Searching for and Researching a Canadian Curriculum Scholar: Stephanie Springgay A Curriculum Scholar Review by Beverly Papove for EDu 6102 Seminar in Curriculum Studies Research

Searching for and Researching a Canadian Curriculum Scholar: Stephanie Springgay A Curriculum Scholar Review by Beverly Papove for EDu 6102 Seminar in Curriculum Studies Research

In an effort to find a curriculum scholar for my research paper, I typed some prominent names into the Google taskbar to see what came up. I decided to type in names of scholars I had absolutely no knowledge of to see if I could possibly feel a connection with their work. When I typed in Stephanie Springgay’s name, up came the rather long-winded title of an article she wrote for the UBC journal, Educational Insights; “An Ethics of Embodiment, Civic Engagement and A/R/Tography: Ways of Becoming Nomadic in Art, Research and Teaching” (2008). Tending to shy away from the more academic-sounding titles of articles towards humourous or attention-grabbing ones, this title just confused me. But I was intrigued. What could this possibly mean and what was the connection to curriculum studies?

As soon as I opened the article, I felt a connection. What I saw on the webpage, were large colour photographs of some of the striking works by Rebecca Belmore, an Anishnabe performance-installation artist now based in Vancouver. Beautiful and provocative, the display of Belmore’s art became the illustration for Springgay’s ideas. These works represent a visual manifestation of her notion of A/R/Tography and the relationality between civic engagement and knowledge production.

Stephanie Springgay Canadian Curriculum Scholar

Dr. Stephanie Springgay is currently Assistant Professor in the Department of Curriculum, Teaching and Learning at OISE (Ontario Institute for Studies in Education) at The University of Toronto. She holds a BFA and a B.Ed from Queen’s University and an M.A. and Ph.D in Curriculum Studies and Art Education from the University of British Columbia. Prior to her appointment at OISE, Dr. Springgay was Assistant Professor at Pennsylvania State University in both the Departments of Art Education and Women’s Studies from 2004 to 2009. Her biography on the Curriculum, Learning and Teaching (CLT) OISE webpage states simply that Dr. Springgay’s “research focuses on contemporary art and pedagogy” while a search on the Centre for Media and Culture in Education (CMCE) page discovers that her research “focuses on curriculum theory, relational art practices, gender and youth studies, embodiment, feminist pedagogy and justice-oriented education” (OISE, 2012). She is an extremely prolific writer and a recipient of many honours and awards in her field, including The Ted T. Aoki Prize for Outstanding Dissertation in Curriculum Studies, from The University of British Columbia in 2005 and more recently, the Early Career Award from the Critical Issues in Curriculum and Cultural Studies Special Interest Group of the American Educational Research Association in 2009. Dr. Springgay remains actively involved in the arts community as a member of The Starving Artist’s Collective of Toronto which hosts performance art presentations, and she sits on the board of directors for the Images Festival, an independent and experimental video and film festival in Toronto (OISE, 2012).

A/R/Tography Revealed

Artists, researchers, and teachers do not simply do art, research, or teach; they live through these embodied experiences and make sense of them in purposeful ways. A/r/tography as such performs an ethics rooted in everyday life.(La Jevic, L., & Springgay, S, 2008, p. 72)

The essence of Springgay’s work can be found in the term A/R/Tography, a term she uses in the titles of four out of the five articles I reviewed for the purposes of this paper. I had never heard of the word and looked for an explanation. Finding the answer in the title of the above-mentioned Educational Insights online article (2008), I quickly learned that A/R/T referred to the three words ‘art’, ‘research’ and ‘teaching’. As a whole, a/r/tography “is the coming together of the words, art and graphy, or image and word” (Springgay, 2005, p. 900). Springgay defends the term by explaining that,

The conditions which encourage … engagement [with works of art] are embodied in a/r/tography, a methodology of living in the world in such a way that we become accountable for our actions, we abandon the humanistic vision of the self in favour of a nomadic and relational cartography, and we shift into a space of becoming ethical. This is the potentia of art, research, and teaching. (2008, paragraph 39)

Springgay’s interests lie in activism and civic engagement, and these are the criteria she appears to expect from either visual or performance-installation art projects. Our engagement with a piece of art is part of the process of the ethics we develop from the experience – it is not only that we can learn from something we see and do, but more importantly that we can become part of the subject as we move into the same space, in essence, to embody it (Springgay, S. & Irwin, R, 2005, p. 899.).

