Transformation, Empowerment, and the Governing of Environmental Conduct

Insights to be Gained From a “History of the Present” Approach

Authored by: Jo-anne Ferreira

International Handbook of Research on Environmental Education

Print publication date:  December  2012
Online publication date:  May  2013

Print ISBN: 9780415892384
eBook ISBN: 9780203813331
Adobe ISBN: 9781136699313


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Transforming individuals and their environmental behavior is generally regarded as the ultimate goal of environmental education (see, e.g., Beringer, 2006; Brody & Ryu, 2006; Gough, 1997; Hungerford & Volk, 1990; Jickling, 2004). However, the notion of “behavior change” is problematic for the field of environmental education, regarded as it is by many as too technical or technicist an approach to change. This has led to calls to instead empower individuals to transform themselves into informed and active environmental citizens, thereby leading, it is assumed, to the transformation of the behavior of whole communities and entire societies. As I have argued elsewhere (Ferreira, 2009), a belief in the need to empower and transform has become so well established within environmental education that it seems “wrong” to question either the goal of transformation or empowerment as the means through which this is to be achieved. Why is this the case? Why does the field of environmental education see empowerment as a more appropriate (even the most appropriate) means to achieve a sustainable society than other—more traditional and intentional—means of behavior change? Prevailing answers to such questions include that empowerment allows for individuals to freely choose a new path—to be empowered to transform themselves—rather than be manipulated to behave in particular ways through, for example, advertising campaigns or economic incentives; and that behavior change strategies that focus on individuals (as opposed to individuals as members of a community) and on specific behaviors do not provide a way for individuals to transform their whole self into an environmental being or environmental citizen.

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