Wonder and wandering

We have just returned from a week’s holiday with extended family on Lord Howe Island, a small island in the Tasman Sea on the east coast of Australia. It was glorious. We spent the week immersed in nature — walking, bicycling, snorkelling and bird watching — and sharing meals and conversations. I have returned to work recharged and optimistic about the rest of the year.

My final work activity before I left was joining the second webinar in the Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education (PaTHES) slow academia seminar series: Wandering and wondering in the university. It could not have been a better theme to mark the beginning of a holiday that was full of wonder and wandering!

Frances Kelly (University of Auckland/Waipapa Taumata Rau, Aotearoa New Zealand) and Finn Thorbjørn Hansen (University of Aalborg, Denmark) provided a session that immersed the audience in their creative and imaginative research.

Fran’s presentation was entitled Guess what I found in the archive today! The wonder of research work. She shared an example of a nature diary kept by a 9 year old school student named June in the 1950s:

Fran spoke about Steedman’s writing on ‘archive fever’ (following Derrida) and the idea of ‘the vitality of dust’. In talking about wonder in academic work, Fran cited this article:

  • Pyyry, N., & Aiava, R. (2020). Enchantment as fundamental encounter: wonder and the radical reordering of subject/world. Cultural Geographies, 27(4), 581–595.

This is a personal and affective article that moves towards an understanding of enchantment as it re-orients people in relation to others and their place in the world:

Enchantment is a connective encounter, it proposes unforeseen attachments through a reordering of what has been. It opens up new ways of being and doing in the world. The deracination of the subject in enchantment clears space for re-imagining one’s place in the world through emerging associations: this is of fundamental importance to cultivating care for others, human and non-human. Enchantment then fights the evil of cynicism through both by intensifying our belonging to the world and by forcing us to face the situation we have been thrown to (Pyyry & Aiava. 2020, p 592).

Fran referred to June’s experience of keeping the nature diary, and her own encounter with it in the archives, as a type of ontological unfolding.

For more of Fran’s wonderful work, see:

  • Kelly, F. (2020). ‘Hurry up please, it’s time!’ A psychogeography of a decommissioned university campus. Teaching in Higher Education, 25(6), 722–735. https://doi.org/10.1080/13562517.2020.1746263
  • Kelly, F. (2018). The lecturer’s new clothes: An academic life, in textiles. In A. L. Black & S. Garvis (Eds.), Lived experiences of women in academia: Metaphors, manifestos and memoir (pp. 23–31). Routledge.
  • Kelly, F. (2015). A day in the life (and death) of a public university. Higher Education Research & Development, 34(6), 1153–1163. https://doi.org/10.1080/07294360.2015.1024628

In the second half of the session, Finn Thorbjørn Hansen’s presentation was entitled It takes time and a ‘higher care’ to truly get into deep wonder. He described his applied philosophical work on ‘contemplative wonder’ working with people in healthcare, design and education contexts. I must read more about wonder from the books Finn said he admires and questions!

He asked: what is being in deep contemplative wonder good for in higher education? There was a rich layering of ideas here inspired by the work of Heidegger: not-knowing and open ontologies when learning and doing research, the phenomenological and hermenutic experience as a path to wellbeing, flourishing, and soul-nuturing, and creating communities of wonder. At the risk of over-simplifying it, wonder is more than an emotion, but a state of being in relation to others and world.

Finn’s work on the Wonder Compass is fascinating and I am only beginning to grasp these ideas. Start in the West (phenomenological) with a narrative of lived experience, then move to the North (hermenutic) to explore the values evident in the narrative. Read and reflect on the work of others. In the East (Socratic and existential), engage with critical, playful and wondering questions and reflect on who and where you are in these thoughts. In the South (spiritual and contemplative), join a community of wonder.

Read more of his work here:

  • Hansen, F.T. (20 Learning to innovate in higher education through deep wonder. Philosophy and Theory in Higher Education, 1(3), 51–74.

You can listen to the presentations on the PaTHES website.

On the eve of going on holiday, Fran and Finn’s thought-provoking presentations reminded me to attune my senses, be attentive to place, immerse myself in the natural world, and open up to encounters with wonder.

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