Lancaster Presentation

About this event

This Lancaster Literacy Research Centre event will be a talk from Chris Bailey titled Meaning Making, Multimodality and Minecraft: Developing research around screen based play


‘Meaning Making, Multimodality and Minecraft: Developing research around screen-based play’

In this presentation, Chris draws on the work outlined in his forthcoming Palgrave Macmillan book Researching Virtual Play Experiences: Visual Methods in Education Research. Here, he illuminates the lived experience of a group of primary school children engaged in virtual world play during a year-long after-school club. Shaped by post-structuralist theory and New Literacy Studies, this work outlines a playful, participatory and emergent methodological approach, referred to as ‘rhizomic ethnography’. Chris’ work uses words and images – including comic strips – to demonstrate how children’s creation of a digital community through Minecraft was shaped by the both the game and their wider social and cultural experiences. Through the exploration of various dimensions of the club, including visual and soundscape data, Chris seeks to demonstrate what he calls the ‘emergent dimension of play’. This presentation will be of interest and value to researchers of children’s play, as well as those who explore visual methods and design multimodal research outputs.

Event schedule:

11:00am – Welcomes & introductions (please enter the meeting with your ‘real’ name as your display name, and your camera switched on, to allow us to all put faces to each others’ names)

11:05 – Presentation from Speaker Name(s) (please turn your camera off and mute your microphone during the presentation)

11:40 – Discussion (please use the raise hand feature on Teams to indicate you would like to have a turn speaking and once asked to speak by an event facilitator, please un-mute your microphone and turn your camera on)


My book (a monograph that draws from my doctoral thesis) is due to be published later in the year by Palgrave Macmillan.

This book illuminates the lived experience of a group of primary school children engaged in virtual world play during a year-long after-school club. Shaped by post-structuralist theory and New Literacy Studies, it outlines a playful, participatory and emergent methodological approach, referred to as ‘rhizomic ethnography’. This ‘hybrid’ text uses both words and images to describe the fieldsite and the methodology, demonstrating how children’s creation of a digital community through Minecraft was shaped by the both the game and their wider social and cultural experiences. Through the exploration of various dimensions of the club, including visual and soundscape data, the author demonstrates the ‘emergent dimension of play’. It will be of interest and value to researchers of children’s play, as well as those who explore visual methods and design multimodal research outputs.


Chris Bailey’s Screen Play Experiences in Education: Explorations in Visual Methods in Research Representation captures what photographer Hiro Wakabayashi describes as central to image work, the ability “to extract from a life what has shaped it along the way. Every experience has a hand in it.” Based on a longitudinal research study on a Minecraft club, Bailey weaves his own story as a gamer into the book accompanied by his skilled, attenuated theorising across an array of disciplines and orientations to the visual. Observing children play and feel in virtual worlds gives readers a treasured window into how children can settle back into themselves and shape their sense of self through videogames. Children, in Bailey’s research, display visceral, felt engagements with sheep, songs, and swords in Minecraft; what is more, he manages to give researchers ways to appreciate and navigate the art of visual research along the way. Ultimately, one of the more moving and captivating aspects of this exceptional book are the illustrations throughout done by Bailey’s own hand. This is a deeply personal book that gives readers a strong sense of how virtual worlds give children room to think, feel, and extract from a life.

Jennifer Rowsell, University of Bristol, UK

This is a dazzling account of digital literacies, multimodality and videogame play in an after-school Minecraft club. The book outlines a novel methodology, ‘rhizomic ethnography’, which enabled a close tracing of the lived experience of the children who engaged in Minecraft play through the use of a range of visual, observational and interactive methods. The brilliant drawings throughout, including the use of an illustrated comic, offer the reader an outstanding example of visual methods in action. This highly innovative book makes an important contribution to the field and is essential reading for all those interested in new literacies, videogame play and visual methods. 

Professor Jackie Marsh, University of Sheffield, UK

  • Publisher ‏ : ‎ Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2021 edition (9 Sept. 2021)
  • Language ‏ : ‎ English
  • ISBN-10 ‏ : ‎ 3030786935
  • ISBN-13 ‏ : ‎ 978-3030786939

Destructive Aesthetic

‘Error gives expression to the out of bounds of systematic control. When error communicates, it does so as noise: abject information and aberrant signal within an otherwise orderly system of communication. While often cast as a passive, yet pernicious, deviation from intended results, error can also signal a potential for a strategy of misdirection, one that invokes a logic of control to create and opening for variance, play and unintended outcomes. Error, as errant heading, suggests ways in which failure, glitch, and miscommunication provide creative openings and lines of flight that allow for reconceptualisation of what can (or cannot) be realised within existing social and cultural practices’ (Nunes, 2011, p.3)

Nunes, M (2011), ‘Error: Glitch, Noise and Jam in New Media Cultures’ (Continuum, New York)

Book Progress

With my manuscript submission deadline fast approaching, I have managed to find some time to continue working on my monograph for Palgrave Macmillan, mainly in the rare moments when both children are asleep at the same time.

