ECO-AESTHETIC PEDAGOGY

 

A Provisional Modelling

 

States and Territories specifically addresses the need for a deeper theoretical explication, configuration and application of the three concepts of ecology, aesthetics and pedagogy. In constructing a provisional model of eco-aesthetic pedagogy, I don’t want to predetermine the possibilities for how these three concepts might interact as the applied and creative work of this inquiry progresses in the field. However, based on the preliminary findings of the pilot study in conjunction with the literature review undertaken, an underlying hypothesis can be proposed: that pedagogy emerges from the differential between the ecological and aesthetic dimensions of the learning environment.

 

Massumi (2011, p. 5) provides a pragmatic and speculative framework for understanding this productive relationship between the ecological and the aesthetic dimensions of a learning environment. A provisional treatment of eco-aesthetic pedagogy is outlined below, as structured primarily around Massumi’s model of applied philosophy, or speculative pragmatism (2011) and Deleuze and Guattari’s (1994) geo-philosophy, while also drawing on geo-cultural theories associated with the Anthropocene (Turpin, 2013).  In adapting this model to an educational context, the learning environment is positioned as a doubly problematic field of emergence that is simultaneously relational and qualitative. The relational co-implication of people, places and things in the learning environment are described as ecological. The compositional and expressive arrangement of these beings in the learning environment and their qualitative effects are considered aesthetic. This formulation is also consistent with the work of Deleuze and Guattari (1987, p. 145), who describe the ecological dimension as a machinic assemblage of bodies and their relations, and the aesthetic dimension as the collective assemblage of enunciation and expression. Figure 28 illustrates this breakdown between the ecological and aesthetic dimensions of the learning environment.

 

To be more specific, the ecological dimension describes the following aspects of the learning environment: the beings who are included in the learning environment, and those who are left out; the ways that proximity and distance affect the relationships between beings in the learning environment; where the learning environment is contained within an institutional structure, and where it opens onto new lines of speculation and imagination; which codings, symbols, gesture or metaphors are welcomed in the learning environment, and which are spurned. These are some of the basic relational configurations that constitute the ecological dimension of a given learning environment. They describe what’s inside and what’s outside, and account for the ways that inside and outside interact with one another within the learning environment. It’s important to note that the things that are left out can be just as significant as those that are included.

 

The aesthetic dimension of the learning environment is not a subsequent but a contemporaneous differential to the ecological. These are some of the aspects of the learning environment that fall within the aesthetic dimension: the way the elements of a learning environment come together, and the patterns they form; the way that these patterns become immanent through the events in which learning takes place; how the particular and fluid arrangements of people, places and things in a learning environment create spaces for aesthetic engagement and philosophical speculation; how beings express themselves and encounter one another in those spaces; the everyday practices and movements of bodies; the relationships between sensory cultures, social practices and knowledge production. These are some of the concerns afforded by the aesthetic dimension of the learning environment.

 

Massumi (2011) describes how this breakdown presents a differential between two dimensions of the learning environment, rather than a dichotomy. ‘It concerns coincident differences in manner of activity between which things happen. The coming together of the differences as such - with no equalization or erasure of their differential - constitutes a formative force. It is this force that provides the impulse that the coming experience takes into its own occurrence and appropriates as its own tendency’ (p. 5, emphasis in original). This formative force rendered by the coming together of eco-aesthetic differences in the learning environment is what I refer to as pedagogy. The ecological and the aesthetic are co-emergent and co-implicated in the situated unfolding of the learning event, and in this way a singular pedagogy is composed. ‘Between them, they co-compose a singular effect of unity resulting from how it is that they came differently together’ (ibid). The pedagogy that emerges is thus singular in its qualitative effects, and also in its relational distribution. It is an eco-aesthetic pedagogy, a real event happening in space and time that affects everything involved with it. This involves what Aktkinson (2008) refers to as the truth of the event of learning. This could be understood as a pedagogical truth that punctures epistemic schemata, or as a kind of pedagogical detonation that shatters existing knowledge frameworks. The result is essentially the emergence of an authentic learning experience that ‘exceeds knowledge in a given situation’ (Atkninson, 2008, p. 9).

 

In considering this eco-aesthetic model of the learning environment, Massumi (2011, p. 155) asks yet another significant question: How can it not be obvious that the ecological and the aesthetic, in this coeval integration, become political? I interpret the political, as Massumi describes it, as the pedagogical. The learning event takes place, within which teachers and learners also emerge. The politics of the event inhere to the play between teachers and learners as they continuously emerge in the learning environment. The experience of learning takes:

 

it takes its own time; it takes elements into itself; and it takes in the catalytic sense of an effect setting in, or the combustive sense of a slow detonation. The experience belongs not to any one element, but to their coming together in just this way. (Massumi, 2011, p. 165)

 

Hence, the force of pedagogy is not only situated in the context of the learning environment, but also distributed across the relational and qualitative dimensions of its topology. Both teacher and learner are mobilised, such that one is always assembling with the other.  Furthermore, the political activation of the event that takes place in the learning environment is fundamentally both ecological and aesthetic.

 

That the event is ecological does not mean that it is “natural” as opposed to cultural. It takes in elements classifiable as natural (the physiology of the human body, the physics of light and materials) in a way that effectively fuses them with cultural elements. The coming-together draws on the nature-culture continuum. What are normally considered elements of cultural mediation enter as directly into the ecological nexus as any other element.

