NJAS Special Issue: Social learning towards sustainability: problematic, perspectives and promise

‘Social learning towards sustainability: problematic, perspectives and promise’ is the title of a special issue of NJAS which I co-edited with my (former) colleagues Romina Rodela and PJ Beers. The abstract of the introductory paper with the same title reads as follows:

A common thread throughout this special issue is that sustainability is not a destiny one can eventually reach, but rather a continuous learning path towards transformation that should be profound (e.g. affecting moral standards and value systems), transversal (e.g. requiring the involvement of individuals, groups and collectives) and counter-hegemonic (e.g. requiring the exposure and questioning of stubborn routines). From such a vantage point debates about sustainability likely require transdisciplinary to transcend a singular disciplinary view-point and to allow for the consideration of different perspectives and types of knowledge. The aim of this special issue is to assess the added-value of a social learning perspective on research and action from at least three different ‘disciplinary’ perspectives: systems innovation, natural resource management, and environmental education. Each of these offers a particular perspective on learning, on change processes and evolving understandings of sustainable practices.

The proofs of this introductory paper with the following citation: Wals, A.E.J. and R. Rodela (2014). Social learning towards sustainability: Problematic, perspectives and promise. NJAS. 69, June, pp. 1-3 can be found here: WalsRodelaIntroNJAS.

NJAS cover Special Issue

The table of contents of the Special Issue can be seen below:

Table of Contents NJAS Special Issue

Table of Contents NJAS Special Issue

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Creating Transdisciplinary Dialogue & Phronesis in Pursuit of Sustainability

TradingZonesCover
This book is the result of a rather interesting writing process initiated by the editors about two years ago when they decided that the focus of the book, transdisciplinary dialogue, should also be its process… In order to realize this they invited about 30 scholars from quite different disciplinary backgrounds who did not know each other (most of them anyway) very well or at all, but all had an interest in trans- and interdisciplinarity and a shared concern about the well-being of people and planet. During a joint ‘thinkshop’ held at Cornell’s Field Station in upstate New York, the participants jointly conceptualized the book and created writing ‘duo’s’. I myself formed a duo with Science Historian Scott Peters and bonded with him around the concepts of phronesis, post-normal science and transformative learning (find a link to our chapter at the end of this post). Author-teams were also asked to include a piece of art in their work that somehow captures the spirit of their joint writing venture. On the publisher’s website the wonderful book that resulted is described as follows:

Environmental educators often adhere to a relatively narrow theoretical paradigm focusing on changing attitudes and knowledge, which are assumed to foster pro-environmental behaviors, which, in turn, leads to better environmental quality. This book takes a different approach to trying to understand how environmental education might influence people, their communities, and the environment. The authors view changing environmental behaviors as a «wicked» problem, that is, a problem that does not readily lend itself to solutions using existing disciplinary approaches. The book as a whole opens up new avenues for pursuing environmental education research and practice and thus expands the conversation around environmental education, behaviors, and quality. Through developing transdisciplinary research questions and conceptual paradigms, this book also suggests new practices beyond those currently used in environmental education, natural resources management, and other environmental fields.

Contents: Marianne E. Krasny: Introduction. Tales of a Transdisciplinary Scholar – Joseph E. Heimlich/Mary Miss: Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Participation – Jeppe Læssøe/Marianne E. Krasny: Participation in Environmental Education: Crossing Boundaries under the Big Tent – Martha C. Monroe/Shorna Broussard Allred: Building Capacity for Community-Based Natural Resource Management with Environmental Education – Scott Peters/Arjen E. J. Wals: Learning and Knowing in Pursuit of Sustainability: Concepts and Tools for Transdisciplinary Environmental Research – Barbara A. Crawford/Rebecca Jordan: Inquiry, Models, and Complex Reasoning to Transform Learning in Environmental Education – Joseph E. Heimlich/Mary Miss: Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Appreciation – John Fraser/Carol B. Brandt: The Emotional Life of the Environmental Educator – Leesa Fawcett/Janis L. Dickinson: Psychological Resilience, Uncertainty, and Biological Conservation: Junctures Between Emotional Knowledges, NatureExperiences, and Environmental Education – Joseph E. Heimlich/Mary Miss: Art and Environmental Education Research: Reflections on Place – Timon McPhearson/Keith G. Tidball: Disturbances in Urban Social-Ecological Systems: Niche Opportunities for Environmental Education – Richard C. Stedman/Nicole M. Ardoin: Mobility, Power, and Scale in Place-Based Environmental Education – Marianne E. Krasny/Megan K. Halpern/Bruce V. Lewenstein/Justin Dillon: Conclusion. Do «Arranged Marriages» Generate Novel Insights?

