Dwelling in immanence and transcending the “real world” – A bricolage exploration of KS2 children’s immersive experiences of the more-than-human world

Outdoor education and contact with nature places have long been associated with enhanced educational development. Long before progressive pedagogical “pioneers” such as Dewey, Froebel, Montessori, Pestalozzi and Rousseau came to espouse the benefits of nature pedagogies, indigenous cultures maintained ancient educational place-based philosophies (Cajete, 2015). More recently, the curricula of the individual nations of the UK have made outdoor learning a statutory requirement (DCELLS, 2008; Learning and Teaching Scotland, 2010). There is a wealth of literature that evidences the benefits of “nature connection” on children’s development and wellbeing (Barrable et al., 2021; Dickinson and Gray, 2022, Mann et al., 2021). However, the amount of research that explores what “nature connection” involves or critiques the very concept of “nature connection” is much smaller (Fletcher, 2016). This research study explores children’s immersive experiences with the “more-than-human world” (Abram, 2012) and in doing so seeks to problematise and investigate the concept of “nature connection”. We deliberately adopt Abram’s term “the more-than-human world” to express how other-than-human is not less than human nor simplistically separate from human (Abram, 2012). We are guided also by Freire’s (2017) warning that any rewriting of the world needs to be preceded by a re-reading of the word and the world.

Our research uses a bricolage approach informed by Deleuze and Guttari’s (2004) rhizomatic theory as this best represents the assemblage of theories, methods, and data collection involved in and needed for the study (Kincheloe and Berry, 2004). The data was initially gathered from eight different groups of Key Stage 2 (aged 7–11) children (n = 195) from eight different primary schools in South Wales. The analysis used a grounded approach that aimed to generate theory “developed inductively from data rather than tested by data” (Bryant & Charmaz, 2007, p. 154). In addition, we draw on and present analysis of autoethnographic data that explores our own immersive experiences in nature places as we recognise that our acts of “being-in-the-world” are inevitably inscribed in the research process (Kincheloe and Berry, 2004, p.16).  This leaning into our own subjectivities, and combining of autoethnographic insights with a more traditional constructivist grounded approach, rather than being judged by positivist standards and viewed as a weakness allows for new entry points and new growth when viewed through the lens of rhizomatic theory (Deleuze and Guttari, 2004). It is also in keeping with the bricoleur who understands that cross-disciplinary “boundary work” is important as “the frontiers of knowledge work rest in the liminal zones where frontiers collide” (Kincheloe and Berry, 2004, p.80).

Our analyses of the data identified three main themes: Transcending “normal” clock time; Transcending “normal” reality (different world); Transcending “normal” identity (becoming more-than-human). Further analysis showed that all three themes were grounded in a “dwelling in immanence” that is transcendental but not transcendent of embodied experience (Deleuze and Guttari, 2009). We analyse how this theory of the dimensions of children’s experiences of deep immersive experience in nature has implications for pedagogical practice bringing to the fore issues surrounding nature ethics and the presumed nature-culture divide. The paper ends by pointing towards the significance of an ontological turn in education that has the potential to address issues of social and more-than-human justice, and place not merely human, but more-than-human flourishing at its heart.