Uncommon Worlds: Toward an Ecological Aesthetics of Childhood in the Anthropocene

  • David RousellEmail author
  • Amy Cutter-Mackenzie-Knowles
Reference work entry
Part of the Springer International Handbooks of Education book series (SIHE)


In addressing the need for a more robust engagement with aesthetics in posthumanist studies of childhood and nature, this chapter aims to make some tentative steps toward an ecological aesthetics of childhood that is grounded in Whitehead’s speculative philosophy. In doing so, the chapter takes an alternative theoretical approach from much of the “common worlds” scholarship that has emerged in recent years while making the case for a new aesthetics of childhood that is responsive to the accelerating social, technological, and environmental changes of the Anthropocene epoch. Our approach foregrounds the singularity of children’s aesthetic experiences as relational-qualitative “intensities” that alter the fabric of nature as an extensive continuum held in common. We therefore argue that every moment in the life of a child is an uncommon and unrepeatable occasion through which the common world of nature is felt, perceived, and experienced differently. In the second part of the chapter, we use this eco-aesthetic framework to analyze a series of photographs taken by children as part of the Climate Change and Me project, which has mapped children and young people’s affective responses to climate change over a period of 3 years in New South Wales, Australia. Rather than working with images as representations or analogic signifiers for children’s experience, we analyze how each photograph co-implicates children’s bodies and environments through affective vectors of feeling or “prehensions.” In doing so, we actively work to reframe aesthetic notions of image, sensibility, perception, and causality in relational terms while also acknowledging the individuation of childhood experiences as “creaturely becomings” that produce new potentials for environmental thought and behavior.


Speculative philosophy Whitehead Ecological aesthetics Posthumanism Anthropocene Climate change education 


