Perturbing the theory/practice divide in environmental education research to arrive at situations thinking

David Clarke, Jamie Mcphie

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review

Abstract / Description of output

With this presentation we share some fictionalised stories of the (non) use of theory in environmental education research. We think with contemporary theories of mind and the new materialisms to explore when and where the theory/practice divide has broken down for us as we have gone about environmental education (research). We discuss relatively ordinary events: teaching, presenting at a conference, and writing for publication to demonstrate how thinking and practice never exist independently of each other. We consider how thinking/practices make some practices/thoughts possible, and others impossible. We present three stories as partially fictionalised accounts to ask both where and when thinking occurs: We talk with students and trees on the Cairngorms Plateau; we are heckled by an audience member as we present a paper, and we receive reviews on a submitted manuscript, where the reviewer inquires, seemingly earnestly, if we’d be concerned about the presence of wolves when camping, given our philosophical orientation. These stories are indicative of Derrida’s often misunderstood/misquoted statement, ‘There is nothing outside text’, often mistaken for ‘there is no reality outside of language’. When we might suggest, for instance, that ‘nature’ is a cultural construction, we are not stating that the wolves on the ridge above your tent aren’t ‘real’, in some way. What we are saying is that the concept or idea of nature is entirely invented, and as such can perform (or be practised) in myriad ways. The concept ‘wolf’ is just as illusory and performs differently for different people and cultures over time. It can still bite you, whatever ‘it’ is, regardless of how it is conceived. Of course, postmodernists aren’t trying to deny the existence of reality, ‘they are talking about whether meaning can be derived from observation of the real world’ (Scott, 1996). This well-known ‘debate’ helps frame our thinking with these stories as we think with new theories of mind and the material turn to think social construction as itself materially real. With each story, we speculate on the material ‘when’ and ‘where’ of the thinking at hand to demonstrate thinking’s already environ(mental) nature. This, and the other examples we present, helps to demonstrate how thoughts occur as environments, rather than occurring over and against them. This immanent take reveals situations thinking, as events, and demonstrates a missing territory of reality (and research), in that it literally matters what theories we think with, or ‘use’, in environmental education research.

Scott, J. (1996). Postmodern Gravity Deconstructed, Slyly. New York Times. Published: May 18, 1996 Retrieved from:
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 4 Apr 2023
EventEuropean Conference on Education Research (ECER) 2023 - Glasgow, United Kingdom
Duration: 22 Aug 2023 → …


ConferenceEuropean Conference on Education Research (ECER) 2023
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Period22/08/23 → …


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