Learning in, with, and through the Territory: Territory-Based Learning as a Catalyst for Urban Sustainability in Porto Alegre, Brazil


Some readers of my blog of might call me a hypocrite – and I cannot really blame you – but despite strong reservations I continue to co-author work that is submitted to Sustainability – the journal, and mainly its publisher’s (MDPI’s) business model, I have critiqued in the past for mass and fast-publishing (find my critique here as well as the response of Paul Vazquez, CEO of MDPI) which can be found here). Sometimes the people I work with do need a quick-turn around time for their manuscripts and still wish to have work published in a recognized journal that has high impact and is open access (when paying the fee… which for the paper I am sharing here was discounted at 50% to acknowledge that lack of means of some of the contributing institutions, here in Brazil). As I stated in my critique, some work is of high quality and has been properly reviewed by two or more people which is the case in the paper I am sharing here which was just published.

Led by former PhD-student Daniele Tubino Sousa, this paper focuses on learning in the context of territorial problems such as the socio-ecological degradation of urban rivers represent a great challenge to achieving sustainability in cities. This issue demands collaborative efforts and the crossing of boundaries determined by actors that act from diverse spheres of knowledge and systems of practice. Based on an integrative territory notion and the boundary approach, the goal of this paper is to comprehend the boundary crossings that take place in multi-actor initiatives towards the resolution of this problem and what type of territorial transformation is produced as an outcome. Our analysis is built on participatory research on the Taquara Stream case, a degraded watercourse in a socio-ecologically vulnerable area, in southern Brazil. Our data analysis applied a visual chronological narrative and an interdisciplinary theoretical framework of analysis that combined concepts related to the territory (geography) and the boundary approach (education). We verified that local territorial issues functioned as boundary objects, fostering and facilitating dialogical interaction among involved actors, knowledge co-production, and collaborative practical actions that led to changes in the territory in terms of practices, comprehensions, and physical concrete transformations. We framed this study as one of territory-based learning meant to advance the understanding of territorial intervention processes towards urban sustainability.

The advantage of Open Access, indeed is that anyone (with a computer and access to the Internet, that is)  can download it here: https://www.mdpi.com/2071-1050/12/7/3000/htm

Keywords: urban sustainabilityvulnerable communitiesterritoryboundary crossingboundary objectsbrokerssocial learningknowledge co-production


Overcoming socio-ecological vulnerability through community-based social learning


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!

Learning-based transformations towards sustainability: a relational approach based on Humberto Maturana and Paulo Freire


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.

One of the two key figures can be seen below – please go to the the publisher’s website to find the paper and the other figures!