environmental education research shifts


Visweswaran (1994) suggests the most important work to be done is "homework," a kind of work that "allows feminists and anthropologists alike to travel in radically new ways" (p. 113; see also, Kuokkanen, 2003, 2006). Yet what happens if 'home' includes the expression of an identity/subjectivity (i.e. that of an animist) that is not normally acknowledged in academic contexts (Ezzy, 2004; Vickers, 2002)? Perhaps the call for "a reflexive engagement within process of social reproduction and reorientation in a changing world" (O'Donoghue & Lotz-Sisitka, 2005, p. 445) could mean re-examining the ways in which the field has been constructed and policed itself (Reid, 2007).


As Robottom and Hart (1993) claim, worldviews of inquiry and those of environmental education should be congruent and commensurable. In 1993 the emerging paradigm was a socially critical participatory inquiry which seriously challenged the positivist and behaviourist work popularized by Hungerford and Volk (e.g. 1990) and their students. Today, research paradigms might need to extend beyond assumptions embedded in Western worldviews to also include an epistemology and ontology that engages the notion that reality is not as Newtonian science or as Descartes describes it, nor only a socially constituted cultural narrative (i.e. sets of discourses). Rather, reality may be a combination of social constitution build upon sets of relations where beings are socially, biologically, and energetically connected. Among other things, engaging this paradigm requires disrupting the dominant hegemonic hold of mind/body, human/nature splits, and the associated hierarchy which makes it difficult to acknowledge the agency of the more-than-human world.


There has been a wild proliferation of research paradigms in both environmental education (Hart, 2003b, 2005a, 2005b; Robottom & Hart, 1993) and educational research in general (Lather, 2006) which includes much discussion about the epistemological and ontological assumptions embedded in the various approaches. Yet meanings are still produced within specific contexts (Haraway, 1991b; Richardson, 1998; Scott, 1988), and researcher reflexivity is situated within (and policed by) dominant and normative knowledge-making practices. Furthermore, as Kuhn (1962/1970) pointed out many years ago when describing processes of scientific revolutions, change is often fraught with resistance and dominant paradigms (or ideologies) are difficult to change. As an example, Robottom & Hart (1993) use the concept of hegemony to describe how the Western science has played out in the past:

It was a battle of ideologies – the progress of science versus the intrinsic values of religion.... Scienc[e]... has become our intellectual orthodoxy, programmed into our ways of thinking and judging, outlining the boundaries of its territory and maintaining rigid control over what is legitimate (Skolimowsk,1991). In essence the dominant worldview [based on Western science] has become so ingrained in our way of thinking, particularly in western society, that it acts hegemonically to maintain itself as the dominant ideology. (p. 29)

Yet change is possible. Engagement with ways of knowing that are open to an associated animist ontology requires a willingness to move beyond the preeminence of Western science (in particular, presumptions of embedded in mechanical physics), and disrupt the assumed place of humans as the sole holder(s) of consciousness, intentionality, and communicative ability. It may be most fruitful, and life-sustaining, to embrace a non-materialist understanding of reality such as that currently being articulated by quantum physicists (see Greene, 2003; Laszlo, 2008). One of the most significant effects of such a shift will be an extended understanding of who participates in meaning-making, and how meanings can be made (see for example, Laszlo, 2008; Sheldrake, 2003). When this happens, access to knowledge from outside normative boxes (the ones that created many of the environmental problems in the first place), becomes much more accessible, and one can open to new ways of knowing, and being.