consider our perceptions of its size
A tree that looks big to someone who grew up on the East Coast might not look big to someone who grew up on the West Coast.
Next, consider our perceptions of its meaning or purpose; these will be shaped by our perspectives and interests. For example, an environmentalist might see a limited resource. A member of the Coast Salish nation might see a sacred symbol of life. A logger or a farmer might see employment. A scientist might see a specimen to be studied. Further, while it may appear that the logger and the farmer have shared interests, in fact their interests are opposite; the logger would see employment only if the tree is cut down, while the farmer would see employment only if the tree grows and bears fruit. Now let’s add the layer of political power. Who owns the tree? Who has “the right” to cut it down and profit from it? Would the logger, tribal member, environmentalist and scientist all agree on this matter of ownership? Whose interests are served by the concept that nature can be owned at all? And who is in the position to impose this concept on others? Who takes the idea of ownership for granted and who doesn’t? What kind of resources, institutions, and larger groups are behind each of these individuals and how do they influence whose interests will prevail?
Finally, how are these interests informed by the specific time and place in which they occur? What’s considered valid scientific research today (from a Western perspective) is not the same as what was considered valid in the past. So while a tree may be an objective, factual, and real object that exists independently of humans, our understanding of it—and thus our interaction with it—cannot be separated from the cultural context we are currently embedded in. In other words, humans can only make meaning of the tree from the cultural frameworks into which they have been socialized. And so it goes for history, physics, and all fields studied in academia. Knowledge is always culturally informed and thus cannot be value-neutral.
Many educators use the metaphor of a fish in water to capture the all- encompassing dimensions of culture. A fish is born into water and so simply experiences the water as one with itself; a fish has no way of knowing that it is actually separate from the water. And although the fish is separate, it still cannot survive without water. In the same way that a fish cannot live without water, we cannot make sense of the world without the meaning-making system that our culture provides. Yet this system is hard to see because we have always been “swimming” within it; we just take for granted that what we see is real, rather than a particular perception of reality. For these reasons, social justice educators name our positionality (the currents and waters we swim in) in order to make the socially