Art As a Source of Learning for Sustainable Development : Making Meaning, Multiple Knowledges and Navigating Open-endedness.

Eernstman, Natalia (2014) Art As a Source of Learning for Sustainable Development : Making Meaning, Multiple Knowledges and Navigating Open-endedness. Doctoral thesis, University of Arts London in partnership with Falmouth University.

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Abstract / Summary

This research is a practice-­based inquiry into the contribution of art to processes in which communities explore, design and proceed on sustainable ways forward. In rejecting an overly technocratic approach, this thesis follows a learning-­based conception of sustainable development. Rather than transmitting predetermined solutions, social learning is about establishing a prolific framework of conditions in which people can explore for themselves what is ‘right’, sustainable and desired.

Such learning shows important overlaps with art, in that it does not set out to transmit a predetermined message; instead the meaning of something is collectively made throughout the process.

Where the shift from instrumental, technocratic approaches to participatory, intersubjective and open-­ended approaches to sustainable development is relatively new in the social sciences, artists arguably have a longer legacy working in non-instrumental and ‘goal-­searching’ ways. Subsequently, this thesis proposes a range of artful approaches that would allow educators to create spaces in which meaning is mutually created. These are the result of three research activities: the researcher interviewed artists, she participated in practices of artists, and reflected upon her own making process in which she conceived social learning as a contextual arts practice.

Where this thesis takes social learning into new areas of knowledge is in the way that it conceives the meaning of sustainable development as continuously coming out of the present. Despite a professed action-­oriented and experiential rendition of sustainable development, academics in the field of learning for sustainability present the concept as theoretical and abstract: it exists separated from the lived world of practice that it draws meaning from. This thesis argues that the key potential of art lies in counteracting such excessive objectification of socio-environmental issues. Through locative meaning-making, for example, meanings are derived from the here and now rather than from abstracted terms.

Consequently, social learning should not strive for sustainable development as an objective, general goal in itself. Instead the learning should be conceived as an emergent process that is driven by an active vehicle, score or invitation that generates an interaction-rich environment in which meaning-making can happen. Sustainable development then threads through the fabric of whatever is happening, rather than being a focus on its own.

Item Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Uncontrolled Keywords: Sustainable development
Subjects: Arts > Geographic
Depositing User: Lucy Seale
Date Deposited: 08 Nov 2018 09:21
Last Modified: 11 Nov 2022 16:28


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