Special issue of ‘Sustainability’- Details available online at : https://www.mdpi.com/journal/sustainability/special_issues/eng_st#editors
Universities are faced with the tremendous challenge of promoting a culture of sustainability within society, while simultaneously grappling with the ongoing development of a more inclusive and active pedagogy for the twenty-first-century curriculum in which students are seen as partners in learning. Rather than these being separate problems, it may be that a route towards a solution may become visible by adopting a more integrated perspective and a fresh theoretical lens.
The juxtaposition of the problem of education for sustainability with the challenges and opportunities afforded by a partnership approach to university teaching offers a fresh perspective that may be beneficial to both. The adoption of staff–student partnership has been explored as one approach to curriculum development to address many of the inadequacies of transmissive university teaching (e.g., Cook-Sather et al, 2014). However, one of the problems inherent in the staff–student partnership approach to university teaching is the potential barrier to engagement generated by differences in power between the staff and students. To address this, it has been suggested by Kinchin (2021) that reframing the issue through the lens offered by a rhizomatic perspective allows us to view students and academics on paths representing ‘parallel states of becoming’—rather than ‘being’ different at a particular point in time. This ‘philosophy of becoming’ has been championed by Clarke and Mcphie (2016) as making a positive contribution to learning for sustainability, and is part of the wider consideration of rhizomatic thinking that has the potential to revolutionize sustainability education, as summarised by Le Grange (2011, 747):
“When sustainability education is viewed rhizomatically, it becomes possible to integrate and transform Western and indigenous knowledge, and thus create new knowledge spaces in which new knowledge on sustainability (education) can be produced.”
A rhizomatic view of knowledge may, therefore, provide the point of conceptual overlap between engaging with students and promoting education for sustainability. Tillmanns et al (2014, 5) argue the following: ‘the rhizome has the potential to inspire educators and learners alike to become more critically aware of the interconnectivity and disruptive influences within sustainability’. Education for sustainability has to be more than dispensing information, and it is argued by Hroch (2014, 57) that we set ourselves the challenge to prepare ‘people-yet-to-come’ for life on a ‘planet-yet-to-come’. This requires ‘valuing learning as a process of transformation, the process of students coming to think differently, thereby becoming-other in the process, and supporting thinking differently from the norm’. Adopting a partnership approach to teaching at university may help to address these issues and allow us to face the discomfort and ‘brave spaces’ that have to be encountered if education for sustainability is to be truly transformative (e.g. Winks, 2018).
This Special Issue has a focus on innovations in higher education pedagogy and disruptive processes that might help education for sustainability to break free from the hegemony of the neoliberal university (Tillmanns et al, 2014), and move away from the danger that education for sustainability might be subverted as ‘education for consumerism and unbridled economic growth’ (Le Grange, 2011, 744). Submitted papers may address related issues that focus on education for sustainability with an emphasis on student engagement/partnership, and present empirical research, reviews, case studies, or conceptual pieces that consider how sustainability fits with a transformative view of university education, and challenge neoliberal norms. Authors should explicitly address the criticism leveled by Hroch, (2014, 54) that as an educational community, ‘we lack creativity. We lack resistance to the present’.
Clarke, D.A.G. & Mcphie, J. (2016) From places to paths: Learning for sustainability, teacher education and a philosophy of becoming. Environmental Education Research, 22(7), 1002 – 1024,
Cook-Sather, A., Bovill, C., & Felten, P. (2014). Engaging students as partners in learning and teaching: A guide for faculty. John Wiley & Sons.
Kinchin, I.M. (2021) Towards a pedagogically healthy university: The essential foundation for successful student-staff partnership. In: Heron, M., Balloo, K., & Barnett, L. (Eds.). Exploring disciplinary teaching excellence in higher education: Student-staff partnerships for research. (forthcoming) Cham, Switzerland: Palgrave Macmillan.
Hroch, P. (2014) Deleuze, Guattari, and Environmental Pedagogy and Politics: Ritournelles for a planet-yet-to-come. In: Carlin, M. & Wallin, J. (Eds.) Deleuze and Guattari, Politics and Education. (pp. 49 – 75). London, Bloomsbury.
Le Grange, L.L.L. (2011) Sustainability and higher education: From arborescent to rhizomatic thinking. Educational Philosophy and Theory, 43(7): 742 – 754.
Tillmanns, T., Holland, C., Lorenzi, F. & McDonagh, P. (2014) Interplay of rhizome and education for sustainable development. Journal of Teacher Education for Sustainability, 16(2), 5 – 17.
Winks, L. (2018) Discomfort, challenge and brave spaces in higher education. In: Leal Filho, W. (Ed.) Implementing sustainability in the curriculum of universities. (pp.99 – 111) Cham, Switzerland, Springer.