Children’s environmentalism; How do children contribute to a sustainable world?

Bengt Larsson, Magnus Andersson and Christina Osbeck present a review of the literature they considered relevant to any research into environmentalist practices among children. There are some quite complex issues in the article, so I confess to wanting to read it again, but by way of a short summary: Looking at the Nordic situation in particular, they demonstrate the importance of considering modern family practices (negotiation and learning styles, for example, in the non-traditional, democratic families of late modern society) within the context of a globalised world (that allows youth to connect on a global scale through various media) when looking at how children learn about and actively adopt environmentalist discourse, as well as how they influence family consumption/environmentalist practices as a result. The authors describe some of the ways in which government policy (might) influence children in this regard. They also provide an overview of the methodological needs of any future research in this field.

In their own abstract, they write: “This article discusses children as contributors to sustainable ecological development. The aim of the article is to develop a framework for researching two questions: What are the prerequisites for children to become responsible environmentalists? What actual and potential influence do children have on their family’s consumption? Three theoretical perspectives are elaborated in relation to relevant empirical research: children as cosmopolitan actors and world citizens, children as ‘subjects of responsibilization’ in relation to the discourse on sustainable development and children as actors influencing family negotiations about consumption. The article concludes by suggesting methodological implications that follow from this framework.” (p.129)

How do children contribute to a sustainable world?” they begin; “Do they mind what foodstuffs their family buys, or their usage of water, electricity and transportation? Can they learn to take responsibility not only for their own actions, but also for their family’s consumption and for global sustainability? Such issues are raised by the increasing significance of ecological concerns in educational and consumer policies. A unifying discourse is articulated in the political goals of sustainable development, first in the Brundtland Report and subsequently in Agenda 21, the UN Millennium Declaration, Baltic 21E and the UN resolution Decade of Education for Sustainable Development (2005–14). In these declarations and statements, great hopes are placed on the capacity of individuals to take responsibility and act locally with global awareness. This discourse is also reflected strongly in many national policy documents, not least in Sweden and the Nordic countries, which we take both as a point of departure and as an illustrative case in this article. The educational and consumer policies of these countries express a strong conviction that it is possible to stimulate such a sense of responsibility.” (p.129)

They continue: “To judge the plausibility of expectations that children can learn to take responsibility for their own and their family’s consumption in the light of global environmental problems – and to understand the prospects and implications [-p.130] of the policies and pedagogies designed to accomplish that goal – two crucial questions must be answered. First, what are the prerequisites for children and youths to become responsible environmentalists? Second, what actual and potential influence do young people have on their family’s consumption? The purpose of this article is not to provide direct answers to these questions, but rather to indicate the direction in which such answers may be sought. Our aim is to elaborate a framework for empirical research on the issue. To do this, we review relevant empirical research, and present theoretical perspectives that we believe are crucial to addressing these questions.” (p.130)

One thing I really enjoyed about their approach is their attitude towards children; “In this article,” they continue, “we view children as active parties in decisions on household consumption in relation to pro-environmental issues against a background of institutional change and advanced liberal forms of government in (Nordic and western) late modern societies. We regard children as active and effective, but also as governed subjects interpreting the discourse of sustainability in relation to their own and their family’s consumption. We seek to elaborate a framework for empirical research on young people’s influence on domestic consumption and sustainability in affluent societies, both by bringing dist inct fields of research in contact, and by placing them in the context of three theoretical perspectives. First, we frame children’s environmentalism in terms of children as cosmopolitan actors and world citizens. Thereafter, we introduce an analytics of governmentality to view children as ‘subjects of responsibilization’ [-p.130] in relation to the discourse on sustainable development. Finally, we discuss theories of family democracy and intergenerational influence and learning to understand children as actors influencing family consumption practices through negotiation.” (pp.130-131)

Ref: Bengt Larsson, Magnus Andersson and Christina Osbeck [on behalf of Norwegian Centre for Child Research (NOSEB)] (2010) Bringing Environmentalism Home : Children’s influence on family consumption in the Nordic countries and beyond Childhood 17: 129

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About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
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