Discursive Webs: Connecting Environmental and Health Discourses Through 'Gardening'

Year: 2017

Author: Taylor, Nicole, Wright, Jan, O'flynn, Gabrielle

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

There has been a recent surge in the popularity of school gardening programs with different models claiming to address learning outcomes within the curriculum. For example, the 'kitchen garden' concept has had a rapid uptake across many Australian schools, promoted by both government curriculum support documents, and private organisations (NSW Department of Education and Communities, 2012). Research points to the 'use' of school gardens as an initiative that predominantly draws on discourses of healthism and sustainability - sometimes together but also often quite separately. For example, the school garden has been described as a health intervention to encourage children to eat more fruit and vegetables (Duncan et al., 2015; Parmer et al., 2009) or as a tool to increase physical activity (Wells et al., 2014). As a link to 'sustainability', school gardens are now often promoted as a tool to encourage 'good' environmental citizen behaviours, like growing your own food, composting, and remembering that 'doing your bit for the environment is all part of the bigger picture of achieving a sustainable future' (NSW Government Office of Environment and Heritage, 2017).

The research described in this paper draws on a study investigating how 24 generalist primary and secondary specialist HPE teachers draw on diverse gardening discourses as examples of 'environmental health' within Health and Physical Education. In this presentation the focus will be on how they talked about 'gardening' as a practice that was expected of environmentally healthy citizens. However, this was not a simple conjunction, and different meanings and values were placed on gardening practices. Waitt and Frazer (2012) refer to this as identifying the 'discursive webs' or multiple sets of ideas which operate simultaneously in a complex network. For example, while some teachers elaborated on links between gardening, the environment, and health, others talked about gardening as a tool for behaviour management or in relation to sustainable practices.

Ultimately, these gardening discourses provide ways of thinking about connections between 'the environment', 'health' and 'education'. We argue that in some ways, these discursive webs provide opportunities for thinking critically about gardening, and how school gardens might be positioned within the context of HPE. In this sense, the multiple ways that discourses can be drawn on to represent 'truths' - in this case about gardening - has implications for future enactments of health education in schooling.