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SEI News: Introducing New Postdoctoral Research Fellow Blanche Verlie

We sit down with our new postdoc Blanche Verlie, who has joined the Institute this week, to talk about her work on climate change, education and emotion.

Could you tell us about your background and previous research?

I grew up on a small (hobby) farm north of Bendigo on the edge of the state forest. Its always been hot and dry there and while I love it for that, I think that is one of the reasons that climate change has always interested me, as it is evidently going to get hotter and drier. I did a science degree at the University of Melbourne for my undergraduate, and took some classes in meteorology and climatology, although I majored in Botany. I often found science classes frustrating as we focused so much on learning about how the environment or nature worked, yet rarely on environmental problems and even less time on what the (social) causes of those might be, or what solutions might be viable. I took one elective class that taught us about how ‘nature’ could be understood as a social construction which totally flipped my worldview and, along with introducing me to Val Plumwood’s work on human/nature binaries, helped me understand that there were other ways of knowing the environment. I did my final semester on exchange in Chile and studied urban geography while I was there, and that experience helped me realise that I was better placed as a social scientist. When I got back to Melbourne I enrolled at RMIT and studied their Masters of Social Science (International Urban and Environmental Management) which I really loved – it helped me focus on issues of human rights, international development and social justice and how those issues were related to the environment. Because of all of those experiences, I felt really passionately that at the root of our multiple environmental problems was a culture that saw humans as separate from nature.

While I was completing my Masters I started tutoring in RMIT’s undergraduate social science courses, and have been teaching mostly in their Bachelor of Environment and Society degree since then. In 2015 RMIT started a new course called Climate Change Responses and I was lucky to get to tutor in that. At that point I had enrolled in my PhD in education at Monash University and I used my classes in Climate Change Responses as the empirical site for my PhD research. My PhD aimed to consider what it might mean to know, learn, teach and act about climate change if you consider humans as part of the climate, and so the PhD was trying to rethink and resist how the human/nature binary manifests in the various ways we try to get people to take climate action. While conducting the field work – teaching and learning with my students – it became apparent that within our climate controlled classrooms climate change was still being ‘felt’ as an emotional and affective phenomenon, and so my thesis spent considerable time documenting what it can feel like to learn about climate change. Much of my thesis is published in four papers: Rethinking climate education: Climate as entanglement; From action to intra-action? Agency, identity and ‘goals’ in a relational approach to climate change education; Bearing worlds: learning to live-with climate change; and “Climatic-affective atmospheres”: A conceptual tool for affective scholarship in a changing climate.1

 

What are the environmental issues or problems that most interest you?

I’ve always found climate change really interesting. Its evidently important too, but it is also really interesting. I think climate change, as depressing, overwhelming, confronting and tiresome as it is, provides really important opportunities for us (industrialised societies) to rethink our assumptions about how the world works because it really undermines a lot of the things we take for granted. The feedback loops and abrupt changes that occur in the climate system challenge our assumptions around cause and effect, and its relational nature forces us to rethink borders (of things, people, nations, species, weather, etc). The ways that non-humans also participate in the climate system, and humans’ inability to control the climate, also (should) prompt us to reconsider how we understand humans and their relationship with the world.

Of course the ecological and social justice implications of climate change, and how it interconnects with other issues, such as Indigenous rights, homelessness, and refugees, also motivate me to work on climate change!

What will you be working on as an SEI Research Fellow?

I am still working this out! For the first few months, I will be working on some collaborative publications as part of the multi-species justice research project. I’m quite interested in whether we can consider ‘the climate’ as a subject deserving of justiceand if so, how would that work and what would it mean? We often consider climate as the means through which in/justice is enacted, as it connects other entities, but I would like to explore whether the connections themselves – the relationships between entities – should or could be considered the ends and/or actors of justice.

I also have a contract with Routledge to write a book stemming from my PhD, so I will be working on that across the first year. I am planning on spending the first couple of months getting to know the other staff and students at Sydney University, and also getting to know Sydney itself, before working out what new research project is likely to be most worthwhile.

What inspired your interest in working with the SEI?

I was really keen to work at SEI because I think the research coming out of SEI is really interesting and innovative, and I don’t know another institute that does such work so consistently. A lot of other sustainability research centres are predominantly focused on the ‘harder’ sciences, such as environmental science, or perhaps economics. I think SEI has a unique role because it includes and emphasises approaches from the humanities and arts which provide an important different lens through which to understand sustainability issues. I also think SEI does some really impressive work engaging community in their research projects, not just telling them about it at the end but including them throughout the process.

References
1. Verlie, B. (2017). Rethinking climate education: Climate as entanglement. Educational Studies, 53(6), 560-572. 
2. Verlie, B., & CCR15. (2018). From action to intra-action? Agency, identity and ‘goals’ in a relational approach to climate change education. Environmental Education Research, 1-15. 
3. Verlie, B. (2019). Bearing worlds: learning to live-with climate change. Environmental Education Research, 751-766. 
4. Verlie, B. (2019). “Climatic-affective atmospheres”: A conceptual tool for affective scholarship in a changing climate. Emotion, Space and Society, 33, 100623.


Blanche Verlie has a PhD in climate change education from Monash University, which she completed in 2019. She has worked at RMIT University in the Sustainability and Urban Planning discipline as a lecturer, and before that, as a tutor. She is also the book review editor of the Australian Journal of Environmental Education.