Constructing ‘Community’ and Sustainability Education in the Murray-Darling Basin

Year: 2016

Author: Green, Bill, Roberts, Philip, Caffery, Jo, Downes, Natalie, Chapman, Amy

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

This paper will engage with the construction of community and its role in sustainability education in the rural-regional area of the Murray-Darling Basin. Taking into account critiques of community in rural-regional education debates (Corbett, 2014; Roberts & Downes, 2016), the paper will consider the historical and contingent construction of community in contexts where sustainability education plays out against broader conflicts over the natural resource of water and its pivotal role in Australia’s economic wealth and social wellbeing.A conceptual framing of sustainability education from the perspective of political ecology will be utilised, emphasising the interplay of environment and society and the cultural politics of natural resources “that embeds resources struggles within a larger symbolic economy where the ‘roles’ that resources performs are several” (Baviskar, 2008, p. 7). Largely through interview and survey data with community participants and teachers, the paper examines the cultural politics of community in two case-sites in the Murray-Darling Basin to consider how tensions and alliances in community draw attention to the political nature of sustainability education in Australia today. Themes that will be analysed include the construction of communities around: scarce resources, spatial dynamics and agro-climactic conditions, political economies, expert and local knowledges, as well as across multiple territorial scales including the local, national and global. Where state control, market mechanism and community management jostle to balance economic efficiency, social equity or long-term water conservation (Mollinga, 2010), considering the complexities of building individual and shared responsibility, and indeed a ‘sense of community’, for the mutual challenges of sustainability is central in the production of the contestations of meanings and values, with implications for shaping collective action that are sustainable in rural-regional areas. An analysis of the cultural politics of community in sustainability education can offer a challenge to the ‘ecological rationality’ in much sustainability education, where landscapes, natural resources, places and spaces are devoid of power relations that can simply be managed for sustainable use. ReferencesBaviskar, A. (2008). Contested Grounds: Essays on Nature, Culture and Power. Oxford University Press: Oxford. Corbett, M. (2014). “The Ambivalence of Community: A Critical Analysis of Rural Education’s Oldest Trope”, Peabody Journal of Education, 89, 603-618. Mollinga, P. (2010). “The Material Conditions of a Polarized Discourse: Clamours and Silences in Critical Analysis of Agricultural Water Use in India”, Journal of Agrarian Change, 10, 3, 414-436.Roberts, P. & Downes, N. (2016). “Conflicting Messages: Sustainability and Education for Rural-Regional Sustainability”, Rural Society, DOI: 10.1080/10371656.2016.1150196