Fostering Community Collaborations, Ecological Identities, and Eco-Spiritualistic Ideologies
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In expanding my theoretical and practical knowledge in fostering successful collaborative learning opportunities, my major project is an example of participatory arts-based action research. I was e nthusiastically inspired to incorporate collaborative design and an active painting process into this research project, as I have been an avid community-oriented artist since a tender age. I was able to enhance my range of skills through large scale set design projects, municipal banners, graphic design projects, constructive sculpture, advanced painting, and drawing practices within my undergraduate degree in Geography and Visual Arts at Vancouver Island University. I am an advocate for the diversification of cultural development to encourage creativity and to increase our perceptive sensibilities. Individuals can achieve an internalized understanding of a particular area of study if they are fully engaged in the process, thus making the experience more influential. By conducting interdisciplinary research in the form of a literature review of contemporary agricultural development, environmental philosophy, and popular education theory, I designed my major project to concentrate on communicating the urgency of socio-cultural and environmental justice embedded within transnational food sovereignty issues. Raj Patel (2009) describes in the Journal of Peasant Studies how a heavy "technocentric approach could exacerbate current conditions of poverty and inequity" due to a concentration of "power and privilege" within a "narrow set of world views at the expense of pertinent local knowledge and socio-cultural and political specificities" (693). The rapid growth of global agricultural development and lack of transnational education pertaining to ecological studies has greatly influenced cultural development, consumer behaviouralism, and expanding corporate ownership. There is an increase in the fragmentation of ecological stability within agricultural productionawell as a lack of ethical responsibility within the cultivation, distribution, manufacturing, and trade practices. In providing participant questionnaires and facilitating a collaborative mural project within my research, this series of popular education workshops aided in expressing sustainable cultural and educational activities. The results from the workshops encapsulated the diversity of perceptions participants had of contemporary agricultural and ecological development. "They dreamed of an open, democratic education, one that would instill in their children a taste for questioning, a passion for knowledge, a healthy curiosity, the joy of creating, and the pleasure of risk without which there can be no creation"(Freire, P., 2012, 122). Paulo Freire (1921-1997) and his work as an educational theorist, influential author, and philosopher, has been a significant influence in the expansion of my own academic and personal ideologies. Upon developing this major research project, similarly to the progressive topics expressed in the writings on popular education and social justice of Paulo Freire, the purpose was to inspire critical thought, conversation, and creativity. I aimed to build cohesive interconnectivity, inter- relationality, and environmentalist phenomenological perspectives relative to ' just sustainability'. The "crisis of sustainability", as quoted by Robert Costanza (1987) in David Orr's Hope Is an Imperative, is more of a rational behavioural situation, a social trap, and a cultural avoidance tactic (Orr, 2011, 75). Additionally, Julian Agyeman (2003) within his text Just Sustainabilities: Development in an Unequal World describes just sustainability as recognizing vast societal inequalities with references to "anthropocentrism", "ecological democracy", "feminism and gender", "selective victimization", "risk society", "biocultural assimilation", and "ecological modernization" (Agyeman, 2003). Just sustainability aims at finding a critical balance between environmental and social justice. The organizational world we live in is structured and shaped into systems in all areas including our economies, governments, families, cultures, sciences, and individual selves. It is possible to transition from exclusive systems to more inclusive systems, where we can attempt to actualize our aspirations for "a fair distribution of power, human dignity, and a livable environment" (Merchant, xii, 1992). Within John P. Miller's (2013) text The Holistic Curriculum, he elaborates how our sense of individualism has "promoted the fragmentation as there is less attempt to define the common good, much less work towards such a goal" (pp. 48). Our world has become increasingly homogenized through the process of globalization, as there is a loss of diversity due to monocultural domination as opposed to ensuring the survival of "polycultural praxis" (Gonzalez, 2004, 447). It will require that our contemporary cultures value diversity, cultural sovereignty, and traditional inter-generational values. Within environmental education, to reach a deeper level of collective and collaborative understanding of these developmental issues we must embody the varying local sociocultural contexts, as well as the natural processes of the particular bioregions and ecological systems. I have also been inspired by a Deep Ecological critical pedagogy of self-realization, as described by author and Norwegian philosopher Arne Naess (1912-2009). Our goal is to enhance our collective understanding of the self, how we determine values, and what spirituality may mean in relation to one another, our communities, our historical nationalities, and our local and global ecological systems. Arne Naess in his interpretation of self-realization stated "the maturity of self has been considered to develop through three stages, from ego to social self, comprising the ego, and from there to the metaphysical self, comprising the social self" while incorporating