Reading the environment : narrative constructions of ecological subjectivities in Australian children's literature

Massey, Geraldine (2009) Reading the environment : narrative constructions of ecological subjectivities in Australian children's literature. PhD thesis, Queensland University of Technology.


Ways in which humans engage with the environment have always provided a rich source of material for writers and illustrators of Australian children's literature. Currently, readers are confronted with a multiplicity of complex, competing and/or complementing networks of ideas, theories and emotions that provide narratives about human engagement with the environment at a particular historical moment. This study, entitled Reading the Environment: Narrative Constructions of Ecological Subjectivities in Australian Children's Literature, examines how a representative sample of Australian texts (19 picture books and 4 novels for children and young adults published between 1995 and 2006) constructs fictional ecological subjects in the texts, and offers readers ecological subject positions inscribed with contemporary environmental ideologies. The conceptual framework developed in this study identifies three ideologically grounded positions that humans may assume when engaging with the environment. None of these positions clearly exists independently of any other, nor are they internally homogeneous. Nevertheless they can be categorised as: (i) human dominion over the environment with little regard for environmental degradation (unrestrained anthropocentrism); (ii) human consideration for the environment driven by understandings that humans need the environment to survive (restrained anthropocentrism); and (iii) human deference towards the environment guided by understandings that humans are no more important than the environment (ecocentrism). iv The transdisciplinary methodological approach to textual analysis used in this thesis draws on ecocriticism, narrative theories, visual semiotics, ecofeminism and postcolonialism to discuss the difficulties and contradictions in the construction of the positions offered. Each chapter of textual analysis focuses on the construction of subjectivities in relation to one of the positions identified in the conceptual framework. Chapter 5 is concerned with how texts highlight the negative consequences of human dominion over the environment, or, in the words of this study, living with ecocatastrophe. Chapter 6 examines representations of restrained anthropocentrism in its contemporary form, that is, sustainability. Chapter 7 examines representations of ecocentrism, a radical position with inherent difficulties of representation. According to the analysis undertaken, the focus texts convey the subtleties and complexities of human engagement with the environment and advocate ways of viewing and responding to contemporary unease about the environment. The study concludes that these ways of viewing and responding conform to and/or challenge dominant socio-cultural and political-economic opinions regarding the environment. This study, the first extended work of its kind, makes an original contribution to ecocritical study of Australian children's literature. By undertaking a comprehensive analysis of how texts for children represent human engagement with the environment at a time when important environmental concerns pose significant threats to human existence, I hope to contribute new knowledge to an area of children's literature research that to date has been significantly under-represented.

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ID Code: 31766
Item Type: QUT Thesis (PhD)
Supervisor: Mallan, Kerry & Henderson, Deborah
Keywords: anthropocentrism, australian children’s literature, ecocatastrophe, ecocentrism, ecocriticism, ecological subjectivity, environment, environmental discourses
Divisions: Past > Research Centres > Office of Education Research
Current > QUT Faculties and Divisions > Faculty of Education
Institution: Queensland University of Technology
Deposited On: 14 Apr 2010 03:02
Last Modified: 22 Jun 2017 14:42

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