Regenerating the Socio-Ecological Quality of Urban Streams: The Potential of a Social Learning Approach

Recently an impressive collage of chapters was put together by Antonio Augusto Rossoto Ioris under the title of “Environment and Development: Challenges, Policies and Practices” (open access). Led by Daniele Tubino de Souza (former PhD from Brazil, now working with us at Wageningen University), I was part of a team of authors, that wrote a chapter titled: Regenerating the Socio-Ecological Quality of Urban Streams: The Potential of a Social Learning Approach

This chapter seeks to identify potentialities and challenges in using the social learning approach as a framework for the multi-stakeholder interactions involved in initiatives for the regeneration of urban streams in contexts of socio-ecological vulnerability. Te analysis is built on the case study of the Taquara Stream, located in the city of Porto Alegre, in south Brazil. Tis case study comprises a self-organised group of citizens— composed of members of the local community, the public sector and educational institutions—acting to re-establish the socio-ecological quality of the Taquara Stream and watershed, an area largely occupied by informal settlements. Firstly, we contextualise and problematise the issue of urban stream degradation, focusing on the Brazilian context. Secondly, we provide a brief literature review on social learning, and, finally, we describe and discuss the case of the Taquara Stream as an example of a social learning–oriented process to demonstrate the potential contribution and challenges this approach brings within processes for the regeneration of urban streams in vulnerable areas. There are some nice illustrations of the setting in which the research took place. The entire book is open-access. You can find it here:

I made a separate pdf of our chapter which you find here:

The full reference is:

Souza de, D.T., Grandisoli, E., Jacobi, P.R. and Wals, A.E.J. (2021)Regenerating the Socio-Ecological Quality of Urban Streams: The Potential of a Social Learning Approach. In: Ioris, A.A.R (Ed.) Environment and Development: Challenges, Policies and Practices. Cham: Palgrave-Macmillan, p.67-98.

Transgressive learning, resistance pedagogy and disruptive capacity building as levers for sustainability

Oddly, I was unaware of the Great Transition Initiative ( ) when I was invited to contribute to a dialogue with sustainability education scholars and practitioners from around the world. So, I went to the website at and looked around a bit and became more and more excited with every door I opened and space I entered. Apparently, the Great Transition Network has served as a visionary forum and advocate of new ways of thinking and acting that have challenged us to rethink the possible and respond to the critical deficiencies of incremental thinking and the need for bold change. The Great Transition Network (GTN) engages over 1,000 scholars and activists from scores of countries concerned about the global future. In recent months, we have featured discussions on topics like the human rights movement, nuclear abolition, and ecosocialism.

In the month of March (2021), Jonathan Cohn, the Managing Editor of the Great Transition Initiative site, hosted a discussion among the associated Great Transition Network on the topic of sustainability education and, the limitations of the current educational models and what we need to do to ensure that we are educating for the world that we want. Framing questions as well as the opening reflections for the discussion came from Stephen Sterling. The GTN is currently preparing an on-line collage of some of the key inputs provided during the month which should be available shortly via Below I have posted my own contribution. Feel free to comment!

Enough is enough – transgressive learning, resistance pedagogy and disruptive capacity building as levers for sustainability

By Arjen Wals (

If education is to make a significant contribution to the transition towards a more sustainable world it will need to build the kind of capacity that can break the resilient practices of ‘business-as-usual’ that normalise growth thinking, individualism, inequality, anthropocentrism, exclusion, exploitation and even catastrophes. Regarding the latter: there are so many catastrophes going on everywhere, in one way or another, that – unless, of course, you are in the middle of one and many people are – it leads to and psychic numbing and a widespread acceptance of their inevitability (Jickling, 2013) which is not going to help in dealing with them.

Before making my main point, let me first let me acknowledge and support the avalanche of propositions that currently take root in education across the globe that all seem to call for all or a combination of the following: ‘integrative and holistic approaches,’ ‘fundamental and systemic change,’ ‘empowering, action-oriented and reflexive forms of learning,’ ‘boundary crossing between the worlds of education, research, governance, business and civic society,’ and ‘deep engagement with sustainability-related ‘wicked’ issues’ around, climate, health, justice, equity, biodiversity, etc., many of which are captured by the SDGs. All these propositions have been made and elaborated upon in this dialogue series of the Great Transition Network.

