Earlier this month the 8th Report from the Global University Network fir Innovation (GUNi) was published with a wealth of contributions critiquing current resilient modes and models of education and outlinig alternative one in light of the current systemic global dysfunction we find ourselves in. I was asked to contribute a chapter on transgressive learning. The link to the chapter is here
The full citation for my chapter is: Wals, AEJ (2022) Transgressive learning, resistance pedagogy and disruptive capacity building as levers for sustainability. In: Higher Education in the World 8 – Special issue New Visions for HigherEducation, Barcelona: Global University Network for Innovation (GUNi). Open access: www.guni-call4action.org, p216-222.
One of the Swedish PhD-Candidates I have been working with over the last few years, Julia Fries, based at Stockholm University, is co-organising two fascinating workshops focusing on drama-based approaches in higher education for sustainability.
Below you find an invitation to participate in two international workshops on new formats for Sustainability teaching, funded by the Swedish Research Council and organised by Stockholm Resilience Center and the Department for Teaching and Learning at Stockholm University.
The project explores how drama-based methods can support reflective, embodied and transformative learning about sustainability amongst higher education students. The research ambition is to further current understanding of the role of experiential learning and how these methods support such learning. The format designed will allow to both support pedagogic development in participants academic teaching practice, and address the research questions.
Two international workshops will bring together drama educators and educators in fields related to sustainability, to share different drama-based, interactive methods and explore what these can bring to education in sustainability sciences or sustainability in other subject areas.
Quote from project description:
This project concerns teaching and learning for Sustainability in Higher Education. The cross-disciplinary field of sustainability can be characterised as extremely unsettled and value-loaded, a challenging academic subject for both teachers and students. Consequently, adequate teaching methods has to be developed in order to tackle sustainability issues in a creative and inclusive way. This has been recognised in relation to primary and secondary education but not so much at university level. Attempts are made to achieve this, by adopting a less traditional teaching approach and relation to the world outside the university. Based on this, we propose two explorative workshops for university teachers/researchers. The purpose of the first workshop is to introduce and explore a set of highly interactive teaching approaches to a group of university teachers/researchers in Scandinavia and Europe. After the first workshop, these teaching approaches will be applied, tried out and documented, as part of the participants ongoing teaching at their universities. The purpose of the second workshop is to evaluate these interactive approaches, by sharing teaching experiences and learning outcomes among students in higher education. The overarching aim is to explore and compare a set of interactive teaching approaches, in terms of applicability and student impact in Higher Education for Sustainability. Based on the outcome, scientific papers will be presented and/or a book will be published.
Practicalities: The first workshop will be in Stockholm 6-9 Sept. 2022 and the second in May or June 2023. Thanks to a grant from the Swedish Research Council we are able to offer 15 participants free meals and accommodation, but travel expenses are not included in the offer. Participants are expected to take part in both workshops. A detailed program for the first event will be presented later this spring. Questions can be directed to email@example.com or t.wall@ ljmu.ac.uk
This paper recently appeared in International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education. It explores students’ sense of community and belonging in an online course on environmental and sustainable education during times of physical distancing as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Using a case study approach, the results show that students perceived a sense of community that was collectively build during the four week program. Sense of community was linked to and facilitated by the learning environment and the educators’ and students’ role throughout the course. Prominent factors here are interaction and inclusion created with mutual effort by design, the educator and student.
This research arose after the course ELS-31806 Environmental Education and Learning for Sustainability was converted as an ‘offline’ course into an online course due to COVID-19. The original content of the course enables students to systematically discuss important concerns in the development of an effective curriculum and/or operation for the environment and sustainable development using a range of instrumental and emancipatory approaches. But foremost ELS-31806 is a course that has always been, well appreciated and highly valued by participants for its highly experiential and hands-on approach.
