The catastrophic bushfires in Australia (December 2019-January 2020) erased whole communities, destroyed over 15 million acres of ecosystems, killed over 1.25 million animals. More than one year on, intense concern about anthropogenic climate change continues to escalate, expressed in children’s protests and global politics. The coronavirus pandemic has added to awareness that something is radically out of balance with the planet’s ecosystems. Our focus is to collaboratively develop an educational research response with international colleagues and local Aboriginal participants. We ask: How do humans of all ages learn in this context, and how can we contribute to building a different future for planetary wellbeing?

The program will explore the question of what research methodologies, curriculum and pedagogies can be developed in response to the current planetary crises of climate change and the global pandemic? The aim of the Planetary wellbeing and human learning program is to build capacity in research methodologies, educational research, and curriculum development for planetary wellbeing in collaboration with external partners. The program will draw on the response to the catastrophic bushfires of 2019, 2020, the coronavirus pandemic, and the need for community regeneration where community is understood to include climate, weather, fires, plants, animals, and humans as part of an integrated system. The research program is also closely linked to the HDR student cohort of the same name at Western Sydney University, and there will be reciprocal capacity building in relation to the following HDR projects: Multispecies ethnography; Death in the Anthropocene; Teaching and learning eastern philosophies at Lakshimi Ashram, India; Indigenous connections to Country, and Indigenous knowledges in relation to climate change.

This research proposal directly contributes to our global commitments to the Sustainable Development Goals agenda, global rankings and leadership. It will also deliver on a new proposed Sustainability and Resilience Decadal Strategy which has a priority focus on Planetary Health. The proposal specifically supports the delivery of SDG4 –Quality Education, SDG13 – Climate Action and SDG 15 – Life on Land. SDG4.10 states: ‘It is vital to give a central place to strengthening education’s contribution to the fulfilment of human rights, peace and responsible citizenship from local to global levels, gender equality, sustainable development and health. The content of such education must be relevant, with a focus on both cognitive and non-cognitive aspects of learning.’

The international literature that addresses the complex learning challenges of 21C education in schools around the world offers many innovative concepts, theories, and methodologies. While these have been liberally applied in early childhood education (Somerville, 2019), the ‘Global Education Reform Movement’ is identified as narrowly refocussing school teachers and students on disciplinary oriented learning outcomes (Sahlberg, 2011). Canadian Marcelina Piotrowski proposes thinking alongside an ‘elemental Deleuze’ in which “subjectification includes the classical elements of air, water, earth, fire”(2019, p.9). David Rousell (UK), offers the pedagogical potential of little justices “to produce the conditions under which immanent ethical understandings might emerge, for those interested in thinking animals, rivers, mountains, etc. with students and exploring the speculative possibilities of life, politics, sociality, and experience beyond the human”(2018, p.13). Greg Mannion (Scotland), suggests assemblage pedagogies“that use problems to create openings that allow for new relations among people and place so that more sustainable ways of life might emerge”(2019, p.11). There is a proliferation of innovative ideas, theories and methodologies in educational literature to address the imperative of 21C curriculum, but it is almost entirely aspirational and visionary, with a striking absence of their application in empirical research. As Monroe et al. recommend in their review of climate change education, the task is to seize “the learning moment to think about what really and profoundly matters, to collectively envision a better future, and then to become practical visionaries in realizing that future”(2017, p.17). The research program addresses this provocation to become practical visionaries in producing a better future for the planet…

The “planetary wellbeing and human learning group” are connected to IIRA through an interest in the Anthropocene and in working in interdisciplinary modes. There is no one way to make a difference in terms of planetary wellbeing, what it at stake here, is the opportunity to explore these differences in new and exciting manners.

