The EnAct project officially kicked off with a seminar on September 18th 2020. Due to the pandemic situation, the originally planned two-day event at Tampere University was replaced by a virtual seminar. Fifteen researchers from Finland, Sweden and the United States convened to discuss the theoretical and methodological questions of environmental activism as self-cultivation.
The seminar began with Antti and Jan giving a short introduction describing the outlines of the project as well as the theoretical resources for researching self-cultivation and activism. This was followed by responses from three prominent scholars of environmental education:
Rebecca Martusewicz from the University of Eastern Michigan. Professor emerita Martusewicz is renowned for her long-standing res on ecojustice ed and environmental activism. In her response to the project, Martusewicz drew attention to the entanglement of political questions with our everyday life. By telling a story where connectedness with the more-than-human world is at the same time a process of self-cultivation and a process of personal healing, Martusewicz highlighted the importance caring relationships play in ecosocial activism.
Stefan Bengtsson from Uppsala University. Bengtsson’s focus is on environmental and sustainability as well as gender issues in education, especially their philosophical and political aspects. Stefan is also one of the authors of Dark pedagogy: Education, Horror and the Anthropocene. In his response, Bengtsson offered a plethora of new avenues and theoretical resources for addressing questions of self-cultivation. Through intricate theoretical arguments, he outlined a number of possible pitfalls in studying self and self-cultivation. Being aware of these questions and problems will undoubtedly be of a great benefit to the project.
Antti Rajala from University of Helsinki. Rajala has researched forms of activity centred and dialogic pedagogy and, more recently, critical practice studies He has also started the research project on climate education “Pedagogy of Concrete Utopias” that has interesting overlaps with EnAct project. In responding to the introduction, Rajala raised the question about the temporal situatedness and continuity of self-cultivation: is it a continuous process or bounded in certain situations or techniques? Moreover, he brought up the important point that activism and self-education rarely take place in isolation. The collective nature of these phenomena should be acknowledged in concepts and methods employed in the project.
The responses from the discussants was followed by a lively discussion among participants on several themes. The self was an important topic, both in terms of how we should understand the self itself and how we should take into account its relations to others. An important thread in this discussion continued the issue of the more-than-human world which was brought up by prof. Martusewicz. Are the relations of a self with the more-than-human world different than the relations within the human world? Should they be different or, if this is inescapable, should they rely on different principles?
Many of the participants also raised questions about the purpose of critical research in the context of climate activism. How should we understand the relationship between activism and research? What is the purpose of choosing to study some activist groups and not others? These and many other issues that were touched on in the seminar offer a valuable basis for pondering the future of the EnAct project.