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.
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
This Special Issue, to which I contributed, represents a worthwhile collection of properly reviewed scientific papers on a timely topic published by one of MDPI’s journals Water about the Potential of Serious Games to Solve Water Problems and the Use of Game-Based Approaches to Sustainable Water Governance. The Special Issue contains 12 full papers and an editorial introduction – all open-access and freely downloadable. Here is the link: https://www.mdpi.com/journal/water/special_issues/Game-based-Water-Governance
Full disclosure: I have been rather critical of publisher MDPI in the way it commodifies scientific publishing see: https://transformativelearning.nl/2018/12/04/publish-and-perish-how-the-commodification-of-scientific-publishing-is-undermining-both-science-and-the-public-good/.
Ecologies 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)
Recently I have been receiving messages that the short two-minute pitch Wageningen UR recorded a few years ago and which generated quite some interest, could no longer be found or reached when looking for it on the Internet via a browser or on YouTube. Strangely, I had no problem when clicking on the link I had stored in my laptop which is why initially I did not give it much attention until a few weeks ago I received three messages about this in one day. I could not figure out what the problem was but at last someone figured out that the two-minute pitch’s status was changed by the account manager of Wageningen UR’s YouTube channel (or someone with access to the account) from ‘public’ to ‘private’. Hopefully it works again for everybody… you can click on the image or the link above to check.
It appears that the clip is public again and can be used to help advocate the importance of re-orienting teaching and learning towards sustainability, which is needed today even more that 4 years ago when this was taped… Feel free to share or comment!
IF YOU FIND IT IS STILL NOT ACCESSIBLE – SEND ME A MESSAGE IN THE COMMENT BOX!
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.
Recently a new paper I co-authored with lead author Daniele Tubino Souza and second co-author Pedro Jacobi appeared in Environmental Education Research – see: https://doi.org/10.1080/13504622.2019.1641183 or click: Relational Pedagogy Freire & Maturana
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 Alice Aubert and Wietske Medema I co-authored a review paper on the designng and assessing of game-based approaches for sustainable water governance. In the paper we try to map these approaches using a heuristic that is derived from work Bob Jickling and I did well over 10 years ago on the positioning of sustainability-oriented education and learning. The resulting paper you can find below. Here is the abstratc. Disclosure: The paper appears in the journal Water which is part of MDPI whose publishing model I critiqued in an earlier blog post.
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!
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?
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
- 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!
Today I found out that the world lost a great African Environmental and Sustainability Educator: Dr. Victor Tichaona Pesanayia.
Tich Pesanayi (07/12/1965 – 16/04/2019)
Tich was a gentle, kind and understanding person with Mandela-like qualities. From the first day I met him in Howick, KwaZulu-Natal, he impressed and inspired me – he radiated calmness and wisdom and proved to be a masterful facilitator when we worked with a group from the University of Zululand with colleagues from Wageningen at WESSA.He later involved me in his PhD work as one of his supervisors, although my role was modest and I sometimes think I learnt more from him than the other way around. Just days before his passing he managed to attend the graduation ceremony at Rhodes University.
Tich at his graduation at Rhodes University with his main supervisor and co-learner Heila Lotz-Sisitka
Life is not fair, we know that, but it hurts every time we witness it. I know he was a very religious man with faith – I am sure this provided him a lot of comfort. How wonderful that he was able to attend the gradation ceremony still.
I wish his family and loved ones lots of strength in coping with this tremendous loss. Rest assured though that he touched so many lives and his impact will travel much further still.
Below I am sharing the tribute to him from Mumsie Gumede, the president of the Environmental Education Association of Southern Africa EESA.
“We are immensely saddened by the passing of Dr Victor Tichaona Pesanayi, fondly known in our sector as Tich; a friend, colleague, teacher, scholar, mentor, leader, researcher, prolific writer, visionary activist for environmental education in the sub-region, and our Secretary General.
This comes a week after we celebrated his graduation with a PhD in Education at Rhodes University, South Africa.
