Gidyira (kin) and Wren: Children’s Bodies Sensing Ecologically

Professor Karen Malone, Swinburne University of Technology

Dr. Sarah Jane Moore, Independent Creative Artist 

We acknowledge the Aboriginal Countries that Sarah Jane and I work on, learnt on, live on and pass through and we show gratitude to the traditional custodians, the kin and Countries that have guided our research. Sarah Jane Moore’s writing acknowledges the Connecting to Country teachings of Oomera Edwards, Elder and Educator and pays homage to the language teaching of Auntie Iris Reid. The use of Wiradjuri concepts assisted Moore to story deep and ancestral notions of Country and place through the worlding of an Aboriginal child

The breathing, sensing body draws its sustenance and its very substance from the soils, plants, and elements that surround it; it continually contributes itself, in turn, to the air, to the composting earth, to the nourishment of insects and trees and kin, ceaselessly spreading out of itself as well as breathing the world into itself, so that it is very difficult to discern, at any moment, precisely where this living body begins and where it ends

– David Abraham (1996) The Spell of the Sensuous, page 46.

Jean Luc Nancy (1997) acknowledging we are beings-in-common recognises our coexistence in the world with others and Marisol de la Cadena (2015) drawing on her work with Indigenous peoples in the Andes proposes we exist in the world as ‘more than one – but less than many’. This is the starting point the Posthuman child – a disrupting force for troubling child/hood-nature binaries – in this story child is nature, with critters in a worlding becoming as relational possibilities. Humans are tuned for relationship. The eyes, the skin, the tongue, ears, and nostrils—all are gates where our body receives the nourishment of otherness. This landscape of shadowed voices, these feathered bodies and wagging tails and tumbling streams—these breathing shapes are our family, the beings with whom we are engaged, with whom we struggle and suffer and celebrate.

For the largest part of our species’ existence, humans have negotiated relationships with every aspect of the sensuous surroundings, exchanging possibilities with every flapping form, with each textured surface and shivering entity that we happened to focus upon. All could speak, articulating in gesture and whistle and sigh a shifting web of meanings that we felt on our skin or inhaled through our nostrils or focused with our listening ears, and to which we replied—whether with sounds, or through movements, or minute shifts of mood. The color of sky, the rush of waves—every aspect of the earthly sensuous could draw us into a relationship fed with curiosity and spiced with danger. Every sound was a voice, every scrape or blunder was a meeting—with Thunder, with Gum, with Dragonfly. And from all of these relationships our collective sensibilities were nourished – Drawing from and adapting – David Abraham (1996)

In  a modern eurocentric world with in the microcosm of human life we created in our cities we participate almost exclusively with other humans and with our own human-made technologies. It is a precarious situation, given our age-old reciprocity with the complex assemblages of our landscape.

Sympoiesis is how we are naming the shared experience of ‘sensology’. Sympoiesis means making with. It describes the complex relations that produce life, dynamism, responsiveness, situatedness, entanglement, relationality.  Sympoiesis supports a view of humans as interdependent of all ecological beings, objects and weathering of the earth with the concept of ‘ourself’ being determined by a world that lies beyond the illusory borders of our bodies. Bodies are porous and open attributing the qualities of a shared life through sensorial knowing. As we pick and unpick together in dialogue what it means to have a porous body Sarah Jane notes sympoiesis is congruent with Aboriginal ways of encountering and taps into old stories and old ways of seeing spirits, animals and spirits as co-existing. Ingold (2013) reminds us to consider not limiting materiality to the surfaces of the landscape or objects but to acknowledge the centrality of the weather/ing, the air, the atmosphere of the world.

At the time of our research the two children were inbetween 1 and 3 years old.  One child was Aboriginal, Budya which is Wiradjuri for ant.  The other non-Aboriginal child Wren, was named after the  common songbird living with her.  The research drew on a model of posthumanist ecological communities where human and nonhuman are beings in common. It embraced an approach where Country, or the entity that is land was regarded as always in relation with all bodies, even if the knowing body was not attuned to notice these relations . The Aboriginal child, land and story was traced as a being in common with an identity, a past, a present and a future to be listened to, mapped, theorised and imagined. Walking on Country for the Aboriginal child, brings Aboriginal perspectives into engagement and encounters with the social world. In this way postqualitative/posthuman readings of Country acknowledged the presence, the lived space and dynamism of walking with, and in, and of, the land.

