Maieutic research and education in distressed social-ecological systems. Lessons from the state named after the Great River, Mississippi, USA

Giusy Pappalardo


Rivers and their ecosystems are vital cores of human societies: not only do they provide resources, in particular for rural economies; they also generate symbolic meanings in different cultures around the world. Although water is an essential necessity for life, communities are not always able to have harmonious relationships with it. Flooding, pollution, landscape degradation, and resource crises are common topics in the media and political agenda. These are not just technical issues. In environmental management, the crucial point is to integrate and organize community members (laymen, ecologists, researchers, administrators, etc.) toward a common goal of self-sustainable life quality enhancement. Moreover, within the field of environmental and social sciences, especially in the framework of Social-Ecological System (Gunderson et al., 1995; Holling, 2001; Ostrom 2009) three assumptions have been widely recognized. First, the health of natural resources is connected with the health of societal dynamics. Second, societal dynamics are complex and they may be expressed in forms of conflicts or collaborative efforts. Third, the role of education, in its various forms, may be crucial in facing various social-ecological issues, improving societal dynamics. The question is: what type of education is needed when communities undergo critical phases? This paper presents results from an empirical planning research that has been conducted in order to unravel dynamics of a distressed and paradigmatic social-ecological system, specifically the State named after the Mississippi River, the Great River in Native American language. The State of Mississippi is located in the Deep South of USA and one of the most complex river systems in the world. Findings are twofold. On one side, key methodological lessons are discussed, in order to allow the definition of a Maieutic approach to planning research. On the other side, results provide a typology for environmental educational approaches, as they have been detected, experienced and described by the interviewees, in order to allow the definition of a more complex Maieutic approach to education.


Water; Common Pool Resources; Phronetic Research; Participatory Action Research; Environmental Education.

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