You find a sneak preview of the chapter I co-authored with Scott Peters – titled: Learning and Knowing in Pursuit of Sustainability: Concepts and Tools for Trans-Disciplinary Environmental Research here: FinalPeters&Wals2013<

Wageningen Centre for Sustainable Development & Food Security on-line

Foodsecurity

Recently Wageningen University and Research Centre (WUR) launched the website for its new Centre for Sustainable Development & Food Security. This Centre seeks to link education, research and community-engagement in innovative ways to help achieve sufficient, healthy and enjoyable food for all now and in the future without compromising the carrying capacity of the Earth’s ecosystems. Food is considered an inter- and transdisciplinary theme that includes aspects of production, consumption, quality, safety, nutrition, waste, ethics, land-use, watermanagement, energy and culture, to name a few key essential vantage points that cannot just be studied or addressed in isolation. Below you find the basic information about the Centre from the new website:

Our mission

The Centre for Sustainable Development and Food Security (CSD&FS) seeks to accelerate sustainable global food security by facilitating and linking ground-breaking forms of research, education and societal engagement.

What do we do?

We initiate, connect and support innovative research, education and societal engagement in food-related challenges. We connect and strengthen networks and initiatives that work in the same vein as the centre but are presently operating in relative isolation, lacking synergy and mutual learning. We develop, support and share exemplary sustainable food security practices. We create an international platform for trans- interdisciplinary research on sustainable food security.

How do we do this?

By creating a space both virtual and real where people working on sustainable food security can be inspired, challenged and connected. By providing a window to sustainable food security for a range of stakeholders from outside and within Wageningen University & Research centre (Wageningen UR). By becoming a key innovation node in the international food security landscape by participating in and organizing networks and Centre’s of Excellence.

Our perspective

The Centre for Sustainable Development and Food Security:

  • considers food security broadly to include issues related to food production, availability, access, safety, nutrition, consumption, waste, equity, health and enjoyment;
  • promotes trans- and interdisciplinary perspectives to include social, ecological, economic, environmental and ethical aspects of food;
  • believes that a sustainable development perspective requires that different spatial (local to global) and temporal (past-present-future) scales need to be considered when seeking to address food security challenges;
  • finds that cutting edge approaches involving boundary crossing between sectors, disciplines, values and interests, requiring dialogue, interaction, reflection and the transformation of prevailing unsustainable practices are urgently needed.

The Centre for Sustainable Development & Food Security (CSD&FS) is hosted by  the WUR Centre for Development Innovation (CDI), with a mandate from the Netherlands’ Ministry of Economic Affairs and Wageningen UR’s Executive Board to accelerate sustainable global food security.

‘Science as community — Sustainability-oriented trans-disciplinary research’

Recently I contributed to the 5th Living Knowledge Conference which was held in Bonn, Germany last May with a talk on “Science as community: Sustainability- oriented trans-disciplinary research”. The entire talk has now been uploaded on youtube as have been several of the other talks held at this energizing event. The talk can be found here. Since the slides I used are not always (clearly) visible you can find the slides I used here: WalsBonnLivingKnowledge.

The conference covered the following teams: 

A. Setting shared research agendas by CSOs and Research Institutes 

B. The role of Higher Education in creating knowledge with communities
C. Communities and students learning together
D. Evaluation and quality improvement: New lessons learned on measuring   the value of community engagement and  collaborative research
E. Developing  partnership working for research – civil society engagement
F. Policies to support collaborative research relationships

My talk related mostly to theme B which is described on the conference website as follows: Research and education are going to play a central role during the transformation process towards a knowledge society, as the realisation of the necessity for restructuring the world economy has been triggered mainly by scientific knowledge. Society should therefore decide on actions that are not a direct response to recently experienced events, but motivated by foresight and precaution. For this purpose, the debate between science, politics and society should be far more structured, more obligatory, and livelier, to ensure a constructive discourse about the best ways to achieve sustainability.

Key questions:

  • How can problem-based approaches and transdisciplinarity be encouraged?
  • How can a relation of mutual trust between researchers and CSOs be developed?
  • How can career opportunities for young researchers engaging with communities be improved?
  • How can universities and research institutions give researchers and students more opportunities to reflect about the societal consequences of their work?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=a3cda8qyiuI&feature=relmfu