Planetary wellbeing and human learning members:

Research Program Leader

Prof Margaret Somerville

Deputy Leader

A/Prof David Cole

WSU Members

Ms Jen Dollin

A/Prof Susanne Gannon

Ms Susan Germein

Dr Rachael Jacobs

A/Prof Jorge Knijnik

Ms Tessa McGavock

A/Prof Loshini Naidoo

A/Prof Anne Power

Dr Annette Sartor

Prof Michael Singh

Dr Dorian Stoilescu

Dr Eva Vass

Dr David Wright

Prof Juan Salazar

Dr Ian Wright

WSU Affiliates

A/Prof Chris Woodrow

Ms Kerry Staples

External/Industry Partners

Organisation                                                               Contact

UN RCE ESD                                                                 Ms Jen Dollin

Hawkesbury Environment Network                            Ms Jocelyn Howden

Hawkesbury City Council                                            Mr Barry Calvert

Macquarie – MESCA                                                   mescamacquariestudents@gmail,com

NSW Dept Education                                                  Ms Angie Atkinson

Manchester Metropolitan University                         Dr Abigail Hackett

Middlesex University                                                  Dr Jayne Osgood

Capetown University/Oulu University                        Prof Karin Murris

Arizona State University                                             Dr David Carlson

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology                  Dr David Rousell

Royal Melbourne Institute of Technology                  Dr Angela Foley

Macquarie University                                                 Dr Sarah Powell

Catholic Education Office                                           Mr David Russell


Margaret Somerville (leader) – I am a Professor of Education at Western Sydney University. Our project with the Early Learning Centre is an example of the birth of hope where children from 0-5 years learned about bushfires through direct and media experiences, and one child who had been driven for hours through burning bush was asked to do a drawing when he returned to the Centre. Thus, he started an arts based project which continues to this day with the most recent creative arts based explorations being about the nature of rainforests.

David R. Cole (deputy) I am currently working in the inter-related areas of the Anthropocene, social ecology, and innovative educational research methods that help to move knowledge forwards in terms of, for example, climate change. I have published more than 100+ journal articles and 15 books in these fields, and believe that this is an area undergoing enormous and necessary transformation. The general problem that I am presently concerned with is to encourage social change in the Anthropocene through critical-affective thought and analysis.

Abigail HackettI’m a Research Fellow at Manchester Met Uni (in the UK) looking at early childhood literacies and place. I was lucky enough to be mentored by Margaret several years ago when I was completed my PhD; as a result I have been part of the ‘Naming the World’ network from the start, and deeply influenced by its work. I am currently completing a British Academy funded project, which is a three year ethnography of young children’s literacy practices in communities, through a more-than-human lens.

Jen DollinI work at Western Sydney University full time and am also trying to finish my PhD with acknowledgement to Margaret and Gay Hawkins in ICS as my supervisors. I am working on a multispecies ethnography ‘Eel worlds of the Hawkesbury Nepean’ drawing on new materialism and feminist post-human thinking. I have just finished a chapter on Queer Eel Bodies that (and this is not often the case) I am in love with and don’t want to leave…

Susan GermeinMy PhD post-qualitative and ‘unravelling’ ethnography is centred around a small girl’s residential school in the foothills of the Himalay in Uttarakhand. In this thesis, I am bringing the conceptual tools of post humanism and new materialism to bear on the insufficiencies of conventional interpretive ethnographic methods. The star of the show is the school itself and what its pedagogy embodies and engenders – a way of being, ethically and socio-ecologically, within the world. Educational initiatives from the global south are so important in responding to our current planetary challenges, and tend to remain invisible, so in this thesis I am waving a hand for inhabiting a space of cultural difference.

Tessa McGavock I am the Director at Western Sydney University Early Learning – Penrith and work with Margaret Somerville and Sarah Powell on the bushfire recovery project. This has been an emergent process with the children leading the research every step of the way and is really exciting. I have been involved with the project “Naming the World – enhancing early years literacy and sustainability learning” and have collaborated with Margaret on a couple of book chapters. The whole team and the children learned so much from the ‘Naming the World’ project and developed insights into collaborating with children as co-researchers. It also encouraged us to push boundaries with documentation and think outside the square, resulting in diverse literacy development in this area.

