Here is the latest paper on a research project led by PhD Candidate Siri Pisters that appeared in the Journal of Transformative Education. Thie article explores learning processes that underpin ecovillages as place based ‘sustainability initiatives’. Through the theoretical lens of place- based transformative learning (PBTL), developed in earlier work led by Siri as well (Pisters et al., 2019, 2020), empirical data from life-story interviews and photovoice sessions from three ecovillages is analysed and discussed. The results support, illustrate and deepen the meaning of the four dimensions of the theoretical framework: connection to place, compassionate connection, creativity and transgression (Figure 1, below). They show how the co-existence of ‘community’ and ‘disruption’ is essential in PBTL where community brings connection, cohesion and stability to a change process whereas disruption paves the way for disrupting old structures and experiment with new ones. This article shows how a change in inner consciousness is related to alternative practices and structures that re-define relationships with ourselves, other humans and the material, more-than-human world.
Pisters SR, Vihinen H, Figueiredo E, Wals AEJ. ‘We Learned the Language of the Tree’ Ecovillages as Spaces of Place-Based Transformative Learning. Journal of Transformative Education. March 2022. doi:10.1177/15413446211068550
Taking place in 3 countries (Sweden, United Kingdom and The Netherlands) three ‘collective residencies’ brought together an intergenerational group of people who played, ate, (re)imagined, learned and created together, to design alternative futures around a selected ‘glocal’ issue, and explore what needs to be disrupted to realise these imagined realities; what is working with us and what is working against us? Two hopeful examples of local residents and one from academia show the power of arts-based approaches and the importance of hope and lightheartedness. The research was initiated and led by former MSc and PhD-students of mine, Natalia Eernstman
Imaginative Disruptions was a two-year creative research project that explored the transgressive potential of art and making to engage groups of citizens and experts in imaginative conceptions of alternative environmental narratives.
Underneath the project is the assumption that the structures and mind-sets of our modern society have made unsustainable living the default and sustainable living the exception. Acknowledging that environmental issues occur in the every-day lives of people rather than on drawing boards of technocrats, implies that designing and transitioning towards a more environmentally sustainable alternative should include citizen, lay or situated knowledges. There are some signs that such knowledge is recognized and demanded in both science and society (e.g. the push for citizen science and multi-stakeholder social learning). However, the practical realisation of processes that include public dialogue, in which citizens become critics and creators of knowledge, are fairly under-developed.
Here are some of the things we aimed to find out:
What arrangements and conditions are needed to disrupt daily routines and generate new ones?
Does the recognition and inclusion of situated knowledges generate radically different perspectives on how we can live well and environmentally, or do they represent the fine-tuning and, thereby, the maintenance of the status quo?
What happens if you put adults and children in the same learning arrangement and invite them to learn, play and experiment collectively? Chaos or…?
(How) is the knowledge produced through this heterogenous, vernacular, artistic, non-hierarchical and intergenerational process ‘useful’ to the community in question and a wider subject arena around it?
What is the added value of creative / artistic techniques in the social learning that will take place?
The ‘data’ of the research project emerged from the residencies with people talking, creating and reflecting together. We aimed to collect what the residencies generate in ways that don’t disrupt the activities, and allow us record things that we didn’t know we were going to document in advance.
But what is civic ecology? I asked each of the participants to give their short definition. This episode reveals their answers, and there is lots of nuance around some common themes. The work was supported in part by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and SESNYC. Special thanks to Jennifer Klein for directing the recordings.
You can also see a video version on youtube:
In order of appearance, the participants were:
Keith Tidball Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University http://dnr.cals.cornell.edu/people/keith-tidball Keith Tidball wants you to get a land ethic fit for the 21st century. He studies how people and nature interact to make communities more resilient.
Rebecca Salminen Witt The Greening of Detroit http://www.greeningofdetroit.com The Greening of Detroit is invested in providing a greener future for Detroit by “inspiring sustainable growth of a healthy urban community”
Erika Svendsen U.S. Forest Service, Northern Research Station, New York http://www.nrs.fs.fed.us The Northern Research Station of the USFS works to understand forests in a human-disturbed landscape that includes NYC.
Jill Wrigley Collins Avenue Streamside Community
Baltimore, Maryland http://collinsavenuestreamside.org The Collins Avenue Streamside Community is a collective of households attempting social & ecological reconciliation in their neighborhood.
Veronica Kyle Faith in Place http://www.faithinplace.org Working with over 1,000 congregations of all faiths on issues of environmental stewardship. Based in Chicago.
