At Home in Prescott: Confluence of Streams in my Journey as an Interdisciplinary Sustainability Educator
Welcome to my auto-ethnographic journey, as I take you through the confluence of ten streams of thoughts, and lifepaths. These ten have shaped my evolutionary path towards an interdisciplinary sustainability educator. Because it is the inaugural issue of the Journal of Sustainability Education, I thought of offering some reflections on the interdisciplinary, transdisciplinary, multidisciplinary, or post-disciplinary (whatever we may want to call it) nature of the discipline of sustainability education. I wondered: why not revisit my own zigzag trajectory as an scholar/educator of sustainability to illustrate that? Here it is.
Rather unique for a person of Nepalese origin, my journey spans vast bio-geographies, as well as academic disciplines. Geographically, I moved from a small village in the Himalayan foothills of Nepal to Kathmandu–the capital city of Nepal–and then to the United States. I have traveled extensively all over the globe – from India to Indiana, from Cusco, Peru to California, from Oaxaca, Mexico, to Christchurch,New Zealand, from the southern tip of Cornwall,England to Fairbanks,Alaska, from the Blackforest in Germany to Jajarkot District of remote Nepal. I have traveled many places in between. But somehow, the three bio-geographies –the Himalayas, the Salmon Nation of the US Pacific Northwest, and the Sonoran desert and the Colorado plateau—seem to have the deepest chord in me. I will be intimately engaged in these three places in the future.
One may consider my pathways as interdisciplinary, post-disciplinary, or even trans-disciplinary. My scholarship and teaching builds on what I have learned in four disciplines of ecology (political ecology, sustainable food systems, agroecology), culture (political and ecological anthropology, peasant and indigenous cultures), learning (theories of learning, critical pedagogy, ecological education), and leadership (theories of state, social movements, grassroots and civil society formations). While teaching as well as designing and implementing interdisciplinary graduate programs, I look for curricular content and a process of learning, such that we can adequately prepare a new generation of educators and leaders who are well equipped to provide leadership for the emergent social and economic formations. Those could span from green economy and green jobs to conservation economy, from biophilic designs to social equity and bioregional mappings. I do so by connecting and integrating the ecosphere (the earth’s household) with the ethnosphere (the human household)—perhaps the two most complex systems in this earth. Then I uniquely blend the two households with the learning and leadership spheres–the way we learn and engage in inquiry and transformation. As a systems thinker, my goal is to increase synergy between these three spheres. As you will read below, I have had plenty of fruitful results in creating, what I call the “synergestic gymnastics” within the learning environments, as well as the social environments.
To start with, let me offer a working definition of learning sustainability. For me, learning sustainability is “an art and a process that could reorient human beings to become a beneficial member of an abundant biosphere.” One may think I assembled a bunch of words and ideas in this definition. Please notice some distinct features in the way I am defining sustainability and learning sustainability. First, I consider learning sustainability as an art and a process. Second, the intent of this art and process is to reorient humans from one mindset/worldview to another that will then lead to new visions, dreams, and designs that help realize those visions. Third, what humans do and how they live their lives do not necessarily have to be detrimental to ecosystemic or biospheric health. Instead, humans can be beneficial members of the biosphere. There is plenty of evidence that the human needs and that of the health of the biosphere do and can be mutually fulfilling and enhancing. Fourth, the biosphere is abundant. Based on that, we can create foundations for an abundant as well as equitable human life. Fifth, as an educator, I am confident that we can prepare the next generation of people, who can not only be beneficial members but who can also make the biosphere abundant.
In a similar note, author Andres Edwards observes that as our goal, we need to shift from merely achieving sustainability to what he calls, achieving thriveability. He comments:
While the word sustainable is derived from roots meaning “to uphold,” the origin of thriveable comes from “to grasp to oneself.” Sustainability separates us from nature and envisions us “getting by” by limiting our negative environmental impacts over the long term. Sustaining involved scarcity and minimalism; by contrast thriving involves abundance and enrichment. Sustainability is shortsighted and ignores the very qualities that make us human: our passion, enthusiasm, adaptability, vision and love. Thriveability celebrates us as part of nature. We “grasp” the ability of the human spirit to prosper and flourish when we are integrated into the web of life (Edwards, 2010: 149).
When we aim towards abundance or thriveability, a “quantum jump” in our possibilities can be realized by building synergy between the work of biospheric regeneration with healing the human wounds inflicted by race, gender, class, and geographic cleavages. I work on the premise that restoring ecological health is not only an urgent obligation and responsibility for humanity, but it is also the site for healing our own human wounds (See my online article, The Blessed Moment: Promise for Preparing Integrative Learners and Leaders” (2009).
In essence, there are two overlapping tasks we as future generations of educators and leaders could learn. First, we could learn how to stop “doing harm” to ourselves and the earth. Second, we could learn how to actually “do good.” In my model, there is not a linear progression from the first to the second; both could be simultaneously learned and actualized.