However, due to COVID-19 this year’s course (2020) was changed into a less experiential on-line format mediated by Zoom for interaction and by Brightspace for course structure and organisation. This somewhat ad-hoc and sudden departure from the traditional successful format, lowered the instructors, and probably also, the students’ expectations about the course’ ability to create a vibrant learning community. Yet, contrary to pre-course expectations, ‘something’ (i.e. a sense) arose over the course of four weeks online education that both students and staff considered to be special or meaningful. These hunches got confirmed several weeks after by Wageningen UR’s student evaluation system PACE which revealed that the students highly valued the course.
We were intrigued by the question of how this online edition evoked similar, or nearly similar outcomes to its offline counterpart. After first checking whether our hunches were right about the course and what might explain the high evaluation marks, we centre in the paper’s main question:
What are key characteristics of an online course that fosters subjectification (personal development and inner-sustainability in relation to others and the other) and creates a sense of community?
The paper was led by former MsC student Robbert Hesen and co-authored by myself and ELS Postdoc Rebekah Tauritz.
I feel very privileged to be part of one of the two major International River Research projects led by Wageningen UR colleague Prof. Rutgerd Boelens: Riverhood and RiverCommons. Riverhood and River Commons are both 5-year research projects that focus on enlivening rivers, river co-governance initiatives, and new water justice movements.
Riverhood is funded by the European Research Council (ERC) (Grant Agreement No 101002921) and aims to build groundbreaking transdisciplinary concepts and methodological tools to analyze and support new water justice movements’ institutions, strategies and practices for equitable and sustainable water governance. It does so through comparing initiatives in Latin America (Ecuador and Colombia) and Europe (Netherlands and Spain). The focus will be on movements promoting novel concepts and practices such as Rights of Nature, new water cultures or nature-inclusive hydraulics, to name just a few.
RiverCommons is funded by Wageningen University’s Interdisciplinary Research and Education Fund (INREF) and unites chair groups from the social and natural sciences, as well as partners worldwide. Its objective is to develop transdisciplinary concepts and methods for research, education, and multi-stakeholder interactions to understand and support river co-governance initiatives and sustainable socio-ecological river systems in Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe.
While each of the projects has its specific objectives, activities, regions, and partners, there is immense potential for synergies and cross-pollination. Riverhood and River Commons will therefore be integrated in multiple ways, to together build a diverse and wide network of river scholars, activists, and institutions that commonly aim to understand and strengthen river co-governance around the world.
Both projects are united by a common framework that illuminates the different facets and complexities of river systems. The framework encompasses four dimensions: River-as-Ecosociety, River-as-Territory, River-as-Subject, and River-as-Movement. You can find more information about it in Concepts.
Another important component of both projects is the development of Environmental Justice Labs (Riverhood) and River Co-governance Labs (River Commons) to be organized in the case study sites to co-create knowledge and mobilize and exchange ideas for change.
World’s rivers are fundamental to social and natural well-being but profoundly affected by mega-damming and pollution. In response to top-down and technocratic approaches, in many places riverine communities practice forms of ‘river co-governance’, integrating ecological, cultural, political, economic and technological dimensions. In addition, new water justice movements (NWJMs) have emerged worldwide to creatively transform local ideas for ‘enlivening rivers’ into global action and vice versa. The Summer School aims to provide PhD students who conduct research on these ‘river commons’ and NWJMs with transdisciplinary concepts and approaches for studying their emerging ideas, concepts, proposals and strategies. The training thereby focuses on conceptualizing river systems in all senses, and capacity-building for (understanding and supporting) river knowledge co-creation and democratisation from the bottom up.
“It’s the economy, stupid!” was a slogan Bill Clinton used in his successful campaign against George W. Bush to point out that in the end it is the economy that matters most to voters. Now 30 years later this slogan has new meaning as we come to see the moral and planetary bankruptcy of old-style market and growth driven economic thinking that normalises unsustainability. Sadly, much higher (business) education still echoes and reproduces dysfunctional old-style economic thinking, even in universities that claim to have sustainability at the heart of their operations… even the SDG related to the economy – SDG 8 – seems to do so as it focuses on realizing ‘economic GROWTH and decent work’. It is hight time that alternative economic thinking takes root in our education – varying from distributive economic thinking to regenerative economic thinking to circular economic thinking to a letting go of economic thinking altogether to make room for alterative value propositions.What are the implications of such alternatives for how and what we teach? how students learn? how we connect with stakeholders around the university?
