30 SES 05 A, Global Citizenship Education and ESE (Part I)
Paper Session Part I, to be continued in 30 SES 12 A
In this paper we address how ‘the existential encounter’ in climate change education (CCE) can be conceptualised and categorised. We present a tentative typology that will be used for further didactical research on how to act upon existential encounters in CCE.
The ambition to develop this typology is grounded in our ongoing empirical research where we repeatedly observed educational practices that evoke questions such as: ‘Should mankind disappear to save our planet?’, ‘What will happen to me, those close to me, and the world?, ‘What is our relation to nature and what is nature?’. Students’ role/identity as future professionals were questioned more than once and a status quo approach was rarely seen as a suitable response, which may give rise to dismantling experiences. Emotions such as anxiety and overwhelm were expressed by students and teachers. Dilemmas about ‘having kids or not’ were discussed. Noticing how such instances can always pop-up in the classroom (intentionally or unintentionally, expectedly or unexpectedly, consciously or unconsciously) and evoke profound emotions, aroused our interest in what we preliminary describe as existential encounters in CCE.AsRumianowska (2020, p.264-265) points out “the concept of an encounter is a category that relates to engagement (confrontation) with another human being, with a word, a question, text, film, other culture, song or music, as well as with ‘border situations’ that a person may experience. Such an engagement takes on an existential dimension insofar as it leads to self-reflection and to change in the person’s mode of being”. It is about questions such as: “Who am I? What should I do? What is the meaning of my life? What would I lose, if I keep living like before?” that call a person to take a certain attitude towards life and to respond in terms of value and meaning.
Drawing on Tillich’s (1952/2000) work on existential anxiety, different scholars as Ojala (2016) and Berghdal & Langmann (Forthcomming) point out that climate change is experienced as a threat to the future survival of humanity, related to moral questions about whether it is right to live the way we do and questions whether there is any point in being an active citizen considering the problem’s seriousness/complexity. Hence, as we also observed, existential encounters with climate change can always pop-up in education. They involve both potential risks (e.g. students experiencing emotions like anxiety but also guilt, frustration, grief, overwhelm - Verlie, 2019) and opportunities (e.g. experiences of being dislocated, that involve strong emotions, authentic beliefs, moral dilemmas and political antagonism, can become ‘educative moments’ and accommodate critical and creative reflection in education where new values can emerge or evolve - Garrison et al. 2015; Lündegård & Wickman 2007).
In this paper we present a tentative typology of existential encounters as an analytical model for much-needed empirical didactical research on the topic. The guiding questions to construct this typology were: “Which are the criteria to define an existential encounter in climate change education and what are possible different appearances of this existential encounter in practice?”. We also shed light on how the tentative typology will be further refined and extended in future empirical research on existential encounters in CCE and complemented with theoretical and empirical work on diverse didactical approaches of this existential encounter – i.e. how it is handled in teachers’ practices. The theoretical framework underpinning this research combines pragmatist, didactic theories of teaching and learning (Östman et al. 2019a,b), with insights from research on the existential dimension of education (Biesta 2020a,b; Berghdal & Langmann, forthcomming; Ojala 2016; Todd 2016; Verlie 2019; etc.).
The tentative typology of existential encounters in CCE is constructed by means of a review of literature as well as preliminary empirical research. A review of literature on CCE and educational theory as well as research on climate anxiety, ecological grief etc. allows to identify ‘sensitising concepts’ as a basis for grasping essential aspects of existential encounters in education and, also, in the specific context of CCE. These sensitizing concepts will be used for a tentative analysis of empirical data on CCE practices in higher education with the aim of identifying and categorising similarities and differences as to how (aspects of) existential encounters emerged and took shape in what we have empirically observed. The dataset consists of 15 interviews with teachers, 13 pre- and post-surveys of students, 15 observed and recorded educational practices and all the associated textbooks, ECTS-sheets and student papers. Moving back and forth between the reviewed literature and this rich dataset results in a tentative categorisation of different manifestations of the existential encounter. This analytical approach has proved its merits in earlier work that lead to the construction of similar typologies such as a categorisation of the ethical and moral dimension of environmental and sustainability education (ESE) (Öhman & Östman 2008), of the political dimension of ESE (Håkansson et al. 2018) and of how sustainability change agents facilitate different forms of nonformal learning (Van Poeck et al. 2017). The resulting typology constitutes an analytical model that is part of the methodology that will be used for future empirical analyses of how existential encounters emerge in CCE practices and what are diverse ways to didactically handle existential encounters. In our presentation, we will shed light on the prospects for such future research and thereby explicitly address some important methodological challenges. One such challenge is how to choose (an) appropriate analytical method(s) to observe the existential encounter – a phenomenon that might not always become explicitly manifest. How to try to grasp existential experiences that are not expressed, for instance because students choose not to voice them or because of the fact that there is little/no interaction in certain classroom settings such as lectures.
The paper presents a tentative typology of existential encounters as an analytical model for future research. We will describe and illustrate this tentative typology by describing the criteria to define an existential encounter in climate change education and a categorisation of different appearances of this existential encounter in practice. Each category is based upon and illustrated by empirical findings of ongoing case studies of climate change education in higher education. The tentative typology of existential encounters is designed as an analytical tool for future research which will, on the one hand, result in the further development/refinement of this typology and, on the other hand, deliver empirically grounded knowledge on diverse didactical approaches to handling existential encounters in CCE. We address questions such as ‘How can a teacher identify an existential encounter?’, ‘What are different ways in which teachers handle existential encounters when emerging within an educational setting?’, ‘What are the risks and potentialities involved in each of these approaches?’; ‘How can a teacher deliberately enable/facilitate existential encounters?’, etc.
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