationalism,but even he is subject to criticism for not pursuing issues such as whether apparatuses have outer boundaries so we can separate them from the infinite interconnections, or rather intra-actions, of everything with everything else -- Barad suggests we can use Foucault to help with this, possibly by stopping at the level of discourse? The whole piece is a superb form of critical commentary, using her own notions like agential realism to solve problems identified in other approaches and even in current 'applications'. Barad describes her approach here as reading texts 'through one another' (99) but does not use the term 'diffraction' or claim a special diffractive method. I am still unclear about how you actually read a text through another, however, and whether this is any different from critically comparing several texts in order to develop a general approach which builds on them -- the sort of thing Marx or Deleuze do. Nor am I sure that taking an affirmative stance (see below) is any more than what Barad describes here as 'enacting a productive appropriation and elaboration', which is routine in academic argument, and possibly still symbolically violent and colonising. Few have followed Baudrillard's (2007) provocation to 'forget Foucault', for example, and have engaged in polite (sometimes still aggressive)  'symbolic exchange' instead . I do not think that any of this gets clearer after looking at the specific examples.

 Barad (2007, p. 89) summarises the main characteristics of a diffractive approach in a sizeable table. She does so by offering an extended contrast with a ‘reflection’ model. This is a curious approach because it implies a binary, although this is denied. The characteristics are dismissive of ‘reflection’ which seems a naive operation involving ‘copies that are homologous to originals’, a ‘pre-existing boundary between subject and object, ‘separate entities,words and things’, an ‘ontology/epistemology binary’ and various slightly differently worded versions of these dimensions – ‘words mirror things’, for example. No actual advocates of such naive realism are listed, although Descartes is implicated later. Diffraction implies several attractive alternatives including a notion of ‘performativity... [radicalised because] ...subject and object do not preexist as such but emerge through intra-actions’; and ‘making a difference in the world...taking responsibility for the fact that our practices matter’.

The whole scheme looks rather rhetorical, with the characteristics just opposing each other – in a mirror image, one might say. The ‘reflection’ side is a straw person, a novice or a completely pragmatic positivist who has never read any philosophy that doubts, interprets or analyses the surface appearances of ‘reality’, and this has unfortunate consequences. If approaches based on reflection are as naive as they seem it would normally be easy to dismiss them completely, but it is not acceptable to offer any criticism that might be considered as implying negativity or hierarchy, it subsequently emerges, if not in the actual table. Some can still be dismissed out of hand as irredeemable, not least Descartes. Others might be rescued by a subsequent redemptive diffractive reading, where two arguments limited by reflection approaches are combined to complete and round each other out. Still others can be read as proto-diffractions themselves, as Barad’s article (Barad 2014) citing her own formative influences in other feminist work implies. In the final example we consider,  ‘diffraction’ simply encompasses most if not all knowledge productions, including professional ideology, leaving reflection as an unhelpful and authoritarian relic.  Such a wide scope of application suggests possible incoherence in the concept or in its application

It is common to refer to the method as something authored by Barad herself –she has worked on it and developed it from substantial research involving a number of sources including Böhr, and, as she relates in Barard (2014) meeting other feminists and reading their work. Haraway is also always credited, although her notion of diffraction relates to the more familiar macro world. Barad (2007) refers to her own efforts to generalise Böhr into a whole ontology by incorporating feminist conceptions. However, to claim this work as authored in the conventional way would be to risk representationalism. Representationalism even lurks in describing her work as metaphorical, because metaphors are also dependent on a thinking subject as well. There are many quotes in the book which suggest, as argued in Vol I, that Barad is just reporting the view that it is the universe itself which is diffracting, producing universal diffraction phenomena so that every particle is also a wave, that her contribution to knowledge is just an example of a universal process of agentialism or performativity. For Udén (2018, p. 11), feminist analysts know very well that in physics there is a cultural and social context but this seems to be 'lost in the discourse [about diffraction]' , in favour of an assumed ‘meshing’ between concepts and Nature

Barad does not deny that her personal values and interests have also affected the conceptual apparatus she uses, but deals with this possible interference pattern with an abstract acknowledgement. It would be much more interesting to see how her particular values have actually affected the specific cuts she makes so we could disentangle the universal from the situated elements: is her opposition to positivism based mostly on ontological or feminist political grounds? Can we perform a diffractive analyses without embracing her specifically feminist values?

Barad’s Diffractions

I have already indicated that Barad seems not to have used the term ‘diffraction’ to describe her earliest attempts (eg Barad 2003) to grapple with Böhr, but to use more conventional terms like extending or elaborating his work. That language changes in emphasis in Barad 2007, and by the time we get to Barad (2014), diffraction seems to be used to describe more or less any sort of critical reading, even to be attributed to people who do not use the term themselves. Extending the concept like this brings additional problems. It seems any work that synthesises other work in any way could qualify as diffraction. Alternatively, earlier works might be limited by their representationalism and require additional reading to make them diffract with others. Increasingly, it seems that the work that best illustrates the power of the method is feminist work, and that the policy of ‘affirmation’ associated with modern feminist work is important to distinguish the proper approach.

To the extent that diffractive readings are used in support of her general ontology, there seems to be some ambiguity.  There are attempts to subsume different concepts under more general ones – to see ‘performativity’ as a general term linking Böhr and Butler, say. Developing general concepts is common in any academic attempt to build a system.  Yet Barad also sees a specific and distinct approach in diffractive reading. This is, in a much-used phrase,  'reading...insights through one another' (Barad 2007, p. 27), looking for 'patterns of difference…the full display of...intricate patterns and reverberations' (2007, p. 30), like the interference patterns produced when macro waves are diffracted in a medium.

This could still look like the lists of similarities and differences produced in conventional comparative readings, leading to conventional resolutions of any differences. Apart from subsumption under more general  concepts, it is also possible to add together different approaches which are to be seen as perspectives on a more complex reality. This produces a multidimensional or multidisciplinary account, for example, as when psychological and sociological insights are combined to fully grasp the nature of deviance. There are hints of this in Barad, especially if we follow modern etiquette and suppress any claims to full theoretical sufficiency by any party. The danger is that we risk lapsing into relativism again, precisely one of the tendencies that Barad was supposed to resolve with her ontology. Detailed discussion of actual examples is clearly necessary.

Barad (2014)  – diffracting diffractions

She refers to the 'multiplicity of processes' (2014, p. 168) that led up to her understanding that 'matter itself is diffracted'. However, these processes are also sedimented as they materialize, but we should not infer that ontological closure is involved (other kinds of closure from power relations or social conventions are still present and are under-discussed I will argue). Similarly, conventional divisions in time conceal the multiplicity of each moment, and we can always return to the past to re-examine 'the infinity that lives through it' (p. 169).

Trinh Minh-ha's conference paper delivered in 1988 denies that there is an absolute boundary between self and other, and that absolute boundaries inevitably lead to a notion of hierarchy. It is implicated in the maintenance of 'hegemony' (Barad 2014, p.170). Barad links this argument to her critique of geometrical optics where the other is located behind a mirror (an obvious chance to connect with Lacan on the ‘mirror phase’ is not pursued). The main example is a rather extreme one — apartheid in South Africa -- but this is generalized into an overall 'formula of success' — divide and conquer. It was apparently Haraway who read Trinh first 'through the figure of diffraction' (172), and this is the source of the remark that diffraction maps interference, '"maps where the effects of difference appear'". Trinh's work has disrupted conventional naturalistic taxonomies embodying conventional notions of difference, and this somehow indicates '"a diffracting rather than reflecting (ratio)nality"' (172): a rejection of fixed binary divisions would suffice, however?

As an example of a number of parallels between physics and feminist writing, Grimaldi's work in optics is briefly discussed to show there is no sharp boundary separating light from dark. He also coins the term diffraction. This leads to discussion of Anzaldúa (2012), with its themes of boundaries of the self and how they can be dissolved in liminal zones. Notes from my own reading are available on my website. Colonisation is implicated again, using terms like darkness and light, which forms a connection with Grimaldi, in that both writers 'queer the binary light/darkness story' (p. 171). Of course there are also differences between the writers, although these are not stressed — only Anzaldúa draws implications for personal identity, for example, and implicates Christianity and colonisation. Barad argues that she is offering a more general ontology, so in a way Grimaldi has been  applied and thus completed. Neither writer seems to engage with quantum physics (Grimaldi was writing much earlier), although Anzaldúa apparently did engage in a conversation with Barad about links between their approaches, but no details are provided. Grimaldi got to his conclusions using classic scientific experiments, while Anzaldúa got to hers in an unknown way, using her experience and poetic sensibility somehow, no doubt with other inputs, to write a bi- or even tri-lingual collection of essays and poems . Anzaldúa's politics involve rethinking human subjectivity and experience, showing that conventional dualities are limited and that there is much to gain from pre-Colonisation religious spirituality.  Barad (2014, p174) says Anzaldúa thinks that humans and non-humans exist 'in an ordered, structured universe where all phenomena are interrelated and imbued with spirit', which is not exactly the same as Barad’s own understanding. Perhaps the intention is to complete and secularise her with some modern physics?

Barad sees other links to her own work. Just as some people are best described in Anzaldúa as 'half and half', with split identities, so electrons can also be seen as half and half, both waves and particles, queer particles. Anzaldúa apparently said that queer people were sometimes seen like that — half and half in terms of split genders. Anzaldúa claims that in mestiza society, such marginal persons were sometimes seen as possessing supernatural powers, and Barad connects this to Newton's residual spirituality. Barad also finds a similarity with Böhr — both he and Anzaldúa reveal 'a contingent iterative performativity… An understanding of difference not as an absolute boundary… but rather as the effects of enacted cuts in a radical reworking of cause/effect' (pp 173 – 4). Anzaldúa does indeed refer to performance and enactment, but it looks like these are confined entirely to human actions. For Barad (2104, p.176), however, the same process of differencing and intra- activity is 'just as much about electrons with one another as it is about onto–epistemological interactions involving humans'. There is the issue of scale involved here which we discussed in Vol I. 

The later sections fill out what Barad means by terms such as 'quantum dis/continuity’ and indeterminacy, and she outlines her own view of the famous quantum eraser experiment. One section in particular seems to have something to do with Derrida, hauntology, and difference/différance. For example the residue left by the past that is not entirely erased in the experiment is an example of hauntology and there is the  argument in Derrida that the idea of presence is a metaphysical assumption. Difference/différance is preferred to the standard conventions of time as a linear process, (since différance also refers to the iterative generation of different meanings -- in language at least) and he is also used to remind us that we have responsibilities as we return to and unpack 'sedimented enfoldings of iterative intra-activity', found not only in our memory but in the very 'fabric of the world' (p. 181).

This article is also relevant for the more general discussion in Vol I, and some elements are pursued there. The notes at the end of the article are also important. The issue of personal agency also arises. Barad herself has clearly used her own wide knowledge and understandings to suggest links and connections between these quite different pieces of work. Yet this paper is not a tour de force by an individual thinker, but a diffraction experiment, perhaps one without a subject. It would be wrong to see it as a narrative produced by an I 'since this position is counter to diffracting. There is no I that exists outside the diffraction pattern, observing it, telling its story. In an important sense, this story in its ongoing (re)patterning is (re)(con)figuring me', and the subject K Barad is 'always already multiply dispersed and diffracted' (p. 181). This is presumably a general point that extends to the other named authors she cites. This might help her argue that there is indeed nothing special about human subjectivity, since the universe itself diffracts, but it also implies that Barad and the others somehow speak with the voice of the universe itself, the voice of quantum indeterminacy and queer particles, the univocity of Being that we discussed in Vol. I.

