Cultivating a Caring, Environmental Self: Using the Figured World Concept to Explore Children's Environmental Identity Production in a Public School Garden Space

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Virginia Tech

This ethnographic case study investigates the diverse means and processes by which environmental identities were produced by five first grade students as they participated in an emergent, public school garden space. The children's histories, choices, personal and social experiences, expressions, and corresponding narratives are explored alongside the garden structure and social context to unpack the individualized and layered nature of children's environmental identity and care development. To locate and analyze children's engagements in the garden space, ethnographic, discourse, and narrative analysis methods are employed. The figured world concept is used to theorize and study the caring, environmental identities taken up and enacted by the children in this context. Through participation in emergent provocations, the creation and leveraging of garden artifacts, and investments in caring relationships, the children in this study shaped and cared for the garden space while it simultaneously shaped and cared for them. The environmental identity stories presented in this work broaden the definition of environmental identity to be more inclusive and less normalizing, thus, creating new spaces and moments for children to identify as environmentalists. The stories also raise implications for environmental education researchers to utilize more rigorous frameworks for investigating environmental care and identity development in the field. Findings from this research indicate that emergent garden spaces are potential sites for children to build relationships with nature in the public school. This is a significant practice for schools, as children today lack spaces in which to form environmental identities that implicate environmental care behaviors.

Environmental identity, figured worlds, school gardens, ethnographic case study