Coming Home to Prescott College
Joining the Prescott College as a graduate faculty and director of sustainability education since May 2008 has been like “home coming” for me. Immediately, my attention has gone towards cultivating a sense of place and purpose for being here in the US Southwest–the bioregions of the Colorado Plateau, and the Sonoran desert. I have focused on getting to know this bioregion through visits to both sides of the US-Mexico border, including the Navajo and the Hopi Nations, the Sky Islands, the Kino Bay, including the indigenous Lands of the Seri people by the Gulf of California. I already like to live here. I am looking to buy a passive solar home which has some acres around it. In that land, I have plans to hone my skills in permaculture design, solar energy, and food production. Obviously, I have not even scratched the surface here in the US Southwest. I have yet to learn so much more about this biogeography, which ethno-biologist and a food educator, Gary Nabhan, calls a “Chilli-Pepper” Nation. It could equally be a Nation of Mesquite and Prickley Pear Cactus.
For me, food is the deepest and the most delicious gateway to know new people and places. As I elaborate in the ninth confluence of streams below, food and gardens can even initiate deep and delicious social conversations, engagements, and transformations. I have begun my culinary immersion here in Prescott by cooking and testing several bioregional menus, including the legendary mesquite pancake with ogave and prickly pear syrup. Getting to know our legendary chef Molly Beverly at the Crossroads Café of Prescott College and being a member of the community supported agriculture (CSA) since my arrival here has opened my taste buds for the seasonal flavors and bounties of the desert. Those bounties include goat milk from Ms. Irish’s or Liz and Will’s farms. My CSA bag on the week of March April 26-30 consisted of potatoes, carrots, redbor kale, nopales, I’itoi onions, and sprouts . Let me introduce a bit about the Nopales—one of the desert foods in this region and northern Mexico. A email note to subscribers from CSA coordinator Erin Lingo reads:
NOPALES are the traditional name for the edible prickly pear cactus pads. Native to Mexico and the southwest US, they play an important role in Mexican and New Mexican cuisine, like nopalitos and huevos con nopales. They have a slight sour taste, much like green beans, and a mucilaginous texture. They are rich in dietary fiber, vitamins A, C and K, and magnesium, potassium and manganese, and low in carbohydrates. The addition of nopales to a meal also helps reduce the glycemic affect, making them a good food for diabetics.
This is the way the CSA food movement is trying to change our stomach lining, as well as provide informational micronutrients for our brains and souls. During the week of SPRING Break this year we did not have a CSA, and it was heart felt. You probably guessed it: reembedding myself in food and gardens are crucial parts of my evolution as a sustainability educator.
Confluence of Ten Streams in my Journey
How on earth did I end up here at Prescott, Arizona? Why is it that I instantly feel at home here? While pursuing a rather bumpy interdisciplinary journey as an educator, an anthropologist, a scholar, and an activist, I had to go through a painful yet necessary journey to create and find my own unique space. It took me two decades of teaching and learning across disciplines (education, anthropology, development studies, social movements, political ecology, popular education) within the US higher education and some travels around the world. The end result of that incessant search has been the most rewarding.
My pathways as an interdisciplinary and engaged scholar can be defined in the confluence of ten distinct yet overlapping streams in my own life. What I do best is to “connect the dots” between these ideas and designs, places and people, and nature and culture.
The Germinal Stream: Getting Out of and Going Back to the Himalayan Foothills
I might have left the Himalayas, but the Himalayas have not left me. I was born and grew up in a remote village in the Nepalese Himalayan foothills. About 130 miles southwest of Kathmandu–the capital of Nepal. My native-village of Kahung Shivpur, at the southern ridge of the Tanahun district, is on the way to Pokhara from Kathmandu. The mountain range known as the Rishing Ghiring lies between the two Rivers – Seti (one with the white waters flowing from the Annapurna range) and Kali (one with the black waters, flowing from the Tibetan plateau) – both of which are tributaries of the Narayani River–also known as the Gandaki. My rural peasant family was self-reliant–if not self-sufficient–for its basic needs. With family and communal labor, we grew most of our food and met other needs except for some clothes, kerosene oil, and salt. These three items were brought from the far away markets along the Indian border, some three-four days on foot from our village. In some years, these items were also brought to the village by wandering traders during the winter months–mostly the Newars from the Kathmandu Valley and the Bhotes from the High Himalayas, near Tibet. We used to get clothes, salt and kerosene through barter and in-kind exchange for agricultural surpluses accumulated over the year –ghee, dried medicinal herbs, dried ginger, and in rare cases, molasses and surplus grains.
My family was of modest means, but we had enough land to feed our family, including the rice from irrigated fields. At that time, being able to eat rice everyday of the year was a sign of privilege in that village. However, this required that we help our parents in the daily chores of farming and taking care of animals. As I was growing up, something new in my family and the village was in the air. My parents were committed to sending five of their children to school. Their desire was so strong that they even sold their precious land—the only asset they had–in order to send us to high schools and colleges. One of the impetuses for me to start a permaculture family farm (more on stream seven below) was to give a piece of land back to my parents in their old age.
In my case, they even encouraged me to pursue education up to the highest level possible. Not in any moment in my life did I hear from them that I have had too much or enough education. However, they requested me to take breaks from studies in order to teach in schools and support the family. So teaching became a way of applying what I already learned and exploring new heights. I do not always teach what I already know; I teach in order for me to learn new things. Thus, my students have always been my co-learners and co-explorers of new ideas and practices.