The writers cited might be seen as located in the proto-diffractive category, although we are invited to draw this conclusion only because they seem to use similar words in the extracts we are given, risking argument by homonym again (see Vol I). The very style of the article encourages homonymy on the part of readers by alternating extracts from the different writers as raw data, a kind of diffraction by adjacency, as the reader moves from one section to another, carrying the Derridavian ghosts forwards and relying on their own (necessarily variable) ability to grasp similarities. Barad’s expert interpretations and deployment of ‘textual shifters’, including the literary tropes and rhetorical devices like personification or hyperbole noted in Vol I, are on hand for support, of course.

Barad (2017) – troubling time

Barad (2017) also seems to grant Feynman and Hayashi, whom she cites, conventional humanist status as pioneering theorist and creative author respectively. There are similar arguments in diffracting her own work with Hayashi’s ‘novella’ (Hayashi 2010) about the effects of nuclear development and warfare. There is an immediate similarity with what Barad suggests about time, because the novella itself switches between particular times and places, in a narrative that displays 'travel hopping': standard time is not accepted as a suitable device to tell the story, and of course, it is also seriously challenged by quantum theory. Other similarities include the writer insisting that the victims of nuclear tests should include non-humans, the plants and animals that were 'the bomb’s first victims' (2017 p. 61), and Hayashi is forgiven for not mentioning human casualties of subsequent tests, because the US government itself was slow to do so.

I have read Hayashi (2010) myself and gained some insights from it on the life of the Nagasaki survivor, and there are some effective descriptions of contrasting landscapes and the emotions and recurring memories of the atomic bomb attack that are evoked as Hayashi travels and attempts to come to some sort of resolution of her stigmatised status as a survivor.  The Introduction (by Otake) is also insightful, and mentions much more work by Hayashi on these themes. However, I did not find the novella as experimental as Barad suggests. ‘Travel hopping’ in time for example is described in Otake’s notes (p. xxxvi) on her translation much more conventionally:
…typically the narrator introduces something that happened in the past with the past tense, then within the same paragraph shifts into the present tense… It is as if, with some small trigger from daily life, the narrator suddenly remembers and relives scenes from her childhood… She may shift back to the narrator’s present as if in her remembering and reliving she finds fresh distance between the person in the past and the person who is reflecting on a memory
The technique was surely developed earlier in pieces like Proust? It might even be possible to describe Hayashi’s work as an insider ethnography telling the story of a doubly marginalised person – as a survivor in Japan and as a foreigner when she stayed in the USA. The piece that Barad finds so significant –when Hayashi remembers the plants and animals that also died at the Trinity test site—is only an aside of 5 lines (p. 50). More persistent, and more interesting for me, is Hayashi’s habit of addressing a reader as ‘Rui’ which, Otake explains, is a general name to refer to the younger generation who did not know the War.

In Barad (2017), we also find an extended discussion of the apparent problem of scale. The normal divisions are apparently based on 'an imperialist and colonising worldview' (p.61) which has led to consequences including misunderstanding subatomic particles as 'inanimate and lacking in agency' (p.62). The development of nuclear weapons shows how scales can be crossed from minute nuclear forces to incalculable devastation, but, of course, this is true only after a great deal of human ingenuity and engineering – subatomic particles do not arrange themselves in such explosive forms . This is where 'nested scales', via a metaphor with Russian dolls, are preferred. This is actually rather a common notion, however, as an understanding of social space, at least in sociology, especially in the work on identity where naive individualism has long been attacked. The issues arising need to be explored, like how rigid are the boundaries between the ‘nests’, whether there is a hierarchy and, if so, which way it runs. DeLanda's (2006) account of nested assemblages is more thorough.

Again this is claimed to be a diffractive essay, not a linear presentation, a matter of considering extracts as aspects of quantum physics diffract through a novella, 'a matter of reading insights through rather than against each other to make evidently always–already entanglement of specifics [sic] ideas in their materiality… Not to make analogies but rather to explore patterns of difference/différance' (2017 p. 64). Diffraction in classical physics is contrasted to the term in quantum physics, so we are not just making 'a comparison between this and that' but exploring 'notions of superposition and entanglement… differences within, not the "apartheid type of difference"', quoting Trinh Minh-ha. This is a theoretically- and politically- informed comparison. One implication, as we see in the more general section is that 'not all differences are the same' (p. 65). Diffraction, which can also be understood as 'relational différancing' goes 'all the way down', and the only difference is that as we go up the scale, we can imagine more and more complex diffraction gratings until we get to an infinite number which will cover all possible dimensions of space. Again a chance is missed to consider whether the more complex gratings constrain the less complex ones (or vice versa), part of the process of 'sedimenting' soclear in social life.

Temporal diffraction is also explored in more detail, beginning with experimental observations where the familiar slits in the detection apparatus are cut into a disc, and instead of a static two-part apparatus, the disc is rotated to present slits in turn. A beam of light or particles directed at the disc produces phenomena which are separated in time and this indicates an indeterminacy principle affecting time and energy, implying that particular entities can be in a state of superposition at different times. However, there is then a controversial slide to human terminology, when Barad describes these different times as 'yesterday, today and tomorrow'. The laboratory experiment expresses time as a predictable sequence as the disc rotates, but of, course, there is much less predictability in the human notion of 'tomorrow' (unless Barad is suggesting a strict determinism here). Nevertheless, this experiment should 'trouble' the notion of linear time in human history, especially colonial ideas of progress.

The novella also troubled linear time as we saw, for example by suggesting that the more recent catastrophe involving a power plant at Fukushima was 'directly entangled with the US bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki' (Barad 2017, p. 73). Hayashi does not use the term entanglement herself and describes the ‘criticality incident at Tokaimura’, a nuclear weapons facility possibly via a metaphor of two rivers merging with each other. She also admits her friend asked if she ‘was an atomic bomb maniac’ (Hayashi 2010, p. 33). The Fukushima incident seems to have occurred in 2011, some two years after Tokaimura. Hayashi herself wrote about the incidents subsequently.  Whether the normal understanding of historical, political and technological entanglement  in the nuclear industry is the same as quantum entanglement is not clear, and nor are the advantages of developing 'an ongoing material history' instead of the normal history of nuclear energy. Barad adds a surely rhetorical flourish by suggesting that the past 'is literally swirling around with the radioactivity in the ocean' (p. 74).

It might indeed be the case, however that Hayashi's account is a 'pointed contestation of official museum history', although such ideologically suspect history is never specified or exampled. She also is contesting all attempts to describe objective reality from above — 'the god's-eye view… The view from nowhere' (2017, p.75). Of course many novels and novellas do that and some offer an additional realist metanarrative (McCabe 1981), where some god’s-eye view of general, timeless and truthful, often emotional reality emerges from all the different voices and standpoints after all. Barad hints at this by saying that overall the novella ultimately addresses the eternal issue of what it is to be human. She refines Hayashi, possibly, by adding that this is not about our distinctiveness from nonhumans or sub- humans, but 'our relationship with and responsibility to the dead, to the ghosts of the past and the future' (2017, p. 86). There are even general moral principles. We are to make it a lifelong practice to explore  'the entangled violences of colonialism, racism, nationalism' in order to 'begin to come to terms with the infinite depths of our humanity', as we are shown 'the infinitely rich ground of possibilities for living and dying otherwise'. This notion of eternal debt to the heterogeneous beings of the past that live on in us is also stressed in Barad (2010), where the link between ontology and ethics is particularly clear – it is because we are in debt to them, and to future beings, that we have to be responsible towards them.

There are interesting comments on different notions of a void, referring to the vacuum in Newtonian physics and suggesting that there is a connection with 'colonialist endeavours', notoriously in the UK Government's decision to label uncolonized Australia as terra nullius. By contrast, the quantum vacuum and its fluctuations reveal 'stories of creation and annihilation' (77) as virtual particles are generated. Here, Barad seems to get close to the deleuzian notion of the virtual, seeing it as containing 'an infinite number of possibilities, but not everything is possible'. A discussion of something like the notion of ‘compossibiity’ (Deleuze 2006) might have been useful to begin to grasp the constraints on actualities, but we moveback to indeterminacy, which may 'in fact be the source of all that is' (78). Barad wants to rhetorically connect the discussion to human events again by arguing that quantum field theory is an explanation, or a metaphor, for birth, life and death, for inanimate beings and, by implication for ourselves.

Overall – these are asymmetric readings: we can recognise themes in Anzaldúa or Hayashi once we have understood Barad's account of quantum physics, but it seems unlikely that we could proceed the other way around. A cognitive hierarchy is inevitably implied. Barad runs a clear risk of imposing symbolic violence in the technical Bourdieuvian sense, by preferring her own terms, no matter how much courteous credit she awards the other writers for their insights. We could even understand this as intellectual colonisation – other people are completed by having their concepts incorporated into a more general ontology, whether they like it or not.

Perhaps strangely, there is no discussion about non-human components of Barad’s own knowledge-producing apparatus, despite the denial of conventional subjective authorship in Barad (2017). That apparatus seems to consist of concepts alone. Later Baradians have acknowledged the abstract involvement of nonhuman elements in the form of books or pieces of paper, but they are not considered to have any separate agency of their own. This is quite different from the diffraction experiments in quantum physics where the nonhuman parts of the apparatus are agentic, either the waves or the slits, according to Udén.
It would have been interesting to explore the agency of nonhumans in Barad’s writing. Udén (2018) talks of the influence of bibiliographic databases in selecting examples of diffraction, and notes the additional meta tags identified too. Although databases are clearly designed by humans, they have emergent effects as well, at least for the user, as I have argued in my discussion (Harris 2005) of searching for the ‘key concepts’ of Leisure Studies and finding terms used in quite different subject disciplines. Mostly in choosing materials to diffract, older technologies seem to operate – the dynamics of social groups in particular – but this is not discussed, although they are known to have effects. In the future, possible non-human effects might be explored to overcome social group effects, say by choosing readings to diffract based on the contingencies of alphabetical order or the colour of the book covers, to borrow some ideas from the French experimental writers the OuLiPo (see Matthews & Brotchie 2005).

Interference would show the limits of human rationality if, and Udén is quoting Geerts & van der Tuin (2016) (no page numbers), '"diffractive mappings are not rationally made"'. However, actual diffraction analyses are obviously 'rationally produced, managed and maintained' (Udén 2018, p. 10).

Other diffraction readings in Education

When we come to look at what diffractive reading does in practice, we might literally expect to find that when two texts are read 'through one another' we might find a classic interference pattern. Haraway refers to '"interaction, interference, reinforcement, difference"' (Uden 2018, p. 6), and Smith to '"interdependency and disruption"' (p.7) .  None of these are described in particualrly concrete and specific terms in what follows, however. As someoen hoping to use the method for myself, I would welcome some details -- do we read the texts sequentially and if so, does the order in which we read them make any difference? Do we return tothe first text having read the second one and gained new questions to ask? And then re-read both? Do we read the two alternately, say in short sections when, having identified a key argument in one text, we leave it and immediately try to track implications in the other? Would tracking cross-references be easier if we used electronic versions of text  (as I do, having made notes via speech recogntion and inserting search terms as I go for use in elecgronic searches)?

It seems that texts could in principle amplify each other's arguments, but at other times the arguments would cancel out in a classic ‘bar’ pattern, although it is also the case that diffraction can result in little overall disturbance. Little disturbance seems to be the most common option so far. There seems an aversion against difference and cancellation, and often an attempt to rework or reduce the significance of any apparent differences, by seeing them as understandably incomplete  but still heading in the right direction – as proto-Baradian. This is to be expected with a focus on shared values and courteous ‘affirmative’ consensus. What results is a dimensional model – each text focuses on one dimension and knowledge would be improved by somehow adding them together, perhaps after some modification and generalisation. For Barad herself (2007) improved knowledge would result if Butler read some science, for example, or if Foucault considered the nonhuman in its own right. Recommendation for major revision seems rare, though: diffractive reading looks like the more familiar multi-dimensional or multi-disciplinary approach.

