Education for sustainable development in the ‘Capitalocene’ – EPAT Special Issue

Last week our editorial introducing the Special Issue for Educational Philosophy and Theory (EPAT) on Education for Sustainable Development in the ‘Capitalocene’ finally appeared. Together with Gothenburg University colleagues, Helena Pedersen, Sally Windsor, Beniamin Knutsson, Dawn Sanders and Olof Franck, we found 8 excellent contributions from some great scholars, after a careful selection and review process. I encourage you to explore the entire SI. Here are the opening lines of our editorial to wet your appetite.

When the thought of this Special Issue began to take shape 3 years ago, we had no clear idea of how it would develop. We wanted to address what we saw as the inability, or even impossibility, of our education system in general, and ESD in particular, to respond to the current climate and environmental crises. We began the call for contributions to the SI with the question ‘Has Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) reached an impasse?’ and referred to Moran and Kendall’s (2009) argument that our various research approaches produce nothing but illusions of education and that education does not exist beyond its simulation. Moran and Kendall continue to argue, drawing on the work of Baudrillard, that current movements in education constitute an ‘improvement agenda’ where more interventions are produced and critiques are repeated ‘over and over’ to foster improvements, ‘pursued as if they were possible’ (Moran & Kendall, 2009, p. 329, italics added). In the call text we used Moran and Kendall’s position on education as a springboard for thinking around ESD and capitalism. In the messy terrain of the debates concerning the ‘Anthropocene’ (Crutzen & Stoermer, 2000) and the ‘Capitalocene’ (Malm & Hornborg, 2014), how does education emerge? Since its conception, the ESD field has been criticised for its hidden and problematic normativity (Jickling, 1992). Regardless of how valid such a critique is, the core idea of ESD is, arguably, a grandiose ‘improvement agenda’ – not only of education, but of the planetary condition as such. There is an assumption that if we can find the appropriate way of ‘doing’ ESD, a sustainable world is within reach.

Yet while working on the Special Issue, one overwhelming real (i.e. not simulated) global event and disaster after the other has occurred: The Fridays for Future strikes; the catastrophic wildfires, hurricanes and flooding across the globe; the heatwaves in the Arctic circle and Pacific Northwest, and, of course, the COVID-19 pandemic – to name a few. Extinction numbers are now at critical levels (IPBES, 2019), climate change impacts are here and increasing in magnitude and frequency (IPCC, 2021), and human-made materials, such as plastic and concrete now outweigh the living biomass of the planet (Elhacham et al., 2020).

How, then, is it at all possible to educate in the midst of this harsh reality, if education itself, and educational critique, cannot be conceived beyond its own illusive patterns of simulation and repetition? As educators, working within these multiple tipping points, where do we stand? Are schools and universities and even ESD, becoming an extension of the globalizing economy and unwillingly accelerating unsustainability (Huckle & Wals, 2015) by equipping people merely to be more effective vandals of the earth? (Orr, 1994). Does the temporality of assumptions held about education (Facer, 2021) impede our ability to respond to the current crisis with urgency? Can educational institutions ever cultivate multi-species approaches to knowledge and justice in a time of mass environmental pillage (e.g. Pedersen, 2021)? And what does this all mean for an individual teacher attempting to nurture hope, and stave off despair (e.g. Ojala et al., 2021), in the face of widespread inequality and lack of access to meaningful biopolitical actions (e.g. Knutsson, 2021)?”

Here is the link to the entire editorial

Education for Sustainable Development in the ”Capitalocene” – Call for abstracts


There is still some time to submit your manuscript idea or abstract for this special issue Educational Philosophy and Theory (EPAT) that I am co-editing with my Swedish colleagues from the University of Gothenburg – Helena Pedersen, Beniamin Knutsson, Dawn Sanders and Sally Windsor. The deadline for – just the abstract – is May first. Go to the Routledge website for the details and see the description below!

Special Issue

ESD in the ”Capitalocene”: Caught up in an impasse between Critique and Transformation

Has Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) reached an impasse? Offering an application of Baudrillard’s thoughts to educational research, Paul Moran and Alex Kendall wrote in 2009 that education researchers are engaged in an act of forgery; a manufacture of presuppositions about what education is. Moran and Kendall argue that our research approaches, produce nothing but illusions of education, not because our approaches and methodologies are somehow flawed, rather that these illusions are what education is. Education, they claim, does not exist beyond its simulation.

