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Sustainable Development and Learning: Framing the Issues

reviewed by Ali A. Abdi - 2004

coverTitle: Sustainable Development and Learning: Framing the Issues
Author(s): William Scott and Stephen Gough
Publisher: Taylor & Francis, London
ISBN: 0415276470 , Pages: 192, Year: 2003
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Discussions and analyses that pertain to the theorizing as well as the possible practice of development, especially international development, have now been in the books for at least 60 years. The conspicuous failure (by-and-large) of the global promise of conventional development, lately complemented by the emerging and expanding foci on sustainable development, has also now been mainstreamed into academic and selective policy platforms for at least the past 30 years. As should be known, though, even the promise of sustainable development, which should have been more environmentally inclusive, seems to have been overwhelmed by its own rhetoric.  Thus development is still far from achieving, except perhaps in select traditional or quasi-traditional communities, its overall objectives. As a result, in the last 10 or so years, we have witnessed new lines of counter-development criticisms that question, not necessarily the sustainability or other prospects of development, but fundamentally the overall possibilities of all development. Hence, the new and, one must admit, powerful theorizing on the malaise of modernity as well as what may be termed the illusions of development, with all leading to the current focus on the twin projects of either alternatives to development and/or the novel promulgations of the post-development thesis.


It is, indeed, in the thick of these global and, of course, local realities that Scott and Wough produce a timely book that goes one important step beyond the quasi-beaten focus on the difficulties of development or even sustainable development. As the title indicates, he authors talk about the undertaking of the case through a continuous project of already present but analytically novel non-school based lifelong learning. Again, lifelong learning has not escaped the wrath of the counter-modernity brigade, and there may, indeed, be something suspicious about its ubiquitous use by every adult education specialist in the neighborhood, but I really like the way Scott and Wough are using it in the pages of this new book, where it should aim for mutually constructive and ongoing educational possibilities among institutions, organizations and communities. The need for this kind of learning for defining and shaping sustainable development is an important and worthy experiment in the current intersections of the issues under consideration.


Besides the authors’ introduction and a foreword by Sir Neal Chalmers, the Director of the Natural History Museum (presumably in the UK), the book is divided into 14 chapters, each composed of about 10 pages. The book is fairly concise yet still topically (i.e., in terms of the number of items it pulls to its center) a multi-pronged book. It is also the case that this book is a companion to another one, Key issues in sustainable Development and Learning: A Critical Review (2002). As I have not read the other book, I cannot comment on the degree of thematic congruency the two works share; what is clear is the close relationship between the two titles, which may make one think that the issues covered would either be sequential or otherwise interconnected. Overall, the work seems to be well organized with chapters following each other effectively, and with arguments in each case not posing any tedious task in terms of connecting them to previous pointers or later seeing their relevance as one aims to achieve a coherent understanding of the whole project. Topics treated in the chapters range from a generalized focus on critically ascertaining the complexities as well as the uncertainties of the issues under consideration to discussions on how and to what extent language and meaning would be essential to the interface of sustainable development and learning. These also include some discussions on the essential links between the two concepts and their possible practices.


Looking at the main issues that are horizontally located within the overall themes of the book, one can immediately discern the importance of creating pedagogy-specific programs, albeit non-formally, that assure more possible spaces to harness the highly desirable results of learning driven sustainable development. One thing that might help us in our quest to realize a more pragmatic program of sustainable development, as stated in the book, would be a clearer understanding of the need for a more centered conceptualization and, where feasible, ‘operationalization’ of a type of social advancement where human agency does not oppose or dominate nature, but relates to it in a manner that is ecologically responsible and long term.


Again, all of the above desirables will not take place, the authors correctly point out, unless they become important components of national and international policymaking that refrain from separating, for purely economic or so-called rational conveniences, the social from the ecological and vice versa. Here, all levels of formulating and/or implementing effective public spaces that link continuous learning and development programs would not presume any a priori manifestations of meanings and relationships, but would include, in the platform of the emerging educational component, new and sustainable development-friendly ways of explaining and evaluating issues and perspectives. The new meaning-making would be global, and a liberating language that is inclusive and that responds to the needs of diverse groups and communities would be essential in recasting this and similar components of Scott and Wough’s new recommendations. Needless to say there could be some problems with select learning clusters that could have all the right rhetoric but may not achieve much in relation to the sustainable development projects the authors are aiming for.


To avoid that scenario, Scott and Wough actually provide specific ways of doing their proposed project of sustainable development through ongoing platforms of learning. That should, indeed, hasten, without compromising what should not be compromised, the crucial learning framework that could bring about the type of development that we cannot dispense with. Again, one should be reminded that we cannot and will not achieve sustainable development because we simply want it, or because the environment will, via the unseen forces of, well, nature, come to our rescue. As clearly stipulated in this work, the simple logic could be that to achieve sustainable development, we must understand how it could work, and continue this learning program so as to stay on top of how it evolves and accordingly, constructively respond to the changes that would take place over time and space. The changes will not, of course, happen simply because the ecosystem is itself changing, but more so because as our development needs change, we need to learn new ways of understanding and new knowledge about our environment.


The authors note that we should not exclusively rely on the presence of learning and related sustainable development possibilities only in the policy agenda, but also assure their place in the curricular and pedagogical programs of the concerned organizations and groups so the projects become slowly located in the psycho-cultural existence of people’s subjectivities and overall being. In the long run, therefore, especially since we have to achieve sustainable development for our own well-being, we have to strengthen, indeed create, a more inclusive third space where social needs and environmental integrity can co-habit so as to harness a prospectively human agency driven, but still environmentally viable, program of sustainable global development. Again, the weight of achieving this is not taken lightly by the authors, but the new possibilities, which should be multicentric, dynamic, and instructionally poly-directional, would surely enhance our chances of doing better and, by extension, achieving better. In sum, Scott and Wough have produced a very fine work that introduces new and more meaningful notions and practices of sustainable development; it should, therefore, be widely read and its recommendations should be incorporated across the disciplines, through diverse observational plateaus and within any emerging analytical trajectories that can see and prioritize the crucial space between select, continuous learning possibilities and minimally bi-local sustainable development.

Cite This Article as: Teachers College Record Volume 106 Number 12, 2004, p. 2301-2304
https://www.tcrecord.org ID Number: 11343, Date Accessed: 10/20/2021 10:15:25 PM

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About the Author
  • Ali Abdi
    University of Alberta
    E-mail Author
    ALI A. ABDI is Associate Professor at the University of Alberta in the Department of Educational Policy Studies.
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