Udén (2018) says that diffraction is mostly used as a metaphor in social science, based on a representation of the concept as it is used in natural science. Qualitative researchers like Richardson (1997) might point out that metaphors abound in natural science too, of course, but it seems that they are not all equally productive. In the case of Haraway, it is a 'sketch of a mirror and a diffraction laboratory experiment… [which is taken as]… a full description of wave theory, a complete representation that perfectly meshes with nature' (Udén 2018, p. 11) Of course, Haraway and Barad both simplify for their readership. Haraway’s metaphor is not pursued very far, into wave theory itself, for example, but Barad does pursue the metaphor into a whole ontology of indeterminacy and entanglement at the quantum level. However, metaphors are irreducibly subjective, still 'guided by subconscious inclinations, strategic choices or convenience' (Udén 2018, p. 1). When the concept has been applied in subsequent work, the main implication that Udén identifies is that diffraction can replace reflection as a methodology, usually implying 'reading texts or works of art through one another' (p. 5). Udén says that this is a conventional technique for academic advancement and has already been used with success in feminism, especially in identifying 'emotion as an instrument being, knowledge and cognition' (p. 6).

It seems impossible to avoid doing this cross-reading anyway, since we will have all read different texts which must provide an element of ‘intertextual’ understanding, consciously or unconsciously. There are no simple ‘originals’ waiting for diffraction, so some of the diffractions we examine below might better be seen as diffractions of diffractions, as Barad (2014) implies in her title. She also refers to being able to relate to Derrida and Levinas after both had been diffracted by colleagues and their materialism emphasised.  Barad (nd, p. 11) describes her 'virtual engagements and entanglements with Derrida' and says ‘ I am indebted to Astrid Schrader and Vicki Kirby for putting me in touch with Derrida through their marvelous materialist readings of his work’. This reading might have helped her see that deconstruction as not a human method or technique, but rather 'what the text does, what matter does, how mattering performs itself' (Barad 2010, p. 268). Levinas seems to have been read diffractively by Lingis and Zornberg (Barad 2010, p. 10), with the latter offering the view that human communication depends on '"the capacity to draw on an elemental life that is experienced as inhuman"'.

Diffractive readings seem to be everywhere in Barad (2010, pp 242--3).  Here, 'diffraction [is] a synecdoche of entangled phenomenon [sic]’ It involves ‘reading texts interactively through one another, enacting new patterns of engagement, attending to how exclusions matter' (2010, p. 243).  I must say, I found little on exclusions, however. Derrida’s book Specters, is itself diffracted through Shakespeare’s Hamlet and Marx’s and Engels’s 1848 Manifesto. Newton in 1687 is diffracted through '2060' [Newton's prediction for the end of time] 'derived… from biblical prophesizing, calculation, anti-speculative speculating'. It is not clear whether Newton himself did this diffracting or whether Barad did.  Böhr's Nobel prize-winning paper in 1912 is diffracted through Schrödinger and the cat in 1935, and then the dropping of the atomic bombs in 1945, with the same problem – who or what does the diffracting?

Everything fits together, yet the intention of academic reading surely is not continually to confirm our existing views. Borrowing from some familiar discussions about the growth of knowledge, ‘academic advancement’ can involve extending our existing understandings, adding knowledge that can be assimilated within existing conceptions. However, more radical advancements might involve pursuing arguments that disagree with our existing conceptions, requiring new adaptations of our thinking. Barad herself clearly looks for challenge in her reading of quantum physics and feminism, but it is less apparent elsewhere, and it is not clear that challenge and corrigibility is a central aim.

The contrast with reflection depends on an argument in Haraway, already discussed above, who says it is inadequate as a metaphor for examination or contemplation because it replicates the same, sometimes in a distorted form, and this has led to substantial if mistaken efforts in metaphysics. Udén argues that there is no implication in reflection models that the objects and surfaces involved are merely passive compared to those that induced diffraction, however. Overall, Udén (2018) is unwilling to totally abandon the notion of reflection, which has been very productive in the past and might continue to be in the future, and she cites Alander in reminding us that 'most of what humans see, will see and have ever seen are reflections' (p. 11), and that includes '"the diffraction pattern we see"' (p. 10). This devaluing of earlier ‘reflective’ efforts in critical analysis seems to owe more to the strategy of pursuing paralogy, in Lyotard’s (1986, p.100) terms – 'making the known unknown and then organising this unknown into an independent symbolic metasystem' the constant need to make progress and assert novelty, launch and maintain research programmes.

Udén (2018) suggests that the pursuit of other optical metaphors, especially refraction, might also be productive, citing the work of Hayward who has used the term 'refraction' as a metaphor, leading, for example, to the argument that refracted light is also '"an irreducible nexus of enacted, active and non-active properties"' (p. 9) . Looking over Barad’s (2010) remarks about Derrida or Levinas, we might conclude that ‘refraction’ would have been a better metaphor there. Udén also thinks that Haraway's discussion of the cyborg was a much more productive borrowing from natural science partly because that discussion 'involves both fantasy and innovation' while the term diffraction is largely descriptive.

The deepest problem with reflection is that '"reflective metaphors overemphasise culture and thus disempower nonhuman nature"', (Udén 2018, p. 7) quoting Barad. Rejecting simple reflection also means we can do more than just reproduce social inequalities, although again this is surely neglecting those cases where reflection has indeed led to a fundamental challenge to social inequalities: Marx’s metaphor of the camera obscura for example, Foucault on the gaze, or even Brookfield’s lenses (in Mezirow et al. 2000). We also seem to be close to a self-confirming circle or tautology here if empowering nonhuman nature or ending inequalities is seen beforehand as a good thing in its own right, and diffraction is being chosen because it seems to best support such empowering, the opposite of the usual explanation that studying diffraction just leads logically to these good consequences.

With a very general ontology, it is almost impossible to think of anything or any writing that could not be understood as diffraction. Udén (2018) says that advocates of diffraction also seem particularly interested in interference, when waves 'either create a more intense wave together, cancel each other, or anything in between' (p. 1). I think there is a further focus, however, on the possibilities of amplification or agreement to manage interference. The problem seems more to explain which readings do not seem to support diffraction – if any.  We have seen how Derrida and Levinas have been read so as to agree with Bard’s materialism. Barad (2010, p.268) herself tells us that Heisenberg’s disagreement with Böhr arose not from some simple political or moral differences: his motives were not just unclear, but were 'multiple, indeterminate, spooked, not his alone', so Heisenberg’s case supports diffractive analysis after all. Similarly, as we shall see below, Sehgal understands Whitehead’s impersonal, formal and scholastic style as him obeying the conventions of good argument of his day, with no attempt to further explain the conventions as phallogocentric or whatever. By contrast, Barad does not understand Newton in this way – he really did express a god’s eye view of the universe, support human exceptionalism and prepare the ground for colonialism. The issue remains to be clarified with any other ‘reflection-based’ readings – is it only ever ontological commitment, male power relations, or conformity to style which produces their knowledge?

Applying diffraction as a metaphor to social matters is 'hardly an innocent pursuit', but rather a 'moral quest' for Udén (2018, p.9). Turning to diffraction theory provides that quest with 'an illustrative metaphor', even though the concept emerged in physics after considerable exercise of scientific rigour. In opposition to Barad’s implied connections between Nature and human ethics and politics, Udén notes that in the scientific use of the term there is no support for the idea of diffraction as 'unequivocally good, free or wild'.

Udén (2018) surveyed 51 examples of diffractive readings, and I can only add a few more from my own reading that I have come across opportunistically. I have tried to focus on authors who are often cited. The theme that emerges most strongly for me is the need to be ‘affirmative’,non-confrontational, to avoid total critique and rejection of earlier work. This echoes many of the proposals in qualitative research too. No-one would want to deny that some forms of academic debate do indeed involve aggression, sometimes thinly disguised as fierce debate about the issues, and that this can be stressful and unhelpful. The old formal conventions insisted that there were never any personal criticisms, not even personalised debate, but these were also elitist and could be mocked and subverted. Conventions now lie at the heart of modern debates about ‘safe spaces’, and whether these would reduce the academic freedom to challenge and disagree.

There is almost inevitably an element of ‘symbolic violence’ (Bourdieu 2000), however, where one person’s argument is reduced in significance, perhaps by making it part of a more general one, and this persists even in diffractive readings – Barad locates Fernandes and Foucault in her own framework, for example in discussing workplace politics or rebukes Butler for not considering non-discursive elements. This is what was identified before as the trope of completion as understanding progresses from earlier work to later, in the search for truth or completion.

Murris on child-centred education

Turning to the first of my own examples, Murris (2017) illustrates the method by diffractively reading works from two major approaches to ‘progressive’, child-centred education. The child-centred philosophy of Reggio Emilia and of Philosophy For Children, are already firmly in the 'progressive' camp. Confirmation bias is an obvious risk. No one, as far as I can discover, has proposed diffractively reading their texts with something that takes a radically opposite view, in this case, Nietzsche (1910), for example, who says that the 'premature demand for personal work—for the unripe procreation of thoughts' can lead to suffering and neglect. It is a 'pedagogic original sin against the intellect'. (Second Lecture 6th February, 1872); or Whitehead (1967, p. 14): ‘the race that does not value trained intelligence is doomed...the essence of education is that it be religious...which inculcates duty and reverence’.

Examining the examples of diffractive reading raises other problems in that judgements are being made about whether arguments actually do agree or support each other. Familiar problems of interpretation are indispensable as a prior activity. A particular danger is that sections of texts or even individual words may be taken out of context even by Murris’s 'careful and selective quotation'. Without such context, there is a danger that the whole exercise will be reduced to one of pursuing what Lacan (1968, p. 9) called argument by homonym (discussed in Vol I) — the words just look as if they are saying the same thing. We might consider using deleuzian terms as running the same risks. Murris, for example wants to link the term 'concept' in Deleuze to the same word in other discourses, but there is an argument that Deleuze and Guattari use their term in quite a different way to other usages. We find the same linkage, incidentally, in Gale's recommendation to students (Haynes et al. (2015) reading Deleuze to follow his goal of generating new concepts: the implication is that you can do this after a fairly rapid reading of Deleuze, and certainly after a highly subjective one.

This is not at all how Deleuze (2004) himself has attempted to generate new concepts of course, as he explains in his third chapter: there, philosophy actually requires an individual ‘full of ill will who does not manage to think, either naturally or conceptually’ (2004, p. 166), someone who sees ‘subjective presuppositions as prejudices...thought is primarily trespass and violence...Everything begins with misosophy’ (175 – 6)...‘Culture, however, is an involuntary adventure, the movement of learning which links the sensibility, memory and then a thought, with all the cruelties and violence necessary, as Nietzsche said, precisely in order to train “a nation of ‘thinkers’” or to “provide a training for the mind”’ (2004, p. 205). Constructing concepts requires ‘a specifically philosophical taste... A philosophical language within language’ (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p.8). Philosophical concepts often appear as ‘the proposition deprived of sense’ (p. 22) ...'For this reason philosophers have very little time for discussion' (p. 28)...Concepts are not assembled in the same way as opinions, through associations of ideas (as images) and ordered reasons (as abstractions). Instead, concepts must be created. They are ‘mental objects determinable as real beings’, located on a plane of immanence (p. 207).

The situation is not helped by putting the problem back to the reader. Murris argues that for her to provide a definition of the term 'community of enquiry' would be to fall into the error of 'representationalism', excessive subjectivity on her part. Instead she recommends that readers must detect the diffraction pattern themselves. However, that would seem to risk conventional and equally subjective interpretation on the part of readers — it might be guided by any kind of general understandings, philosophical or ideological, based on experience or based on prejudice. It is particularly difficult, especially in ordinary consciousness, to maintain an absolute openness to multiple connections and relations between apparently independent objects or texts. Barad’s own texts indicate the difficulties and she is a specialist, but to point this out might be to risk imposing a hierarchy.

