Overcoming socio-ecological vulnerability through community-based social learning

LocEnvironment

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!

Transformative Sustainability-oriented Open Education

BrillBookLast

This new book published by Brill just came out and I am pleased to have been ablte contribute to its contents together with one of my colleagues from the University of Gothenburg, Anne Algers. Our chapter is part of a rich collection of chapters focusing on ways of opening education to allow for more dynamic forms of learning to emerge in a world that is trying to grapple with many of the existential and ecological crises that, both ironically and sadly, humanity itself has created. The chapter that Anne and I wrote (have look at the pre-print here: Sustainability_orientedOpenLearningAlgersWals2020) asks the question of “How can open education play a role in making academia more responsive and responsible in addressing ill-defined and ambiguous, but ever so urgent, sustainable development challenges?”  In our chapter, a case study from the field of sustainable development of food systems provides a narrative that illustrates the possible impact of open education; and the value of a culture of openness to individuals, to a community, and to society.

First, we provide a contextual background on the implications of openness in higher education. Second, we introduce the subject of sustainable development (SD) of our global food systems; and third, we discuss the concept of education for sustainable development (ESD). Fourth, by means of thick description (Geertz, 1973), we report a case study on open education which we discuss in light of learning theory, critical pedagogy, and sustainable development.

In the end we argue for a radical interpretation of open education which we refer to as transformative sustainability-oriented open education, where ”open” refers to inviting and expressing critique and marginalized perspectives in controversial societal issues, while transformative refers to enabling learners to bring about change.

Suggested citation: Algers, A. & Wals, A. J. (2020). Transformative Sustainability-Oriented Open Education. In: Conrad, D. & Prinsloo, P. (Eds.).  Open(ing) Education. (pp. 103-120). Leiden, The Netherlands: Brill | Sense. doi.org/10.1163/9789004422988_006

 

This work is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License.

Entering the Transition Twenties – 10 critical years left for deep change and transformation

Transitions

This morning I received a heart-wrenching email from an Australian colleague of mine who lives and works in Sweden but went home for the holidays to spend time with her family.

I write this letter with a very heavy heart to briefly outline the terrible bushfire crisis that continues in my homeland of Australia. I have (thankfully and gratefully) been on leave for a couple of weeks, but I fear when I return to work I will have trouble talking about this when, and if, people ask. So this note is to let you all know what I can tell you-without choking up/bursting in to tears.

She then went on describing the unfolding tragedy of the run-away wild-fires and the completely inapt, near criminal response from the government and dysfunctional culture that has been created over the years to make sure that ‘business-as-usual’ is not at risk.

Clearly, ‘business-as-usual’ is not an option; even conventional economists will agree that there are no jobs on a dead Planet. What is now desperately needed is a deep and meaningful repsonse that can unite people, rather than polarize them. Sadly, the latter continues to be happen and, even though I tend to ignore conspiracy theories, seems to be even cultivated to maintain current power and wealth distribution.

As we are entering a new decade, the twenties, I was reminded of the last twenties: the Roaring Twenties.

The Roaring Twenties – as a break in the normalized and a turn to something else

It is now 100 years when many people in the, granted, Western world, experienced the so-called Roaring Twenties. The following description is a synopsis Wikipedia.

The Roaring Twenties refers to the decade of the 1920s in Western society and Western culture that marked a period of economic prosperity with a distinctive cultural edge in the United States and Europe. In France, the decade was known as the “années folles” (‘crazy years’), emphasizing the era’s social, artistic and cultural dynamism. Jazz blossomed, the flapper redefined the modern look for British and American women and Art Deco peaked.

In many major democratic states, women won the right to vote. The right to vote had a huge impact on society.

The spirit of the Roaring Twenties was marked by a general feeling of novelty associated with modernity and a break with tradition. Everything seemed to be feasible through modern technology. New technologies, especially automobiles, moving pictures, and radio, brought “modernity” to a large part of the population.

Arguably, the Roaring Twenties also planted the seeds of unsustainability as (again borrowing from Wikipedia):

this period saw the large-scale development and use of automobiles, telephones, movies, radio, and electrical appliances being installed in the lives of thousands of Westerners. Aviation soon became a business. Nations saw rapid industrial and economic growth, accelerated consumer demand, and introduced significantly new changes in lifestyle and culture. The media, funded by the new industry of mass-market advertising driving consumer demand, focused on celebrities, especially sports heroes and movie stars, as cities rooted for their home teams and filled the new palatial cinemas and gigantic sports stadiums.