Tich made his debut in our organisation, EEASA, and regional sector at large during the times of the POEM – a schools’ environmental policy programme that was run by Environment Africa, Zimbabwe, under the leadership and mentorship of Innocent Hodzonge. Some will recall his EEASA 2004 remarkable presentation which was fully subscribed to the point that Janet Snow, the Treverton Colleges conference organizer had to make additional slots available in the programme. Others will remember him during the thorough research and feedback workshops at EEASA 2006 in Harare when EEASA and the SADC Regional Environmental Education Programme (SADC-REEP) were paving the way for bottom up participation in the 2005-1014 UN Decade on Education for Sustainable Development (UNDESD). The research he did with Prof. Heila Sisitka, Dr Lausanne Olvitt and Mumsie Gumede was subsequently published through Share-Net as a series of written reports. Some UNESCO Commissioners and EE practitioners will remember him for the UNDESD mid-term evaluation research workshops in the SADC sub-region, working with the SADC REEP team and Prof. Overson Chumba, Zambia. He later joined WESSA in Howick to take over the SADC-REEP management baton from Dr Justin Lupele, Mumsie Gumede, Mike Ward and Dr Jim Taylor with amazing fortitude; hitting the ground running, as the programme was just evolving into a different stage.
Tich contributed to EEASA in many ways. He served in the EEASA Council since 2007 and played a strategic role in keeping EEASA, SADC REEP, and SADC EE Networks together. This work was so strategic that he was co-opted into Council a number of times to support specific areas that enhance the regionalization and scaling of (ESD) through EEASA. Whether he was elected, co-opted or merely volunteering as an ordinary member, his contributions were always profound and insightful. In a way, he was the back-bone of the EEASA Council for many years! He researched and wrote articles on EEASA nodes and networks, and introduced a number of people to the Association as he traversed the region, and indeed the globe, representing the sub-regional ESD voice….”multiple voices, diversity of contributing voices, convergence (solidarity) and divergence of voices, and silent voices…”, in conversation with Tich, Feb 2019.
On Thursday, 11 April 2019 Tich graduated with his PhD from Rhodes University to his and his family’s joy. His PhD was not just written in words, it was realized in the lives of the many people he worked with over the course of his study, including a number of young scholars whom he mentored, some of whom were introduced to EEASA such as Keneilwe Mathaba, Phindi Sithole, Chisala Lupele, and Sarah Durr all of whom have much to offer EEASA in future. Tich would have wanted the next generation to take on the task of carrying EEASA forward where he left it off. His mentorship is aptly captured by the Muxombo Youth Group in Alice who are part of the Amanzi for Food training programme:“The work of Mr. Tich lives through us today at eSixekwe location! Sobonana kwelizayo mnumzana.”
Indeed, Tichaona’s contributions to EEASA are deep and strong, eternally captured in his prolific academic writing and book contributions. His PhD is one that can provide leadership for the SADC sub-region for many years to come. This is the citation that was read on his PhD study on Thursday morning at his PhD graduation:
“African communities have been disconnected from land, and from traditional agro-ecological practices including seed saving and water harvesting. In this study Tichaona recovers African cultures of agriculture. Working generatively with agricultural colleges and farmers in South Africa and Zimbabwe he re-centres the smallholder farmer in agricultural education and learning systems. His expansive, boundary-crossing learning network approach to transformative learning in agricultural learning systems offers a new model for agricultural education and training in Africa with significant theoretical and practical implications”.
Our hearts go out to his dear wife Amanda, his mother and the broader family. We thank them for sharing this kind giant with us at home and away from home. May they be comforted by the knowledge that it was not in vain as accolades keep coming in for Tich from all over the world.
“…I remember him very well from various meetings and I always enjoyed working together. Warmest condolences”Alexander Leicht, UNESCO, Paris, France.
“At SWEDESD we are honored and blessed to have known Dr Victor Tichaona Pesanayi. His passing is a loss for the environment and sustainability community, EEASA, SADC, and the UNESCO Global Action Programme. I cannot say in words what he has done for the sector and those who came to know him. Although we have lost him, his legacy as a model in our professional and personal life – no one can take away….”Dr Shepherd Urenje, SWEDESD, University of Uppsala, Sweden.
“Tichaona has left us a beautiful legacy. He has taught many of us how to live a life of kindness, care and always show the greatest generosity of spirit and mind. He will be sadly missed at the ELRC, in EEASA, in SADC and elsewhere”Prof Heila Lotz-Sisitka, Rhodes University
“I will miss Tich, a humble and dedicated personality who loved to touch everyone with care. I have always enjoyed working with Tich, and every time he spent a weekend in Windhoek he insisted that we go together to the Seventh Day Adventist Church…..” Dr Alex Kanyimba, University of Namibia, Windhoek, Namibia
“Even when his health was failing him, he actively participated in the last EEASA Conference in Zambia with zeal and dedication. He chaired sessions and volunteered to manage some sessions. Tich was a great listener and thoughtful person.”Dr Justin Lupele, Education for Sustainable Development Specialist, Managing Consultant Beehive Associates Limited, Zambia
Much love and honor to a truly great man, a caring friend, a Room 20 study mate, and OUR cherished Comrade in education that translates to sustainability in all practices – in thinking, learning, living and development. He will be missed by many but never will he be forgotten by those who were fortunate enough to have known him”… Dr Presha Ramsarup, Dr Caleb Mandikonza, Dr Dick Kachilonda
Dear Tich, although our words may never tell the full story of the man you were, may we grow with and grow from your legacy – let our appreciation and respect for your contributions be seen in the growth of EEASA and all that you stood for.”
