Education for Sustainability: A Sensory Ethnography in Biodynamic Agriculture

Research output: ThesisMaster's thesis


In the twenty-first century, environmentally injurious phenomena related to climate change and biodiversity loss have profound impacts on our total environments and our whole bodies—especially beyond what is perceptible by vision, hearing, video and text. Since the inception of compulsory education in the Western world, however, learning in school has privileged our senses of sight, hearing, and to a lesser extent, touch. The senses of smell and taste have been undeveloped or even neglected in formal education based on the assumption that they are not senses of knowledge (Classen, 1999). This thesis uses sensory ethnographic material collected in a biodynamic farm in northern Italy and in the international Slow Food movement to explore how the senses are engaged in generating and redefining values concerning sustainability and sustainable practice. The sensory ethnographic material is buttressed by a history of the senses in Western thought and culture and explores why dominant ways of understanding the senses in the West are out of step with how humans actually learn. Through this discussion it is argued that theoretically, methodologically and practically dissolving Cartesian ontology is a precondition for sustainability of any kind. This sets up the sensory ethnographic material where I draw from cultural and phenomenological theories of the senses, perception and a theory of place to situate the biodynamic farm and Slow Food movement as place-events of sustainable practice, activism, and education. I then explore how sustainable values are learned through one’s multisensory emplacement within such contexts. The thesis is meant to contribute to discussions about how humans learn in the world and provide an opening from which to explore the possibilities of holistically and explicitly educating the senses in non/formal education. Such considerations are aimed at better preparing learners to actively perceive their world beyond the means of pen, paper, video, debate and discussion. The value of this thesis lies in its interdisciplinarity and the possibilities it raises for reappraising the education of the human sensorium in and for the Anthropocene.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • University of Oulu
Award date25 Jul 2019
Publication statusPublished - 25 Jun 2019
Externally publishedYes
MoE publication typeG2 Master's thesis, polytechnic Master's thesis

Fields of Science

  • 516 Educational sciences
  • Education and learning
  • The senses
  • 5143 Social and cultural anthropology
  • Sensory ethnography

Cite this