key questions

Kumashiro (2001) claims that we desire to use only certain and usually familiar stories of teaching and learning "to make sense of the world and ourselves. And since the traditional stories are the ones that define normalcy (i.e., are the hegemonic ones), we ironically desire exactly what is harmful to ourselves" (p. 6).

I have come to conceive of research as similar. Despite the proliferation of research methodologies in environmental education (e.g. Gough & Reid, 2000; Hart, 2005a; Hart & Nolan, 1999; Russell & Hart, 2003) and education generally (e.g. Dillard, 2006a, 2006b; Lather, 2006), as methodological decisions are made, humans remain the primary (or only) acknowledged producers of knowledge and are continuously reinscribed as not only separate and superior to non-human Others, but also as the only beings with consciousness, intentionality and communicative abilities. Contributions of non-human persons (or non-human Others) to research and representation processes are seldom explicitly sought out or acknowledged (see Cole, 2002; Lipsett, 2001, 2002; Harvey, 2006b for some exceptions).

Perhaps it is through "multiple and complex representations" which enable various entry points for the reader to (re)imagine possibilities as well as negotiate "between and among multiple relations and realities" (Dillard, 2003b, p. 670), that spaces for the non-human (and perhaps spirit), may be provided. Following Robottom and Hart (1993) who, over twenty years ago, posed a series of questions to point to necessary shifts in the meta-research agenda of environmental education research, the following questions may prove helpful to guide research/representation that aims to include, rather than marginalize non-human Others.

To what degree does the research methods, methodology and representation:

  • enable recognition of how research itself might reinscribe humans as separate and superior to other-than-human persons.

  • enable recognition of how, through the production and reading of a research text, researchers and 'readers' might be reinscribed as separate and superior to other-than-human persons.

  • disrupt dominant and oppressive power relations between humans and non-human Others which (re)produce humans as the sole communicative beings participating in the research process.
  • challenge the assumption that the more-than-human world does not have consciousness, intentionality and communicative abilities
  • support openness to and engagement with wisdom from more-than-human others?

An additional question, prompted by the writing of Thomas Berry (1988; Berry & Tucker, 2006) and many others (e.g. Capra, 1992; Stirling, 2007), could be one of catalytic validity (Lather, 1993):

  • to what degree does this research/representation prompt a shift in consciousness that is increasingly being pointed to as necessary in order to achieve a more socially just and ecologically sustainable society?