17 April 2019
In May I will be part of, what promises to be, and exciting one-day Masterclass in Gothenburg about the art of being a researcher in turbulent times of fake news and climate change.
Climate scientists regularly emit dire warnings illustrating dangerous changes to the oceans and atmosphere. At the same time there’s a lack of connection between the facts drawn from climate science and the immediate motivations required to drive active prioritisation of climate action
This gap between fact and action is possibly most staggering at universities. As their academics publish one distressing fact after, universities largely continue with business as usual. This is arguably because climate science primarily originates from epistemologies that prioritise measurability and predictability of climate change rather than interpretative, subjective approaches that deal with people’s perceptions of change and their ability to respond. From a positivist position, scientists are expected to separate themselves from their subject. In the case of climate change, where the researcher is inherently part of the social and climatological system that they are researching, such assumed separation and exemption of action is proving to become fatal.
We invite academics of all stripes and disciplines to reinvent the role of the researcher to be reliable authors of facts, as well as pioneers in acting upon those facts. We will explore what it means to be impacted by and embedded in our research whilst retaining a degree of scientific distance and composure. How can we be a researcher/scientist, as well as a parent, community member and essentially human living in these increasingly complex and confusing times? What are the unique attributes that a researcher brings to this matter and what (new) epistemologies fit this reimagined position?
Hosted by former Carl Bennet Guest Professor in Education for Sustainable Development Arjen Wals and his international colleagues, the day aims to radically shift our perspectives and research practice. The session will draw from the results of the international research project Imaginative Disruptions, funded by The Seed Box.
The Masterclass is free and lunch will be provided, but places are limited and must be booked in advance here. We will take bookings until the 23rd of May.
For more information please contact Åse Bjurström on email@example.com
In collaboration with the University of Gothenburg
Over the past three years I have been fortunate to be a part of an ISSC supported Transformative Knowledge Network (TKN) called the T-Learning Network (see: T-Learning Network Website). The network has yielded several highly cited academic papers but, fortunately, also more practical ideas, concepts and tools. Three young and talented people in the network -Thomas Macintyre, Martha Chaves and Dylan McGary – co-created a lovely guide in both Spanish and English introducing one of the networks most exciting ideas: the Living Spiral Framework. This guide is targeted at researchers and practitioners interested in sharing their research into transformative and transgressive learning in the field of sustainability, climate change, and social and environmental justice.
In the introduction the guide states:
“We can understand transformative learning as transformations in beliefs, values and practices in a way that helps us live a more socially and ecologically responsible way. Delving deeper into the intricacies of transformation, we arrive at the emerging field of ‘transgressive learning,” a critical and action-oriented form of learning which challenges normalised systems which have become oppressive and detrimental to life.
We believe questioning our unsustainable beliefs, worldviews and practices as well as offering alternatives, is needed for such deeper learning to occur and transgress. To achieve this we need voices and narratives from actors within and outside of academia: from social learning facilitators, to indigenous shamen; from the city-based sustainability practitioners to the rural farmer, to have different perspectives on understanding transformation towards sustainability.
This guide provides a step-by-step guide for discovering how and to what extent, personal and collective learning journeys result in transformations towards sustainability, including the challenges and tensions experienced along the way. Moreover, it will allow you to follow the process cautiously to find your own indicators of transformation, unexpected results and opportunities, as well as other experiences along the way.” (Macintyre, Chaves, McGary, 2018 – p. 8).