Reflecting back, I am convinced the self-reliant village milieu where I grew up gave me the core foundations of my present thinking and my lifelong commitment to build a society that is not only ecologically sustainable but also socially just and bio-culturally diverse. Of course, I did not think in terms of these words then. However, the life I lived there at the village has provided the deep roots and context of my thinking today. A number of publications express that aspect of my experience: a) “Forests of Belonging: A Peasant and Indigenous Perspectives from South Asia” (2010); b) “Embedding Communities in Ecologies: Emergent Properties of Biological, Linguistic and Cultural Diversities” (2010); c) “Revisiting Gandhi and Zapata’ (2004); d) “Towards an Environmentalism of the Global South” (2002);” e) “Farming as Pedagogy” (1997); and f) “How can Four Trees make a Jungle?” (2001). In these publications, I explore whether and how agro-ecological civilizational option might be viable as one of the pathways to the future.
The horizon of the Machhapuchare (translated as fishtailed) and the Annapurna (translated as full harvest) mountain ranges to the northwest of my house and my village are vivid in my memory and landscape of thinking. It is those majestic mountain ranges that have inspired me to seek and gravitate towards creating the natural economy of abundance and permanence. I often wonder why it was that we did not think that we had to protect those mountains. Instead, we believed that we were under the constant vigilance and protection from them. What was required of us was to recognize and have that sense of reverence towards Rivers and Mountains. Here are my deeper roots to the thinking that “biosphere is abundant” and we as humans can be “beneficial” members of it.
The peasant village environment laid a deep foundation for my education and learning. To use the African proverb and a metaphor, “I was the kid who was brought up by the whole village.” For me, literacy, narration, telling stories, and reading books was like second nature. I didn’t have to try to do it; they were the ensemble of my literate family environment and a community that thrived on telling and listening to stories. The hard working life of peasants was lightened by a lot of humor, stories, songs, and dances.
I have kept the continuous connection to Nepal and the Himalayas. For the next phase, I have developed a Consortium for a decade-long action research project on Climate Change and Sustainable Livelihoods through Conservation Economy in the Himalayas (visit: www.himalayasclimatechange.ning.com).
The Second Stream: The Paulo Freirean Words and the World
around me (1976-)
Although I was a very gifted learner, my college education in Nepal was far from satisfactory. As a backup to a master’s degree in teacher education, I also got a degree in Law in 1976. I then apprenticed to be a lawyer with some dignified lawyers of that time in Kathmandu. Sometime in 1977, one of my mentor lawyers handed me the fateful book, titled: Pedagogy of the Oppressed (1973, Penguin) by Brazilian educator Paulo Friere. This book grasped me to the core and provided me with the much needed impetus to have faith to serve society as an educator. Ignited by the vision that if designed critically pedagogy can lead to transformation of society, I began to translate Freirean critical pedagogical insights into Nepalese context. Although I had never been away from Nepal until then, the Brazilian case deeply resonated with me. I felt honored to be invited to Brazil—Paulo’s Homeland– in 2005 to give a keynote to their First National Conference on Racism and Environmental Justice.
For about four years before coming to the United States in 1982, I began to seek Freirean applications in rural development and adult literacy projects in Nepal. This propelled me to situate myself within the larger classroom of Nepali society. One of the most igniting ideas in the book for me was that the “words” made of alphabets could be gateways to actually “name” and “change” the “world” which is made of actual realities. While you teach people how to read the “word,” the alphabet, you can also teach them about the “world,” which the alphabet and the words were meant to represent. For example, when you teach the word “water,” you can also teach all about the real water—the liquid water, the drinking water, the flowing water, and the water planet. When adult co-learners write the alphabets w-a-t-e-r, (read “water),” that should not be the end in itself. As the facilitator, I would ask: “Where is the water coming from? Who has access to water and who has not? Who is using the water? Is someone taking too much water and if some are deprived of his/her fair share of water? What is the role of forests in rain? What might be more satisfying ways of accessing and using water in this community? What should be done to achieve that more satisfying flow and distribution of water? How can we achieve that?” As my friends remind me of those days, I was possessed by and even dreamt in a Freirean universe of consciousness raising and cultural revolutions. I often wondered why my fellow colleagues in Nepal did not embrace this idea as much as I did.
In each generative theme, such as the WATER (above), teachers and students would follow a series of inquiry around three main questions: a) Naming: “what” is the problem related questions; b) Reflecting: why is there such a situation related questions, and c) Acting: “what else” can we do in this situation related questions? How can we change the undesirable situation? The idea was to use the generative themes to enter into deep questioning and discussions about that topic and take potential actions to change unsatisfactory situations.
As a young educator, I was thrilled to see that any word could be a vehicle and a gateway to understanding and changing reality. As Paulo Freire had done in Brazil and in Chile, I also designed adult literacy curriculum around some 20-30 generative themes in the Nepali context. That was the secret link between the “words” and the “world” I was missing in my education at the Schools of Education or Law in Nepal. Now, I recovered my own little secret: I could do significant work in the larger society as an educator. That was one of the most thrilling moments in my life.
