Tensions and transitions in policy discourse: re-contextualizing a de-contextualized EE/ESD debate

Stevenson, Robert B. (2006) Tensions and transitions in policy discourse: re-contextualizing a de-contextualized EE/ESD debate. Environmental Education Research, 12 (3). pp. 277-290.

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For many scholars (see Smyth, 1995; Tilbury, 1995; Fien & Tilbury, 2002; Hopkins & McKeown, 2002) the emergence of the discourse of education for sustainable development (ESD) over the past 15 or so years is viewed as a progressive transition in the field, along similar lines to the positive portrayal of prior historical transitions from nature study to conservation education to environmental education (Stevenson, 1987). Two claimed advancements represented by this new discourse are identified by Smyth (1995) as: (1) the replacement of a problem (or negative) orientation associated with environmental education by a contrasting positive orientation of ESD; and (2) a shift from an almost exclusive focus on environmental concerns without attention to social and human development issues (in environmental education), to the inclusion of social and economic development alongside the environmental dimension (in ESD). The conceptual superiority of ESD is continually claimed despite the acknowledgement by many of the same authors of the definitional problems of the term ‘sustainable development’ (SD), principally its fuzziness or ambiguity which has led to multiple, often contradictory interpretations. Given these tensions in the concept that is foundational to ESD, questions then arise as to how such tensions play out in the discourse of ESD, and the extent to which such a policy orientation can provide a helpful framework for thinking about practice and making a transition away from environmental education. In this vignette I first examine Smyth's (1995) and Bonnett's (2002) different positions on the potential for clarifying the ambiguities and contradictions of the concept of sustainable development, before focusing on Smyth's two claims. Central to both this issue of clarifying meanings of sustainable development and Smyth's second claim is the polarization of viewpoints on the human–environment connection which, drawing in part on Bonnett's different philosophical perspective, I argue is limiting. Finally, in looking ahead to address the policy–practice tensions in environmental education and ESD, I argue for contextualizing policy discourses by engaging educators in their co‐construction.

Item ID: 19478
Item Type: Article (Research - C1)
ISSN: 1469-5871
Date Deposited: 20 Dec 2011 04:55
FoR Codes: 13 EDUCATION > 1303 Specialist Studies in Education > 130399 Specialist Studies in Education not elsewhere classified @ 100%
SEO Codes: 93 EDUCATION AND TRAINING > 9399 Other Education and Training > 939999 Education and Training not elsewhere classified @ 100%
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