‘Unthinkable’ Selves: Identity boundary work in a summer field ecology enrichment program for diverse youth

July 3rd, 2015 | RESEARCH

The historical under-representation of diverse youth in environmental science education is inextricably connected to access and identity-related issues. Many diverse youth with limited previous experience to the outdoors as a source for learning and/or leisure may consider environmental science as ‘unthinkable’. This is an ethnographic study of 16 diverse high school youths’ participation, none of who initially fashioned themselves as ‘outdoorsy’ or ‘animal people’, in a four-week summer enrichment program focused on herpetology (study of reptiles and amphibians). To function as ‘good’ participants, youth acted in ways that placed them well outside their comfort zones, which we labeled as identity boundary work. Results highlight the following cultural tools, norms, and practices that enabled youths’ identity boundary work: (1) boundary objects (tools regularly used in the program that facilitated youths’ engagement with animals and nature and helped them work through fear or discomfort); (2) time and space (responsive, to enable adaptation to new environments, organisms, and scientific field techniques); (3) social support and collective agency; and (4) scientific and anecdotal knowledge and skills. Findings suggest challenges to commonly held beliefs about equitable pedagogy, which assumes that scientific practices must be thinkable and/or relevantbeforeyouth engage meaningfully. Further, findings illustrate the ways that fear, in small doses and handled with empathy, may become a resource for youths’ connections to animals, nature, and science. Finally, we propose that youths’ situated identity boundary work in the program may have the potential to spark more sustained identity work, given additional experiences and support.


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Team Members

Heidi Carlone, Author, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Lacey Huffling, Author, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Terry Tomesek, Author, Elon University
Tess A. Hegedus, Author, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Catherine Matthews, Author, The University of North Carolina at Greensboro
Melony H. Allen, Author, Georgia Southern University
Mary C Ash, Author, The University of North Carolina at Pembroke


Identifier Type: DOI
Identifier: 10.1080/09500693.2015.1033776
Identifier Type: ISSN
Identifier: 0950-0693

Publication: International Journal of Science Education
Volume: 37
Number: 10
Page(s): 1524-1546

Related URLs

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Audience: Educators | Teachers | Learning Researchers | Youth | Teen (up to 17)
Discipline: Ecology | forestry | agriculture | Education and learning science | Life science
Resource Type: Peer-reviewed article
Environment Type: Informal | Formal Connections | Park | Outdoor | Garden Programs | Summer and Extended Camps