In her online article, “An Ethics of Embodiment, Civic Engagement and A/R/Tography: Ways of Becoming Nomadic in Art, Research and Teaching” (2008), Springgay recalls the French philosopher, Gilles Deleuze, whose notion of the body as, “dynamic, creative, and full of plentitude, potential, and multiplicities” relates to her expression of the interstitial, the corporeality, or the embodiment of experiences (paragraph 7). When she uses the word ‘interstitial’ – between cells – Springgay is denoting a more unique and profound connection than a purely emotional connection may offer us. Her work suggests that we need to relate and move into spaces at the cellular level, in such a way as to almost literally embody the world around us. From this intimate experience, we become ethical (La Jevic, L., & Springgay, S, 2008, p. 70) as we move in the world, connecting and relating to everything around us.

How does becoming ethical inform my experiences as a teacher? If taken at face value, being ethical means possessing a system of morals pertaining to the right way or the wrong way of conducting oneself. What I feel Springgay is encouraging us to do, is to not only intellectualize our principles, but embody them, become them. It is in this way that we become a/r/tographers and therefore, are better placed to involve our students in civic engagement. As she explains,

It is precisely the in-between of thinking and materiality that invites educators to explore the interstitial spaces of art making, researching, and teaching. According to Elizabeth Grosz (2001) the in-between is not merely a physical location or object but a process, a movement and displacement of meaning. It is a process of invention rather than interpretation, where concepts are marked by social engagements and encounters. (2008, paragraph 29)

As we move through these spaces and participate in the process of a/r/tography, we are, in essence, nomads (Springgay, S. & Irwin, R, 2005, p. 900). In an intimate relation to the world, a nomad experiences movement as opposed to stagnation. Furthermore, there is an expectation for adaptation to change. It is this notion of the nomadic in a/r/tography that I find closely echoes the sentiment of John Dewey’s active learning (Dewey, J, 1902/1990, p.197; Springgay, S. & Irwin, R, 2005, p. 903).

Rebecca Belmore Fringe

The potential for art, research and teaching Springgay speaks of are illustrated by her inclusion of samples of works by artist Rebecca Belmore. Considering the above photo entitled Fringe, we see a woman lying on her side. Her back is exposed and displays a fresh, bloody wound streaked diagonally across her back. From the scars of the wound hangs a fringe of red beads which resemble drops of blood. Springgay explains how we can engage in a/r/tography as we observe Fringe;

There is a need to look at the image as an event of movement and becoming, rather than as a text with a meaning. Her back to us, our gaze is disorientated, disavowing spectatorial identifications. Read molecularly, the image is a process of becoming, an event of experience, an intervention. (2008, paragraph 34)

I think what Springgay is proposing is the need to recognize that the relation we have to art is far more than as simple observer or spectator. Indeed, she suggests we become the image as we experience it. To what end? Her hope is for us to be nomads as we become ethical in our engagement not only with the artwork but from deep within ourselves and beyond, including every step in between so that our daily life becomes a meaningful engagement.

