Applying arts reasoning to explain sustainability

October 17th, 2020

Originally posted on blogspot, Monday, November 18, 2013 under the title ‘Aesthetics of entropy: a venture into process art’

1 Engaging with disorder

Fig 1 Anthony Huber, “Entropy IVa”, Abstract Constructionism Series (2014)

Leonardo da Vinci was the first European creative thinker to write about the importance of making art by introducing random and chance events to create artistic patterns. He advised people to contemplate the walls, clouds, pavements, encountered in their everyday environment, with the idea of looking for patterns and images to conceptually blend with creative thoughts. He would gaze at the stains of walls, the ashes of a fire, the shape of clouds or patterns in mud. He would imagine seeing trees, battles, landscapes, figures with lively movements, etc., and then excite his mind by conceptually blending the subjects and events he imagined to embellish his vision.

It is said that Da Vinci would occasionally throw a paint-filled sponge against the wall and contemplate the random stains and what they might represent. In hurling his paint-filled sponge at the wall Leonardo was initiating a process governed by the second law of thermodynamics (Fig 1). Muscular energy is converted to the squidgy sound energy of impact and the kinetic energy of motion when the sponge’s elastic structure is compressed and the paint is ejected. There is also a release of heat energy on impact, which warms the wall ever so slightly. The thermodynamic result is that the energy of muscle contraction has been irreversibly, and unpredictably dispersed into the environment. The outcome is measured as entropy, which is a quantification of how much energy has flowed from being localized, in this case within Leonardo’s muscle, to several different forms that have become more widely spread out in the environment. Throwing a sponge provides a demonstration of the increase in entropy that accompanies all processes in the universe. It can be placed alongside other common examples; of hot milk cooling, balloons bursting, forest fires burning, skin wrinkling with age and water flowing down mountains.  It is an example of process art  where the end product of art is not the principal focus; the process of reasoning in its making is one of the most relevant aspects if not the most important one: the gathering, sorting, collating, associating, patterning, and moreover the initiation of actions and proceedings. Process artists see art as pure human expression which defends the idea that the process of creating the work of art can be an art piece itself. Artist Robert Morris predicated “anti-form”, process and time over an objectual finished product.

John Ruskin, the 19th century art critic, was engaging with the latter demonstration of Earth’s impermanence in the name of art, when he wrote of the ‘frailty of mountains’ as follows:

“Perfect permanence and absolute security were evidently in nowise intended. It would have been as easy for the Creator to have made mountains of steel as of granite, of adamant as of lime; but this was clearly no part of the Divine counsels: mountains were to be destructible and frail; to melt under the soft lambency of the streamlet; to shiver before the subtle wedge of the frost; to wither with untraceable decay in their own substance; and yet, under all these conditions of destruction, to be maintained in magnificent eminence before the eyes of men.

Nor is it in any wise difficult for us to perceive the beneficent reasons for this appointed frailness of the mountains. They appear to be threefold: the first, and the most important, that successive soils might be supplied to the plains, in the manner explained in the last chapter, and that men might be furnished with a material for their works of architecture and sculpture, at once soft enough to be subdued, and hard enough to be preserved; the second, that some sense of danger might always be connected with the most precipitous forms, and thus increase their sublimity; and the third, that a subject of perpetual interest might be opened to the human mind in observing the changes of form brought about by time on these monuments of creation”.

The argument was part of his theme of landscape painting in which the aesthetic and philosophical aspects of geology were major points of focus. This is borne out by his description of the Pass of Faido which was the subject of one of his etchings (Fig 2). In a modern setting the alpine pass would illustrate the ecosystem services provided by watersheds. Century by century its relatively small stream contributes ceaselessly to the planet’s ever-increasing entropy.

Fig 2 John Ruskin’s etching of the Pass of Faido (St Gothard, c 1856)

He writes, “There is nothing in this scene, taken by itself, particularly interesting or impressive. The mountains are not elevated, nor particularly fine in form, and the heaps of stones which encumber the Ticino present nothing notable to the ordinary eye. But, in reality, the place is approached through one of the narrowest and most sublime ravines in the Alps, and after the traveller during the early part of the day has been familiarized with the aspect of the highest peaks of the Mont St. Gothard. Hence it speaks quite another language to him from that in which it would address itself to an unprepared spectator: the confused stones, which by themselves would be almost without any claim upon his thoughts, become exponents of the fury of the river by which he has journeyed all day long; the defile beyond, not in itself narrow or terrible, is regarded nevertheless with awe, because it is imagined to resemble the gorge that has just been traversed above; and, although no very elevated mountains immediately overhang it, the scene is felt to belong to, and arise in its essential characters out of, the strength of those mightier mountains in the unseen north“.

By writing in this way Ruskin had himself become part of the random and chance dynamics of the geological process which had produced the scene he depicted.

2  Randomness and art

Actually, for centuries, hauntingly beautiful water-worn ‘viewing stones’ had captivated the imagination of Chinese scholars with their randomness of shape and colour.They have the power to suggest a scene or object, very much like looking at a cloud and seeing running stallions or angels, images unlimited by imagination (Fig 3).

Fig 3 Example of a viewing stone

The art of making miniature rock landscapes has an ancient history. Chinese emperors and noblemen created elaborate palace gardens, complete with streams and scaled-down mountains. In time, Buddhist monks and wealthy intellectuals began to introduce miniature trees (bonsai) and spirit rocks (gongshi) in their mountain retreats and city courtyards. The Chinese word for landscape, shan shui, means ‘mountains and water’: mountains, because of their height, were seen as a bridge between earth and the heavens.  A Taoist story tells of an old man who accidentally fell into the river rapids leading to a high and dangerous waterfall. Onlookers feared for his life. Miraculously, he came out alive and unharmed downstream at the bottom of the falls. People asked him how he managed to survive. “I accommodated myself to the water, not the water to me. Without thinking, I allowed myself to be shaped by it. Plunging into the swirl, I came out with the swirl. This is how I survived.”

As Chinese influence spread abroad, Korea and Japan adopted the practice of stone-collecting. Japan, especially, went on to develop the art in ways unique to its cultural ecology. In Japanese such garden stones are called water-rocks (suiseki.). Collectors of water-rocks are actually bringing disordered nature into the home and temporarily arresting the great entropic forces of the universe which stones represent by the application of miniscule forces of hand and eye. From this point of view, suiseki may also be taken as an example of the propensity of humans to create order in the environment. In the world of suiseki, “wabi-sabi,” refers to the deep spiritual understanding of connecting with a suiseki. Prized suiseki are not replicas of natural objects. They merely suggest the object and capture its essence with simple visual gestures; awakening the imagination and inviting the viewer to complete the picture. They are simplicity, in accordance with Zen teachings. They are “less is more” captured in stone. For Zen Buddhists, they are a means of understanding humankind’s relationship to existence.

Zen Buddhists believe that enlightenment is achieved by turning the eye inward through meditation and mindfulness of daily experiences and so maintain a close connection to nature. Perception and evaluation of complex sensory patterns is central to human cognition and awareness, yet the underlying neural coding mechanisms are almost completely unknown. The human brain is a spectacular pattern analyzer, able to make sense of the most complex images and sounds. Human pattern cognition is so rich, varied, and intense that it is a source of aesthetic pleasure and a ground for creativity.

John Ruskin as a reasoning human, was well equipped to detect and create ordered structure in his mind, but not to arrange things at random. Human behaviour seems to stem from a strong “sense of order”, a term coined by E. H. Gombrich to express how our drive to “regularise” artefacts is a fundamental aspect of human cognition, almost as basic as our sense of smell or touch. Art is therefore the placement of pigments and objects in an order unique to the artist. The poor ability of humans to create random patterns is a physiological limitation on human creativity. Process artists engage with the randomness of organic systems when using perishable, insubstantial, and transitory materials, but works of art based on deliberate random arrangements of pigments or objects are very rare. As an example, Gesche Westphal-Fitch and W. Tecumseh Fitch conclude that Victorian-era quilt-makers were exceptional in achieving a level of intentional spatial randomness that has never been documented in any other human artefact. This conclusion came from an analysis of “Crazy quilts”, which represent an historically important style of quilt-making that became popular in the 1870s, and lasted about 50 years (Fig 4).

Fig 4  Example of a ‘crazy quilt’

Despite the neglect of randomness in the application of artistic creativity humankind has always shown a predilection for the decorative effects of random patterns. Examples are the use of polished stones, particularly veined marble, to furnish buildings, and the derived craft of marbling paper, which was used widely in 19th century book binding.

3 The language of skin

The study of human ageing which represents the work of random biochemical process often begins with the skin by highlighting its loss of elasticity expressed in inevitable well-defined changes in physical properties, which include thinning, sagging, wrinkling and the appearance of age spots, broken blood vessels and areas of dryness. This is known as intrinsic ageing, also known as the natural ageing process. It is a continuous process that normally begins in the mid-20s due to intrinsic changes in the chemical bonds of the extracellular connective tissue of which collagen fibres are dominant. Collagen production slows, and elastin, the substance that enables stretched skin to snap back into place, becomes less springing. Elastic bands stored in a draw mimic the increased chances of death with the passage of time. These changes in skin usually proceed relentlessly at a rate that intrigued Rembrant who left more than eighty paintings, etchings and drawings of himself recording his facial appearance throughout his career. Effects of time and environment are already written on his face in a self portrait produced in 1657, age 51, where he explored the subtle colouring and textures of ageing skin with startling objectivity (Fig 5).