The Roaring Twenties represented a significant rupture or discontinuity that triggered a whole new way of living (and, yes, we must acknowledge, not for everyone, everywhere, and yes, as we know now, at the expense of the carrying capacity of the Earth) and shows that radical shifts at a large scale can happen in a relatively short period of time.

Entering the Transition Twenties…?

As the world is burning and not just metaphorically, as exemplified by runaway climate change, extreme loss of biodiversity, collapse of fragile ecosystems and the ever more tangible consequences of all this in our daily lives (in terms of stress, fear, anxiety for those still having the possibility to sit down behind a computer and ponder this over and blog about it, but in very real terms for those who need to flee, run, abandon, resort to poverty, etc.,  as is the case for (hundreds of) millions of people elsewhere in the world), we need another rupture to overcome systemic global dysfunction.

Now that 2020 has begun, we have 10 years towards 2030, the year in which the  17 SDGs need to be realized, the year that runaway climate change needs to be ‘under control,’ to turn the tide.  The very resilient practices of ‘business-as-usual’ that normalise growth thinking, individualism, inequality, anthropocentrism, exclusion, and even catastrophes (there are so many catastrophes going on everywhere in one way or another, that it leads to a kind of acceptance and a kind of psyching numbing – which is not going to help dealing with them).

So let us start looking for, contribute to and build on all these niches, networks and innovations are fortunately also all around us, that seek to disrupt these normalized practices by not only questioning them but by providing alternative ones with (all) People and (the whole) Earth in mind. See as an example the figure below from Mark Beam’s ‘The World We Want Project’. For me, a key question is: how can education in all forms connect with these niches, networks and innovations? How can people learn from them, how can they contribute to them? How can we create sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning that can pave the way for a systemic transformation of the way ‘we’  (and ‘we’ is not all of us, I must say, either by force or by choice) we live on this Earth? Feel free to enter your response below!

WorldWeWant

Just before posting this I searched for ‘Transition Twenties’  on the Web and found that several others are talking about this as well! One blog post from a fellow 4TU-Colleague at Delft University blogged about this about this one week ago. See his blog here: Aldert Kamp’s Blog-Post on Entering the Transition Twenties in relation to Engineering Education but, for the Dutch readers, there is also a nice article available in the Volkskrant from December 27th by Wilma de Rek: De transition twenties breken aan – minder zal meer zijn

More ideas please via Twitter using #transitiontwenties

 

Imaginative Disruptions: Creating Place- and Arts-based Responses to Climate Urgency

Imaginative disruptions

The Video

Taking place in 3 countries (Sweden, United Kingdom and The Netherlands) three ‘collective residencies’ brought together an intergenerational group of people who played, ate, (re)imagined, learned and created together, to design alternative futures around a selected ‘glocal’ issue, and explore what needs to be disrupted to realise these imagined realities; what is working with us and what is working against us? Two hopeful examples of local residents and one from academia show the power of arts-based approaches and the importance of hope and lightheartedness. The research was initiated and led by former MSc and PhD-students of mine, Natalia Eernstman

You can find more information and a link to the video here: Imaginative Disruptions Video

The Research

Imaginative Disruptions was a two-year creative research project that explored the transgressive potential of art and making to engage groups of citizens and experts in imaginative conceptions of alternative environmental narratives.

Underneath the project is the assumption that the structures and mind-sets of our modern society have made unsustainable living the default and sustainable living the exception. Acknowledging that environmental issues occur in the every-day lives of people rather than on drawing boards of technocrats, implies that designing and transitioning towards a more environmentally sustainable alternative should include citizen, lay or situated knowledges.  There are some signs that such knowledge is recognized and demanded in both science and society (e.g. the push for citizen science and multi-stakeholder social learning). However, the practical realisation of processes that include public dialogue, in which citizens become critics and creators of knowledge, are fairly under-developed.

Here are some of the things we aimed to find out:

What arrangements and conditions are needed to disrupt daily routines and generate new ones?

Does the recognition and inclusion of situated knowledges generate radically different perspectives on how we can live well and environmentally, or do they represent the fine-tuning and, thereby, the maintenance of the status quo?

What happens if you put adults and children in the same learning arrangement and invite them to learn, play and experiment collectively? Chaos or…?

(How) is the knowledge produced through this heterogenous, vernacular, artistic, non-hierarchical and intergenerational process ‘useful’ to the community in question and a wider subject arena around it?  

What is the added value of creative / artistic techniques in the social learning that will take place?

The ‘data’ of the research project emerged from the residencies with people talking, creating and reflecting together. We aimed to collect what the residencies generate in ways that don’t disrupt the activities, and allow us record things that we didn’t know we were going to document in advance.

