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!


“We are drowning in information while starving for wisdom” (E.O. Wilson)* – A new book “Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change”

….to help create the wisdom we – all 7+ billion of us – will need to transition towards a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect.

We live in turbulent times. Changes occur at accelerating speed. Information is everywhere, but wisdom appears in short supply when we try to address key inter-related challenges of our time such as runaway climate change, the loss of biodiversity, the depletion of natural resources, homogenization of culture, and so on. They are all examples of the poignant sustainability impact of our increasingly consumption-oriented lifestyles marinated in a globalizing economy. We are facing problems and challenges for which there are no ready-made solutions that can be confidently prescribed and universally distributed. Some scholars argue we are already living in “post-normal times”: times loaded with uncertainty, contested (scientific) knowledge and high levels of complexity. In such times conventional routines and systems no longer seem to work, not in business, governance, resource management, science, communication, education nor in any other domain or field. A rethinking of these routines and systems and a creative co-creation of alternative ones appears essential in moving towards a more sustainable world.


Was the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico a major ecological and economic disaster? Or are the ecosystems rapidly self-healing and is the economy getting back on its feet again? How bad is the tsunami-induced nuclear disaster in Japan? For whom? Will increases in palm oil production and biofuel accelerate the loss of rainforests and biodiversity? Can organic food production feed the world? Can genetically modified crops feed the world (safely)? Is there such a thing as a climate neutral building? Paper or plastic? How sustainable is solar energy when the resources needed to make photovoltaic panels are finite? These are just a few questions for which there are no simple answers or single truths. This book attributes a key role to learning in responding to sustainability challenges in post-normal times. It explores the implications of living in times of accelerating change for learning and how new forms of learning can help people in re-orienting society towards sustainability. How do citizens handle “sustainability confusion” about who is right or who is wrong, who to believe and who not to believe, about how bad or good things are and what to do or what not to do in a particular place or situation? And, more importantly perhaps, how do we deal with contradictions and the rhetoric oftentimes used to advance a particular interest or perspective? A key premise here is that living in times of uncertainty, complexity, contestation, but also in times of technologically mediated hyper-connectivity and information overload, inevitably has consequences for learning in formal, non-formal and informal settings. But what are these consequences? And what kinds of competences and qualities need to be developed in learners to handle them? How can they be developed?

Secondly, this book explores the possibilities and dilemmas of designing, strengthening and facilitating “learning-based change and transitions towards sustainability.” Contributors introduce and discuss (re)emerging forms of learning that not only assist in breaking down unsustainable behaviors, forms of governance, production and consumption, but also can help create more sustainable lifestyles. Examples of such learning are: learning by doing, social learning, transformative learning, cross-boundary learning, service learning, learning from nature (biomimickry), etc.

Finally, the book also explores questions like: What role do uncertainty and complexity-related emotions such as stress, anxiety and fear play in this context? What kind of capacities, qualities and competencies do we need to strengthen in people to be able to live well within the carrying capacity of the earth?

“Learning for sustainability in times of accelerating change” is located at the interface of science and society. It explores niches and edges navigated by reflective practitioners and grounded scholars who share a concern for the well-being of the planet. The editors encourage the formation of so-called “hybrid author teams” – people energetically working together from obvious or not so obvious complementary perspectives. We are interested in chapters that invite a response on the part of the reader. Authors are encouraged to use powerful narratives, stories, metaphors, contradictions and questions that do not tell readers what to think and what to do, but rather provide a mirror that helps them rethink, re-frame and, indeed, transform their own practices in both professional and personal contexts.

Chapters come from a range of (inter)disciplinary fields including: conservation biology, eco-justice, education, ethics, innovation, communication, science-technology-society studies, development studies, chaos and complexity studies, systems thinking, natural resource management and governance, social marketing and business studies. A range of divergent perspectives on living and learning in times of change is provided. These differing perspectives have different disciplinary orientations (such as philosophy, ethics, learning psychology, conservation biology, ecology, cybernetics, risk communication, and environmental science), a sector background (for instance corporate social responsibility, governance and policy-making, transport and mobility, energy production, and bio-based economies) or represent a particular vantage point (for example, technologically-meditated learning and social networking, social and environmental justice, disaster management, citizen science and food-security).

You can find the book here


The book was the third in Wageningen Academic Publishers’ Education and Sustainable Development Series. The first successful volumes were: Social learning: Towards a sustainable world (2007) edited by Arjen Wals and Young people, education, and sustainable development: Exploring principles, perspectives, and praxis (2009) edited by Peter Blaze Corcoran and Philip Osano. All chapters will be peer reviewed. The book was published in April 2012 and wwas first presented at the Rio +20 United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development in Brazil in June 2012. The publication of the book was supported by Agentschap.NL. Agentschap.NL is responsible for the implementation of the Dutch Learning for Sustainable Development Policy.


Arjen Wals, Wageningen University, The Netherlands &  Peter Blaze Corcoran, Florida Gulf Coast University,USA

Editorial assistants

Rebekah L. Tauritz,Wageningen University, The Netherlands;  Joseph Paul Weakland,Florida Gulf Coast University,USA; Brandon P. Hollingshead,Florida Gulf Coast University,USA

* opening quote comes from: Wilson, E.O.  (1998).  Consilience: the unity of knowledge.  New York: Vintage Books