The educational challenge in "education for sustainable development" : qualification, social change and the political

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The educational challenge in "education for sustainable development" : qualification, social change and the political


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Publication Doctoral Thesis
Title The educational challenge in "education for sustainable development" : qualification, social change and the political
Author Hasslöf, Helen
Date 2015
English abstract
This thesis explores how Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) as an overarching perspective makes meaning of educational aims and purposes. Sustainable development, as a concept, is by necessity complex, and deals with integrated dimensions of environmental, social-cultural and economic sustainability. It involves a diverse range of embedded values and ideologies and calls for engagement in value-related and political issues relating to environment, equality and lifestyle. In my thesis, I have turned to the actors in social practice who are set to realise the educational perspectives of ESD – the teachers. Accordingly, the analyses departure from secondary and upper secondary school teachers’ reciprocal meaning-making when discussing the desirable aims of teaching and ESD. Building upon previous educational research, the thesis has three purposes, and the results are presented in four articles. The results of the studies bring new empirical knowledge and perspectives to educational research and practice, by adding further understanding of the political and democratic dimensions of ESD. The first purpose is to investigate and describe the complexity of the concept of sustainable development from a conflict perspective and to analyse meaning-making discussions of sustainability in an educational context. This is elaborated in the first study (Article I). To achieve this, a Conflict Reflection Tool (CRT) has been developed, by combining the conflicting dynamics of sustainable development with dialogic and univocal functions of speech. In the included case study, the CRT analysis of teachers’ discussions shows how fact-based, univocal science utterances closed the discussion for conflicting perspectives to emerge. However, conflicting views did emerge and were re-valued in a dialogic genre through the interplay of different dimensions of sustainability and different societal levels of conflicts. The second purpose is to investigate how the desired aims of ESD are (re)articulated in areas of educational tension in order to make particular meaning by teachers with experience in ESD practice. Three complex ESD areas are in focus, namely, the development of students as political subjects (Article II), qualification in relation to ESD (Article III), and education for social change in relation to ‘sustainable’ living (Article IV). In each of these areas, the functions of qualification, socialisation and subjectification (c.f. Biesta) are relationally analysed to further problematise educational purposes. Through analyses with inpiration from discourse theory, the results show in Article II the emerging discourse of critical thinking as room for subjectification where students were invited to be adressed as political subjects. This discourse was articulated in struggle with the aims of qualification and socialisation, i.e. challenged by elements articulating a more scientific and rational worldview. Article III shows three discourses of qualification. Of these three, scientific reasoning and awareness of complexity are articulated as contrasting epistemological discourses of qualification. However, in the third discourse, qualification as critical thinking, these different epistemological views are articulated as intertwined as different ways to view sustainability. Article IV shows how the teachers struggle between three positions: the rational subject, as a neutral conductor; the responsible subject, as a role model, or the reconstructing subject, as a reconstructor. The overlapping positions depend upon how socialisation towards sustainable lifestyles, political and ethical perspectives are identified in relation to the educational aims and the emerging myths of social change. The third purpose is to develop analytical methods where conflicting articulations of environmental issues and sustainability are taken into account based on language and discourse theory for conducting empirical investigations of meaning-making.
Publisher Malmö University, Faculty of Education and Society
Series/Issue Malmö Studies in Educational Sciences;76
ISSN 1651-4513
ISBN 978-91-7104-627-7
Pages 110
Language eng (iso)
Subject environmental education (EE), education for sustainable development (ESD), discourse theory, subjectification, teachers' meaning making, functions of education
Humanities/Social Sciences
Research Subject Categories::SOCIAL SCIENCES
Included papers
  1. Hasslöf, H., Malmberg, C., & Ekborg, M. (2014). Discussing Sustainable Development among Teachers: An Analysis from a Conflict Perspective. International Journal of Environmental and Science Education, 9(1), 41-57.

  2. Hasslöf, H., & Malmberg, C. (2015). Critical Thinking as Room for Subjectification in Education for Sustainable Development. Environmental Education Research, 21(2), 239-255.

  3. Hasslöf, H., Lundegård, I., & Malmberg, C. (in review). Students’ qualification in ESD - epistemic gaps or composites of critical thinking? Submitted 27 Nov 2014 to: International Journal of Science Education

  4. Hasslöf, H., Lundegård, I., & Malmberg, C. (manuscript). Teachers as agents for social change? Subject positions from a transformative perspective of sustainability. In process.

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