Much attention in education is given to responsiveness, resilience and adaptation. At first sight this seems sensible but upon closer inspection this attention is, at least in part, fuelled by a neo-liberal agenda and a globalizing economy, sometimes masked under the umbrella of 21st Century Skills and, even of the SDGs. As an example of the latter, SDG 1 states: ‘No poverty’ and not: ‘Eradicate extreme wealth inequality’, while SDG 8 is about ‘Decent work for all and economic growth’ and not about ‘Decent work for all and a regenerative or circular economy’. This attention represents an ‘optimization frame’ that leaves the underlying values, principles and mechanisms that result in ongoing systemic global dysfunction untouched and, worse, strengthens them. Mainstream education currently stresses – using Biesta’s (2013) functions of education – ‘qualification’ (skills and competencies) over ‘subjectification’. The subjectification task of education has to do with engaging students in with existential questions regarding what it means to be human and about being and becoming in an entangled world. Such questions are critical in finding pathways to a more sustainable world. The denial of subjectification can, once again, be connected to the neo-liberal agenda that stresses commodification over what might be called ‘commonification’. Whereas the former is about creating economic value, accountability and efficiency, the latter is about creating community, serving the public good and preserving the integrity and well-being of the human, non-human and more-than-human world.

Given the urgency of the planetary crisis humanity finds itself in, not caused by all humans I must add, a radical response is needed, one that instead of the earlier mentioned optimization frame, requires a ‘transition frame’ that can break the maladaptive destructive structures and routines, and associated values and principles. This dismantling is needed for opening up spaces for alternatives that are healthier, more just and equitable and, indeed, more sustainable. Doing so requires more than cultivating often-mentioned sustainability competencies and qualities such as; dealing with complexity and ambiguity, anticipating and imagining alternative futures, taking mindful action, having empathy and agency, and so on. Rather, it also requires the capacity to disrupt, to make the normal problematic, the ordinary less ordinary, to provoke and question, to take risks for the common good, to complicate matters rather than to simplify them, to become uncomfortable – together – by asking moral questions and posing ethical dilemmas, and to learn from the ‘push back’ and the resistances from the normalized unsustainable systems all the above creates.

Transgressive learning (Lotz-Sisitka et al., 2016), disruptive capacity building and pedagogies of resistance can be characterized by learning processes and contexts/environments for learning that invite a counter-hegemonic response that unearths and uproots mechanisms of exploitation, oppression, extractivism, colonialization and marginalization. Yes, transgression, disruption and resistance will lead to tensions, conflicts, controversy and discomfort (Pedersen et al. 2019), but it is therein where critical consciousness and spaces for fundamental change can arise. When this disruptive work can be combined with participation in social movements and transition niches that provide concrete utopias and viable alternatives, more hopeful, energizing and regenerative cultures (Wahl, 2016) can unfold. There are some good examples of such forms of learning, so far usually outside of universities in loose intentional networks like the Youth Climate Strike movement, Extinction Rebellion, Fridays for Future, but also in intentional communities seeking to go off-the-grid by creating more localized sustainable energy cooperatives, food systems and green urban renewal. Often these learning processes allow for community-building, socio-emotional engagement in the issues along side critical investigation of facts and myths, as well as the use of arts-based and imaginative processes that lead to creative and hopeful alternative practices and possibilities. Some principles, tools and examples can be found here:


Biesta, G. (2013) The beautiful risk of education. London: Routledge.

Bob Jickling (2013) Normalizing catastrophe: an educational response, Environmental Education Research, 19:2, 161-176, DOI: 10.1080/13504622.2012.721114

Lotz-Sisitka, H., Belay Ali, M., Mphepo, G. ,Chaves, M., Macintyre, T., Pesanayi, T., Wals, A.E.J., Mukute, M., Kronlid, D., Tuan Tran, D., Joon, D., McGarry, D. (2016). Co-designing research on transgressive learning in times of climate change, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability 20:50-55 · June 2016, · DOI: 10.1016/j.cosust.2016.04.004

Pedersen, H., Håkansson, J. Wals, A.E.J. (2019) Introducing critical animal pedagogies in higher education. In: Franck, O. (Ed.) Vetenskaplighet i högre utbildning, Stockholm: Studentlitteratur, p. 315-334.

Wahl, D. C. (2016). Designing Regenerative Cultures. Axminster: Triarchy Press.

