#FEAS Cite Club: Decolonizing ‘place’ in early childhood studies

Cite Club: Decolonizing ‘place’ in early childhood studies

Feminist Educators Against Sexism (#FEAS) are an Australian-based, international feminist collective committed to developing interventions into sexism in the academy and other educational spaces. One of their most recent interventions is Cite Club, an e-mail group where #FEAS send their works to one another and cite one another where possible. As part of our ongoing collaboration with #FEAS, each month GEA profiles a Cite Club publication on this blog. August’s Cite Club features a paper by Dr Fikile Nxumalo and Dr Stacia Cedillo at The University of Texas, USA. It is one of three publications co-authored or authored by Dr Nxumalo in this months Cite Club.

Decolonizing ‘place’ in early childhood studies: Thinking with Indigenous onto-epistemologies and Black feminist geographies

To cite this article:

Nxumalo, F. & Cedillo, S. (2017). Decolonizing ‘place’ in early childhood studies: Thinking with Indigenous onto-epistemologies and Black feminist geographies. Global Studies of Childhood, 7(2), 99-112.  https://doi.org/10.1177/2043610617703831

Outdoor education programmes, such as forest schools, are attracting growing interest in North America. Whilst the reasons for these programmes are varied, Nxumalo and Cedillo note a shared investment in idealised and romanticised notions of nature and childhood (p. 100). Seeking to unsettle EuroWestern perspectives that position children and nature as separate but belonging together as sites of innocence, the authors bring much needed politicized attention to place in early year’s environmental education. Specifically, they center Indigenous onto-epistemologies and Black feminist geographies in considerations of place, environment, and ‘nature’ in childhood studies.

The authors begin by outlining dominant approaches to knowledge-making in place-based and environmental education with young children. They demonstrate how modernist, colonial perspectives on nature as ‘mute, pure and separate’ persist through such education programmes, which often side-step the ‘colonial, raced, and gendered politics impacting accessibility and affordability of outdoor education’ (p. 101).

Nxumalo and Cedillo consider the need to pay attention to Indigenous relational presences, Indigenous onto-epistemologies, and past–present land histories when conceptualizing place within ongoing settler colonial contexts. Specifically, they address how childhood studies might ‘engage with specific places as storied Indigenous land, foregrounding specific Indigenous knowledges and place relations where both human and more-than-human actors participate in the storying of places’ (p. 100). In doing so, they remain mindful of superficial engagements with Indigenous knowledge: noting the diversity of Indigenous relationships to land. They also explore the challenges of ‘conceptualizing pedagogies of place that trouble ongoing settler colonialisms through histories and stories without appropriating or “museumifying” Indigenous knowledges’ (p. 104). Staying with these tensions, the authors nevertheless argue for the potential of Indigenous place stories to unsettle settler colonial relations to place in early childhood research and pedagogical contexts.

The authors also attend to the potentialities of Black feminist geographies for enacting anti-colonial and anti-racist place-based childhood research and practice. Challenging dominant deficit depictions of Black land stories and relations, Nxumalo and Cedillo draw on a range of Black feminist geographies to demonstrate that experiences of Black geography cannot be ‘contained within stories of damaged place relations, surveillance, and absenting’ (p. 106). Black feminist geographies ‘bring important complexity to understandings of North American Black relations to place’ without erasing the enduring violences of past-present planation histories (pp. 105 – 106).

Bringing Black feminist geographies into conversation with environmental early childhood studies, the authors consider: ‘what kinds of pedagogies might trouble “Black narratives of un-belonging” (McKittrick, 2002, p. 28) and erasures in certain places?’ (p. 106); ‘What might emerge from seeking out immigrant and Black land stories with children?’ (p. 106); and how might creative interventions offer ‘another form of (re)storying places in ways that disrupt Black placelessness’ (p. 106). With each question they offer examples of current practices, such as the Black/Land Project, from which educators may draw inspiration.

In the final section of the paper Nxumalo and Cedillo consider how Indigenous onto-epistemologies and Black feminist geographies might “walk alongside” (Sundberg, 2014) considerations of human/non-human and nature/culture entanglements in post-human geographies (p. 100). Whilst the troubling of nature/culture dualisms in posthuman geographies resonates with the aforementioned perspectives, post-humanisms have been critiqued for their ‘presumptive universalization of the human/non-human or nature/culture divide and consequent erasure of relational Indigenous onto-epistemologies’ (pp. 107 – 108). Furthermore, it has been argued that these theories are taken up in ways that ‘inadvertently reinstate transcendentalist Eurocentrism’ by leaving the ‘racialized ordering within the normative “human”’ largely unexamined (pp. 107 – 108).

Acknowledging the fractures between Indigenous onto-epistemologies, Black feminist geographies and posthuman geographies, Nxumalo and Cedillo nonetheless argue that together these perspectives help subvert ‘taken-for-granted anthropocentric narratives of “knowing” a place’ (p. 108). They conclude that these subversions offer necessary movement towards explicit engagement with ‘racialized environmental (in)justice, human/more-than-human relationalities, as well as past–present settler colonial histories of place’ in young children’s place encounters (p. 108). Overall, this article works to disrupt dominant notions about what counts as ‘nature’ and who is seen as belonging and ‘out of place’ in nature.


Black/Land Project (2017) Searching and researching. Black/land project. Available at: http://www.black- landproject.org/stories/2016/9/12/searching-and-researching

McKittrick K (2002) Their blood is there, and they can’t throw it out: Honouring Black Canadian geographies. TOPIA: Canadian Journal of Cultural Studies 7(2002): 27–37.

Sundberg J (2014) Decolonizing posthumanist geographies. Cultural Geographies 21(1): 33–47.

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