Sustainable development is dead: long live sustainability

by | 4 Apr, 2018 | 0 comments

On challenging students ideas of sustainability and sustainable development

Sustainability is perhaps the most ubiquitous and overused term of the past 30 years.

But other than accepting that there’s bit of greenwash around, what’s not to love? Ever since the launch of the UN Report “Our Common Future” the goal of sustainable development has been globally embraced and accepted.

This is the starting point for my annual lecture on the topic of Development for the ‘Foundation of International Studies’ students. This is an undergraduate subject aimed at all UTS students spending a year abroad. Before the lecture begins,  I ask students to engage in an active learning activity by voting on Mentimeter. The question is whether they think Development is benevolent or oppressive ? (You can vote too — head over to www.menti.com and use the code 810532).

Once the student votes are in — 70% or more of people agree with Option 1 that

Development is about ensuring the poorest people on earth have the same access to goods and services as the wealthiest. It’s a benevolent cause”. 

This is when I bust a couple of sustainable development myths. Simultaneously, I bring the learning process to the fore of students minds. I tell students that we’ll be repeating the Mentimeter quiz after the lecture.

Busting Sustainable Development Myths

I love to show a short video from TheRules.org . Such as this one on How to feel Good about Poverty. They are great at communicating data and statistics. Like did you know that 18 times more money flows from the Global South to the Global North?

 

These ideas are part of a body of work called post-development. Post-development theories challenge the idea that a Western, Industrialised, Capitalist Model is the epitome of ‘development’ and a necessary goal for all countries. As part of practicing a feminist pedagogy in my teaching, I am careful to ensure that the scholars I refer to are primarily female and/or from the Global South. For example, Professor Arturo Escobar and Dr Vandana Shiva.

 

Worldviews is a key theme of the Foundations of International Studies Subject. I draw on Dr Kehinde Andrews succinct explanation of how historical lies underpin our notion of development. Specifically by largely skipping over the key elements of racism, slavery, genocide and colonisation.

 

At this point in my lecture, I’m close to talking for almost 40 minutes. Definitely long enough for anyone, even with interesting videos. We repeat the Mentimeter quiz to encourage engagement and to support students ‘thinking about their own thinking’. You can do this too — head to menti.com and use the code 280250. Usually a large portion of the responses have shifted over to Option 2.

  ‘Development is a patrionising, top-down way of oppressing people. It’s the modern ‘white man’s burden’.

 

However, not everyone changes their position. In my tutorials, I ask students to discuss and debate why their thinking shifted or didn’t shift.

Reflections on using Mentimeter in a large lecture

 

The Foundations of International Studies Lecture is for ~ 300 students from across all faculties at UTS. I embrace devices and technology in my lectures. In my first ever Lecture to students, I totally bombed. I couldn’t believe that I had been so boring. I (mistakenly) thought that my primary role was to conveying information in an interesting way. As the students eyes glazed over, I realised I had totally misinterpreted what is a lecture. I now approach a Lecture as a way of exposing students to new ideas. But more importantly, as tool for reflecting on how their ideas are formed, and can change in a short time frame.

 

I’ve experimented with different tools like Twitter and Mentimeter. Both are useful, but they are just tools. The real magic comes from the pedagogical underpinning. Asking students what they think, shifting that thinking, and ensuring that the lecture is personal learning experience.

Back to sustainability…

I don’t align with the ethos or theories of sustainable development. But I do believe in the value of sustainability in terms of centering a focus on the ecological well-being of the planet. My research expertise is in sustainable agriculture, food sovereignty and rural livelihoods. Specifically  focusing on human autonomy at the centre of how we create sustainable agricultural and food systems. If you are interested in my research or teaching, please get in contact.

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