"We must find another relationship to nature besides reification, possession, appropriation and nostalgia. No longer able to sustain the fictions of being either subjects or objects, all the partners in the potent conversations that constitute nature must find a new ground for making meanings together" (Haraway, 2004b, p. 126).
As long as knowledge-making is considered to be the purview of humans alone and rationality the dominant and privileged way of knowing, animate Earth will continue to be excluded from research contributions (see Russell, 2005).
"The odd twist is that we become so enamored of our language and its ability to describe the world that we create a false and irresponsible separation. We use language as a device for distancing" (LeGuin, 1994, p. 106).
Together with the many 'spaces-in-between,' this multi-lingual text provides opportunities for the reader to engage with the world in a way that enables conversations where the actors are not all human (Haraway, 2004a). This often requires moving beyond myth and metaphor to re-animate one's (dis)embodied perception (Bai, 2009), and engage in deliberate dialogue with what the field of animist studies describes as "other-than-human persons" (see Harvey, 2006a). It also requires saying "yes to the messiness" of research (Lather, 2006, p. 48) that crosses epistemological and ontological divides, and accepting a non-conventional research text that resonates with bodies and spirits as well as with the human intellect (Dillard, 2006b).
While many suggest that new ways of thinking are needed in order to move towards a more socially just and ecologically sustainable society, these calls, and the form, language, and media through which they are made, often (re)inscribe the same modes of thinking they are trying to move beyond. Thus they do not support that shift as well as they might. The hypertextual form, when engaged with intuitively, and with intention, provides possibilities of encountering just the right quote, insight or place to pause, in order to move a reader beyond current positioning. Similarly, it also provides the possibility of readers skipping, or missing entirely, those ideas or words that provide too great a challenge to their epistemological awareness at any particular time.
This dissertation is written in the context of what has sometimes been described as dual crises: crises in social and ecological system health (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005), and crises of representation, legitimation and politics in research (McKenzie, 2005a). It emerged, in part, as my response to continued calls for new ways of thinking, a new paradigm, and a different language through which to conceptualize and engage with the more-than-human world. This call for a reconceptualizing is contextualized within a continued rhetoric-reality gap in both environmental action and education (Stevenson, 2007a). There seems to be an ongoing and persistent gap between what is known about ecological problems and what is actually happening in response (Barrett, Hart, Nolan & Sammel, 2005; Rickinson, 2001; Scott & Gough, 2003; Stevenson, 2007a, 2007b; Stirling, 2007), as well as a "continued resurfacing" of a gap between educational discourses and responses in practice (Stevenson, 2007a, p. 129; see also, Palmer, 1998). Using the porosity of multimedia hypertext and the spaciousness of art and music for trans-rational knowing, the dissertation form supports both the epistemological and ontological trajectory(ies) of my research (journey), as well as interrogation into the research questions I eventually came to ask.
My knowledge of concerns in the realm of meaning-making began with my doctoral studies, and has intensified as I travelled along this research journey. Deepening understandings of the importance (and politics) of epistemological and ontological congruency across research methods, methodology, and representation, have been vital to both engaging in and writing about this ever-unfolding research dance.
My knowledge of serious problems in ecological system health has been with me for many years. This was in part, a reason for my initial study which aimed to explore the experiences, thinking, and philosophies of teachers who developed and are teaching interdisciplinary high school outdoor/environmental education programs.
Initial Interest(s): Interdisciplinary High School Programs
I initially chose to focus my research on multi-credit interdisciplinary high school outdoor/environmental programs (integrated programs) because I witnessed, both in my own students and in the words of teachers, students and parents from other programs, the powerful learning that occurs and impact they had on the lives of many program participants (see Caspell, 2006; Haskell, 2000; Hood & Macmillan, 2002; Horwood, 1994, 1995; Jupp, 1995; Orberndorfer, 2000; Russell & Barrett, 2002; Russell & Burton, 2000). I also chose them because I knew from first hand experience, and later published studies, that the challenges in setting up and sustaining such programs are significant (Comishin, Dyment, Potter & Russell, 2004; Hood & McMillan, 2002; Horwood, 1994).
In these programs, students spend an entire semester with the same peers and one or two teachers involved in interdisciplinary, participatory learning both within and outside of the school building. At least thirty programs exist in public schools across Canada. Integrated programs provide opportunities for whole-body, interdisciplinary, outdoor and experiential learning with ample spaces for critical and creative thinking. Most important to me is the opportunity for community building, where the community does not include only humans. Since the programs tend to reflect the values and beliefs of their teachers (Horwood, 1995; Hood & MacMillian, 2002; Oberndorfer, 2000), and I was curious about why teachers decided to put in the extensive effort required to develop and run them, my original research questions set out to inquire into the beliefs, motivations, and significant life experiences of teachers who develop and run integrated programs with an outdoor and/or environmental focus.
