Presentation on theme: "Anchored by (against?) a tide of idealism: the ebb and flow of academic engagement with student activism for sustainability Rehema M. White and Shona Russell."— Presentation transcript:
Anchored by (against?) a tide of idealism: the ebb and flow of academic engagement with student activism for sustainability Rehema M. White and Shona Russell University of St Andrews
Wider context Contemporary narratives of academic change Aims and research questions Sustainability at the University of St Andrews Reflecting on: Sustainability action and sustainability activism Academics and students as activists Crossing the boundaries Towards new/old role(s) for the academic Conclusions Contents
How are we doing? Unsustainability is ‘not the work of ignorant people [but those] with BAs, BScs, LLBs, MBAs and PhDs’ (Orr, 1994: 7) “At present most of our universities are still leading the way in advancing the kind of thinking, teaching and research that only accelerates un- sustainability” (Wals, 2010: 32) Universities should rather be ‘contributing to the intellectual and moral improvement of the human condition’ (Gough and Scott 2008)
Context Neoliberalism Environmental / social change Economic crisis and planned and unplanned financial austerity Sustainable development? Seppo.net
Contemporary narratives of academic change Tension between education as empowerment versus Transferable Skills for employability (students as consumers) Audit culture and managerialism Flexibilisation of academic labour force; gender and race issues Emphasis on professional incentive, departmental promotion, monodisciplinary reductionism (research assessment etc) ‘Theoretical’ research privileged over ‘applied research’ Research privileged over teaching? “Higher education still largely reflects the Western intellectual legacy from whence it came” (Sterling 2013; Pain 2003; Castree 2000; Power 1997; Orr 1994)
To reflect on the inter-relationships between academic staff and student sustainability activists within a University context To explore the roles of an academic within and outside of a ‘sustainable university’ Aims
Research questions What are sustainability action and activism? Should academics engage in sustainability activism? How do academics and students perform sustainability activism? What are the consequences of engaging with student activism? What does this imply for the potential roles of an academic in a ‘sustainable university’?
The University of St Andrews Small and ancient (600 years old) 7200 students, 47% in halls of residence World class research excellence Some sustainability focus
Sustainability focus: teaching SD Programme principles of critical enquiry, interdisciplinarity, transformative teaching, integration of theory and practice, and exploring examples and links between local and global aspects of SD. High student numbers
Sustainability focus: research St Andrews Sustainability Institute (SASI) Virtual, facilitating body Mission "To facilitate research, teaching, knowledge transfer and debate in order to enable the transformational change required to integrate sustainable thinking and actions into the foundations of everyday life."
Sustainability focus: estates Aim for carbon neutrality by 2016 Aim for BREEAM outstanding in new build Representation on both Transition and University senior management committees
Sustainability focus: Transition Launched in 2009 by students and staff In , all university members received or memo communication, over 750 students received face-to- face presentations, and 813 staff and students voluntarily attended events Currently employs 7 staff (some PT) and successful in CCF funding
Transition project areas Smarter travel Edible campus Low carbon living Re-using and re-economy Transition together Knowledge and research
Our roles White Inaugural Director of Sustainable Development Programme Founder member of Transition: UStA Steering Group member since launch Research focus on knowledge for sustainability; community engagement; learning links Russell Member of Steering Group for almost 18 months; teaches SD and MN Research focus on management, accountability and community action
White Inaugural Director of Sustainable Development Programme Founder member of Transition: UStA Steering Group member since launch Research focus on knowledge for sustainability; community engagement; learning links Russell Member of Steering Group for almost 18 months; teaches SD and MN Research focus on management, accountability and community action Professional and personal identities interwoven Activist in schools, allotments, communities, protest, global south/mother/partner…..
What are sustainability action and activism?
Sustainability.. Action Solving local problems Associated with knowledge production Considered outside of academia….. Activism Developing practices Aiming for social transformation Challenging power relations, building solidarity and emotional connections From Chatterton et al Transition projects cross over blurred boundary e.g. edible campus aims to transform food culture; imperative of peak oil and climate change
Should academics engage in sustainability activism?
Motivations for (our) academic activism Idealism! Validation of value based existence; reclaiming the imperative; exhibiting the ‘why’ of academia Emotional connection and partnership Fun, creativity and inspiration (see also Blomley) Theory-practice links – reflection, enhanced effect The purpose of critical thinking? Combine theory and political action (support from Castree, Blomley, Pain) Universities as intellectual hubs (see Orr, Castree) Re-homed at the great giveaway StAnd-Reuse!
How do academics and students perform sustainability activism?
JanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDec Retreat for Christmas Students away 6 weeks Staff marking Resurgence of ideas and action Planting in gardens focus Retreat for exams UG Students leave for summer Academics disperse Reflection and preparation Few students/staff present Gardens producing Freshers arrive Recruitment & ideas Academic frenzy Transport focus Settling in Projects underway Retreat for assessments Energy focus Academic seasonal cycle
Sustainability action and academics as activists Academic staff For staff sustainability action means ‘thinking and writing’ Staff often focused on (internal) policy change Activism and even action perceived to impede careers in western institutions Staff constrained by publication in excellent journals; monodisciplinarity; promotion procedures Students For students sustainability action means ‘practical projects’ Students offer a sense of pragmatism; sense of humour Students less constrained by career moves? Creativity and spontaneity
Reflections Activism as a process as much as outcome? The benefits of learning on and among students evident; may lead to long term outcomes elsewhere? Frustrations….. Forms of student activism emerge – policy oriented, practical, topic-focused, protest, PR; jeans or suit possible. UStA polite activism! Tendency to accept practices that are deemed appropriate or disciplined in the context of place and community Activism can be policy change, protest, practice
What are the consequences of engaging with student activism? What does this imply for the potential roles of an academic in a ‘sustainable university’?
Can any student study sustainable development without being an ‘activist’ in some sense? SD demands reflexivity which demands exploration of self We strive for ‘critical thinking’ – are we successful teachers if we create radical thinkers? Is activism the ultimate transformational learning experience? Teaching and learning
Sustainability action Community SD enthusiasts SD governance and structures White and Harder (2013) The virtuous cycle of sustainability action within a University University community
Research: why, what and how? Why : reinforces the imperative for social transformation; collective action stimulates motivation for change; defines impact as capacity and learning not just outcomes What : has reinforced both theory and practice based research; has led to a new respect for the role of knowledge in sustainability action and activism; has led to a desire to provoke transformation within as well as outside the university system (see also Castree, Blomley) How : has promoted participatory, reflexive, interdisciplinary, local yet global approaches commensurate with sustainability research (see White 2013)
Crossing boundaries Research/teaching/practice/engagement Academic staff/student Expert/learner Town/gown Space/time Professional/personal Regaining the joy of academia?
learning research practice
Towards a new model of knowledge production, mobilisation and implementation Knowledge mobilisation Knowledge implementation Knowledge production
Research Publication Funding Impact (Community engagement) Teaching Administration The commonly perceived roles of the academic
Knowledge Production The activism inspired roles of the academic Sustainability action Capacity release in others Teaching Administration Sustainability advocate Policy change Community action Sustainability research Change university system
Attributes of the sustainable university The sustainable university Market driven model? Estates Research Global context of higher education Communit y The student experience Pedagogy and curricula Wellbeing Leadership Regional – local and global The Green Academy
Processes of the sustainable university The sustainable university Market driven model? Estates Research Global context of higher education Communit y The student experience Pedagogy and curricula Wellbeing Leadership Regional – local and global The Green Academy action activism communication theory
Student activists inspire academics with inspiration, fun and frustration; from the pragmatic to the surreal Student activism should be a natural (disciplined?) consequence of SD teaching Transition offers a hybrid space for both academics and students; a chance to re-create identities (but only so far) Exploring activism and academia can shed new light on the interactions within a sustainable university and on new modes of knowledge production, mobilisation and implementation – and ‘impact’ Beware the dark side of activism: the ethics of working not with but through or on students; self serving agendas; the paradoxes of publication pressures Conclusions
The sustainable university? “It is essentially a transformative space ; where transformational practices are theorized, modelled and imagined. An open space which is not known by its 'ivory towers'; its rigid traditions, or its allegiance to power, but rather by its creativity, and energy for change; a 'hub' of social transformation and social learning for a more sustainable, just and equitable future. At the heart of such a university lies independence of thought, critical debate and social critique, but perhaps more importantly, such critical debate and social critique should feed imagination and re- imagination that is creative, productive, and intellectually rich and stimulating” (Lotz-Sisitka in Sterling 2013)
Impact: conceptualisation Instrumental – influencing policy, practice, legislation, behaviour Conceptual – reframing debates and understanding Capacity building – through personal and technical skills development (ESRC 2011 adapted from Nutley et al 2007)
NCRM definition of impact an effect of research; may be a clearly defined outcome, a shift in mindset of researchers or research participants, may be a contributory factor in inducing change, may be positive or negative, can be unintended and unplanned. A process as much as an outcome; a ‘longterm conversation’; cumulative and partly serendipitous, facilitated by trust and relationships (Sanderson)
Form – sustainability research Sustainability research needs to permit civil society to ask not just how but ‘why’ (Brand and Karnoven, 2007) Limits of science (and sustainability science) Disciplinary breadth and depth As ESD contains curricula and pedagogy, so does sustainability research consider sustainability issues plus research approaches (White 2013)
Form – community Individuals adopting pro-environmental behaviour Groups of people collectively focusing on sustainability values and shifting social norms The institution as an organisation undergoing change through effective governance for sustainability (White and Harder 2013)
The university as… community – of place, interest, practice….. ‘community of values’ more than a place of work – a place of discussion and mutual and collective action
Implications for the University of St Andrews Holistic approach to sustainability essential Will the permissions for sustainability activism be challenged?