30 SES 11 B, New Materialist Methods in ESS/ESD Research in Action
The distinction local-global has been widely discussed in geography and human geography as time-space compression, in relation to the conceptual and material changes brought about by virtual realities, and the ability to communicate, act and interact across geographically separated locations. Further dimensions of this discussion have been opened by research on social space, socially constructed space, and at other levels by the challenges of mobility, mass migration, and transnationality. Although these conversations may seem diverse in many ways, they build on an assumption that local-global could mean something as such, in other words a decontextualised and a-historic reification of the concepts. Another shared characteristic is their geneaology which continually derives new layers of meaning, but implicitly or explicitly drawing on origins of conceptualising the local-global as a matter of geographical location. Consequences of such traces can be for instance maintaining the deictic binary of ”here” and ”there”, which in turn feeds into other binaries of in-groups and out-groups, or co-citizens as opposed to the others - the foreigners who need to be understood, empathised with, learned about, collaborated with or not discriminated against.
In this conceptual paper, drawing on some of the discussions in ’new materialisms’, we wish to contest some of the assumptions underlying much of the conversation on the local-global binary, and in particular the forms it takes in ESE teaching.
In education for sustainability, one of the basic axioms has long been ’act local, think global’. From the angle adopted in this paper, making the distinction local-global means something quite different if we are talking about ESE, if we are talking about climate negotiations in Bonn, or if we are thinking of consequences of globalisation (see Tomas Hylland Erikson, Overheating: An Anthropology of Accelerated Change). Thus in ESE the narrative is frequently that awareness needs to be raised, so that citizens can exert pressure on governments in democratic ways, or buy the right products, or change their lifestyles. Other narratives are gaining knowledge to make informed and wise decisions, or distinguishing between credible information and misinformation. Finally, notions of global citizenship build on international exchanges and gaining understanding of global challenges – that is, the disturbing issues which take place ”out there, in the (rest of the) world. This can also be framed as a difference of scale – individual action locally, which can be ”scaled up” to have an impact globally. Such narratives build on implicit assumptions that ”economy” functions according to market mechanisms of supply and demand, or that governance takes place in the fora of national governments.
What is omitted in such narratives is that the dominating dynamics follow quite different economic mechanisms, where for instance the strength of currencies, legislation on intellectual property, public procurement or trade agreements play a much more determining role. The other major issue is which technologies are developed, and for which purposes. The basic binary is thus not the difference in location understood in the local (here, this nation) versus global (there, the planet) arenas. Rather, the fundamental difference is between the vast majority of the inhabitants of the planet, and the limited group of people who have access to decisions concerning the conditions for trade, or who can decide on which technologies they believe will give them greater control over resources and future developments. In this sense, the local-global distinction, and the narratives attached to it, can be understood as what Barad terms “agential cut” (Hollin et al. 2017).
This is a conceptual paper, which will draw on some of the conversations being held in the field of 'new materialisms', relevant to the endeavour of supporting transitions to sustainability. The arguments will be illustrated with examples taken from a course on Global challenges taught to future teachers (upper secondary school, n=125) highlighting the complex interaction of the three perspectives of Citizenship, Interculturality and Sustainable Development from a didactic point of view.
If ESE aims at transformative change, a conclusion would be that students need knowledge and competences that enable global citizenship in the sense of acting on arenas of significance for global challenges. This would include a deeper understanding of the economic mechanisms that drive world trade and globalisation, but also tools that enable them to estimate consequences of different technological developments. Ultimately, this places the acquisition of a different set of methodologies and epistemologies at the center of ESE. As illustrated in the examples, future teachers are taught in HE courses according to a narrative where a global perspective focuses on people as "citizens" and in their consumer roles. The teachers are thus subjectified as actors in society and "change agents". Still, it appears in supervision situations that the students do not have conceptual instruments to evaluate or measure "global challenges on the go". Nor do they have the tools to understand and influence decision-making locally or globally. This paper argues that sustainability education aims at action-in-the-world, and this in turn depends on unravelling constructions of responsibility, agency and knowledge. It follows that using the distinction local-global can only have a meaning in relation to particular contexts or purposes, and that greater attention needs to be devoted to what implications various conceptualisations have for action-in-the-world. In other words, what affordances do they offer of responsibility, agency or knowledge. From the perspective of agency, "global" could refer to decision-making arenas with global impacts, while local would be understood as arenas that may have such impacts, but where decisions cannot be made. Considering the dimension of responsibility instead, or that of knowledge formation, other arenas would be designated as "global" or "local".
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