Begun as a narrative inquiry, this work morphed in a way that has required me to dance across epistemological and ontological divides. Therefore, it offers, and sometimes requires, multiple readings. Most of the data within this initial portion of the study (found in green audio clips inserted throughout the hypertext) comes from extended conversations with one teacher (Jeff). He was teaching at the first of my two school study sites. Jeff and I have shared conversations for three years in a range of contexts: during in-school visits to his class, on extended hiking and canoe trips with his students, at a provincial sustainability Youth Conference, and at numerous coffee house 'interviews.' We talked about his work with students, his beliefs, and, since life stories tell much about our contradictory selves, our desires, and the ways we often simultaneously resist and take up discourses. We also talked about some of his early experiences with school, politics, and place. Again and again he spoke of how important environmental issues were to him and how important it was to teach them.
These conversations, together with my understandings of discourse (as contextualized and defined by poststructuralism), and explorations of the literature in environmental thought, led me to suggest that teacher desires may be thwarted in their attempts to teach environmental education more by the power of dominant discourses as they relate to the performance of legitimate identities/subjectivities, as by lack of time, motivation, belief, skills, perceived curriculum connections or appropriate resources as is often argued (see Schweisfurth, 2006; Thompson, 2004). Thus my research questions shifted to the following (see also, Barrett, 2005):
how might discourses of teaching, learning and nature work to constrain and enable environmental educators
how might teachers' subjectivities have been produced by these discourses
And, from a methodological perspective:
how might narrative inquiry within a feminist poststructural framework be useful in addressing these questions.
These questions (particularly the first two) proved very fruitful, and are explored in the following papers.
My observations at the two sites, together with my ongoing conversations with Jeff (one of two teachers at site one), and my increasing understanding of the constituative nature of discourse, made it increasingly clear that these programs and their teachers were particularly rich sites for my study, but for different reasons than I originally anticipated. Despite Jeff's passion for environmental education, and the fact that their high school's interdisciplinary program had many of the typically named structural barriers removed (he and his colleague were team-teaching where they could work across disciplinary boundaries with the same small group of 16-20 grade 11 students all day, would go on numerous single and multi-day trips, and had access to lots of community resources), Jeff (together with his team-teaching colleague), still seemed constrained in the ways he engaged environmental education.
The question of teacher subjectivity and discourse together with my own desires to represent my work in ways congruent with my knowing, ultimately led me to an impass (highlighted in Barrett, 2007) which is at the heart of many critiques of post-research. Even after discourses and the ways in which they have been produced and are reinscribed have been identified, how can they be shifted? I continued to explore the questions above (although I dropped the focus on narrative), and immersed myself in explorations of ways to change constraining discourses in my own body.
Thus began what became the bulk of the rest of the study, and most of what you see here in hypertext. What was initially an investigation into the discourses that enable and constrain environmental educators, this study became an exploration of what might unfold if I made the commitment to a dialogic method(ology) and a remapping much of my epistemic and ontological landscape. The study became an investigation of ways in which one might engage in research and representation that traverses the socially constructed, hierarchical, human/nature divide. It unfolded in the spaces between poststructuralist deconstruction – which enabled me to see the many constraining discourses which made hearing and researching with Earth’s many voices impossible – and an animist ontology, which, as I engage it, is about relationality (Harvey, 2006a), and based on assumptions that that the universe can be experienced as both "psychic-spiritual" and "physical-material" (Berry & Tucker, 2006, p. 57; see also, Turner, 1993/2003). The following three key questions emerged (see method(ology) for a slightly revised and updated version):
in the context of education, what are some of the discourses that have made the twinned acts of research/representation in communication with animate Earth both (im)possible and (un)thinkable?
how, in research methodology and representation, might researchers both find for themselves, and provide for their 'readers,' openings, on the level of epistemology, ontology and method(ology), to research in collaboration with the wisdom of animate Earth? Or, how might I represent insights from animate Earth in a research text in ways that both provide expression and offer 'readers' an opportunity to hear and respond to Earth's insights?
how might researchers (and others) learn to perceive differently (to listen to, hear, interpret and re-represent) the many voices of animate Earth in their texts?
To support the exploration of these questions, sections of my final coffee house conversation with Jeff (green buttons) are selectively placed throughout this hypertext, providing context of my earlier theorizing. The reflexive conversations with Aboriginal scholar Shauneen Pete (gold buttons) provide articulations of some of the many tensions embedded within my body and this study. The blue buttons give you both spaces to pause, and insights into some of the counternarratives which accompanied me on my journey. Further tellings of the process are in the writing about, writing through, and method(ology) sections – sections which continue to unfold as you travel through the links. The introduction, researching with, and writing about sections speak to the value of multi-media, multi-'lingual' hypertextual representation to create spaces for the reader to co-create his or her own meaning with assistance from spirit, as does the essay, Taking Representation Seriously: Epistemological and Ontological Congruence in Hypertextual Research/Representation.
Is the dissertation fact? Is it fiction? At this point in time, neither can be proven in any absolute way. But given increasing admonitions that we are at a turning point in history, together with the ongoing and puzzling gap between knowledge about environmental concerns and limited action and education in response (Stevenson, 2007a), this hypertext may just offer access points to more "ethical imaginings" (Fawcett, 2000, p. 146) or "sustainable fictions" (Gough, 1991, p. 40), supported through an ontology of spiritual animism. After all, Western lives and lifestyles, lived out under the paradigm of scientific rationality, are at times not rational (Plumwood, 2002) and often not sustainable (see Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005).
Haraway (2004b) suggests that there is "specific work to be done if we are to strike up a coherent form of life, a conversation with other animals" (p. 141). A great part of that work can be accomplished through resisting the lull of a linear "comfort text" (Lather, 2001, p. 205) which privileges human intellectual process in meaning-making and instead, allows the 'text' to "work" (if you let it), not as "a linear unfolding of information that builds towards a sense of 'being on top of' a situation through knowledge'" (Lather, 2000, p. 287), but rather as research/representation which was created through, and is able to be read with,input from more-than-human persons Thus, rather than relying solely on rational linear arguments and in doing so, risk reinscribing the privileged place cognitive thought (Bai, 2003, 2009) as the dominant way of knowing, I use multimedia hypertext to invite readers into dialogic readings of this research/representation. This is to invite 'readers' not simply hear about re-animated perception (Bai, 2009) and the possibility of an animate Earth that speaks, but rather to offer invitations to 'read' through that perception, and perhaps even with Earth. This is not an attempt to reify particular methodologies and their episto-ontological premises, but rather to put them to the test of mobilization (Hart, 2005a) – all the while asking the reader to be attentive to their own places of discomfort and embrace the possibility of learning in places that "disrupt the frameworks we traditionally use to make sense of the world and ourselves" (Kumashiro, 2001, p. 5).
The Abstract provides a conventional overview of the dissertation. The introduction is as its title states, while Reading thisdissertation provides a storied explanation of the intention behind the representational form. If the hypertext's webbed form proves frustrating to make sense of, it might be useful to return to here, or to the next section: Taking representation seriously: Epistemological and Ontological Congruence in Hypertextual Research/Representation. This prose section, written at the end of the research process, makes more explicit the rationale for representing the dissertation in hypertext. Some readers may also prefer to begin with the Executive Summary. Writing about provides context for the limitations of linear explanatory prose, and part of the impetus for the shift in focus from the original research questions (see Study context above for more detail). Writing through poses some early thoughts, questions and tensions. Beyond grammar speaks most directly to my desire to acknowledge and express some of the tensions of 'coming out' as an animist in the contested spaces of Westernized academic culture. The Method(ology) section explains, in image, prose, and hyperlinks, the many methods behind the process of a dialogic methodology. It is supported by Researching with, which recounts openings to, and tensions associated with researching through, an animist ontology. If a more linear prose version is preferred, Taking representation seriously (see above) may be more satisfying. The Glossary both provides an explication of key terms and reveals much of the theoretical framework(s) for the dissertation. Study context gives the background to the study and its emergent questions. Study sites describes the school sites which prompted many of the final research questions, and also introduces the idea that the self-reflexive examination of a dissertation process itself constitutes a worthwhile research study, sometimes referred to as autoethnography. The Acknowledgements and Research ethics provide very small but important spaces for expression of thanks to those who have travelled routes of change before me and whose words, gestures and creative expressions offered both openings for and challenges to this project. To the human and more-than-human participants in, and supporters of this research, I offer my deepest gratitude. Visitors to the site may track their own journey through the hypertext in the Reader's Journey link (the data stays in the computer cache for 7 days, as long as the cookies are enabled). Recording and analyzing these journeys would make a great study someday... but that is for another time (let me know if you are interested). References are in standard A.P.A. format. The list includes citations from both the hypertext and the published papers which form this dissertation. Finally, the Site map may, for some, be the most useful 'return-to' page. Here all the files are listed in alphabetical order by title. Like most of the document, reading it dialogically (i.e. intuitively) can open windows to new ideas, or provide just the right quotation to begin a class, open a paper, or bring into a meeting. It is also here that the bulk of the content, the bowels of the dissertation, so to speak, are explicitly visible.