Affectivity and Relational Awareness in Pedagogy and Education

moments of hesitation in intersubjective encounters


  • Anne Maj Nielsen Department of Educational Psychology, University of Aarhus
  • Freja Filine Petersen Department of Educational Psychology, University of Aarhus



Relational awareness, Intersubjective encounter, Affectivity and hesitation, Compassion and self-compassion, Mindfulness


In this article, we put forward the concept ‘relational awareness’ to describe a conscious awareness of the experience of relational responsivity and dynamics of change in stressful intersubjective encounters in pedagogy and education. This concept is inspired by phenomenology and cultural-historical theory. We introduce the theories of extended affectivity, embodied resonance and intersubjectivity and relate these to cultural-historical psychology in order to explore how people appraise and understand situations related to societal goals, motives, practices and mediating means. Relational awareness, which involves being consciously aware of embodied, pre-reflective relational responsivity, is specific to the cultural context, to the mediating means, and the lived experiences of the person. Relational awareness and responsivity can be objects of reflection and education when educational practices include deliberate work on embodied experience and mediational means to reflect on and change experienced intercorporeity. Relational awareness differs from interpersonal perception in that it involves embodied activity mediated by embodied knowledge and social means of language and discourse.
Our conceptualisation of relational awareness is empirically driven by two qualitative studies of preschool teachers’ and teachers’ embodied practices to become presently aware during intersubjective encounters with children in stressful everyday conditions. The embodied practices in the study were inspired by exercises in mindfulness and compassion, which were adjusted according to how the participants experienced their significance. The flexibly adjusted exercises and discourses appeared to provide participants with the mediational embodied and discoursive means to become relationally aware in difficult encounters. Biesta’s conceptualisation of ‘moments of hesitation’ contributes to the discussion of ‘relational awareness’ in education and care.

Author Biographies

Anne Maj Nielsen, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Aarhus

Anne Maj Nielsen is currently based at Department of Educational Psychology, University of Aarhus in Copenhagen. Her research centres on children’s, and professionals’, sensory and lived experiences of participation and inter-subjective encounters in pedagogy and education, comprising sensory, aesthetic and symbolic meanings articulating learning and development in daycare and school, and contemplative practices and relationship building in education. It draws on phenomenology, cultural psychology, and cybernetic systems theory of dynamic states of consciousness. The topics of her recent publications include contemplative cultures of awareness, identity and relationship-building strategies in school and education (2011, 2013, 2017, 2019, 2020), phenomenology methodologies including researchers’ sensory experience in research with children and students (2013, 2014, 2016, 2018, 2020), and stress in education and contemplative interventions in group, class, and school-communities (2013, 2017, 2018). She holds a position as associate professor in psychology and learning at School of Education, Aarhus University where she served as Head of Dept. of Educational Psychology 2014-2019. In addition to her Ma. in psychology from University of Copenhagen and her PhD from The Royal Danish School of Educational Studies she is a certified integrative cybernetic-psychology therapist. She is an editorial board member of the journal Psyke & Logos, and participant in the research program: Early childhood: Education and care in everyday life.

Freja Filine Petersen, Department of Educational Psychology, University of Aarhus

Freja Filine Petersen is currently based at Center for Mental Health Promotion and affiliated Department of Educational Psychology, University of Aarhus in Copenhagen, as PhD-fellow. Her research centres on lived experiences of participation and care in pedagogy and education and is affiliated the research program: Early childhood: Education and care in everyday life. Her recent research involves exploration of the importance of professionals' ability to self-care and awareness for the relational work with children and young people in vulnerable positions. Currently, she is associated with two major research projects collaborating across DPU, Aarhus University and Center for Mental Health promotion. The purpose of the projects is to ensure and develop the quality of day care for children in vulnerable positions and involves, among other things, teaching educators and developing initiatives that strengthen the professionals' self-care in close collaboration with practice. In her research she is inspired by contemplative cultures of awareness phenomenology and cultural psychology theory. In addition to her master's degree in Educational Psychology from DPU, Aarhus University, and her current PhD scholarship, she has a BA in psychomotor therapy from the University College of Northern Denmark. She has published the first article about her PhD-study, a book about stressmanagement for adolescents and multiple training videos for the Open and Calm-programmes for adults and adolescents.




How to Cite

Nielsen, A. M., & Petersen, F. F. (2021). Affectivity and Relational Awareness in Pedagogy and Education: moments of hesitation in intersubjective encounters. International Review of Theoretical Psychologies, 1(2).