One of my priorities has been to rework some of the visual content from the thesis. In some cases this just involves tweaking the formatting but in a few places I have reimagined and redrawn the pages from scratch.

One example is from chapter 4 where I use Deleuze and Guattari’s (1987) concept of the ‘Body without Organs’ (BwO). I was not entirely happy with the image I drew to represent this concept in the thesis, and had managed to work on something I was a lot happier with. I have also reworked this alongside the text describing my use of the concept as a tool for thinking, rather than leaving it as a stand-alone image. In this and other cases, the use of multiple stages afforded by the comic approach helps to break down – and even slow down – the narrative in order to encourage the reader to linger on a concept or idea in a way that the author does not control using a standard paragraph.

Another single page reimagining comes in relation to another of Deleuze and Guattari’s concepts: ‘the plane of consistency’. Here, the redrawing comes because I didn’t feel that the original version of this page flowed properly. So here I have simplified, removing the ‘talking head’ version of me that felt like a bit of an unnecessary distraction, going with a different perspective on the ‘row of doors’ that puts the reader head-on, rather than at an angle to the scene. You’ll notice that the central door in frame two features an small section cut from the BwO image used above. Through the book, in the comic sections, I refer to previous and forthcoming visual motifs as a way of tying things together. Of course, it also means I have less drawing to do, which helps: I still find drawing really tricky, but also rewarding when things go right. I did try a version of this with the rhizome creeping out of the door, but it looked a bit too threatening, so I kept it in its ‘potential’ state instead!

The following two pages are reimaginings of what was previously a single page from the Soundscapes chapter. Writing this for my thesis originally I remember being really stumped for ideas for this bit. However, I needed this section to be in the comic format as a bridge between the pages before and after. Therefore, I originally settled for a simple idea that I felt didn’t really justify its own existence. Coming back to this section I had some new ideas, which worked pretty quickly and spread this section across a much more appropriate double page spread. Again, the BwO / rhizome image makes another appearance in a couple of forms and I also reuse a hand picture from chapter four, whilst also introducing some additional elements. I’m much happier with how this flows now, as it has a better pace to it and I think the visuals are much more useful in making the points. (There’s still a typo in one of the images below, which I’ve now corrected elsewhere! Sharing stuff is always useful for spotting mistakes!) And although you wouldn’t know it, the spiral started life as a doodle around reading Spinoza… Everything hangs together, in the background…

Finally, another new comic comes early on in the book where I introduce the (human and non-human) participants. In the thesis I used photographs and screenshots, obviously obscuring the images of children in the way I do in the data transcripts. However, I felt that an illustrated approach would work better, but was something I ran out of time for when it came to the thesis. I find drawing people REALLY hard, so these look very little like the children they represent. Of course, this is useful for anonymisaton purposes, and I think the spirit of the drawings is much more in keeping with the feeling of the club than a series of obscured photographs.

This post only deals with some of the changes I have made visually, but I hope it goes some way to justifying (if only to myself) some of the alterations I have made in making the transition from thesis to book. Although I have been pressed for time, I have enjoyed rethinking these comic sections in a way that I don’t think I would have done if I was dealing just with written text.

Pandemic Photography

I have used and developed quite a few rolls of film since ‘lockdown’ was announced towards the end of March. Using the word ‘lockdown’ feels a little disingenuous as I’ve been fortunate enough to been able to keep running regularly, with plenty of opportunities for social distancing in the fields and woodland close to our house. I take photograph all the time, most often using my iPhone camera. However, I am increasingly drawn back to using film and thought I would use a post to share some of the sets of mainly 35mm photographs I have taken over the past few weeks. I love the process involved in taking and developing film, the unpredictability, the materiality, the imperfections…

All black and white photos below were developed at home using caffenol – a mixture of coffee, soda crystals, vitamin c and water.

I recently set myself a project of focussing on photographing light and shadows. This resulted in the following two sets of photos, both taken with black and white film in a compact Canon camera. The first set were taken in and around the house over the course of one day.

The second set were taken on a run, again focussing on light and shadow…

My instant Instax camera has been good for photographing some of the blossom that appeared during spring. I like the way it renders the colours, in particular.

I made my own pinhole camera for pinhole camera day on April 26th 2020, using a box of anti-anxiety meds to construct the camera.

If you put 35mm film in a medium format camera it enables you to use the full width of the film and the final image includes the sprockets. This was the first time I had tried this and I was pleased with the results.

The next set were also taken on my Ensign Selfix 420 medium format camera, this time using medium format film. These are from my first two rolls of medium format, having only just purchased the second hand camera – an Ensign Selfix 420 dating from 1942.

Colour film shots – I’m not set-up to develop colour at home so I sent these away to be developed and scanned in the negatives myself. To be honest, some of these could do with some additional colour correction, but I quite like them as they are…

And finally, a few more selections from a couple of other black and white films, mainly taken out on runs.