REFERENCES (further elaborations, not cited)

Peters, S. and Wals, A.E.J. (2013) Learning and Knowing in Pursuit of Sustainability: Concepts and Tools for Trans-Disciplinary Environmental Research. In: Krasny, M. and Dillon, J. (Eds.) Trading Zones in Environmental Education: Creating Trans-disciplinary Dialogue. New York: Peter Lang, p 79-104.

Wals, AEJ, Peters, MA (2017) Flowers of Resistance: Citizen science, ecological democracy and the transgressive education paradigm. In: König, A & Ravetz, J. (Eds). Sustainability Science, London: Routledge. p.61-84.

Wals, A.E.J. (2019) Sustainability-oriented Ecologies of Learning. In: Learning Ecologies: Sightings, possibilities, and emerging practices Ronald Barnett and Norman Jackson (Eds.), London: Taylor & Francis. p. 61-78.

T-learning in Times of Transition Towards a Sustainable World – Keynote held for Learning for Sustainability Scotland

I was invited to give the closing keynote of the 2020 Annual General Meeting and Networking of Learning for Sustainability Scotland. The event was held online for the first time on 12th January 2021. More than 150 members gathered to explore the theme Building Forward Better: The role of Learning for Sustainability – What role does Learning for Sustainability play in making the world a better place, and how can we make this a reality? You can find a summary of the event and link to each of the programma elements here:

My talk titled ‘T-learning in Times of Transition Towards a Sustainable World’ presented an ultimately hopeful perspective on the role of new forms of learning and more ecological approaches of education in overcoming global systemic dysfunction – outlining some principles, perspectives and sharing international practice. You can see the 40 minute talk introduced generously by Rehema White, here: The talk is followed up by some responses to questions raised by the participants.

New TESF Background Paper: Co-Creating Education for Sustainable Futures

Despite the disadvantage of not being able to work together, due to COVID19, in face-to-face and more embodied manner, with partners in India, South Africa, Rwanda, Somalia and Somaliland, we (the TESF-Team) are still able to generate a number of worthwhile background papers that seek to support the local education transformation projects that will commence within the next few months in each of these countries. The aim of this last background paper is to explain the overall methodological approach and key concepts that inform our work as researchers within the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures Network Plus ( In particular, we will seek to explain what we mean by the idea of ‘knowledge co-creation’ which underpins our approach and what this means in practical terms for the design and implementation of research projects in the area of education for sustainable futures. The paper can be downloaded here:

Mobilising capacities for Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures: Opening spaces for collaborative action and learning

The TESF Network tesf.netw has just released a background paper on Mobilising Capacities for Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures. Transforming education for sustainable futures requires coalitions and collaborations which span traditional boundaries – academic, professional, geographical and generational. A key point of departure in the paper is that sustainability is not something which can be discovered by scientists and disseminated through policy and practitioner networks, but rather something which must be created through processes of collective deliberation, questioning, negotiation, and experimentation. This requires opening spaces for examining entrenched unsustainable patterns, habits and routines which have become ‘frozen’, and engaging in collective action which includes experimenting, making and learning from errors, and celebrating progress towards more sustainable alternatives.

The key elements of mobilising capacities for achieving more dialogical, deliberative and co-creative forms of sustainability in and through education, can be summarised as follows:

Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures requires mobilising capacities in the form of knowledge, skills, agency, relationships and other valuable resources which are distributed across communities, organisations, professions and other stakeholder groups.

From a holistic or ecological perspective, capacities are relational, emerging through social interactions and relationships-in-action, rather than being individual properties or attributes.

Mobilising capacities which are distributed, and fostering capacities which are relational, requires reaching out and bringing together diverse groups to pursue shared goals within a wider coalition or network.

This requires creating, or opening up, spaces for dialogue, deliberation, experimentation, decision-making, developing relationships, and collaborative inquiry, action and learning.

Across these spaces, intentional structures and processes can support the learning of individuals and groups within the network, and facilitate learning by the network.

You can find the full paper here!

Analysing the state of student participation in two Eco-Schools – a new study

A new paper just appeared in Environmental Education Research based on research by one of our talented Masters students Laura Schröder on the role of student participation in shaping Eco-Schools in Spain and The Netherlands. The focus of the study was on understanding the levers of student participation and of the factors leading to a whole-school approach. Engeström’s Second Generation Activity Systems Model was used as an analytical framework. The study also reflects on the merits and shortcomings of this framework. The analysis of the two cases revealed contradictions in the intended effect of the Eco-School programme on fostering student-led change towards sustainability and a whole-school approach.

