In the neighbourhood of uncertainty : poststructuralisms and environmental education

Hardy, Joy (2003). In the neighbourhood of uncertainty : poststructuralisms and environmental education PhD Thesis, School of Education, The University of Queensland.

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Author Hardy, Joy
Thesis Title In the neighbourhood of uncertainty : poststructuralisms and environmental education
School, Centre or Institute School of Education
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2003
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor A/Prof. Peter Gailbraith
Total pages 378
Collection year 2003
Language eng
Subjects L
339999 Other Education
749999 Education and training not elsewhere classified
Formatted abstract
This thesis acts upon the numerous calls that are being increasingly heard for the introduction of postmodernist/poststructuralist perspectives into environmental education (Callicott & da Rocha, 1996; Dreyfus, Wals, & van Weelie, 1999; A. Gough, 1997, 1999; Gough, 1993, 1994b, 1996, 1997, 1998b, 1999a; Littledyke, 1996; Panel for Education for Sustainable Development, 1998; Sauve, 1999; Sosa, 1996; Stables, 1996, 1997) and die current interest in uncertainty in environmental education (Panel for Education for Sustainable Development, 1998) and the broader education arena (Atkinson, 2001; Bligh, 2001; Grant, 2001; Kenway & Bullen, 2000; Torres & Arnott, 1999; Villaume, 2000). These interests in uncertainty and postmodernist/poststructuralist perspectives in education often coincide. This is not surprising given that it is common to encounter claims that herald "postmodernism as an Age of Uncertainty" (S. Kelso, 1997, p. 457). In environmental education, this conjunction is exemplified in the report presented to the Department for Education and Employment (EfEE) and the Qualifications and Curriculum Authority (QCA) by the Panel for Education for Sustainable Development (1998), in the United Kingdom. This report advocates that students should "understand the concept of cultural change and the shift from the certainties of the modern age to the uncertainties of the postmodern age, and what opportunities this may afford for realising a more sustainable society" (1998, p. 11). However, 'postmodern uncertainties' have not been theorised in environmental education or the broader education arena. This thesis initiates poststructuralist theorisations of uncertainty.

In keeping with postmodernist/poststructuralist concerns for the Other, this thesis strives to respect uncertainty as uncertain. It does not strive to render a definitive account of uncertainty. Such a totalising approach would render uncertainty certain. In order to avoid the violence that would deprive uncertainty of the honour of its name, this poststructuralist theorisation of uncertainty is framed in ‘the neighbourhood of’. ‘The neighbourhood of’ is “somewhere about” (Oxford English Dictionary). It is relationality through and through; yet despite this immense relationality, it is an unstable space with indistinct boundaries. Chapter One introduces the figuration of ‘the neighbourhood of’ and advances its relevance for both postmodernist/ poststructuralist theorisations of uncertainty and environmental education. Chapter One also presents readings of key motifs in ‘the neighbourhood of’ environmental education and argues that discursive constructions of uncertainty are important in positivist, liberal and critical strands of environmental education. Brief readings of the postmodernist/poststructuralist (dis)positions and motifs that are used as structural elements in the arguments constructed in this thesis are also provided. These readings precede the formulation and problematisation of the ‘aims’ and ‘objectives’. Chapter One ‘concludes’ with a discussion of the difficulties that attend writing a thesis that strives to respect uncertainty as uncertain.

Chapter Two, Methodological (Dis)Positions and Methods, presents readings of two of the three research methods that were explored during the course of this project. The denouement of this project could be considered evolutionary, if the term ‘evolutionary’ is understood as a process in which relatively stable periods are punctuated by instabilities that result in major transformations, rather than a gradual, continuous and accretive series of minor modifications. This evolutionary path led to dramatic deterritorialisations and reterritorialisations of the theoretical terrain. The three research methods explored were Drees’ constructive consonance (1988, 1990), Peirce's fallibilism (1931), and Deleuze and Guattari's rhizomatics (1980/1987), which was ultimately chosen for this project. The readings presented in Chapter Two, however, are limited to constructive consonance and rhizomatics due to constraints on space. The inclusion of a research method that was turned aside may be considered unusual. However, Drees' constructive consonance offers a valuable framework for research projects in environmental education that are aligned to either critical theory or to mediations of critical theory and postmodernism, as per Best and Kellner (1991, 1997), Giroux (1988, 1990, 1992, 1996) and McLaren (1995, 1997). Thus, whilst constructive consonance was not chosen for this particular project, its inclusion opens up a space for alternative theorisations of uncertainty from other perspectives in environmental education.

Chapter Three, Tracing Uncertainty in Environmental Education, presents a reading of the existing engagements with uncertainty in environmental education and, in some instances, extends the already-said by following the paths that the existing engagements preconfigure. This chapter constitutes the tracing section of Deleuze and Guattari's rhizomatics; it portrays existing territories by delineating boundaries and the spaces enclosed. Whilst the number of engagements with uncertainty is relatively small in environmental education, the engagements are dispersed across diverse theoretical terrains. This chapter presents a reading of the scientific discourse of uncertainty and allied concepts, such as risk, indeterminacy and ignorance, and positions environmental education engagements with uncertainty in relation to this discourse.

