Reconfiguring Environmental Sustainability in Early Childhood: a Post-anthropocentric Approach – Kassahun Weldemariam

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On April 24th my last formal activity for The Faculty of Education at the University of Gothenburg ended with the successful defence & disputation by my PhD student at GU, Kassahun Weldemariam. Kassahun worked for almost 5 years on a study on sustainability in early childhood education from a posthuman perspective. Prof. Karen Malone was his opponent while Dr. Beniamin Knutsson and Dr. Helena Pedersen were co/supervisors. Due to COVID19 the whole defence had to take place via Zoom which worked well but did strip the event from the usual rituals and festivities afterwards.

The purpose of his dissertation of which three chapters were published in peer reviewed journals and one as a book chapter,  was twofold. First, Kassahun explored how the notion of sustainability is conceptualized within early childhood education discourses and how it is manifested in early childhood curricula. Second, the dissertation examined post-anthropocentric possibilities of sustainability within early childhood education.

A major finding of the two studies, relating to the first purpose, is that early childhood education tends to have an anthropocentric bias and over-emphasizes the importance of children’s agency in enhancing their potential to contribute to sustainability. Using this finding as a backdrop, the major finding of the two subsequent studies, relating to the second purpose, is that post-anthropocentric analysis can help to challenge these shortcomings and offer the emergence of a different sustainability ethos. In doing so, sustainability is reconceptualized as a generative concept that opens up possibilities for children to learn-with, become-with and affected by non-humans, i.e. other species and non-human forces. Specific posthuman concepts such as assemblage, distributed agency and becoming-with are used as thinking tools.

Systematic literature review and curricula content analysis were employed as methods for study one and study two respectively. Study three and study four drew ideas from post-qualitative inquiry which employ concepts that allow to experimentally engage with the world and think with/become-with data.

The latter two studies empirically demonstrate emerging possibilities of learning for sustainability with the non-human others/material forces and other species. In the end, the dissertation highlights that post-humanist and new materialist perspectives can provide a post-anthropocentric conceptualisation of sustainability, which paves the way for a more relational ontology, one that could in turn create a pedagogical practice supporting sustainability.

It was a true pleasure working with Kassahun durng the last five years and I am convinced we will be hearing a lot from him in the future. A pdf of his dissertation can be found here>Kassahun Weldemariam_inlaga_med artiklar

Keywords: Sustainability, Anthropocentric, Post-anthropocentric, Assemblage, Subjectivity, Affect, Ontology, Epistemology, Agency, Becoming-With, Distributed Agency, Materiality

Sustainability by Default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education

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The above illustration comes from the new Harvard MOOC on Early Childhood Development and Sustainability

This new paper will be part of a special issue on early childhood education and sustainable development. I wrote the piece  based on a keynote address presented at the 68th OMEP World Assembly and International Conference held in Seoul in July 2016. In the paper I argue that children are more in tune with sustainability than most adults and that both adults and children can benefit from intergenerational dialogue and expanded learning opportunities in so-called ecologies of learning. First the idea of growing up in the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch that is shaped by one single species, home sapiens, is introduced. What does growing up in the Anthropocene mean for today’s children? A short critique is provided of the neoliberal forces that increasingly influence what happens in education and care settings and that essentially make unsustainability the default in our society. Drawing on Martin Buber’s ideas of relational ways of being in the world; Nell Nodding’s notions of care; and George Siemen’s ideas about learning ecologies, some suggestions are offered for co-creating early childhood education and care with people and the planet in mind.

The paper ends with the following: “What seems critical is that children encounter a multiplicity of different worlds by crossing boundaries, both individually and together, and having bodily experiences that strengthen their relationality with the human, the non-human and the material. It is through these encounters that agency, care and empathy can develop. All three of these qualities are foundational for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect.

Citation: Wals, A.E.J. (2017) Sustainability by default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education, International Journal of Early Childhood Education doi:10.1007/s13158-017-0193-5

Note that this is an open access publication that can be downloaded for free here: Sustainability by default