Kassahun Weldemariam
Kassahun Weldemariam

A post-anthropocentric conceptualisation of environmental sustainability


A new PhD dissertation at Gothenburg University explores a post-anthropocentric conceptualisation of environmental sustainability in early childhood education.

A new PhD dissertation explores a post-anthropocentric conceptualisation of environmental sustainability in early childhood education.
"We need to see the world as part of us, and us as part of the world. We are not apart", says Kassahun Weldemariam.

Kassahun Weldemariam
Kassahun Weldemariam.

Education for sustainability is a well-established practice in Swedish pre-schools. The dominant trend in the field emphasizes the importance of children’s agency (own abilities) in enhancing their potential to contribute to environmental sustainability. This has an anthropocentric bias as it keeps human at the centre and unintentionally overlooks the crucial ways in which nonhuman agents (animals, plants, objects and atmospheric forces) inevitably relate with humanity in shaping the world.

A new PhD dissertation, by Kassahun Weldemariam, explores a post-anthropocentric approach, that decentres the human or the child as being the central focus and rather sees humans as one species (among many) entangled with other species and non-human agentic forces. To this end, Kassahun’s research opens up knowledge enquiry to the agentic characteristics of other species and non-human forces, to live amongst them and learn with them.

As such, Kassahun suggests a new way of thinking and conceptualising education for sustainability:

"I offer an alternative conceptualisation of sustainability as an emergent and self-adjusting property of humans entwined with other species, materials, forces and affects that are in some way alive and vibrant."

Education for environmental sustainability
Kassahun further extends the notion of learning for environmental sustainability as a generative concept that opens up possibilities for children to learn-with, become affected by, become-with, and become one with the non-human world.

A post-anthropocentric approach challenges the idea of a rational, moral, ethical and autonomous child and explores possibilities for engaging with the unfolding, relational and affective child. Kassahun argues that this in turn problematizes the adequacy of conscious meaning making process and calls for the need to activate children’s affective and relational capacity towards environmental sustainability.

Kassahun highlight that teachers need to rethink and organize activities in ways that recognize knowledge as emergent and relational. Pedagogically, this moves early childhood education for sustainability from the autonomous child with sole agency to diverse ways of coming to know such as: affective learning, embodied learning, learning with and becoming-with others.

Two of his studies explore post-anthropocentric possibilities for environmental sustainability using empirical data. The first article contends that noticing and engaging with the vitality of weather offers possibilities for creating affects which potentially leads to an attunement to ecological sensibility. The second article, drawing on a theatre about the cataclysmic death of bees, suggests an alternative direction for early childhood education for sustainability that represents a shift from loving, caring and preserving nature as an object outside ourselves, towards a perspective of ‘becoming-with-nature’, which considers humans as entangled with nature.

More information:
Kassahun Weldemariam, telephone +46729638183, email

Kassahun Weldemariam, Department of Pedagogical, Curricular and Professional Studies, is defending his thesis Reconfiguring Environmental Sustainability in Early Childhood Education: a Post-anthropocentric Approach at 10 am April 24. The dissertation is public and open to anyone interested, but due to the Corona virus, this dissertation will be conducted remotely through a webinar.

The thesis is published online.