These days, I am involved in food and garden based pedagogy or climate change education for creating more satisfying lives. My work with the Learning Gardens initiative (more below in stream nine) has some Paulo Freirean roots but the ecological modes of inquiry, agro-ecological, multisensory, and multicultural elements I have infused in it are uniquely mine. Today after about 30 years of getting initiated into it, I do not use Paulo Frierean language or vocabulary for what I do. Instead, in many ways, my current work implies a cultural critique of the alphabetical and literacy-based pedagogy of which I was once so fond. Today, in the remote cultures like my village, I would rather create oral libraries and record local songs and stories, than teach people how to write or read books. I have been blessed with continuous learning, unlearning, and relearning. Yet, I can’t deny the initial and much needed impetus the Paulo Freirean framework offered me to plunge into the larger society. Since then, I have been forever changed; the whole society (both place and people) continues to be a classroom for me.
A number of publications represent my immersion as well as self-critique on the Freirean school. They are: a) ‘The Blessed Moment” (2009); b) “Politics of Knowledge, Models of Development, and Literacy” (1990); c) “From Learning Literacy to Regenerating Women’s Space” (1990); and d) “Discourse in Development and Popular Education” (1986).
The Third Stream: The Gramscian Cultural Marxism and the History from Below (1983-)
I entered Stanford University for a doctoral program in International Development Education and Anthropology in 1983. My wildest dream at that point was to write a Nepalese history from below–as seen and experienced by the people who are at the lowest ring of the society. Naturally, I gravitated towards anthropological studies and ended up going to the Jharkhand region of India to do my doctoral dissertation study. The fecund post-modern, post-Marxian, neo-Marxian, and cultural-Marxian academic climate of Stanford (1983-1990) and UC-Berkeley led me to dive into the power and knowledge and the discursive narratives in development, progress, multiculturalism, and grassroots formations. Under the guidance of professors Martin Carnoy (theories of state, social movements pedagogy, labor and workplace, critical pedagogy and popular education), Renato Roslado (ethnography, cultural anthropology, cultural citizenship, power and identity), Donald Dunham (peasant studies, political economy, power and resistance), and Gerry Berreman of UC Berkeley (South Asian studies, Himalayan political ecology), I was immersed in an interdisciplinary journey. I also developed connections with the emergent historiography of Subaltern studies in South Asia by taking a course with Professor Ranajit Guha and interacting with subaltern historians such as Partha Chatterjee, Ram Guha, and others.
My scholarly analysis of Indian grassroots formations of the 1980s and 1990s served as a bridge between the subaltern historiography and the Gandhian and ecologically inspired dreams and designs. The article “Power and Knowledge in Development Discourse” (1991, reprinted in an edited volume (2001) was one of the first articles that not only deconstructed the hegemony of development discourse, but also outlined other ways of being in the world and seeking our livelihoods. With numerous social science citations and used in various higher education courses worldwide, that article broke a new ground in academia–from anthropology to geography, development studies, and South Asian studies to political ecology.
The Fourth Stream: The Power-Knowledge Nexus and the Narrative of Difference
While still a Gramscian and neo-Marxian at my heart, I also became attracted to Michel Foucault and his unearthing of power, knowledge, and hegemony in institutional discourses, such as nation-states, schools, hospitals, workplaces, and mental institutions. In my own ways, I considered Michel Foucault to be the finest ethnographer/anthropologist of Europe. Entry into this discursive analytical field led me to membership in the community of other scholar/activists such as Gustavo Esteva (Mexico), Rajni Kothari, Ashish Nandy, Vandana Shiva, Smitu Kothari (India), Wolfgang Sachs (Germany), Arturo Escobar (Colombia and US), Helena Norberg-Hodge (Sweden, UK), the PRATEC team (Peru), the Intercultural Institute team (Canada), and Frederique Apffel-Marglin, and Steve Marglin (US), with whom I have collaborated on publications and programs. A visit to Peruvian Andes to observe the agricentric curriculum of PRATEC in the spring of 1996 deepened my agro-ecological DNA. Even deeper than in the Himalayas, their cosmological approach to nature, plants, and food had a profound impact on me.
Most uniquely, my scholarship blended the Gramscian, and the Foucauldian traditions with Gandhian, peasant, indigenous peoples, and ecological traditions. The nuances of power and knowledge, hegemony and resistance also inform my imagining and design for an ecologically sustainable, a socially equitable, and a bio-culturally diverse Nepal. After the 1990 revolution, I wrote an article, “Beyond Parliaments and Elections,” which established a subaltern domain and claim over political formation that was actually demonstrated in the second democratic revolution of April 2006. My approach to Nepali People-Nation has been discussed at length in the book Doctors for Democracy by Vincante Adams. In the international media after the 2006 Nepalese Revolution, I have given several interviews that explain the urgency to seek pathways so that Nepal becomes not only ecologically sustainable but also socially equitable and bio-culturally diverse.
As Nepal is presently carving a most radical form of inclusive democratic space after the Revolution of April 2006, I am writing a book manuscript entitled Sustainable Nepal: Dreams and Designs. I will be taking about a dozen Prescott College students for a summer semester in 2010, during which we will collectively explore the promises and perils of creating a Nepali-People-Nation that is also ecologically sustainable.
