Sustainability, Interdisciplinarity and Transformative Change: A Critical Realist Response to the Crisis System


In his posthumous book, Enlightened Common Sense (2016) Roy Bhaskar says: “It is clear that in the contemporary world we are faced with a crisis; so much that one could talk of this poly-crisis as a crisis system. One can identify the contours of this crisis on each of the four planes of social being. Most striking is perhaps the crisis of the four e’s. Thus on the plane of material transaction with nature, it is most obvious in the form of ecological crisis; such as environmental degradation, biodiversity loss and climate change. On the plane of social interaction between people, it is most obvious in the form of an ethical or moral crisis, stemming from the growing inequalities and imbalances in the distribution of resources, both allocative and authoritative, and more generally of life chances and opportunities and well-being (including health and capabilities). In addition to these normative crises, we have crisis induced by violence and war, terror and the threat of terror. On the plane of social structure the most obvious crisis is an economic one; the economy is becoming disembedded from social structures (social regulations and control). On the plane of stratification of the embodied personality we have various acute existential crisis, including crisis induced by ontological insecurity, crisis induced by postmodern fracturing of the sense of the self, and the crisis of narcissism and various forms of addiction (drug abuse, and so on) and psychotic and/or neurotic state”.

The crisis system shapes humanity and our value systems as well as the different non-human life forms on our planet. In connection to this the upcoming conference wants to pay attention to The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which have been adopted as a response to the challenges humanity faces in the 21st century. The Agenda is a plan of action for “people, planet and prosperity”. The 17 Sustainability Development Goals demonstrate the scale and ambition of this new universal agenda. The Goal and targets of the plan are summarized as follows: People; determinacy to end poverty and hunger. Planet; determinacy to protect the planet from degradation. Prosperity; determinacy to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives in harmony with nature. Peace, determinacy to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies. Partnership; determinacy to mobilize the means required to implement this Agenda through a revitalized Global Partnership for Sustainable Development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity.

By investigating critical realist philosophy as an underlabourer for Sustainability, Interdisciplinarity and Transformative Change the purpose of the conference is to discuss how critical realism (CR) can be a response to the Crisis System as well as be a contribution to the realization and the implementation of the UN Agenda for Sustainable Development. Fundamental questions to be answered are therefore; how can CR contribute to a more just, prosperous, sustainable world, both for humans and for non-human lifeforms on this planet? How can CR as a general philosophy act as a tool of change for people, planet, flourishing and well being?

The conference will take a broad critical realist approach. Therefore we welcome contributions from all areas that consider the four e’s in the crisis system with a critical realist philosophy. We also welcome papers, which more specifically address the problems from the perspective of the new Agenda 2030. We welcome contributions from all sciences i.e. the natural sciences (biology/ecology), the social sciences (politics, economics, educational theory, health studies etc.), the arts, and humanities. Equally welcome are contributions inspired by CR, that draw on Bhaskar’s philosophy (basic critical realism, critical naturalism, dialectical critical realism, and metaReality) and other authors who have contributed to CR’s flourishing. The conference also welcomes scholars who do not consider themselves critical realists, but are interested in the CR debate and how to meet the great challenges of our time. Paper proposals are welcome on the following suggested themes:

Session themes

  1. Sustainability, Interdisciplinarity and Transformative Change is the main focus of the conference. Paying attention to the four e-crisis, we ask how critical realist philosophy can contribute to the need for change. Papers concerning these issues from different possible angles (including the 17 goals of the Agenda 2030) are welcome to be presented in the session.
  2. Education and Critical Realism: In what sense does critical realism contribute to educational theory and how can critical realism contribute to solving paradoxes of the present educational systems, for instance the mismatch between the ideals of sustainability and the daily life in education. Papers concerned with educational theory and/or the Agenda 2030 are welcome to this session. People interested in general philosophy of education are also welcome to participate in this session.
  3. Philosophy of Science and Critical Realism: Critical realism is an “underlabourer” philosophy for science, natural- and social science. In this sense, it is a “middle road” between positivism/empiricism and constructivism/postmodernism. It is also non-reductionist. How does critical realism contribute to the aporias in the theories of the sciences and what are the consequences? Papers concerned with critical realist philosophy of science are all welcome to this session.
  4. Well-Being and Critical Realism. People’s well-being has been a central concern in critical realist philosophy. In what sense can a theory of well-being based on CR be developed? What are the challenges? How can such a theory of well-being transform into practice? All papers concerned with critical realist theory of well-being as well as the sustainability goals in Agenda 2030 are welcome to this session.
  5. Democracy and Critical Realism. Political institutions, the media, the economy, knowledge and trust is under pressure. How can critical realism contribute in these fields? All papers concerned with critical realism in relation to democracy, politics, the economy, technology, the media and governance issues are welcome to participate in this session.
  6. Ethics and Critical Realism. In what sense does critical realism develop an ethics of human freedom (emancipation)? What are its potentials and how does MetaReality contribute to this debate? In this session we also ask what can critical realist ethics contribute to the sustainability goals of The Agenda 2030? All papers concerned with critical realist ethics, freedom and metaReality issues are welcome to participate in this session.
  7. Sustainable Development. Special session for those who are concerned with different aspects of the questions of Sustainable Development or the Agenda 2030 and who are not necessarily familiar with critical realist philosophy. All papers concerning Sustainable Development either in relation to a particular discipline or in general are all welcome to this session. The session is led by The Center for Collaborative Learning for Sustainable Development (CCSD) at Inland Norway University of Applied Sciences.
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