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CHILDHOODNATURE

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Members of the collective are invited to submit to the Childhoodnature Collective Blog. The Blog pieces should speak to a wide audience and provide insights into theoretical ideas, overview of current research projects, art installations or curated events, responses to challenges or advances in the field, book reviews, stories, poems, or any other form of visual or textual representation. To submit a blog email the contents to natureplay@scu.edu.au 




DR KAREN MALONE
Swinburne University of Technology 





CHILD AS NATURE



August 20, 2019

Colonizing settler accounts of being human have carried with them conquering stories where humans are independent of the ‘world’, we have created a new world, managed and controlled Nature, we exist outside of ecological systems. Yet the Anthropocene bares open, reveals the stench of our own humanness. It questions what it means to live, to be human with the host of other beings. Beings that we have much in common, those who we are more the same then different. Systems of beings outside of and inside our bodies. It brings into question the mantra that to be human is be positioned within a universal story. That there is no such thing as a homogenous human species, that the scale and speed of ecological impact is unequal, unethical and unjust; the poor, the children, and the nonhuman are more in it than the most.

The Anthropocene as a rupturing force brings attention to our human animalness – that we are neither exempt from the ecological world nor exceptional to those we are acting/being/dying in relation to.  As an unsettling relational ontology, the concept of the Anthropocene disrupts a persistent separatist ontology. Dominated by a ‘humanist’ paradigm in disciplines/fields of study such as childhood/nature/education the Anthropocene and its onto-epistemological companion posthumanist allows spaces for new conversations to emerge to disrupt human-dominated paradigms and in particular to reconfigure new childhoodnature possibilities.  

This focus on shifting away from a romanticised or humanistic view of the human/nature relationship has been a feature of scholarship in a range of disciplines evolving over many years/centuries (Head 2016). So even though they feel new for many, the history can be traced in a range of theoretical approaches such as those by Spinoza, Bookchin, Derrida, Deleuze and Guatarri, Plumwood, Merchant, and many more. Unfortunately, over time many of the disciplines where these ideas have had the least currency and still remain in many ways uncontested are disciplines that have been very influential in the children’s environments, childhood/studies, child/nature and children/cities research field. Disciplines such as environmental education, childhood sociology, urban planning & urban studies, landscape architecture and environmental psychology, have been slow on the uptake of working with contesting human/culture binaries and human exceptionalism in particular. The outcome has been a strong humanistic and deterministic paradigm that has been influential in the conception of the childhood /nature field. 

The resurgence of a ‘childhood and nature’ education movement at this time has had the potential to be influential yet the key message being promoted by those upporting this movement rely heavily on the currency of adult sentimentality about children’s apparent timely loss of nature connections. This loss is often attributed to the consequences of growing up in contemporary (white, middle class, settler) society and the implications of this for children’s lives. But where do these views come from? Are they true for all children, not just those living in America (where the main influencers reside)?  And how do these views influence how educators and researcher come to believe what it means to be a ‘child’ in/with/as ‘nature’. Particularly, it is interesting to contemplate the implications on these discussions when they are underpinned quite liberally by a number of key anthropocentric views: “(1) human societies used to be closer to nature, (2) our current way of life is unnatural or distant from nature, and (3) proximity to nature is a question of learning (and teaching)” (Rautio 2013, p. 449). These sentiments support the perception humans are not nature and it is possible for some species, namely humans to be more or less nature, connected or disconnected from nature, and superior to or dominant over nature.

Rather than continue to reinforce these views through the collective we are considering what possibilities exist to challenge these enduring perceptions, to explore how posthumanist and materialist approaches could unsettle mainstream binaries such as nature/culture, human/nature, object/subject and allow possibilities for a relational onto-epistemology of childhoodnature to emerge. Taylor (2013, p. 66) who has worked extensively in unpacking these new approaches for early childhood educators writes:

“… such conversations have constellated around the challenge of thinking differently about nature, as well as what it means to be human. Those involved have undertaken to reconceptualize what counts as nature outside the bounds of the nature/culture divide, to build connections rather than rehearse separation”.

Deconstructing child-nature-culture binaries using posthumanist theories for example have in recent times become the focus of work by a number of childhood researchers and authors (Hultman & Lenz-Taguchi 2010; Malone 2016, 2018; Taylor 2011, 2013; Rautio 2013). The work of these authors provides important foundations for structuring how we come to think firstly about the purpose of western education and question its contribution to stories of human exceptionalism; and then consider how education, namely posthuman education could blur distinctions between human and nonhuman; living and non-living. Posthumanists working against disciplinary borders and binaries for example have called for a new form of attentiveness that challenges divisive compartmentalising of ‘hard’ and ‘soft sciences’; ‘natural’ and ‘life sciences’; ‘social sciences’ and ‘humanities’ (Snaza 2013).   These artificial divides in education reiterate battles over territory and temporalities and locate debates about meaning making in silos. Taylor (2011, p.432) proposed a challenge to childhood educators to open up spaces for more generous opportunities for interconnectedness as a step towards an attentive posthumanist politics:

“...in encouraging childhood scholars to engage with geography’s hybrid nature/culture analytic, I am not seeking to provide an answer to the ‘nature’ of childhood but to open it up to a new form of political enquiry which attends to the interconnectedness of the human and more-than-human world”.

Childhoodnature as used in our shared collective work illustrates a blurring of the boundaries between children and nature, to acknowledge the children are nature, that we humans are always part of the ecosystem and we are, and always have been, initmately entangled in the planet with a host of other.

References


Head, L. (2016). Hope and Grief in The Anthropocene: Re-conceptualising Human-Nature Relations. New York: Routledge.
Hultman, K., & Lenz Taguchi, H. (2010). Challenging Anthropocentric Analysis of Visual Data: A Relational Materialist Methodological Approach to Educational Research. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 23(5), pp. 525–542.
Malone, K. (2016). Reconsidering children’s encounters with nature and place using post- humanism. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 32(1), pp. 1–15.
Malone, K. (2018). Children in the Anthropocene: Rethinking sustainability and child friendliness of cities. London, England: Palgrave Macmillan.
Rautio, P. (2013). Children who carry stones in their pockets: On autotelic material practices in everyday life. Children’s Geographies, 11(4), pp. 394–408.
Snaza, N. (2013)  Bewildering Education,Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 10(1), pp. 38-54.
Taylor, A. (2011) Reconceptualizing the ‘nature’ of childhood, Childhood, 18, (4), pp. 420-433.
Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. Oxon, UK: Routledge.









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