Knitting as Civic Engagement

While at Penn State, Springgay had the dual appointment of Assistant Professor in the Departments of Art Education and Women’s Studies between 2004 and 2009. Having recently received her Ph.D in Curriculum Studies and Art Education from UBC, Springgay was in a position to articulate and develop her ideas into what would become the journey to realizing a/r/tography as a legitimate research methodology. Her most notable endeavour while at Penn State which I feel so clearly illustrates the ethics of civic engagement and a/r/tography is the Knitivism Club. As Springgay explains,

In order to reflect on the complexities of youth civic engagement we turn[ed] our attention to the Penn State Knitivism Club. The club formed in the Spring of 2008 after Stephanie introduced knitting as a form of activism in one of her undergraduate classes. (Springgay, S., Hatza, N., & O’Donald, S., 2011, p. 608)

(Watch Knitivism

The club had a membership of about 50 students, primarily but not exclusively female. The students would meet regularly and discuss which human rights causes they would like to take up, for example, gender-related violence, Darfur, or homelessness (p. 609). The point of the club was to have a large group of students inhabiting public space on campus while engaging in the non-threatening act of knitting. While knitting may be traditionally considered a craft a grandmother may do in the comfort of her home, by multiplying the participants and bringing the act into the social and political realm of a university campus, the act is transformed into an event or a process of civic engagement. The public aspect of the event further transforms into an art performance where the experience is not scripted but is, instead, unpredictable and dynamic. In this way, the knitivism is considered relational, which Springgay describes as, “art [which] does not have a predetermined meaning prior to the event being enacted. It is in the movement and the coming together of bodies that both the event and the meaning are produced” (p.610). With a few flyers and handmade knitted items instead of megaphones and marching, the students raised awareness on campus in an unusual, peaceful and very social way. In so doing, the students ‘embodied’ the ethics of a/r/tography by becoming artists/ researchers/teachers themselves.

What I like about this example of civic engagement is that it is so easily transferable to different locations, age groups, and causes. In spite of its passive nature, a knit-in is really rather powerful, as it challenges the status quo and demands engagement from all sides – artist and audience, activist and public. In the process of answering questions and explaining their actions, the knitters forge connections, produce knowledge and build community. Not to mention the fun they have! Is such an example of activism possible with much younger school-aged students? I believe so. With a craft club I ran last year for grades four to six students, I can easily imagine promoting a knitivism event to raise awareness of the Residential School Act, or to collect donations or funds for a food bank. The process could look like this: by assisting my students to learn about a cause and create products for a knit-in, they would be in a position to teach others about their activism. A simple chain of events that speaks to the theory of a/r/tography and the cellular level of involvement Springgay identifies as a crucial part of the process. I can furthermore consider myself an a/r/tographer as the activism I embody is shared with my students as I attempt to engage them with the world. If, as teachers, we are to promote civic engagement of our students, I feel that Springgay offers food for thought as to why we should seriously consider art, and in particular, a/r/tography as a means of fostering an ethical connection with our world.


Bickel, Barbara; Springgay, Stephanie; Beer, Ruth; Irwin, Rita L.; Grauer, Kit; and Xiong, Gu, “A/r/tographic Collaboration as Radical Relatedness” (2011). Publications. Paper 5.

Canadian Art (2008). Rebecca Belmore: Rising to the Occasion.

Dewey, J. (1902/1990). The Child and the Curriculum. pp. 181-209. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

La Jevic, L., & Springgay, S. (2008). A/r/tography as an ethics of embodiment. Qualitative Inquiry, 14(1), 67-89.

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. (2012). Centre for Media and Culture in Education. Retrieved from

Ontario Institute for Studies in Education, University of Toronto. (2012). Curriculum, Teaching and Learning. Retrieved from

Springgay, S. (2008). An Ethics of Embodiment, Civic Engagement and A/R/Tography: Ways Of Becoming Nomadic In Art, Research And Teaching Educational Insights, 12(2). [Available:]

Springgay, S., Hatza, N., & O’Donald, S. (2011). “Crafting is a luxury that many women cannot afford”: Campus knitivism and an aesthetic of civic engagement. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 24(5), 607-613. doi:10.1080/09518398.2011.600262

Springgay, S., Irwin, R., & Kind, S. (2005). A/r/tography as living inquiry through art and text. Qualitative Inquiry, 11(6), 897-912. doi:10.1177/1077800405280696

Springgay, S. Knitivism (2009, February 4) Retrieved from [sspringgay’s channel]