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With a whole heart: nurturing an ethic of caring for nature in the education of Australian planners

Sarkissian, Wendy Anne (1996) With a whole heart: nurturing an ethic of caring for nature in the education of Australian planners. PhD thesis, Murdoch University.

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This interdisciplinary dissertation addresses one aspect of the education of Australian urban planners: an ethic of caring for Nature, conceived as a deeply grounded, contextual, ethic based on a sense of connection with the natural world. It articulates what an ethica of caring entails, explores the current state of and' potential for the teaching of environmental ethics within Australian planning schools, examines fiom an ethical standpoint the educational implications of direct connection with Nature, and proposes the foundations for a radical curriculum for planning education to nurture an ethic of caring for Nature. Three pivotal assumptions underpin this research: that Australian urban development is contributing to both local and global ecological crises; that the activities of urban planners help to determine the form and style of urban development and, by implication, the ecological impacts; and that the education of urban planners influences their practice. I argue that a complete revisioning of Australian urban planning education is necessary to counter the entrenched anthropocentrism and utilitarianism which underpin both planning practice and education.

The dissertation sets out to address three questions: What is the current situation in Australian planning schools with respect to the relationship between planning education in general and education in environmental ethics, in particular?; How might the education of urban planners in Australia be changed to contribute to the solution of ecological problems?; and How important to the educator and the student who ultimately becomes the practitioner is a direct experience of Name in giving substance and energy to the formution of environmental ethics?

The study employs two primary research approaches or paths, the path of explanation and the path of expression, the first with a quantitative emphasis, and the second being primarily qualitative research; both are within the interpretive research paradigm. It addresses the educational origins of what appears to be: planners' continued unquestioning participation in Australian urban development ad their resistance to embracing more realistic formulations of a relationship with Nature. It offers the first articulation of a learning model upon which an undergraduate or postgraduate curriculum could be based.

The dissertation begins by asking, via an exploration of secondary sources in feminist epistemology and ethics, what an ethic of caring could involve. The current situation with respect to environmental ethics education in Australian schools of planning is then thoroughly examined, yielding the tentative conclusion that virtually nothing is happening, that there is little to build on. Asking what could be the potential for direct experience of Nature to nourish an ethic of caring, the next section chronicles my personal experience of a year spent consciously attempting to do this: a journey to my ecological self. The last sections of the dissertation summarise the lessons learned from all aspects of the investigation, particularly the direct experience of Nature. Following examination of problems inherent in emancipatory and technocratic liberal educational philosophies, I propose the elements of a radical curriculum for planning education to nurture an ethic of caring for Nature. In the learning model which emerges, the T.EN.C.E.L. model, I argue for a curriculum which contains components of the following elements: teamwork; direct experience of Nature; grounding in community processes and experiences; the formal study of ethics, by means of environmental ethics courses; and attention to the aspects of professional literacy necessary to understand environmental issues related to planning practice.

The dissertation also includes, as an appendix, a videotape, Beginning Again with Nature: Environmental Ethics, designed to communicate those qualities of my journey to the ecological self which are better expressed in sound and images.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Murdoch Affiliation: School of Social Sciences
Supervisor(s): Newman, Peter and Hallen, Patsy
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