08 SES 12, Embodied Conceptions of Wellbeing in Education
In recent years there has been heightened interest in wellbeing in education. However, the way in which this new agenda is taken up in education is not without contestation. One problem is that most contemporary theorising in the area of wellbeing draws heavily on traditional, monological and reductionist theories, which view the self as autonomous, self-contained and separable from the social and material environment (Linell, 2009). This type of theorizing inevitably leads to individualistic and de-contextualised wellbeing interventions in schools. A second problem is that the current wellbeing agenda in schools largely precludes consideration of the goals, purposes and transformative potential of education itself (O’Toole, 2017). This paper draws on the work instigated by Francisco Varela and colleagues (e.g., Varela, et al., 1991), which theorises mental functions, including thoughts and emotions as embodied, embedded, enactive and extended (sometimes referred to as 4E approach; Gallagher, 2017). It also extends the work of (O’Toole and Simovska, 2018; forthcoming), which posits that 4E approaches together with the critical educational concept of Bildung (e.g., Biesta, 2002; Klafki, 2000) provide a promising framework for new ways of thinking about wellbeing promotion in education; a framework that views wellbeing and education as co-dependent and co-constitutive, and avoids unnecessary dualisms such as between self/other, mind/body, rationality/emotion. This paper explores some possibilities for a more enactive/embodied approach. If we accept that thoughts and emotions are not merely directed from within, but from our practical engagement with the world, this prompts a realignment of problems away from individual brains and minds towards greater recognition of the dynamic relationships with others and the world. It highlights the need to take seriously people’s lived experiences, the personal meanings ascribed to these experiences, along with the power relations, inequalities, and adversities that they have faced within particular socio-cultural contexts. Furthermore, it suggests that wellbeing initiatives need to support students in becoming subjects of their actions in the world (Biesta, 2014). Faced with a world of plurality and difference as well as an emerging crisis in liberal democracy (Harari, 2018), it is more important than ever that students understand that wellbeing is not, and never can be, an individual affair. Education can play a role in illuminating the politics of wellbeing and in supporting students to find ways to take ethically informed actions to improve their own wellbeing, the wellbeing of others, and that of the planet (O’Toole, 2019).
Biesta, G.J.J. (2002). Bildung and modernity. The future of Bildung in a world of difference. Studies in Philosophy and Education 21(4/5), 343-351. Biesta, G. J. (2014). The beautiful risk of education. Boulder, CO: Paradigm. Gallagher, S. (2017). Enactivist interventions: Rethinking the mind. Oxford University Press. Harari, Y. N. (2018). 21 Lessons for the 21st Century. Random House. Klafki, W. (2000) Didaktik analysis as the core of preparation of instruction. In I. Westbury, S. Hopmann & K. Riquarts (Eds.), Teaching as a reflective practice: The German Didaktik tradition (pp. 197-206).Mahwah: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates. O’Toole, C. (2017). Towards dynamic and interdisciplinary frameworks for school-based mental health promotion. Health Education, 117 (5), pp.452-468. O’Toole, C. (2019). Time to teach the politics of mental health: Implications of the Power Threat Meaning Framework for teacher education. Clinical Psychology Forum 313, 15-19. O’Toole C. & Simovska, V. (2018) Reclaiming wellbeing as an educational goal: Embodied wellbeing and post-critical Bildung. Paper presented at ECER, Bolzano Sept 4-7th. O’Toole C. & Simovska, V. (under submission). Thinking with cognitive science and Bildung to theorise wellbeing in education. Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., and Rosch, E. (1991). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience. Cambridge: M.A: MIT Press.
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