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A different politics of location

Place played a crucial role in the pedagogical relation between children and their learning. Through understanding this function of place we can propose a reconceptualised politics of location as the basis of sustainability education. The politics of location that informed second wave feminism involved the recognition that all knowledge is partial and contingent, produced from particular subject positions in different geographical and social locations. It was fundamentally human focussed. To re-think a politics of location in the context of the Anthropocene requires acceding power to the more-than-human world.

For children in our studies, many elements of local places signal their own power. These elements include fresh air, sunlight, water, plants, stones, soil, and other animals such as chickens, birds, dogs and so on. Every time children engage with these elements with conscious attention, a different politics of local places is enacted. In discussing the vital animating function of places in children's sustainability learning we have identified the ways in which sustainability education can enact a different politics of location through a politics of local places. This allows new thinking about sustainability education in the recognition that place can be enacted as agentic in children's learning, as well as understanding place as constructed by humans. In a general sense, the terms 'place as agentic' and 'place as made' express the difference between two approaches in sustainability education programmes. In place as agentic, the power of places comes to the fore; in place as made it is human activities that dominate. In each of these cases children as beings in the world are positioned differently, and they learn different things about the world. Working within this understanding of onto-epistemological comparability enables us to see how place functions pedagogically between children and the world as a reconceptualised politics of local places that can reposition human dominance.

The agency of place is also seen in the overflow or excesses of sustainability education, in how children learn outside of the parameters of conventional forms even in programmes where places are made by children. This is the wildness of sustainability learning, what happens when the children engage with the materiality of soil rather than the planting of an orchard, the vibrant stripey qualities of the seed rather than its instrumental function in producing food, the mud in the wetlands and stones on the still surface of the water. To include the possibilities of wildness into the structured pedagogies of formal learning is to shift the politics of place to a greater focus on its more-than-human dimensions. As one teacher said, place provides 'organised chaos'.

Processes of representation that remain closely connected to children's engagement in the material world are crucial to this other knowing in sustainability education. We have described many instances of children's representations including place learning and language maps, garden designs and story words that come from these states of immersion. These representations bring children's learning into articulation for pedagogical work. Pedagogies which stay closely connected preserve a politics of places in which place considerations are kept at the forefront of learning and the possibility of the excesses of children's desires remains open. Children return again and again to the experience of immersion through embodied representations and participation in the materiality of the real world.

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