Fig 5 Rembrant self portrait age 51

4 Serendipitous abstractions

In his book, Happy Accidents, Morton Meyers, notes the risks of being stuck in established modes of inquiry; the answer, he writes, may lie in a different direction that can be seen only when perception is altered. Meyers uses the example of the Russian painter Wassili Kandinsky, known as the “father of abstract art,” who late one night, on returning to his dark studio, found that he could not make out the subject on his easel, but was deeply moved by the shapes and colours. It was only later that he discovered that the painting was resting on its side. Nevertheless, this experience led him down the path of emphasizing the importance of the placement of forms and colours and deciding that “depicting objects was not necessary in my paintings and could indeed even harm them” . Meyers then suggests that too-close attention to detail may obscure the view of the whole.

Randomness is a conception of non-order and directly associated with the concepts of chance and probability and so suggests a lack of predictability. There is no comprehensible pattern or grouping. Serendipity, as experienced by Kandinsky, is understood as an event that is an accidental discovery of something, especially when somebody is looking for something else and then making use of these chance encounters in a productive way. In his paintings created in 1912 at the height of his involvement with the avant-garde Expressionist group, Der Blaue Reiter, Kandinsky in a frenzy of randomness and serendipity floods the surface of his canvas with opaque and translucent colours. Amorphous forms appear to explode, overlap, and evaporate beyond the boundaries of the picture plane, alluding to the constant flux of energy and entropy at play in the universe. The goal of Kandinsky’s art of this period, in the painter’s own words, was “to awaken as yet nameless feelings of a finer nature.” It is with these grand canvases, pulsating with colour, that the artist attempted to create a new aesthetic experience of ‘otherness’ for the 20th century. His highly personal colour theory was published in 1911 and meant to explain the painter’s palette in two ways: the effect on the eye (person’s physical understanding of the colour) and an unseen “inner resonance”, psychological effect, when it affects your spiritual experience. He believed that the only way of depicting the unseen inner harmony of organic forms is through abstraction, which inevitably introduces an element of randomness in choice of form and colour and positioning in the picture plane.

He wrote in 1914 (Concerning the Spiritual in Art) that: “The inner need is the basic alike of small and great problems in painting. We are seeking today for the road which is to lead us away from the outer to the inner basis. The spirit, like the body, can be strengthened and developed by frequent exercise. Just as the body, if neglected, grows weaker and finally impotent, so the spirit perishes if untended. And for this reason it is necessary for the artist to know the starting point for the exercise of his spirit. The starting point is the study of colour and its effect on men. There is no need to engage in the finer shades of complicated colour, but rather at first to consider only the direct use of simple colours“. 

In 1922 Kandinsky accepted a teaching position at the Bauhaus, the state-sponsored Weimar school of art and applied design founded in 1919 by architect Walter Gropius. The school’s curriculum was based on the principle that the crafts were equal to the traditional arts and was organized according to a medieval-style guild system of training under the tutelage of masters. Kandinsky conducted the Wall Painting Workshop and Preliminary Course and taught at all three of the school’s sequential locations in Weimar, Dessau, and Berlin until 1933, when the Bauhaus was closed due to pressure from the National Socialist government.

During this period geometric shapes came to play a dominant role in Kandinsky’s pictorial vocabulary. He was interested in uncovering a universal aesthetic language and increased his use of overlapping, flat planes and clearly delineated forms. Geometrical elements took on increasing importance in both his teaching and painting-particularly the circle, half-circle, the angle, straight lines and curves (Fig 6). This change was due, in part, to his familiarity with the Suprematist work of Kazimir Malevich and the art of the Constructivists. Kandinsky’s turn toward geometric forms was also likely a testament to the influence of industry and developments in technology. In his writings of this time Kandinsky analyzed the geometrical elements which make up every painting- the point and the line. He called the physical support and the material surface on which the artist draws or paints the basic plane, or BP. However, he did not analyse them objectively, but from the point of view of their inner effect on the observer.

Fig 6 Kandinsky Composition 8 (1928)

In placing his lines and shapes Kandinsky, although adhering to a standard vocabulary of shapes, was really making a series of arbitrary decisions with regard to the choice and placement of shapes and colours. With the same vocabulary, a different maker would make different choices. This raises the general issue of the viewer’s interaction with a work of art where he or she has access to only one of many possible compositions.

Kandinsky never made these comparisons but the creation of computer programmes, such as ‘The Pattern Cognition and Aesthetics’ programme now allows a scientific comparison to be made of the responses of different viewers to variations on an artistic theme . The PCA programme uses computer morphing technology to study 3D shape aesthetics. Experiments with this software are based on 3D laser scans of sculptures by the 20th century modernist Jean Arp from a variety of sources. The laser scans serve as the basis for arrays of Arp’s morphed shapes in which geometric characteristics like surface curvature, axis curvature, and volume distribution are gradually varied (Fig 7). Subjects are asked to choose their favourite and least favourite sculptures in each array. The results are analysed to determine how these geometric characteristics influence aesthetic preference. Findings in this experiment are being used to design targeted tests of aesthetic responses in the human brain using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

Fig 7 Constellation According to the Laws of Chance Jean Arp c.1930

This relief shows Arp’s preoccupation with abstracted biomorphic forms inspired by constellations of natural forms such as stars and clouds, and his attempts to develop what he referred to in 1957 as an ‘object language’ based on a small number of similar shapes (quoted in von Asten 2012, p.86). He referred to such forms as ‘cosmic shapes’ and is quoted in a posthumous publication of 1972 stating that ‘the forms that I created between 1927 and 1948 and that I called cosmic forms were vast forms meant to englobe a multitude of forms such as: the egg, the planetary orbit , … the bud,  the human head, the breast, the sea shell, … I constellated these forms according to the laws of chance”’ (quoted in von Asten 2012, p.57). The black and white cell-like shapes of Constellation According to the Laws of Chance express Arp’s deep-seated interest not in replicating the precise forms of nature, but in creating art based on the generative power of nature, like ‘fruit that grows in man, like a fruit on a plant or a child in its mother’s womb’, as Arp stated in 1931. The organic forms in this image coupled with Arp’s tendency to reposition objects indicate this desire to develop abstract art organically through the process of making.

5 Nature registration

Jacek Tylicki began his work with nature in 1973. Taking pieces of paper or canvas, he sent them blowing into the wind, under trees and rocks, and waited for a time until recovering them to see what the world had done to them. He ended up creating a startling amount of beautiful forms, colours, and patterns that, in all actuality, he hadn’t made (Fig 8). Tylicki began to make nature do something that all artists do as well-create forms. The results are an array of shapes and designs that are unique; full of movement and detail that a person could not ever hope to make on their own. He harnesses nature’s hand to make something more permanent than itself. 

 “Avoiding all control, I spread out sheets of white paper or canvas in nature. For some time they stay in the grass, in the rushes of the river, in the meadows or in the mountains. Nature registers its presence, covering the surface of the paper with colors, forms and tracks. This process is controlled by a number of agents; such as space and time, substance and causality. It is governed by nature’s intensity. It does not depend on man’s interference. Nature is the greatest and most admirable creator, and unlike logic it doesn’t fail.The artist’s obligation is not to shape -handicraft, but to understand the riddles of reality. In such conception of Art there lies, as in the Universe itself, an immense richness, and a countless variety of forms.”

Fig 8 One of Jacek Tylicki’s nature registrations, Natural Art, Number 183,

(Created by nature), on the ground of the old forest, South Sweden, 17/08 – 29/08 1976.

Fig 9 One of Jill Randall’s nature registrations created in the Parys Mountain copper mine (Wales).

Nature registrations were produced in 2008 by Jill Randall an Artist-In-Residence at the Parys Mountain Copper Mine and Amlwch Industrial Heritage Centre in North Wales. The Parys Mountain was once the world’s leading centre of copper production. It is an extreme environment, with its own “terrible beauty” of amazing colours, a toxic landscape where corrosion and time are accelerated. Beneath the skin of the landscape lie hidden voids, the vast underground network of abandoned mine shafts where peculiar life forms grow in the complete absence of light. The outcome of her residency was a series of 10 huge, brightly-coloured registrations created in and by the abandoned underground mine workings (Fig 9). Physically and practically very difficult to site and retrieve the colours were the results of on-going chemical reactions in the water percolating through the rock strata into the man-made caverns of the mine.  The stained registrations on the Randall’s art substrate reflect the mineralised colours in the walls of the mine. 

