Education and Environmental Meaning by Valkiria Duran-Narucki

The study of environmental meaning and education, which seeks to strengthen and create better learning environments, has not been confined to a single theory or field of knowledge. The following references illustrate the psychological/ecological approach to the study of environmental meaning and education. This approach takes into account the complexity of people-environment relations as they occur in socio-historic processes. The connections between the readings might not be self evident. For readers new to this subject, it would be useful to start with Altman & Rogoff’s article on world views in psychology (Altman & Rogoff, 1987). The specific worldview that guides the ecological approach here is transactional and assumes a relational nature in the creation of meaning.

The ecological approach of environmental meaning is based on Heft’s view of ecological psychology which coherently articulates the theories of William James, Edwin B. Holt, James Gibson, and Roger Barker (Heft, 2001). Meaning is, from this perspective, created in the relationship between people, environment and culture. This relationship has also been explored by Ingold (2000). Other pieces by Heft (2013, 2014) and Heft & Kytta (2006) further describe this approach and differentiate it from traditional or interactional approaches.

The addition of empirical pieces to this list (Barret, 2012; Evans, Yoo & Sipple, 2010; Duran-Narucki, 2008) helps to illustrate the challenge of doing research from a transactional, ecological perspective in school settings. This challenge is outlined by Heft’s description of the interactionist vs. the transactional approach in analyzing cognitive maps (2013). Even when these empirical pieces follow an interactionist perspective, and not the ecological view explored here, they open up a conversation on specific processes of school buildings, building quality, and the production of academic and health outcomes. Please read the Fine, Burns, Payne & Torre (2004) for an example of the kinds of conversations that can be had.

These references are most useful for those pursuing a critical understanding of the existing research on school buildings, but who also want to conduct empirical research that can inform policy makers. The inclusion of Bourdieu and his perspective on social reproduction in education intentionally brings up issues of social justice, not addressed by previous theories (Duran-Narucki, 2011). Dovey’s piece (2005) articulates Bourdieu’s theory to highlight the role of architecture in systems of domination.

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 Supported by the CUNY Doctoral Students Council.