Rethinking Vulnerability in the Age of Anthropocene: Toward Ecologizing Education

Educational Theory 67 (4):435-451 (2017)
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Abstract

In this essay, Huey-li Li argues that, although precariousness has always been embedded in human existence, our human vulnerability has been heightened by seemingly omnipresent and omnipotent risks in the modern era, ranging from the 9/11 terroristic attacks and nuclear meltdowns to infectious disease outbreaks and climate change. Li unravels some of the ambiguities surrounding the conceptualization of vulnerability, pointing out that human vulnerability, to a large extent, is coterminous with the increasingly more vulnerable global–local ecological systems in the age of the Anthropocene. She then connects this formulation of vulnerability to the existential, ontological, and social vulnerability in education and its accompanying discourses. Li questions the wisdom of thinking that human invulnerability is an attainable goal in the modern era and argues further that all protective and preventive efforts are actually counterproductive — that is, that they instead tend to maximize our fears and thus render us more vulnerable. Instead of perpetuating the vulnerable pursuit of invulnerability in formal educational institutions, Li concludes, modern schooling should embrace and engage ecological and human vulnerability. In this way, education might better assume ethical responsibility for mitigating the ongoing ecological decline.

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