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No power, no sustainability: adding theories of power to sustainability education

Authors: Snigdha Nautiyal*, Arizona State University, Vanessa Lueck, Arizona State University
Topics: Sustainability Science, Higher Education
Keywords: power, sustainability, education, sustainability education
Session Type: Lightning Paper
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


In the last decade, sustainability scientists and scholars have paid significant attention to understanding wicked problems; and called for building specific skills such as systems-thinking, strategic, normative, interpersonal and anticipatory competencies for solving them. While these discussions of competencies have been crucial in setting the agenda for sustainability education, one crucial piece remains undertheorized and regularly omitted: power. We contend that sustainability education must include an overt focus on understanding theories of power, deconstructing how power dynamics play a role in unsustainable and sustainable decision-making, and expanding the type of acceptable knowledge and imaginative thinking for solutions. Firstly, sustainability solutions will inevitably result in trade-offs of costs and benefits which requires us to explicitly talk about power relations to find just and equitable ways of distributing them between various stakeholders. Secondly, inclusive decision-making that includes the perspectives of a range of stakeholders and makes visible marginalized worldviews and knowledge systems by talking about power, are more likely to be successful at meeting complex sustainability challenges. Finally, we contend that for sustainable changes that are transformative, education needs to explicitly discuss power dynamics in relation to all sustainability competencies. In this paper, we demonstrate that sustainability competencies can benefit from a discussion on power through a literature review and synthesis. Ultimately, we hope to enhance sustainability scholarship and educational curriculum with explicit exposure to multiple theories of power.

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