Murris and Bozalek – guidance for doing diffraction (2019a)

Murris and Bozalek (2019) generalised from their experiences in a discussion designed to spell out what it means 'to live without bodily boundaries’. We have no fixed bodily boundaries, our story is reconfiguring us, we are in and of a diffraction pattern "multiply dispersed and diffracted throughout space-time (mattering)"'' (quoting Barad 2017, p. 7). They say 'little guidance is given to researchers' about diffraction — so how do we read texts diffractively?‘ (2019 p. 2), and propose to offer some propositions. These are not ordinary propositions, however, but something activating and self-organizing, quoting Whitehead, 'a "new kind of entity" — a "hybrid between potentialities and actualities"' (p. 2), something both actual and speculative (see Sehgal 2014 on diffracting Whitehead and Barad). The actual text in Murris and Bozalek (2019) offers basic implications from Barad as guides: that we need to pay ‘attention to affect in knowledge production (moods, passions, emotions, intensities) and be open to be affected by the more-than-human’, (p. 3) for example, or follow ‘multispecies relations and tracing entanglements (not following the human)’ (p. 5), followed by brief summaries of the arguments. They also intend to put diffraction patterns into practice rather than theorise them, and develop key questions as diffractive guides. This is not just a literature review which assumes that observers are a distance from the literature and can create an overview. No texts are foregrounded, none foundational, although Barad seems pretty central. They intend to read texts 'through one another' (p.2) to generate new insights. Barad provides crucial examples and her work offers no 'epistemic arrogance' (p.3) of locating knowledge, intelligence and meaning in the human subject.

We can use diffraction as a pedagogical tool as well to replace reflective methodologies. We can use notions such as ‘superposition’ to disrupt identity-producing binaries and this will show 'learning has occurred' (2019, p.5). We should not reflect on the world but attempt to understand it 'from within and as part of it' (p.5). The entanglements we study '"point to the interconnectedness of all being as one"' (quoting Barad) (Murris & Bozalek 2019 p. 4).

Clarifying the ethical position implied, the researchers are accountable for their work, responsible, and need to pay 'attention to accurate and fine details' (p. 6) — the same as being respectful towards the details of the text, 'trying to do justice to it', and 'being acutely aware that small differences matter enormously when using a diffractive methodology'. These are not just subjective or personally ethical commitments: Murris and Bozalek say they are not just making analogies or pulling together ideas in assemblages, because 'this would assume individual existence is ontologically prior' (p.9). We have no fixed bodily boundaries, our story is reconfiguring us, we are in and of a diffraction pattern "multiply dispersed and diffracted throughout space-time (mattering)"''. Here, the problems of theorising do indeed mesh with Nature. It follows that any conventional methodological procedures – gaining representative samples, trying to control observer effects, trying to understand what the others actually meant rather than what they said or wrote – are now irrelevant and can be ignored.

We must not construct 'the new through a radical break with the past'. We must honour 'inheritances and entanglements' rather than trying to break with the past (the example is 'feminist engagements with materialism' (2019, p. 9),and we should avoid ‘literature reviews that adopt a bird's eye point of view, that is, creating an overview by comparing, contrasting and looking for similarities and themes' (p.9)
It is acceptable to 're-turn' to events of our own past, former seminars, perhaps, or earlier publications, 're- turning and re-turning again and again to the "same" text, creating "thicker" understandings' (p. 7). Barad shows the way with her discussions (in Barad 2014) where she revisits her own past encounters and re-thinks them. Barad suggests there, for example, that her conventional reference to one of her own papers that was actually not published at the time is 'a gesture to include what is also coming from the future' (2014, p. 187). She also uses a more conventional term to reference her own work in preparation, however – ''forthcoming'. Murris and Bozalek prefer to see Barad as 'describing quantum leaps or temporal diffraction' (2019 p.8). There is the ethical point that this also offers an affirmative position rather than 'doing epistemological damage by taking up an external position' (p.11).

There seem additional problems for the diffractor. Collaborations are necessary for 'the responsible practice of education' but we also need to 'productively engage and think with [all relevant?] other humans and more-than-human (e.g. matter)' (p.8). It means that we cannot write an objective history of just a body, since that would involve 'power producing dualisms between self and world' (p.8). Avoiding all power-producing dualisms, even in the form of agential cuts, would require in principle endless unlimited collaboration with humans, machines and animals. Of course, the argument has an implicit ‘et cetera clause’ limiting the collaboration to what is normally accepted, or working to the available resources.

Murris and Bozalek (2019, p.10) offer a ‘transdisciplinary approach that disrupts the nature/culture binary' . We might for example cross disciplinary boundaries 'by diffracting quantum physics with poetry or fiction or queer theory' (p.10) and relinquish the idea that there is unity within fields or disciplines, such as Education. Transdisciplinary approaches are much easier to operate in a field which we know well, of course, or else we will be forced to deal only with ‘representations’ of other disciplines. This must be a particular problem with quantum theory, where non-specialists are forced to operate only with popular accounts. This programme is still ambitious: we need '"an affirmative ethical–political economy"' to grasp looming extinction, including both trans-subjective and transhuman forces. We need to use diffraction to change the ways in which texts meet each other. This has ontological consequences with the problems discussed above: it 'inevitably involves "the (uncritical?) affirmation of a diffracted/ing world"' (quoting Kaiser on Barad).

The notes in Murris’s and Bozalek’s article suggest other examples of diffractive readings. Barad has read queer theory through quantum physics, she has written chapters in a book which could be seen as a diffraction apparatus. She sees diffractive quantum theory through feminism and post-colonialism and also the work of people like Derrida, Foucault and Butler. It is about events as well — 'clock time, calculus, Schrödinger’s cat’ (2019, p. 11). These ‘events’ also take place in thought, however. Barad diffracts diffraction by re-turning to her own past articles and papers and intra-actions with a collaborator. Post-humanist literature also shows how two or more philosophers can be diffracted through Barad and Haraway — Whitehead, de Beauvoir, Irigaray and Ettinger. We might deconstruct certain foundational concepts of ideas and reveal contingency to open other possible meanings. These are 'transversal enquiries' crossing discipline boundaries. Murris herself has written about the concept of ‘pet’. Haraway uses an example of diffraction by showing 'how a safety pin may have many meanings and contexts by diffractively thinking the meaning of the safety pin in terms of its history in state regulatory apparatuses' (p.12). Murris has also offered 'a diffractive reading of three figurations of the educator and reads two rhizomatic pedagogies through one another’ (p. 12), as we saw.

Murris and Bozalek --diffracting Barad and Deleuze (2019b)

Murris & Bozalek (2019b) want to respond to an earlier paper, by Hein (2016), which argues that Barad and Deleuze are incompatible. The actual substance of the paper turns on issues like whether Barad on transcendence is the same as Deleuze on immanence, and whether the nonhuman in Barad is the same as the virtual pre-human in Deleuze. They see a connection, as did I, with Barad on the creative possibilities of the fluctuating quantum vacuum, and the process of actualisation in Deleuze, which he derives from more orthodox complexity theory. Both also converge on a relational ontology, M and B. argue. I have processed those specific arguments elsewhere. I want to just focus here on what they take to be a diffraction reading. While other commentaries stress the opposition with 'reflection' [see below] , there is a differentemphasis

It involves trying to
'respectfully read through each other in a relational way, looking for creative and unexpected provocations, strengthening these, rather than using an atomistic binary logic to compare one with the other' (2),whereas Hein saw Barad as 'falling short' and thus in opposition to Deleuze. We have three key words in this definition but assuming they do not always go together and are synonyms,  it is still not clear which of these terms should gain the most emphasis — respectful, creative and unexpected, [rejecting] atomistic binary logic? There is also a frequently stressed need to be 'response–able'  -- 'a form of becoming–with readers, authors,  texts… Reading one philosopher/oeuvre/text through another, rather seeing them as separate and distant from each other, or one against the other' (2)  [it should be 'rather than', surely?]. I discuss below what exactly 'reading through' might mean -- I am unclear what you actually do. The technique will help us to create thicker understandings --  presumably without contradictions or  omissions?  An example is found in Barad's diffraction of quantum and queer theory which leads to a claim that Barad  has 'empirical evidence that not only the future, but also the past is open and can be reworked'. What I think Barad has done is to claim a connection between the quantum world and the social world, which must be a metaphor at best unless she is seriously into molecular determinism of some kind. That empirical evidence might be available in quantum physics, although it must be a bit paradoxical even there, especially with Böhr's insistence that observations and objects are always entangled,  there is no warrant to say it must somehow confirm queer theory.

Positive differences seem to be important, as well as the avoidance of reflection in doing ordinary returning as opposed to re–turning. There is no need to be 'faithful to the originals', which raises 
the issue of what counts as an adequate or valid reading.
There is a particular opposition to 'critique' of the kind Hein did,although diffraction is
'indebted' to the critiques by Marx, Nietzsche and Foucault, although those are hardly respectful to their opponents, surely.  Critique has also been rejected by Haraway and Latour as negative and rather pointless, M and B tell us. Critique offers disclosure, exposure and demystification '(destruction)' while diffraction is more affirmative and engaging intending to produce new patterns of understanding – becoming, '(construction and deconstruction)'. Exponents of critique claim to be able to map differences and similarities objectively, but this involves 'a "view from nowhere"' (2), as Haraway said. Critique operates 'outside of ethics of responsibility and a response–able reading' (8). The reviewer has a position of exteriority and superiority, and poses as 'an intentional critical human subject viewing the work of others from a distance, knowing better and being entitled to scrutinise and interrogate the work of others, while maintaining anonymity', with the critic as authoritative expert identifying pathologies after symptomatic readings. For MacLure this is 'a colonial stance', for Massumi 'almost a sadistic enterprise'.  It has run out of steam. It poses as a clinical diagnosis with the critic as authoritative expert identifying pathologies after symptomatic readings. A third person perspective is claimed to be dispassionate and capable of bringing insight not available to the writer himself, a romantic image of the "'critic as heroic dissident"' (8). We need instead '"new" affirmative "patterns of understanding – becoming"', quoting Barad 2014.
When we read texts and so on through each other we attend to 'fine details for differences that matter and inventive provocations' [again quoting from a Barad interview and adding that they must be '"respectful, detailed, ethical engagements"'. This is a move away from critique and all that it entails and is 'embracing a more expansive and generous worlding practice', as Haraway says about Despret [who may have coined the term response–able?]: We are not out to uncover stupidity or excessively focused just to prove a point, but we should enlarge or invent the competencies of the players including ourself; we should expand and dilate ways of being and knowing, exploring ontological and epistemological possibilities, trying to enact what was not there before. We should be '"allergic to denunciation and hungry for discovery"', prepared to work together with other earthly beings '"living dead and yet to come"' (11).

Some or perhaps all exponents of critique will be guilty of using binary thinking and relying on principles such as the law of the excluded middle, which has led to a notion of difference 'in the sense of exclusion', either or  rather than 'a realistic set of alternatives' (4). This notion of external, limited difference is also found in 'metaphor, similarity, analogy, identity and recognition' (4) -- but we could find these in Barad's writing too, of course. Deleuze's distinction between 'differentiation' at the virtual level with 'differenciation' at the actual is cited in support, but this is controversial, of course. Later, Deleuze and Guattari's critique of Hegelian dialectics is generalised to argue that we should pursue  'difference without a negation' (11).  External and prior difference should be replaced with 'sympoieis', defined in Note 4, p. 13, as offering an alternative to autopoieisis because it refers to making together', which seems different from Deleuze.  Overall, 'Everything is mutually articulated… It is impossible to separate objects, events, beings, doings and becomings from their intra-actions with each other… As phenomena' (5).