Both kinds of chemical interactions are also open to interactions with the concrete surfaces of the art works of Michael Dean which demonstrate that hardness can be deceiving.  Despite its reputation for intransigence, concrete is a uniquely subtle, delicate material. The surface of any motorway flyover, housing block or city pavement reveals a spectrum of random patinas through which concrete absorbs and reflects its surroundings. Metal fixings soak rusty stains into their concrete bases; shoes and rubber tyres apply patient layers of dirt and oil onto walkways and roads, and rainwater causes streaks of colouration to develop across walls. Michael Dean exploits this aspect of his material’s versatility in surprising ways. He makes objects that betray intricate records of their histories on their outer surfaces. Even the mineral content of tap water can dramatically affect the way concrete looks. It remains porous when hard, so oils from contact with human skin give it an organic quality. Some of Dean’s works have the uncanny appearance of elephant hide, dark whale skin or cured panels of leather; others resemble nothing so much as giant fossils, plant matter preserved and fractured beneath layers of peat bog. All of these associations are, to different degrees, ancient, and make us forget that Dean’s sculptures they cling to only recently came into the world through his efforts.  Dean’s sculptures are either the perfect size to be carried or quote their surrounding architecture where they are to be found propped at random against gallery walls. Made from cast concrete, the surfaces are veined and ridged, offering invitations to be touched (Fig 10). 

Fig 10 Installation shot, Michael Dean in The Hepworth Prize for Sculpture. 26 October 2018 – 20 January 2019. Photo, David Lidsay

Tactility is an essential sculptural quality for Dean because he wishes us to first ‘touch with the eyes, and then allow ourselves to touch with the hand’ in a process that brought order into the chaotic arrangement of the installation.

6 Complexity and entropy

 Like throwing a paint-soaked sponge against a wall, making a work of art is a process consisting of a series of actions taken in order to achieve a particular end when energy becomes form. The actions consume energy and it seems reasonable to assume that the entropy of making a complex work of art is more than that required to make a simple one. The finished work prompts a response from the viewer according to his or her understanding of the ensemble as a system of interrelated parts. The ensemble has properties more than the sum of its parts and the work holds the attention of the viewer or a listener according to their understanding of its dynamic complexity. In this respect, there are three kinds of complexity; that based on the structure created by its maker; that perceived by the viewer or listener; and that accepted as a cultural norm by society. An audience experiences the complexity of a painting through the patterns of paint marks mapped out across the spatial dimensions of a canvas. These patterns are static in the sense that they do not evolve with time. However, the audiences will experience a musical work’s complexity through the development of the pattern of sound as a function of time.

Any work of art thus finds its own audience by inviting them to make what they will of this or that idea as part of the relationship between objective, subjective and social complexity. Complexity can literally be defined as being “made up of a large number of parts that have many interactions.” This definition has been applied to many subjects, such as art, music, dance, and literature. In aesthetics research, complexity has been divided into three dimensions that account for the interaction between the amount of elements, differences in elements, and patterns in their arrangement. Furthermore, this characteristic in aesthetics consists of a wide spectrum, ranging from low complexity to high complexity. Key studies have found through the Galvanic skin response that more complex artworks produce greater physiological arousal and higher hedonic ratings, which is consistent with other findings that claim that aesthetic liking increases with complexity. Most important, several studies have found that there exists a U-shape relationship between aesthetic preference and complexity. In other words, the lowest ratings in aesthetic responses correlate with high and low levels of complexity, which displays an “avoidance of extremes.”Furthermore, the highest level of aesthetic response occurs in the middle level of complexity.

A study of undergraduates’ ratings of liking and complexity of contemporary pop music reported an inverted U-shape relationship between liking and complexity. Other research, suggests that this trend of complexity could also be associated with ability to understand, in which observers prefer artwork that is not too easy or too difficult to comprehend.The research both confirms and disconfirms predictions that suggest that individual characteristics such as artistic expertise and training can produce a shift in the inverted U-shape distribution.

This relationship between objective, subjective and cultural complexity across the arts has been explored by Jean Pierre Boon, John Casti and Richard Taylor who focused on the spatial complexity of Jackson Pollock’s abstract paintings (Fig 11) and the temporal complexity of Johann Sebastian Bach’s music as well as about 30 music pieces by various composers. They measured the objective complexity using established tools of complexity theory fractal dimension ( D) to quantify the global dynamics and entropy (H) to measure the local dynamics. They found that over a period of ten years (1943-1952) Pollock refined his fractal construction process and appeared to be able to tune the D value and hence the objective complexity of his paintings. As a consequence, his masterworks gravitated to an objective complexity of 1.7. The researchers also found that the musical compositions of Bach have a similar level of objective complexity. They suggest that the D values of Pollock’s work appear to be trademark signatures of his unique objective complexity, and might potentially help in distinguishing authentic Pollocks from imitations although this does not seem to be the case for musical compositions.

Fig 11 Jackson Pollock; 1950 Autumn Rhythm

7  Using art to foster sustainability

“I like to imagine that sustainability represents the next step towards a beautiful and hope-filled vision of the future, far more exciting than what most definitions of the word convey. But translating this complex concept into compelling images and words, and innovative and creative ideas is a critical challenge. The fact that there can be no local sustainability without global sustainability — across nations and cultures — makes the translation challenge all the more difficult. This is where the arts come in.  Vision, imagination, creative breakthroughs — all of these are essential for the emergence of sustainability.  All of these are also at the center of the artistic process.  My hope is that the information I have gathered in the course of my research will convince readers of the great value of building a bridge between the arts and sustainability”. Melita Rogelj

Meirle Ukeles’ artwork is created through a process of participatory democracy that unites people in open dialogue about the characteristics of important community ecological issues. In 1976 Ukeles accepted an unsalaried position as artist-in-residence with the New York City Department of Sanitation. She proposed to do work that would incorporate a dialogue of community participation around life-centred issues, and ecological sustainability. Ukeles focused her creative energies on a series of long term projects to provide visitors with points of access to issues of urban waste management which is the ‘material entropy’ of consumerism.

Touch Sanitation was Ukeles’ first project as the city’s new artist-in-residence. She drew attention to the maintenance of urban ecological systems in general and the unjustified use of pejorative language to represent “garbage men” in particular. Ukeles travelled sections of New York City to shake the hands of over 8500 sanitation employees or “sanmen” during a year-long performance (Fig 12). She documented her activities on a map, meticulously recording her conversations with the workers. Ukeles documented the workers’ private stories, fears, castigations, and public humiliations in an attempt to change some of the negative vernacular words used in the public sphere of society. In this way, Ukeles used her art as an agent of change to challenge conventional language stereotypes.

Fig 12  Meirle Ukeles hand-shaking performance

Developing  a similar theme Olafur Eliasson has created large-scale installations and designs that have contributed to redefining the ecological essence of cities and communities. Some of his major works include The New York City Waterfalls, Ice Watch, The Weather Project, and Riverbed. Since 2012, he has co-led Little Sun, a social business and global project addressing the need for providing light in a sustainable way that benefits communities without electricity, creates local jobs and generates local profits. Eliasson says: “Art offers one of the few places in our society today where people from various backgrounds can come together to share an experience while having different opinions. Disagreement is not only accepted but encouraged. Art helps us identify with one another and expands our notion of we—from the local to the global”.

In 1999, Eliasson documented several dozen glaciers in Iceland. Twenty years later, he returned to photograph them again.  The photographic series brings together images from 1999 and 2019 to reveal the radical threat to our climate. 

“In 1999 I travelled to Iceland to document a number of the country’s glaciers from the air. Back then, I thought of the glaciers as beyond human influence. They were awe-inspiring and exhilaratingly beautiful. They seemed immobile, eternal. I was struck at the time by the difference between the human scale and the scale of geo-history. For me a glacier or a rock seem solid, but on the geological scale, rocks and glaciers are constantly in motion”..

Twenty years later he returned to photograph the same glaciers from the same angle and at the same distance and he was shocked to see all had shrunk considerably and some were even difficult to find again (Fig 13). A group was formed to mark the passing of Okjökull, the first glacier in Iceland to vanish entirely as a result of human activity.  Once a glacier melts, it is gone. Forever!

“ Every glacier lost reflects our inaction. Every glacier saved will be a testament to the action taken in the face of the climate emergency. One day, instead of mourning the loss of more glaciers, we must be able to celebrate their survival.”

Fig 13 Paired aerial photographs of thirty glaciers in Iceland: 1999 and 2019.

In 2018 Eliasson extracted 30 blocks of glacial ice from the waters surrounding Greenland and placed them in public spaces across London, where they were left to melt.  Called Ice Watch, the temporary installation was meant to serve as a visual reminder of the impact of climate change on the environment (fig14).  The art work carries the message that as ice the individual water molecules are fixed and ordered. As ice melts the molecules become free to move therefore becoming disordered. If the water is heated to become gas, the molecules are then free to move independently through space. For both of the above reactions the entropy of the system would be positive.  For decades, ecologists have used entropy-like quantities as measures of biological diversity. In physics, it measures the “disorderliness” of a physical system. But it is a general concept used also in mathematics, statistics, and the theory of automated information as a measure of unpredictability. The more entropy there in a system, the less managers will be able to accurately predict its future behavior.

