Emerging knotworking agency in community-based disaster prevention learning

Intervention in a hybrid earthquake-related disaster prevention learning program

This chapter aims to analyze and characterize an intervention in a hybrid earthquake-related disaster prevention education program in Kobe City, Japan, within the framework of activity theory. Disaster prevention education can generate a new type of learning activity and increased engagement in activities aimed at building an equitable and sustainable society. The focus of this chapter is a research project we conducted on hybrid educational innovation in a community-based disaster prevention learning program for local children and residents in Kobe City.

As part of the implementation of the community-based disaster prevention learning program in this research project, an intermediary nonprofit organization formed a hybrid coalition (including a group of architectural and town planning experts, the local government, the local community, municipal elementary schools, and universities) in Kobe City’s Shin-Nagata area, one of the regions that suffered serious damage during the Great Hanshin-Awaji Earthquake (also known as the Kobe Earthquake) on January 17, 1995. This chapter conceptualizes a hybrid learning activity for disaster prevention and analyzes collaborative intervention efforts realized in the practical implementation of disaster prevention learning. Disaster prevention learning is conducted collaboratively by local elementary school students and residents, who align themselves with social movements and attempt to create equitable and sustainable communities.

Disaster prevention learning as a hybrid learning activity is facilitated by a wide range of individuals and organizations crossing boundaries between different activity systems. Within the general framework of activity theory, Yrjo Engestrom’s (2008, 2018) notion of “negotiated knotworking’’ is particularly promising as a tool for analyzing newly emerging practices of flexible, fluid, and impromptu collaboration between multiple activity systems. “Knotworking” refers to partially improvised but intense forms of collaboration between partners who, despite being otherwise only loosely connected, engage in rapidly solving problems and designing solutions when their common object so requires. By applying this concept to hybrid learning activities, it should be possible to reconceptualize more familiar but theoretically weak notions of creative collaborations and partnerships between multiple activity systems.

Therefore, based on the principle of hybridity of collaborative and participatory interventions (as well as Chapter 6), this chapter theoretically frames a knotworking agency as an intermediate theoretical concept applied to analyze and discuss findings from intervention efforts in the hybrid learning activity regarding disaster prevention learning in Kobe City. The analysis and discussion in this chapter describes a knotworking agency by local children and adults who were able to shed the passive role of “victim” to create a site based on mutual dialogue and negotiations where they could talk together about future town planning to prevent or reduce disaster damage.

In the following section, I first propose a hybrid learning activity to address collaborations and engagements with a shared object in and interactive relationships between multiple activity systems. As mentioned previously, in the implementation of community-based disaster prevention learning, the nonprofit organization, Futaba Community Learning Center in Kobe City, formed a hybrid coalition composed of architectural and town planning experts, the local government, the local community, municipal elementary schools, and universities. The hybrid coalition aims to facilitate and expand disaster prevention education for local children and residents and raise a new type of agency (i.e., knotworking agency) for future town planning to prevent or reduce disaster damage. Second, I analyze a collaborative intervention related to disaster prevention learning in Kobe City as an applied case and characterize it from the perspective of expansive learning processes to create a knotworking agency. The analysis focuses on how the participants were able to form a knotworking agency and at the same time negotiate a site via dialogue—that is, how they could develop their own collaborative self-interventions.

Knotworking in community-based disaster prevention learning

The Kobe Earthquake struck on January 17, 1995, with a magnitude of 7.3, killing 6,434 people. The nonprofit organization, the Futaba Community Learning Center (hereafter, the Futaba Center), is located in the Shin-Nagata area in the southwestern part of Nagata Ward in Kobe City, which was one of the worst affected areas. Since 2011, the Futaba Center has been conducting an earthquake disaster-related learning program as a means of passing on recollections and stories from residents of the surrounding disaster areas to the next generation.

This interactive program combines multiple activities, such as experiencing what it is like at an evacuation center and listening to stories about the earthquake, designed to prepare participants for future disasters by trying to help them understand on a personal level the thoughts, feelings, and experiences of earthquake victims. Participation in the program is offered to the following:

  • • Elementary, junior high, and high school students in Kobe City
  • • Out-of-school learning groups and students from outside Kobe City
  • • Staff training groups, college students, and tourists

Since 2013, the Futaba Center’s Disaster Prevention Education Program director and staff have sought to expand the organization’s services based on a new educational concept of fostering a more agentive learning process for a future-oriented understanding of disasters and disaster preparedness. This type of program is characterized by two approaches to learning about earthquakes: One is to learn through the imagined experience as a victim of an earthquake disaster, and the other is to learn by creating a story about coping with the disaster. In this way, participants can learn about a disaster from the records of actual victims and project themselves into their sufferings in the evacuation center as they live there, distribute boiled rice, and so on.