Barad insists t
here can be no external 'I' telling the story.  There are human agential cuts, however, but these are normative but not subjective 'in the classical philosophical sense' (9) which is not further specified. Baradian ontology '(the subjectivity of the researcher)', epistemology '(critique in diffraction as method)' and ethics '(response – able reading of texts)' are all entangled, and diffractive readings sit 'very comfortably' with response-able methodology.

This leads to a specific approach to managing academic argument. 
We must render each other capable. We must be prepared to be 'interpolated by the wonder of the texts', and encourage some worlds and not others.  We should pursue 'an ongoing and ever-changing entanglement of experimentation with the ideas of reason/reading and re/turning to one's own and others texts' (10) , not involving oppositional critique but rather '"attention to another way of being"'. We attend to 'fine details for differences that matter and inventive provocations' [again quoting from a Barad interview and adding that they must be '"respectful, detailed, ethical engagements"'. This is a move away from critique and all that it entails and is 'embracing a more expansive and generous worlding practice'.

Describing what they actually did in their own article, Murris and Bozalek say they wanted to
do justice to both Deleuze and Barad, that they are interested in differences in themselves not just as an opposite or negative. Barad also sees the need to incorporate 'the "other" within' (11) -- but this use of the term 'incorporate' sounds like intellectual colonisation, and the whole piece could be read as letting Barad set the agenda with quotes from Deleuze in support.  The thrust of it, perhaps, is to defend Barad against Hein? Certainly, there is no attempt to see Deleuze and Guattari as operating differently in any substantial way.  They say their paper is a response to Hein, but in the form of a diffraction through him, a demonstration of a more productive approach, rather than a point-for-point engagement --indeed, specific points made by Hein appear only in two brief notes at the end of the article.

Geerts and van Der Tuin – diffracting de Beauvoir and Irigaray

Geerts and van derTuin (2016) offer perhaps the best example of a critical diffractive reading. They consider a possible series of connections between de Beauvoir and Irigaray. They want to contrast this with what they say is a common reading of the relation between these two which sees them as in conflict, partly because there is an important generational difference between them. This is both Oedipal and an example of 'feminist generational matricide' (no page numbers). This reading is hierarchical and conflict-based, and therefore not in accordance with current feminist ethics. We need to attend to specificity and detail as well, so we cannot simply prefer Irigaray or de Beauvoir. Instead we should look for ways in which they can 'cross fertilise each other, without having to fear that they will eventually get caught up in a reflective logic of sameness'.

They establish common ground between de Beauvoir and Irigaray. The two have an Hegelian inheritance, for example; both have discussed the master–slave dialectic as a way of understanding relations between men and women, and both have found it inadequate. However, there are different reasons for this and political differences follow, with de Beauvoir advocating more equality between men and women, while Irigaray insists on a more autonomous otherness for women.

The authors then consider how the two approaches might be brought together, avoiding ‘bitter, dividing debates' and offering a 'more open and fluid reading method'. The approach 'creates change and upholds differences', and proceeds by diffracting de Beauvoir through Irigaray and then the other way around, before developing a more general radical feminist philosophy.
As an example of the first diffraction, de Beauvoir wants to attain the 'reciprocal erotic ethics in which the alterity of the other would be respected' which is the whole aim of the Second Sex, but Irigaray has developed more insight. In Irigaray, each subject follows a dialectic of its own, and there is a double dialectic between the two sexually different subjects. There are always two worlds. We are always affected by the existence of the other. There is a '"double human subjectivity"', although this is never been fully acknowledged. A diffractive reading would suggest that de Beauvoir can be read as also heading toward a complex female subjectivity and a double dialectics, if only as a future development, and not put in Irigaray’s terms exactly.

In the reverse diffraction, Irigaray is often accused of confining her remarks to heterosexual relations, while de Beauvoir offers a corrective by seeing more potential in same-sex relations. De Beauvoir can also complement Irigaray in return through her discussion of the importance of touch in erotic relations. This notion is also developed by Barad herself in a further diffraction (Barad 2012): she considers the implications of being able to touch oneself, in a way which gestures towards Irigaray's famous notion of woman as multiple selves (Irigaray 1985). Barad completes the analysis of touch in the other two, saying it helps us discover something about our own embodiment and becoming. Touch is an important issue for a number of academic disciplines and in policy discussions too. It focuses on limits or boundaries and their possible generativity and on the inhuman in us, because, as we saw, electrons do touching as well.

Geerts and van der Tuin (2016) insist that this is not just the usual finding of common ground following reinterpretation, but rather the product of a diffractive method where 'performativity is a diffraction grating'. This could mean, as we saw, that we judge texts as performances, and by the things that they are able to do, the results they can generate. Diffractive reading about sexual differing is particularly apt, because 'the structure of sexual difference is already that of diffraction, of creating change and upholding difference', so the epistemological collapses into the ontological again.

Ceder – philosophy education

Ceder (2015) offers a brief account of his work on the methodology of diffraction in studies of philosophy education. The three main components for him are 'multiplicity, affirmativity and creativity' (p. 1). We also need arguments that are risky and which invite further work.

Post qualitative research, especially in Lather or St Pierre, has emerged after qualitative research managed to shake off those bits of quantitative methodology which remained. Research needs to be nonhierarchical, nonrepresentative and non-essentialist. These approaches are connected by a renewed focus on ontology, moving beyond humanism.

Barad says that no object is an independent entity, but 'rather, it is always already changing, and changes the subject' (Ceder 2015 p.2), so we should start with phenomena and their entangled relations and relata. The key ‘metaphore’ [sic] is the wave particle duality. The relations in phenomena are best described as intra-action rather than interaction, because the latter implies a separation between relata and relation.
Ceder says that Lenz Taguchi (2012) argues that 'reflexivity often means mirroring essentially fixed positions, that is reproducing difference from… [rather than] difference within' (Ceder 2015, p3). It is not entirely clear why ‘difference from’ is being ruled out specifically here, and that must risk the avoidance of one dimension of critique in Philosophy. It seems possible to see diffraction patterns as an effect of both (potential) difference within and of the interference generated by looking at differences from. The emphasis might turn on professional ethics again: methodologically, we seek 'productive connections instead of limiting the analysis to a critical classification exercise' (p.3). Diffraction leads to affirmative reading since all the components are already interacting with each other and with the researcher. Attention to fine detail is needed. One text can be read together with and through another. Braidotti is cited to say we should not focus on representational citation but '"on the affective traces, and what is left over, what remains, what has somehow caught and stuck around, the drags and the sentiments of the reading and the cognitive processes"'.

In this paper, searching for 'the affective traces' are joined with the affirmative tendency, which implies Ceder is considering only the positive affective traces, of course. The idea is to create new concepts as in Deleuze and Guattari, but not using their methods, possibly because for Deleuze and Guattari 'creating new concepts consequently means to disrupt the ideas of other philosophers and even to be forever disloyal to one’s favourite philosophers' (2015 p. 3) and this would run foul of Haraway’s criticisms of the negativity of conventional critique. Professional ethics seems to have triumphed over productivity in the endless search for philosophical concepts. In the philosophy of education, for example, we can now develop 'an affirmative pragmatic reading instead of merely classifying and criticising ideas' (2015, p. 4), and theories can still 'affirmatively contribute to each other’s development' even if they start from different ontological or epistemological points. Peace will break out instead of the usual disciplinary contests and only affirmative and creative forms of risk will be encouraged.

Lenz Taguchi – diffracting interview data

Thinking of ‘snowballing’, I pursued in more depth two further pieces that Ceder found especially useful, and which develop implications for educational research. One is Lenz Taguchi & Palmer (2013), a study based on how schoolgirls in Sweden can develop psychological ill health in school. To start with an earlier study, Lenz Taguchi (2012) offers a diffractive reading of, among others, Haraway and Barad with Deleuze (especially in ‘becoming-minoritarian’, but also on the event). Mazzei and Jackson on deleuzian ‘plugging in’ is also cited. The new approach is to replace the old reflexive model where interpretation was seen as 'inner mental activities taking place in the mind of the researcher… separated from the data' (p. 265),and the new approach involves instead making visible 'new kinds of material–discursive realities’ (p. 265). Lenz Taguchi explains that this new approach will also overcome some earlier problems like the tension in feminism between biological notions of sex and cultural notions of gender, and, as discussed elsewhere, the earlier problems of relativist ‘interpretivism’ which still haunts some feminist standpoint epistemologies. Barad’s work now allows us to claim that new readings change the status of feminist readings from interpretations to uncovering other ‘possible material realities that can have political and material consequences' (p. 278), especially since we now consider non-human agency, and her own experience as a researcher as additional data. The data themselves are to be seen ‘as a co-constitutive force'. All the components are seen as entangled.

Lenz Taguchi then offers what might be called in the old terminology a ‘redemptive reading’ of an interview transcript, involving another researcher and a young boy, Eric with specific needs. The original interview had an agenda stressing processes by which students adapted to school, and Eric was diagnosed with 'difficulties in handling his subjectivity as a good schoolboy, which is what is expected of him in school' (p. 274).Lenz Taguchi sees another reality in ‘the thickness and intense multiplicity of intra-activities that any event constitutes'. There is no claim to be uncovering essence or truth, but merely 'a reality that already exists among the multiple realities being enacted in an event, but which has not been previously "disclosed"' (pp. 274 – 5). The research technique involves 'open[ing] up my bodymind faculties to experience the entanglement of discourse and matter' in this event, and note the 'material–discursive intra-actions' (p. 274) taking place. She also discusses a technique involving ‘transcorporeality’, which I have not examined: it seems to involve engaging all the senses and registering all the affects in ‘reading the data when making myself aware of my imaginary and bodymind sensibilities'. There might be an argument that operating at the emotional level provides an immediate empathic understanding between human subjects.

This helps her ‘sense’ the ‘entanglements of the children's bodies, their words and imagination, the …boat and the running water of the stream' (p. 276) in Eric’s account of playing earlier. She sees 'an event [described in his account] where it is possible to become–with–Eric as taking part in an exciting adventure of interest–activities, where all the ‘performative agents differentiate in relation to themselves as the events unfold'. This is redemptive because now Eric ‘is no longer a child who is lacking in social ability… He is successfully intra-acting and collaborating with many performative agents’ (p. 276). None of this was apparent to the actual interviewer, though, who imposed their own agenda and did not take care to distinguish the research encounter from conventional pedagogic ones.
I must say I was reminded of Labov’s classic work (eg Labov 1972, no page numbers) to read redemptively the speech of black kids in the USA, even cited briefly in Deleuze and Guattari (2004 p.112). What was seen as an inferior performance of English and a general lack of verbal ability was transformed into a fluent expression of what was called in 1972 ‘Black English Vernacular’, capable of all the abstractions and nuances of the standard forms. Labov achieved his breakthrough by improving interview techniques, however, eschewing ontology. He had the interviews held ‘outside the schools, in situations where adults are not the dominant force’, but worked even harder on the social dimensions subsequently, reporting that he:
1. Brought along a supply of potato chips, changing the "interview" into something more in the nature of a party.
2. Brought along Leon's [the interviewee] best friend, eight-year-old Gregory.
3. Reduced the height imbalance. When Clarence [the black interviewer] got down on the floor of Leon's room, he dropped from 6 feet, 2 inches to 3 feet, 6 inches.
4. Introduced taboo words and taboo topics, and proved to Leon's surprise that one can say anything into our microphone without any fear of retaliation. It did not hit or bite back. The result of these changes is a striking difference in the volume and style of speech.
Lenz Taguchi and Palmer – school stress and ill-health

The more recent joint study (Lenz Taguchi & Palmer 2013) is a 'feminist agential realist study' (2013, p. 671) to show how the 'material – discursive school environment, that is, the entanglement of architecture, materialities, bodies, discourses and discursive practices', including those about health in research texts are 'responsible for, co-constitutive of and enacting female students’ ill– and well–being’. The materiality of language is 'the strongest agent in these interactive entanglements' but other material agents such as buildings are also co-constitutive, and this raises the possibility of new realities. Diffractive analysis also means they must indicate how the researchers themselves are involved in co-production of the findings, and they find helpful elements in their own experiences.

