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Cultural Studies of Science Education


Springer Netherlands


Despite growing interest in helping students become agents of environmental change who can, through informed decision-making and action-taking, transform environmentally detrimental forms of human activity, science educators have reduced agency to rationality by overlooking sociocultural influences such as norms and values. We tackle this issue by examining how elementary teachers and students negotiate and attribute responsibility, credit, or blame for environmental events during three environmental read-alouds. Our verbal analysis and visual representation of meta-agentive discourse revealed varied patterns of agential attribution. First, humans were simultaneously attributed negative agentive roles (agents of endangerment and imbalance) and positive agentive roles (agents of prevention, mitigation, and balance). Second, while wolves at Yellowstone were constructed as intentional (human-like) agents when they crossed over into the human world to kill livestock in nearby farms, polar bears in the Arctic were denied any form of agential responsibility when they approached people’s homes. Third, anthropogenic causation of global warming was constructed as distal and indirect chains of cause and effect (i.e., sophisticated sequences of ripple effects), whereas its mitigation and prevention assumed the form of simple and unidirectional causative links (direct and proximal causality). Fourth, the notion of balance of nature was repeatedly used as a justification for environmental conservation but its cause and dynamic nature remained unclear. And, fifth, while one teacher promoted environmental agency by encouraging students to experience positive emotions such as love of nature, freedom, and oneness with nature, the other teachers encouraged students to experience negative emotions such as self-blame and guilt. This study’s main significance is that it highlights the need for environmental educators who set out to promote environmental agency to expand the focus of their instructional efforts beyond rational argumentation and reasoning. It also underscores the importance of increasing school teachers’ awareness of implicit discursive messages in particular patterns of environmental agency attribution when discussing environmental issues with students and implementing pedagogical strategies centered on oral deliberation such as read-alouds.


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