The research suggests that student participation in Eco-School programme can be fostered by:

  1. using an activity-based ‘whole institution’ approach that interlinks a reflective and action-based procedure,
  2. adapting the students’ learning environment according to their needs and capabilities,
  3. providing for close teacher guidance in Eco-School activities and establishing good student-teacher-relationships, and, finally,
  4. incorporating the Eco-School programme into the school’s overall educational framework.

Keywords: Education for Sustainable Development (ESD)Eco-Schools programmestudent-led changeCultural-Historical-Activity-Theory (CHAT)

Here is a link to the publisher’s website where you can find the full paper:

Capturing Transgressive Learning in Communities – Spiraling towards Sustainability


Another article appeared in Sustainability – one of MDPI’s somewhat controversial journals (see my earlier blog posts about MDPI). The paper is led by former PhD student Thomas Macintyre and is the fifth and final publication associated with his PhD ‘The Transgressive Gardner’ (see under ‘PhD-students’ in the menu above). This empirical paper was quite thoroughly reviewed and took, certainly for MDPI-standards took rather long turnaround time. Good things do take time!

The paper addresses the need for more in depth understanding of signs and characteristics of transgressive learning in a context of runaway climate change. In a world characterized by systemic global dysfunction, there is an urgency to foster rapid systemic change which can steer our paths towards meeting the SDG goals. The contention of this paper is that, although there is a need for rapid change, it is fundamental to understand how such change can come about, so as to co-create and investigate learning environments and forms of learning that can lead to a systemic change towards sustainability. Anchored in the emerging concept of transgressive learning, this article employs the innovative Living Spiral model to track critical learning moments by facilitators and participants in multi-stakeholder Transformation Labs (T-Labs), which took place in 2017/2018 in various grassroots sustainability initiatives in Colombia and The Netherlands.

The results of the analysis highlight the importance of the values of “acknowledging uncertainty”, “community”, and “relationality” in disrupting world-views through promoting reflexivity in participants and facilitators. This paper concludes that more research on the power dynamics of “absences” in transformative research is needed to better capture the challenges of overcoming sustainability challenges.

Here is the pdf to the actual paper:

The Case for Transformative Public Education: Responding to Covid-19 now while addressing long-term underlying inequalities

Last Fall a consortium of which I am proud to be a part, along with the Education & Learning Sciences Group of Wageningen University received funding from the UK-government to a so-called GCRF Network Plus on Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures. The network is co-ordinated out of the University of Bristol and includes partners in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. TESF undertakes collaborative research to Transform Education for Sustainable Futures. We have just released an introductory video (see above) and just released a timely paper:


Here is the link to the briefing paper:

The Case for Transformative Public Education: Responding to Covid-19 now while addressing long-term underlying inequalities

This paper addresses the following topics:

  • What is Transformative Public Education
  • Why Transformative Public Education matters to the COVID-19 response
  • Why Transformative Public Education matters for addressing long-term underlying risks to communities
  • Examples of Transformative Public Education responses to COVID-19
  • Suggestions for governments and state welfare actors seeking to work with Transformative Public Education
  • Suggestions for community leaders working with Transformative Public Education
  • Transformative Public Education in times of physical distancing
  • Key readings and resources

On the TESF website you will also find other resources you may find of interest. Have a look here TESF Home Page

This is TESF’s first response to the C-19 situation, and we would like to see it widely distributed, given the timely nature of this topic.  Please do all you can to share it widely across your networks.

Reconfiguring Environmental Sustainability in Early Childhood: a Post-anthropocentric Approach – Kassahun Weldemariam


On April 24th my last formal activity for The Faculty of Education at the University of Gothenburg ended with the successful defence & disputation by my PhD student at GU, Kassahun Weldemariam. Kassahun worked for almost 5 years on a study on sustainability in early childhood education from a posthuman perspective. Prof. Karen Malone was his opponent while Dr. Beniamin Knutsson and Dr. Helena Pedersen were co/supervisors. Due to COVID19 the whole defence had to take place via Zoom which worked well but did strip the event from the usual rituals and festivities afterwards.

The purpose of his dissertation of which three chapters were published in peer reviewed journals and one as a book chapter,  was twofold. First, Kassahun explored how the notion of sustainability is conceptualized within early childhood education discourses and how it is manifested in early childhood curricula. Second, the dissertation examined post-anthropocentric possibilities of sustainability within early childhood education.

