Problematizing the processes of participation in networks: working through the rehetoric

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Ferreira, J & Davis, J 2012, 'Problematizing the processes of participation in networks: working through the rehetoric', Environmental Education Research, vol. 18, no. 5, pp. 687-697.

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Participation in networks, both as a concept and process, is widely supported in environmental education as a democratic and equitable pathway to individual and social change for sustainability. However, the processes of participation in networks are rarely problematized. Rather, it is assumed that we inherently know how to participate in networks. This assumption means that participation is seldom questioned. Underlying support for participation in networks is a belief that it allows individuals to connect in new and meaningful ways, individuals can engage in making decisions and in bringing about change in arenas that affect them and that they will be engaging in new, non-hierarchical and equitable relationships. In this paper, we problematize participation in networks. As an example, we use research into a decentralized network – described as such in its own literature – the Queensland Environmentally Sustainable Schools Initiative Alliance in Australia – to argue that while network participants were engaged and committed to participation in this network, ‘old’ forms of top-down engagement and relationships needed to be unlearnt. This paper thus proposes that for participation in decentralized networks to be meaningful, new learning about how to participate needs to occur.