These and other questions will be addressed at the Higher Education Summit 2022 from 6-8 September 2022 in Hasselt, Belgium! Under the theme “Daring to transform learning for a future-proof economy” the summit will bring together those who wish to transform higher education for the benefit of a “safe and just space for humanity” (Raworth, 2017): people who study, teach, research, and contribute to governance at higher education institutions, and representatives of the business world, government, and civil society.
The organisers invite you to join us to rethink the role of higher education institutions in shaping the economy. Whether we prefer to call it a doughnut economy, circular economy, or regenerative economy – we all aspire for a world in which humans can flourish in close harmony with a thriving planet. And we know that learning is key to driving this transformation (Berlin Declaration on Education for Sustainable Development, 2021).
We are looking forward to celebrating your wonder! The Call for Contributions is open! Proposals are welcome until 15 March 2022. We will let you know by 29 April 2022 whether your proposal has been accepted. Your proposal should not exceed 1 A4 page, including references. You may include pictures or other visual representations. Proposals will be assessed by the scientific committee based on the following principles:
Potential for (societal and/or economic) transformation
Academic or other relevant quality for theory, practice or policy
Originality and level of innovativeness
Adequateness of mode of presentation, including the degree of co-creation with the audience
It is my pleasure to share two calls for contributions in relation to the development of a Whole School Approach (WSA) to Sustainability. The first one relates to an international hybrid conference organized by the Dutch government that will take place in The Netherlands and partially online late March of 2022, the second one relates to an edited Volume on the topic in the Springer SDG4 Series on Quality Education.
Call for exemplary practices of a Whole School Approach to Sustainable Development
The Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and Climate Policy have commissioned a report to provide practical examples of how a Whole Institution/ Whole School Approach (WSA) is being used in practice around the world to engage with SDG4 – Quality Education, especially in relation to sustainable development issues as covered by the other SDGs. The reports aim is to highlight different aspects of a WSA – curriculum development, pedagogical innovation, school management and leadership, school-community relationships, professional development of staff, and the school as a ‘living laboratory’ for experimenting with healthy, equitable, democratic, and ecologically sustainable living – especially how these aspects can be integrated to mutually strengthen each other.
We are particularly interested in so-called critical case-studies that do not only highlight best-practice strategies and success stories, but also share the struggles, set-backs and challenges underneath and ways to overcome them. The report will be published as part of the WSA International Conference happening in The Netherlands on the 30th-31st March.
If you know of such a school (primary, secondary, or vocational) from your country that can be used as an exemplary example of a WSA in action, or want further details, please contact Rosalie Mathie via email. firstname.lastname@example.org before February 15th so she can still contact people connected to the exemplary case.
2 Call for Abstracts Springer SDG4 Series Whole School Approaches to Sustainability – Principles, Practices and Prospects
Ingrid Eikeland, Brigitte Bjønness, Astrid Sinnes and Arjen Wals (Eds)
Schools across the globe are seeking to respond to emerging topics like; climate change, biodiversity loss, healthy food and food security, and global citizenship. They are increasingly encouraged to do so by educational policies that recognize the importance of these topics and by the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
While there is recognition that such topics should not be added on to an already full curriculum, but rather require more systemic and integrated approaches, doing so in practice has proven to be difficult. This edited Volume seeks to engage educators, school leaders, educational policy-makers and scholars of sustainability in education in key principles, critical perspectives, generative processes and tools that can help realize a Whole School Approach to Sustainability. The book will contain three sections: 1) Principles & Perspectives, 2) Critically Reflexive Contextual Case Studies (Early Childhood, Primary, Secondary and Vocational Education) and 3) Synthesis: Challenges and Prospects.
