30 SES 11 A, Wickedness, Uncertainty and validation in ESE
Within Environmental and Sustainability Education (ESE) research, discussions about uncertainty has primarily focused on uncertainty in relation to knowledge and the wickedness of sustainability problems. Sustainability challenges are considered ‘wicked’ due to their complexity and ambiguity, the uncertainty of our knowledge about them and the disagreements about norms and values (see e.g. Block, Goeminne, & Van Poeck, 2018; Lotz-Sisitka, Wals, Kronlid, & McGarry, 2015). In this presentation, I take a different point of departure with a focus on everyday experiences of and ways of dealing with uncertainty. Drawing on research on livelihood uncertainty in Africa, I hope to bring new perspectives to discussions on ESE in the European context, and, in particular, to the question of how ESE may address increasing experiences of uncertainty and climate anxiety among young people.
While experiences of uncertainty and anxiety related to climate change only recently has become a more widespread phenomenon among young people in the Scandinavian countries, people elsewhere on the globe have lifelong experience with uncertainty as a fundamental living condition. Hence, ethnographic research in Africa has described uncertainty as an ‘inevitable force’ (Johnson-Hanks, 2005, p. 366) in ‘the subjective experience of life in contemporary African societies’ (Cooper & Pratten, 2014, p. 1).
In 2012, the anthropologists Jean and John Comaroff, in their essay on Theory from the South, asked, ‘What if we posit that, in the present moment, it is the so-called ‘Global South’ that affords privileged insight into the workings of the world at large?’ (Comaroff & Comaroff, 2012, p. 114). Along similar lines, Jenifer Johnson-Hanks has suggested a ‘convergence’ in orientations towards the future, as the positions of her American students in the 2010s in remarkable ways had come to resemble those of her young Cameroonian interlocutors in the 1990s (Johnson-Hanks, 2014). In times of planetary precarity, we may ask if African youth, with their experiences of living with uncertain futures and navigating a wide range of knowledge forms can in fact provide us with important insights into how human agency unfolds in lives marked by uncertain futures, and how education can become an ethical response to lived uncertainty.
Drawing theoretically on phenomenologically inspired approaches, I am interested in uncertainty as ‘the lived experience of a pervasive sense of vulnerability, anxiety, hope, and possibility mediated through the material assemblages that underpin, saturate, and sustain everyday life’ (Cooper & Pratten, 2014, p. 1). Lived uncertainty provides agency with a provisional and experimental character enacted in different ways depending on the position of the actor and her understanding of the situation (Calkins, 2016; Johnson-Hanks, 2005), sometimes captured in empirical notions such as ‘hustling’ (Jørgensen, 2015). According to Calkins, who discusses experiences of uncertainty among pastoralists in Sudan, uncertainty entails an ambiguous potential as an experience which can ‘lead to innovations and creative solutions, but also can debilitate people through fear or unease, impairing their ability to act’ (Calkins, 2016, p. 2).
This paper brings two different research projects and orientations into dialogue. First, I draw on ethnographic material generated during an explorative fieldwork among young people in northern Kenya in 2012 and 2014 (6 months). This research was driven by a phenomenological interest in the everyday life experiences of young people, and grounded in the research traditions of social anthropology. With the ambition of contributing to the understanding of relationships between educational ideas and practices, embodied experiences and learning processes, and environmental materials and landscapes, the analysis foregrounds the emic concept of ‘hustling’, which captures young people’s agency in the intersection between experiences of economic, environmental and social uncertainty. Second, I attempt to bring the insights emerging from the analysis of young ‘hustlers’ in northern Kenya into dialogue with an ongoing research project on education for sustainability anchored in the professional education of social educators at a Danish university college. Based on critical and constructive approaches, the project aims to explore and support the development of early childhood sustainability education in the Danish context. With point of departure teachers’ worries about how to address the climate anxiety of their students as the uncertainty of the future is discussed in class, I explore how the Kenyan perspective may speak to the Danish one.
In Laikipia North in Kenya, young people use the term ‘hustling’ to refer to different types of actions aimed at survival and mobility in times of uncertainty, often based on environmental resources, and in paradoxical ways often pointing towards new survival tactics which are, in the long run, threatening the survival of the larger community. Hustling is used, for instance, to describe the change of livelihood tactics to day-to-day economic activities; the ways young people engage in somewhat shady deals in order to maximize their own benefit; and the ways in which they challenge government corruption and ethnic discrimination in relation to livelihood activities by use of ‘all means and methods’. Hustling means drawing on various forms of knowledge, educational experiences and moralities in pragmatic ways, and entails the questioning of taken for granted solutions which in some cases opens up ‘a horizon to imagine other social arrangements’ (Calkins, 2016, p. 60). I propose that the empirical notion of ‘hustling’ may contribute to shedding light on the ways in which managing lived uncertainty requires a transgression of dominating understandings of knowledge hierarchies and relations. The discussion emphasizes the importance of analyzing as well as organizing educational interventions with a view to the ways in which they (come to) form part of and intersect with social and material aspects in learners’ everyday lives. Seen in relation to the Danish context, the hustler figure may assist us in rethinking how knowledge is brought into use, how personal and professional life intersect and entangle, and how education can meet uncertainty in ways that support hope and innovation rather than fear and anxiety.
Block, T., Goeminne, G., & Van Poeck, K. (2018). Balancing the urgency and wickedness of sustainability challenges: three maxims for post-normal education. Environmental Education Research, 24(9), 1424–1439. Calkins, S. (2016). Who Knows Tomorrow?: Uncertainty in North-Eastern Sudan. Oxford, New york: Berghan books. Comaroff, J., & Comaroff, J. L. (2012). Theory from the South: Or, how Euro-America is Evolving Toward Africa. Anthropological Forum, 22(2), 113–131. Cooper, E., & Pratten, D. (2014). Ethnographies of uncertainty in Africa: an introduction. In E. Cooper & D. Pratten (Eds.), Ethnographies of Uncertainty in Africa (pp. 1–16). New York: Palgrave Macmillan. Gough, N. (2014). Thinking globally in environmental education: a critical history. In R. B. Stevenson, M. Brody, J. Dillon, & A. E. J. Wals (Eds.), International Handbook of Research on Environmental Education (pp. 33–44). London and New York: Routledge. Johnson-Hanks, J. (2005). When the future decides: uncertainty and intentional action in contemporary Cameroon. Current Anthropology, 46(3), 363–385. Johnson-Hanks, J. (2014). Waiting for the start: flexibility and the question of convergence. In A. L. Dalsgård, M. D. Frederiksen, S. Højlund, & L. Meinert (Eds.), Ethnographies of Youth and Temporality: Time Objectified (pp. 23–40). Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Jørgensen, N. J. (2015). From herders to hustlers: young people’s engagements with sand, sustainability and education in Northern Kenya. Aarhus Universitet. Lotz-Sisitka, H., Wals, A. E., Kronlid, D., & McGarry, D. (2015). Transformative, transgressive social learning: rethinking higher education pedagogy in times of systemic global dysfunction. Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability, 16, 73–80.
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