The Fifth Stream: Opening of the Ecological Window to the World (1987-)
Early on at Stanford, I realized that a deeper inquiry into the anthropology of knowledge systems and ecological systems could be helpful in overcoming some of the anthropo-centric and overtly deterministic path of human transformation Paulo Freire and Antonio Gramsci had espoused. Seeking solid evidence for diversity of ecosystems and knowledge systems, I chose to do my dissertation study (1987-1989) in the Jharkhand region of India. At that time, the Jharkhand region was rich with ecological, as well as movements for regional autonomy aimed at carving a separate state within the Indian Union. A region rich in the natural resources but home to some of the poorest and exploited in India (then the tribal belt of Southeast Bihar, southwest West Bengal and northern Orissa), Jharkhand was perhaps the best place for me to be at that time. Unknown to me then, entry to the Jharkhand region would usher me to very different worldviews and a field of study.
During my first week there in September 1987, I had the opportunity to participate in a 120-kilometers footmarch (Padayatra, a Gandhian mode of social awareness done by walking from one village to other) along the Gua to Jamsedpur corridor. This corridor was one of the most devastated regions in the district of Singhabhum due to mining, industry, nuclear power plants, large dams, and industrial mono-cultural forestry. Witnessing displacement, uneven and exploitative development, and people’s resistance, we passed through mountain top drilled mines, polluted rivers, cement factories, depleted forests, World Bank sponsored monoculture forestry, and the large dam site on the Subarnarekha River. On the sixth day of the Padayatra, standing with fellow Padayatris (foot-marchers) and tribal peasants, I confessed that the indicator of ecological health was the surest way to interrogate the motion of capital, as well as to seek alternative pathways and formations. I realized that I needed to transcend the framework of race and ethnicity and tribal versus non-tribals in order to do as Wendell Berry urges us -“seek, understand, and solve for patterns.” This was a radical shift from what I was taught at Stanford and UC Berkeley up to that moment.
I saw that the deeper undercurrent and the source of these agonies, as well as movements, was the uneasy conflict between the slower and durable ecological timeline of tribal peasant society and the rather fast, unsustainable, and “hit-and-run” timeline of the encompassing nation-states, the market, and the economy of resource extraction. Thanks to the tribal peasants of the Jharkhand region, since then I have begun the lifelong journey to deeply understand, teach, and enrich ecological processes as an corrective to the hegemony of reductionist and predatory economic models. As my entry to other subsequent streams after this reveal, this has been the most fruitful metamorphosis. Through this seminal transition to ecology, I have not only been able to overcome the defunct models of hyper-growth and development but also to develop models for regeneration of ecosystems and human communities. Partly forest-dwelling and partly settled agriculturalists, these Santhal, Munda and Ho tribal peasants showed me that people can have their own ways of living lives and seeking livelihoods from nature’s economy.
My doctoral dissertation, titled Social Movements and Popular Education in Jharkhand, India (1990), depicts the precise shifts I was going through after immersing myself in the emergent grassroots formations in India. By the late 1980s, a discourse, scope and scale of social movements were changing when they began to combine the red (equity and justice) and the green (sense of place, ecology, identity and diversity) pathways to find solutions. Popularly known as a watermelon (red inside and green outside) model, I was now inspired to incorporate justice, as well as diversity, critique, andregeneration in my pedagogical and social organizing models. While working for doctoral dissertation study in India, I also started a women’s literacy movement in my own Village in Chitwan, Nepal. This engagement among my own people also showed that the finding a desirable future for Nepalese women required not only gender justice but also ecological regeneration and women’s access to land and healthy ecosystems.
The Sixth Stream: Ecological Ethnicities: Enlarging the Scale and Scope of Ecological Justice (1993-)
I revisited and reflected back on the Jharkhand experience and rest of India, while I also visited the Peruvian Andes, the indigenous Mexico, and Native American communities of Onondagas, Mohawks, and Cayugas in upstate New York. I realized that these communities had a contribution to make in social science tools and analysis. Accordingly, I coined and articulated the notion of “ecological ethnicities” in order to fully express this new formation that is born due to the deep incongruence between economic and ecological models of life, and livelihoods, learning, and leadership.
The concept of ecological ethnicity has been well accepted in the circle of anthropologists, cultural geographers, political ecologists, and South Asian scholars. I coined the notion of “ecological ethnicity” as a social category in order to refer to those people who irrespective of class, caste, race, or ethnicity have developed a mutually nurturing relationship to natural resources. I also found them creating and preserving a technology that interacts with local ecosystems in a sustainable manner. Several of my articles on this theme illustrate that ecology is the matrix in which ethnicity is reproduced, as well as altered. I wrote: “If ecological exploitation is the content, ethnic subordination is the form in which it is experienced and expressed.” Thus, today’s ethnicities in the period of rapid globalization of resource transfers (in most cases, through theft and forced colonization), processing and consumption of goods and resources cannot be adequately understood without the deep ecological underpinnings, contradictions, and conflicts they embody. It is primarily land-based (and in some cases water-based) ethnicity that in some cases might correspond with ethnicities based on blood, race, or language ties, and identities. Some of my publications: a) “No Nature without Social Justice” (1993); b) “Ecological Ethnicities in the Making” (1996); c) “Not so Capitalized Nature” (1998); d) “Learning from Ecological Ethnicities (2001), and e) “Coming Home to the Earth Household” (2007); situate the notion of ecological ethnicity in the context of environmental racism and eco-justice, as well as bio-cultural diversity. I plan to further explore these connections, as they unfold within the rubric of just sustainabilities and fair futures.