(Massumi, 2011, p. 165)

 

In other words, the ecological and the aesthetic both affect the learning environment to such an extent that they cannot be analytically prised from one another. This is because they are drawn into the making of a learning event at exactly the same time, and this takes formation as a reticulated entanglement of natural and cultural phenomena. What emerges from this eco-aesthetic meshwork is the possibility for transitional spaces to open up, for pedagogy to enter as a kind of detonation, and for a fluid, more-than-human politics to settle with the dust.           

           

Several interesting etymological connections emerge from this configuration in relation to the stratigraphic changes associated with the Anthropocene (see Figure 28), in which chemical evidence is indicating that humans are now significantly impacting the earth’s pedosphere, or outermost crust (Certini & Scalenghe, 2011, p. 1269; Richter, 2007). This is described scientifically as a process of ‘pedogenesis’, or soil formation. A tenuous link can thus be extended between the Latin ‘humere’ as the common root of the words ‘humus’ (literally, soil or earth), and ‘humid’ (moist, fecund conditions), and the Latin ‘humanus’ from which the word ‘human’ was derived in the eighteenth century (Carter, 2004). Pedogenesis, then, could also describe the pedagogical production of ‘humus’ (strata) under the ‘humid’ (fecund) conditions of the eco-aesthetic learning environment. The sedimentary dust or soil produced by a pedagogical detonation would thus settle not only on the outermost layers of the earth, but also in the minds of learners in the form of new understandings, chemical compounds and conceptual schemata. The artist Robert Smithson (1968) describes this pedagogical process as a ‘sedimentation of the mind’, which occurs as part of an ‘abstract geology’ that stretches across deep time (see also Turpin, 2012; 2013).

 

 

One's mind and the earth are in a constant state of erosion, mental rivers wear away abstract banks, brain waves undermine cliffs of thought, ideas decompose into stones of unknowing, and conceptual crystallisations break apart into deposits of gritty reason. Vast moving faculties occur in this geological miasma, and they move in the most physical way. This movement seems motionless, yet it crushes the landscape of logic under glacial reveries. This slow flowage makes one conscious of the turbidity of thinking. Slump, debris slides, avalanches all take place within the cracking limits of the brain. The entire body is pulled into the cerebral sediment, where particles and fragments make themselves known as solid consciousness. A bleached and fractured world surrounds the artist. To organise this mess of corrosion into patterns, grids, and subdivisions is an aesthetic process that has scarcely been touched. (Smithson, 1979, p. 82)

 

The geologic sedimentation of materials within the earth’s pedosphere can thus be linked to sedimentations in the mind and body of the learner. As Turpin (2012) explains, Smithson is not merely drawing metaphorical connections between cognitive and geological process of sedimentation. Rather, Turpin (2012) emphasises that ‘there is a contiguous, rather than comparative, relation between mind and matter’ (p. 174) in Smithson’s work, through which pedagogy emerges as ‘a confrontation among forces that permit... the expression of form’ (p. 184). These formations build up cognitive, cultural and geologic sediments over multiple timescales, and inevitably become part of the next instance of pedagogical detonation, evapotranspiration, or political eruption, contributing to an ongoing cycle of geo-bio-cultural transformation (see Figure 29). The mind of the learner, in this sense, is literally part of a geo-bio-cultural process that stretches back across deep time to the earliest lifeforms, and even before that, to chemical compounds in the earth. At the same time, the mind stretches forward into the future through the development of new bio-technologies which will further dissolve the barriers between the self and the environment. In this way, the very notion of the human subject is distributed across a dynamic flow of vital materials across deep space and time (Bennett, 2010; 2012). 

 

Yet unlike the exchanges between the earth’s pedo-, bio-, and atmospheres, which leave chemical traces in geologic strata over millennia, the sedimentary effects of a pedagogical detonation in the learning environment can only be left to pragmatic, philosophical speculation. ‘This should make a difference. Could make a difference. But how? What difference? Could/should: speculative. How/which: pragmatic’ (Massumi, 2011, p. 167, emphasis in original). Eco-aesthetic pedagogy already has made a difference through the de- and reconfiguration of percepts, affects and concepts (Deleuze & Guattari, 1994, p.199). This is the difference made by the dynamic reformation of an aesthetic composition within an ecological structure, which brings forth conceptual (pedagogical) events. Following a pedagogical detonation, we are left with an ecological truth that has only been experienced through the aesthetic semblance of a learning event. Teachers and learners have been affected by an eco-aesthetic pedagogy that is site-specific, relational, qualitative and yet remains unknowable, even as it begins to settle into the sedimentary layers of the mind. If these layers contain fertile ‘humus’, as it were, then the grounds have been laid for new concepts to emerge, given the conditions are ‘humid’ enough to precipitate conceptual growth (Carter, 2004). This is to associate pedagogy directly with the formation of new concepts, in relation to the ecological percepts and aesthetic affects of Deleuze and Guattari’s geo-philosophy (1994, pp. 163-199). This triadic relationship between percepts, affects and concepts comprises an ‘education of the senses’, the emergence of which involves the actualisation of the virtual potentials afforded by and also exceeding the total learning environment (Semmetsky, 2009, p. 443).

 

This provisional treatise on eco-aesthetic pedagogy holds forth a number of significant implications for the inquiry. Firstly it provides a hypothesis for this research based on contemporary philosophical work that integrates complex understandings of the arts, education and the environment.  This treatise also provides a working conceptual framework with which to test and evaluate theoretical ideas in the field, and a conceptual basis for the applied and creative work that I am undertaking. More specifically, the model will be extended through this research to include a series of learning capacities associated with the concepts and practices of sustainability in higher education. These capacities will be developed through the specific content and learning activities that participants engage with at each site of installation.