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Multiple environments: South Indian children's environmental subjectivities in formation


Children’s environmental subjectivities develop through a complex interplay between various aspects of their lives

This research investigated how south Indian children’s environmental subjectivities were formed by studying their day-to-day engagements with their environments. Three dimensions of environmental subjectivities were identified and investigated: affective relationships, practical engagement, and understanding or knowledge. The researcher’s conceptualization of environmental subjectivity wasn’t limited to practical engagement with environments, but included thinking, consciousness and sense of self.

The researcher conducted fieldwork with 11- to 15-year-old children from three different schools in India: a Tamil-medium village-based government school, a middle-class English-medium private school outside town, and a town-based low-quality English-medium private school. These schools were selected to maximize student diversity in relation to both income and culture. The researcher collected data through classroom observations, weekly discussion sessions with 19 children in groups of two or three, interviews with teachers, children’s writings and drawings, home visits, and living with the family of a 13-year-old girl named Chanika. The research report consists of two main sections: one describing the field (the set of structures in which children live their lives) and the other discussing how children’s environmental subjectivities come about in these fields.

The living conditions of the children from the three different schools varied widely, including toileting arrangements, access or lack of access to clean drinking water, and the amount of trash or waste on the streets. Regardless of their backgrounds, however, the children distinguished between two kinds of environments: their day-to-day environments (such as their homes, schools, and streets) and environments which they could not access or which were not part of their routines (such as hilly areas, rain forests and natural reserves). They described the environments that were not a part of their daily lives as “beautiful places where calmness could be found and the air was fresh.” The children had differing expectations, however, as to the probability of ever accessing these places. The expectation was that could only visit such places if you became rich and successful.

While the children felt that pride of their country was compromised by too much waste in public spaces and even though they realized through environmental education (EE) messages from school that non-biodegradable waste was harmful to the environment, they still threw wrappers on the ground and requested plastic bags from the stores. This phenomenon is described as the ‘rules of the game’ (doing things as you should) got overruled by another set of imperatives (material implications of carrying waste and the attractiveness of re-usable plastic packages). Overall, children’s environmental subjectivities were subsumed by their aspirations towards a modern, successful life.

This research indicates that children’s environmental subjectivities develop through a complex interplay between various aspects of their lives. Future research could use these findings “as an interesting starting point for improving the EE curriculum in a way that meets students’ needs and fits their outlook on life.”


de Hoop, E., (2017). Multiple environments: South Indian children's environmental subjectivities in formation. Children's Geographies, 15(5), 570-582.


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