Fig 14 Ice Watch London

Eliasson’s artistic expressions of climate change are reminiscent of an aesthetic experiment discussed by Paul Klee, in a lecture at the Bauhaus. Klee suggested that if you take a thin sheet of metal, cover it with sand, and stroke the edge with a violin bow, the oscillating vibrations will express themselves in a corresponding rhythmic pattern in the sand. For Klee it was an analogy of the artist and his medium, the artistic spirit rendered into the material world. “That is to say, impetus to vibrate (or will or urge to live), then transposition into material happening and finally visible expression thereof in a new ordering of matter. We (the artists) are the bow, we are the will to expression, matter is the intermediary, the figures in the sand are the ultimate formal product.”  Sand patterns formed from vibrating a sheet of thin metal are known as Chladni patterns.  They occur when fine particles, such as grains of sand or salt, form a unique pattern in response to pure tone vibrations such as musical notes.  Klee visualised an artistic outcome of this creative process in a painting called “Flora on Sand (Fig 15).  It was composed of numerous rectangular swatches of different colours and sizes placed side by side.  Despite the title this is an enigmatic composition.  The dramatic clustering of coloured rectangles reflects how far Klee had mastered colour theory, by this time having explored the topic extensively in his writings and teaching.  Indeed. Klee could say, “Colour and I are one,”  The relationship between his use of colour and shape is symbolic here influenced by the theories of Goethe, Runge, Delacroix and Kandinsky, Klee developed his own colour theory based on a six-part rainbow shaped into a colour wheel. He placed the complementary colours in relation to movements that interact with one another, which shows this theory is based on dynamic transitions. 

Fig 15 Flora on Sand,  Paul Klee (1927)

‘Flora on Sand’ is Klee’s statement of randomness associated with his own colour theory, where the position of each colour swatch is determined by the colours and sizes of those adjacent to it.  In this context, it is an artistic creation with low entropy but with a kind of randomness one would discover by recording the distribution of species in a sand dune ecosystem using a squared quadrat (Fig 16), The spatial arrangement of plant species would replace the colour swatches.  

Fig 16   Measuring patterns of vegetation using a quadrat

As a scientific statement the pattern of plant distribution within the quadrat summarises the impact of rabbit grazing on species diversity of grassland Fig 17).   The picture is also an example of process art symbolising the aesthetics and importance of managing biodiversity for sustainability.  

Fig 17 Pattern of flora in a rabbit grazed grassland; 1m square quadrat;  processed with Topaz algorithms to highlight rabbit grazed areas (yellow ochre).

In his picture ‘Flora on Sand’, composed of watercolour swatches, Klee has gone as far as this technique and his colour theory will allow. However, computer algorithms can take us further because modern processing of abstract digital images is based on the use of algorithms for manipulating  pixelation, and involves the orderly placing of tens of thousands of unique colours in one picture. The digital picture ‘of the pattern of flora in a rabbit grazed grassland’(Fig 17) is composed of 133,257 unique colours .  This kind of illustration is a focus for science and art.  Art can help build environmental awareness. Indeed, nature and science are inextricably linked to art in the environmental realm. While science measures the health of the planet, art helps us visualize our complex relationship to the natural world. Art has a unique set of tools to represent our world: irony and allegory, metaphor and humor. Science provides facts while art tells stories, which like scientific investigations, can be open ended.  Such is the case with Fig 18), which began as a photograph of a randomly thrown 1 m square quadrat to record an index of the biodiversity of a lawn (28,297 unique colours).

Fig 18 ‘Pixelated 1m square quadrat of a neglected urban lawn.

At the point in his career when he produced ‘Flora in Sand’, Klee is directing us towards the use of unoptical impressions and representations to begin a pictorial dialogue with nature. He sees that the artist is a man, himself nature and a part of nature in natural space.  His role as an artist is to transmit his reasoning about nature to explain its value using an abstract language of form and colour. In our present age we can see he has created a pathway for us to create our own order of reality and make artistic statements about ethics, civic responsibility, or social injustices to live sustainably in nature.

8 Internet references

Narure’s toolbox

Spatial analysis of Crazy Quilts

Language, reality and image

Pattern cognition and ethics

Rembrandt self portraits

Kandinsky art works 1912

Generating Abstract Paintings in Kandinsky Style

A bit of marbling history

Art of Paul Klee

Entropy and art

Art has power to change the world

The complete works of John Ruskin

Klee, ways to study nature

Bridging arts and sustainability

The beautiful world of Melita Rogelj

Abstract But Colourful

Building and communicating a core identity

September 24th, 2020

People do things for reasons. These reasons may not always be totally explicit, to individuals and others, but they are always there’ (Haines and Drakeford). 

How we respond to a social problem is a consequence of what we think causes that problem’ (Polk).

Fig 1 Example of a personal body of knowledge on the theme of ‘belonging, place and change’ assembled with Google Blogger; the subject and topics of ‘ancestors and place’.

1 Knowing your core identity.

Many  European cities and towns are exhibiting rising levels of social exclusion and the concept of ‘social innovation’ in urban development focuses on the processes aimed at countering it.  

The term ‘social innovation’ has three core dimensions: 

  • the satisfaction of human needs (content dimension);
  • an increase in the socio-political capability and access to resources (empowerment dimension); 
  • changes in social relations, especially with regard to governance (process dimension). 

This blog addresses all three dimensions of social innovation in the context of living sustainably by getting to know your core identity and valuing the community where you live; its origins, how you came to be and what you can do to improve things for future citizens. The process dimension of social innovation is the dynamics of ancestry.  Knowing, recording, and preserving your family history impacts you, your family, and future generations of people you will never know. Family history is more than pedigree charts, censuses, and birthdates.  It can shield you against adverse life experiences by giving you an understanding of who you are by creating your own narratives about yourself and helps establish your unique, authentic core identity.  For example, family narrative researcher Robyn Fivush found that sharing family stories contributes to young peoples’ emerging sense of self, both as individuals and as  members of unified families. Adolescents who are able to recount specifics and details of family stories have higher self-esteem and greater resilience.  Family stories give us a sense of belonging and create a core identity with place that can be a great source of empowerment in an age of rapid change. This puts the concepts of ‘belonging’, ‘place’ and ‘change’ at the centre of educational narratives to cope with social innovations needed for living sustainably.  Place and placement of individuals guide the narrative. Family stories directly impact how we see ourselves because they give us an idea of where we come from and how we fit into local history. In this respect we are a unique combination of the culture, history, and traditions we inherited from our own families augmented by our freedom of thought.  Freedom of thought is the precursor and progenitor of action and thus is closely linked to other liberties, including freedom of religion, freedom of speech, and freedom of expression. 

The more we discover about our past, the greater a connection we feel to our ancestors. If we record our own history we open the opportunity for future generations to connect with these when we are gone.  Connecting with members of our family past and present by learning their history fills an innate need in each one of us.  The single most important thing you can do for your family may be the simplest of all: develop a strong family narrative that can be added to by future generations.

2 Do you know?

Key questions for anyone embarking on a quest for developing their core identity are; what is the glue that holds a family together? What are the elements that make some families effective, resilient, and happy?  The last decade has seen important  breakthroughs in knowledge about how to make families, along with other groups, function more effectively. Research,for example, has reshaped our understanding of family dinnertime conflicts, discipline and difficult conversations. These innovations have come from trendsetting programs in Silicon Valley and the military, who have introduced techniques for making teams, including families, function better.  The family dimension began from an observation made by Sara Duke, a psychologist working with children, who noticed something about young people with learning disabilities.

“The ones who know a lot about their families tend to do better when they face challenges

The Duke-Fivush measure, called the “Do You Know?” scale, tests the idea by asking children to answer 20 questions.  Examples include: Do you know where your grandparents grew up? Do you know where your mom and dad went to high school? Do you know where your parents met? Do you know an illness or something really terrible that happened in your family? Do you know the story of your birth?

Duke and Fivush asked those questions of four dozen families in the summer of 2001, and taped several of their dinner table conversations. They then compared the children’s results to a battery of psychological tests the children had taken, and reached an overwhelming conclusion. The more children knew about their family’s history, the stronger their sense of control over their lives, the higher their self-esteem and the more successfully they believed their families functioned. The “Do You Know?” scale turned out to be the best single predictor of children’s emotional health and happiness.

The terrorist attack on the World Trade Centre provided the opportunity to reassess the stress responsiveness of their subjects and once again the ones who knew more about their families proved to be more resilient to the 9-11 experience, meaning they could moderate the effects of stress.

Why does knowing where your grandmother went to school help a child overcome something as minor as a skinned knee or as major as a terrorist attack?  It is thought that the answers have to do with a child’s sense of being part of a larger family,  Every family has a unifying narrative and those narratives take one of three shapes; the ascending family narrative ie things got better year on year: the descending narrative ie things got worst year on year: and the oscillating family narrative ie there were good times and bad times.

Children who have the most self-confidence have a strong “intergenerational self.” They know they belong to something bigger than themselves.  Leaders in other fields have found similar results. Many groups use what sociologists call sense-making; the building of a narrative that explains what the group is about.  Successful human enterprises of any kind, from companies to countries, go out of their way to capture their core identity. They preserve core, while stimulating progress.  The same applies to families.  Indeed it has been  recommended that families create a mission statement similar to the ones companies and other organizations use to identify their core values.  The military has also found that teaching recruits about the history of their service increases their camaraderie and ability to bond more closely with their unit.  

Decades of research have shown that most happy families communicate effectively. But talking doesn’t mean simply “talking through problems,” as important as that is. Talking also means telling a positive story about yourselves. When faced with a challenge, happy families, like happy people, just add a new chapter to their life story that shows them overcoming the hardship. This skill is particularly important for children, whose identity tends to get locked in during adolescence.

