In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Animals in Environmental Education

  • Introduction
  • General Overview
  • Gender, (Eco)Feminism, and Intersectional Approaches to Animals in Environmental Education
  • Common Worlds Pedagogies
  • Theorizing with Animals in Educational Contexts
  • Social Science Research on Learning in Human-Animal Interactions
  • Posthumanism in Environmental Education
  • Bridging Critical Environmental and Critical Animal Pedagogies

Education Animals in Environmental Education
Joshua Russell
  • LAST REVIEWED: 26 October 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 26 October 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199756810-0306


While environmental education (EE) has long considered the importance of humanity’s various relationships with natural and built environments, a focus on nonhuman animals has not always been of central concern in the development of theory, research, and practical applications within the field. This may seem counterintuitive. However, EE was originally founded upon concerns related to a perceived lack of awareness of global environmental catastrophes as well as the skills to respond to those challenges. Early frameworks from global conferences describe the focus of EE as holistic, emphasizing the interdependence of natural and built environments as well as the important connections between ecological, social, political, and economic spheres. As a result, the emphasis on ecoliteracy and teaching about environmental problems often focused on broad connections and discourses about environmental protection, action, and literacy. While nonhuman animals would certainly be indirect beneficiaries of EE under this holistic approach, for much of the field’s history the scholarly literature glossed over a serious consideration of the role that nonhuman animals play in our theories and practices in education about and for the environment. Until relatively recently, concerns about animals often fell under the umbrella of conservation education or humane education, which are sometimes aligned with but often distinct from the field of EE in several ways. A more focused look at nonhuman animals as subjects of environmental education research and scholarship developed throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, coinciding with what is sometimes referred to as the “animal turn” within the social sciences and humanities. The animal turn, often influenced by postmodern and post-structural rejections of human exceptionalism, is highlighted by increased and serious consideration of animals in Western scholarship beyond the realm of the natural sciences to include often critical perspectives within the humanities and social sciences. Various traditions and (sub)disciplines have emerged—animal studies, human-animal studies, posthumanist studies, critical animal studies, and anthrozoology to name a few—that treat animals as active, agential subjects within human societies and the wider world. Much of the current literature featuring animals in environmental education is influenced by these positions. The various sections in this bibliography feature significant overlap. Many of the scholars reference each other’s work or draw on similar theoretical frameworks (it is a relatively small but growing community of scholars after all). For example, common worlds pedagogies often incorporate Indigenous epistemologies, feminist new materialisms, posthumanism, and decolonial praxis, and regularly feature research in early childhood education settings. Queer and ecofeminist explorations of nonhuman animals in environmental education often draw on posthumanism or articulate courses of action that might align with critical animal studies. There are certainly distinctions between these areas of scholarship as well, and each section presents variations for thinking about and articulating human-animal interactions and animal subjectivities within the realm of environmental education. Lastly, while many scholarly works and studies in environmental education implicitly invite us to think about or engage with animals, this bibliography seeks to identify those works that have centered on animals, animality, and human-animal relationships in environmental education and ecopedagogical projects.

General Overview

Oakley, et al. 2010 provides an early articulation of shifting foci around animals as subjects of environmental education research in reflections emergent from a conference. Spannring 2017 presents a significant overview of animals in environmental education research as well as a concise analysis of the most influential concepts, theoretical frameworks, and traditions. This is followed up by calls for further research and critique in Russell and Spannring 2019 and Pedersen 2019. While not solely dedicated to environmental education, Pedersen 2010 and Rice and Rud 2016 offer important and critical analyses of animals and education philosophies and practices more broadly. Lloro-Bidart and Banschbach 2019 compiles the first edited collection dedicated solely to a wide range of concerns with animals in environmental education specifically across many contexts, with clear and useful introductions to the topic’s many theoretical foundations. More focused and critical perspectives are outlined by Kahn 2008 and Taylor and Pacini-Ketchabaw 2018, establishing important connections with posthumanist, postcolonial, and liberatory frameworks that shift educational thinking about human-animal relationships.

