Models of Place-Conscious Education


David Gruenewald (2003) explains that there is no “specific theoretical tradition” (p. 3) informing place-conscious education. Many movements and initiatives can fall under the label, and what broader theory of a place-conscious education does exist is informed by a variety of sources. Gruenewald has made several attempts at more clearly theorizing what a place-conscious education looks like (see “Best of Both Worlds,” “Foundations of Place,” and the edited collection Place-Based Education in the Global Age), but overall, there are many different orientations and approaches which may be called “place-based” or “place-conscious.”

Likewise, there are many iterations of and approaches to implementing a place-conscious orientation into college writing instruction, with varying degrees of focus on different aspects, from civic engagement to environmental activism. Here, I detail several such approaches and provide some potential source which may inform initial inquiry into which approach, or a which combination of many approaches, might best suit your personal pedagogical goals and institutional needs.

Models of Place-Conscious Writing Instruction

Community Literacy and Community-Engaged Scholarship

Larger institutions which wish to build stronger connections with the local community or for smaller institutions which are already intimately connected with the local community and want to make sure their academic contributions give back.

If your program values experiential learning and wants to encourage undergraduate students to participate in qualitative or quantitative inquiry for pedagogical purposes, you might find a community-engaged scholarship model useful. Community-engaged scholarship gives students an opportunity to explore designing and conducting of a primary research project while also allowing critical reflection on how the work of the university has direct consequences for its host community.

Critical Pedagogy of Place

Gruenewald (2003) argues for a synthesis of critical pedagogy and place-conscious education. Gruenewald explains that even though place-based education has historically focused on education in rural contexts and critical pedagogy has historically focused on education in urban contexts (despite Freire’s roots in rural education), the two are complimentary and, combined, could provide a new orientation and approach. Where critical pedagogy offers “an agenda of cultural decolonization, place-based education leads the way toward ecological ‘reinhabitation'” (p. 4).

More recent scholars have adapted this combined approach of critical pedagogy and place-based education. Hogg (2007) argues that a critical pedagogy of place can challenge traditionally masculinist constructions of place and nature and can lead the way to a radically inclusive feminist education in rural settings. Jackson (2014) argues that critical regionalism builds on a critical pedagogy of place and challenges nationalist and nostalgic notions of place and that transrhetorical analysis provides one method through which composition classrooms can enact this pedagogy.


Ecoliteracy and ecopedagogy models have an explicitly activist orientation that move radically beyond conceptions of nostalgic environmentalism and economic sustainability. Kahn (2010) argues that ecopedagogy, as an extension of critical pedagogy, seeks “quintessentially Freirian aims of the humanization of experience and the achievement of a just and free world with a future-oriented ecological politics that militantly opposes the globalization of neoliberalism and imperialism, on the one hand, and attempts to foment collective ecoliteracy and realize culturally relevant forms of knowledge grounded in normative concepts such as sustainability, planetarity, and biophilia” (p. 18).

Works Cited and Other Useful Resources

Dobrin, S., & Weisser, C. (2002). Natural discourse: Toward ecocomposition. State University of New York Press.

Dobrin, S., & Weisser, C. (2002). Breaking ground in ecocomposition: Exploring relationships between discourse and environment. College English64(5), 566-589.

Gruenewald, D. (2003). The best of both worlds: A critical pedagogy of place. Educational Researcher32(4), 3-12.

Gruenewald, D. (2003). Foundations of place: A multidisciplinary framework for place-conscious education. American Education Research Journal40(3), 619-654.

Hogg, C. (2007). Beyond agarianism: Toward a critical pedagogy of place. In K. Donehower, C. Hogg, and E. Schell (Eds.), Rural Literacies (pp. 120-154), Southern Illinois University Press.

Jackson, R. (2014). Locating Oklahoma: Critical regionalism and transrhetorical analysis in the composition classroom. College Composition and Communication66(2), 301-326.

Kahn, R. (2010). Critical pedagogy, ecoliteracy, & planetary crisis: The ecopedagogy movement. Peter Lang.

Weisser, C. (2001). Ecocomposition and the greening of identity. In C. Weisser and S. Dobrin (Eds.), Ecocomposition: Theoretical and pedagogical approaches (pp. 81-95), State University of New York Press.