A major finding of the two studies, relating to the first purpose, is that early childhood education tends to have an anthropocentric bias and over-emphasizes the importance of children’s agency in enhancing their potential to contribute to sustainability. Using this finding as a backdrop, the major finding of the two subsequent studies, relating to the second purpose, is that post-anthropocentric analysis can help to challenge these shortcomings and offer the emergence of a different sustainability ethos. In doing so, sustainability is reconceptualized as a generative concept that opens up possibilities for children to learn-with, become-with and affected by non-humans, i.e. other species and non-human forces. Specific posthuman concepts such as assemblage, distributed agency and becoming-with are used as thinking tools.

Systematic literature review and curricula content analysis were employed as methods for study one and study two respectively. Study three and study four drew ideas from post-qualitative inquiry which employ concepts that allow to experimentally engage with the world and think with/become-with data.

The latter two studies empirically demonstrate emerging possibilities of learning for sustainability with the non-human others/material forces and other species. In the end, the dissertation highlights that post-humanist and new materialist perspectives can provide a post-anthropocentric conceptualisation of sustainability, which paves the way for a more relational ontology, one that could in turn create a pedagogical practice supporting sustainability.

It was a true pleasure working with Kassahun durng the last five years and I am convinced we will be hearing a lot from him in the future. A pdf of his dissertation can be found here>Kassahun Weldemariam_inlaga_med artiklar

Keywords: Sustainability, Anthropocentric, Post-anthropocentric, Assemblage, Subjectivity, Affect, Ontology, Epistemology, Agency, Becoming-With, Distributed Agency, Materiality

Learning in, with, and through the Territory: Territory-Based Learning as a Catalyst for Urban Sustainability in Porto Alegre, Brazil


Some readers of my blog of might call me a hypocrite – and I cannot really blame you – but despite strong reservations I continue to co-author work that is submitted to Sustainability – the journal, and mainly its publisher’s (MDPI’s) business model, I have critiqued in the past for mass and fast-publishing (find my critique here as well as the response of Paul Vazquez, CEO of MDPI) which can be found here). Sometimes the people I work with do need a quick-turn around time for their manuscripts and still wish to have work published in a recognized journal that has high impact and is open access (when paying the fee… which for the paper I am sharing here was discounted at 50% to acknowledge that lack of means of some of the contributing institutions, here in Brazil). As I stated in my critique, some work is of high quality and has been properly reviewed by two or more people which is the case in the paper I am sharing here which was just published.

Led by former PhD-student Daniele Tubino Sousa, this paper focuses on learning in the context of territorial problems such as the socio-ecological degradation of urban rivers represent a great challenge to achieving sustainability in cities. This issue demands collaborative efforts and the crossing of boundaries determined by actors that act from diverse spheres of knowledge and systems of practice. Based on an integrative territory notion and the boundary approach, the goal of this paper is to comprehend the boundary crossings that take place in multi-actor initiatives towards the resolution of this problem and what type of territorial transformation is produced as an outcome. Our analysis is built on participatory research on the Taquara Stream case, a degraded watercourse in a socio-ecologically vulnerable area, in southern Brazil. Our data analysis applied a visual chronological narrative and an interdisciplinary theoretical framework of analysis that combined concepts related to the territory (geography) and the boundary approach (education). We verified that local territorial issues functioned as boundary objects, fostering and facilitating dialogical interaction among involved actors, knowledge co-production, and collaborative practical actions that led to changes in the territory in terms of practices, comprehensions, and physical concrete transformations. We framed this study as one of territory-based learning meant to advance the understanding of territorial intervention processes towards urban sustainability.

The advantage of Open Access, indeed is that anyone (with a computer and access to the Internet, that is)  can download it here:

Keywords: urban sustainabilityvulnerable communitiesterritoryboundary crossingboundary objectsbrokerssocial learningknowledge co-production


Another Timely Course in Times of COVID-19 – Climate Action: Scaling Up Your Impact


Cornell University’s Civic Ecology Lab is starting a new online course on Climate Action during a time where the topic is more urgent then ever but also, when many people, the forunate ones, are locked-down into there home environment with access to technology and lots of time on their hands. Here is the basic info. You can also go straight to their website!

Overview. Many of us want to do something about climate change, but individual actions can feel inadequate in the face of the looming crisis. In the Network Climate Action: Scaling up your Impact online course, you will learn what the latest research says about how to scale up your individual actions through your social networks. You will choose a greenhouse gas mitigation action you take yourself and apply social influence research to persuade your family, friends, social media followers, or other social network to also take that action. You will be part of a unique online community that is applying innovative, exciting, and evidence-based approaches to fight climate change!