The bottom line: if you want a happier family, create, refine and retell the story of your family’s positive moments and your ability to bounce back from the difficult ones. That act alone may increase the odds that your family will thrive for many generations to come.

3 Boredom

There is a growing interest in research about place attachment, or emotional bonds formed with places.  It derives from the acknowledgement of the role that these bonds can play in defining personal identity and establishing a sense of belonging to places that encourage pro-environmental behaviors. Vandalism is antisocial behavior that involves the willful destruction or damaging of property in a manner that defaces, mars, or otherwise adds a physical blemish that diminishes the property’s value.  Participating in vandalism also diminishes one’s core identity. 

The UK Government describes anti-social behaviour as, ‘intimidating or threatening activity that scares you or damages your quality of life’. Most anti-social behaviour can be allocated to one of these three categories: street problems, nuisance neighbours or environmental crime. These categories cover a broad range of conduct.  Rowdy and inconsiderate behaviour, inappropriate use of vehicles, dumping rubbish, graffiti and other deliberate damage, have been identified as key issues amongst residents. Anti-social behaviour impacts individuals, families and communities, it prevents a peaceful community life and degrades the environment.

The motivation for being involved in criminal damage, recorded by the UK’s Offending, Crime and Justice Survey 2005, was boredom, after which followed: ‘for the buzz’, and ‘was drunk’. Widespread boredom is not just restricted to young people.  Ir permeates society as a whole, due in part to ‘mediated entertainments and prearranged excitements’.  Under the dehumanizing conditions of modernism, boredom has come to pervade the experience of everyday life. The response to collective boredom is ‘to have fun’ which has spawned not only moments of illicit excitement, that is, ephemeral crimes committed against boredom itself, but larger efflorescences of political and cultural rebellion.   Work and consumption of mass-produced leisure activities does not satisfy people; humans need adventure, but not in pre-packaged form. This explains our need for a ‘buzz’ obtained through legitimate (e.g. alcohol, extreme sports) or illegitimate means (e.g. drugs, acts of vandalism). For some people, ‘the deployment of carefully honed skills in dangerous situations, the on-the-spot integration of practiced artistry and illicit adventure, the embracing of emotional rituals that pre-date modernist rationality, all suggest experiences that are not boring.  They are not boring precisely because they recapture, if momentarily, the lost immediacy of self-made human experience. They suggest a broader question as well: Are certain crimes committed not against people or property as such, but against boredom?’.   

The absence of theories of boredom is argued to be a gap both in psychology and education. For children in school, the boredom model has the character of a positive feedback loop that is maintained in unstable equilibrium by external forces until such time as they can leave school.  Zachary Jason put it this way: 

“For two weeks in third grade, I preached the gospel of the wild boar. My teacher, the sprightly Mrs. DeWilde, assigned my class an open-ended research project: Create a five-minute presentation about any exotic animal. I devoted my free time before bedtime to capturing the wonders of the Sus scrofa in a 20-minute sermon. I filled a poster as big as my 9-year-old self with photographs, facts, and charts, complete with a fold-out diagram of the snout. During my presentation, I shared my five-stanza rhyming poem about the swine’s life cycle, painted the species’ desert and taiga habitats in florid detail, and made uncanny snorting impressions. I attacked each new project that year — a sketch of the water cycle, a history of the Powhatan — with the same evangelism.

Flash forward to the fall of my senior year in high school, and my near-daily lunchtime routine: hunched over at a booth in Wendy’s, chocolate Frosty in my right hand, copying calculus worksheets from Jimmy and Spanish homework from Chris with my left while they copied my notes on Medea or Jane Eyre. Come class, I spent more time playing Snake on my graphing calculator than reviewing integrals, more time daydreaming than conjugating verbs.

What happened in those nine years? Many things. But mainly, like the majority of my fellow Americans, I fell victim to the epidemic of classroom boredom”.

4 Urbanised heroes

Social innovations are new social practices that aim to meet social needs in a better way than existing solutions for a carbon free society which shares planetary resources equally between countries. These new ideas are fostered with the goal of extending and strengthening civil society by eliminating boredom through all dimensions of of social innovation.  Currently, we are far from realising these outcomes because of suboptimal working conditions, in education, community development and health. 

At heart we are all like Zachary Jason. We all have an inner urge to projectise life by building personal bodies of knowledge, but a national curriculum mitigates against this happening in school.  Self-motivated projects are mental prints of our provisional understanding of subjects we are passionate about.  In particular, when faced with the past we feel compelled to recover it in order to thread it through the warp of our own daily life.  Learning the history of our ancestors helps us gain a greater understanding of the challenges they faced, and it often inspires greater love and compassion for their flaws and mistakes. This compassion can easily translate to our relationships with the living, within our families and outside them. We all face hard things. Remembering that fact in the context of others’ shortcomings allows us to be better employees, managers, spouses, parents, children, siblings, and human beings.  That is to say, knowing our family history builds resilience. In learning about our ancestors’ lives, we can see patterns of overcoming failures and surviving hard times. Their stories remind us that surely not everything in life will work easily, that disappointments occur and inequalities exist, but that we can recover, triumph, and find happiness despite hardships.

William Dade was an 18th-century cleric in Yorkshire, England. Although he never married and had no children of his own, he promoted the practice of including as much information as possible in parish registers in addition to the basic requirements of law, which are to record births, marriages and deaths. Because of his efforts, many registers of this period contain rich information for genealogists. Amy Harris, a family history researcher at Brigham Young University, refers to Dade’s type of selfless effort as ‘genealogical consciousness’. The act of being aware of and having a sense of responsibility to our ancestors, progenitors, and all of future humankind is an act of altruistic selflessness.

The ability to cooperate and act selflessly is unique to humanity. Harris teaches that this is what allows us to harness the “power of millions and billions.”   Learning our history, recording it, and preserving it blesses not only our related family, but the entire human family.  So, our family history goes beyond the names and dates we find in our tree. It’s about what makes us who we are. It’s about people with whom we can form deep connections. It’s about people who lived and breathed and suffered and triumphed. It’s about roots and branches and leaves and entire forests. It’s about all of us.

The majority of families tell their family stories in a prototypical, perhaps archetypal fashion, depicting their ancestors as heroes under circumstances of deprivation, danger, fear, and threat. A tendency to valorize ancestors is observed in the stories framed by important historical events while private family stories tend to have more of an amusing character. Why a family shares that or another type of story depends on many circumstances, particularly on a long-lived and generative ancestor, intergenerational relations, and family values.  However, the fact is, if you go back far enough, each one of us has a shared ancestor with every other person on earth. 

Scientists estimate that the most recent common ancestor of all humans lived just a few thousand years ago.   Nathan Lents develops this concept that there was someone, a specific man or woman, who probably lived in either Egypt or Babylonia during the classical period, to whom we can all trace our ancestry. ‘ Assuming an average generation time of 20 years, this means that we are all 120th cousins, descended from someone who was alive when the pyramids were already aging structures’. Many millions of other people living at that time also have living descendants, of course. The last common ancestor is simply the one who is an ancestor to all of us, in addition to our many other ancestors who are not common to everyone.  Lents gives the example that in the lands of the former Mongolian empire, around 8% of the population are direct descendants of the serial rapist Genghis Kahn and that takes us back less than 800 years. Even as far away as North America, around 0.5% of men carry the Y-chromosome of the great Kahn’.  Lents believes that  it is good to keep the limits of genealogy in mind and to hold its value in context.  In this holistic state of mind we owe more to the culture our ancestors represent than to their genes.

In his review of the Afro American Alex Haley’s semi fictional account (Roots) of the seven generations of his ancestors that began with enslavement, Jervis Anderson writes of the stern necessity that drove Hayley to see and understand himself more wholly. 

“Even when the past responds to inquiry, it seldom does so fully; there are many places in which it keeps its silence. In composing his work of ‘faction’, Haley may have felt the need to do what many of the rest of us must: complete ourselves, as best we can, by an act of imagination”. 

The point is that we are eventually forced to end the genealogical trail with a fanciful account of a surrogate ancestor to fill gaps. This reasoning, sometimes called abductive reasoning, typically begins with an incomplete set of observations and proceeds to the likeliest possible explanation for the data set. Abductive reasoning yields the kind of daily decision-making that does its best with the information at hand, which often is incomplete. An example is applying arts/abductive reasoning to explain sustainability, global warming and inequalities.

https://www.psychologytoday.com/gb/blog/beastly-behavior/201801/the-meaning-and-meaninglessness-genealogy

5  Grimsby: a Case History

By the mid-20th century Grimsby was the home port for the largest fishing fleet in the world. This economy declined dramatically after the Cod Wars of the 1970s had denied the United Kingdom access to Iceland’s prolific fishing grounds.  Also, in line with its Common Fisheries Policy, the European Union parcelled out fishing quotas in waters within a 200-nautical-mile limit of the UK coast to other European countries. Since then Grimsby has suffered post-industrial decline, although expansion of the food business has been encouraged since the 1990s.  For about a century the community was an example of an ecumene, a collection of families dependent on the North Sea’s fish stocks for its livelihood.  Its economy, from building the fishing fleet to the home braiding of fishing nets, was built around an industry that does not exist any more. The social deficit was depicted in a 2018 article in the Guardian newspaper as skills shortages, long-term jobless families, deprivation, drugs, homelessness, empty homes, fly-tipping, and children in care. The government’s indices of deprivation in 2015 ranked the town’s East Marsh Ward as the fourth worst place in the UK for employment, the second for crime and the worst for education, skills and training.  Grimsby is therefore a prime case history of post industrial cultural decline and a candidate   

for the urgent application of social innovation.

