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Dissertation proposal


Developing compassionate sense of place:
Experience and pedagogy in the creation of social and environmental conscientization.

Randolph Haluza-DeLay

Link to the complete Dissertation research

Environmental and social problems are expanding rapidly in complexity and severity. Solutions are hindered by what Thomas Homer-Dixon calls the ingenuity gap (2000). This research seeks to understand how environmental social movements help to bridge this gap through the utilization of social capital and the organization of learning opportunities that create a "compassionate sense of place."

When the United Nations declared 2000 to be the International Year for the Promotion of a Culture of Peace, it sought to address peace as an interconnecting web of social, ecological, structural, cultural and human rights issues. Environmental educators often assert the importance of knowing the local, or developing a "sense of place," as foundational for environmental awareness and action and an antidote to placelessness and alienation (Relph, 1976). This is asserted even in the face of globe-spanning problems such as climate change and environmental refugees.

Sense of place is often described as "a quality of space that lives in the minds and emotions of people who live there"(Raffan, 1992, p.21). While laudable, place-based education is problematic in mobile North American society and more problematic in a globalized world. Therefore, this research seeks to understand the role of a sense of place given these conditions; how do environmental social movements constitute the local sense of place within a global context?

Drawing from several sources, I have proposed compassion as an integral component of a constructive sense of place (Haluza-DeLay, 1999). Most moral philosophy and education has focussed upon dialogical models that involve rational discourse and understanding of each participant's position. However, in a polyphonic world, especially one in which the privileging of rationalistic ways of knowing is called into question, the dialogical model may not be sufficient (Naess, 1989; Noddings, 1992; Ruiz and Vallejos, 1999). Since the environment cannot engage in conventional dialogue, the dialogical model is limited in creating alternate relationships between humans and the environment. Friere (1970) includes "love" as a value fundamental to the success of critical pedagogy. A "compassionate sense of place" involves an ethic of care incorporating interpersonal, cultural and environmental elements into the understanding of one's self and one's place, the widening of the individual and collective moral vision and sense of community.

Dominant cultural norms have typically ignored the environment, or seen it as primarily resources or setting for human activity (Merchant, 1980; Naess, 1989). Environmental organizations are at the forefront of problematizing cultural norms by insisting that we pay attention to the earth itself. The interplay between the person and social structures is one of the great conundrums in the social sciences. If a person's intersubjective location is conceived as including relations with the land/environment itself, the interplay of structure and agency becomes tripartite (Berthold-Bond, 2000).

Specifically, this research will investigate the following question: What role do environmental and social change organizations play in altering cultural norms?

This question generates the following subquestions: How do non-formal learning opportunities, such as social activism or voluntarism, contribute to the conscientization of people to environmental and social conditions? How is social capital used to advance the learning opportunities for the organizations and public? How does the local place and global awareness intersect in these questions and what can that teach about global community-building?

Environmental non-profit groups range widely from small citizen action groups operating entirely on volunteer capital, to large, internationally affiliated, professionally managed organizations. As a "provincial hinterland," Northwest Ontario has been a traditionally resource dependent economy (Southcott, 1993). Environmental actors include local and regional groups, and extra-local groups of provincial and national stature that have public involvement in northwest Ontario. The scope of the study will include industry associations that address environmental issues, and organizations that may hold opposing positions. Finally, since the range of "environmental" issues includes such topics as land-use, parks and green space, pollution, waste reduction, and health, the research will also encompass community groups that could see themselves aligned with environmental groups, or that have joint initiatives. This investigation will also consider the involvement of environmental groups with First Nations organizations. For example, the Grassy Narrows First Nation has been supported by environmental and social justice non-governmental organizations during mercury contamination issues in the past, and now during conflicts between land claims and logging.

Because of the variability and complexity of this landscape, this research will be situated in a social capital framework (Bourdieu, 1986). Social capital refers to the norms, organizational trust, and relationships that can be used to achieve organizational goals (Glaeser, 2001; Portes, 1998). Comparing industry, local, and extra-local environmental organizations will yield information on the intersection of social fields, the role of place meanings in social action and learning occasions, and the creation of social capital and learning occasions for citizens and volunteers. This framework also helps to situate the structure-agency relationships between the organization, individual, community and the land (Bourdieu, 1986; Schuller, 2001).

An emergent design will be employed in this study. Ethnographic methods will be used following Spradley (1979). This includes open participation in environmental meetings and gatherings throughout the region, along with discourse analysis of media reports. Interviews with key activists, volunteers and general participants will add depth and richness.

Social movements have an aspect of critical adult education to them (Bowers, 1995; Hart, 1996; Mertig & Dunlap, 2001). Critical pedagogy proposes ways to help people become more conscious of their world and the ways in which they construe it, as well as the ways in which they are socially constrained in understanding and pursuing an optimal quality of life for all (Fay, 1986; Freire, 1970). Clover, Follen, and Hall (2000) have emphasized the need for activists and community organizations to be sensitive to how and where learning takes place. One of the most powerful impacts that social movements have is through their contributions to the creation of new ways of thinking.

The research will contribute to the areas of adult education, critical pedagogy, environmental studies, community development, voluntary sector management and policy studies. The research may also contribute to the understanding of the ingenuity needed to create a global culture of peace by clarifying how people learn from social movements, how social capital is applied in contested environments, and the role of place meanings in local-global socio-environmental issues.

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