Below you see the core of the framework which can be found here in its entirety Living Spiral Framework. If you want to more you can go http://www.transgressivelearning.org or email one of the authors: Thomas Macintyre <firstname.lastname@example.org>
You can also read our latest academic paper related to this work in the Journal of Action Research in its recent special issue on action research and climate change here: T-labs and climate change narratives: Co-researcher qualities in transgressive action–research
What’s the connection between education and climate change? I was interviewed about this question by Will Rehm of FreshEd – a popular podcast on the future of education – at the 2018 Global Education Meeting, a high-level UNESCO forum held in Brussels. The Forum reviewed the progress towards the Sustainable Development Goals. In our conversation, I raised the issue of the ‘hidden curriculum of unsustainability that is born out of schools focusing on preparing learners for the globalizing economy as workers and consumers’. I tried to move beyond providing a critique – which is relatively easy – to also sketch some hopeful practices and possibilities of whole school approaches towards sustainable development. In the interview I call for more freedom and dissonance in education systems to engage with every day and emergent challenges in relation to sustainability in general and climate change more specifically. You can find the interview here!
Citation: Wals, Arjen, interview with Will Brehm, FreshEd, 144, podcast audio, January 14, 2019.
“A university is above all a place where everything can be questioned.”
My last two blog posts have been raising some critical questions about the viability and legitimacy of the scientific ‘enterprise’ in neo-liberal times. The Publish AND Perish blog post led to a lot of responses from colleagues within academic but also from the publishing ‘industry,’ including from the CEO of MDPI, Paul Vazquez. Coincidentally, a few weeks later, Ghent University in Belgium released a statement in which the university declared to go – what I would call – ‘off-the-grid’ of commodification, marketization and economic globalization by turning towards, autonomy, (local) relevance, responsibility towards people and, hopefully planet as well, by creating spaces for transdisciplinarity, boundary-crossing and collaborative action (perhaps I am filtering the statement using my own lens – apologies if I do so). Below some excerpts form the statement which can be found here as well: Ghent University’s New Pathway
Here is the message from Ghent’s Vice Chancellor Rik van de Walle
‘We are transforming our university into a place where talent once again feels valued and nurtured’
Our university should once again belong to the academics, rather than the bureaucracy, writes the rector of Ghent University, Rik Van de Walle.
Ghent University is deliberately choosing to step out of the rat race between individuals, departments and universities. We no longer wish to participate in the ranking of people.
We opt for a radically new model: those who perform well will be promoted, with a minimum of accountability and administrative effort and a maximum of freedom and responsibility. At the same time, we want to pay more attention to well-being at work: the evaluations of the supervisors will explicitly take into account the way in which they manage and coach their staff. The model must provide a response to the complaint of many young professors that quantitative parameters are predominant in the evaluation process. The well-known and overwhelming ‘publication pressure’ is the most prominent exponent of this. Ghent University is deliberately choosing to step out of the rat race between individuals, departments and universities. We no longer wish to participate in the ranking of people.
I am absolutely convinced that in a few years’ time we will see that this new approach has benefited the overall quality of our university and its people.
Rik Van de Walle, rector.
The blog on the commodification of scientific publishing, posted earlier in December, has received lots of interest from many concerned academics. Some people responded to the blog (see under ‘replies’ at the end of the post), some contacted me by email and several people offered alternatives to the current system that seems to invite strategic behavior, a focus on ‘production’ (number of papers published) and efficiency (short turn-around), rather than on quality that is supported by a critical review system. One of the responses to the blog came from MDPI’s – the publisher of the journal Sustainability that is featured in the post – CEO Frank Vazquez. I am posting his elaborate response after the key messages from the blog. I do appreciate that he took the time to do this.
Note the blog post on this can be found here: Update – Publish AND perish: how the commodification of scientific publishing is undermining both science and the public good
“Everybody is writing, nobody is reading, everybody is writing for nobody.”
- Academics are spending hundreds of hours a year, getting their work published, in peer-reviewed journals, providing free labor to commercial publishing companies.
- The pressure to ‘produce’ and grow is huge, both in academia and in the publishing industry; this undermines quality and the university’s ability to serve the public good and, indeed, public trust in science.
- Open access journal Sustainability publishes over 4000 contributions in its current Volume 10 – where most contributors will have to pay 1400 US Dollars* to have their work published. Its publisher MDPI has close to 200 journals working in a similar vein.’
- Sustainability has 561 associate-editors from mostly public universities all working for free for the journal.
- Of all industries, the publishing industry has the highest profit margin according to a recent article in the New Scientist.
- A transition in science is needed to restore quality, trust and a culture of co-learning, peer-to-peer feedback and dialogue, and to unlock the the power of science in creating more sustainable world.
* Sustainability just announced that the fee for having an article published in 2019 has been raised to 1700 US dollars…
Here you find the respons of MDPI’s CEO Frank Vazquez – without comment. Should you have a comment of your own, feel free to reply.