Anniruddha Abhyankar The Ugly Indian, Bangalore http://www.theuglyindian.com The Ugly Indian is a community movement generating voluntary cleanup drives across India in hopes of changing civic standards.
Dustin Alger Higher Ground Sun Valley http://www.highergroundsv.org Higher Ground Sun Valley gives individuals with disabilities, especially veterans, the chance to experience the outdoors through recreation and therapy.
Anandi Premlall Sustainable Queens, The Queensway http://www.about.me/aapremlall Sustainable Queens cultivates sustainable living, wellness, creativity, & empowerment through community gardens in underserved communities.
Laurel Kearns Drew Theological School, Madison, New Jersey http://users.drew.edu/lkearns/ Laurel Kearns trains religious leaders to understand the changing relationships between people and the environment.
Robert Hughes Eastern Pennsylvania Coalition for Abandoned Mine Reclamation http://epcamr.org/home/ EPCAMR is a coalition of individuals & organizations that supports abandoned mine reclamation for community use.
Rosalba Lopez Ramirez Kelly Street Garden, New York http://www.kellystgreen.com A community garden in the South Bronx. Their mission? To grow food, grow community, grow wellness, and grow leaders.
Carrie Samis Maryland Coastal Bays Program http://www.mdcoastalbays.org/ MCBP’s goal is to protect and conserve the watershed of Maryland’s five coastal bays through research, education, outreach, and restoration.
Caroline Lewis The CLEO Institute http://www.cleoinstitute.org/ The CLEO Institute is a non-profit dedicated to improving environmental education of the public as a means to support climate resilience.
Dennis Chestnut Groundwork Anacostia River, Washington, D.C. http://groundworkdc.org GARDC’s uses environmental restoration goals as a vehicle for community development in communities around the Anacostia River.
Rebecca Jordan Departments of Human Ecology and Ecology, Evolution, and Natural Resources
Rutgers University, New Brunswick, New Jersey http://www.rebeccajordan.org A one-time evolutionary biologist of Lake Malawi’s cichlid fish, Rebecca Jordan’s current focus is on science education and citizen science.
Philip Silva Treekit; Department of Natural Resources, Cornell University http://treekit.org Philip Silva studies how citizen science helps monitor urban forests. TreeKit makes tools for measuring, mapping, & managing street trees.
Karim-Aly Kassam Environmental and Indigenous Studies, Cornell University http://www2.dnr.cornell.edu/kassam/ Dr. Kassam’s research interests are broad, but generally include ways of knowing as they relate to ecology.
“Locative Meaning-making: An Arts-based Approach to Learning for Sustainable Development” is the third journal paper I co-authored with former Master students and colleague at Wageningen University Natalia Eernstman who is currently a PhD student at Falmouth University/ London School of Arts in the UK. The first two – related papers focused on the introduction of IFOAM organic labelling schemes and the (negative) impact therof on indigenous farming practices in the North-East of India: Eernstman, N. and Wals, A.E.J. (2009) Interfacing knowledge systems: introducing certified organic agriculture in a tribal society. NJAS – Wageningen Journal of Life Sciences, 56(4), 375-390 and Eernstman, N. and Wals, A.E.J. (2009) Jhum Meets IFOAM: Introducing Organic Agriculture in a Tribal Society. International Journal of Agriculture and Sustainability, 7(2), 95-106.
This new paper – based on Natalia’s PhD-work – is quite different in that it explores the utilisation of dialogic practices, site-specific theatre and a project conducted in a British village to generate processes of “context-based meaning finding”. It concludes that Education for Sustainable Development essentially starts with and revolves around re-embedding sustainable development in life and the act of living, engaging people in place through processes in which communities yield their own, context and time specific interpretations of sustainable development. The paper was published in ‘open-access’ journals Sustainability and can therefore be downloaded and shared for free! One interesting feature f the paper is that the some of the conversations with the participants in the study as they took place during walks in through the land(scape) can be accessed and hear. The editors insisted the links to the date were put in the notes in the end instead of as hyper-links in the text – which is regretable in my opinion. But here they are the links to the two excerpts provided (which make more sense when engaging with the full text first): “in the woods” (with Natalia narrating first about how she engaged the participants and used “walking” as a way to dig for meaning) and “on the bridge”
The full paper reference is: Eernstman, N. and Wals, A.E.J. “Locative Meaning-making: An Arts-based Approach to Learning for Sustainable Development”, Sustainability 2013, 5, 1645-1660; doi:10.3390/su5041645 It can be downloaded HERE. sustainability-05-01645