Participants. Environment, climate, and education professionals, volunteers, university students, or other climate concerned citizen from any country. Discussions will be in English. This is NOT a course about climate science, but rather about how you can take effective action to help address the climate crisis.

Cost. $60 fee. Most participants pay this fee.

Options available to pay a higher fee ($120) to sponsor another student, or pay a lower or no fee if you are unable to pay or live in countries without internationally accepted payment systems (e.g., Afghanistan, Iran).

Educational approach. The course is based on two principles: (1) Learning is social: participants learn by discussing ideas and sharing resources; (2) Learning should lead to action: participants will apply course content to implementing a climate action of their choice and by persuading one of their social networks to take that action alongside them.

Technology. Edge edX for readings, pre-recorded lectures, and discussion questions (asynchronous). We will also use Facebook and WhatsApp for optional informal discussions and sharing. We will host one webinar each week (Thursdays 8am NY time) and one “office hours” webinar for participants to ask questions each week (Wednesdays 8am NY time). Webinars will be recorded if participants are unable to attend in person.

Certificates. Participants who complete the course are awarded a Cornell University certificate (PDF). Weekly assignments include lectures, readings, and discussion questions. Participants are required to participate in a minimum of one course webinar in person or by watching the recorded webinar. Required course project is a one-page report on the climate action you took with your network.

Learning outcomes. Participants will:

  1. Describe the feasibility and effectiveness of actions to mitigate greenhouse gases across different countries and contexts.

  2. Implement an action to reduce greenhouse gases themselves and among their social network.

  3. Critically reflect on the results of their network climate action and write a one-page report of their action and reflections.

  4. Participate actively in a global online community of climate-concerned citizens.

Topics. Topics. Week 1: Climate Solutions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions from Week 2: Social Networks and spread of climate behaviors; Week 3: Social Mobilization; Week 4: Social Norms; Week 5: Social Marketing and Social Media.

Work load. 5 weeks (4-5 hours of work per week). Throughout the course, you will be working on your network climate action. During the last week, you will complete and submit a final report on your project to persuade one of your social networks to take a climate action.

Dates. April 7 – May 12, 2020. Assignments must be completed no later than May 19, 2020.

Instructors. An experienced and dynamic team from Cornell University Civic Ecology Lab: Marianne Krasny (Professor), Alex Kudryavtsev (Research Associate), Yue Li (Research Associate), Kim Snyder (Course Administrator), Melanie Quinones Santiago (Spanish language assistant), Wanying Wu (Chinese language assistant), plus 10 Chinese language teaching assistants.

Webinar Schedule. We provide two weekly webinars. You can watch them live or the recorded version.

Wednesdays, 8am NY time, “Office Hours” question/answer with instructor Marianne Krasny

          8, 15, 22, and 29 April, 6 May

Thursdays, 8am NY time, Plant-rich Diet: Persuading family and friends (This webinar series also open to the public

         26 March: Where’s the beet? How diet is a climate game changer; Jennifer Wilkins, Syracuse University

        2 April: Harnessing Peer Pressure to Parry the Climate Threat; Robert H Frank, Cornell University

         9 April: Menus of Change: Bringing the principles of health and wellness to life; Brendan Walsh,

                      Culinary Institute  of America

        16 April: Sustainable Diets and the EAT Lancet Report; Elizabeth Fox, Cornell University

        23 April: Cornell Dining: Menus of Change principles reflected in our culinary program;

                        Lisa Zehr and Michelle Nardi, Cornell University

        30 April: How Climate Behaviors Spread in Networks; Damon Centola, University of Pennsylvania

        7 May: “Sustainable Tapas” Project: Complex behaviors and social mobilization approaches to climate action;

                       Fátima Delgado, Universitat Politècnica de Catalunya

‘Social Distance Education’ in Times of COVID19 – a collage of short lectures on education and learning for sustainability

With schools and universities across the globe needing to find ways to share their knowledge without face-to-face interaction with students, many of my colleagues are having to resort to online lecturing. In order to make some of my own knowledge and insights easily available I made a collage of short lectures that are available for not just my own students but to anyone who is interested. Below you can find the links to 8 short introductions.

