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Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard

Universities in times of confusion and hope: does SSH education pose the right questions and deliver useful answers?

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Recent contributions from Lundegård & Wickman (2012), Le Grange (2013), Sund & Öhman (2014), Van Poeck, Goeminne, & Vandenabeele (2016) and Aikens, McKenzie, & Vaughter (2016), have addressed the important role of the political in environmental and sustainability education. In this contribution we supplement these studies by taking a closer look at the relationship between subjective reactions on contemporary sustainability challenges and whether social science and humanities (SSH) at the universities engage with their students’ ways of coping with these challenges and their own futures? While populism and ignorance often are described as subjective responses to the ongoing changes, findings from a Nordic course on ESD for adult educators, and observations from our own university course on ‘education, society and sustainable development’, emphasize students profound search for specific examples of sustainability innovations and promising examples of sustainable practices. We suggest that this search is fueled by a concern for the future and provide openings for the political as utopian explorations. In our presentation we will relate this search to the concepts of hope and concrete utopian thinking (Bloch, 1995), sociological imagination (Wright Mills, 1959), as well as to the strategical/processual concepts incompleteness (Mathiesen, 1973) and scanning (Schein, 1996). As diligent SSH scholars we have donned our critical glasses, however not to refuse this utopian political trend but to question how SSH respond to it. While the techno-sciences often are accused for being affirmative and technocratic, they at least offer their students opportunities for working with concrete innovative problem solutions. SSH, has mostly taken the cultural role (Biesta, 2009) of deconstructing, relativizing, complicating and criticizing socio-cultural systems, discourses and practices. This is indeed a much needed way of addressing the political. However, at the same time it risks to oppose and exclude the hopeful search for sustainable ways forward rather than to qualify and empower it. Looking for potential ways to rethink SSH at universities in order to address the political utopian search for sustainability the final part of our contribution will explore and discuss to two concrete Danish examples: The internationally awarded ‘Frontrunner’ education and a master in social entrepreneurship at Roskilde University.
Original languageEnglish
Publication year2017
Publication statusPublished - 2017
EventECER - UCC, Copenhagen, Denmark
Duration: 22 Aug 201725 Aug 2017



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