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Political Ecology and the Learning Sciences: An Approach to Engaged Scholarship

Authors: Lee Frankel-Goldwater*, University of Colorado, Boulder
Topics: Cultural and Political Ecology, Field Methods, Geography Education
Keywords: political ecology, learning sciences, engaged scholarship, science and technology studies, academic transformations
Session Type: Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


A growing movement within academia demands that scientific methodologies move beyond the study or extraction of knowledge, and instead seek to influence and instigate change-making process that directly address social and environmental challenges. This perspective is grounded in critical theory, claiming that no knowledge is objective knowledge, especially that which targets the evolving human condition or our role as participants in the biosphere. Scholars must learn to act with this awareness using the best tools of science to engage with the power dynamics and related challenges identified within these linked social and ecological systems. Political ecologists often hold this critical, activist orientation and have a rich scientific tool set from which to draw from. Yet, many scholars have criticized the field’s ability to influence the processes of change its proponents astutely identify. This begs the question, can the methodologies and approaches of political ecology be augmented to address theoretical, policy and justice aims simultaneously?

This session offers a model for doing so, drawing on the learning sciences and participatory methods to augment political ecology’s theoretical and methodological core. While these fields are used as the basis for discussion, the heart of this paper presentation is a general model for engaged and activist scholarship built upon 5 pillars for action. These are: theoretical outcomes, applied research, co-creation, community-level impact, and reflexivity. To draw the model together and support application, case examples are offered towards the further development of new approaches to practicing political ecology as a form of engaged scholarship.

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