Creating an environmental resiliency framework: changing children’s personal and cultural narratives to build environmental resiliency

  • Shannon R. Audley
  • Ninian R. SteinEmail author


This paper is a theoretical contribution that bridges literature and theory in psychology, anthropology, and environmental education to address persistent concerns over how to create desired cultural change for more responsible environmental citizens. Cultural and personal narratives shape how we view ourselves, including our relationship to the environment. The frontier narratives that moved Americans westward, for example, have fed into Americans’ drive towards excessive consumption and resulted in soil depletion among other challenges. Thus, it is important to consider how we form personal narratives and how personal narratives can shape our larger cultural narratives about our relationships with the environment. In this paper, we argue that childhood narratives are influenced by children’s autobiographical memories (Fivush, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 37:59–82, 2007). Children’s autobiographical memories become narratives when they are retold with others and given cultural meaning (e.g., Nelson and Fivush, Psychological Review 111(2):486–511, 2004). Psychological literature suggests that individual narratives not only shape the development of identity (Bluck and Alea, Critical Advances in Reminiscence Work pp. 61–75, 2002) but also reshape and inform larger cultural narratives (e.g., Fivush, Annual Review of Psychology 62:559–582, 2011). Applied to environmental education and activism, we suggest a new framework where simply by providing a space for and encouraging children to talk about ecological experiences, such as tending a garden or taking a walk, these experiences may shape a child’s personal narrative (Fivush, Merrill-Palmer Quarterly 37:59–82, 2007), creating a positive environmental identity (Clayton and Opotow 2003) and promoting a larger cultural narrative of environmental resiliency. If we change our children’s stories then, we change ourselves.


Environmental resiliency framework Narratives Children Education Resiliency and psychology 


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© AESS 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Education and Child Study DepartmentSmith CollegeNorthamptonUSA
  2. 2.The Major in Environmental Science and PolicySmith CollegeNorthamptonUSA

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