Lauren Hammond, Emma Rawlings Smith, Grace Healy, Steve Puttick and David Mitchell
Introducing the conference
The International Geographical Union’s Commission on Geographical Education’s (IGU-CGE) purpose is ‘to promote geographical and environmental education globally’ (IGU-CGE, n.p). Members of IGU-CGE organise a conference annually to support research sharing and knowledge exchange between colleagues researching and teaching in geography education. Every fourth year, the conference comes to the United Kingdom (UK) and this year’s (2023) conference was hosted in Oxford by the Geography Education Research Collective (GEReCo), which merged with the UK’s sub-committee for the IGU-CGE in 2019. The conference comprised of a meeting of the emerging scholars’ network, a fieldtrip, 2 keynotes, 2 convened sessions, 64 papers and 8 posters from 87 delegates. There were 93 attendees from institutions in 17 countries across 5 continents. Some 39 of the presenters were doctoral researchers reflecting the growth of research interest in, and the importance of early career research(ers) to, the field of geography education. It was notable that there was more representation from colleagues working in some countries – such as England, the People’s Republic of China, the Netherlands and Germany – than other nations. This is important to note, as it may reflect both differences in the place of geography education in national and institutional contexts, along with socio-spatial injustices in knowledge production and sharing.
We write together as co-organisers and members of GEReCo. We begin by introducing the theme of the conference Geography education for the Anthropocene, before reflecting on the significance of the development of the emerging scholars’ network. We then offer thoughts on the keynotes, and the fieldtrip led by ‘Uncomfortable Oxford’ – a student-led social enterprise who share ‘the stories beneath the spires, uncovering the unheard voices from Oxford’s past’ (Uncomfortable Oxford, n.p.). We conclude by suggesting three themes of particular interest from papers across the conference.
The conference was organised around the theme ‘geography education for the Anthropocene’. The Anthropocene is a term that was first used by Paul Crutzen – the Nobel Peace Prize winning atmospheric chemist – in 2000 (Nixon, 2011). It is an ‘epochal term: it proposes that modern humans possess powers equivalent to the great forces of global nature – although these are unwitting powers that are the combination of countless everyday activities (e.g., driving to work) undertaken by billions of people’ (Castree, 2017: n.p.). There are injustices in the causes and impacts of the climate and ecological changes which shape the Anthropocene. For example, the fossil economy has been fueled by the enslavement, movement and maltreatment of Black and Brown people to support Western lifestyles through the extraction of materials such as coal (Yusoff, 2018). Injustices and processes of exploitation evolve, but are ongoing, as some people still view ‘the Earth as though it were an inert entity that exists primarily to be exploited and profited from, with the aid of technology and science’ (Ghosh, 2021: p.119), with some companies, politicians and world leaders actively promoting this through economic policies and actions (Latour, 2017).
The theme was chosen to reflect the interest, concern and sense of urgency about geography education’s engagement with the area. As Lambert (2023: n.p.) expresses in a recent GEReCo blog ‘the discomforting truth remains that we know human societies on planet Earth face existential challenges’. More-than-humans also face apocalyptical violence (Ghosh, 2021) in this period of multi-species urgency which requires us to ‘stay with the trouble’ (Haraway, 2016), be truly present, and to reimagine our connections, collaborations and entanglements. For Latour (2017), these are problems of scale, dimensions, lodging and belonging as people (re)consider where and how they live, and their connections to place and more-than-human companions.
The Anthropocene raises important and complex questions around curriculum, pedagogy and purpose, which geography educators in all settings and stages and contexts are grappling with. Our hope was for the conference to be an opportunity for critical dialogue with these questions. For example, Tom Wils (Fontys University) considered the value of pedagogies of hope and courage to support young people in exploring the Symbiocene. Through the use of scenarios representing the future, Wils examined how dialogic teaching could support young people’s agency in the classroom and beyond. The conference also provided an opportunity for colleagues to critically reflect upon the material, digital and social spaces that we work within and (re)produce in the Anthropocence. For example, Daniel Sewlyn (London Mining Network) raised questions about the procurement of educational technology in the UK, and how we explore injustices in production and mining with young people through school geography.
Structuring the conference: Networks, keynotes, sessions and fieldtrips
The conference began with an opportunity for emerging scholars to meet, network and share experiences, and to shape the development of the network. The emerging scholars’ network was initiated by Hermione Xin Miao (University of Stirling, UK) and Melissa Hanke (Universität Hamburg, Germany), in collaboration with Dr Gillian Kidman (Monash University, Australia) and Dr Martin Hanus (Charles University, Czechia) from IGU-CGE’s steering committee following the 2022 conference in Rennes. The emerging scholars’ network is in development, and – as their poster abstract expresses in the conference programme – has the broad aim of ‘empowering everyone in geography education… to connect emerging scholars across continents to collaborate and build a network for exchange and discussion.’ Through a meeting and an interactive poster, the network fostered the views of attendees to inform the next stages in its development.