The whole material–discursive school environment has various agents and practices and together it is collectively responsible for the phenomenon of well-being.  Enactments arise as 'effects of an open-ended material–discursive apparatus of knowing' (p.672) involving the researchers themselves as performative agents. They are analysing encounters of different sorts of agents and practices, especially focusing on differences — 'how matter matters' in Barad's terms. They going to make 'very specific agential and provisional cuts in the multiple realities' produced by this apparatus which they 'understand to be productive of girls’ school-related' health. First they need to investigate their apparatus of knowing and encounters with its different agents, 'including the affective responses and memories of our own' (p. 673).

Girls’ health results from 'material–discursive intra-active enactments' so we can show how, for example 'a panicking girl–body' has a specific meaning of ill-being attached in specific situated events within a wider apparatus. As a result, the girl’s body is no longer a separate ontological unit with boundaries and properties, but a phenomenon, an inseparable entanglement of agencies — 'of discourses of schooling and ill– or well–being… Physical school building and practices of schooling'. These components collectively interact in particular events and the phenomenon of illness is produced, in that its boundaries and properties have become determinate, and also meaningful. It is 'material–discursive intra-activity'.

Their cuts are temporarily manifested through the practice of producing scientific knowledge — phenomena are not 'manifest in themselves'. Thus researchers are entangled with apparatuses, not just observers and 'the subject–object distinction is invalidated'. Our knowing is part of a 'larger material arrangement (of which we are an entangled part)' that produces differences, cuts, boundaries and meanings, so there is no need for epistemology or methodology again.

The actual apparatus of conventional knowing consists of medical and psychological studies on female stress and ill-health which point to high achieving girls and their anxieties. Lenz Taguchi and Palmer also had their own experiences of the sorts of realities young girls currently experience and they themselves still suffer from them. Both of them are high achieving academics experiencing stress and having to treat themselves. This means that even they are not fully formed pre-existing subjects but are interactively co-constituted by their own material discursive practices. A knowing apparatus involves embodied engagements with data and this will lead to some data being found, and some differences produced — for example as white middle-class heterosexual women they might be transformed by the research process itself.

They got stories from young girls and engaged with them. The girls told memory stories and showed them photos. The researchers asked about specific places, spaces and practices that mattered (emotionally at least)—for example where in school buildings the girls would feel ill or anxious, whether they could describe the context in terms of smells or sounds. They 'had no problems' talking and writing about these details which they transmitted by email. They also took photographs of places or situations where they felt ill or well. They said that the photos helped them write the stories and that they felt differently after having written about them and discussing them, as early support to the kind of therapy the researchers advocate at the end.

The two researchers then sat together surrounded by all the data, read things out to each other or put photographs into different software 'to highlight or downplay parts of them'. These are 'agentive cuts in the construction of various encounters with data'. They produced knowing in a 'rhizomatic zigzagging flow', immersed themselves in a flow of 'entangled social, material and discursive forces in the apparatus of knowing', looking especially for places where one text would produce a collision or connection and thus something new — a memory or experience evoked in them, or an association with another field of research, different sorts of data. This helped them 'physically experience the workings of a diffractive analysis’. Overall, the analysis 'constituted events where minds and bodies, thinking and feeling cannot be understood as separated but entangled in a "spacetimemattering" practice' (p.676). It is apparent that they used ‘immersions’ or ‘sensing’ instead of explicit methodology, which could not transfer to less sensitive researchers, but it would still be useful to get some detail – did they bother with intercoder reliability, for example?

Diffraction in their case means the interaction of waves of any kind (probably not quantum ones though) so diffractive analysis is wavelike, attending to the effects of different forces coming together. It is an alternative to critical reflection which basically mirrors reality. It involves engagement and becoming, not interpreting data as something external but 'an enactment of flows of differences, where differences get made in the process of reading data into each other, and identifying what diffractive patterns emerge in these readings'. It focuses on intra-activities between researchers and data which mark out different emergent directions — 'the new disturbs, intervenes, and calls for attention', and this can be creative. Newness might perhaps be even more likely with relatively inexperienced academics – if so, trainee researchers might be advised to read less? Intention is not just something possessed by a single human subject, but rather, for Barad, 'something distributed that emerges from a complex network of human and nonhuman agents'.

Their own identities were important especially gender class and ethnic identities. They affected (unknowingly?) the way they related to each other, how they negotiated and how they decided which agential cuts to make. Thus they made cuts 'in a predominantly ethnic, white, middle-class reality of girls and women that have all the opportunities for Western democracy in a progressive nationstate'. The writing of the paper in the presentation also involve diffractive analysis, new additional cuts, and 'different data… Literally written into each other'. It would be interesting to see if and how this rewriting was guided by academic conventions specifically.

The data include photographs (apparently free of reflection or photorealism) and story focusing on the liberal school reforms of the 90s implementing free choice of schools, which produced crowds of children with different identities travelling to schools they have chosen. A better education was supposedly on offer in ethnic Swedish middle-class white high schools, producing an understanding that (better) education enables girls to better compete with men. The story concerns a girl finding the consequent journeys on a train and struggling through crowds at stations stressful. She must get to school to do maths which she knows is important for university entrance. Here, discourses about school achievement or maths or anxiety are 'productive of bodily contractions', presumably the well-known somatic effects of anxiety. We must not neglect the experiences of using public transport because they matter, they connect with memories of maths, and reminded the researchers that they never mastered maths either. This is how 'we become with this data and in the event of engagement and become, in a sense, different from what we just were'. Other stories show how 'in an agential realist sense, the school environment is making itself intelligible'.
Sometimes a transparent glass wall can 'intra-act with a particular girl' to cause anxiety, if she feels she is being watched. Some schools have been constructed in order to enable better surveillance and self-regulation. Foucault reminds us. This work 'connects diffractively' to a story and a photograph (p. 679) where another girl talks about feeling anxious as she walks through a large open hallway — it risks having people throw things or make sexist comments. Here we see the effects of 'discursive practices of gender sexuality and age' (p. 680). This connects with some research showing that large hallways are also places for frequent bullying or assault. We need to acknowledge these entanglements with buildings and become part of the world. Other images of hallways are less stressful, partly because they also contain personal lockers which can be personal spaces. However, lockers can also require particular capacities to decorate them and thus persist as 'a central part of your enactment as schoolgirl.'
The effects of TV shows about schoolchildren can also have effects. Sometimes they offer a different image 'similar material–discursive imaginaries' of what school might be like. Media images intra-act, can become normalising, managing discursive practices or escapes, or provide 'inventive leakages and enhancement'

Fuller understandings of stress show it can be both positive and negative, and can work on body and mind. Even the girls who are made anxious from stress can also value it, and might say it assists with studying or sport. The researchers recognised this by reading a quote ‘diffractively into the realities of (female) academics'. However there can be over-ambition, and girls can be affected by over-achievement, with which these particular ones are fixated. A newspaper article agreed. Another diffractive exercise produces another possibility for stress as an 'enactment… based… on emancipatory feminist goals within, and with an awareness of, the patriarchy's brute reality' (682). Here, the notion of high achievement is something good and useful even if guided by masculine norms, and this is shown in an extract describing a memory of a girl imagining possible future realities: she tried to relate everything she read to a future scenario and this made learning more fun. The extract shows ‘a different reality of ambition and high achievement' for this girl. She is actively engaging with possible transformations in becoming different. This 'makes new realities emerge, although so far in her imagination only'. Nevertheless this can affect school achievement, showing that the I isn't separated from the word but that both are in the world of material things and imaginaries.

Pain produced by anxiety is also not a matter of individual choice to be fixed by the individual, but instead 'is constituted by a larger apparatus of multiple discursive practices’. Overall, well-being is a multiple phenomenon, and ill- and well-being are enactments of intra-activities in entangled environments. One material–discursive practice might evoke ill-being in one context, but well-being in another.
The main policy implications are that illness is not an individual affair but rather something collective and distributed. It follows that we should not try to just cope ourselves by becoming detached. Instead we should think differently 'and together with other material–discursive agents in the school environment… Collaboratively engaging practices of interactive engagements of imagination' (p.684) to express and actualise different images and discourses about the school environment. This will enhance well-being and make schools more liveable.
Overall, the researchers claim they produced other ways of knowing or new imaginings, especially ones that escape putting the blame on the girls themselves, and suggesting how it might be otherwise. Their research should be seen as being part of an apparatus of knowing with multiple performative agents — photographs, media texts, memories and so on. This paper reflects the ability only 'to make a few provisional cuts in this complex intense multiplicity' (p. 684). They've chosen these cuts so they are responsible for the boundary making, but cuts also depend on what is given, including their identities, as well as their imaginary faculties. It is these cuts that make it possible to write about indeterminate phenomena. It follows that different cuts produce different phenomena. We have to be ethical and take the local situatedness into account to evaluate material consequences.

Readers will have to consult the originals to decide, but the conclusions seem to me to gain strength mostly by being compared to what is rendered as a very narrow and rather unhelpful official Swedish policy on schoolperson health. The substantive findings, that travel stress and uncomfortable buildings add to anxiety which can threaten health, are surely not very new. The methodological implications could amount to little more than explicitly recommending creative thinking about findings, drawing on non-academic sources including personal experience, and describing this process, not suppressing it as would be conventional. Yet questions remain. Would the effects of material environments been clear just from the empirical data, without importing Barad’s concepts? Is the research to be read as an application of Barad’s concepts which were acquired independently of the empirical study, or was it only after doing the study that the force of Barad’s concepts emerged?

Hill – on the reflexive practitioner and self-regulation

Hill (2017) offers a diffractive approach to pedagogy for a change. She develops this after extending the Barad objections to reflection as a way of knowing to include the famous models of the reflective practitioner, say in Schön. The intention is to 'reconfigure boundaries between theory and practice, interfere with unjust practices, and establish new ways of thinking'. Other teachers developed exercises using Ipad apps to help children learn basic arithmetic, and here 'number materialised in the indeterminate and emergent ways, entangled in a process of becoming that involved human and nonhuman entities' (p.5).
She relates how diffracting different texts enabled her to be much more open about her own pedagogical encounters, such as one when students doing a project on a beach encountered an unexpected material component – a wounded bird – and incorporated their interest and care into their project. This would have been a disruption for conventional pedagogues, but in this case a new question emerged – 'who or what is becoming?' and how bodies enter assemblages. The boundaries between human and nonhuman 'are collapsed'. The whole intra-action 'produce[d] enacting care in the face of hopelessness' and this obviously affected the subjectivity of the teacher learners. Everyone entered 'a stance of becoming–with others' (p. 8) as they met pedagogical encounters halfway and disrupted the binaries of teacher and student. We are not told what happened to the bird.

Hill encountered difficulties regulating interactions with her own children until she read diffractively a classic American text on self-regulation of hyperarousal in various regions of the brain with ‘new materiality theory'. After some experimental writing and developing her bodymind sensibilities. She realised individuals are no longer absolutely responsible for nasty words or actions, and that agency and responsibility is distributed throughout the entanglement of play situations, and includes objects like toys and computers. The results helped her move away from individuals toward 'attributing blame and responsibility at the site of contact' and even (humorously) attending to play objects – bowls or toys 'were interrogated, assigned blame, and asked to apologise to victims'(page 13). Returning to a more abstract level, a renewal of diffractive reading led to 'something new – a phenomenon I refer to as relational regulation', shared among family members and also nonhuman entities.
This perspective highlights once more the affirmative and peace-making qualities of diffractive reading. Her own family experienced kindness and understanding and 'more affirming identities' (p.13). In her professional activities of teaching student teachers she approached the difficult issue of how and when to form a ‘professional identity’, which might clash with an ‘authentic’ one, by suggesting that 'Multiple subjectivities [can be developed] without foregoing the powerful grounding that can result from embracing specific personal/professional identities' (p.9) and that new teachers should think of themselves as nomadic subjectivities (after Braidotti) . We end with 'a rich complex diffractive account of practice, in which attention is paid to differences and how practitioner identities are materially constituted' (p. 10). Multiple identities are possible, but singular ones are focused in action (which I think is actually neglected in Barad).