  1. Alaimo, S. (2010). Bodily natures: Science, environment, and the material self. Bloomington, MN: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  2. Blaise, M. (2014). Interfering with gendered development: A timely intervention. International Journal of Early Childhood, 46(3), 317–326.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Cajete, G. A., & Pueblo, S. C. (2010). Contemporary Indigenous education: A nature-centered American Indian philosophy for a 21st century world. Futures, 42(10), 1126–1132.Google Scholar
  4. Cutter-Mackenzie, A., & Rousell, D. (in press-a). Education for What? Shaping the emerging field of climate change education with children and young people as co-researchers. Children’s Geographies.Google Scholar
  5. Cutter-Mackenzie, A., & Rousell, D. (in press-b). The mesh of playing and researching in the reality of climate change: Children’s research play spaces. In International research handbook on childhood nature. Dordrecht, The Netherlands: Springer.Google Scholar
  6. Cutter-Mackenzie, A, & Rousell, D. (2014). Climate Change + Me: Children’s and Young People’s Voices in Holocene and Anthropocene Times. Invited symposium presentation at the Australian Association for Research in Education annual conference, QUT, Brisbane.Google Scholar
  7. Deleuze, G. (1990). The logic of sense (M. Lester, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  8. Deleuze, G. (1994). Difference and repetition (P. Patton, Trans.). New York, NY: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  9. Eernstman, N., van Boeckal, J., Sacks, S., & Myers, M. (2012). Inviting the unforeseen: A dialogue about art, learning and sustainability. In A. E. J. Wals & P. B. Corcoran (Eds.), Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change (pp. 201–212). Wageningen, The Netherlands: Wageningen Academic Publishers.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Frost, S. (2016). Biocultural creatures: Toward a new theory of the human. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. Groys, B. (2008). The topology of contemporary art. In T. Smith, O. Enwezor, & N. Condee (Eds.), Antinomies of art and culture: Modernity, postmodernity and contemporaneity (pp. 71–82). Durham, NC: Duke University Press.Google Scholar
  12. Guattari, F. (2008). The three ecologies. London, England: Continuum.Google Scholar
  13. Hansen, M. B. (2006). Bodies in code: Interfaces with digital media. New York, NY: Routledge.Google Scholar
  14. Hansen, M. B. (2015). Feed-forward: On the future of 21st century media. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  15. Haraway, D. J. (2008). When species meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  16. Haraway, D. J. (2016). Staying with the trouble: Making kin in the Cthulucene. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Ingram, M. (2012). Sculpting solutions: Art-science collaborations in sustainability. Environment, 54(4), 24–36.Google Scholar
  18. Inwood, H., & Taylor, R. W. (2012). Creative approaches to environmental learning: Two perspectives on teaching environmental art education. International Electronic Journal of Environmental Education, 2(1), 66–76.Google Scholar
  19. Jones, J. (1998). Intensity: Essay in Whiteheadian ontology. Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kennedy, B. (2000). Deleuze and cinema: The aesthetics of sensation. Edinburgh, UK: Edinburgh University Press.Google Scholar
  21. Latour, B. (2004). Politics of nature. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  22. Lee, N. (2013). Childhood and biopolitics: Climate change, life processes and human futures. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Lee, N., & Motzkau, J. (2013). Varieties of biosocial imagination: Reframing responses to climate change and antibiotic resistance. Science, Technology & Human Values, 38(4), 447–469.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Lenz-Taguchi, H. (2010). Going beyond the theory/practice divide in early childhood education: Introducing an intra-active pedagogy. London, England: Routledge.Google Scholar
  25. Lloro-Bidart, T. (2015). A political ecology of education in/for the Anthropocene. Environment and Society, 6(1), 128.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Malone, K. (2015). Posthumanist approaches to theorising children’s human-nature relations. In K. Nairn, P. Kraftl, & T. Skelton (Eds.), Space, place and environment (pp. 1–22). Singapore, Singapore: Springer.Google Scholar
  27. Malone, K. (2016). Reconsidering children’s encounters with nature and place using posthumanism. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 32(01), 42–56.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Manning, E. (2016). The minor gesture. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Manning, E., & Massumi, B. (2014). Thought in the Act: Passages in the ecology of experience. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  30. Massumi, B. (2002). Parables for the virtual: Movement, affect, sensation. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Massumi, B. (2011). Semblance and event: Activist philosophy and the occurrent arts. Cambridge, MA: Massachusetts Institute of Technology.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Morton, T. (2007). Ecology without nature: Rethinking environmental aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  33. Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and ecology after the end of the world. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar
  34. Payne, P., Cutter-Mackenzie, A., Gough, A., Gough, N., & Whitehouse, H. (2014). Childrens’ conceptions of nature. Australian Journal of Environmental Education, 30(1), 68.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  35. Payne, P. G. (2010). Moral spaces, the struggle for an intergenerational environmental ethics and the social ecology of families: An ‘other’ form of environmental education. Environmental Education Research, 16(2), 209–231.Google Scholar
  36. Protevi, J. (2013). Life, war, earth: Deleuze and the sciences. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  37. Prout, A. (2005). The future of childhood: Towards the interdisciplinary study of children. New York, NY: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Rautio, P. (2014). Mingling and imitating in producing spaces for knowing and being: Insights from a Finnish study of child–matter intra-action. Childhood, 21(4), 461–474.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Robinson, K. (2009). Deleuze, whitehead, Bergson: Rhizomatic connections. Rotterdam, The Netherlands: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Rousell, D., Cutter-Mackenzie, A., & Foster, J. (2017). Children of an earth to come: Speculative fiction, geophilosophy, and climate change education research. Educational Studies [special issue on critical and creative approaches to STEM], 53(6), 654–669.Google Scholar
  41. Rousell, D., & Fell, F. (2017). Becoming a work of art: Collaboration, materiality and posthumanism in tertiary visual arts education. The International Journal of Education Through Art [special issue on Speculative Realisms in Arts Education], 14(1), 91–110.Google Scholar
  42. Shaviro, S. (2009). Without criteria: Kant, Whitehead, Deleuze, and aesthetics. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Shaviro, S. (2014). The universe of things: On speculative realism. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Shaviro, S. (2015). Discognition. London, England: Repeater Books.Google Scholar
  45. Simondon, G. (2017). On the mode of existence of technical objects (C. Malaspina & J. Rogove, Trans). Minneapolis, MN: Univocal Publishing.Google Scholar
  46. Somerville, M. (2017). The Anthropocene’s call to educational research. In K. Malone, S. Truong, & T. Gray (Eds.), Reimagining sustainability in precarious times (pp. 17–28). Singapore, Singapore: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Stables, A. (2001). Who drew the sky: Conflicting assumptions in environmental education. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 33(2), 245–257.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  48. Stengers, I. (2011). Thinking with Whitehead: A free and wild creation of concepts. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  49. Taylor, A. (2013). Reconfiguring the natures of childhood. Oxon, UK: Routledge.Google Scholar
  50. Taylor, A., & Pacini-Ketchabaw, V. (2015). Learning with children, ants, and worms in the Anthropocene: Towards a common world pedagogy of multispecies vulnerability. Pedagogy, Culture & Society, 23(4), 507–529.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Whitehead, A. N. (1929). The aims of education and other essays. New York, NY: Macmillan Company.Google Scholar
  52. Whitehead, A. N. (1967a). Adventures of ideas. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  53. Whitehead, A. N. (1967b). Science and the modern world. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  54. Whitehead, A. N. (1968). Modes of thought. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  55. Whitehead, A. N. (1978). Process and reality. New York, NY: The Free Press.Google Scholar
  56. Whitehead, A.N. (1985). Symbolism: Its meaning and effect. New York: Fordham University Press.Google Scholar
  57. Youdell, D. (2017). Bioscience and the sociology of education: The case for biosocial education. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 38, 1–14.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Manchester Metropolitan UniversityManchesterUK
  2. 2.School of Education, Sustainability Environment and the Arts in Education (SEAE) Research ClusterSouthern Cross University, Gold Coast CampusCoolangattaAustralia

Section editors and affiliations

  • David Rousell
    • 1
  • Dilafruz Williams
    • 2
  1. 1.Manchester Metropolian UniversityManchesterUK
  2. 2.Portland State UniversityPortlandUSA

Personalised recommendations