I am still trying to grapple with these questions: Is it only a geographic accident that most of the indigenous communities in India and elsewhere are living in places rich with mineral, hydropower, forest, and are also the hotspots of biodiversity, cultural diversity and linguistic diversity? Have these communities actually protected and nurtured these riches as a fabric of their own ecological identity? Are these hotspots wild and pristine or are they the “cultivated gardens” of ecological ethnicities? Due to these contestations over reality and meanings, ecological ethnicity has been a politically charged concept . The survival of these specific ways of life calls for a degree of autonomous governance for devising appropriate ownership and harvesting over the biotic wealth, the commons, and the communities.
The Seventh Stream: Agroecology, Permaculture Design, and Sustainable Livelihoods
Today, it feels almost ironic to think that I was the child in my family who was encouraged to study and not spend too much time and energy in farm work. I turned that destiny around in 1993. Supported by an eighteen-month post-doctoral research and writing grant from John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, I was involved in an experiment to design a permaculture family farm project in my own village in Chitwan, Nepal. After surveying the agro-ecological knowledge, traditions, and practices of Nepalese peasant community, we (Dr. Elizabeth Enslin, Anil Bhattarai and my family members were heavily involved) developed a permaculture farm of about 4 acres that could meet all the biomass needs of humans and animals and also earn some cash income for a Nepalese family of 5-6 people. This experiment drew from and blended various traditions: a) Mahatma Gandhian model of village self-reliance and agro-ecological civilization; b) permaculture, whole systems design, and bio-intensive gardening; and c) age-old Nepalese agro-ecological traditions and practices. For the last 18 years, this farm has served multiple functions: a) meet basic needs of my immediate family through a combination of food, fiber, fodder, firewood, fertilizer; b) a demonstration site for other peasants; c) venue for workshops and seminars for agricultural educators and leaders, and d) gave impetus for an initiative for Sustainable Livelihoods in Chitwan, Nepal since 1994. Now, the farm also attracts international students and youth as interns (visit: www.ajamvarifarm.org, www.eternalfarming.blogspot.com).
The Eighth Stream: Mapping of Global Political Ecology and the Partnership Model of Sustainability (2000-)
In 2000, I joined the Global Ecology program of the International Honors Program (www.ihp.edu) to serve as their traveling faculty for the course: Cultural and Ecological Anthropology. With 28 students on board, we went in a study-travel trip to Washington DC, Boston, England, Tanzania, India, New Zealand, and Mexico. In all these places we met, listened to, and interviewed dozens of scholars and activists. We visited several projects that were involved in ecological as well as cultural regeneration. After concluding this 9-month trip, I felt that I was matured and informed enough to design and develop an interdisciplinary graduate program to address the learning needs of the type of activists and scholars that I met during the trip. To give a coherent thematic focus for such curriculum, I developed a partnership model of sustainability that subsequently informed the curricular content for about a dozen courses that were developed for the Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning (LECL) program. The four partnerships are:
a) Intra and Inter-generational partnership: Explores social classes, gender, caste, race, ethnicity and other human created institutions and practices of social inequities and cleavages;
b) Inter-species Partnership: Addresses ecological, philosophical and ethical aspects of human’s relationship with the more than human worlds;
c) Inter-cultural Partnership: Examines the field of biological, cultural, and linguistic diversity what I call the ethnosphere, the diversity of knowledge systems and diverse ways of knowing, teaching and learning; and
d) Inter-economic Partnership: Includes mapping of the global North and South as well as the social and economic institutions, trade, arrangements of exchanges and surplus, fair trade and free trade, rural and urban, agriculture and industry, raw and processed materials, and producers and consumers.
Since 2000, I used my diverse interdisciplinary scholarship and leadership skills to design and develop one of the most innovative interdisciplinary graduate programs at Portland State University, in Portland, Oregon. Within a period of seven years, the Leadership in Ecology, Culture and Learning (LECL) graduate program attracted about 90 graduate students, 71 of whom successfully graduated by June 2008. All these educators and leaders of civil society have carved out the most cutting edge scholarship and careers in the emergent fields of sustainability education, local food economy, garden and food based education, appropriate technologies, urban designs, and sustainable livelihoods. About a dozen courses also served hundreds of PSU undergraduate students and provided the opportunity for thousands of them and graduate students to do their community based learning (CBL) projects. The LECL graduate program has been successful in meeting the learning needs of various learners because my partnership for sustainability model addresses the issues of economy and ecology on the one hand and equity and bio-cultural diversity on the other. While offering necessary knowledgebase, skills, worldviews, and aesthetics in all areas of four partnerships, the partnership framework provided students the overriding thematic and methodological thread.
