Friday 22 February 2019

Transformative Societal and Professional Learning in Troubling Times - researching aspects of Deep Adaptation to Environmental Breakdown

At IFLAS our cohort of doctoral researchers has expanded. While the topics are diverse, all relate to how we learn in ways that could transform our lives and societies; especially in difficult circumstances. Professor Jem Bendell is their lead supervisor, bringing a methodological emphasis on action research with critical consciousness and an invitation that we explore Deep Adaptation to potential environmental breakdown.

The doctoral students who have joined IFLAS this academic year are Dorian Cave, Cecilie Smith-Christensen and Jason Hocknell-Nickels. From France, Dorian is studying the learning of activists participating in online networks. From Norway, Cecilie is studying the professional learning on Deep Adaptation in the international cultural sector. From the UK, Jason is studying his practice as a coach enabling professional learning within the civil service. Summaries of their research follow below.

Dorian, Cecilie and Jason join existing IFLAS PhD students Jo Chaffer (studying leadership development and sustainability), Aimee Leslie Bogantes (studying the circular economy and sustainability), Christophe Place (studying currency innovation and sustainability), Arianna Briganti (studying leadership in international development) and Sonia Hutchison (studying leadership in social work). Their supervision teams are comprised of Professor Jem Bendell, Dr David Murphy, Dr Kaz Stuart, Dr Darrell Smith, Professor Jack Whitehead, Dr. Marie Huxtable and Dr Nicoletta Policek.

Cecilie Smith-Christensen is researching World Heritage, Deep Adaptation and Sustainable Exchange Systems. She summarises her work thus:

“Runaway climate change is an existential threat to habitats, human civilizations and life as we know it. Despite goals set out through the Paris Agreement (UNFCCC 2016) the World is not on the track to avoid it. Based on recent studies of climate change and its implications for ecosystems, economies and societies, the paper Deep Adaptation: A Map for Navigating Climate Tragedy (Bendell, 2018) concludes that social collapse due to climate change is inevitable within the near future. By breaking a taboo within academia and public discourse, the Deep Adaptation approach offers a perspective to consider new perspectives and options in response to climate change.
In my research I will apply the Deep Adaptation Agenda as a meta framing of the implications of climate change and inevitable near-term social collapse on the implementation of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention (1972) most known for the World Heritage List comprising 1092 cultural and natural heritage properties of Outstanding Universal Value. Many of these sites and related communities are already experiencing climate induced disruptions, forms of biological and social collapse, and even the threat of extinction.
In the face of climate change and various forms of disruption, collaboration emerges as the core mechanism to ensure survival and restoration post-collapse. The global network of World Heritage sites and stakeholders lends itself to scale collaborative efforts. However, a general challenge of applying an existing mechanism and social construct is its embeddedness in the neo-classical economic growth paradigm. A key problem is that economic growth on a limited planet cannot be sustainable, and hence even efforts towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals will be unsustainable and consequently contributing to our climate predicament.
Through action research involving a broad set of World Heritage stakeholders I aim to explore shared dilemmas in implementation of the Convention in the context of climate change, and furthermore explore how application and scaling sustainable exchange systems in and around World Heritage sites may help humanity face climate-induced disruption.”

Dorian Cave is researching how online networks enable collective mobilisation through learning. He summarises his work thus:

“The human species is living through a period of existential challenges unparalleled in history. Indeed, the planet Earth is undergoing rapid changes, caused by mankind itself, which could severely compromise human survival — including: the 6th mass extinction event; climatic disruptions; and topsoil losses. These issues are compounded by widespread systemic social and political failures, such as the economic growth imperative; entrenched fossil fuels dependence; rising inequalities; and failing democratic processes.
And yet, global efforts aiming at rising to this civilizational challenge seem scattered, piecemeal, and orders of magnitude below what would be needed; one need only look at current climate change “commitments” in the wake of the 2015 Paris Agreement. I believe that from the perspective of effectuating a global transition to a fairer and more sustainable world, insufficient attention and efforts have been devoted to the following aspects:
1. Education and consciousness-raising. A multitude of indicators point at the lack of awareness as regards our existential predicament among the general population. My hypothesis is that the reason for this is largely an insufficient understanding, especially on the direct emotional level, of what is at stake (not to mention plenty of ways to avoid having to think about it).
2. Means of connected mobilisation. Online social networks have become a central feature of our lives. These tools have been hailed by some as central to the development of new popular and democratic movements. However, when considering the multitude of grassroots initiatives that aim at creating positive social change on a particular topic, the lack of networks and other instruments specifically dedicated to federating such efforts is rather striking.

In the course of my research, I will be bringing together these two avenues of research, and thus, investigate how online networks may foster and enable collective mobilisation through learning.”

Jason Hocknell-Nickels is researching his practice as a values-based coach within the British civil service. He has created a website that chronicles his approach and findings, where he introduces his work as follows:

“Would you like to live well? By the term ‘well’ I personally don’t mean wealthy; although for you that might be part of what it means. By living ‘well’ I have in mind the idea of living authentically or living my values in real life and my professional practice. This is important to me because I work in complex change and transformation and being authentic helps my practice as a change coach. I am also interested in being authentic across my different life worlds or spaces. By this idea I mean that I desire to have a certain level of integrity in terms of my values. I am hoping that my values as actions-in-the-world can demonstrated across work, family, friends, as well as other voluntary work, and professional communities of practice, for example.
To these ends, I have decided to share my learning of the ways by which I live my life. I am hoping that I can create an account and then openly and honestly share the data that I will collect by way of evaluation. My intention is that my account will meet the criteria for a Doctorate in Living-Theory. You can read more about this approach to research here.

How do I evidence and learn from the ways by which I live my values in action? What values give rise to feelings of authenticity across my different life spaces? How do I learn? How do I communicate my learning to others?”

Our three new doctoral students add to the University’s engagement with key contemporary issues in ways that are interdisciplinary and use a variety of action research methods complemented by a philosophy of criticality. Given the significant international response to Professor Bendell's work on Deep Adaptation, he will begin a Critical Living Theory project on the practices of public intellectuals and forum convenors. Information on his engagements in 2019 is available here.

To reach the new doctoral researchers or their lead supervisor Prof Bendell, contact

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