30 SES 04 A, Higher Education for Sustainability: Session 1
Sustainability issues are never only a technical matter, but should always equally be considered in their social, cultural, political and economic context (Fischer et al., 2007; Palsson et al., 2013). That is why, in the field of Higher Education for Sustainable Development (HESD), the contribution of the humanities and social sciences is key. These research domains help to acknowledge the way sustainability issues are embedded in societal norms and values and how they are structurally anchored in society and our contemporary ways of living (ibid.). In other words, sustainability issues are ‘wicked problems’ and therefore need to be addressed in their full complexity. As this year’s ECER theme argues, we have entered an era that is perceived as risky and unstable: “Europe’s geographical, political and economic model, which has stood for security and stability since WWII is itself become uncertain” (https://eera-ecer.de/ecer-2019-hamburg/programme/theme/). This poses challenges to higher education: the complexity and multidimensionality of sustainability issues need to be addressed in curricula (Wals, 2015).
According to Latour (2017), along with others, a problematic assumption in western and modern thinking is the belief in strictly separated dualisms. Complex sustainable issues refute this thinking in terms of dualisms, for instance in the form of the separation of human and natural worlds, the strict split between facts and values, the seemingly opposite world of politics and of nature, etc. This blurring of traditional modern bifurcations brings along insecurities and asks for new frameworks and concepts. In this paper, we argue that Haraway’s (2008) concept of ‘Response-ability’ can contribute to HESD when dealing with these challenges. As a being of this world, Haraway states, we are obliged to give a response in relation with other beings. When participating in a collective of different beings or actors (human and non-human), we can learn to be ‘response-able’ (Kenney, 2017). This recognition of the collective helps to go beyond the strict dualisms that dominate western thinking and thereby helps to embrace the multidimensionality that characterizes sustainability issues. Instead of an a priori responsibility declared in ethical rules, ‘response-ability’ has a performative dimension (Greenhough & Roe, 2010). The concept goes beyond an a priori concept of knowledge that represents the underlying mechanisms of the world, but emphasizes the knowledge in the making in relation with other actors present in the collective. In that way, this concept has the potentiality to deal with the complexity and multidimensionality of sustainability issues.
This paper aims to clarify the contribution of this concept of ‘Response-ability’ in HESD in the field of humanities and social sciences. More specifically, it aims to articulate different ways of responding and making students ‘response-able’ in different educational practices in the midst of these complex sustainable issues. In this contribution, we aim to answer this research interest by conducting a literature review that explores these educational practices that make students and lecturers (and other actors involved) able to respond. The first research question that follows from this research interest is: “How does the concept of ‘Response-ability’ contribute to understanding the kind of learning processes, elaborated in literature, that are needed when dealing with the complexity and multidimensionality of sustainability issues in HESD in humanities and social sciences?”. The second research question is: “How do different educational practices of HESD in humanities and social sciences described in literature, give shape to the concept of ‘Response-ability’?”. This questiondeals more profoundly with the concrete educational practices. In a subquestion, the precise educational activities of these practices (e.g. lectures, projects, excursions) and their characteristics are explored: “What are the characteristics of these practices proposed in literature for HESD in humanities and social sciences?”.
To give an answer to these research questions, and as stated, a literature review will be conducted. By systematically selecting literature, this review will give an insight into current practices in HESD in humanities and social sciences and will more particularly result in a precise understanding of the contribution of the concept of ‘Response-ability’ to HESD. Literature was selected based upon the following four criteria. Articles were withheld when their main focus was, firstly, on education for sustainable development and, secondly, on higher education. With respect to these two selection criteria, studies that made use of following concepts were taken into account: sustainability education, sustainable development teaching, environmental education, education for sustainability, education for sustainable development. Thirdly, articles were withheld when they focused (at least partly) on the humanities and social sciences. Articles that focused on interdisciplinary practices and one or more disciplines of humanities and social sciences contributed to these practices, were withheld. The fourth criterion was the following: one or more educational practices were discussed. As we were interested in specific educational practices (such as lecturers, projects, simulations, etc.) and their characteristics (such as operating with different stakeholders, group discussions, etc.), articles needed to elaborate at least one practice. After this selection with four criteria, the remaining articles were investigated more deeply and only these articles that discusses the notion of ‘response-ability’ (explicitly or implicitly) were withheld for the analysis. This literature search resulted in 30 articles that fulfilled the above criteria. Subsequently, these articles will be analyzed extensively for their way of articulating an educational practice that makes the actors present ‘response-able’. The articles will be used by the method of thematic analysis, with the assistance of the qualitative analysis software NVivo (Savin-Baden & Major, 2013). Important themes will be extracted from the research questions; e.g. different conceptions of ‘Response-ability’, educational practices that make lecturers or students (or both) ‘response-able’ significant characteristics of these practices, etc. Besides this deductive coding, the thematic analysis will also include inductive coding. This will help to keep track of the specificity of the different (contexts of) articles.