Local efforts to develop and deploy effective solutions to challenge systemic social and environmental issues of belonging, place and change are expressed in the town’s visual culture. Visual culture refers to aspects of culture that are expressed in visual images of public spaces. Art and visual culture are intertwined and for most people they come into view together in public spaces. 

For most UK citizens their family heroes are likely to be great grandfathers who made the brave decision to leave a labouring life in the countryside to seek their fortunes in industrialising towns and cities, hoping to live the dream. Theirs is what has been called the heroism of modern life. 

‘Urbanised heroes’ refers to a case history family narrative of Fred Bellamy (born,1858) and Ted  Kemp, (born, 1860), both economic migrants, who embedded their families in Grimsby in the second half of the 19th century.  To discover the bare bones of the settlement process means developing a genealogical consciousness in order to piece together random finds in the census data and public records of births, marriages and deaths to assemble a personal or collective history.  Having public access to this information actually insists that the finder has a moral duty to recover the life or the culture that brought it into existence.  This makes these tiny survivals in census forms so precious.  They illustrate the fragility of memories that give content to names.  It also shows how the legacies of the past require effort  to rescue them from anonymity and simplification and make them meaningful.  The task of anyone attempting to write a family history is to answer the question, How can I build upon these fragments of past lives knowing that much of the real person is lost in the way we recall.  This is the subject of Keith Douglas’ poem, entitled ‘Simplify me when I’m dead’.

Remember me when I am dead

and simplify me when I’m dead.

As the processes of earth

strip off the colour of the skin:

take the brown hair and blue eye

and leave me simpler than at birth,

when hairless I came howling in

as the moon entered the cold sky.

Of my skeleton perhaps,

so stripped, a learned man will say

“He was of such a type and intelligence,” 

no more.

Thus when in a year collapse

particular memories, you may

deduce, from the long pain I bore

the opinions I held, who was my foe

and what I left, even my appearance,

but incidents will be no guide.

Time’s wrong-way telescope will show

a minute man ten years hence

and by distance simplified.

Through that lens see if I seem

substance or nothing: of the world

deserving mention or charitable oblivion,

not by momentary spleen

or love into decision hurled,

leisurely arrive at an opinion.

Remember me when I am dead

and simplify me when I’m dead. 

6  Blogging a personal body of knowledge

This blog is a development of one published in 2017 entitled Networking in Common.  That blog was introduced with the following quote from Culture 21.

“Public space is a place of social interaction as well as key for the identity and landscape of the city. As a common good, it belongs to all inhabitants and it has a systemic relation with other common goods such as culture or education”.

Art and visual culture are bound up with everything that one sees in day-to-day life, i.e. advertising, landscape, buildings, photographs, movies, and paintings.  In fact, visual culture is expressed in anything in public space that captures a person’s attention and begins a process of communication from past to present through visual means.  Visual culture brings together processes of social innovation by drawing upon art history, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, When analysing visual expressions of culture, one must focus on production, reception, and intention, as well as economical, social, and ideological aspects in order to produce a digital landmark.

At a grassroots level, cyberspace allows social innovation as an interactive form of communication, where any digital citizen can use social media to communicate with the world in realtime and can actually receive a response, can have a dialogue and have a chat room as a public space to organise a response.  This points to a potential route for young people to assemble their own knowledge base using social media from which to become digital literate.  Digital literacy in education encompasses specific skills when reading online text that may contain embedded resources such as hyperlinks, audio clips, graphs, or charts.  The aim is to engage young people on line in social innovation  that requires them to make choices to communicate their knowledge about what is good and bad about where they live.  It is important that they present their plans for improving the bad things involving self education for living sustainably This blog provides an educational framework, with examples of subjects in cultural and social heritage for them to do this.  Each subject consists of topics which are illustrated with pictures and notes. The package can be published on the Internet for comments as a prescription to overcome boredom. It can be assembled and communicated globally using Google Blogger, for example, as the Internet platform (Figs 1 and 2).

Fig 2 Example of a personal body of knowledge on the theme of ‘belonging, place and change’ assembled with Google Blogger; the menu of subjects

https://placeandchange.blogspot.com/

Digital landmarking of cultural vitality

August 18th, 2020

“That museum exhibit stimulated my imagination. It broadened my world from my everyday life in a small town and encouraged me to think about how people lived in other places, not only in the past but also in the present. I realize now that what I was doing in that museum was the spiritual practice of imagination”. Mary Ann Brussat


1 Culture 21

Culture 21, also known as ‘The Agenda 21 For Culture’, was approved in May 2004 by cities and local governments of the world. Signatories are committed to promoting and maintaining cultural vitality expressed in human rights, cultural diversity, sustainability, participatory democracy and the creation of the conditions for peace. Cultural vitality is the evidence of creating, disseminating, validating, and supporting the integration of arts and culture.  It is then seen as a valued dimension of everyday life in communities. As a strategy, Culture 21 in an overcrowded world is not an option but an imperative to guide human survival.  

UNESCO takes the view that culture is transmitted between generations encoded as heritage and so culture humanises the past to be a platform for creating a future culture of sustainability. Heritage encompasses a broad and overarching term: “it” is something that someone or a collective considers to be worthy of being valued, preserved, catalogued, exhibited, restored, admired and passed on to future generations  Heritage is everywhere, and an understanding of our past is increasingly critical to the understanding of our contemporary cultural context and place in global society.  From this perspective cultural heritage is a powerful catalyst for the future.  It also offers solutions to the challenges the world faces in the wake of the Covid 19 pandemic.  In times of health emergencies, cultural heritage plays, and will continue to play, an essential role for the physical and mental wellbeing of every individual and of our societies as a whole. As evidenced by a rich body of literature and increasingly recognised in public decision-making, wellbeing is a holistic concept.  It encompasses emotional, social, cultural, spiritual and economic needs, which allow individuals to realise their full potential and engage in society to their fullest capacity. Therefore, investing in cultural heritage means investing in public health, wellbeing, and improving the quality of people’s lives. The rest of this section is an adaptation of the 2020 Europe Day Manifesto for communities, which presents cultural heritage as a powerful resource for their future development.

Sharing heritage. At a time when the whole world is facing a profound socio economic transformation, a community’s shared cultural heritage and values constitute a much-needed anchor and compass. They can indeed provide a sense of direction and inspiration to make the right choices ahead of us. Cultural heritage ensures the link between our roots, identities, and traditions and the wider global picture. 

Access to heritage.  The COVID-19 outbreak has underlined the critical importance of digital access to cultural heritage. Now communities must work together to accelerate and further improve access. At the same time, we must narrow the divide between institutions that are digitally equipped, and those that are not. We need to democratise access to our heritage to support diversity, inclusivity, creativity, and critical engagement in education and knowledge sharing. We need to promote collaborations and experimentations that strengthen our capacity for innovation. And we need to promote the use of digital technology and expertise, to strengthen the role of cultural institutions.  The raw data for digital landmarking, comprises a picture, a comment with a reference URL.  These can be gathered together to build a personal body of knowledge.

Heritage in Green Deals.  Countries around the world are working on Green Deals for creating a sustainable future.   We must ensure that the cultural dimension of the greening of our society and economy is fully taken on board. Our cultural heritage, including cultural landscapes, is severely threatened by climate change. But the cultural world, with its wealth of traditional knowledge and skills, can also be used to further expand on mitigation and adaptation practices, which can help achieve the 2030 UN objectives. This calls for communities to build back better after the pandemic and be convinced of the immense potential of cultural heritage to help achieve it.

Heritage-led regeneration.  The landmark study Cultural Heritage Counts for Europe provides robust evidence of the clear benefits of heritage investment for the regeneration of cities and regions, both on individual and community levels. Given the prospect of dramatic job losses, community leaders should invest in heritage-led regeneration of urban and rural areas, enabling and amplifying social and economic recovery. This will not only preserve many existing jobs and related skills but also create new rewarding jobs, ranging from specialised crafts to the sophisticated use of digital and other new technologies. Such a “New Deal for Cultural Heritage” will in turn drive social and economic innovation, and contribute to a major improvement of our living environment. The huge potential of heritage-led regeneration in historic cities, villages and the countryside can indeed become a real ‘game-changer’ towards a greener and more sustainable future.

Tourism rescue.  Faced with the catastrophic impact of the Covid19 pandemic on the tourism industry due to travel and mobility limitations, which puts millions of jobs at risk, communities should fully support the appeal for a major “tourism rescue plan”. This plan should include special measures for the revival of cultural tourism, one of the largest and fastest growing tourism segments worldwide.  Tourism needs cultural heritage and cultural heritage needs tourism. But we recover from this crisis by using it as an opportunity to promote more innovative and sustainable forms of tourism, including virtual tourism. In doing so, we will deliver lasting benefits for public and private owners of heritage sites and the communities that surround them, generating higher quality experiences and greater enjoyment for visitors.