Chapters Four and Five are the first two mapping chapters. As each chapter is discrete, they may be read in any order. Chapter Four, Face to Face with the Environment, draws a line of flight from the educational dimension of ‘uncertainty and precaution in action’ proposed by the Panel for Education for Sustainable Development to Levinas' ethical relationship known as the 'face to face' (Levinas, 1957/1987 1961/1991, 1962/1996, 1968/1996, 1974/1991, 1982/1985, 1984/1996). This line of flight is enabled by the panel's attribution of plurality and a limitation of knowledge to uncertainty. This conjunction is central to Levinas' philosophy. However, Levinas' formulation of the face to face relationship exclusively attends the realm of human sociality. This restriction would result in a highly anthropocentric ethics if applied directly to environmental education. However, it is argued that when Levinas' ethics is cross-read with Heidegger and others, as per Llewelyn (1991), an ethico-political framework emerges that can inform environmental values education and environmental education's commitment to eco-political agency. This framework disavows anthropocentrism and has an undeniably deep green orientation, but it avoids many of the criticisms levelled at deep green approaches, such as apoliticism. This chapter anticipates and counters two lines of resistance that could be raised against the introduction of a Levinasian eco-ethics in environmental education. It is concluded that the relendess provocations that Levinas' philosophy presents would enable environmental education to engage uncertainty in a manner that maintains the conditions of uncertainty, rather than offering a conduit to certainty, which would defeat the purpose of engaging Levinas from the outset.

Chapter Five, Narrative Uncertainties, takes flight from Vance's (1917) rendition of certainty. Environmental education has not been articulated to Vance's work previously. However, given that Vance formulated one of the earliest versions of critical realism and given that critical realism underpins many orientations in environmental education, his philosophy is wholly germane to environmental education. This chapter exploits the egress that Vance's rendition of certainty provides into narrative theory. After taking advantage of this egress, the chapter presents readings of the three major theories of truth - the correspondence, coherence and pragmatic theories of truth - in order to anticipate and ward off possible resistance to the adoption of narrative theory in environmental education through arguments that could be used to discursively contain and diminish the theorising of narrative uncertainties that follow. Whilst, Gough (1994b) has argued against such discursive containment of narrative theory, he has presented arguments that undermine the fact/fiction dichotomy. The thorny issue of truth has received scant attention in environmental education to date. As a matter of prudence, the chapter also counters the misreadings of Derrida's deconstruction (1967/1976, 1967/1978, 1972/1981) as a denial of (die) material environment and as a destructive and anti-environmental discourse. These misreadings have been applied widely in environmental education and deconstruction has been subjected to discursive containment and denigration as a result (Bowers, 1993b; Callicott & da Rocha, 1996; Littledyke, 1996; Sauvé, 1999; Sosa, 1996). Following these precautionary denouements, this chapter formulates four forms of narrative uncertainty and discusses how these uncertainties can be engaged in environmental education.

Chapter Six, Shifting Terrains, maps secondary lines of flight from the terrain constructed in the previous two chapters. Specifically, this chapter forges links between uncertainty and feminist theory, critical literacy and postmodernist/ poststructuralist ethics. These trajectories proliferate links with key motifs in environmental education, such as engaging indigenous voices, the construction of environmental subjectivities and eco-political agency, and environmental values education. However, the arguments presented in the chapter cause these influential themes to resonate in unfamiliar tones.

Chapter Seven, Decalcomania, enacts the final stage of rhizomatic analysis. It consists of laying the tracing of environmental education's current engagements with uncertainty presented in Chapter Three over the maps constructed in Chapters Four, Five and Six. The purpose of decalcomania is twofold. First, this process of laying the tracing over the maps enables the identification of blockages and silences in the already-said. Thus, this aspect of decalcomania has a decidedly deconstructive aspect. Second, laying the tracing over the maps enables an exploration of the effects that the maps can induce in the tracing. There is a risk of a power take-over in this second aspect of decalcomania. The map may be hegemonically forced to conform to the tracing, thus sustaining the concepts and structures that configure the already-said. Consequently, the analytical emphasis in this chapter is that of 'plugging the map into the tracing' in order to minimise the risk of a power take-over.

Finally, Chapter Eight, In-Conclusion, invokes Deleuze and Guattari's figuration of 'becoming' as a means to both trouble the notion of a conclusion and frame the reflections upon the 'aims', 'objectives' and 'findings' of this project. It is argued that becoming-uncertain is an important objective and pedagogical venture for environmental education. Becoming-uncertain is not to be taken literally; it does not designate the path to, or arrival of, incertitude. Instead, becoming-uncertain refers to the experience of thinking uncertainty differently, experiencing the capacity of uncertainty to affect and be affected, and experiencing the spaces that this opens up, transforms or forecloses. 'Becoming- uncertain' is a political strategy to undermine the hegemonic containment imposed by dominant discourses. Deleuze and Guattari's 'becoming' is a program for Utopian politics (Colebrook, 2000). I argue throughout this project that environmental education is characterised by Utopian politics. This is a provocative stance that will be defended as this project unfolds. Further, following Gatens (2000), I subscribe to the view that to think differently, is to exist differently. Therefore, mindful that the readers will assuredly draw their own conclusions, I advance the situated and provisional conclusion that becoming-uncertain can be read as an agentive strategy to exist differently and that by thinking and existing differently we can imagine and enact more sustainable futures. The conclusion also identifies openings for further research. In keeping with the rhizomatic nature of this project, numerous possible lines of flight are identified.
Keyword Postmodernism and education
Education -- Philosophy
Environmentalism -- Philosophy

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:17:43 EST