We loosely call our research as a place based postqualitative/posthumanist inquiry. Postqualitative/posthuman researchers support that knowledge is based not on unchallengeable truths existing outside of humans and nonhumans but knowing and being is relational – this approach builds on an onto-epistemological view that is all knowing is entwined, entangled with being. We cannot know the world without being in the world, we cannot be in the world without knowing it.  There are a number of methods and approaches that fit within the post-qualitative/posthuman paradigm we adopt, the focus of these practices is to acknowledge the world is not just ‘out there’ waiting to be interpreted, but is ‘in here’,  ‘in us’ ad with ‘us’ us being all the relations that inform our being and knowing of the world. This process of knowing and becoming intimate and attuned to a lively world including weathering worlds is what we call worlding. The children in our study are worlding. Our research methods are acquainted with the process of capturing that worlding. Walking methodologies figure centrally in our study and we take from Aldred (2014) who writes: “To move through a landscape is to dwell in the movement, to experience being with and connected to” (p. 31). Walking as method is central to our shared sense making. Noora Pyyry calls this walking as intra-action ‘a sensorium in action’.  It is through sensorial bodies, bodies sensing and recognising other bodies that sense making is activated.

The three to five-minute video captures have been gathered on mobile phones as Budya  and Wren go about their everyday worlding. Sensing ecologically is a concept we are using in order to imagine how children can engage/communicate with the more-than-human-world prior to human abstract language acquisition. That is, how they (human) come to find ways to be with nonhuman animals; plants; the weather; water; and materials. Embarking on this research there was a need to be attentive to the very subtle encounters nuances and gestures of sensing bodies.

Walking-with and through environments provides opportunities for children to encounter the materiality of spaces, to be with objects, intra-act and co-create sensorial, nature based knowings. Walking-with and through the children’s sensorial body means that we know as we go (Ingold 2010). Living in and being with the world according to Ingold (2013, p. 29) means we encounter “a lifetime of intimate gestural and sensory engagement”.  This thinking supported the children to be storied as sensing bodies and in particular the Aboriginal child to become with the aliveness of Country

The Gudhang (ocean) is our friend

The Madhan (tree) is our partner

The Walang is our tool for thinking.

The Gidyira (kin) is our teacher.

The land is our Gunhi (mother).

The land beneath us is alive (Moore, 2019).

The theoretical framing of this research is supported through a form of diffractive theorising drawing on a relational ontology. Barad (2007) states that while diffraction apparatuses help us: “… measure the effects of difference, even more profoundly they highlight, exhibit and make evident the entangled structure of the changing and contingent ontology of the world, including the ontology of knowing. In fact, diffraction not only brings the reality of entanglements to light, it is itself an entangled phenomenon” (Barad, 2007, p. 73)

As a ‘re-turning’ like composting we are diffracting our data drawing on an emerging ‘posthumanism and vital materialist turn’ that supports a shift in focus, from culture as outside of nature, to a re-orienting of relations where the human and more-than- human world are recognised as existing in an ecologically ‘messy entanglement’.          The research employs the potential of posthumanist and includes Aboriginal child centred ways of Knowing, Being and Doing (Martin, 2003) through encounter. The theorizing is seeking to critique classic humanism, an approach that emphasizes only the value and agency of humans to the detriment of the agentic potential of the more-than-human world. Through the import of de-centering the human we are enticed to question the centrality of the human and to reconsider the way humans (in this case very young children) could encounter, the more-than-human world through their sensorial knowing rather than an intellectual or language based humanist knowing. In the paper we focus on Gidyira (kin) and Walang (stones).  These aren’t labels, categories or themes; they are concepts through which our overarching conceptual frame bodies sensing ecologically comes is enlivened.

The following  is a shared multispecies ethnography between Gidyira (kin) and Wren written by Karen published in Malone and Moore (2019) .


Gidyira and Wren



Child-worlding bodies attuning to the ongoing. The relationality of an everyday multiple knowing. A present and past body sensing as entangled matter. There is a moment, a pause, a silence, recognition of ecological kin tracings, like tendrils of a floating sea jelly, rising and falling in the waves they pulsate in the everyday. Worldings of imaginaries.  According to  Haraway (2008) the world is constantly done and undone through ‘encounters’ which are not always those we expect. Touch ramifies and shapes accountability how living as relating engages bit pleasure and obligation. Touch is world making By attending to Haraway’s (2016) notion of relational natures of difference, I use a diffractive lens to be responsive to patterns that map not where differences appear but rather to map where the effects of difference between Wren and her companion

