Dr David Haley – ‘Undisciplinarity’ and the Paradox of Education for Sustainable Development

At the Symposium “Sustainable Development Research at Universities in the United Kingdom”, MMU, 5th & 6th April 2016, it occurred to me; ‘Why are we talking about Sustainable Development?’ Have we forgotten the route of this term in Brundtland’s Report (1987) and the 1992 Rio Earth Summit, in response to Climate Change?Appropriated and applied to everything from financial viability to the growth of the carbon industries this ubiquitous phrase, paradoxically, represents both the cure and the cause of our greatest concerns. However, the 2016 UN Sustainable Development Goals currently rank what some consider to be the most vital challenges, including Climate Change and life on the planet at 13, 14, 15 and 16, of the 17 Goals, so maybe Education for Sustainable Development in Higher Education needs to contest the precepts and values offered by governments and international organisations? But how may research initiate this epistemological question? According to the Romanian physicist, Basarab Nicolescu ‘Multidisciplinarity concerns studying a research topic not in just one discipline but in several at the same time.’ ‘Interdisciplinarity has a different goal from multidisciplinarity. It concerns the transfer of methods from one discipline to another.’ ‘(T)ransdisciplinarity concerns that which is at once between the disciplines, across the different disciplines, and beyond all disciplines’ (Nicolescu 2008). However, this 10 minute provocation will consider the need for ‘undisciplinarity’ in higher education for students to become ecologically resilient for adaptation. Indeed, this may be the point at which the creative arts are finally valued, as traditional research methods, alone, inadequately address these issues. The creative arts, potentially, offer the ‘leverage points’ (Meadows 1999) to provide the transition from order to disorder, thesis to antithesis, and structure to process that may evolve as organisation, synthesis and pattern for a critically robust Curriculum for Sustainable Development, and ‘capable futures’. This polemic concludes with potential creative opportunities to emerge from learning the stark realities of Climate Change.