Think Tank discussion: natural world vs. social world

This morning I offered this Ecotone paper as reading material for a Think Tank discussion at my university. As I was settling into what I rapidly came to realise was a kind of benign ‘dummy-run-mini-micro-viva’ comprising two Professors and my phd supervisor, the first question revolved around comparisons between the social world and the natural world and the extent to which they are unequal bedfellows. The concern was for the absence of partial sociopolitical forces in the natural world which make this world ‘other’ than the human and therefore questionable as a resource for creative comparative thinking.

I am wondering if the marxist perspective promotes too simplistic and dismissive a view of the natural world. Perhaps we overly ‘other’ it because we can’t control large parts of it? Although no money circulates in the mangroves, flora and fauna in this territory transact with the environment – where regular flux, disturbance and competition necessitate high levels of adaptation, resilience and elasticity from its inhabitants. How often do we encounter these qualities as “21st century” prerequisites in the literature on education? What dimension of the axiom ‘survival of the fittest’ is not constitutive of capitalism?

I’m not biologising our social condition with all the attendant relinquishing of responsibility that that mindset can fertilise, I’m suggesting there are certain aspects of thriving ‘natural’ systems – which don’t preclude inherent tensions and challenges from unpredictable external sources – from which we can learn.

The article mentions the creation of a system of design hubs with ‘ecotonal’ characteristics to facilitate porous and innovatory practices in educational spaces. We used to have a network of this type in the form of nationally distributed City Learning Centres to assist schools with digital media pedagogy, however, many have had to close due to the cuts. On the other hand, one such CLC in Lambeth operates a successful business model forming partnerships with schools and taking the perceived headache of technology away from school leadership teams. They provide a one-stop shop for advice and high quality new media projects.

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