30 SES 12 B, Art and aesthetics in ESE
Although wellbeing is a complex term, it can be defined as a social model of health which places individual experience within social contexts (Cattell et al., 2008). Threats to wellbeing include low socio-economic status, diminishing arts provision and disconnection from nature, inter alia. The UN Sustainable Development Goals identify suicide as a major cause of death from non-communicable diseases, suggesting that in 2015 nearly 800,000 people died from suicide resulting from low mental wellbeing and mental health disorders (UN, 2017). The proportion is higher for vulnerable groups, such as those from areas of high socio-economic deprivation. In an effort to combat these urgent problems, schools are increasingly expected to support wellbeing but receive little guidance about how to do so.
Whilst subjective wellbeing is important, there is an argument to suggest that focusing simply on wellbeing is not sufficient; as far back as the 1980s UK Government report congratulated London Schools for making children safe and cared for, but questioned whether this is enough (DES, 1988). One way to move beyond this is using Amartya Sen’s work on human capabilities (Sen, 1993). Capabilities are a broad range of human “functionings” (Nussbaum, 2011) that aim to provide opportunities for achieving a state of physical, emotional, intellectual, and existential wellbeing in life (Delors et al., 1996). There is a long-standing debate in the capabilities literature about the necessity of enumerating a list of capabilities. Sen leaves his framework deliberately vague because of the importance for him of communities deciding what capabilities count as valuable. Nussbaum, on the other hand, argues the case for a universal, cross-cultural list of ten capabilities which would need to be present for a fully human good life: life; bodily health; bodily integrity; senses, imagination and thought; emotions; practical reason; affiliation; other species; play; and control over one’s environment (Nussbaum, 2000).
Substantial benefits for wellbeing may be derived from contact with nature (and Nussbaum’s ‘other species’) (Cervinka et al., 2012; WHO, 2016) and lack thereof in childhood has been found to be a predictor for adult depression (Snell et al., 2016). Consequently, in the UK, US and other ‘western’ societies there is concern about children’s reduced outdoor experience and consequent loss of connection with the natural environment. A novel way to address this is through art in familiar outdoor places (Lloyd & Gray, 2014;). There is evidence that arts education can improve both wellbeing and social inclusion (Kinder & Harland, 2004), as well as developing children’s capabilities (Zitcer et al., 2016). However, individuals with low socio-economic status have less access to the arts than their more affluent counterparts (National Endowment for the Arts 2015) and the arts are increasingly marginalised in school curricula (National Society for Education in Art & Design, 2016). Recognising this, organisations such as Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI) have developed pedagogies that link children, art and nature, with a focus on disadvantaged areas.
Within this research, we build on the ideas of Sen and Nussbaum to introduce the notion of eco-capabilities to incorporate environmental sustainability, social justice and future economic wellbeing. The research questions underpinning our work are as follows:
- How can we define eco-capabilities?
This question draws together ideas of capabilities (after Sen , Nussbam  and Biggeri ) and sustainability (particularly through the lens of the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals) to elicit a (non-deterministic) list of eco-capabilities.
- In what ways do these eco-capabilities emerge through CCI artists’ discussion of their practice with children in nature?
This question uses the list of capabilities developed in research question one as a framework to analyse focus group data from artists working with CCI.
The empirical work for this paper was undertaken as part of an ongoing exploratory case study of charity Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI) which aimed to produce thickly described data of an ethnographic nature within a constructivist, interpretivist framework (Whitehead, 2004). Cambridge Curiosity and Imagination (CCI) CCI brings together artists, educators and researchers with a shared passion for how the arts and nature can transform lives; common to all of their projects is a focus on developing a sense of agency and voice for all through engagement with the arts, often in nature. Artists work as independent consultants with CCI such that this work comprises only part of their professional activity. We invited seven CCI artists to be involved in the research; these comprised all the artists currently or recently working on CCI projects and included some founding artists (purposive sampling). In addition, the CCI founding and assistant directors were involved in the research. Research Methods The research initially comprised a ‘talk and draw’ focus group interview with the CCI artists with conversation focusing on three elements: nature, children and place. This was an innovative approach to discussions with the artists, similar in principle to talk and draw interviews (Theron, Mitchell, Smith & Stuart, 2011). Artists brought along their favourite implement for drawing or painting and we provided them with a large sheet of paper to ‘doodle’ on as we talked; this created a useful focal point for discussion, as well as providing additional data. The focus group was followed by individual interviews with the same artists. The two directors of CCI completed a semi-structured questionnaire comprising open questions that was designed after the artist interviews (unseen by the directors) to further elaborate on the emerging data. The focus group and interviews were audio recorded and recordings subsequently transcribed; transcriptions were sent to the artists for verification, some of whom made minor amendments which were duly incorporated. The amended transcriptions were submitted to a process of a priori coding using the eco-capabilities list as a coding template. Artist drawings were analysed alongside focus group and interview transcriptions using content analysis (Rose, 2005). To support the internal validity of the research and increase the reliability of our conclusions, data analysis was undertaken independently by two researchers and emerging findings discussed with a third colleague who was present during the interviews.
