Immanent Approaches and Liminal Encounters in Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology

November 14, 2015

by — Posted in Peer Edited Submissions

This post is co-authored by Hans Skott-Myhre, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, and Kathleen S. G. Skott-Myhre. It is an adapted text from the introduction to the new book Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters that has recently been published by Palgrave Macmillan, in their series Critical Cultural Studies of Childhood.


It was a casual conversation at the edges of a child and youth care conference that led to a series of questions about where the edges of our work with young people were situated in the contemporary landscape. The set up for the conversation was like the introduction to a joke: a psychologist, a youth worker and an early childhood educator walk into a bar . . .

But there we were, representing three ostensibly distinct disciplines talking about what happens when young people and adults are thrust together in therapy, school and community programs. We wanted to find a way to think about where the edges of our disciplines frayed and faded into what we later came to call liminal spaces. Those being the spaces in between where new and uncharted territory might point in unanticipated and surprising directions for the work we do. We decided that we would edit a collection of essays that would hopefully articulate and entangle the liminal spaces of encounter, both within and between youth work, early childhood education and psychology.

The resulting collection of essays is called Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters and those writing within its covers work to re-think the set of relations posited by youth and adults involved in what we proposed as mutually transformative encounters. We asked the authors of the pieces in the volume to situate their work and thought within the question of how various modes of praxis might be premised in an acknowledgement of a shifting socio-political landscape. We wanted to wonder together about how the advent of global capitalism with its neo-liberal imperatives for education, psychology and child and youth care/youth work has had far reaching effects.

From the perspectives of the pedagogue, the psychologist and the child and youth care worker, we wanted to inquire into the nature of these effects for the definitional categories that comprise children, youth, and adults, as well as for the sets of relations between the subjects in such arenas as the family, psychotherapy, and community care. In some instances, we posited that it opened calcified institutions to new and welcome radical practices, while in other circumstances it makes such institutions available for the full predatory incursions of the worst forms of economic and social exploitation. It is this double-edged movement that we hoped would open Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters to the question of the liminal and the force of immanent praxis.

Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters is premised in two integrally related philosophical concepts: liminality and immanence. We used these terms as theoretical frameworks because we hoped they would hold the capacity to simultaneously describe the movements of domination and capture under global capitalism, as well as the concomitant movements of refusal, alternative and revolt.

The definition of the essence of immanence derives from the work of the philosopher Spinoza. In Spinoza immanence is a system that produces itself with no outside. It is an autopoetic substance whose primary, if not sole, impetus is its own expression of an infinite set of capacities. For Spinoza, this is the nature of God or what he calls substance, or in another term, it is the set of conditions under which all things and thoughts are produced.

Spinoza asserted that the mind and body did not exist in a hierarchical relation. Nor, was the mind privileged through reason to access the higher realms of knowledge. Instead, Spinoza proposed that the mind and the body operate as parallel functions that work together to create our knowledge of the world. Rather than see the material realm of the body as simply mechanical, Spinoza proposed that no one could know what a body could do.

The chapters in Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters operate in an immanent fashion in striving to avoid dualism, lack, taxonomies, hierarchies and teleological notions of progress. In doing this, the authors attempt to re-think adult-young person relations within the problematics of the twenty-first century. It is, of course, somewhat ironic that this volume is, to a greater degree, premised in the work of a 17th century philosopher, in order to think the politics of the twenty first century. However, we would argue that it is with the specific atmospherics of the twenty first century that the neglected and misread concept of immanence in the work of Baruch Spinoza becomes truly relevant and perhaps for the first time comprehensible in ways it could not have been before.

To some degree, this is true because of the fact that the current mode of global capitalism is now also a form of immanence. As Hardt and Negri propose in their writing on what they call Empire, the current mode of global capitalist rule is a decentered self-producing network that spreads itself rhizomatically through overcoding the creative capacities of living labour. Under such conditions, the terms of exploitation and appropriation of living things is taking place at the level of code or what we might call the money sign or the virtual realm of the corporate Media. In this, capitalism operates through the overcoding of our unconscious desiring production. That is to say, it functions by appropriating our capacity to form social relations, as well by exploiting our living bodies and their capacity to create and produce between and across species.

We would propose that Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters is an exploration of how we might put forward the notion of the liminal as a counter force to the abstract immanent machinery of global capitalism. Deleuze and Guattari suggest that one strategy for contesting a system that functions at the level of code, is to create spaces of non-communication or to open flows of creativity that exceed the capacity of code to make sense of life.

Guattari, in particular, proposes that one way to do this is to engage life as art. That is art as blocs of pure sensation that explode the capacity of any code to capture their living force. To access our lives as sensation or art is to open life and relations as a space of indeterminacy, wherein the body senses that which is prior to any capacity to articulate.

We are proposing the liminal as just such a space between. The liminal, then, is that gap which operates prior to the ability to articulate, as well as that which frees articulation immediately following speech. Put simply, the liminal operates both before and after articulation, as a space as yet uncoded. It is what Deleuze and Guattari call becoming. Becoming, in this sense, is never anything in particular, because it is the intuitive sense of pure possibility. It holds the capacity of what we could become if we were opened onto the dynamic extension of immanence as infinite expressive capacity.

To re-think working with young people, in this way, is what we had hoped this volume might produce as a field of immanent relations. Such a field we propose holds several key characteristics that are reflected in Youth Work, Early Education, and Psychology: Liminal Encounters: 1) it operates without a reference to ideal form 2) it opens onto capacity rather than lack or deficit 3) it exceeds the ability of overcoding to capture it within a value system of exchange or the dollar 4) it is premised in an ecology of material bodies collectively engaged in common projects 5) it is inclusive of histories of struggle without being captured by the logics of appropriation and domination that produced them 6) it welcomes struggle and indeterminacy 7) it dos not sacrifice sensation to reason nor the obverse but uses both productively and 8) it seeks to propose a field of living immanent relations over abstract coded forms of society.

The authors of this volume propose these as frameworks for engaging others in collaborative, mutually transformative, and liberative work in child and youth care, education, and psychology as we enter the 21st century


This post was peer-edited by Janet Newbury. 

Photo by Jacob Ketchabaw.

About Hans Skott-Myhre, Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw, and Kathy Skott-Myhre

This post is co-authored by Hans Skott-Myhre (@hskottmyhre), Veronica Pacini-Ketchabaw (@vpacinik), and Kathleen S. G. Skott-Myhre.

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