Embodied Encounters with More-Than-Human Nature: Conditions of Possibility for ‘Environmental Health’ in HPE

Year: 2016

Author: Taylor, Nicole

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Despite the importance of interactions with natural environments for personal and social well-being, there is only limited evidence of an ‘environmental health’ presence as an idea or area of study in school education in Australia. Logically, the place for environmental health education would be within the Health & Physical Education (HPE) key learning area. However, in HPE, ‘environmental health’ is a knowledge space that is struggling to be realised in the context of dominant ‘healthism’ discourses which privilege physical activity, fitness, food and nutrition (Welch & Wright, 2011). Previous research suggests that generalist primary and specialist secondary HPE teachers predominantly draw on these healthism discourses, along with dominant notions of risk and environmental crisis to construct their meanings of environmental health (Taylor, Wright & O’Flynn, 2016). However, Gruenewald (2004), echoing Foucault, encourages the examination of taken for granted assumptions about what knowledge ‘counts’ within a discipline, and to look to the margins of a field to see what knowledge is silenced or subjugated in order to open up new conditions of possibility. This challenged me to look beyond taken for granted ways of thinking about health to identify the other resources teachers draw on to constitute their knowledge of environmental health.The research described in this paper reports on data from a larger project which presented an analysis of semi structured interviews with generalist primary and specialist secondary HPE teachers’, inspired by a ‘narrative ethnography’ approach utilised in cultural geography. This paper focuses on how the participants in that larger study conceptualised ‘environmental health’ by drawing on embodied experiences and affective encounters with more-than-human nature. By theorizing these encounters through a post-human, new-materialist lens, I demonstrate how their corporeal knowledge, developed through embodied experiences, has the potential to assist teachers in formulating less institutionalised environmental health understandings. I argue that these encounters with more-than-human-nature can serve as alternatives to those dominant discourses that invoke problematic risk, fear and crisis responses. These results demonstrate how embodied experiences act as valuable conditions of possibility for an environmental health education that is reflective of complex environmental and health interactions, rather than continuing to reproduce those dominant discourses that render environmental health as invisible.