PhD Dissertation by Katrien van Poeck
University of Leuven, October 2013
"The United Nations designated the decade 2005-2014 as the UN Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (ESD). Practices of environmental education (EE) are facing this changing policy discourse and practice and are challenged to find new ways to relate to it. Drawing on an empirical analysis of the policymaking process in Flanders as well as of seven very diverse EE practices we aim at grasping the educational dynamics emerging in concrete practices within a policy-context focusing on ESD.
Throughout the history of EE and ESD education is pre-eminently framed as an instrument to tackle social and ecological challenges through a narrowly conceived process of socialisation. Sustainability appears as a goal that can be reached by applying the proper learning strategies and, thus, education is reduced to the acquisition of those skills, competences, knowledge, or dispositions that are regarded vital so as to qualify people for sustainable behaviour or for active, democratic, and sustainable citizenship.
Our analysis of the scholarly discussion about EE and ESD shows how this narrow focus on learning is inadequate so as to grasp what is at stake in educational practices addressing sustainability issues. Researchers on EE and ESD point at the importance of educational practices that, in one way or another, take into account the far-reaching implications of sustainability issues. Yet, all the same criticism is raised about the expectation that these educational practices can solve social and political problems. A variety of different opinions exists simultaneously centred around the paradox between acknowledging pluralism and taking into account sustainability concerns. The insights of Bruno Latour and Noortje Marres about public issues inspired us to develop a conception of EE and ESD that moves beyond normative socialisation without falling into a sheer plurality of opinions, values, interests, and points of view. Thus, this doctoral research aims at deepening our understanding of what it means to approach sustainability issues as public issues within educational processes.
Our analysis of the interaction between policymaking and educational practices shows the emergence of a regime that fosters the privatisation rather than public-isation of sustainability issues within EE practices. That is, policymakers as well as practitioners and participants are somehow expected to be willing and able to see these practices, think and speak about them and act in/toward them in a very particular way and, as a result, EE practices tend to contain (instead of proliferate) contestation and controversy and to limit (rather than broaden) the public around sustainability issues. Yet, this regime to which ESD policymaking contributes does not force EE practices to the privatisation of sustainability issues. It is merely appealing for such practices. As our case study reveals, at particular moments EE practices do create a space for public-isation and, thus, resist the appeal for privatisation. By bringingthisforward in our descriptions we want to invite and inspire the reader to be attentive to different ways of seeing, speaking, thinking, and acting."