30 SES 12 D JS, Dark Pedagogy, Environmental Melancholia and an Ecosocial Philosophy of Education
Joint Paper Session NW 13 and NW 30
A key problem for our times is the global ecological crisis. Ecosocial bildung theory has been emerging in Finland to meet the ecological crisis in educational practice (see Salonen & Bardy 2015). Ecosocial philosophy of education (EPE) is, however, yet to be developed. We develop the basic premise of EPE: extending ethical care and responsibility to what deep ecologist call “the community of all living beings” (Seed et al. 1988). David Abram’s (1996) notion of more-than-human world helps to clarify this point of departure. Human beings have acted upon the presumption of human supremacy and human separateness from nature. Consequently, we have disregarded the wellbeing of the more-than-human world and our entanglement with it (Pulkki et al. 2017).
As a consequence of its basic task of extending ethical responsibility to the more-than-human world, EPE is concerned with the formation of moral subjectivity in education. Gert Biesta (e.g. 2010; 2016) shows that, as an aim of education, subjectification — that is, ‘becoming-subject’ — is not reducible to socialization into existing cultural practices or to qualification with skills needed in vocational life. In line with Levinas, Biesta further argues that subjectification is only possible in an encounter where one is urged into action by a responsibility towards Other that, ontologically speaking, precedes the ego.
In this paper, we consider Biesta’s understanding of subjectification in the context of ecosocial philosophy of education from two perspectives. First, life-affirming attitudes, emotions, thoughts and so on are conducive to ecological actions while indifference to life is conducive to ecologically harmful action (Orr 1994; Pulkki et al. 2017). The formation of opinions related to humans and the more-than-human world is, therefore, of vital importance for ecosocial change. Consequently, we concentrate on the phenomenology of opinion formation. How does one form opinions about the world? We argue that the Finnish word for opinion, “mielipide”, entails a fundamental lesson for understanding subjectification from the ecosocial perspective. “Mielipide” (opinion), consist of two words: “mieli” and “pide”. “Mieli” refers to “a mind” while “pide” refers to “something that is held”; opinion (mielipide) thus literally translates as “something that the mind holds on to” — a ‘holding-on’ of the mind. These ‘holding-ons’ develop in the course of socialization and might prove to be an asset or an obstacle to experiencing the ethical call of the Other and more-than-human world.
Second, deep ecologist Arne Naess (2008) has developed the idea of ecological self, which means a self that identifies not so much to one’s narrow self-interest, but to the ecological whole a self is necessarily a part of. Ecological self entails a wider set of identifications than one’s narrowly conceived self-interest. Identification with the opinions that are adopted in socialization to the western worldview and its foundational assumptions, such as the separateness of human beings from the rest of the nature, form a major obstacle for identifying with the ecological whole. By identifying to a host of living beings in one’s surrounding ecosystem and habitat, a person can adopt more ecologically affirmative opinions. Engaging with Naess’s concept of ecological self allows for a broadening of horizons for Biesta’s work, which is mainly concerned with human Others. In other words, ecosocial responsibility for human beings is situated within the same continuum as responsibility towards the more-than-human world and its other inhabitants. Identifying with the ecological whole or with the “community of all living beings” (Seed et al. 1988) we can reconnect with our responsibility for the world we too are dependent of.
Our theoretical/philosophical analysis takes its form in a productive intersection where a number of different strands of thought converge. Biesta’s account of subjectification is a central focus. To set his thought in a dialogue with the idea of ecological self, we draw mainly on the works of Naess. We also see Merleau-Ponty’s ‘ontology of the flesh’ as offering possibilities for a fruitful elaboration of the ontological foundations of Biesta’s conception of subjectification. Biesta’s Other includes, in our interpretation, the more-than-human world Abram speaks about. Merleau-Ponty has highlighted the human body´s intertwining (originally Husserl’s term) with the world in his philosophy of nature. This intertwining means that the human self is in the world and of the world. The Self is in the other and the other is in the self. Human being and animality are given together with the whole of Being. (Merleau-Ponty 2003, 214-220, 268, 273, 306; Värri 2018.) “The world and I are within one another” (Merleau-Ponty 1968, 123). We therefore argue that the notion of ecological self by Naess is interestingly aligned with Merleau-Ponty’s ontology of the flesh. Furthermore, to understand how 'holding-ons' are formed and, more crucially, the possibility of unforming them, we draw on the phenomenology of the body by Timo Klemola and contemplative traditions (Klemola 2002; 2004; Pulkki et al. 2017) as well as Gilles Deleuze’s ideas on “the dogmatic image of thought” (Deleuze 1994). Deleuze discusses the possibility of going beyond the habitual implicit assumptions of thought one obtains from society’s accepted ways of doing and being. He identifies eight postulates of a dogmatic image of thought which need to be overcome for new ways of thinking to emerge. We use some of Deleuze’s ideas to conceptualize the process of unlearning harmful 'holding-ons' in the context of EPE. Therefore, Biesta’s account of subjectification, the idea of ecological self by Naess and the ontology of flesh by Merleau-Ponty are used for formulating the ontological foundations of EPE while the phenomenology of the body and Deleuze’s ‘image of thought’ are used to give an account of educational processes that connect with those foundations.
