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Education for sustainable development in an unequal world: Populations, skills and lifestyles

Research project
Active research
Project period
2019 - 2022
Project owner
Unit for Human Geography, Department of Economy and Society

Financier
The Swedish Research Council

Short description

Mankind is facing enormous challenges such as climate change, environmental degradation, depleting resources, poverty and inequality. The 2030 Agenda, and the associated sustainable development goals (SDGs), constitutes a global effort to meet these challenges. In this context, education for sustainable development (ESD) has become increasingly recognized as political priority and it is often described as a key instrument to achieve the SDGs. Consequently, the Global Action Programme on Education for Sustainable Development (GAP) is currently under implementation worldwide. In the countless reports and leaflets that have emerged from this initiative a recurrent message is that ESD unites humanity in a common pursuit towards a better, more equal, and ‘greener’ life for all.

This message, however, raises questions about the manner in which mankind is to be united, and about how ESD is unpacked, in a world marked by huge inequality. Is ESD implemented in ways that can be considered just or equal? Or does ESD assign different tasks, responsibilities and lifestyles to rich and poor populations in the quest for sustainable development? How is GAP managing the global gap that separates rich and poor people’s lifestyles?

The aim of the research project, which is informed by Foucauldian theory on biopolitics, is to empirically investigate how ESD is being implemented in relation to different populations across the globe, and what conceptions of ‘green’ skills and sustainable lifestyle(s) that these interventions produce. This research task involves careful empirical studies of how ESD is unpacked and implemented in different geographical and socio-economic settings, within one high-income country (Sweden), one middle-income country (South Africa) and one low-income country (Rwanda). Global ESD events, actors and policies will also be explored.

The project will mainly employ qualitative research methods such as semi-structured interviews, participatory observations and text analysis. The questions that the project brings into focus have been sparsely explored in previous research. Hence, the project will contribute significantly – both theoretically and empirically – to knowledge about how ESD is implemented in a world characterised by huge inequality.