The Ninth Stream: The Ecology and Pedagogy at the Learning Gardens (2004-)
My involvement and leadership in the learning gardens program is perhaps the most recent and the most satisfying. This stream began with a felt need that emerged from a team of my students in the course called Gandhi, Zapata and New Agrarianism (Spring 2003). A group of them were doing an audit of school lunch in an elementary school. Knowing what children at schools were eating (and mostly throwing away), I wanted to do something to change it. Along with colleagues, I devised the Food-based Ecological Education Design (FEED) project in 2004. We received a grant from Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), which enabled us to offer mini-grants to three elementary schools and began to work with teachers, parents and students. By 2005, we also acquired a 10-plus acre facility from the City of Portland to start the Learning Gardens Laboratory, at a site formerly known as Greenthumb. In order to serve the children in public schools as well as parents in the community, we formed a collaborative partnership between Portland State University, Portland Public Schools, and the City of Portland. Our guiding mission in the learning gardens movement was: Can food and garden based education: a) boost academic achievement through motivated, engaged, and multisensory learning in the gardens?; b) instill healthy food habits at school and at home?; and at the same time c) inculcate leadership, resiliency, and place-based learning and citizenships especially within the foodsheds and watersheds?
My unique quest in the learning gardens was: could we offer a learning that is intergenerational, multicultural, multisensory and interdisciplinary? Intergenerational in the sense that grandparents, parents, extended family, and children can work together to grow and harvest. Multisensory in the sense that all senses are involved and activated in preparing the soil, planting seeds, growing plants and also naming them, counting them, measuring them, harvesting them, and composting them. Learning Gardens can also be a multicultural space for learning. We invited parents of Lane Middle School—one of our partnering schools—who have developed garden plots run by Senegalese parents, Mexican parents, Ukrainian parents, and Irish parents. I wanted this to be a global village garden. Why should the garden have only broccoli, carrots, sweet peas, and potatoes? Why should there not be apazote here in the gardens? Why should there not be Mexican herbs and Senegalese okra and hibiscus here? Between 5 multicultural parent farmer beds, we had 45 different kinds of plants and herbs grown in those beds in the year 2007.
As we have designed them, learning gardens can teach a child, teacher, or parent almost all subjects–geography, history, culture, chemistry, physics, biology, poetry or mathematics. Children seriously learn mathematics when they are given a “four-by-four” feet piece of land. A learning garden is a place for multiplying and intensifying inquiry in all dimensions. In the garden, a child can learn how to count, how to add, subtract, and multiply. As a child grows a plant, she or he also keeps record of its growth, count and measure its leaves? How many flowers, and what distance? A child might see a pea blooming, and notice what colors are there, how it is attracting the pollinators. Many capture this in drawings, sketches, in journals and in poems.
One of my inspirations, Wendell Berry writes that food is an Agricultural Act. In designing the learning gardens curriculum, I extrapolate this as: follows agriculture is an ecological act. Ecology then is a pedagogical act and pedagogy is a transformational act. Such an immersion into food, and gardens has given me pleasant surprises and unexpected results. Learning gardens are where life and learning, livelihoods and leadership come into unitive coherence. I have come to a pleasant conclusion that “food and gardens are gateways to social engagements and transformations that are not only “deep” but also “delicious.”
In a short period of time, learning gardens have changed the way Oregon schools, parents and legislators think about school lunch, food, and gardens. I continue that work at a larger scale through the Learning Gardens Institute, established as non-profit in Portalnd, Oregon (www.learninggardensinstitute.org). As the Founding-President of LGI, my wildest dream is to help create “learning gardens” at every school (that is ready) and “edible gardens” at every household and in every neighborhood. What excites me about learning gardens and what I call a “Soil to Supper, and back to Soil (SoSus pedagogy loop) is that we can make our children and youth better citizens and inhabitants of their own watersheds and foodsheds.
The Tenth Stream: At Home in Prescott, Arizona
The nine streams above have come to their full fruition as I began teaching at the doctoral program in sustainability education and with students across Prescott College and programs. As the Director of New Program Development for Sustainability, I am also helping the College articulate and design new academic and research programs. After 40 years of unique and innovative accomplishments in its belt, the time is ripe for Prescott College to rise to the occasion and create the most fertile environment for a new generation of learners and leaders. Accordingly, I am working towards creating possibilities for Prescott College faculty and students to systematically develop long-term collaborative projects around ecological restoration, conservation economy, sustainable livelihoods (and foodsystems), and climate change. Preparations are underway to initiate these programs in the US Southwest, as well as along the US-Mexico border. Such engagements with the community will be an integral part of the new academic programs including the Ecology and Justice Studies along the US-Mexico border and Global Studies on Leadership at the College. Such applied and engaged inquiry and scholarship will be an, integral part of the other proposed new graduate programs in Regenerative Ecological Design, Ecological Entrepreneurship and Leadership, Sustainable Community Development as well as in Agroecology and Sustainable Food Systems.
