Locative Meaning-making: An Arts-based Approach to Learning for Sustainable Development

“Locative Meaning-making: An Arts-based Approach to Learning for Sustainable Development” is the third journal paper I co-authored with former Master students and colleague at Wageningen University Natalia Eernstman who is currently a PhD student at Falmouth University/ London School of Arts in the UK. The first two – related papers focused on the introduction of IFOAM organic labelling schemes and the (negative) impact therof on indigenous farming practices in the North-East of India: Eernstman, N. and Wals, A.E.J. (2009) Interfacing knowledge systems: introducing certified organic agriculture in a tribal society. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 56(4), 375-390 and Eernstman, N. and Wals, A.E.J. (2009) Jhum Meets IFOAM: Introducing Organic Agriculture in a Tribal Society. International Journal of Agriculture and Sustainability, 7(2), 95-106.

This new paper – based on Natalia’s PhD-work – is quite different in that it explores the utilisation of dialogic practices, site-specific theatre and a project conducted in a British village to generate processes of “context-based meaning finding”. It concludes that Education for Sustainable Development essentially starts with and revolves around re-embedding sustainable development in life and the act of living, engaging people in place through processes in which communities yield their own, context and time specific interpretations of sustainable development. The paper was published in ‘open-access’ journals Sustainability and can therefore be downloaded and shared for free! One interesting feature f the paper is that the some of the conversations with the participants in the study as they took place during walks in through the land(scape) can be accessed and hear. The editors insisted the links to the date were put in the notes in the end instead of as hyper-links in the text – which is regretable in my opinion. But here they are the links to the two excerpts provided (which make more sense when engaging with the full text first): “in the woods” (with Natalia narrating first about how she engaged the participants and used “walking” as a way to dig for meaning) and “on the bridge”

The full paper reference is: Eernstman, N. and Wals, A.E.J. “Locative Meaning-making: An Arts-based Approach to Learning for Sustainable Development”, Sustainability 2013, 5, 1645-1660; doi:10.3390/su5041645 It can be downloaded HERE. sustainability-05-01645

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Farewell to Place? The impact of invasive information and communication technologies on our relationship with the Planet

In recent years ‘place-based education’ has been receiving increased attention from educators and policy-makers as a means to help people, young and old, re-connect with the physical, material and socio-ecological world they, oftentimes unknowingly and unconsciously, inhabit. There is a whole body of scholarly work emerging that suggests that (re)discovering and (re)connecting with place can be restorative (therapeutic, healing, etc.), generative (leading to new ways of seeing, sensing, experiencing) and empowering by enabling people to shape and care for a place. Apparently there are a number of psychological, sociological and pedagogical benefits associated with place-based education (see the work of David Sobel and Greg Smith for examples).

What I am interested in, however, is not so much to echo these benefits but to mirror them against a hegemonic trend that affects the entire globe: the exponential growth of highly invasive and, indeed, addictive hyper media and associated information and communication technologies.

Whereas place-based education, somewhere in the margins of education, seeks to reconnect people with the physical space around them, this counter hegemonic trend seems to do the exact opposite, only in much more forceful way. Educators in general and environmental educators in particular need to ask themselves what the implications are of the age of wireless, hyper-media and ICT for teaching and learning, but also for the way people ‘relate’ to each other but also to nature and the planet as a whole. Strangely, even though educators themselves are also inundated by these new ICTs both in their personal and professional lives, this question has hardly been raised so far. I’d like to propose a Special Issue for a journal like Environmental Education Research to bring together some of the early and emerging work that is being done in this area. Some contributions may consider the impact of ICTs and hypermedia on people’s sense of place and the implications for teaching and learning. Others perhaps will sketch possible educational responses that may critically take advantage of elements of the ICT revolution which can help re-store the current disconnect between people and place. Again others may wish to explore yet a different angle to this timely topic in education and learning.

Anyone with ideas for papers that might fit in such a special issue… feel free to respond. Perhaps we can pull something together.