Again this is helpful, no doubt, in reinforcing student-centred activities with emergent rather than set curricula and correspondingly flexible assessment, and all pedagogues know it is sometimes better to modify the plan and go with what emerges, but whether we need ‘new materiality theory’ to get here is more debatable. I have found in my own (increasingly dated) practice as a teacher trainer that reading Goffman on the presentation of self had similarly comforting effects for those worried about losing their authenticity. The apparently unintended, emergent and agential effects of non-human objects can be cheerfully managed by invoking ‘resistentialism’ (Wikipedia,nd) with its slogan: "Les choses sont contre nous" ("Things are against us").

Mazzei –diffractive analysis to ‘break open data’

Mazzei, (2014) is another piece cited by Ceder. It involves diffractive reading of data through multiple theoretical insights to avoid 'habitual normative readings' and generate 'thought in unpredictable patterns producing different knowledge'. The context is made more explicit in a joint piece written with Jackson (Jackson & Mazzei 2017): there is a need to generate some new insights, possibly for institutional reasons as well as personal ones, avoiding the well-known material on women’s experiences in academic life. (The 2017 date indicates the inclusion of the piece in a collection by Denzin’s 2017 Handbook, and probably draws on an article published in 2013). The intention is to ‘think with theory’ '"reading insights through one another" (2014, p. 742), quoting Barad. Although Deleuze was the inspiration for the joint piece, it is now Barad. She 'takes into account' that knowledge is always affected by different forces coming together’ and, quoting her directly, '"knowing is a matter of part of the world making itself intelligible to another part of the world"'

Coding limits analysis and is often linked to macro themes in a pedestrian way. Concern with the macro produces broad categories and themes that are then 'plucked from the data' reassembled into a narrative. In her own interview studies soon led to the usual major themes and patterns of impostor syndrome, male privilege, double standards and so on. Here, the categories were 'driven by our experience' as well as that of the participants, and it tended to reproduce what was already known. It also missed some of the fine details and textures, contradictions and tensions. This coding produces the 'easy sense' of the title of this article , and pleasingly affirms personal experience. In Jackson & Mazzei (2017) deleuzian ‘plugging in’ involved taking multiple texts as literary machines. ‘Text’ includes interview data and works of theory or methods. If we plug these into each other we would get 'sense of the ceaseless variations possible', and focus on process, the formation of assemblages. Diffraction helps think this move away from 'habitual normative readings that zero in on sameness' to readings that disrupt thought. As she ‘plugged multiple theories into data and read them through one another' the result is a rhizome that leads in different directions and keeps analysis 'on the move'.

Diffractive analysis has a major critical impact 'by breaking open the data (and the categories inherent in coding) by de-centring and destabilising the tropes of liberal humanist identity work', rejecting 'the subject, interpretation, categorical similarity, and so on'. Instead of layering codes onto the data we need to thread through or plug-in theory into data leading to 'multiplicity, ambiguity, and incoherent subjectivity'. we do not do this by ‘applying’ a particular theorist's concept but construct (or reveal) an assemblage and make new connections. In this way, 'plugging in creates a different relationship among texts: they constitute one another and, in doing so, create something new'.

We can see this with the data excerpt which features 'feminist poststructuralist theory’, a transcript, 'Barad's concept of intra-action', and 'Deleuze and Guattari's concept of desire' as well as inputs from the editor of this journal and Jackson. The texts are read 'through with and in relation to each other'. There is no zeroing in but a spread of thoughts of knowledge through multiple readings. The exercise could have been extended with multiple transcripts.

One transcript describes the effects of being an academic on a woman’s (Brenda) life. She ended up divorced because her husband was jealous and wanted her to quit. She felt like she was having an affair when she returned to school because she got so much positive feedback, but her husband got jealous and forced her to choose between school and him. Eventually she chose school. She now has a new partner who was also jealous but has now come around

The conventional approach to data analysis could simply categorise examples of how relationships change but now, 'reading through multiple theoretical insights' (744) she wants to open up her thinking through various theoretical concepts, especially Deleuze and Guattari on desire and Barad on intra-action.

Deleuze and Guattari insists that desire is about production, something active and becoming from a multiplicity of forces, not a lack but a productive force. Desire, 'intensities and connectives', produced a collective partner for Brenda in her intellectual peers, opening a question — 'what does the presence of intellectual peers produce'.

Barad says intra-action with other bodies will produce subjectivities and performative enactments 'not previously thought'. This produces her onto–epistemological stance when knowledge and being are mutually constitutive, bringing the material back in after the linguistic turn. This leads to questions such as 'how does Brenda interact with her world, both human and nonhuman in ways that produce different becomings?'

We can see that leaving her husband is a production of desire that has produced material effects –presumably physical relocation? She is both materially and discursively produced as a woman and as a wife. Brenda is 'both constituting and constitutive of the discourses perpetuated in a traditional patriarchal marriage' , which explains the interview section where she said that she caused trouble after wanting to move around the country to attend different schools. Embracing an intellectual life also has material effects and 'indeed becomes a life of the body' because Brenda described going back to school as like having an affair. Whether Brenda intended this as an anlogy or as a philosophical statement is not clear, though. The description of pursuing the doctoral work 'evokes desire (in a sexual/sensual sense), pleasure (in an intellectual and sensual sense), and production (of satisfaction in the affirmation she receives)'.

This lines up, somehow, with Barad on the materiality of texts. As Brenda 'encounters the thrill of the affair with her intellectual work, the pages and thoughts take on a material force', which might be deleuzian ‘affects’, and, with the new space provided by the affirmative school, produce Brenda 'in a mutual becoming'. Deleuze and Guattari talk about processes that couple machines together including man and nature, and this seems to be 'writing about the entangled nature of the material and discursive'. So that 'the material is always discursively produced and the discursive is always already materially produced'. Her husband's comment that she isn't smart enough and that she must choose is something material, an assault, an attempt to negate her as a woman. In other words these interactions are about bodies and words and also about 'the mutual production of both subjectivities and performative enactments'.

Reading diffractively, we now see how discourses and text materialise and produce subjectivities and enactments. This helps us 'think with the abstract concepts of Deleuze and Guattari to produce a different methodology in the form of a diffractive analysis', and help us consider entanglement between bodies, texts, data, language and theory. We are 'just beginning to understand this' and there is 'the possibility of much productive potential for qualitative researchers'

It is not very clear what Barad actually adds to this analysis, which has already clearly resulted from earlier attempts to follow deleuzian concepts. I have suggested elsewhere that Deleuze has been interpreted in a controversial way anyway. The actual analysis seems little different in this piece, except in adding some additional possible insights about the ‘materialisation’ of texts and the embodiments of practice. Applying both Barad and Deleuze to empirical materials still involves coding, of course, despite avoiding conventional categories. Active scholars do have to indicate ‘paralogy’, that they are pursuing theoretical novelty, and this might have been a major factor here.

Sehgal – diffracting Barad and Whitehead

The same questions haunt [sic] my other readings. I acquired Sehgal (2014) to read because the reference to Whitehead in Murris and Bozalek interested me, partly because Deleuze also cites Whitehead briefly. For other examples, I borrowed Uden’s approach and used a bibliographic database to find returns under the search terms ‘Barad’ and ‘diffraction’. I will confess I used subjective interests to select a few among the many that resulted.

Sehgal (2014) never really explains why she wishes to diffractively read Haraway and Barad with Whitehead specifically, but proceeds after a summary of Whitehead to find similarities with Barad and Haraway, in what looks like another example of the ‘additive’ approach. Similarities include all of them realizing the critical implications of quantum theory for Newtonian physics, for introducing radical uncertainty, for noting some characteristics of disturbing water by dropping in a stone, and for modern thought ‘bifurcating’ Nature into human and non-human components. Human exceptionalism is denied by insisting, for example, that ‘actual entities’ include theories. There is a hint of agency in Sehgal’s version of Whitehead (which, obviously, is the only version I can discuss), where fundamental ‘vibrations’ relate themselves to other entities, and this will help us discover the foundations for everything, human and non-human. This relation takes the form of a mysterious attraction or ‘luring’ or ‘feeling’ between entities, not exclusively human ones, which might be the same as Deleuze’s ‘dark precursor’ or the work of ‘resonance’. These propositions then ‘pull’ a human audience towards them, and this is how theory develops.
Sehgal says this shows a 'surprising convergence' (p.190) between the theorists, although she does also note some differences, an interference pattern. There are divergent styles, for example, with Whitehead insisting on classic 'coherence and systematicity' (191), while the feminists refer to stories produced by writing technologies, with full situatedness. Whitehead uses opaque technical vocabulary in an attempt to be systematic, but this whole attempt has been problematised in the 20th century as implying 'a "view from nowhere"'. Whitehead also see his own work as ‘speculative’ This is where we must re-read Whitehead, though, and there is no question of amending Barad, perhaps because affirmation is to be preferred. We 'read Whitehead today' referring to 20th century physics and post-modern concerns. Part of this is to understand the intellectual context in which Whitehead worked – and then forgive him his scholastic style as a necessary technique to engage and disturb conventional modernist thought. Sehgal puts this in a way which reconciles him to Barad again: then current habits of thought needed to be more systematic and coherent, so Whitehead begins by asking what if we had a non-bifurcating metaphysics, actual entities 'not self identical essences but rather as phenomena of diffraction'. His own work is thus 'situated' after all, so there is no conflict with standpoint epistemology. And this 'situated metaphysics in bodies is a diffractive proposition' (p.197), possibly because it challenged the conventional metaphysics of the day, or even because it was 'itself lured by a proposition' (p.198). Barad’s work seemingly has no context and just appeared.
Ulmer – policy research on US teacher leaders

I used a bibliographic database (EBSCO) to provide additional examples.

Ulmer (2016) examines the complexities of the micropolitical world of the American teacher leader. The piece starts with rejecting the simplicity of the conventional approach to understand policy processes 'objectivist policy research', which apparently pursues causal analysis and simple rationality. Instead, Ulmer reads some dissertation data through multiple theories, including Bennett and Anzaldúa. Basically, Bennett talks of vibrant ecologies which include technology, and Ulmer draws an analogy with the field of teacher leadership which exist within a larger political system where each of the elements is 'entangled with the others' (p1386) . There seem to be no hierarchical levels in this system, but rather 'an interconnected community' or 'symbiotic partnerships', embodiedin official committees andoragnizations. Generally, in what looks like a functionalist analysis, the overall system is 'ecological in the sense that they [organizations] collaborate as a means of adapting to rapidly changing policy environments' (p 1386). Individual components compete and 'jockey for credit in shared initiatives’ (p. 1388) but overall, there is 'policy isomorphism'. Bennett comes into her own when considering interactions with modern communication technology – 'technological matter that takes on its own agency', 'nonhuman actants' like social and media platforms (p. 1388), and Ulmer draws on Bennett’s notion of separate ‘publics’ or audiences for these communications.

