International Curriculum Scholar Report on Noel Gough by Stephanie Cesario and Alishia A. Valeri

International Curriculum Scholar Report on Noel Gough by Stephanie Cesario and Alishia A. Valeri

Located at La Trobe University in Melbourne Victoria, Australia, Noel Gough has a long history in the field of education as both a national and international scholar. In addition, he has worked at both the University of Canberra and Deakin University (both in Australia) and has received visiting fellowship positions in Canada, South Africa and the UK. He is noted for his teaching and scholarship in the areas of educational philosophy and theory, research methodology and curriculum inquiry. Within these areas he narrows his focus upon science education, environmental education (EE), internationalization and globalization (La Trobe University, 2012).

Moreover, Noel Gough is a current member and former president of the Australian Association for Research in Education (AARE). He is also a member of various other professional associations such as the American Educational Research Association (AERA), International Association for the Advancement of Curriculum Studies and the Society of Professors of Curriculum (USA), to name only a few. Gough is a Professor of “Outdoor and Environmental Education” and the director of the Learning, Teaching & International stream at La Trobe’s Faculty of Education. Lastly, he is the founding Editor of the Transnational Curriculum Inquiry Journal (TCI) (La Trobe University, 2012).

Reading the work of Noel Gough initially seemed challenging to conceptualize, yet his concepts began to fuse together once we had thoroughly reviewed some of his major publications. It is evident that Gough possesses a creativity of thought that diverges into 1) rhizosemiotic play, 2) exploring transnational planes of immanence, 3) facing and questioning the repulsive and, 4) challenging ways of knowing. We have chosen to focus on these themes throughout this international curriculum scholar review. This report puts forth only a small portion of Gough’s scholarship. Furthermore, it illustrates our readings and interpretations of his work and is meant to serve as a window into the rhizomatic realm of discussion he generates.

Transnational Curriculum Inquiry (TCI)

In order to move forward, in global solidarity, Gough (2004) points out that we must reconceptualize the curriculum. It may be necessary to shift from a nationalist agenda toward a more democratic multicultural citizenship, which can be implemented by encouraging solidarity premised on both a shared identity and a shared responsibility (Fraser, 1993, as cited in Gough, 2004, p. 4). Fraser outlines four universal views of global solidarity that might be plausible for all: 1) a socialist view, 2) an environmentalist view, 3) a feminist view, and 4) a radical-democratic view (p.5). Moving toward a more transnational curriculum requires us to adhere to these views, for example, by depending on one another for wealth from waged and unwaged labour, respecting our commonly inhabited biosphere and supporting one another with an empathetic heart— regardless of age or health condition. If we embark on a “question-driven (not answer-driven)” curriculum (p. 5), we might be better able to work with a radically optimistic mindset to redefine our place. TCI works toward engaging in this dialogue by examining the “impact of globalisation on curriculum work in relation to… debates on matters such as human rights, social justice, democratisation…, etc.” (p. 7). TCI contributors work toward a “multinational perspective on citizenship and citizenship education”, rather than simply considering themselves “internationalists” (p. 6). How can we, as a global community of educators, join to engage in, what Pinar (2011) might consider, this “complicated conversation”?

Geophilosophy, Rhizomes and Language: A Theoretical Look

Inspired by the works of Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari, Gough (2007a) discusses the term geophilosophy. In attempting to investigate how we might situate EE within curriculum inquiry, this notion of geophilosophy is important because it suggests that we look into how the earth functions instead of the philosophical inquiry of the meaning of earth. In order to do this, Gough points to the image “Tangle of Rhizomes” (p. 283) and makes it clear that we must be concerned with the “clarification of concepts” (p. 282) rather than the definition. We must understand that such concepts are part of a ‘rhizome space’ (2007b). The “Tangle of Rhizomes” (p. 96, left) figure is a visual, which can help to understanding the non-linear interconnectedness of paths without a center or an exit. Therefore, we must ask what a word does and what it does or does not produce, instead of what it means (p. 97).

