08 SES 05 JS, Joint session NW 08 and NW 30
Paper Session Joint Session NW 08 and NW 30
Environmental and sustainability education (ESE) is facing a delicate balance between, on the one hand, concerns about the sense of urgency surrounding current ecological problems and, on the other hand, the acknowledgement that within these issues a variety of commitments, values, interests, and knowledge claims are at stake and that, therefore, a pluralistic and participatory approach is required. Yet, pluralism and participation do not necessarily enhance sustainability. Researchers have addressed this tension in a lively debate in academic literature (e.g. Öhman, 2006; Jickling & Wals, 2007; Breiting, 2009; Rudsberg & Öhman, 2010; Wals, 2010; Læssøe, 2010; Östman, 2010; Lundegård & Wickman, 2012; Kopnina, 2012; Van Poeck, 2013) and practitioners struggle with it in their everyday practices. The latter is the central focus of this paper. We analyse a non-formal educational practice that is caught up in this paradox: the ‘Transition Towns’ (TT) movement which is characterised by a pursuit of fundamental social change – that is, a transition toward a sustainable society – through a participatory approach. Our aim is to grasp the struggle involved and the conceptions of education that inform it.
In order to deepen our understanding of this educational endeavour we searched for a theoretical framework that fully acknowledges the aforementioned paradox. We found such a perspective in Bruno Latour’s (2005) and Noortje Marres’ (2005) ideas about ‘public issues’. As we will show, the way Latour and Marres understand how ‘issues call a public into being’, that is, how a multiplicity of actors is jointly caught up in a particular issue through various and often antagonistic commitments, dependencies, interests, involvements, etc. creates a space to acknowledge pluralism without falling into undue relativism. Latour (2005) elaborates upon it by referring to the etymology of the old word ‘Thing’ or ‘Ding’ that originally designated a certain type of archaic assembly. Early senses of the word included ‘meeting’ and ‘matter’, ‘concern’ as well as ‘inanimate object’. Ancient Icelandic deputies, for instance, were called ‘thingmen’ and gathered in the ‘Althing’, in an isolate place where disputes were addressed. This old etymology shows, according to Latour, that a public is brought together by ‘divisive matters of concern’ in order to ‘come to some sort of provisional makeshift (dis)agreement’ (Latour, 2005, p. 13). Such a Ding or Thing, that is, an assemblage of actors around an issue that causes their concerns and divisions is our central focus in this paper. We present an analysis of the case of ‘Transition Towns’ aiming to reveal the particular ‘assemblage’ that emerges around sustainability issues within this educational practice and to articulate the educational dynamics involved in it. Building on the insights developed by Latour and Marres we studied this case so as to understand how the delicate balance between the sense of urgency brought about by sustainability issues and concerns for pluralism and participation is dealt with. More specifically, we inquire into how an assemblage around a particular issue finds shape, how this affects the space for contestation and controversy, and what are the underlying conceptions of education.
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