Researching perezhivanie in an environmental education program: theory, methodology and pedagogical context

Year: 2016

Author: Valente Ramos, Marcelo, Renshaw, Peter, Tooth, Ron

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

In this paper we explore the relevance of Vygotsky’s concept of perezhivanie to environmental education. It is well-known that Vygotsky conceived of development as a cultural process occurring through engagement in social contexts such as play and effective teaching in the ZPD. He also proposed in his writings on art and drama that development can occur through perezhivanie, which is translated as emotional experience, or lived experience characterised by a unity of cognition and emotion. Vygotsky wrote only sparingly about perezhivanie towards the end of his life (Vygotsky, 1934/1994). He sketched a view of development that situated emotional experiences as central to the trajectory and direction of a person’s life. The interpretation of perezhivanie is contested, but most scholars accept the phrase “emotional experience in a social situation” as a starting definition (Blunden, 2014; Gonzales Rey, 2011; Smagorinsky, 2011; Vadeboncoeur & Collie, 2013). In this paper we trace Vygotsky’s deployment of perezhivanie to the writings of Leo Tolstoy (1898) in art and drama of the 19th century.Perezhivanie provides a unit of analysis where there is re-organisation of aspects of the self and ones plans for the future (Fleer & Hammer, 2013). It is not the external situation per se that is crucial but the subjective and emotional sense that individuals make of their experiences and this will vary depending on their interests and personal histories. We have found in research on environmental education centres in Queensland that place-responsive pedagogies (Renshaw & Tooth, 2016) can evoke emotional and heartfelt responses from children, but environmental educators often downplay the relevance and importance of emotional responsiveness, preferring to focus on the cognitive and scientific aspects of the experience of ‘nature’ (Van Poecka, Goeminneb & Vandenabeelea, 2014). In this paper we draw upon children’s narratives in the context of a story approach by verbal, written and drawn accounts of their experiences. In order to identify moments of perezhivanie, we designed our methodology of data collection in three phases: foreshadow, enactments in place and hindsight and whether it remains an influence on their thinking, feeling and sense of self in the future. We propose that perezhivanie includes both heightened personal experiences and meta-experiences involving reflection, reinterpretation and re-visioning of their identities and futures. Environmental educators might deploy perezhivanie in the design of place-pedagogy by considering: (i) ways to heighten students’ engagement, attentiveness and responsiveness to natural settings; as well as (ii) strategies to facilitate their reflection on, and communication of, their experiences to self and others.