An example of this is brought to our attention when Gough looks at the term empire and how it has moved to a global, perhaps borderless, form of sovereignty. Again he looks to Deleuze and Guattari (1987), referencing the term “mots d’ordre”, meaning “order-words” which are words that are linked to ‘social obligation’ (p. 96). This means that a word’s function can differ depending on a command, social obligation or political order. He discusses what quality might mean by analyzing higher education implications of quality agendas from Australia, Hong Kong and South Africa.

In the article Environmental Education Research in Southern Africa: Dilemmas of Interpretation Gough and Gough (2004) remind the reader of the “dilemmas of interpretation” (p. 410) when reading and interpreting the work of others, prefaced by differences in background and the challenge of cultural essentialism. Here, they provide a space of reflection for readers in understanding and learning about EE research in southern Africa as in a state of “progress” as “research is a textual practice” (p. 410), rather than a closed endeavour.

These ideas offer thought to curriculum, which perhaps is a tangle of rhizomes. Since we are entering conversations in TCI, as curriculum theorists we must take into account how attempting to simply define something may be detrimental because of the rhizome nature of thought.

RhizomANTics: Pathways to Promote Thought

Rethinking EE curriculum through Narrative

We consider Gough’s penchant discussion about cyborgs (inspired by Haraway’s Cyborg Manifesto) to be fuelled by the fact that they are post human and that we must not occlude the potential link between human, technology/machine and the environment. By opening this discussion, it might be easier to envision a more free-spirited nature of thought and curriculum. How might we envision nature, for example, in a video game?

Gough’s (2008a) article Ecology, Ecocriticism, and Learning: How Do Places Become ‘Pedagogical’? illustrates a discussion of naming nature, unnaming nature and envisioning nature in a video game. All of these vignettes illustrate the divergent way nature can be conceptualized, and further how place as a concept can shift or become a tool for pedagogy in regards to ecological understanding. For these reasons, Gough explains his stance for adhering to an ecocritical literacy perspective, as it folds together different disciplines such as language arts, semiotics, literary criticism and cultural studies.

Furthermore, Gough’s interest in learning and literacy transfers to concepts of fiction and reality. We see this, for instance, in Gough’s (2008b) piece titled Narrative Experiments and Imaginative Inquiry where he forms the neologism ‘RhizomANTics’. This term is an amalgamation of concepts from “Deleuze’s rhizomatics, ANT (actor-network theory), and Donna Haraway’s (1997:16) ‘invented category of semANTics, diffractions (p. 342). It seems that Gough attempts, through rhizomANTics (which he later refers to as rhizosemiotic play), to question the connection of fiction and reality and to explore fiction freely.

In terms of how this relates to educators, Gough turns to Connelly & Clandinin’s “narrative inquiry” (1990, as cited in Gough, 2008b) and the concept of transformative learning. There is a silence or void, however, within these theorists’ narrative ideologies in that they fail to question or deconstruct poststructuralist narratives. As a result, Gough suggests that “all stories we tell in education are fiction” (p. 338) and that often fiction can be ‘factual’ (p. 336)… he advises us to see “fact and fiction as mutually constitutive” (p. 337). A curriculum scholar, therefore, may be able to use fiction to deconstruct the grand narrative.

Challenging Eurocentric Western Ways of “Knowing

Gough (2003a) pushes us to question Western influenced ideologies of knowledge that many consider to be the truth. He urges us to collaborate and flip the commonly used notion of “think globally, act locally” to, instead, explore ways in which we might “think local and act global” (p. 58). Gough notes that Western politicians tend to focus on aspects of “acting locally” (p. 54) because these endeavours might be easier to quantify and control.

Gough works to challenge these Eurocentric views, for example, when he discusses the concept of lost children in Australian society as symbolic representation of the anxieties in Australian education (Gough, 2006; Gough, 2009). Australian children were referred to as bush-lost children, children who were captured by the “seductive lure of the Australian bush” (Gough, 2006, p. 64). However, the bush-lost children, as Gough recounts, are the embodiment of specific fears of European presence in Australia prior to the late twentieth century.

