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Toward the emergence of a knotworking agency

Our activity—a theoretical, formative intervention in the disaster prevention learning program—focuses on how the participants could create a new agency and, thus, a dialogically negotiated site at the same time (i.e., how they could make their own collaborative self-interventions). Engestrom (2009) indicates that through such agentive actions, “we gain authority and become authors of our lives” (p. 317). Therefore, the disaster prevention learning activity, as a dialogically negotiated site, enables local children and adult residents to transform the town and their everyday lived lives in it into “ocmi’zt, appropriation, and use value (and not exchange value),” according to Henri Lefebvre (1996, p. 180).

Sannino and Engestrom (2017b) refer to the research focus of a formative intervention conducted in an elementary school in a rural area in southern Italy, as follows: “[A] formative intervention was carried out, and it focused especially on uncovering pupils’ learning potentials, which may remain unnoticed in regular classroom activities” (p. 62). It is obvious that this formative intervention was aimed at expanding the participants’ sense of agency in terms of both collaborative ability with pupils and the transformative ability to talk about “pupils’ learning potentials, which may remain unnoticed.”

In a similar way, our intervention study was an attempt to provoke the formation of a knotworking agency among local children, university students, and adult residents by enabling them to shed the passive role of victim and create a dialogically negotiated site where they could talk together about future town planning to prevent or reduce disaster damage. For this purpose, they were encouraged to utilize their memories, which had become intertwined in their everyday lives. Such knotworking agencies can be strongly generated and distributed in partially improvised “knots” that connect and coordinate different actors, activity systems, and potential resources in hybrid disaster prevention learning activities.

The knowledge acquired by local children, university students, and adult residents can generate a kind of “transformative narrative,” as described by Donald E. Polkinghornc (1996) in terms of occupational therapy. The transformative narrative is a particular narrative form of meaning-making and identity formation in which a person changes his or her identity of self from the “victimic”—coined by Jerome Bruner (1994)—to the “agentic”— coined by Polkinghornc (1996). This type of narrative expresses “two correlative movements: the progressive construction of a new agentic life story and the destruction and detachment from the victimic life story” (p. 303). The narratives of participants involved in hybrid learning activities via knotworking were mediated by the narratives of the various learning providers, which plotted the “agentic life stories” of victims, thereby reminding us to recall the experiences of people during the earthquake disaster with empathy and solidarity.

As in our intervention study, Carol Mutch (2013b) focuses on and theorizes children’s engagement in disaster research in her studies of the role of schools in disaster response and recovery. She analyzes findings from case studies involving three state co-educational primary schools (for children aged 5-12 years) in Canterbury, New Zealand, which were invited to participate in a broader project that facilitated storytelling in school communities in regard to experiences of the 2010 and 2011 earthquakes. Consequently, she reports that “the schools’ stories had many commonalities,” but “one difference was ... the extent to which children were given agency to determine the direction of each school’s project” (p. 449). Based on these case studies, she theorizes a “continuum of engagement of children in research” from “child-related research (research for children)” to “child-focused research (research on or about children),” “child-centered research (research with children),” and “child-driven research (research by children)” as children’s sense of agency gradually increases (p. 449).

The disaster prevention learning program implemented at the Futaba Center can be viewed as a child/youth-lcd disaster research project in which participants conducted their own research regarding disaster prevention and reduction. As Mutch (2013b, p. 446) points out, much child/youth-re-latcd research is “adult-centric in both determining the problems and the solutions.” Furthermore, in the field of citizenship education, young people’s indifference to politics and declining civic participation have become subjects of discussion. However, the following theoretical shift should be granted more significance in order to promote an understanding of a more youth-centric view of young people’s participation: “While their political actions are more likely to be framed around everyday actions and choices rather than formal politics, they do become actively engaged in relevant issues and make more use of the formal political system as they get older” (Mutch, 2013a, p. 96).

In this context, a knotworking agency enables participants to contribute to the production of the town’s use value and their everyday lived lives within it. As Engcstrom, Sannino, and Jaakko Virkkunen (2014, p. 125 ) foresaw, the future challenge for applications of the activity theory is closely tied to “a growing need for formative interventions in which children and adolescents take center stage as subjects with transformative agency.” Through such formative interventions, participants can break away from the subject (successfill identity) and move to transformative agency, gaining the power to make their own collaborative self-interventions.

8 Conclusions

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