Ecological Discourses


Attending to relationships among agents and across systems to understand and affect learning

Principal Metaphors

  • Knowledge is … scope of systemic possibilities
  • Knowing is … individual- and system-maintaining functioning
  • Learner is … integral element of an ecosystem
  • Learning is … adapting to maintain relational integrity
  • Teaching is … designing experiences (orienting, juxtaposing)




Ecology is the domain of science focused on the relationships of living things to their environments. As is frequently noted, the word is derived from the Greek for “house, dwelling place,” highlighting a simultaneous attentiveness to both the individual elements and to the system that comprises and transcends those elements. In education, proponents drawing on Ecological Discourses typically foreground multiple forms of relationship (e.g., biological, social, epistemological) while frequently situating discussions in relation to environmental well-being.


Ecological Discourses have experienced a surge in popularity over recent decades within education, likely due in large part to the way they address two pressing issues. Firstly, their focus on relationship arrives as a well-developed and thoroughly researched tonic in a field long obsessed with difference and differentiating. Secondly, on a grander scale, Ecological Discourses typically afford ways to incorporate into conventional schooling issues of environmental and planetary well-being – topics of increasing urgency that do not fit well among traditional educational foci and discourses.

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Please cite this article as:
Davis, B., & Francis, K. (2020). “Ecological Discourses” in Discourses on Learning in Education.

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