As Australia began to urbanize, Australian children once again became the projected image of “fears of the self, society and the future”(p. 64). Children were referred to as “abandoned children” who, by educational measures, needed to be protected from the truth (p. 64). Educational institutions mediated (through teachers) what Australian children were to learn in regards to critical literacy and history education. Gough cites examples from popular media and from former Prime Minister John Howard. He analogizes Australian leaders with stealing the screen of No Country for Young People, playing on McCarthy’s No Country for Old Men (2007, as cited in Gough 2009). As such, suggesting that these players jeopardize innocent youth in a criminal manner.

By turning to Indigenous views, such as the Blackfoot view, Gough (2003a) suggests that we may be better able to understand origins and traditions which eurocentriticy or “scientific literacy” rarely offers us (p. 59). Indigenous peoples in Australia understood science without using writing or mathematics; instead, they explored science through a physical reality. We must not discount or undervalue this method because it may be a valid means toward understanding certain environmental problems. For example, “If global warming is understood as a problem for all of the world’s people, then we need to find ways in which all of the world’s knowledge systems… can jointly produce appropriate understandings and responses” (p. 61). Therefore, Gough urges us to pay attention to how cultural biases may be formed by Western science. Lost children: Anxieties in Australian education (Gough, 2006) exemplifies a block in educational experience, one marked by conservative political rhetoric that forces children not to think and engage with issues of past or present, but to position children “as passive receptors of whatever schools and teachers serve up to them” (p. 66). Transnational curriculum theorists, therefore, might begin to deconstruct Eurocentric modes of thought by taking part in dialogue that challenges such notions and is open to new divergent thinking.

Jolting Normalized Perceptions

In order to challenge “heternormative constructedness” in EE research, Gough et al. (2003) create a rhizome of narrative experiments that attempt to jolt normalized perceptions of “nature-as-an-object-of-knowledge, ecology, and body/landscape relations” (p 47) . Moreover, the intermingling of these narrative experiments in an attempt for the authors to find out what queer theory may or may not produce within EE research is illustrative of rhizosemiotic play.

Creating a fictional “space of conjecture” called Camp Wilde, the authors pushed the boundaries of their own imagination in the hopes of EE research becoming an open venue of divergent thinking (Gough et al., 2003, p. 46). As queer (y)ing EE research for them is not “about policing the boundaries between the queer and the unconventional” (p. 61). Rather, for the authors, queer (y)ing heteronormalized worldviews is to foster risk, to research on the periphery and to embark on a new constitution of being in environmental thought.

Similarly, in No Country for Young people, Gough (2009) challenges the norms of art and perception by specifically drawing attention to The Henson Case. Henson’s artistic photographs of young nude girls, although tastefully depicted, were considered by adults to be revolting “Child Porn ART”.  Henson’s art was subjugated to the hegemonic ideals of parents/adults in Australian society, and was therefore deemed to be porn. Curiously, around the same time, Abigail Hadeed’s art also depicted two naked young Guyanese girls. Hadeed’s art though was not as attacked as porn but rather recognized by the 2004 Commonwealth Photographic Awards. Gough insists that adults, in an effort to protect youth, are actually (quite shamefully) putting them in danger. Gough dares us to ask questions that many would easily avoid or call “revolting” (p. 10).

We must, as Gough suggests, “learn to comprehend complexity and use it in generative ways to improve education and society. To do that we must also learn to recognise and resist the default tendency to comply with the hegemonic politics of complexity reduction” (p. 13). Amidst policy, curriculum, pedagogy and learning are “sites of emergence” (p. 14) and it is our responsibility to explore, create and even invent new forms of dialogue which dig deeper into the spaces we may be scared to explore.

