30 SES 03 A, Schooling and ESE
Currently, across the globe ‘the food system is in the spotlight of sustainability concerns’ (Ehgartner, 2020, p. 2). In Italy, the ‘Expo 2015’ that was held in Milan, although considered one of the most controversial world's fairs ever staged in Western countries, has marked a meaningful turning point: due to the international exhibition, policy makers, private organizations, nonprofit institutions, universities, and grassroots social movements, has renewed the public debate regarding the food production and consumption in relation to relevant issues such as economic growth, climate change, collective health, and the future for next generations.
In this respect, the so-called ‘sustainable development’ has affected the education field too. Significantly, Embracing the UN 2030 Agenda, in 2017, the Italian national government has given prominence to activities, both in primary and secondary school, whose strategic goal is to foster ideals about sustainability among the youngsters. In addition, mirroring the transformation occurring in other EU countries, in 2020, the Italian Education Ministry (MIUR) has introduced civic education in the school curricula, making sustainable development, as well as issues related to food sustainability, a mandatory school subject.
Within the overall discourse on sustainability, the aim of the paper is to present an ongoing research project whose focus is to explore how young generations shape their representation about food sustainability. More precisely, the paper investigates high schools as the privileged sites where a certain ‘order of discourse’ (Foucault, 1971) is being produced and negotiated. In this way, the research purports to expand a body of empirical investigations interested in deconstructing discourses about food sustainability (and the system of food production and consumption) in terms of an arena in which different values, interests, needs, and views connect and/or collide (Coffey & Marston, 2013; Ehgartner, 2020; Stenberg & Räisänen, 2006).
We hence suggest that exploring what occurs in the field of education provides a relevant entry point to inquiry into broader social and cultural dynamics. Secondary education is a fundamental socializing context and constitutes a juncture across several social spheres by shaping (both individual and collective) cognitive and practical attitudes towards lifestyles, contributing to produce, through ad hoc pedagogical devices, a particular type of "citizen" more and more directed towards a "sustainable consumer".
As other research demonstrates (Romito 2016), in Italy the pedagogic and organizational processes at stake in secondary education indeed provides a fundamental support to the neoliberal order. On the other hand, secondary school remains one of the most contentious social contexts; a space for self and collective determination, where the youth carve out paths of emancipation and, to some extent, political struggle (Colombo et al., 2021). Such an ambivalence seems to be evident considering issues related to sustainability. Over the last years, Fridays for Future, Extinction Rebellion, and other grassroots collectives composing the Italian social movement organizations that fight against climate change have localized their activities within secondary schools, recruiting many male and female students. At the same time, the introduction of civic education could be seen as a strategy for reconciling intergenerational gaps and transforming school into a "pacified institution".
In sum, the ongoing research is conceived as an empirical attempt to address broader sociological questions that concern the makeup of contemporary citizenship: what are the power/knowledge nexus that shape the ‘food sustainability’ discourse in contemporary Italy? Who is a sustainable citizen, namely, a good citizen, according to the educational system? How do the pedagogies and the rhetoric delivered in high school convey the contentious attitude of the youth?
Drawing mainly on Foucault’s theorizations (1971; 1980; 2001), the research is informed by the perspective of ‘discourse analysis’ (about sustainability, see: Humphreys, 2008; Janker et al., 2018) and applies multiple methods: interviews with the organizations which define and deliver knowledge about food sustainability; participant observation in classrooms; focus groups. The triangulation of methodologies enables us to better understand the pedagogic devices provided by national institutions and private organizations involved in the discourse arena. The research is designed according to a three-stage process: a) Master frame reconstruction; b) Institutional discourse; c) Student’s reframing. a) Master frame reconstruction This stage contextualizes the food sustainability discourse in Italy since 2008, when the ‘green hype’ (Ehgartner, 2018) has emerged in public opinion. Data collection refers to policy documents, texts and talks produced by the Ministry of Environment as well as by the Ministry of Education. Data are also collected by interviewing: a) representatives of the philanthropic foundations created over the last years which are active in the field of education – e.g. Foodedu, Fondazione Barilla Center for Food & Nutrition (BCFN); b) persons in charge of the civic education curriculum in the high schools located in Milan, given the prominence of the city in shaping the national discourse about food sustainability since the Expo 2015. b) Institutional discourse This stage digs deeper into the pedagogical contents and activities related to food sustainability which are implemented in three different high schools of Milan – a grammar school, a technical high school, and a vocational school. This stage is intended to investigate: a) how teachers involved in teaching civics shapes their views about food sustainability; b) classroom interactions between teachers and students. The research focuses particularly on teachers who decide to deliver contents provided by BCFN, as this organization plays a central role in the educational discourse arena of food sustainability in Italy. c) Student’s reframing The last fieldwork stage investigates the food sustainability students’ representations through 6 focus groups. In this stage, the focus groups deepen the student’s understanding and their relative alignment to the institutional frames. Groups with different expositions to the institutional discourse are considered. This makes it possible: a) to grasp the effect of the school pedagogy on youth’s representations and everyday practices about food sustainability; b) how youngsters with different social backgrounds shape their views, adopting the symbolic resources available into the social spheres to which they belong.
This ongoing research seeks to reveal the emerging pedagogic approaches introduced in Italian high school with special regards to the civic education curricula. The preliminary findings show that civic education can be considered as a “post-disciplinary” subject which is continuously shaped and re-shaped by the active collaboration of a plurality of actors participating into this discursive arena in Italy – i.e., teachers, philanthropic foundations, government, National, European and International (both public and private) organizations. In particular, we focus on private agents involved in the teaching and learning processes of civic education so as to understand how they shape the educational discourse on food sustainability and to what extent their discourses and practices are increasingly directed to mould – by mobilizing institutions, teachers and students – a mundane conception of citizenship, particularly through the definition of a specific sustainable citizen-consumer. In this respect, first, we expect to show how the food sustainability discourse participates – along with other pedagogical devices – to the construction of the performative and (apparently) free-willing citizen; namely, the neoliberal citizen who conceives her/him choices as the sole responsible for her/him destiny, making public concerns as an individual matter. Second, we seek to explore the emergence of counter-discourses among students and teachers centered around collective claims. In conclusion, our research places the educational system at the heart of contemporary socio-symbolic dynamics and their political implications. For this reason, the research project aims to reveal the symbolic nexus amongst food production and consumption, social justice, climate change and the shaping of the neoliberal persona.
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