More background information can be found on our Imaginative Disruptions website here: Imaginative Disruptions Home Page.

Imaginative_2

The Funding

The project was funded by the Swedish SEEDBox small grant scheme for innovative approached to education and research aimed at realizing a more sustainable world.

Klimaatdepressie – de iets genuanceerdere versie van de Nieuwsuur reportage…

Nieuwsuur

Onlangs zond Nieuwsuur een reportage uit over een nieuw fenomeen: eco-angst en klimaatdepressie. In de uitzending kwamen verschillende mensen aan het woord – helaas enkel vrouwen – die hun gevoelens uitten. Aan het eind van de uitzending interviewde programmamaker Jeroen Wollaars een ‘klimaatexpert’  uit de VS (een man) Michael Shellenberger die aangaf dat het allemaal niet zo’n vaart zal lopen, dat het smelten van ijsmassa’s pas over 1000 jaar echt een probleem zal worden in het minst gunstige scenario (volgens IPCC…), dat er nog nooit iemand is dood gegaan aan klimaatverandering, dat technologie, waaronder kernenergie, oplossingen biedt en dan mensen de bijzondere gave hebben zich aan te passen. Beweringen die deels onwaar zijn en deels kloppen en mensen makkelijk op het verkeerde been kunnen zetten.

De teneur was: we moeten nu niet hysterisch gaan doen want dat kan wel eens aanstekelijk gaan werken en dan zadelen we veel mensen op onnodig veel stress voor niets. Voor de mensen die hun zorgen uitspraken in de uitzending moet het een klap in het gezicht geweest zijn dat Nieuwsuur de reportage afsloot met climate crisis denier Shellenberger (een columnist van Forbes Magazine, en ook een lobbyist voor kernenergie – zie voor een kritiek op hem: kritiek op Shellenberg.

GetYourselfAJob

Omdat ik samen met Opleidingsdirecteur Climate Studies en Environmental Sciences) Marjo Lexmond van Wageningen UR ook in de reportage zat – met een wel zeer beknopte bijdrage over hoe we in het onderwijs omgaan met dergelijke gevoelens (die ook onder studenten spelen, zie Kari-Anne van der Zon in de reportage) – heb ik na-afloop per mail contact gelegd met de reportage maker Hans Kema.

Ik heb aangegeven dat de reportage op zich niet verkeerd was (alhoewel ik het opnemen van de collectieve huilgeluiden van een sessie bij Artis voor mensen die hun gevoelens willen delen hierover onnodig vond, ook omdat het onderwerp daarmee in een bepaalde hoek wordt gezet, terwijl de gevoelens rondom duurzaamheid en klimaar steeds meer mainstream worden) maar dat het afsluitende interview een klap in het gezicht was voor de mensen die zich toch aardig kwetsbaar hadden opgesteld in de reportage. Hij gaf aan alleen verantwoordelijk te zijn voor de reportage en niet voor het daaropvolgende studio-interview. Wel zou hij mijn reactie doorgeven aan Jeroen Wollaars, de presentator van Nieuwsuur die het interview hield.

Het siert Wollaars dat hij mij kort daarna terug mailde om de keuze voor Shellenberg toe te lichten. Kort gezegd – Nieuwsuur wil ook altijd ‘de andere kant’ van het verhaal laten horen en een onderwerp vanuit verschillende perspectieven belichten. Shellenberger is volgens hem een internationaal bekende expert op het terrein van klimaatwetenschap. Nu snap ik dat het goed is een onderwerp vanuit verschillende perspectieven te belichten maar toch slaat de redactie hier de plank volledig mis. Ten eerste is de wetenschap helder: de bedreiging is van een enorme omvang en betreft de hele planeet en we hebben niet zo heel veel tijd, schattingen varieren van 7 tot 30 jaar, om onze leefstijlen, productiesystemen, economieen, etc. zodanig anders in te richten dat we het tij nog een beetje kunnen keren. Ofwel, er is wat dit betreft geen ‘andere kant’, hooguit kunnen we verschillen over de wijze waarop we te werk moeten gaan. Verder zijn er grote vraagtekens te zetten bij de expert Shellenberger (zie link hierboven) – waarom hij is gekozen en niet een van de vele klimaatdeskundigen die Nederland rijk is vind ik vreemd. Ten slotte, als je dan andere perspectieven wilt laten zien, nodig dan een psycholoog uit die praat over coping-strategieen of laat initiatieven zien in huishoudens, straten, wijken en bedrijven die al bezig zijn met een transitie naar duurzamere energie, duurzamere voeding, etc. Het is niet alleen maar ‘doom and gloom’  er zijn ook hoopvolle handelingsperspectieven te vinden over de hele wereld. De laatste suggestie deed Wielaars af met iets in de trant van ‘we zijn geen goed nieuwshow en zoeken het debat op.’ (mijn interpretatie)

Tot mijn vreugde heeft Nieuwsuur, inclusief Jeroen Wollaars, nu, twee weken later, een remake gemaakt van de reportage, die genuanceerder is – mede door het goede begeleidende verhaal van Wollaars zelf en door het feit dat Shellenberger niet vrij spel meer heeft en beperkt wordt gehouden door de essentie van zijn mening.