Cultural citizenship.  Finally, as the current crisis has shown, the clear interconnection and fragility of humanity provides us with a unique opportunity to enhance its positive and constructive role in the world. Culture and cultural heritage are key drivers for enhancing respect, understanding, and trust as the prerequisites for global solidarity and cooperation. To summarize, we need to urgently and collectively mobilise the transformational power of culture and cultural heritage to provide meaning and inspiration for a global green and inclusive recovery in the aftermath of the pandemic.  This is the UNESCO prescription set out in ‘Thematic Indicators for Culture in the 2030 Agenda.  Its purpose is to measure and monitor the progress of culture’s enabling contribution to the national and local implementation of the ‘Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development’.  The latter is a framework to help people build a local process for taking up cultural citizenship set out in the following sections.

2  Cyberspace as a Global Commons

Culture develops within public spaces as packages of collective goods belonging to all citizens. No individual or group can be deprived of free use of them, providing they respect the rules adopted by each community, which broadly are: 

  • to promote the existence of the public spaces and foster their use as cultural places for interaction and coexistence.;
  • to foster concern for the aesthetics of public spaces and collective amenities; 
  • to protect, valorize and popularize the local documentary heritage generated in the public local/regional sphere, providing incentives for the creation of municipal and regional systems for that purpose;
  • to encourage the free exploration of cultural heritage by all citizens in all parts of the world; 
  • to promote the UNESCO Thematic Indicators for Culture in the 2030 Agenda (Culture|2030 Indicators, Fig 9) to measure and monitor the progress of culture’s enabling contribution to the Goals and Targets of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Tourism;
  • to promote real and virtual tourism that respects the cultures and customs of the localities and territories visited.
  • to use art reasoning rather than scientific reasoning to explain sustainability.

The term ‘Global Commons’ refers to resource domains or areas that lie outside the political reach of any one nation State. The Global commons have been traditionally defined as those parts of the planet that fall outside national jurisdictions and to which all nations have access. International law identifies four global commons, namely the High Seas, the Atmosphere, Antarctica and Outer Space. From this point of view, a Global Commons contains an infinite potential with regard to the understanding and advancement of all life, e.g. forests, oceans, land mass and cultural identity, and hence requires absolute protection.  

Cyberspace is now regarded as a global commons.  It consists of computer networks, computer resources, and all the fixed and mobile devices connected to the global internet. A nation’s cyberspace is part of the global cyberspace; it cannot be isolated to define its boundaries.  Cyberspace is borderless, unlike the physical world-land, sea, river waters, and air that is limited by geographical boundaries.  In operational terms, cyberspace refers to the virtual computer world, and more specifically, to an electronic medium used to form a global computer network for facilitating online communication. It is a vast gathering of computers made up of many worldwide networks that employ TCP/IP protocol to aid in communication and data exchange activities.  Cyberspace’s core feature is an interactive virtual environment for a broad range of participants.  Therefore It has a powerful influence on the establishment and spread of a global culture.   It is the sharing of knowledge that gives cultural purpose to the use of cyberspace as a common good upon which to base cultural citizenship as a way of life.   This envisions a political-economic structure involving participatory governance within an economic system that guarantees equal shares of Earth’s natural resources and wealth for all of humankind.  It is a vision of egalitarian communalism driven by cultural citizenship (Table 1).

Table 1 Cultural citizenship

Cultural citizenship is a way of life:

The food you eat, the clothes you wear, the language you speak in and the God you worship all are aspects of culture. In very simple terms, we can say that culture is the embodiment of the way in which we think and do things. It is also the things that we have inherited as members of society. All the achievements of human beings as members of social groups can be called culture. Art, music, literature, architecture, sculpture, philosophy, religion and science can be seen as aspects of culture. However, culture also includes the customs, traditions, festivals, ways of living and one’s outlook on various issues of life.

Cultural citizenship is learned and acquired: 

Culture is acquired in the sense that there are certain behaviours which are acquired through heredity. Individuals inherit certain qualities from their parents but socio-cultural patterns are not inherited. These are learnt from family members, from the group and the society in which they live. It is thus apparent that the culture of human beings is influenced by the physical and social environment through which they operate as cultural citizens.  There is an awareness of what they have inherited from the past that can be a foundation for the future. Therefore cultural citizenship is shared by a group of people.  A thought or action may be called culture if it is shared and believed or practiced by the group. 

Cultural citizenship is cumulative: 

Different knowledge embodied in culture can be passed from one generation to another. More and more knowledge is added in a particular culture as time passes by. Each may work out solutions to problems in life that pass from one generation to another. This cycle remains as the particular culture moves through time and space. 

Cultural citizenship changes: 

There is knowledge, thoughts or traditions that are lost as new cultural traits are added. There are possibilities of cultural changes within a particular culture as time passes. 

Cultural citizenship provides a range of permissible behaviour patterns: 

It specifies how an activity should be conducted, and how an individual should act appropriately. 

Cultural citizenship is diverse: 

It is a system that has several mutually interdependent parts. Although these parts are separate, they are interdependent with one another forming culture as whole. 

Cultural citizenship is ideational: 

Often it lays down an ideal pattern of behaviour that is expected to be followed by individuals so as to gain social acceptance from the people with the same culture.

Culture 21 aims at fostering cultural development by promoting cultural citizenship.  The aim of this blog is to explore some examples of the intersections between notions of ‘cultural citizenship’ and the evolving role of the Internet as a site of cultural agency. In basic terms, debates around ‘cultural citizenship’ focus attention on issues of social membership across national and local boundaries.  Belonging and its cultural expressions shape, and are shaped, by the opportunities citizens enjoy to partake of cyberspace and to participate in society at various levels (local, national and global).  Participation and inclusivity usefully distinguish the concerns of cultural citizenship (‘the right to know and speak’) from those of political citizenship (‘the right to reside and vote’) and economic citizenship (‘the right to work and prosper’).  It is a formulation that accords ‘culture’ and its evolution a distinctive dimension in cyberspace.  Importantly, anyone who communicates about a place actually owns it because it becomes a property of the imagination of the presenter and the audience.  

Cultural citizenship is now synonymous with digital citizenship.  People become digital citizens by the process of digital landmarking (Fig 1 ).  This means individuals encode local heritage in a database of words and pictures, and/or using data to produce a body of knowledge which expresses their feelings about a place.  This is expressed by Theresa Hubel as staking their claim to ownership of it  ”.. by the very act of writing about it”.   In the context of open commons the authors of data and knowledge are using social media to exercise their right to know and speak about past, present and future cultures.

Fig 1 The process of digital landmarking  

3 Digital citizenship in action: Grimsby

On 7 May 2019 a group of four youths were caught on a surveillance camera throwing stones at the Grimsby Heritage Centre.  This was but one incident in a town where endemic vandalism has arisen with social exclusion.  Out on a patrol, a police officer is quoted as saying: “We are working with Young People’s Support Services in relation to anti-social behaviour within the area of Grimsby and Cleethorpes. It is a question of engaging with the kids and seeing what they are doing and what they are up to and reduce the calls to anti-social behaviour in the area”’  Is there a planned and funded prescription for inclusivity?

Many european cities and towns are exhibiting rising levels of social exclusion and the concept of ‘social innovation’ in urban development, focuses on the processes aimed at countering it.  The term ‘social innovation’ has three core dimensions: the satisfaction of human needs (content dimension); changes in social relations, especially with regard to governance (process dimension); and an increase in the socio-political capability and access to resources (empowerment dimension).   At a grassroots level, cyberspace allows social innovation as an interactive form of communication, where any digital citizen can use social media to communicate with the world in realtime and can actually receive a response, can have a dialogue and have a chat room as a public space to organise a response.  Ironically, the young people who attacked the Heritage Centre gathered there because a nearby McDonalds offers free WiFi!  This points to a potential route for young people to assemble their own knowledge base from which to become digital literate.  Digital literacy in education encompasses specific skills when reading online text that may contain embedded resources such as hyperlinks, audio clips, graphs, or charts.  The aim is to engage young people on line in social innovation  that requires them to make choices to communicate their knowledge about what is good and bad about where they live.  It is important that they present their plans for improving the bad things.  This blog provides an educational framework of cultural and social heritage for them to do this.

Grimsby is a large coastal English seaport and administrative centre in the North East corner of Lincolnshire, on the South Bank of the Humber Estuary, close to where it reaches the North Sea. The town has had several cultural makeovers as it has developed from a small isolated community of self contained fisherfolk.  Over about three generations it became the greatest global example of industrial marine fishing.  Now, facing ‘life without fish’ it designates itself as the Food Capital of Europe.  These cultural changes have been unsympathetic to its built heritage. 