Anzaldúa’s concept of ‘borderlands’ helps grasp the tensions experienced by teacher leaders as they traverse different organizations which can involve adopting different and even contradictory roles. Teacher leadership itself may be ‘a transgressive act’. Overall, we get a composite picture from Anzaldúa and Bennett if we diffract these writings to read our data. For example we can trouble dichotomies and binaries, including those that affect teacher leadership, and stress fluid relations and vibrancy instead, embrace complexity, and identify connections, as when Barad says separate identities actually are related. It is hard to see anything that is specific to diffraction in this familiar account of the micropolitics of modern policy organizations that also contradict offical simplicity and rationality (Ball?), and Ulmer herself uses familiar terms like using different theoretical lenses to uncover complexity. However, we learn that this is a new approach that helps us 'adopt re-envisioned views of critique, [moving] toward research aimed at interconnection and understanding' (1391), the affirmative quality that is the real payoff I suspect.

Barraclough – a poem illustrating ‘queer quantum writing’

Barraclough (2018) is inspired by Barad’s work to compose a poem. Each verse covers a different formative period in Barraclough’s life, focused around her developing interest in sport, family and independence, dissatisfaction with conventional psychology, a brief period embracing social constructionism then a more radical feminism and the discovery of Barad. The poem ends with a battery of Baradian terms: ‘re-turning’, ‘A space-time mattering’,’entangling’, ‘be(com)ing’. In the accompanying notes, she says the poem is ‘an analytic device...a structure which “cuts things together-apart” to produce a diffractive pattern’ (p.379) and that ‘a poem also intra-acts with the reader’. The affect generated reveals ‘a relational ontology….between, at least, words and spaces and bodies of writers and readers’. It is an example of ‘”queer quantum writing”’ that undoes identity and troubles causality, mapping ‘multiple affective-material-discursive moments co-constituting an ethico-onto-epistem-ological becoming...always ongoing, iterative dis/continuous’ (p. 380).

Readers must experience the whole poem themselves, obviously, but my particular interest here is whether anything is actually provided by the poetic form. Presumably, the poem refers to incidents and thoughts that are being brought together ‘diffractively’ in some way, perhaps particularly by re-turning to the past. The poem is supposed to generate insightful affect, but if so, what is the role of the explanatory notes? If those notes adequately summarise Barad, perhaps the point of the poem is to add an affective charge to the more conventional academic prose. Perhaps it was important to include conventional notes to a poem intended specifically for publication in an academic journal. Again, the claimed influence of Barad on the autobiography is clear, but nothing in the autobiographical poem seems to disturb Barad’s work – there is no conflict between general theory and specific activities, for example, no alternatives to Baradian terms to explain the effects of memory or crises in identity.

Lanas et al – teaching educational theory

I chose my last example from the EBSCO collection, Lanas et al (2017), because the authors have struggled with a familiar problem — making theory relevant to an otherwise vocational degree program. In my case, I have attempted to do this with Leisure Studies students (Harris 2015) as well as Education students, but Lanas et al focus on what they call preservice teacher training with graduates in Finland.
It is a very thoughtful piece discussing the usual ways of understanding student 'resistance' to theory' and their own study try to investigate the everyday thinking of the would-be teacher, identifying particular topics that concerned them and isolating arguments that they used to fend off the implications of theory on their professional sales. However, the whole discussion is then placed in terms of reflecting versus diffracting ways of understanding the production of knowledge. In particular, the study ends controversially by saying that students common sense knowledge of teaching is itself diffracted. 'our research problem ended up partly undoing itself' — 'there is theoretical diffraction' instead. (p. 530). Neither the researchers nor the students seem aware of the claim in Barad that diffraction is a real material process based on quantum theory. A number of implications arise, but the future direction of their work is not clear.

For example, they began by pointing out quite rightly that student commonsense understandings of education are incoherent and uncritically pragmatic, and that, as a result, students are being in effect 'subjectivated' without realising it — that their conceptions are the result of these unexamined or partially examined discourses that they have encountered, from their own school experience, from the media, and from some bits of theoretical work supplied to them on the course. Educators need to realise how they categorise children, gender, race, success and failure, and that contents of learning are not innocent but constitute the world and power production in it. These assumptions are 'largely implicit, taken for granted and unacknowledged', while what is really required is 'epistemic reflexivity' (p.533).
Lanas et al are rightly critical of conventional ways to teach education ‘as a catechism’, to say that students usually do not engage with theory but can ‘present reflection’ strategically in their assignments. Common characteristics of theoretical efforts have been summarised by Segall (Lanas et al 2017, p 534) : (a) 'reading without writing' where practitioners implement theories generated by others; (b) 'ignorance' where people refuse to acknowledge personal implications in information and dismiss the theory as not working before it has had a chance 'to break the learner'. Successful students in particular see critical reflection on teaching and learning as irrelevant and want to use their time to gain confidence rather than undermine that confidence; (c) 'reflection as an individual rather than a collective process', where the teacher sees herself as an autonomous and rational individual, and individuals supply answers unrelated to the work of others.

Lanas et al detect these characteristics in a coding exercise based on student assignments and then compared material for assessment with 'spontaneous responses' (p.535) made in informal sessions, workshops. This material was also coded and various ‘clusters’ of topics identified: 'disciplining emotions and focusing on control and answers... personalising school into the teacher and personally defending it...prioritising practice over theory and seeing both as dogma' (p. 538). This material involves idealisations of teachers, schools and children, a composite 'faceless construction' (p.539)
Lanas et al realise that the catechism model is inadequate, and see it is a variant of reflection as in Barad. This involves ‘on/off thinking’ and simple mirroring and sameness. Student constructions are more varied than that, and we can refer to them as the usual binary opposite of reflection, as 'diffracted'. The original intention to get students to reflect and generate theory, and critically interrogate it can now be replaced. Student understandings are ‘interference patterns created by waves interfering with each other’, swirling around blocks like the topics listed above. Educational theory courses similarly are just as 'one more cluster in which the [native] theories twirl' (p. 539).

This might be a heuristic device to model student understanding more accurately, before addressing them in theory courses: a diffractive approach apparently opens a space of encounter, some '"immanent subjective truth"', which becomes true in the encounter; something experimental, something that does not fix analytic or educative processes into a methodical set of steps (p.539). But we are also told that student understandings are conservative, rather dogmatic, not really experimental, opposed to methodical steps to become an effective teacher, but substituting a kind of opportunism, grounded more or less in just trusting professionals. To insist that students’ pragmatic understandings are the results of diffraction looks affirmative, and could help settle some of the pressing micropolitical issues in Education departments, in Finland as well as in the UK, where theorists are sometimes seen as criticising practitioners, undermining them, destroying their confidence. No such implication follows if the working knowledge of practitioners is seen as a kind of diffracted philosophy. Teachers in Finland seem to enjoy a high degree of autonomy and social status, and thus micropolitical power, and it is probably not wise to confront them.


It seems there is an important unexamined context for the ethical and political dimensions of the debates which needs more attention. It is possible that these issues are not problematic if it is taken for granted that existing academic procedures like Ethics Committees will deal with matters in practice, that research traditions have already identified significant details which will guide our topics for research, and codes of conduct, formal and informal, will govern the way we deal with colleagues and their work. THis is another example of needing to take into account the academic setting for these studies, where certain uncriticised constraints combine with a large amount of cultural capital and relative professional autonomy.

We might indicate good practice for future developments in professional courtesy: ‘ ...We have been affirmative not critical, respectful, responsive and response–able (enabling response), trying to do justice to the text. ..We are not looking for similarities or differences, making comparisons or trying to identify themes. We are not putting texts against each other’ (Murris and Bozalek 2019 , p.10).  This will still be an area of struggle because there is little support for a feminist communitarian approach at most HEI's, however, Murris and Bozalek tell us, because those are still dependent on 'the power producing binaries of Western metaphysics'. As with qualitative research, utopian thinking is all that is really available: they 'offer an imaginary and… inspire a different "how" of research' (p.10).

However, there is a pressing micropolitical issue affecting all Education Departments – ‘we have been especially interested in queering the theory/practice binary’ (Murris and Bozalek 2019, p 10). Conflict over this and the privileges to be given to rival proponents seems chronic, but in the new ethical atmosphere , maybe a joint research programme can be brokered, taking work to 'new and unpredictable places. Creating provocations, new imaginaries and imaginings, and new practices' p.9). The notion of superposition 'adds force to "both"', not assuming that there is a unity, not particularly prioritising the diffraction pattern that has been created, but seeing it more as something that might inspire 'post-human research practices that make a difference'. We pass beyond special pleading for our chosen specialisms because 'Importantly, the propositions are self activating and not prescriptions' (p.11). The common enemy could be those male-dominated reflectionist positivists, like the ones supporting ‘Science-Based Research’ in the USA, already demonised by qualitative researchers.

More generally, we might agree with Hollin et al (2017) that the issue of exclusion in Barad needs more discussion. Every agential cut involves exclusions in thought as well as inclusions – there is no inclusion without exclusion. Diffraction as an approach excludes alternatives and this might be too high a price to pay.  Hein (2016) compares Barad to Deleuze makes and argues that  Barad's cut  implemented in agential realism is too close to the actual not the virtual, so a whole level of ontology is excluded.

Udén has suggested that reflection metaphors have been productive and she would not want to abandon them. The same might be said for conventional critical analysis with its standard concerns for warranted interpretation, notions of representative readings, and, sometimes, a concern to discuss context as well as specific text. Sehgal (2014) does this in her discussion of Whitehead, and Geerts and van der Tuin (2016) in theirs of De Beauvoir and Irigaray. Yet both also feel the need to arrive at some ultimate consensus among the people they review even at the expense of offering apology.

It is not at all clear whether and how Baradian ontology fixes the actual analyses. Has it provided new insights or just confirmed existing ones? Mazzei’s (2014) article, for example, reworks some interview data, but the same data had also been reworked in Jackson and Mazzei (2017) ( I am referencing the publication of this earlier piece in a subsequent collection), using deleuzian terminology, suggesting that the choice of theorist actually has little relevance as long as they provide more openness  and novelty in the analysis, or can be used to support existing views.

In other cases, conventional issues of validity seem to have been sidestepped altogether. Lenz Taguchi (2012) offers us a redemptive reading of Eric’s statements, and introduces that as a view of just a single possible reality -- but she clearly prefers this view, and suggests no others. The warrant seems to be that we get a more sympathetic and more tolerant view of Eric, but the tie to the actual data is unclear, and what Eric himself thought seems to be irrelevant. Lenz Taguchi and Palmer (2013) gathered some data from schoolgirls, but then permitted themselves to interpret it by using techniques such as immersing themselves in flows of information to gain the physical experience of being in a diffractive flow. The usual problems arise if we see this as a model to replicate in any work of our own – how could we immerse ourselves in the flow? Have all the elements of the flow equal priority, and in particular, how important do we take the accounts of the flow of the participants to be, as opposed to the inputs from the researchers?  We seem to have only the researchers’ integrity to rely upon, and while there is no problem in according integrity to these authors, it is not clear that any researcher might be able to use these techniques for themselves. It is difficult to discuss research which depends on claims to insight that might be just personal.

To the extent that diffractive approaches must be affirmative, it is obvious that rival accounts are omitted, or appear only in the shadows – the official policies of the Swedish Government towards health, the accepted advice on self-regulation of teachers in the USA, ‘official museum history’, patriarchal accounts of child subjectivity, ‘humanism’ and so on. These approaches are clearly so far beyond the pale that even a diffractive reading would find nothing in them. They have long been unpopular with ‘progressive’ pedagogues, and now they can be rejected with the authority of quantum mechanics.

Diffraction might have begun as a critical method based on the firm foundation of quantum indeterminacy and uncertainty, but it seems to have become domesticated in the subsequent enthusiasm to adopt it. It now seems to imply simple affirmative or apologetic comparisons of similar texts, found in any kind of knowledge production. It is tied to communitarian feminism. It simply excludes some alternatives without even attempting to diffract them. There is a danger that we will return to uncritical subjectivism and relativism, with a new boundary to exclude challenges.


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