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

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

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


Transformative Sustainability-oriented Open Education


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.


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

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.


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…


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.


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


Sustainability-oriented Ecologies of Learning as a Response to Systemic Global Dysfunction – new book chapter

EcologiesofLearning.pngEcologies for Learning and Practice edited by Ronald Barnett and Andrew Jackson, provides the first systematic account of the ideas of learning ecologies and ecologies of practice and locates the two concepts within the context of our contemporary world. It focuses on how individuals and society are being presented with all manner of learning challenges arising from fluidities and disruptions, which extend across all domains of life. This book examines emerging ways of understanding and living purposively in these new fluidities and provides fresh perspectives on the way we learn and achieve in such dynamic contexts.

Providing an insight into the research of a range of internationally renowned contributors, this book explores diverse topics from the higher education and adult learning worlds. These include:

  • The challenges faced by education systems today
  • The concept of ecologies for learning and practice
  • The role and responsibility of higher education institutions in advancing ecological approaches to learning
  • The different eco-social systems of the world—local and global, economic, cultural, practical, technological, and ethical
  • How adult learners might create and manage their own ecologies for learning and practice in order to sustain themselves and flourish

With its proposals for individual and institutional learning in the 21st century and concerns for our sustainability in a fragile world, Ecologies for Learning and Practice is an essential guide for all who seek to encourage and facilitate learning in a world that is fundamentally ecological in nature.

In the chapter I contributed I argue that the current sustainability crisis demands a radical re-orientation of the way we learn. I consider sustainability to be an emergent property of an ecology of learning that is reflexive purposeful cocktail of actors, perspectives, forms or learning, connections and support mechanisms, driven by an ethical concern for the wellbeing of people and planet both now and in the future. Sustainability-oriented learning then becomes an organic and relational process of continuous framing, reframing, tuning and fine-tuning, disruption and accommodation, and action and reflection, which is guided by a moral compass inspired by an ethic of care. Such learning implies or even demands a certain freedom to explore alternative paths of development and new ways of thinking, valuing and doing.

The chapter introduces sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning as a blended learning space where multiple actors, often having different backgrounds, co-create sustainability organically using a variety of tools, relations, and forms of learning. The concept of whole school or whole institution approaches is introduced as a way to enact such ecologies of learning in a systemic way (see the figure below from the 2016 Global Education Monitor Report published by UNESCO).

Full reference: Wals, A.E.J. (2019) Sustainability-oriented Ecologies of Learning as a response to systemic global dysfunction In: Learning Ecologies: Sightings, possibilities, and emerging practices Ronald Barnett and Norman Jackson (Eds.), London: Taylor & Francis. p. xx-xxx

Here is a link to the book on the publisher’s website!


An ecology of learning created by a whole school approach to sustainability (source Global Education Monitoring Report, UNESCO, 2016)

Should and Can Education Save the Planet? ECER2019 Keynote now online


Last month I attended the European Conference on Educational Research (ECER in Hamburg this year. Around 3000 participants from over 60 countries attended the conference. Since the overall theme was ‘Education in an Era of Risk – the Role of Educational Research for the Future’ I had the honor of being asked as one of the plenary keynote speakers, as was my good colleague and friend Heila Lotz-Sisitka from Rhodes University in South Africa who, like myself, is a member of ECER/EERA’s subnetwork on Environmental and Sustainability Education (Network 30), one of the youngest and rapidly expanding networks.

The title of my talk was: Should and Can Education Save the Planet? In the talk I outlined the current global sustainability challenges form a learning perspective and I introduced the concept of sustainability-oriented ecologies of learning. I also introduced the notion of sustainability Bildung in which Biesta’s three tasks of education are reconfigured with Planet in mind to become eco-subjectification, eco-socialization and eco-qualification.

You can watch the full keynote here (also understandable for the deaf and hearing impaired as the talk was kindly supported with sign language).

Here is the official ECER2019 abstract of the keynote.

Education unwillingly has become a key mechanism for fostering economic development, innovation and growth. In the meantime, humanity is facing a range of sustainability issues that include: rising inequity, loss of democracy, runaway climate change and mass extinction. These issues can be so overwhelming that they can easily lead to apathy and despair which will only make them bigger. We appear to be at a tipping point where the decisions we make about how to live together will be crucial for the future of our planet. There is no better time than now to ask:  What is education for? What if education would serve people and planet rather than just or mainly economic interests?  Is this a role education should play? And, if so, what does such an education look like?

