30 ONLINE 22 A, Risk and controversy in ESE
MeetingID: 847 9921 0224 Code: mx3N04
A salient aspect of the era of the Anthropocene (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000) is how the living conditions on the Earth are deteriorating due to the massive impact of human practices. The ‘Anthropocene’ with its embeddedness in geology and earth sciences, is increasingly employed within social sciences and the humanities (Hamilton, Bonneuill, & Gemenne, 2015). However, the situation of ecological crisis and climate crises is not new, and has been theorized for decades. A salient contribution during the 1980s and 1990s was the notion of risk society introduced by Beck (2008, ) and Giddens (1994), identifying how modernization, in itself distinguished by instrumental rationality and control, paradoxically produces its own risks and hazards. In the following, the conception of risk is reconsidered and employed to explore normative aspects of environmental and sustainability education. Such a reconsideration may educe some persistent educational challenges that deserve attention.
The aim here is to raise some vital issues for further considerations, not to solve them. Still, in the concluding part I present some suggestions for education, in the very end with reference to Klafki (1998) and ethical and political Bildung.
Risk and risk society
Risk may be seen “as a systematic way of dealing with hazards and insecurities induced and introduced by modernization itself” (Beck, 2008, 21). This definition was introduced in the 1980´s by Ulrich Beck, as part of his thesis of risk society. A key concern is how “the risks and hazards systematically produced as part of modernization” may “be prevented, minimized, dramatized, or channeled” (Beck, 2008, 19). They are also conceived of as global in scope, making radioactivity, global warming and pandemics central examples.
Risks as hazardous side effects of modernization
Risk has obviously a normative dimension, expressed in the potential harm to others. Still, there are some aspects here that make risks particularly challenging from an ethical perspective.
Since Kant the relationship to the other has been decisive in moral philosophy. While not ignoring the significance of the other, the normativity of risk complicates this relationship. First is the fact that risks, according to Beck, emerge as hazardous side effects of modernization, often invisible. Practices with beneficial impact in the present, is followed by risks in the future. As demonstrated in the case of climate change, the weight of side effects caused by the individual is limited, becoming significant when added to the practices of larger populations, as expressed in the concept of accumulative harm (Feinberg, 1984).
Second, the face of the human or more-than-human other is not made visible in the concept of risk. It is not the actual and experienced harm that is expressed, but hazards and insecurities. The potential harm is more difficult to grasp, than the concrete harm caused by a personal encounter. This elusive aspect is inextricably connected to the fact that the deteriorating living conditions distinguished by increased risks, belong to an other being that may be geographically distant or living in the future. As Hans Jonas (1984) has discussed in his ethics of responsibility, these aspects condition a fundamental reconsideration of Western moral philosophy.
Risks as objectified negative images of utopia
The production of risks in processes of modernization presumes a normative horizon of lost security, by Beck conceptualized as negative images of utopias – “the spreading talk of ‘catastrophe’ is an objectified, pointed, radicalized expression that this development is not wanted.” (Beck, 2008). The constructive aspect of this situation is expressed in the questions of how do we wish to live, and what society do we want. They make visible the political dimensions of risks, including the distribution of the consecutive harms.
This is a theoretical paper discussing some vital normative issues with regard to environmental and sustainability education. The normative dimension of ESE is widely acknowledged (Jickling & Wals, 2013; Franck & Osbeck, 2017; Öhman & Östman, 2019). Still, this field is contentious and intriguing, raising numerous issues, as the relationship between individual responsibility and societal structures. A central move in this paper is to draw attention to normative assumptions expressed in the concept of ‘risk’ introduced within the field of sociology more than 30 years ago, and reconsider implications for current environmental and sustainability education.
