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Encountering Waste Landscapes: More-Than-Human Place Literacies in Early Childhood Education

Sat, April 29, 2:45 to 4:15pm, Henry B. Gonzalez Convention Center, Floor: Meeting Room Level, Room 221 C


Purposes and Theoretical Framework: The hyper-separation of (non-human)nature from (human)culture in EuroWestern humanism, where nature is viewed as a site for human control, exploitation and use is inherently entangled with the current environmental challenges faced by the planet (Plumwood, 1993; Tsing, 2015). There is a growing body of work that underlines the need for responses to these challenges that avoid recapitulating binaries. Examples of dualisms abound in environmental early years education in practices that privilege human-centered heroic discourses of children as stewards who will ‘save the earth’, that view nature as a passive object of children’s learning, or that maintain romantic images of children and nature (Duhn, 2012; Taylor, 2013).

In settler colonial contexts, these dualisms are also maintained in place-based education that ignores Indigenous relational presences in encounters with land (Nxumalo, 2016; Somerville, 2007; Tuck & McKenzie, 2014). This presentation is informed by recent work in early childhood studies that asserts that avoiding these anthropocentric and colonizing traps in nurturing children’s relations to more-than-human lifeworlds in current times of ecological vulnerability, requires radical theoretical and pedagogical shifts (Taylor, Pacini-Ketchabaw & Blaise, 2016). These shifts, as Indigenous knowledges have taught for millennia, include foregrounding the enmeshment of humans and nature in mutual (albeit highly uneven) ecological vulnerabilities and also include decentering the human as sole agentic actor in the world (Cajete, 2000; le Grange, 2011; Wildcat, 2009).

In this presentation, we bring these considerations to literacy education through a situated engagement with the question of what shifts away from colonizing humanisms or anthropocentrisms might mean for thinking with young children’s literacies in place-based learning. We are particularly interested in engaging with what expressions of situated more-than-human literacies in place-based education that might bring for children’s learning with the anthropogenically damaged places they co-inhabit (Somerville, 2007).

Data and Modes of Inquiry: Methodologically, we work with visual and textual data from an ethnography of children’s everyday encounters with a seasonal wetland that had also been turned into a waste dump. We pay particular attention to the socio-materialities, vitalities and relationalities of more-than-human others (such as water, plants, frogs, and discarded things) rather than their objectification. We enter this data assemblage diffractively (Barad, 2007; Mazzei, 2014) by connecting it to more-than-human place literacies as emergent and situated potentialities in the children’s encounters.

Conclusions and Scholarly Significance: Our diffractive engagements are attuned to the politics of this particular contested place as we juxtapose everyday encounters with situated place stories and living place knowledges. Reading data, place stories and knowledges “through, with, and in relation to each other” (Mazzei, 2014, p. 744) creates interferences in innocent human-centric perspectives of the children’s pedagogical encounters. Alongside the potentials for unsettling colonizing humanist binaries, we discuss the scholarly contributions of this work in relation to the ethical implications of foregrounding entangled human/more-than-human ‘readings of world’ (Friere & Slover, 1983) for children living in inherited anthropogenic places.