The editors are inviting abstracts (no more than 500 words) of potential chapters. Contributions can be research-based (spanning different genres of research) but can also be more conceptual in the form of critically reflexive essays. Abstracts should indicate a best fit with one of the sections and need to be accompanied with short bios of the author(s) and, if possible, references to prior publications that relate to the topic.
Please send your initial ideas for a contribution or any queries you may have to: email@example.com before March 1st. All abstracts will be reviewed by the editors and a selection will be made for further development into a full manuscript to be published by the end of 2022.
Some journals are truly hidden gems – Airea is a peer-reviewed journal on Arts & Interdisciplinary Research. Together with wonderful colleague Anke de Vrieze of Wageningen UR and Åse Bjurström of University of Gothenburg, former PhD and MSc-student of mine, Natalia Eernstman and current PhD Kelli Rose Pearson, we contributed a paper to a Special Issue on ‘Interdisciplinary relationships within spaces and bodies of collaboration‘. Our paper is titled:
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.
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.
Here is the abstract. This paper is a part of Daniele’s PhD work at the University of Sao Paulo in Brazil which Pedro and I co-supervise. The paper is a first attempt to link the thinking of Paulo Freire and Humberto Maturana to each other and to emancipatory sustainability-oriented transformations in urban area’s.
This article investigates the relevance of the work of the Latin-American thinkers Humberto Maturana and Paulo Freire to learning-based transformations towards sustainability. This analysis was inspired by a case study of a Brazilian urban community seeking to develop pathways towards sustainable living and was informed by a review of their key works. The paper aims to obtain a better conceptualization of learning-based transformations and provide insights into collective learning processes focused on advancing sustainable practices. We present notions of the transformative social learning approach that underpins the case study, using the concepts of Maturana and Freire as a lens. Our results indicate the importance of a relational approach in fostering collective learning processes. Finally, we derive three principles that can guide such processes: (1) facilitating transformative interactions between people and places, (2) enabling dialogic interaction within a climate of mutual acceptance, and (3) creating space for ontological pluralism.
Together with my former PhD-student, friend and colleague in the T-Learning project (www.transgressivelearning.org) Martha Chaves I co-authored a chapter on the Nature of Transformative Learning for Social-Ecological Sustainability for this new book edited by Cornell University colleague Marianne Krasny. The vignette from the publisher’s webpage featuring the book states:
Addressing participatory, transdisciplinary approaches to local stewardship of the environment, Grassroots to Global features scholars and stewards exploring the broad impacts of civic engagement with the environment.
Chapters focus on questions that include: How might faith-based institutions in Chicago expand the work of church-community gardens? How do volunteer “nature cleaners” in Tehran attempt to change Iranian social norms? How does an international community in Baltimore engage local people in nature restoration while fostering social equity? How does a child in an impoverished coal mining region become a local and national leader in abandoned mine restoration? And can a loose coalition that transforms blighted areas in Indian cities into pocket parks become a social movement? From the findings of the authors’ diverse case studies, editor Marianne Krasny provides a way to help readers understand the greater implications of civic ecology practices through the lens of multiple disciplines.