From an ethical perspective the elusiveness of risk is expressed in the blurred image of the other. As addressed by Beck, in the current processes of modernization risks are produced in practices that conceal hazardous side effects. A vital normative task of environmental and sustainability education here seems to be to make these side effects visible, open for exploration and possible prevention. Furthermore, the abstractness that is attached to risk, should be transformed into social imaginaries that visualize possible contexts in which the other is situated. Important is here how individual responsibility may be expanded upon, to involve considerations on how good societies may be pursued and preserved. At the same time, the complexity of risk, that eludes simple solutions, entangled in wicked problems (Rittel & Webber, 1973), call for a pluralistic approach. In fundamental ways the emphasis on risks as considered here, confirms the central thesis of the Anthropocene, demonstrating how the human population change the living conditions on the earth. However, as important from an educational approach is how the notion of risk demonstrates the vulnerability of the human species, aligned with other species. Beck (2008) speaks of the boomerang effect of human endeavors of security and control, that strike back. It should however be emphasized that this effect hits humans and more-than-humans alike. Such an effect – and the production of new risks - will certainly accompany successes and failures in the attempts to transform the world, as expressed in Agenda 2030 and the sustainable development goals (United Nations, 2015). This situation calls for an education that encourages cautiousness (Paulsen, 2021) and concerns for all life on earth (Kvamme, 2021) as central aspects of a reconsideration of ethical and political Bildung (Klafki, 1998) in the present.
Beck, U. (2008). Risk Society. Towards a New Modernity. London: Sage (first edition, 1986). Crutzen, P. J., & Stoermer, E. F. (2000). The Anthropocene: An epoch of our making. Global Change Newsletter, 41, 17–18. Feinberg, J. (1984). The Moral Limits of the Criminal Law: Volume 1: Harm to Others. New York: Oxford University Press. Franck, O., & Osbeck, C. (2017). Ethical literacies and education for sustainable development: Young people, subjectivity and democratic participation. Cham: Springer International Publishing. Imprint: Palgrave Macmillan Giddens, A. (1994). Beyond Left and Right. Cambridge: Polity Press. Hamilton, C., Bonneuil, C., & Gemenne, F. (Eds.) (2015). The Anthropocene and the global environmental crisis. Rethinking modernity in a new epoch. Routledge: New York. Jickling, B., & Wals, A. E. J. (2013). Probing normative research in environmental education: Ideas about education and ethics. In R. B. Stevenson, M. Brody, J. Dillon, & A. E. J. Wals (Eds.), International handbook of research on environmental education (pp. 74–86). New York and London: Routledge. Jonas, H. (1984). The Imperative of Responsibility. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Klafki, W. (1998). Characteristics of Critical-Constructive Didaktik. In Gundem, B. & Hopmann, S. (Eds.) (1998). Didaktik and/or Curriculum. An International Dialogue (pp. 307–328). New York: Peter Lang. Kvamme, O. (2021). Rethinking Bildung in the Anthropocene: The Case of Wolfgang Klafki. HTS Teologiese Studies/ Theological Studies 77(3), a6807. https://doi. org/10.4102/hts.v77i3.6807 Paulsen, M. (2021). Cautiosness as a new pedagogical ideal in the Anthropocene. In K. B. Petersen et al. Rethinking Education in Light of Global Challenges. Scandinavian Perspectives on Culture, Society, and the Anthropocene. (pp. 202–233). London: Routledge. Rittel, H.W.J. & Webber, J.J. (1973). Dilemmas in a general theory of planning. Policy Sciences, 4(2), 155–169. Öhman, J. & Östman, L. (2019). The ethical tendency typology: ethical and moral situations in environmental and sustainability education. In K. van Pock, L. Östman, & J. Öhman (Eds.), Sustainable Development Teaching. Ethical and Political Challenges. (pp. 83–92). Abingdon: Routledge. United Nations General Assembly, 2015, Resolution 70/1. Transforming our world: The 2030 agenda for sustainable development: https://www.un.org/en/development/desa/population/migration/generalassembly/docs/globalcompact/A_RES_70_1_E.pdf
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