I have come to the conclusion that what I am involved in is not just about education as such but re-imagining and redesigning life and livelihoods, learning, and leadership. Any effort to learn sustainability in the future should intermingle the fabric of nature and culture, humans and more than human species. Because a new sustainable human trajectory will not be of only humans shooting to Mars; it will require rerooting ourselves as a beneficial member of this abundant biosphere.
I have embraced bumping into Prescott College at the most unexpected point in my life. So here I have found a place. I will simply dig in, and stay put.
Edwards, Andres. (2010). Thriving Beyond Sustainability: Pathways to a Resilient Society. Gabriola Island, British Columbia: New Society Publishers.
Pramod Parajuli Select Publications and Links
“Forests of Belonging: Peasants and Indigenous Perspectives from South Asia”
(2010, in Press). Special Issue of The Journal for the Study of Religion, Nature and Culture.
“Embedding Communities in Ecologies: Emergent Properties of Biological, Linguistic and Cultural Diversities” Interculture, (fall, 2009)
“ The Blessed Moment: The Promise of Preparing Integrative Teachers and learners” Clearing Magazine, (2009). Available at:
“Towards an Environmentalism of the Global South: Playful Conversation around Mahatma Gandhi and his Relevance Today” Encounter: Education for Meaning and Social Justice, Volume 15, No 2, Special Issue on Gandhi and Education, Summer, 2002. PP. 56-70.
“Beyond Capitalized Nature: Ecological Ethnicity as a New Arena of Conflict in the Global Capitalist Regime.” Ecumene: A Journal of Environment, Culture, and Meaning. 1998, 5:2:186-217.
“Farming as Pedagogy: Recovering Rural Livelihoods in Nepal.”
Lokayan Bulletin 1997, 14:2: 51-64.
“Ecological Ethnicity in the Making: Developmentalist Hegemonies and Emergent Identities in India.” Identities: Global Studies in Culture and Power 1996, 3:1-2:15-59.
“Politics of Knowledge, Models of Development, and Literacy.” Prospects; UNESCO Journal of Education 1990, 20:3:289-298.
“From Learning Literacy to Regenerating Women’s Space: A Story of Women’s Empowerment in Nepal.” Convergence 1990, 23:1: 44-56. Summary Version reprinted in Women in Action No.1/2, 1991, pp. 3-7. (with Elizabeth Enslin).
“Geographies of Difference and the Crisis of Knowledge” Philosophy of Education Yearbook (2003), available at:
“Coming Home to the Earth Household: Indigenous Communities and Ecological Citizenship in India” Chapter 11 in Julian Kunnie et al., Indigenous Peoples Wisdom and Power: Affirming our Knowledge through Narratives. Ashgate Publishers. 2008)
Available online through Google Book search.
“Homeward Bound: Agroecological Civilization and the Quest for a Sustainable Society: A Conversation with Pramod Parajuli” (Spring 2004) Available at: http://www.lostvalley.org/talkingleaves/node/164
“Book review Essay: Are there Systems of Knowledge? Peasant Styles of Cognition and the Regimes of Truth.” Ecumene, 1997, Available at:
“How Can Four Trees Make a Jungle?” Available at:
“No Nature Apart: Adivasi Cosmovision and Ecological Discourses in Jharkhand, India.” in Phil Arnold and Ann Gold eds. Sacred Landscapes and Cultural Politics: Planting a Tree. London: Ashgate Publishers. 2001, PP 78-108.
“Learning from Ecological Ethnicities: Towards a Plural Political Ecology of Knowledge” Volume on Indigenous Traditions and Ecology, Ecology and World Religions Series of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University. Harvard University Press. 2001, PP 559-589. Volume editor, John Grim.
“Power and Knowledge in Development Discourse: New Social Movements and the State in India.” Niraja Gopal Jayal, ed. Democracy in India New Delhi: Oxford University Press, 2001, PP. 258-288. (reprinted from International Social Science Journal 1991, 127:173-190).
“Sacred Grove and Ecology: Ritual and Science” Hinduism and Ecology. World Religions Series of the Center for the Study of World Religions, Harvard University. Harvard University Press. 2000, PP 291-316. Volume editors Christopher Chapple and Mary Evelyn Tucker. (with Frederique Apffel-Marglin).
“Peasant Cosmovisions and Biodiversity: Some Reflections from South Asia” Cultural and Spiritual Values of Biodiversity, Intermediate Technology Publications for United Nations Environment Assessment (UNEP). 1999, PP 385-388. Volume editor, Darrell A. Posey.
“No Nature Without Social Justice: A Plea for Cultural and Ecological Pluralism in India.” in Wolfgang Sachs (ed.) Global Ecology: A New Arena of International Conflict. London: Zed, 1993, PP. 224- 241 (with Smitu Kothari).
“Revisiting Gandhi and Zapata: Motion of Global Capital, Geographies of Difference and the Formation of Ecological Ethnicities” Chapter 14 in Mario Blaser, et al., In the Way of Development: Indigenous Peoples, LifeProjects and Globalization. (2004, Zed Books). Available at: http://books.google.com/books?id=0UwtqpeBtvQC&pg=PA235&lpg=PA235&dq=pramod+parajuli#v=onepage&q=pramod%20parajuli&f=false.