‘Music is Medicine’

Music is Medicine’
Johnny Jewel, Chromatics

‘Music has always submitted its forms and motifs to temporal transformations, augmentations or diminution, slowdowns or accelerations, which do not occur solely according to laws of organization or even of development’ 
Deleuze and Guattari (A Thousand Plateaus, 1987, p. 270)


I was recently invited to contribute to the Elektronisches Lernen Muzik project by James Lamb. The project explores the connection between learning and music. I produced a mixed playlist and my own liner notes.

‘Music has been a major source of comfort during this time, not to lighten my mood but to match it, to allow me to dwell in a productive, creative space that acknowledges, rather than escapes, some of the darkness of the current time.’

You can find the full text and the playlist here:

And I’ve also got the playlist on Apple Music, although you miss out on my ‘skilled’ mixing if you don’t listen to the Mixcloud version 😉




‘The hand must not be thought of as simply an organ but instead as a coding… a dynamic formation‘ – Deleuze and Guattari (1987: 61)

The Coronavirus outbreak has led to a social preoccupation with hands, through the promotion of habitual hand-washing as a means of preventing the spread of disease. Hands are understood as a point of transmission and there is a now a ‘proper’, government sanctioned method of washing hands, which includes singing the words to ‘Happy Birthday’ twice to ensure the correct duration of exposure to soap and water. If you prefer, of course, you can subvert this using the words to you own (in)appropriate favourite tune:


Pre Covid-19, however, I had already found myself frequently thinking about hands. I have recently been tattooed with an image of hands, depicting a gesture made by Laura Palmer in David Lynch’s Twin Peaks. This hand obsession has also converged with my dedication to the use of 35mm film. Here are some photos of my own hands, taken with film and developed at home, in coffee.

This resulting gif is, in part at least, a means of thinking about sensory self-regulation, through repetitive motion. It also goes nicely with music (although you’ll have to provide your own!). 😉


So, why hands? Well, in an academic context, hands have made their way into my thinking a number of times, as a means of making meaning. In my own work, when trying untangle my ontology via Deleuze and Guattari, I  found myself (unexpectedly) drawing hands as a means of sense making, particularly in relation their ‘image of thought’ known as ‘the rhizome’. If I have shared this double page here before, that is largely because it represents what feels like a jump in my own thinking, and it is the means by which this thinking occurred that is my main focus here.


The comic depicts my handling of a project’s data. Although the data was predominantly virtual, in trying to conceptualise my processes of data analysis, I found myself physically acting out the movement of grasping at and manipulating this invisible, intangible data with my own hands, as if it data was an object or substance that could be untangled and held. This act of embodied thinking led me to develop the metaphor of the data as an organic rhizome, imagining – and, again, embodying – the image of a hand reaching into soil to pull out organic matter. Thinking with this specific metaphor, in this way, helped me to understand and explain my relationship with the data. However, when I came to convey this idea using writing it felt frustratingly distant from the original embodied performance; no matter how precisely chosen, the words remained a flat description of a lived, embodied process. Taussig (2011: 19) suggests that writing ‘obliterates reality, pushing it further and further out of reach’. He suggests that instead of using words, drawing can provide a way to ‘capture something invisible and auratic’ (Taussig, 2011: 13). With this in mind, creating an illustrated version of this embodied conceptualisation seemed more appropriate.

I was aware, however, of my own limitations as an artist. I have always reserved a jealous admiration for those able to represent their ideas visually, with what I perceived as my lack of talent meaning that I could not effectively use such visual(isation) techniques. The word ‘artist’ still feels like a term that applies to others, and I remain hesitant in claiming it as a description for myself. Regardless of such reservations, the will to achieve, growing from what felt like methodological necessity, helped me to overcome my long-standing fear of drawing and I began to put pen and pencil to paper. I also have aphantasia – an inability to visualise using my ‘mind’s eye’ (which I have written more about here with a comic here). My use of my own hands, therefore, and the resultant and emergent use of drawing of my hands, could be explained as my way of externalising the visualisation process. This could be understood as a kind of extended cognition (Clark & Chalmers, 1998) that helps me to develop my own understanding of complex theoretical concepts. The hands in the illustration above were not drawn (in either sense) from memory, but from direct observation. My hands, therefore, are tools that I use to help me imagine and think – both in themselves, as ‘dynamic formations’ (Deleuze and Guattari: 1987: 61) that allow me to shape and manipulate ideas. They are also as ‘dynamic formations’ that combine with pencil and pen, as means of producing visualisations on paper and screen, using what (Causey, 2017: 59) describes as ‘simple lines to communicate honestly’.



Causey, A. (2016). Drawn to see: Drawing as an ethnographic method. University of Toronto Press.

Clark, A., & Chalmers, D. (1998). The extended mind. analysis, 58(1), 7-19.

Deleuze, G. and Guattari, F. (1987). A Thousand Plateaus. Minnesota: University of Minnesota Press.

Taussig, M. (2011). I swear I saw this: Drawings in fieldwork notebooks, namely my own. University of Chicago Press.

Other Media:

‘Transmission” by Joy Division

Intro Speech extract by Noam Chomsky from ‘Masses against the Classes’ by Manic Street Preachers

Still From Twin Peaks Season 2, Episode 18

Hand washing song generator: