Education, sustainability and intersubjectivity: Exploring the possibility of the emergence of new ways of knowing, being and acting in the world
Chave, Sarah Sian
Thesis or dissertation
University of Exeter
Reason for embargo
To prepare material for publication
In this conceptual thesis I explore a paradox inherent in sustainability, namely that to 'sustain' something it needs to be allowed to emerge into something different than it currently is. Moreover, it is not always knowable in advance what that ‘something’ will be. I also argue that education is fundamentally about sustainability, as its role is to allow/encourage a human being to emerge into someone different than he/she currently is. I assert, however, that whilst this is education’s role, it currently, and paradoxically, works against itself by defining the human subject in advance (as a particular ‘ideal’ kind of rational autonomous being), hence closing the matter of what a human can grow into before education even starts. I argue that complexity thinking and what Osberg (2015) calls complexity- compatible thinking, posthumanist/posthuman and feminist thinking provide logics to approach the issue of emergence, including the emergence of what it is to be a human subject. It is through engaging with these logics to keep the abundant possibilities of the future radically open that my thesis makes a contribution to the field of education and sustainability. To make such a contribution I first of all identify that Biesta (2006, 2013) and his ‘pedagogy of interruption’ are working within the logic of complexity thinking. In his theory Biesta identifies how fleeting moments can interrupt existing rational autonomous understandings of human subjectivity. Whilst acknowledging that one cannot programme such ‘fleeting moments’ into education, I draw on ideas from Arendt, Mouffe, Rancière and Masschelein and Simons to encourage the possibility of such moments - moments which open up spaces in which, through acting and speaking with others, who one is as an initium, a beginner can emerge. However, emergence of the new raises the important issue of ethics. I argue that in her two-fold concept of forgiveness and mutual promising Arendt provides a way to develop an immanent ethics arising from horizontal relationships between people speaking and acting together. Finally, I focus on the fleeting moment or event of interruption itself. Drawing on Arendt, Loidolt, Keller and Braidotti I argue that this can be understood as a first-person intersubjective encounter under conditions of plurality. I understand plurality as speaking and acting together with unique others open to the stance one expresses and vice versa. In intersubjective encounters one does not reveal an inner essence to others. Instead who one is emerges intersubjectively, in and through the encounter, creating a surplus, something new that was not in the world before. I also argue how such encounters have the potential to be ethical encounters. I then go beyond Arendt and draw on posthumanist and posthuman thinking to consider the possibility of intersubjective first-being ethical encounters with(in) the wider natural world. I argue that allowing some time for school understood as skholé – a safe space, protected from politicisation by the issues of the day, to reflect and explore who one is, and how one can act in the world – has an important role in encouraging, valuing and reflecting on such encounters. I conclude that education which understands sustainability as an emergent process builds a bridge between education as a sustainable and education as a democratic process. In such an education who one is as a subject appears through intersubjective encounters, bringing into the world the possibility of the emergence of new, unexpected ways of knowing, being and acting essential for sustainability.
PhD in Education