We argue that understanding the minds tendency to hold on to opinions is a problem for EPE and ecosocially conducive subjectification. Freeing the mind from unhelpful 'holding-ons' is a necessary step in ecosocially understood subjectification. Without a preceding step of unlearning, where 'holding-ons' of the ego are loosened, the call of the Other risks drowning in the noise of the ego holding on to its randomly adopted opinions. This, in turn, might make it impossible for a person to move towards moral subjecthood even in situations where the possibility of an ethical encounter is present. Furthermore, we argue that in order to develop an ecosocially informed philosophy of education, Biesta’s relational concept of subjecthood needs to be expanded with the idea of an ecological self by Naess. This allows for a broader view of ethical and ecosocial responsibility that grounds the possibility of subjectification, resulting in a fundamental shift of perspective away from an anthropocentric worldview. The basic ethical and ontological notion of ecosocial philosophy of education is therefore relationality found in Merleau-Ponty’s philosophy and from Naess. Humans are intertwined with the world and with other living things: even their selves are formed within the more-than-human world. We expect that contemplative pedagogy, that is, using meditative techniques such as mindfulness meditation, yoga, tai chi, free writing, art, poetry, can be justified as practical tools for unlearning the ecosocially harmful 'holding-ons'. Thinking of ways to loosen the minds binds (Finnish “pide”) has already been studied by Timo Klemola (2002) with his account of the phenomenology of the body (see also Pulkki et al. 2017). Klemola’s phenomenology of the body offers practical tools for unlearning harmful 'holding-ons' as well as connecting with the pre-subjective domain of ethical responsibility for the Other, understood as the world in its entirety (Klemola 2004; 2002).
Abram, D. 1996. The spell of the sensuous. Perception and language in a more-than-human world. New York: Vintage books Biesta, G. 2010. Good Education in an Age of Measurement: Ethics, Politics, Democracy. New York: Routledge. Biesta, G. 2016. The beautiful risk of education. New York: Routledge. Deleuze, G. 1994. Difference and repetition. P. Batton (trans.) London: The Athlone press. Klemola, T. 2002. Some remarks on the phenomenology of the contemplative body. Paper presented in the IAPS conference. Oct 23-27, State college Pennsylvania https://asiakas.kotisivukone.com/files/finevision.kotisivukone.com/tiedostot/some_remarks.pdf Klemola, T. 2004. The philosophy of a craft - the craft of a philosopher (In Finnish: Taidon filosofia - filosofin taito). Tampere University Press Merleau-Ponty, M. 1968. The visible and the invisible. Evanston: Northwestern University Press Merleau-Ponty, M. 2003. Nature: Course notes from the College de France. Compiled by Dominiques Séglard. Translated by Robert Vallier. Evanston: Northwestern University Press Naess, A. 2008. Ecology of wisdom. Edited by Aland Drengson and Bill Devall. Penguin books. Orr, D. 1994 Earth in Mind. On education, environment, and the human prospect. Washington: Island Press. Pulkki, J. & Dahlin, B. & Värri, V-M. 2017. Environmental Education as a Lived‐Body Practice? A Contemplative Pedagogy Perspective. Journal of Philosophy of Education 50 (4) Salonen, A. & Bardy, M. 2015. Ecosocial bildung rouses hope for the future (In Finnish: Ekososiaalinen sivistys herättää luottamusta tulevaisuuteen). Aikuiskasvatus 1 Seed, J. & Macy, J. & Fleming, P. & Naess, A. 1988. Thinking like a mountain. Towards a council of all beings. Philadelphia: New society publishers. Värri, V-M. 2018. Education in an era of ecocrisis (In Finnish: Kasvatus ekokriisin aikakaudella.) Tampere: Vastapaino.
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