Changing Planes: Modes of Divergent Thinking with/in Transnational Spaces

Transnational knowledge can be co-performed both exoterically and esoterically by continuing to ask questions about how the idea of “thinking locally, acting globally” (Gough, 2003a) can play out with others who have their own local knowledge traditions.  For curriculum theory, Gough argues that we explore our “collective ignorance” that is filled with blank spots (what we “know enough to question but not answer”) and blind spots (what we “don’t know well enough to even ask or care about” (Wagner, as cited in Gough, p. 63). By navigating the tensions between the local and global we might possibly begin to recognize the variety of knowledge systems and understand that such diversity can coexist.

Ursula Le Guin’s stories consider travel and communication within a borderless world, void of countries or continents. Her work of science fiction has guided Gough (2007b) in imagining the space between ‘planes’— referring to both airplanes and “planes of existence” (p. 344)— and how one might conceptualize this pedagogically. Transnational curriculum inquiry is an example of a non-static, free flowing, interconnecting, center-less space that can allow us to coexist peacefully within “the middle of things” (Gough, 2007a). It is in this transnational plane of immanence where fluidity of being, of coexistence can push us to generate an ongoing debate that continues the complicated conversation of curriculum theory.

Engaging in transnational curriculum inquiry might better allow us, as practitioners and burgeoning curriculum theorists, to achieve a dialogue essential in navigating various planes of immanence. He urges curriculum scholars to explore the notion of transnational spaces as a mode of inquiry to better understand various internationalized topics.


Having reviewed these selected works of Noel Gough, we have a broader and deeper understanding of curriculum theorizing and curricular inquiry. As Gough’s rhizomes of knowledge transcend national and international borders, we as reviewers of his scholarship are left with a more developed understanding of some of his unique concepts. For instance the use of rhizosemiotic play can help guide current and future curriculum scholars in navigating transnational spaces. Lastly, we believe that as Gough continues to theorize in curriculum studies and educational philosophy, by way of  performing rhizosemiotic play, he “would almost guarantee that our conversations will be ‘complicated’ and [that they] could be a powerful catalytic of ‘intellectual breakthrough’ in the internationalization of curriculum studies” (p. 292). We are inspired by what TCI can do (and has done) for the field of international curriculum theory.


Gough, A., & Gough, N. (2004). Environmental Education research in southern Africa: dilemmas of interpretation. Environmental Education Research, 10 (3), 409-424.

Gough, N. (2003a). Thinking globally in environmental education: implications for internationalizing curriculum inquiry. In William F. Pinar (Ed.), International Handbook of Curriculum Research (pp. 53-72). Mahwah NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates.

Gough, N. (2004). A vision for transnational curriculum inquiry. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry, 1 (1), 1-11.

Gough, N. (2006). Lost children: Anxieties in Australian education. Journal of Curriculum and Pedagogy, 3 (2), 63-67.

Gough, N. (2007a). Changing planes: rhizosemiotic play in transnational curriculum inquiry. Studies in Philosophy and Education, 26(3), 279-294.

Gough, N. (2007b). Internationalisation, globalisation, and quality audits: an empire of

the mind? In Bridget Somekh  & Thomas A. Schwandt (Eds.), Knowledge
Production: Research Work in Interesting Times.
London: Routledge, 92-108.

Gough, N. (2008a). Ecology, ecocriticism, and learning: How do places become ‘pedagogical’?. Transnational Curriculum Inquiry, 5 (1), 71-86.

Gough, N. (2008b). Narrative experiments and imaginative inquiry. South African Journal of Education, 28(3), 335-349.

Gough, N. (2009). No country for young people? Anxieties in Australian society and education. Australian Educational Researcher, 36(2), 1-19.

Gough, N., Gough, A., Appelbaum, P., Appelbaum, S., Doll, M.A., & Sellers, W. (2003). Tales from Camp Wilde: Queer(y)ing Environmental Education Research. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 8, 44-66.

La Trobe University (2012). Noel Gough: Staff profile. Retrieved from