David Wright – I have worked for 25 years of working in the Social Ecology group at Western Sydney Uniiversity. Most recently I, with Stuart Hill, published an edited collection, through Routledge, titled Social Ecology and Education: Transforming Worldviews and Practices. The book included contributions from PWHL group members Jen Dollin and Rachael Jacobs and like-minded scholars from Canada, Sweden, New Zealand, Malaysia and various parts of Australia. It included chapters by indigenous elders, community educators, dancers, former members of the Australian parliament and others, all focussed on the issue of ‘learning in the shadow of climate change’. My contribution looked at how we teach in this area: how we facilitate the emergence of an ecological consciousness, based on the recognition that this has to be learned, it cannot be taught.

Jayne OsgoodFrom the University of Middleses, UK, I am working in collaboration with Norwegian and Swedish scholars to develop ‘Arboreal Methodologies’ which bring a concern with trees/forests and children’s literature into creative partnership to generate other ways to think about and undertake early childhood research. More generally I am working with environmental humanities and eco-feminist approaches via the work of Haraway, Barad, Tsing and Alaimo (amongst many others) to explore everyday, mundane and habitual unfoldings, matterings, rituals in a wide range of early childhood contexts to unsettle taken for granted ideas about ‘the child’.

Sarah Powell I am a Lecturer in Creative Arts at Macquarie University (Sydney). In general, my expertise and interests are in Music and Dance, and teacher education. I am particularly interested in creative pedagogies and how these link to early childhood literacy, as well as teacher/preservice teacher education and building their skill and confidence to deliver Arts in their classroom/s. 

Sandra KaireI’m assistant professor at the Institute of Educational Sciences Vilnius university, Lithuania. My expertise and scientific work are connected with experiential and intercultural education, youth mobility and learning, and the future of the schooling. I am involved in scientific researches that focus on visuality in education and visual-based approaches in educational research.  My postdoctoral fellowship project I’m conducting is “Like the ocean we rise”: learner-education relation in the epoch of Anthropocene, focuses on the relation of education and young people who participate in youth activism for climate change movements and identifies essential changes in their everyday learning practices. I also wish to grasp new relationship young climate activists create “with-others”, specifically, non-humans.

Planetary wellbeing and Human learing talks, April 15th, 2021

  1. Paul James – The Dangerous Power of Measurement


The planet and the human condition are in crisis, and, at least in scholarly terms, we seem to understand that crisis with increasing precision. Big data is being used globally. We are certainly measuring the contours of the manifold planetary crises with ever-more sophisticated and data-supported tools. However, those tools tend to be skewed by a number of delimiting issues. The reality, at least I would argue, is that we have become technically better at measuring while losing any understanding of the limits of measurement:

  • Quantitative assessment is given a false sense of accuracy and precision over qualitative interpretation;
  • Data concerning the domains of economics and ecology massively outstrips data concerning culture and politics;
  • Data concerning planetary wellbeing tends to be reduced to considerations that are measurable in a one-to-one manner (for example, resource-use;
  • Ecology tends to be treated as an externality to economics when considering consequences;
  • The modelling of complex ecologies requires that are treated as closed systems, beyond or outside political and cultural framing.
  • The setting of targets for action tends to treat the indicators (the units of measure) as the basis of understanding what is the good.
  • Learning tends to be reduced to knowing how to recite ‘facts’ and ‘figures’.

This seminar will discuss these issues with the reference to the Sustainable Development Goals, the Human Development Index, the Capabilities Framework, systems dynamics and the Great Acceleration.

2. Ian Buchanan – Assemblage Theory and Method

This seminar will aim to do three things: first, I will try to provide an overview of Deleuze and Guattari’s concept of the assemblage, drawing on my book Assemblage Theory and Method (2020). I will briefly explain the origin of the concept and show how it functions within Deleuze and Guattari’s overall conceptual matrix, which includes the concepts of the abstract machine and body without organs; second, I will offer some case examples (based on my ARC funded research project on cycling participation rates) of how the concept of the assemblage can be used in empirical work; last, I will try to answer any questions people may have about Deleuze and Guattari’s work:

Planetary wellbeing and Human learing talks, September 29th & 30th, 2021
  1. Common Worlding Methods