Based on emerging research and practices from around the world, I will sketch forms of education and learning that are: responsive, responsible and transformative in light of global sustainability challenges. Sustainability here is not seen as another subject to be added to an overcrowded curriculum, but rather as a continuous quest for finding ways to live more equitably, meaningfully and healthier on the Earth without compromising planetary boundaries and the futures of the coming generations. Such a quest requires a more relational pedagogy that can help establish deeper connections with people, places and other species. Such a pedagogy not only invites reflection on values and ethics, and the utilization of diversity, but also the critiquing and transgressing of the structures and systems that make living unsustainably easy and living sustainably hard.


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!


“Sustainability” in higher education: from doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning


In times of systemic global dysfunction, post-truth, alternative facts, cultivated doubt and the erosion of meaning, I found it useful to turn back, once again, to George Orwell’s infamous “1984”.  Well over 10 years ago, in 2004, I co-authored a paper on the danger of ‘doublespeak’ and ‘Newspeak’ in relation to the integration of sustainability in higher education. Back then this was an emerging trend, nowadays, it sometimes signifies a transition in education but more often little more than rethoric and green gloss. For me this is a good reason to re-introduce this paper here with Orwell’s cautionary tale but also with some ideas about how to move forward responsibly. Below an excerpt from the paper which you can find here in its totality:  Jickling and Wals Orwell’s Cautionary Tale

Wals, A.E.J. & Jickling, B. (2002). “Sustainability” in Higher Education from doublethink and newspeak to critical thinking and meaningful learning. Higher Education Policy, vol. 15, 121-131.  SustinHEOrwellsCautionaryTale

“Sustainability talk can, when used by advocates with radically different ideas about what should be sustained, mask central issues under the false pretense of a shared understanding, set of values and common vision of the future.

However, critical thought depends on transcendent elements in ordinary language, the words and ideas that reveal assumptions and worldviews, and the tools to mediate
differences between contesting value systems. And worse still, sustainability talk can
lead us in the direction of Orwell’s (1989) famously satirical notion of “doublethink”
whereby ordinary citizens can increasingly hold in their minds contradictory meanings
for the same term and accept them both (Orwell, 1989, p. 223).

The power of universal discourse in reducing meaning to a minimum is such that, as in “1984”, antagonistic concepts can be conjoined in a single phrase (“war is peace”, “peace is war”) or concept (i.e. “sustainable growth”) (Jickling, 2001). Big Brother’s “Newspeak” was designated not to extend but to diminish the range of thought, and this purpose was
indirectly assisted by cutting down the choice of words to a minimum (Orwell, 1989,
p. 313).

In Newspeak concepts capable of opposing, contradicting or transcending
the status quo were liquidated. As a result of this devaluation of language the people
in “1984” found themselves in a state of linguistic dysfunction which was exactly
what Big Brother wanted (Jickling, 2001).

Seen this way sustainability tends to blur the very distinctions required to evaluate an issue thoughtfully. When comparing the sustaining of ecological processes with the sustaining of consumerism we immediately see inconsistencies and incompatibilities of values, yet many people, conditioned to think that sustainability is inherently good, will promote both at the same time.”

Using a social learning configuration to increase Vietnamese smallholder farmers’ adaptive capacity to respond to climate change


Link to the T&F site for the article

My former PhD-student Le Thi Hong Phuong now has a fourth paper from her dissertation which she only defended a few months ago, accepted in Local Environment a T&F journal on justice and sustainability (one of the oldest journals in this area!). Here is the abstract:

Social learning is crucial for local smallholder farmers in developing countries to improve their adaptive capacity and to adapt to the current and projected impacts of climate change. While it is widely acknowledged that social learning is a necessary condition for adaptation, few studies have systematically investigated under which conditions particular forms of social learning are most successful in improving adaptive capacity of the most vulnerable groups. This study aims to design, implement and evaluate a social learning configuration in a coastal community in Vietnam. We make use of various methods during four workshop-based interventions with local smallholder farmers: interviews with key farmers and commune leaders, farmer-to-farmer learning, participatory observations and focus group discussions. The methods for evaluation of social learning configuration include in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and structured survey interviews. Our findings show that the social learning configuration used in this study leads to an increased problem ownership, an enhanced knowledge-base with regard to climate change impacts and production adaptation options, improved ability to see connections and interdependencies and finally, strengthened relationships and social cohesion. The results suggest that increased social learning in the community leads to increase in adaptive capacity of smallholder farmers and improves both their economic and environmental sustainability. We discuss the key lessons for designing learning configurations that can successfully enhance adaptive capacity and smallholder farmers’ agency and responsiveness to the challenges posed by climate change impacts.