Analysis of capabilities alongside themes emerging from the Sustainable Development Goals (UN, 2015) elicited a list of eleven key eco-capabilities which articulated wellbeing through the lens of environmental sustainability, social justice and future economic wellbeing. Preliminary analysis of artists’ commentary about their work using this eco-capabilities framework suggest that senses, imagination and thought was by far the most important capability articulated by artists, followed by ideas of autonomy (of the children) and affiliation (specifically to their local place). We suggest future research might engage children in defining a list of their own eco-capabilities and then develop these through participatory arts practice in nature; this could support a more authentic, holistic, embodied and relational development of their wellbeing, facilitating deeper epistemological and theoretical understanding of what nature connectedness means for human wellbeing.
Biggeri, M. (2007). ‘Children’s Valued Capabilities’. In: Walker, M. & Unterhalter, E., 2007. Eds. Amartya Sen’s Capability Approach and Social Justice in Education. New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Ch.10. Cattell, V., Dines, N., Gesler, W., & Curtis, S. (2008). ‘Mingling, observing, and lingering: Everyday public spaces and their implications for well-being and social relations.’ Health and Place, 14 (3), 544-561 Cervinka, R., Roderer, K. & Hefler, E. (2012). ‘Are nature lovers happy? On various indicators of well-being and connectedness with nature’. Journal of Health Psychology, 17, 379–388. Delors, J., Al Mufti, I., Amagi, I., Carneiro, R., Chung, F., Geremek, B., … Nanzhao, Z. (1996). Learning: The treasure within. Paris: UNESCO. Accessed October 2014, from http://www.unesco.org/delors/highlights.htm DES, 1988). Kinder, K. & Harland, J. (2004). ‘The arts and social inclusion: what’s the evidence?’ Support for Learning, 19 (2), 52-56. Lloyd, A. & T. Gray (2014). ‘Place-based outdoor learning and environmental sustainability within Australian Primary Schools’. Journal of Sustainability Education. Accessed 19 October 2016, from http://www.jsedimensions.org/wordpress/content/place-based-outdoor-learning-and-environmental-sustainability-within-australian-primary-school_2014_10/. National Endowment for the Arts (2015). Annual Report 2015. Accessed 26 January 2019, from https://www.arts.gov/sites/default/files/2015%20Annual%20Report.pdf. nsead (2016). The National Society for Education in Art and Design’s Survey Report 2015-16. Accessed 26 January, from https://www.a-n.co.uk/news/new-survey-says-government-policies-have-detrimental-impact-on-arts-education/ Nussbaum, M. (2000). Women and Human Development: The Capabilities Approach. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Nussbaum, M. (2011). Creating Capabilities: The Human Development Approach. Harvard University Press. Rose, G. (2005). Visual Methodologies. London: Sage Publications. Sen, A. (1993). ‘Capability and Well-Being’. In Nussbaum, M. (Ed.) Sen The Quality of Life. Oxford: Clarendon Press. Snell, T.L., Lam, J.C.S., Lau, W.W., Lee, I., Maloney, E.M., Mulholland, N., . . . Wynne, L. J. (2016). Contact with nature in childhood and adult depression. Children, Youth and Environments, 26(1), 111-124. Theron, L., Mitchell, C., Smith, A. & Stuart, J. (Eds) (2011). Picturing Research: Drawing as a Visual Methodology. Rotterdam: Sense Publishers. UN (2017). Progress Towards the Sustainable Development Goals: Report of the Secretary General E/2017/66. Accessed 26 January 2019, from http://www.un.org/ga/search/view_doc.asp?symbol=E/2017/66&Lang=E. Whitehead, T.L. (2004). ‘What is Ethonography? Methodological, Ontological and Epistemological Attributes’. Ethnographically informed community and cultural assessment research systems (EICCARS) Working Paper Series. Accessed 19 October 2016, http://www.cusag.umd.edu/documents/workingpapers/epiontattrib.pdf. WHO (2016). World Health Statistics 2016: Monitoring health for the SDGs. World Health Organisation. Accessed 26 January 2019.https://www.who.int/gho/publications/world_health_statistics/2016/en/ Zitcer, A., Hawkins, J. and Vakharia, N., 2016. ‘A Capabilities Approach to Arts and Culture? Theorizing Community Development in West Philadelphia’. Planning Theory and Practice, 17 (1), 35-51.
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