Aniruddha Abhyankar, Martha Chaves, Louise Chawla, Dennis Chestnut, Nancy Chikaraishi, Zahra Golshani, Lance Gunderson, Keith E. Hedges, Robert E. Hughes, Rebecca Jordan, Karim-Aly Kassam, Laurel Kearns, Marianne E. Krasny, Veronica Kyle, David Maddox, Mila Kellen Marshall, Elizabeth Whiting Pierce, Rosalba Lopez Ramirez, Michael Sarbanes, Philip Silva, Traci Sooter, Erika S. Svendsen, Keith G. Tidball, Arjen E. J. Wals, Rebecca Salminen Witt, Jill Wrigley
This guide for trainers, educators and facilitators, compiled/written by Femke Gordijn, Natalia Eernstman, Jan Helder, Herman Brouwer and published by Wageningen UR’s Centre for Development Innovation (CDI), summarises methods that can be used to facilitate the process of reflection on the knowledge and experiences people acquire during a capacity development trajectory or training event. The authors believe that by explicitly integrating reflection in the learning process the learning will become clearer and better articulated and will contribute more strongly to meaningful change. They advise facilitators to deliberately include reflective learning sessions in their process design and implementation. This handbook can inspire you to do so and provides many methods which help to facilitate this. I was asked to write a Preface in which where I suggest that dealing with complex and even ’wicked’ sustainability challenges, above all, calls for learning individuals, learning organisations, learning networks and even a learning society.
“But not just any kind of learning, the kind of learning that is able to make explicit and question our assumptions, values and ways of seeing the world, learning that invites us to continuously reflect on the tensions and contradictions between them, learning that reveals the powers and inequities that tend to keep things the way they are or force us in directions we may not want to go. In other words, learning that questions the taken for granted, the normalised, the hegemonic and the routine. But also learning that enables us to make change and to transform others, and ourselves while learning from trying to do so.” (From the Preface, p6)
One of my PhD students, Le Thi Hong Phuong from Vietnam, just had her review article (with me and Robbert Biesbroek of Wageningen UR as humble co-authors) published in NJAS . In the paper she maintains that successful implementation climate change adaptation depends to a large extent on the capabilities of individuals, organizations, and communities to create and mobilize the adaptive capacity (AC) of their socio-ecological system. In the paper, creating and mobilizing AC is seens as a continuous process that requires social learning (SL). Although rich with empirical cases, the literature theorizing and empirically investigating the relationship between AC and SL is highly fragmented. This paper aims to critically examine the peer-reviewed literature that focusses on SL and AC in the context of climate change adaptation (CCA).
Special attention is paid to the interplay between the two. Understanding this interplay can help improve our understanding of how CCA takes place in practice and advances theoretical debates on CCA. Systematic review methods are used to analyse 43 papers (1997–2016). The findings reveal three perspectives that each play an important role in different contexts: an AC-focused perspective, a SL-focused perspective, and a hybrid perspective. These differences in conceptualizations of the relationship between SL and AC may seem trivial at first, but they have consequences for the design of learning-based interventions aimed at helping communities respond to climate change. It appears that such interventions need to be preceded by an analysis of the climate change context in order to decide whether to emphasize AC, SL or both simultaneously.
Still feeling very privileged and a bit lucky to be part of a very rich consortium of partners from 4 different continents – as one of 3 selected proposal out of more than 500 (!) original expressions of interest – to work on this ICSS-funded project on T-learning. The project just launched its website: http://transgressivelearning.org/ with the case studies form the 10 different countries. Here is what we are talking about:
Radical changes in society are needed for responding to climate change, and for transforming to sustainability. It is increasingly clear that people everywhere will need to learn to transform to sustainability in ways that are socially just, peaceful and ecologically sustainable.
It is now already widely known that transformations to sustainability can occur if people learn to make changes at niche level. This can drive wider social changes and regime shift transformations, especially if such forms of learning become more collective.
Transformations to sustainability do not come about easily because of ‘lock-ins’ in the system. Transformative, transgressive types of learning are needed to help ‘unlock’ the lock-ins and to strengthen wider forms of collective social learning.
Yet, we know little about the type of transformative, transgressive learning (t-learning) that enables such change.
Full reference: Lotz-Sisitka H, Wals AEJ, Kronlid D, McGarry D. (2015) ‘Transformative, transgressive social learning: rethinking higher education pedagogy in times of systemic global dysfunction’, Current Opinion in Environmental Sustainability , 16, 73-80, doi:10.1016/j.cosust.2015.07.018