Perhaps more provocatively, this implies that all critique of educational practice, from the revolutionary critical theory of Marx and the Frankfurt School via Foucauldian power analyses, as well as more recent ”new materialist” and post-qualitative approaches and beyond –are also part of the simulation of education process. These movements constitute an “improvement agenda” of education, and over and over again, more interventions are produced and critiques are repeated to foster improvements, pursued as if they were possible (Moran & Kendall 2009, p. 329).

We would like to take this Baudrillardian analysis of education as a springboard for thinking around ESD and capitalism. ESD is paradoxically positioned right at the nexus of looming ecological crises (”the Anthropocene” [Crutzen & Stoermer 2000]; the ”Capitalocene” [Malm & Hornborg 2014]) while at the same time the ESD field has been severely criticised for its presumed normativity (Jickling 1994). Quite regardless of the validity of this critique, embedded in the core idea of ESD is, arguably, a grandiose ”improvement agenda” – not only of education, but of the planetary condition as such. There is an asssumption that if we can find the appropriate way of ”doing” ESD, a sustainable world is within reach.

However, if there is nothing that may be called education “that exists independently of the methodologies, comments, curricula designs, testing regimes, forms of discrimination”, as Moran and Kendall (2009, p. 333) put it, what place is there – if any – for ESD under current conditions of predatory capitalism, exploitation of natural “resources”, transgression of planetary boundaries, and the destructive fantasy of infinite growth? Does ESD generate nothing but reproduction, much like capitalism itself (e.g. Hellberg & Knutsson 2018)? Is ESD an affect-organizing “comfort-machine” in the classroom (Pedersen 2019), sustaining the present order of things? Perhaps Bruno Latour (2004) captures the point most aptly: ”Are we not like those mechanical toys that endlessly make the same gesture when everything else has changed around them?” (p. 225) Latour suggests, that the critic “is not the one who lifts the rugs from under the feet of the naïve believers, but the one who offers the participants arenas in which to gather” (p. 246). Such arenas, Giroux observes, need “an understanding of how the political becomes pedagogical, particularly in terms of how private issues are connected to larger social conditions and collective force” (Giroux 2004, p.62).

Stratford (2017) has recently called for education researchers to identify and respond to the challenging philosophical issues evoked by the current ecological crises. Our initiative is a response to Stratfords’s call; however, our starting point differs from how educational philosophy can “improve education in the Anthropocene” (p. 3) and is rather concerned with the “impossibility” of this claim.

We suggest that the idea of ESD as producing illusions of education rather than a sustainable world, does not necessarily lead to an impasse, but can, in Moran and Kendall’s (2009) words, be a very useful place to begin. We are looking for theory-, philosophy-, and empirically-driven papers that address the  ”impossible” position of ESD in ”the Capitalocene” at an urgent juncture in history.

Contributions may address, for instance, the following areas of inquiry;

  • Has ESD reached an impasse, and if so; how can it be understood?
  • Are there ”functions” of ESD beyond the improvement agenda, and beyond the cycle of Critique and Transformation?
  • Is ESD a form of simulation and, if so, what purposes might such simulation serve?
  • How can ESD effectively interfere with capitalism, its forces and threats to life-supporting Earth systems?
  • In what arenas of intervention and action can ESD assemble its participants?
  • How can we reimagine education in extinction and post-extinction narratives?

Submission Guidelines

Please send your abstract of 250-500 words, along with references and a brief bio, to both Helena Pedersen and Beniamin Knutsson, University of Gothenburg.

Final article manuscripts will be approx. 6000 words.

  • Abstract due: May 1, 2019
  • Notification of acceptance: May 20, 2019
  • Manuscript submission deadline: November 1, 2019

Guest Editors:

  • Helena Pedersen, University of Gothenburg
  • Beniamin Knutsson, University of Gothenburg
  • Dawn Sanders, University of Gothenburg
  • Sally Windsor, University of Gothenburg
  • Arjen Wals, University of Wageningen

Link to the publisher’s website is here!