Affrica Taylor

Centre for Sustainable Communities – University of Canberra

Centre for People Place and Planet – Edith Cowan University

Common worlding is a collective practice and relational method. It is a move to open up to worlds beyond narrow human preoccupations and concerns, beyond Cartesian dualisms, and beyond the framings of research methods as exclusively social practices. In this presentation I’ll overview a selection of the common worlding methods I’ve used over the past ten years and refer to the conceptual frameworks, or modes of thinking, that have informed them. This includes the work of Bruno Latour, who originally coined the term ‘common worlds’.  I’ll review the multispecies walking ethnographies I undertook for some years with pre-school aged children in Canberra, and acknowledge the inspiration I took from Donna Haraway and Deborah Bird Rose in devising these multispecies methods. I’ll discuss the feminist ‘Bush Salon’ methods I’ve experimented with over the years, which draw inspiration from Isabelle Stenger’s and Val Plumwood’s animist philosophies. Bush salons are on-the-ground collaborations with place, or country, and in my case, have featured rivers as narrative subjects and active participants. Finally, I’ll describe the ‘fibrous yarning’ methods I’ve been experimenting with recently, as a material way of figuring, stitching and overlaying stories across time, place and ancestry. Please click link to see video:

2. Vital materiality

Bronwyn Davies

University of Melbourne

In this presentation I explore the intra-active mattering of humans and more-than-humans, drawing primarily on the work of Barad and Bennett and also Deleuze and Guattari. I ponder how we might generate ethical encounters that are open and alive to the vital materiality of more-than-human others. I propose an ethics based on response-ability and on an understanding of our mutual engagement, our affective co-existence, with the more-than-human world. I interrupt the striations of unquestioned human dominance and exploitation of more-than-human others, and explore, in place of those striations, a sensuous enchantment with the material world. Please click on link below:

Planetary wellbeing and Human learing talks, April 27th & 28th, 2022
Troubling the Anthropocene from a feminist educator’s perspective
Annette Gough

The term “Anthropocene” was coined in 2000 to denote the present time interval as a new epoch of geological time dominated by human impact on the Earth. The starting date for the epoch is contentious—around the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (ca. 1800 CE), at the start of the nuclear age, or some other time, both earlier and later than these dates. The term itself is also contentious because of its humanist and human supremacy focus, and the way it hides troublesome differences between humans (including gender and cultural differences) and the intimate relationships among technology, humans, and other animals. Endeavours such as the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals aim to achieve gender equality by empowering women to participate in society. However, within this goal is the assumption that women and “other marginalized Others” can be assimilated within the dominant social paradigm rather than questioning the assumptions that maintain the subordination of these social groups. The goals also overlook the divergent impacts on women around the globe.
Education in an Anthropocene context necessitates a different pedagogy that provides opportunities for learning to live in and engage with the world and acknowledges that we live in a more-than-human world. It also requires learners to critique the Anthropocene as a concept and its associated themes to counter the humanist perspective, which fails to consider how the nonhuman and material worlds coshape our mutual worlds. In particular, education in the Anthropocene will need to be interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, or cross-disciplinary; intersectional; ecofeminist or post humanist; indigenous; and participatory.
A particular example of education in the Anthropocene that will be discussed is humans’ ambiguous relationships with fire. The ability to control fire has been part of shaping human development and human society as well as the characteristics of Australian ecosystems, but bushfire is also a threat to all forms of life. The chemical process of combustion is complicit in the Anthropocene and climate change, which threatens life as we know it. The current Australian curriculum generally ignores fire, and this needs to be disrupted – replacing the traditional curriculum with becoming-with fire as a pyro-pedagogy for teaching and learning with this “unruly kin”.

Sensing creative agency
Dan Harris

This interactive talk draws on the affective and sensory exploration of more-than-human creativity and creative ecologies in my new book Creative Agency. Arguing for a broader consideration of creativity in which attention to the agency of more-than-human others activates kinship and empathy, this book draws on my current ARC Future Fellowship and a decade of creative methods scholarship to lead scholarship back into the wild.