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Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard

Historicising ESE - potential new directions and priorities for ESE policy and policy research

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This paper presents an explorative study of environmental and sustainability education (ESE) policy research literature and aims to derive from this stock-taking process novel insights that can inspire future ESE policy and policy research.

Although up till now often labelled as an ‘emerging’ field of scholarship, during the past decades ESE research has been characterised by a significant growth of literature (Wright and Pullen 2007; Scott 2009). Not only the number of articles on ESE but also the journals in which they were published (disciplinary journals as well as in mainstream interdisciplinary and educational journals) and the number of authors writing about it have increased strongly. These are all signs of a healthy field of research, but we do also argue that to fully exploit the potential of the field a strong sense of the history of the field is of utmost importance. As emerging researchers in this field, we want to explore the rich body of literature in order to gain a sense of history which, we believe, is vital to determine and discuss new directions and priorities for future research. In doing so, we particularly focus on ESE policy research and the link between research and policy.

Our own research interests will guide this exploration. On the one hand, it is against the backdrop of the theoretical inquiries and discussions in which we are engaged that the history of the field ‘talks’ to us. On the other hand, we are particularly interested in finding inspiration for future research in these domains. In particular, we will thus relate our review of ESE policy literature to two vital issues in our research: materiality and democracy. First, as several authors argue (Fenwick and Edwards 2013; Lysgaard and Fjelsted 2015) examining the social without the material implies working with a limited concept of society. They urge the necessity of delimiting the role of discursive approaches as the sole road to a coherent understanding of what education should be based on and emphasise the importance of including a focus on the effects of materiality. Especially when engaging with ecological and sustainability issues, they stress, educational researchers should be mindful of the pitfalls of exclusively relying on language, discourse, and notions like social constructivism. ESE scholars therefore argue for moving the field of ESE research beyond the boundaries of the Modern Constitution with its strict division between, on the one hand, the world of nonhuman objects, science, nature, materiality, etc. and, on the other, the world of human subjects, society, politics, ethics, etc. (e.g. Garrison et al. 2015; Van Poeck et al. 2014). Secondly, considering that sustainability issues are often very uncertain and controversial (both in factual and normative terms) and drastically affect our planet and its inhabitants, researchers argue that these issues raise major democratic challenges (Lundegård and Wickman 2012; Sund and Öhman 2014; Van Poeck et al. 2014). ESE is characterised by a certain entanglement of educational and political/democratic processes. Therefore, research about the role of education in the light of a more sustainable world inevitably implies questions of democratic thought. Other perspectives could have been chosen, but as this study represents an effort to understand the history of the field from the specific perspective of two early career researchers with an explicit wish to contribute to the field for the next 30-40 years, topics aligning with our interests as well as with lively debates in contemporary educational scholarship have been chosen.


For this explorative study of ESE policy research literature, we scrutinise all 21 volumes (96 issues) of the journal ‘Environmental Education Research’ (EER) in order to identify research articles addressing ESE policy. A search through the journal website’s search engine using the keyword ‘policy’ results in more than 500 articles. We will therefore screen all the available EER articles in order to select a shortlist of 20 to 30 interesting papers. This selection is not based upon neutral or objective criteria but, as argued above, related to our aim to gain a sense of history in relation to our (future) research interests as emerging researchers. As such, our endeavour could be understood as a genealogy of ESE policy research that could inform others’ research and potentially be duplicated with other research interests or other journals. In order to select the shortlist of paper that will be further analysed, two researchers (the authors of this paper) will screen the entire journal and select articles independent from each other and bring together the results. In a second phase, our selection will be presented to experienced researchers in the field (e.g. members of the journal’s editorial board) in order to trace possible blind spots. The selected papers will be further analysed in view of our research aims described above.

Expected Outcomes

Exploring what has been investigated so far in ESE policy research and how these analyses have been done, what is lacking in existing research (blind spots) and which approaches are overrepresented, we put forward a number of theoretical, methodological and policy challenges for future research. Taking into account critical reviewers’ (e.g. Scott 2009; Reid and Scott 2006) remark that ESE research and literature is isolated within the field’s own niche and needs to broaden its horizon, we thereby investigate what theoretical fields such as ‘speculative realism’ and ‘actor network theory’ can offer to the field of ESE policy research.


Fenwick, T. and Edwards, R. 2013. Performative ontologies. Sociomaterial approaches to researching adult education and lifelong learning. European Journal for Research on the Education and Learning of Adults 4(1):49-63. Garrison, J., Östman, L. and Håkansson, M. 2015. The creative use of companion values in environmental education and education for sustainable development: exploring the educative moment, Environmental Education Research 21(2):183-204. Lundegård, I. and Wickman, P.O. 2012. It takes two to tango: studying how students constitute political subjects in discourses on sustainable development, Environmental Education Research 18(2):153-169. Lysgaard, J. and Fjeldsted, K. 2015. “Education between Discourse and Matter” in P. Kemp (ed.), Nature in Education. Berlin: Lit Verlag. Reid, A. and Scott, W. 2006. Researching education and the environment: retrospect and prospect. Environmental Education Research 12(2/3):571-587. Scott, W. 2009. Environmental education research: 30 years on from Tbilisi. Environmental Education Research 15(2):155-64. Sund, L. and Öhman, J. 2014. On the need to repoliticise environmental and sustainability education: rethinking the postpolitical consensus, Environmental Education Research 20(5): 639-659. Van Poeck, K., Goeminne, G. and Vandenabeele, J. 2014 (pre-published online). Revisiting the democratic paradox of environmental and sustainability education: sustainability issues as matters of concern. Environmental Education Research Wright, T. and Pullen, S. 2007. Examining the Literature: A Bibliometric Study of ESD Journal Articles in the Education Resources Information Centre Database. Journal of ESD 1(3):77-90.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year9 Sep 2015
Publication statusPublished - 9 Sep 2015
Event‘European Conference on Educational Research: Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research - Budapest, Hungary
Duration: 7 Sep 201511 Sep 2015


Conference‘European Conference on Educational Research

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