The Short Course – A Practice that Sustains will be running in the second half of 2012 at oases Graduate School
Some practitioners promote resolving the “material” issues that we have i.e. water, energy and waste as the path to sustainability but to generate sustainable, indeed sustaining and worthwhile lives requires different ways of being in relation to the material and immaterial, human and non-human, things and no things, knowing and not knowing. These are extraordinarily difficult to come to terms with especially when working and living in our rapidly changing world.
The focus of this “practice that sustains” is on knowing for doing. The practice arena is helping to deal with “wicked problems” (Rittel, Conklin, and even the Australian Public Service). These problems and their knowledge are not necessarily “contained” within a particular organisational entity or even in [an entity and its environment]. Indeed when considering issues of sustainability of human systems the actors (both human and non-human) are spread across and between.
Take for example the question of energy, its production and its intimate connection to the production of Green House Gases. This is a global issue but with many national, regional and local variations not only of the existing “systems” but also of what to do in response given that others may or may not change. Indeed it is clear in Australia that some people (including politicians, business leaders and writers) are not convinced that human-induced climate change is occuring. Others are deeply threatened by attempts to ameliorate the damage, especially if they are engaged in the production of energy by burning fossil fuels. This problem is intimately connected to National and Regional economies and there are deep questions about what has happened and what will happen over time.
What I say below is in the context of these wicked problems “meandering” into the world along extended, dynamic and complex networks of people and technologies.
I said intially that this practice is “knowing for doing”, the emphasis of this doing is with the people involved in the problem rather than for the individual participant. Open Systems Thinking can be used with the “actors” to develop system models of wicked problems acting in the broader environment, providing insight into the nature of the problem and some sense of what is desirable and feasible.
OST does not necessarily help with how to go about changing it. This is where Actor-Network Theory (ANT) comes in, especially when this is understood as “a sociology of translation”, ANT can help us to understand how change has and could occur (Young, Borland & Coghill).
These types of problems are “controversial” that is there are many arguments and much disputation. By taking the approach of using evidence and reasoned arguments and “loading these into the discourse” we can help to move the “state of affairs” forward. The phrase “state of affairs” is used here as it is much larger and more complex than “matters of concern” and more again than “matters of fact” (Latour).
ANT focuses on the contest for change in among the network of actors both human and non-human. The processes engaged are “defining and defending models of change, building alliances, gaining public acceptance and finally achieving institutional acceptance of the reform” (Young, Borland & Coghill).
Further by using deliberative processes (as distinct from debating and discussion), that are a part of the Emery Search process (and other processes), conflicts are not treated directly rather they are made visible and dissolvable as the participants ‘enlarge their perspective to a more communal level’.
The questions of “what ideals?” and “what is that we would sustain?” are central to this practice and are dealt with through the collaborative Search process (through values as co-ordinating ideas, as well as desirable and feasible futures).
My thesis, found in the docs tab at my website http://www.thesustainabilitything.com.au, tells much of the story of why I have chosen the particular practices mentioned in the promotion of “A Practice that Sustains”.