The fishing industry in Lambert's Bay on the Atlantic coastline has been negatively impacted by aggressive potato farming methods that result in drier wetlands and estuaries where many fish species spawn. In addition to the resulting lowered water table, less rainfall than experienced in previous years has contributed to a compromised situation. Much preparation in the weeks leading up to the journey established that this has begun to affect livelihoods. One of our students, having grown up in Lambert's Bay, helped invite a group of about 20 fishermen and potato farmers to attend the first workshop and was instrumental in providing a way for us to engage the community in a non-threatening way.
On arrival in Lambert’s Bay, the beauty and openness of the west coast accompanied a slightly disturbing sense of desolation—illustrated by the absence of much commercial or social activity. It was obvious that the small town had the visible infrastructure that characterizes a more thriving economic scenario. An interesting observation was the sizable, recently built police station occupying a prominent position, and the many closed-up houses clustered at the beach was a surprise, being that it was the beginning of the summer season. Nevertheless, excitement had built around arriving at our first destination, and students and staff immediately took exuberant group photographs typical of beach visits.
We left the bus parked adjacent to the hired room in an open area near the beach with our Tigerfish on its open trailer showing signs of wear and tear. Concerned students made some adjustments to minimize wind resistance; the flurry of activity drew curious looks from a few local residents, but no real interaction. In the end, the large Tigerfish conversation starter remained in the parking lot—a seemingly unnecessary mediator of conversation. Another surprise was that in relation to the energy spent on inviting participants, very few actually appeared for the workshop. Students and educators adapted planned activities to accommodate the smaller research groups, and the carefully designated land and sea themes as imagined back in the studio were adjusted. The day’s research activities evolved to produce unexpected outcomes—with the theme being one of adaptability and resilience within new and unexpected contexts.
Fish and chips
It became very clear that students were taking the agenda of eliciting everyday stories very seriously and that a growing sense of responsibility to each other continued to develop. With little prompting, they were soon engrossed in the task and staff then relaxed, able to watch the situation unfold and plan the next leg of the journey. The carefully planned icebreaker in the form of a lunch of fried fish and potato chips, which included both aspects of the local economy, became redundant and cold as the stories flowed—clearly a sign that lives are seriously impacted by changes in the environment that unsurprisingly supports not only financial security but social cohesion as well.
The bus journey from Cape Town to the first community workshop brought students and staff into sudden close proximity and became an instant leveler of traditional hierarchies around seniority and educator–learner distinctions. As boundaries were reshuffled and renegotiated, students described their adaptation to the new environment as being about opening up, diminishing disciplinary separation, and starting to feel a bit more comfortable with one another.
Hafizah said, “Once we hit the road that’s when I felt I could start engaging more, when we started interacting with everyone and you had to open up…ask questions, so that was when I felt like I was actually taking part, I was being part of the project, it was all about interacting with everyone and the environment…it was a totally different experience especially being around the differing disciplines because when you start out you think we are the most important.”
On reflection, Khanya expressed a shift in her initial sense of unease: “When we got to Lambert's Bay everything started to become more real and that was the overall shift for me, every time something happened the more real this experience started becoming.”
Stehan spoke of the change: “When we met with people from different communities and we started engaging with them and hearing their stories and getting to know their context—it almost became more three dimensional.”
One of the community members, having recounted his grandfather's farming in lush wetlands in contrast to now dry areas, poignantly remarked, “Everytime I see a truckload of potatoes I think, there goes our water.” Stories like these started to draw students and staff into the lived experience of the locals, inscriptions of which would become part of the exhibition of the fish in Windhoek.
Two things were happening here: a) moving off campus brought about deterritorialization in terms of disciplinary boundary crossing, and b) engaging through story gathering with members of the resource-stretched community made the whole project feel more real to the participants. This is significant in terms of how a shift in proximity created new learning spaces, both with regard to traditional disciplinary separateness as well as the gap between the worlds of academia and real world sustainability challenges. The student comments indicate a double move in how their self-organising in relation to their awakened shared responsibility toward the project became more acute when travelling in close proximity on the bus together, and then secondly when hearing the stories first-hand from community.
The question of proximity arises here, and how a spatial shift might be better understood for the pedagogically charged moments that they may contain. In physically moving out of the studio we noticed the learning emerging out of the dynamic tension brought about by this shift. A disposition toward noticing themselves in relation to others had emerged, both across disciplines as well as others in a very different community from theirs, and revealed a sensitivity to the problem through active listening.
The element of time is notable here in how the phases of the project were mobilizing different capacities in students, from the longer conceptual phase to the more intense build phase on campus. We found students using the listening skills we had exercised to gather stories about climate change. Time–space relationships as a unit of analysis enables us to examine the complexity of the social phenomena through a careful consideration of context and how literacies and learning are framed within space and time (Erstad, 2014). We start to see how contexts in learning are locatively charged, and how "opportunities to learn" that traverse different places create the learning spaces that can heighten engagement and agency in students. These contexts where the journey would pass were chosen for their contested nature, their evident scarcity of resources, and the pedagogical impulse was that in experiencing this first-hand the students would better grasp the connection between resources and designing.
In nomadic terms, these pedagogic hinges (Fendler, 2013) appear to open up new vistas and a richer experience for students and educators—thereby enabling us to build and sustain our sense of self in relation to the world we were traversing. Here we refer jointly to both educators and students as the experience of the journey was felt acutely by the whole group as it unfolded. By being face-to-face with community members, the fundamental tension of “age-old questions of domination and exclusion” (Braidotti, 2011, p. 12) became apparent in their stories of social hardship caused by rampant environmental resource depletion. The deterritorialization implicit in nomadic pedagogy began to affect and shape our learning community.