The first keynote was an after-dinner speech from Dr Amber Murrey (University of Oxford, UK), Pedagogical disobedience for the Anthropocene, which encouraged colleagues to ‘think about the potentials for purposeful pedagogical disobedience in the classroom’. Murrey’s keynote was deeply embedded in the space of the University of Oxford. She reflected on how as an educator she had challenged injustices, and not only through what she teaches and how: she spoke about how the actions of educators and faculty members within, and beyond, education spaces matters.
In the second keynote, Spaces of childhood and education in the Anthropocene, Professor Peter Kraftl (University of Birmingham, UK) raised questions about children’s entanglements with more-than-humans in the worlds that they shape and are shaped by. For example, drawing on the Treescapes (n.p.) project, Kraftl explored how young people in urban spaces develop diverse knowledges of trees and considered the value of co-production with young people, artists and scientists. Kraftl also considered the institutionalization of childhood, including through, education and how young people are sometimes highly surveilled in their bodies, ‘behaviour’, and in their academic ‘performance’. Kraftl examined how different and diverse education spaces are socially and materially constructed sometimes with the aim of challenging ‘mainstream’ educational experiences. Kraftl’s keynote suggested important themes for further consideration in geography education, including around the relationships between children, (geography) education and environment – as they are and as they might be envisaged for the future.
Conference sessions were diverse and reflected a thriving international geography education research community. Sessions explored themes such as: ethics, pedagogies of hope and futures thinking; teacher education; national curricular and teaching materials; the (in)visibility of subject content; representations and voices in the classroom; knowledge production and exchange; digital geographies and geospatial capabilities. The final session on ‘Geography education, health and risk in the Anthropocene’ engaged with the complexity of the global ecological crisis. Papers across the conference reflected on the importance of engaging with diverse knowledges, stories and voices. This included active consideration of children’s geographies, and how, and why, educators might further engage with them to support young people in meaning making, to challenge injustices and to support young people’s citizenship in education spaces.
The importance of engaging with the personal geographies and knowledges of teachers was raised by Iram Sammar (Kings College London), as she illuminated the significance of starting from the perspective of a Muslim geography teacher and surfacing ‘hidden histories’ in relation to the Anthropocene through the lens of Islam. Papers critically examined which knowledges and geographies from across the world were included and represented in geography education. Through introducing a collaborative curriculum project involving researchers from the Decolonising Education for Peace in Africa project, the Geographical Association and geography teachers in Cameroon and the UK, Winter et al.’s paper raised questions around knowledge production and access to geographical knowledge.
The Friday fieldtrip was a walking tour of Oxford led by Oxford students and designed to take us beyond the traditional narratives of the city by highlighting often hidden histories of race, gender, class, and legacies of empire:https://www.uncomfortableoxford.com/
Conclusions: Reflecting on themes that emerged from the conference
Amid the wide range of presentations and discussions, we want to highlight three themes emerging from the conference as key areas of future research in geography education: expanding knowledges; post-growth; and hope. First, the importance and ethics of engaging with and valuing diverse knowledges, stories and voices in geography education. Papers in the conference illustrated the importance of engaging with disciplinary knowledge, the histories of geography, indigenous knowledges, everyday knowledge and also the practice and professional knowledges of educators in geography education. Second, the nature of geography education in a post growth world. Dorling (2020: p.1) uses the term slowdown to represent changes in our expectation of acceleration, not only in terms of population, but also technological advancement and rising prices. Dorling argues that slowdown requires a change in perception of what it means to slowdown. For example, he states that slowdown may mean
‘…more durable goods and less waste. Social and environmental problems that we currently worry about will not be problems in the future. We will, of course, have new problems—including ones we cannot even imagine right now.’
As papers in the conference reflected, this requires geography educators to consider not only what they are teaching, but how, why, where and with what.
Finally, papers encouraged reflection on the place of hope in education. In a context of concerns being raised about eco-anxiety and the potentially catastrophic impacts of humans on the Earth, the conference encouraged discussion about how children and young people might be supported and empowered to envision and enact alternative, and more hopeful, futures.
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Dorling, D. 2020. Slowdown: The End of the Great Acceleration-and Why It’s Good for the Planet, the Economy, and Our Lives. London: Yale University Press.
Ghosh, A. 2017. The Nutmeg’s curse: Parables for a planet in crises London: John Murray Publishers.
Haraway, D. 2016. Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Durham: Duke University Press.
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Lambert, D. 2023. Teaching the human epoch: The geography of it all. Available at: GEReCo Blog – GEReCo UK IGU-CGE (accessed 11/07/2023)
Latour, B. 2017. Down to Earth: Politics in the new climatic regime Cambridge: Polity Press.
Nixon, R. 2011. Slow violence and the environmentalism of the poor. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.
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Home | Uncomfortable Oxford (accessed 11/07/2023)
Yusoff, K. 2018. A billion black Anthropocenes or none Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press