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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 all themes with relevance to critical realism.

 

Panel presentation

Panel 1 – Sustainability, Interdisciplinarity and Transformative Change: A Critical Realist Examination of the Sustainable Development Agenda

“The future of humanity and of our planet lies in our hands. It lies also in the hands of today’s younger generation who will pass the torch to future generations. We have mapped the road to sustainable development; it will be for all of us to ensure that the journey is successful and its gains irreversible.” (para. 53, Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, 2015)

The first conference plenary is focused on the conference theme of “Sustainability, Interdisciplinarity and Transformative Change”, and the esteemed panellists will provide a critical realist examination of the 2030 Sustainable Development Agenda. The global call for sustainable development will be examined from the critical realist perspective of the Crisis System. In his posthumous book, Enlightened Common Sense (2016), Roy Bhaskar identifies four planes of social being that define this poly-crisis. “[O]n the plane of material transaction with nature, it is most obvious in the form of ecological crisis…; On the plane of social interaction between people, it is most obvious in the form of an ethical or moral crisis…; On the plane of social structure the most obvious crisis is an economic one…; On the plane of stratification of the embodied personality we have various acute existential crisis…”.

Panellists will explore how the 4Es of this crisis system each present specific challenges for achieving sustainable development. The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development comprises of 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and 169 corresponding targets that represent the scale and ambition of this global agenda for people, planet and prosperity. It is recognized that achievement of Agenda 2030 requires transformative social change that extends well beyond ameliorative improvements to current systems, and this means a dramatic re-thinking of the way things are done. Panellist will examine how the globally-agreed 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development presents an approach for “transforming our world”, and if this can adequately respond to the crisis system.

From a critical perspective, it is necessary to question if the sum of the individual targets alone will affect the type of aspirational and transformative change that is sought? Considering the practical implications of this endeavour, panellists will debate over the following questions:

  • Does the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provide a framework for transformative change to overcome the crisis system?
  • What is the dialectical value of sustainable development in addressing this crisis, and does Agenda 2030 support a new narrative for human development?
  • How can the efforts towards achieving the 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) be strengthened towards the realisation of transition to sustainability?

Panel 2 – Sustainability, Interdisciplinarity and Transformative Change: A Critical Realist Response to the Crisis System

“We must build authentic and vibrant communities that sustain us ecologically. For this challenge we need a generation of scholars equipped to respond with energy, moral stamina, enthusiasm, and ecological competence. This is the challenge of education. Regardless of which way our analysis leads us, one thing is certain. The planet is too small and too plundered not to take responsibility for our common future in our educational models” (Sterling 2001).

This session will examine the role critical realism can play in understanding and addressing the call for Sustainability, Interdisciplinarity and Transformative Change in the higher educational system. As universities face growing pressure to become more market oriented – i.e., to cut costs, measure and report on performance and compete for students, grants, funding and prestige – there is a danger that many institutions risk losing focus on broader social and moral responsibilities. In this panel dialogue we will therefore, in addition to address the crisis system from our positions as scholars, also try to address the crisis system from the angel of our critical realist humanity.

Questions to look into in this session could be:

  • What does it mean to say that higher education institutions needs to take responsibility towards a more sustainable future?
  • What are the perils and problems of the higher education institutions to advance towards a more sustainable development path?
  • How can we as critical realists conduct high quality research and valuable services to advance the wellbeing of individuals, communities, and the natural environment?
  • Do we as critical realists have a unique and/or new contribution to the understanding and/or solution of the crises system?
  • How can critical realism be a philosophical “underlabourer” or inspirational source for sustainable development in the educational system?
  • Does critical realist philosophy support a new narrative for the 21st century education for sustainable development and transformative change?

 

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