  1. An Introduction to Environmental Education and Education for Sustainable Development (11 minutes)


2. Sustainability as an Attractively Vague Concept – a Competence Perspective (11 minutes)

3. An introduction to Wicked Sustainability Problems (12 minutes)

4. Intro: Transformative Learning in Relation to Sustainability (13 minutes)

5. Introduction to Social Learning and Sustainability – a short interview (4 minutes)

6. Introduction to Systems Thinking and Transitions (7 minutes)


7. Earth is Calling – Anybody Answering? How to use a smart phone as a teaching tool in education for sustainable development (21 minutes – note the actual lecture starts at minute 1 after a brief intro).


8. Three Strands of Research – a snapshot of research as ‘mining’, as learning and as activism (3 minutes)

9. Some thoughts on SDG 4

In search of healthy policy ecologies for education in relation to sustainability: Beyond evidence-based policy and post-truth politics


A new paper just came out in ‘Policy Futures in Education’ that I co-authored with Robert Stratford critiquing evidence-based approaches to policy making in the context of (re)orienting education towards sustainability in times of post-truth and alternative facts. In the aper we pose that there is a rational assumption built into some research projects that policy contexts are influenced by the quality of the evidence. This is, at best, only somewhat true some of the time. Through policy ethnographies, two education researchers working in the context of sustainability discuss their experiences with evidence-based policy. Central to both accounts is how critical messages about such issues as race, wellbeing and sustainability can become diluted and even lost. In the existing ‘politics of unsustainability’, and at a time of ‘post-truth’ politics, these accounts also show the limits of evidence-based policy.

We argue that those working with ‘the evidence’ need to be open about how evidence-based approaches can end up supporting the ‘status quo’. Moreover, while approaches such as knowledge mobilisation emphasise the relational qualities of policy contexts, and the importance of simple compelling narratives for decision-makers, they, like many other practices, do not sufficiently theorise the power structures surrounding knowledge and the policy context. In addition to the careful use of evidence, we argue that there needs to be greater emphasis on building healthy policy ecologies – including far more emphasis on building critical and creative policy alternatives, especially in areas like sustainability and education.

The paper can be found/downloaded here: Healthy Policy Ecologies Paper


Short Intro Video – Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF)

Wageningen UR is one of the partners in the Transforming Education for Sustainable Futures (TESF) Network. TESF is a GCRF funded Network Plus, co-ordinated out of the University of Bristol, working with partners in India, Rwanda, Somalia/Somaliland, South Africa, the United Kingdom and the Netherlands. The network undertakes collaborative research to Transform Education for Sustainable Futures.

TESF just released a short video outlining the mission and way of working of the network. The coming months the four hub countries will launch their innovation grant scheme which will allow local partners to apply for funding to engage in educational reform towards sustainable development at different levels of education.  Please go to the TESF-website for more information.





Overcoming socio-ecological vulnerability through community-based social learning


A new paper was published in the journal Local Environment this month led by one of my recently graduated PhD-students, Daniele Souza. The paper investigates community-based initiatives and collective learning practices in sustainability transition processes. This paper presents the results of a participatory study that investigated a local initiative in the community of Lomba do Pinheiro in south Brazil to examine social learning processes in the context of socio-ecological vulnerability. In this community, a group composed of local residents and members representing the public sector and local educational institutions has promoted several learning-oriented actions aimed at restoring a degraded local watershed and improving residents’ livelihoods.

The study used social learning as a lens through which the initiative enacted by this group may be understood, and analysed how local conditions, determined by a context of vulnerability, have influenced local processes. We applied a multi-dimensional analytical framework that included individual, collective, and territorial dimensions. The analysis focused on the leading group, the individuals who comprise it, and their actions in the territory, while considering local constraints. Our findings highlight the importance of (1) shared values, mutual trust, and affective bonds for group cohesion as well as concerted action, equalisation of diverse languages within the group, knowledge integration, and initiative persistence; (2) a practical-reflexive approach based on a sequence of actions that catalyses group learning and facilitates advancement within the wider community; and (3) the role of inter-sectoral articulations and the establishment of partnerships to support actions.

This paper raises questions about the limits of an exclusively bottom-up approach to solve complex problems in the context of extremely precarious conditions.

The full reference is: Souza Tubino, D., Wals, A.E.J., Jacobi, P. (2019) Learning-based transformations towards sustainability: a relational approach based on Humberto Maturana and Paulo Freire, Environmental Education Research, 25 (x), 1-15.

A link to the journal here!