nature and reaching the critical potential of the "ecological self" (Naess, as quoted in Drengson & Yuichi, 1995, 14). I aimed to include these ideals into a popular educational praxis in a participatory fashion through allowing participants to express themselves within the greater context of our environmentalist topics in a social community in the form of symbolism and artwork. The structure of the design loom I developed aimed to empower critical educational dialogue with discussion-based action research and surveys. Topics covered include defining eight definitions: vCulture, Health, Globalization, Deep Ecology, Ecological Stewardship, Sacred Economics, Just Sustainability, and Agroecology (See Ch. 3.2 & Appendix E). The intention of focusing on these terms was to aid in discussing diversity within environmental philosophy, deconstructing the complexity of agricultural studies, developing personal-communal ecological identities, as well as engaging discussions pertaining to fostering healthy sustainable cultures and communities. This research design was reviewed and approved by the FES Human Participants Research Committee on behalf of York University for the year 2014. I held two successful workshops in two locations in Toronto, Ontario in May and June of 2014. Participant involvement in these workshops varied depending on personal availability and one's desired contribution to this major research. Participants were given the opportunity to contribute to a group discussion, a 'People's Dictionary' popular education activity, a personal anonymously documented questionnaire, as well as collaborative mural design and painting. This study was completely voluntary and participants had the right to withdraw at any time. This collaborative arts-based action research project was an exciting activity to facilitate, as it gave participants an opportunity to share their stories and opinions, as well as elaborate upon their knowledge of agricultural and ecological studies while exercising their creative skill sets. The content within the research interview questionnaire (Appendix C) was relative to each participant's personal contribution to the greater systems of agricultural development, their own moral value-based criteria associated with consumer products, dietary requirements or habits, and lastly if they had any relative practical/educational experience in agricultural production or ecological systems knowledge. Within rapidly globalizing urban cultures, an increasing fragmentation between nature and society can occur. More specifically, there can be a growing lack of transparency in relation to the origin, composition, and accurate social implications of our consumables, as well as to the integrity of environmental health. We are expanding our agricultural production rates, though the margins of inaccessibility are increasing: "Last year record numbers of the world's poor experienced hunger, this at a time of record harvests and record profits for the world's major agrifood corporations" (Holt- Gimenez, 2009, 143). There is an increase in transnational corporate ownership of agricultural land and development, consequently a decrease in diversity, an increase in demand, and a lack of proper equitable distribution. Our cultures and systems are continually evolving, this contemporary post-colonial developmental trend is due to "ecological imperialism", a term coined by Alfred W. Crosby (1986), which describes the transformation of our physical, biological, atmospheric, and fluvial systems, as well as traditional societal structures and practices (Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2007, 76). Similarly, the exponential rate of globalization has fostered an expanding global economic structure, while these developmental impacts have "perpetuated poverty, widened material inequalities, increased ecological degradation, sustained militarism, fragmented communities, marginalized subordinated groups, fed intolerance and deepened crises of democracy" (Scholte, 1996, as quoted in Ashcroft, Griffiths, & Tiffin, 2007, 111). Though we claim to be fostering values of social justice, there are barriers to equality and a diminishing sense of responsibility on a global scale. We continue to disassociate ourselves from the biogeographical origins of our ingredients and natural resources, as well as the labour force and communities who increase the opportunities for prosperity and sociocultural innovation in developed urban regions. Primarily within my research, I obtained a substantial spectrum of anonymous data from my participant groups to assess the level of interest, intention, and awareness one may have of contemporary transnational agricultural and ecological issues. In a progressive lens, I aimed to inspire participants to broaden their imaginative minds and critical perspectives within the framework of an artistic practice. With literary, energetic, vocal, and creative contributions, I hope their experiences were positive on personal-communal, existential, and internal levels. In fostering environmental stewardship and ecological literacy we are searching for "patterns, unity, and connections between people of all ages, races, nationalities, and generations" as well as between people and the natural world; embellishing a "tradition grounded in the belief that life is sacred and not to be carelessly expended on the ephemeral" (Orr, 2011, 260). As Gary Snyder (1990) once described in his article 'Ecology, Place, and the Awakening of Compassion' that an "ecosystem is a kind of mandala in which there are multiple relations that are all powerful and instructive", while it can be described as hierarchical in terms of "energy-flow", its basis relies on all entities as being equal and a part of a whole (Snyder, 1990, as quoted in Drengson & Inoue, 1995, 238). Our interwoven interconnectivity is a metaphysical and existential symbiotic system, similar to the sociopolitical ecologies we weave within the constraints of nature, therefore we must maximize our conscientious awareness of these intimate relationships.