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Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard

Exploring education between discourse and matter: exceeding existing limits of the sustainability discourse

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Introduction: In this theoretical paper we argue that the current predominance of discursive research in the field of ESD entails an epistemological trap, a sustainability discourse, wherein ESD-thinking is caught, hauled up, and taken hostage, in an overly strong faith in signifying agencies, meaning discourse, the socially constructed, ideology, etc. In this sense we argue that existing approaches, drawing primarily on theories of language, have gained too much explanatory power, almost to the point where language as ontological structure has obtained status as a priori.

Objectives: Our claim is that materiality and the effects hereof play to little a role when dealing with notions of nature and education. A spectrum, which is constituted in the tension between materiality and signifying agencies, must therefore be established, if we are to avoid understanding education as only a game of language. Thus, we wish to expand educational thinking by expanding what is meant by ‘the nature of education’.

Methods: This paper is a theoretical, philosophical approach to understanding how materialism could play a more explicit role in ESD research. Applying speculative realism and onto-cartography to the field of ESD provide the opportunity to investigate how materiality plays a part; to overcome the subject-object based perspectives on materiality; to understand materiality as machines instead of objects or cultural artefacts. This approach is an effort to delimit the domain of discursive understanding. It enables us to speak of environmental factors, disease, or nature as something real, something that doesn’t change, just because we speak of it differently.

Results: Everything as it is for us, will always be both materiality and signifying agency, because of the perceptional boundaries of reality: Just as we argue that materiality always influences educational thinking, or any other conception, signifying agencies cannot be circumvented. They are exactly what their name indicates: something that signifies, something that adds meaning.

Conclusion: It would be a horrible mistake to, in the name of realism, move away from the valuable social critiques based on discursive apporaches. Our point here is to acknowledge that there are distinct limits to these approaches, especially, when dealing with issues linked to nature, the environment, and climate change. We therefore place reality, not on, but behind this battlefield of real vs. ideal, and simply define reality as that, which structures perception. It is the conditions of possibility of perception. The reality is, that signifying agencies function and contribute to defining worlds – a point, which is underpinned by the concept of machines. In this sense, the world isn’t – as Merleau-Ponty otherwise would have it – what we perceive, but the reality of the structure of what we perceive. Following the initial line of inquiry, reality then is based upon the dualism between ideology and matter.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year1 Jul 2015
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2015
EventWorld Environmental Education Conference: Planet and People - How can they develop together - Gothenbrug, Sweden
Duration: 29 Jun 20152 Jul 2015


ConferenceWorld Environmental Education Conference

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