  • Kahn, R. 2008. Towards ecopedagogy: Weaving a broad-based pedagogy of liberation from animals, nature, and the oppressed peoples of the earth. In The critical pedagogy reader. 2d ed. Edited by A. Darder, M. Baltodano, and R. Torres, 540–552. New York: Routledge.

    Kahn’s essay provides many important historical and critical analyses of the environmental education movement and associated organizations and institutions like the United Nations and its system of programs, as well as the North American Association for Environmental Education. Exploring education’s ties to capitalist and industrial forms of oppressions, Kahn envisions critical and radical ecopedagogy as a form of liberation for all beings—animals, humans, and the natural world.

  • Lloro-Bidart, T., and V. Banschbach, eds. 2019. Animals in environmental education: Interdisciplinary approaches to curriculum and pedagogy. Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.

    An important edited volume with contributions covering a range of animal-focused topics within environmental education and across educational contexts. Thematic areas include intersectional work, posthumanist approaches to environmental education, arts-based pedagogies, and interdisciplinary teaching and learning. Several of the contributors are listed elsewhere in this bibliography.

  • Oakley, J., G. P. Watson, C. L. Russell, et al. 2010. Animal encounters in environmental education research: Responding to the “question of the animal.” Canadian Journal of Environmental Education 15:86–102.

    Reflections based on a workshop held during the 2009 Seminar in Health and Environmental Education Research, examining the role of animals in environmental education research and practice. The authors share personal experiences, challenges, and ethical commitments to working on questions related to animal subjectivities and agency.

  • Pedersen, H. 2010. Animals in schools: Processes and strategies in human-animal education. West Lafayette, IN: Purdue Univ. Press.

    While not explicitly a work of environmental education, Pedersen’s work is often in conversation with conservation education, humane education, environmental education, and education for sustainable development. The book also provides several conceptual, theoretical, and political perspectives about child-animal and human-animal relations that are often cited in other works. An important work on animals in the broader educational complex.

  • Pedersen, H. 2019. The contested space of animals in education: A Response to the “animal turn” in education for sustainable development. Education Sciences 9.3: 211.

    DOI: 10.3390/educsci9030211

    This piece debates the “more-than-human” relations in the field of education for sustainable development. Pedersen gives an overview of their pedagogical practices and how this creates complications between animals in education. The study reflects on the foundation of animal pedagogies that created a posthumanist “animal question” in education.

  • Rice, S., and A. G. Rud, eds. 2016. The educational significance of human and non-human animal interactions: Blurring the species line. New York: Palgrave.

    A broad, interdisciplinary collection of essays on human-animal interactions and their various educational implications. While not explicitly rooted in the tradition of environmental education, several chapters in the book bridge animal studies, humane education, and posthumanism with ecopedagogy and ecojustice education frameworks and practical implications.

  • Russell, C., and R. Spannring. 2019. So what for other animals? Environmental education research after the animal turn. Environmental Education Research 25.8: 1137–1142.

    DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2019.1687639

    In this brief editorial, the authors provide a succinct overview of the various critical projects—i.e., fat pedagogy, queer pedagogy, posthumanism, Indigenous pedagogies, postcolonialism, posthumanism, and more—that are aligned with a growing body of literature emphasizing animals in environmental education.

  • Spannring, R. 2017. Animals in environmental education research. Environmental Education Research 23.1: 63–74.

    DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2016.1188058

    This review paper provides a strong overview of various theoretical frameworks used to describe and include animals in environmental education research, including critical pedagogy, ecofeminism, posthumanism, and more. A thematic analysis emphasizes many settings for animal-focused teaching and learning across formal, nonformal, and informal learning spaces. The author also provides some perspectives on future directions for research and theory in their conclusion.

  • Taylor, A., and V. Pacini-Ketchabaw. 2018. The common worlds of children and animals: Relational ethics for entangled lives. New York: Routledge.

    DOI: 10.4324/9781315670010

    A comprehensive overview of the “common worlds” pedagogical approach is provided in this book by two key scholars in the field of child-animal relations. The book blends important philosophical influences from feminist new materialisms, postcolonialism, and Indigenous thought with multispecies ethnographies and research in early childhood education. The impacts are wide-reaching in the theorizing and practicing of education that seeks to shape our understanding of and living with other species in contested places.

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