rollings over

rollings over












grasses greening

grasses greening

not only





rollings over

rollings over


As researcher of Wren noticing attunes me to this world otherwise left unrecognised, connecting beyond bodies allows a deep knowing, recognition; a sensing of bodies ecologically it forces us all into a new kind of relational ontology – human child who thinks with and through Gidyira (kin) with dog. Child-dog entwined in the joy of being animal. Child body mimics rollings over through her body with the dog, being with grass in the sunny field of an urban park. She looks to see ‘are we still worlding this moment together’, then continues on. The dog looks to her and notices ‘we are being together in our grassy rollings over’ and begins rolling over some more.

“Companion species” writes Donna Haraway in her book Staying with the Trouble are “relentlessly becoming-with. The category companion species helps me refuse human exceptionalism and invoke versions of posthumanism. In human-animal worlds, companion species are ordinary beings-in-encounter in the house, lab, field, zoo, park, truck, office, prison, ranch, arena, village, human hospital, forest, slaughterhouse, estuary, vet clinic, lake, stadium, barn, wildlife preserve, farm, ocean canyon, city streets, factory, and more.”

The diversity of my sensory becommings, a spontaneous convergence with the things I encounter, ensures an interweaving between my body and other bodies—this magical moment permits me, at times, to feel what others feel. The gestures of another being, the rhythm of her voice, and the stiffness or bounce in her spine,  gradually drawing my senses into a unique relation with her, into a coherent, if shifting, organization. And the more I linger with this other this entity that is animal, that is dog, the more coherent the relation becomes, and hence the more completely I find myself face-to-face with another intelligence, another center of experience that is part of my body now, tracings left behind. A quarter of a billion years ago the earth went through a period called ‘the great dying’. An extinction event where ninety-six percent of the species of plants and animals on the planet were lost, it nearly ended all life on the planet. Humans and all nonhuman species currently living on the planet are descendants from that surviving four percent of life. These “Ghosts point to our forgetting, showing us how living landscapes are imbued with earlier tracks and traces”

Through encounters with Gidyira (kin) we search for entangled tracings of past, present and future worldings, these  moments of sensorial opening captured by the video episodes are spaces to be with the world beyond humanist limits, that thwarted my entering into a living relation with the expressive character of all things.


Multi-species Co-habitation comes with a sense of responsibility when we are kin together we also must care and have shared sense of belonging and responsibility for our human non human kin. The child-more than human intra-action and cohabitation provides a space for mutual reciprocity, care and protection, to be thrown together, to be living well together means animating the posthuman predicament developing mutual reciprocity, care and protection, Living well together, being worldly with kin (Malone, 2018).

Sensing ecologically embraces bodies communicating with nonhuman entities: animals; plants; the weather; air; water; and sprits. The sense of the world is the touching of bodies each against the other, a touching sensed ecologically in different ways by different beings and different species of beings. Meaning through bodies; sensual knowing emerges as the means for making sense of entities, in the act of sensing.

As an ecological researchers and early childhood educators we are exploring the potential of a wild worlding exchange between bodies as sensorial openings and the things that engage them. Engaging with the writings of Hultman and Lenz Taguchi (2010) where the child is emergent in a relational field, “a space in which non-human forces are equally at play and work as constitutive factors in children’s learning and becomings” (p. 257).  Challenging “anthropocentric ways of seeing and doing analysis of educational data” (p. 257). Looking for pedagogies outside of learning that is observation and language focused.  We are seeking to disrupt and unlearn pedagogical practices that focus on naming the world, engaging with predetermined objects or phenomena that are structured with limited sensorium possibilities. We propose instead a pedagogy of noticing and attuning to a young child’s sensorial ecological encounters. Bodies sensing ecologically allows for a pedagogy of walking, slowing, deepening, foraging and attuning as pedagogical practice. This work requires an unlearning of anthropocentrisim, a troubling of the privileging of language, text as central to child body knowing – it is a coming together with critters, a staying with the trouble . “Critters—human and not—become-with each other, compose and decompose each other, in every scale, it is a ‘sympoietic tangling … earthly worlding and unworlding”. (Haraway 2016).

This blog draws on a paper published by Sarah Jane and Karen titled: Sensing Ecologically through Kin and Stones in a 2019 Special issue of the  International Journal of Early Childhood and Environmental Education focusing on Precarious Times: Posthumanist Possibilities for Early Childhood Environmental Education.


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