Com-post-humanism: implications for foundation phase environmental education in South Africa

Doctoral Thesis


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University of Cape Town

In early childhood education research (which includes Grade R and Grade 1 in the Foundation Phase in South Africa), posthuman frameworks are mostly used without explicitly making the connection to issues of climate change and environmental education/sustainability education. Within the context of the Anthropocene where natural and human forces are visibly entangled, this thesis draws on posthuman frameworks combined with multidisciplinary, place-conscious environmental education theories to inform research and educational practices. These theories are not motivated by a Western ideology or take for granted that Western theorists have the answers that all cultures should live by. These environmental theories and a posthuman praxis are always relational (nature-culture, body-mind, intellect-affect), have a flat ontology where human qualities are not at the centre of relationality and they explore the perceptual, cultural, ecological, and political dimensions of land/place. These theories eschew ideas of romantic (colonial) wilderness experiences and foster wider concerns of ecojustice, ecological thought and life processes that are also relevant to everyday (South African) urban living experiences. The following ‘(in)tension’ (imagining different futures in the midst of the frictions of research) is explored: How do posthuman environmental philosophies disrupt anthropocentric thinking and inform new ways of doing theory and practice for environmental education in South African schools in the Foundation phase? During an eleven month period of practical exploration, ‘walking a world into being’ and encountering Grade R and Grade 3 lessons in a Cape Town urban government school, video recordings and intraviews provoked and disturbed all possibilities of ‘pre-knowing’. Posthuman ‘ethodologies’ were conceptualized to rework the post-human subject at the intersection of post-qualitative research and Anthropocene entanglement. The idea of methods as processes of gathering ‘data’ changed to methods as ‘abecoming-entangled-in-relations’. Methods became receptive of ethicopolitical matters and concerns as they happen. Rather than concluding with ontological certainties and ‘findings’, normative standards (a humanist curriculum and work books) are problematized and the suggestion that all education should be environmental, is offered. The thesis gestures towards a pedagogy of affective learning right across the curriculum with land, multispecies engagements and ‘storied matter’ as an affirmative and creative way to ‘stay with the trouble’.