Place-based praxis: exploring place-based education and the philosophy of place.
Harrison, Samuel Carey
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This thesis interweaves two strands of inquiry, one educational, the other philosophical. The educational inquiry is seeded by the need to understand both embodiment and learning within experiences of place in education. The second strand is prompted by Evernden’s insight that the environmental crisis is a ‘crisis of being’ (1985). Evernden argues that our perceived separation from the world is at the root of the environmental issues we face. Highlighting the role that ‘place’ might have in both these inquiries, I examine the educational and philosophical debates around place, drawing especially on place-based education (Gruenewald & Smith, 2008), and phenomenology (Merleau-Ponty, 1968). Arguments from within these literatures indicate that experiences of, and in, place hold the potential to reexamine what it means to be part of the world, here, now. Three key research questions emerge from my examination of the literature: 1 – what role do experiences of place have in education? 2 – what is the ontology of place? and 3 – how does place affect thinking and learning? This third question is the meeting point of the philosophical and educational threads of the inquiry, and also reflects back on the process of the inquiry itself. Given the focus of these questions on the lived experience of place, phenomenology is chosen as a suitable methodology. However, I argue that the full potential of phenomenological research can only be met through a more participative and experiential approach. Drawing on literature on participative research, grouped under the term ‘action research,’ (Reason & Bradbury, 2001), a series of collaborative phenomenological research workshops were run in 2009 and 2010 with two groups of practicing educators. Descriptions of experiences of place and place-based education, from within the workshops and the participants’ workplaces, were distilled into themes by the groups. These themes served two purposes: the first was to explore the possibilities of place-based education in various working contexts, an inquiry which was completed during the workshops. The second was to seed a phenomenological investigation into the ontology of place, exploring questions from the philosophical debate on place. This second part of the inquiry was completed by myself. Both groups felt place-based education revealed aspects of place taken for granted or un-explored. This was summed up by one participant in the phrase ‘bringing place to life.’ The participants’ understandings of the different aspects of placebased education including the pedagogy involved, and the possible outcomes, show how place-based education was understood and applied in different contexts. The phenomenological analysis which builds on the participants’ understandings, describes a contrast between un-examined place and the intimate and immersive experience that can occur when place is ‘brought to life.’ The final part of the thesis explores in further depth the role of the mind in ‘bringing place to life,’ putting forward the idea of mind as a phenomenon which can adopt different scales. When learning and thinking on the same scale as the body, the mind is brought to place, and the dualism between mind and body breaks down. ‘Thinking in place’ is put forward as a way of understanding both the experience of learning in context, and the phenomenological immersion of both body and mind in place. The conclusions explore the implications of this research for the various fields touched on in the study: educational approaches such as environmental education, philosophical approaches to place, and research methodologies.
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