Environmental Education in Asia – Special Issue in the Japanese Journal of EE


This special issue edited by Shinichi Furihata and Sachi Ninomiya-Lim from Tokyo University of Agriculture and Technology and Tokai University respectively,  is the result of a 2-year collaborative project involving environmental education (EE) societies/ associations from Japan, Korea, Taiwan, North America, and Australia. In the editorial introduction the following is stated:

“The aim of the project was to create a platform to share ideas, practices, and theories of EE in the Asian region, with English as the common language. The discussion was organized around five core themes: 1) Development, current situation, and challenges of EE in formal education; 2) Development, current situation, and challenges of EE in non-formal education; 3) Research trends in EE; 4) Insights for EE in Asia from outside of Asia; 5) Review, comparison, and synthesis of findings to go beyond a presentation of EE in various countries and instead highlight the recurring transversal issues. We hope this special issue will contribute to furthering dialogue among EE scholars and practitioners in Asia, and to building bridges between EE in Asia and other regions.

The Japanese Journal of Environmental Education (JJEE), published by the JSOEE/JSFEE since 1991, has provided EE researchers and practitioners with an important space to share their ideas, thoughts, methods, and evaluative analyses, and to participate in theoretical discussions, etc., similar to many EE journals published in other countries and regions. However, since most of JJEE articles are written in Japanese (with summaries in English), its readership is essentially limited to Japanese language users, most of whom reside in Japan. Thus, although the JJEE has become a critical platform for communication among Japanese EE researchers and practitioners, there is a need to expand these discussions to a wider, global network, so that Japanese EE professionals may participate in international and transnational debates on issues of wider relevance in EE. Similarly, EE research in different journals published in Asian countries, including Korea and Taiwan, is mostly written in the local language and is therefore largely inaccessible to people who do not read these languages. The aim of this special issue, therefore, was to create a space where such discussions may be shared and connected. In addition, we decided to invite several prominent international researchers to provide their insights, ideas, and suggestions on developing EE in Asia, increasing Asian participation in the global EE arena, and promoting collaboration on EE with different countries and regions around the world.”

I was asked to write a reflective response paper together with Peter Blaze Corcoran and Joseph Weakland in which we look ahead to the future of EE in the region and beyond. Our paper titles “Preparing for the Ecocene: Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education” is based on the introduction to the recent book we edited for Wageningen Academic Publishers (see elsewhere in this blog). All papers are available as open-access and can be found here: Link to the entire Special Issue  You can find our closing paper in which we introduce the notion of the imaginary Ecocene here: Preparing for the Ecocene: Envisioning futures for environmental and sustainability education

Sustainability by Default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education


The above illustration comes from the new Harvard MOOC on Early Childhood Development and Sustainability

This new paper will be part of a special issue on early childhood education and sustainable development. I wrote the piece  based on a keynote address presented at the 68th OMEP World Assembly and International Conference held in Seoul in July 2016. In the paper I argue that children are more in tune with sustainability than most adults and that both adults and children can benefit from intergenerational dialogue and expanded learning opportunities in so-called ecologies of learning. First the idea of growing up in the Anthropocene, the new geological epoch that is shaped by one single species, home sapiens, is introduced. What does growing up in the Anthropocene mean for today’s children? A short critique is provided of the neoliberal forces that increasingly influence what happens in education and care settings and that essentially make unsustainability the default in our society. Drawing on Martin Buber’s ideas of relational ways of being in the world; Nell Nodding’s notions of care; and George Siemen’s ideas about learning ecologies, some suggestions are offered for co-creating early childhood education and care with people and the planet in mind.

The paper ends with the following: “What seems critical is that children encounter a multiplicity of different worlds by crossing boundaries, both individually and together, and having bodily experiences that strengthen their relationality with the human, the non-human and the material. It is through these encounters that agency, care and empathy can develop. All three of these qualities are foundational for a world that is more sustainable than the one currently in prospect.

Citation: Wals, A.E.J. (2017) Sustainability by default: Co-creating Care and Relationality Through Early Childhood Education, International Journal of Early Childhood Education doi:10.1007/s13158-017-0193-5

Note that this is an open access publication that can be downloaded for free here: Sustainability by default