However, in spite of the growing number of participants, the Futaba Center’s learning program faces a fundamental contradiction regarding how practitioners and learning providers at the center can redesign the program to give learners—who have no experience of a disaster—an opportunity to transform earthquake disaster-related learning into an agentive, future-oriented understanding of disasters and disaster preparedness.

As Engestrom (2008) emphasizes, from the perspective of activity theory, the concept of contradiction is a theoretical construct central to activity-theoretical intervention research for the following reason: “Contradictions within and between activity systems are key to understanding the sources of trouble as well as the innovative and developmental potentials and transformations of activity” (p. 5). Thus, contradictions arc not the same as problems or conflicts but are rather “historically accumulating structural tensions within and between activity systems” (Engestrom, 2006, p. 27).

The disaster prevention learning program at the Futaba Center is supported and encouraged by many groups and individuals from various backgrounds and organizations, including the Futaba Center staff responsible for the disaster prevention learning program, survivors of the earthquake who act as storytellers about their sufferings after the earthquake, earthquake disaster management and prevention professionals, local guides who show participants the stricken area, undergraduate and graduate students, architectural and town planning experts, a singer-songwriter and other artists, elementary school principals and teachers, municipal officers, firefighters, workers from electric and gas companies and the municipal water department, storekeepers, and photographers. This method of education (if it follows the developmental framework of activity theory) can be understood as generating a hybrid learning activity (see Chapter 6) that transcends traditional encapsulated formal school education and the narrow limits of the standard conceptualization of pedagogical practices to include collaborations and exchanges with outside communities and organizations, realizing and creating solutions in the complicated context of everyday life (Yamazumi, 2008, 2009a, 2009b, 2013).

Various providers of this method of education at the Futaba Center are considering whether it is possible for the younger generation and people from outside Kobe City, who know very little about the Kobe Earthquake, to engage in disaster prevention learning. To determine whether a hybrid educational innovation helps children and young people generate agentive, future-oriented disaster prevention learning, it is useful to apply Engcstrom’s notion of negotiated knotworking (Engestrom, 2008, 2018; Engestrom, Engestrom, & Vahaaho, 1999), situated within the general framework of the activity theory, to analyze the newly emerging method of disaster prevention learning at the Futaba Center. Participants are engaged for the sake of creating new life through flexible, fluid, and impromptu collaborations.

Negotiated knotworking refers to partially improvised forms of intense collaboration between otherwise loosely connected actors and activity systems engaged in solving problems and rapidly designing hybrid solutions required by a common object (knotworking is a historically new form of collaborative work; see Engestrom, 2008). One important aspect that enables the agentive, future-oriented disaster prevention learning of children and young people is thought to be this practice of knotworking, which creates flexible, fluid, and partially improvised forms of intense collaboration (i.e., “knots”) without a single stable center of authority or control between the otherwise loosely connected actors and activity systems. In the Futaba Center’s development and implementation of a hybrid learning activity on earthquake disasters, the creative collaboration between many groups and individuals is not operated by a network in the sense of a set of relatively stable, closed connections between organizational units within a fixed framework and membership. This means that a central function or agent that controls learning activities does not exist. This type of collaboration among partners transcends the limits of closed organizations, whose frameworks and members are often fixed; by doing so, it enables flexible, fluid, and partially improvised activities. This methodology is based on the notion of “distributed leadership” (Spillane, 2006), in which members play leadership roles on a rotating basis, taking the initiative in the face of emerging situations and issues involving their respective areas of specialization. Knotworking collaborations are formed to produce an expansive learning activity that increases the sense of agency among participants, including children and young people, “without strong predetermined rules or central authority” (Engestrom, 2008, p. 208). The expanding agency resulting from collaborative knotworking can be characterized as a knotworking agency based on the nature of knotworking without a center of control or authority.

A hybrid learning activity for disaster reconstruction and preparedness through knotworking can expand the institutional boundaries of traditional learning in schools (characteristically learning involving the acquisition of correct answers as responses to the tasks given in school texts and the classroom in socially isolated schools). In this kind of learning within knotworking, communities, organizations, and participants outside the school can become so-called providers of learning, setting off activity initiatives while

Emerging knotworking agency in community-based disaster 127 continuously changing and exchanging. By connecting and interchanging potentially diverse resources within and without the classroom, knotworking brings new “instruments’” in the form of outside providers of learning into the activity system (Yamazumi, 2013). These resources are equivalent towhat Luis Moll and James Greenberg (1990) have called “funds of knowledge.” Based on Engestrôm’s model of a collective activity system (Figure 2.2 in Chapter 2, Section 3), the expansion of earthquake disaster-related learning is shown in Figure 7.1.

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