This literature review is still in progress, but a first conclusion is that literature that discusses educational practices of humanities and social sciences in HESD and that stresses (implicitly or explicitly) the notion of ‘Response-ability’ is very limited. It is not an easy assignment to find articles fulfilling the devised criteria. As stated above, the humanities and social sciences have a key contribution to make in HESD and hence are in need of more scholarly attention. This paper is an attempt to do so by bringing a concept to the fore that is able to highlight exactly these characteristics that make this research domain a very important contributor to HESD research (Fischer et al., 2007; Palsson et al., 2013). This paper is expected to make visible this contribution of ‘Response-ability’ to HESD in the humanities and social sciences by making a categorization of the different interpretations of the concept. Furthermore, an exploration of educational practices related to these interpretations will be made. These insights could potentially contribute to the field of HESD and humanities and social sciences to give shape to their practices, but also enrich and emphasize the importance of this (limited) research field. Finally, the concept ‘Response-ability’ makes it possible to reveal an aspect of education that is crucial when dealing with sustainable development: an education that embraces complexity by being in the collective and by recognizing the importance of performative knowledge (Greenhough & Roe, 2010; Decuypere, Hoet, & Vandenabeele, 2019). With this connotation, the possibility arises that this learning can’t be positioned in the traditional forms of learning such as instrumental learning and transformative or emancipatory learning, but that another form of learning is potentially at stake (Decuypere, Hoet, & Vandenabeele, 2019).
Decuypere, M., Hoet, H., Vandenabeele, J., Decuypere, M., Hoet, H., & Vandenabeele, J. (2019). Learning to Navigate (in) the Anthropocene. Sustainability, 11(2), 547. https://doi.org/10.3390/su11020547 Fischer, J., Manning, A. D., Steffen, W., Rose, D. B., Daniell, K., Felton, A., … Wade, A. (2007). Mind the sustainability gap. Trends in Ecology and Evolution, 22(12), 621–624. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.tree.2007.08.016 Greenhough, B., & Roe, E. (2010). From Ethical Principles to Response-Able Practice. Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, 28(1), 43–45. https://doi.org/10.1068/d2706wse Haraway, D.J. (2008). When species meet. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesora Press. Kenney, M. (2017). Donna Haraway (2016) Staying with the Trouble: Making Kin in the Chthulucene. Science & Technology Studies, 30(2), 73–76. https://doi.org/10.23987/sts.63108 Latour, B. (2017). Facing Gaia: Eight lectures on the New climatic regime. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press. Palsson, G., Szerszynski, B., Sörlin, S., Marks, J., Avril, B., Crumley, C., … Weehuizen, R. (2013). Reconceptualizing the “Anthropos” in the Anthropocene: Integrating the social sciences and humanities in global environmental change research. Environmental Science and Policy, 28, 3–13. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envsci.2012.11.004 Savin-Baden, M., & Major, C. H. (2013). Qualitative research: the essential guide to theory and practice. Abingdon, UK: Routledge. Wals, A. E. J. (2015). Beyond Unreasonable Doubt. Education and learning for socio-ecological $…$. Retrieved from https://wurtv.wur.nl/p2gplayer/Player.aspx?id=eNMp15
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