Exploring Cynefin - Being in Place


  • Dylan Adams Cardiff Metropolitan University


more-than-human, place-based pedagogy, cynefin, land, ontological, epistemological


It is argued that modern life in Western industrialized societies causes us mistakenly to believe we are separate from nature. Furthermore, the self-denial of our interrelatedness manifests in wanton devastation and destruction of the natural world. Our relationship with the land is the concern of educators who advocate place-based pedagogy. It is claimed this relationship is important not only for children’s holistic development and the betterment of humankind, but also to prevent what has been called “the sixth mass extinction” caused by Western societies’ alienation from nature. The Welsh word, cynefin, provides insight into ways of knowing and states of being that are alternative to the dominant epistemologies and ontological stances in mainstream education yet in keeping with place-based pedagogy. Cynefin appears as a keyword in the new curriculum for Wales that is to become statutory in September 2022, but the word itself cannot easily be translated into English. This paper analyses how an interpretation of the word cynefin could be significant as it provides insight into how place-based experiences could affect children’s ontological and epistemological understandings. It begins by outlining how mainstream schools in the West sever children’s natural kinship with nature, and sense of place, by prioritising limited ways of knowing and limited states of being. It then explores how the word cynefin can be interpreted in a way that resonates with place-based, holistic pedagogies. This includes interpreting data from an interview with a hill-farmer who speaks Welsh as his first language. Finally, it highlights research into place-based approaches that chime with the concept of cynefin and seem to offer hopeful imperatives by affording children an ingress into more dialogic experiences with the more-than-human world.