Deze versie is hier te zien Re-make Nieuwsuurreportage Klimaatstress

 

The Transgressive Gardner: Cultivating Learning-based Transformations Towards Re-generative Futures – PhD Thomas Macintyre

On December 18th Thomas Macintyre successfully defended his PhD in the Aula of Wageningen University. His thesis is one of the most original one’s that I have been involved in. Thomas chose to decenter the published work in peer-reviewed journals by putting them in the appendix, instead focusing on a thick description of the key concepts, the living spiral model that emerged from the research within the context of the wider T-learning Network (see: http://www.transgressivelearning.org), his personal journey, the three Colombian communities he worked with, his re-framing of Participatory Action Research into Transgressive Action Research, and the creative, unconventional methods used during the research (like Dragon Dreaming). The result is a highly accessible, richly illustrated, inspiring thesis which can be downloaded (including all the published work here: https://library.wur.nl/WebQuery/wurpubs/557436). Below you will find a short summary of the work and an image of the Living Spiral. Thomas was also supervised by Education & Learning Sciences Colleague, Dr. Valentina Tassone.

Summary

This thesis represents a transgressive journey into the quest for answers in the nexus be­tween education, sustainability, and climate change. The point of departure is our shared planetary crossroads: In one direction we have the beaten path of the status quo, replete with, socio-ecological injustice, ephemeral prospects of technological salvation, and a highly probable end to the human race as we know it. Branching off to all other sides, however, are the more overgrown and uncertain paths representing alternative futures, some of which may lead to future prosperity for all. In a world seemingly spiraling out of control, the ques­tion of our time is whether we have the will and drive to step off the known but destructive path we are on, and break into unknown but possibly liberating terrain.

The contention of this thesis is that, yes, such a collective decision is possible, but depends on the need to ‘transgress’ – move beyond – structures, paradigms, and norms which maintain the status quo. This thesis argues that learning-based transformations are needed for such transgressions to take place, based on disruptive capacity building and action-based change across diverse sectors of society. The main research question is: To what extent can trans­gressive learning, as a more radical form of learning-based change, lead towards more regenerative transformations?

Addressing the need for more action-based narratives of grassroots resistance to climate change, this thesis is based on empirical research (2016-2018) in Colombia, as part of the international project called ‘Transgressive Social Learning for Social-Ecological Sustainability in Times of Change’ (acronym T-learning), funded by the International Science Council (ISC). Making up the Colombian case study of the T-Learning project, this research is an action research project involving various grassroots initiatives in Colombia, from which co-resear­chers from participating communities have actively participated in the investigation.

This thesis has four key findings. First, if we are looking to overcome deep, structural sustai­nability challenges, which are highly resilient and resistant to change, then forms of learning which engage multiple stakeholders in a critical, reflective, disruptive and regenerative way, are crucial. Second, engaging in such learning demands special researcher qualities of cou­rage, empathy, and reflection, as well as the ability to take a step back from a process and to reevaluate one’s purpose. Third, in terms of levers and barriers to transgressive learning, it is fundamental to be reflexively aware of what such learning may lead to, promoting a strong transformative process which can harness disruptions in a generative way through balan­cing disruptive and empathic elements. Fourth, transgressive learning requires careful design to insure there is a diversity of actors and perspectives present, as well as a facilitator with a toolbox of methods to insure the space is a safe and reflexive environment, which promotes collaboration and meaningful empathic communication between participants.

Klimaat en duurzaamheid in het basisonderwijs – een voorbeeld uit Groenlo

 

EenVandaag maakte onderstaande reportage waaraan ik mocht bijdragen. Het is hoopvol dat van onderop scholen hier mee aan de slag gaan en dat vanuit Curriculum.Nu ons toekomstige onderwijs structureel meer ruimte gaat krijgen voor ecologische basisvorming en vakoverstijgende thema’s die van levensbelang zijn! Hier de link

https://eenvandaag.avrotros.nl/embed/523833/?no_cache=1