By the mid-20th century Grimsby was the home port for the largest fishing fleet in the world.  Fishing declined dramatically after the Cod Wars of the 1970s had denied the United Kingdom access to Iceland’s prolific fishing grounds.  Also, in line with its Common Fisheries Policy, the European Union parcelled out fishing quotas in waters within a 200-nautical-mile limit of the UK coast to other European countries,. Since then Grimsby has suffered post-industrial decline, although expansion of the food business has been encouraged since the 1990s.  For about a century the community was an example of an ecumene, a collection of families dependent on the North Sea’s fish stocks for its livelihood.  Its economy, from the fishing fleet to the home braiding of fishing nets, was built around an industry that does not exist any more. The social deficit was depicted in a 2018 article in the Guardian newspaper as skills shortages, long-term jobless families, deprivation, drugs, homelessness, empty homes, fly-tipping, and children in care. The government’s indices of deprivation in 2015 ranked the town’s East Marsh Ward as the fourth worst place in the UK for employment, the second for crime and the worst for education, skills and training.  Grimsby is therefore a prime case history of post industrial cultural change.  Local efforts to develop and deploy effective solutions to challenge systemic social and environmental issues of belonging, place and change are expressed in the town’s visual culture. Visual culture refers to aspects of culture that are expressed in visual images of public spaces. Art and visual culture are intertwined and for most people they come into view together in public spaces. 

This blog is a development of one published in 2017 entitled Networking in Common.  That blog was introduced with the following quote from Culture 21.

“Public space is a place of social interaction as well as key for the identity and landscape of the city. As a common good, it belongs to all inhabitants and it has a systemic relation with other common goods such as culture or education”.

Thus, art and visual culture are bound up with everything that one sees in day-to-day life, i.e. advertising, landscape, buildings, photographs, movies, and paintings.  In fact, visual culture is expressed in anything in public space that captures a person’s attention and begins a process of communication from past to present through visual means.  Visual culture is studied using art history, humanities, sciences, and social sciences, When analysing visual expressions of culture, one must focus on production, reception, and intention, as well as economical, social, and ideological aspects in order to produce a digital landmark.

A good example of digital landmarking is a local history forum about Grimsby and its surroundings of North Lincolnshire.  It was established by a private individual, Rod Collins, born and bred in Grimsby, who described himself and his site thus:

“Photography is something of a passion although I wish I spent as much time creatively photographing people as I do angling !  Also, art and all things artistic is a great draw and I derive a great deal of pleasure visiting as many galleries and exhibitions in Lincolnshire as possible.  Used to work in engineering after serving an apprenticeship.  Then became a full-time book dealer selling rare & collectable books.  Got involved in building websites, affiliate search engine marketing and contextual ads.  Called it a day and went all but retired at the age of 39.  Which sees me where I am today – living life simply and only for my own pleasure really.  

This means I shouldn’t complain – but frequently do on this site.

The site mixes, hopefully, both humour and, dare I say it, some depth.  Historical based stuff is clearly more serious though not too ‘dry’ I hope.  Other articles are done somewhat tongue in cheek, there’s a lot of irony, some obvious, some more subtle – generally it’s self-deprecating, the joke’s on me even if sometimes, superficially, it may not appear so.  The site has grown and grown over the years and last year it averaged 1.8 million hits a month!  At our height we were experiencing 3 million hits a month but it was unsustainable so I deleted a lot of ’stuff’ and steered the site in another direction.  It takes quite a bit of managing at times.

If you see me out-and-about or at an event then please do say hello.  It’s always a pleasure to meet anybody who visits the site.  Do leave a comment and take part, it’s a friendly place and you don’t need to be an expert . . .Which is just as well because I’m not!”

Unfortunately the Rod Collins’ site is no longer available, which highlights the fragility of such ‘man-in-the street’ enterprises in digital citizenship.

Nevertheless, social media is now the logical place for the meeting of genealogy and cultural history.  This gives public libraries and heritage centres an important long term role in promoting and servicing digital landmarking to support a local visual culture.  In this respect, Grimsby Public Library has a sustainable platform for engaging citizens in its FaceBook page entitled Streets and Their Stories.

Grimsby’s Wellow Abbey is an illustration of one of Collins’ digital landmarks; a cultural  Internet placement, which between 2010-15 elicited 129 comments and serves as a case history of how digital citizens, mobilising their own resources, can assemble a dedicated cultural dimension of a virtual place within cyberspace.

Wellow Abbey probably had an important role in the economy and cultural ecology of medieval Grimsby.  But, there is very little archival material available about its local impact, which no doubt adds to the allure of the topic to amateur historians.  Although the geographical site of the abbey, close to the town centre  is well known, it is now occupied by a small housing estate, known as the Abbot’s Way Development, built over it in the late 1960s. One of these houses (Fig 2) is on the edge of a tiny hill, probably a small glacial moraine, which attracted the monks of Wellow to set their abbey outside the town, above the surrounding poorly drained fens, riddled with natural artesian wells, called blow wells.   Indeed, this particular house may mark the site of the abbey church.  With an OS bench mark of about 20 ft above sea level it is one of the highest spots in Grimsby!  Remnants of carved stones have been found in the garden.

Fig 2  Abbot’s Way (circa 1990) 

The Abbot’s Way Development is the latest landmark charting the cultural developments associated with the port of Grimsby expanding rapidly in the second half of the nineteenth century.  This began with the development of an entrepreneurial culture of family businesses thriving on the economics of industrial scale fishing in the North Sea.  Coincidentally it triggered the mass import of Baltic timber and the export of Midland’s coal. Alongside this there was a change from a dominant local aristocratic landowning culture (e.g. the Pelham earls of Yarborough and the Heneage barons of Riby) engaged with local government, to the emergence of the middle classes in a rapidly expanding urban context.  In her book, ‘Grimsby Streets’, Emma Lingard points out that the streets created around the site of the abbey in the second half of the 19th century, namely Abbey Road, Abbey Park Road, Abbey Drive East/West, and Abbey Walk, more or less define the home domain of the abbey. This small network of new roads, only a mile from the town centre, indicate the urban spread of upper middle class families into the marshes and pastures of the surrounding countryside (Figs 3 & 4).

Fig 3 Beginning of development of the abbey estate (1856)

Fig 4 Street Map of modern Wellow community (2020)

The Abbey Road ‘entrepreneurial culture’ is exemplified by Ernest and Millie Bellamy.  They moved from King Edward St. in the densely packed terraces of Grimsby’s dockland as second generation urbanites to set up a fashion business, named ‘Madam Bellamy’, in Abbey Road. This was in response to a growing local demand for middle class haute couture (Fig 5).  

Fig 5  A digital landmark of a home-based entrepreneurial culture: Madam Bellamy’s workshop, 51 Abbey Rd. Grimsby, (2020).  Number 51 is the third house with the large south-facing upstairs window, which was enlarged so that Millie’s team of seamstress could work in daylight

Ernest was a second generation of Bellamys, descended from a farm labourer, Fred Bellamy, an economic migrant  from the fenlands on the Lincolnshire Cambridgeshire border.  He began his family in the tightly packed terraces built to house newly recruited dock workers in the West Marsh.  These terraces are today exemplified by their current remains in Armstrong St. (Fig 6).   This brings to the fore the fact that Grimsby was built on the backs of migrants and most migrants made good within the economic limits of the fishing ecumene!

Fig 6 A digital landmark: the remains of Armstrong St. ‘Over the Marsh’, (2020).

Ernest Bellamy was born in 1888 within a new housing development for dock workers in the West Marsh (Ravenspurn St).  From here the growing family moved across the Alexandra Dock to King Edward St, a similar development commemorating Edward VII who was crowned 22 Jan 1901.  Most of Armstrong Street and the whole of King Edward St were demolished, after being classified as slums in the 1960s, to create industrial estates (Fig 7).

Fig 7 136 King Edward St (2020).  Site of Ernest Bellamy’s second family home.

At that time Grimsby was a world leader in science applied to create the UK fishing industry.  Armstrong St celebrates the engineering innovations of William George Armstrong.  It was his idea to build Grimsby’s iconic Dock Tower to provide water pressure to power the dock machinery. The tower was built to carry a tank 200ft above the ground with a direct feed into the machinery. Small pumps topped up the tank as the hydraulic machinery drew off water. The tower system was brought into use in 1852 working the machinery of the lock gates, dry-docks and fifteen quayside cranes, and also to supply fresh water to ships and the dwelling houses on the dock premises.

4  Digital culture: a resource for development

Through people accessing a local digital commons, Grimsby’s Wellow Abbey and its monks live on in a virtual place visualised in the minds of the online visitors who added their comments to Rod Collins’ forum.  New imaginings have been set in motion giving the web participants and readers a sense of place without depending on ancient documents and a pictorial archive.  There is nothing to see on the ground.  Nevertheless, the digital arena of the abbey was expanded by some contributors to the forum to include personal reminiscences of their real life experiences that were associated with the abbey.   So it is that digital memories of place become embedded with imagination in virtual reality.  Now, Grimsby, like so many post industrial towns suffering repeated bouts of regeneration, is topographically placeless.  For its inhabitants any sense of place comes from within their consciousness.  Perhaps we should call this kind of mental visualisation a spirit of place because it is the combination of characteristics that gives some locations a special ‘feel’ or personality.  There is a spirit of mystery in a name like Wellow Abbey emanating from a locus in the overbuilt environment.  In this situation, the environment is not external and the feeling is internal.  How is this virtual culture handled as an educational experience?

‘Culture’ has been defined in many ways.  The 2005 Convention refers to culture in two distinct but related senses which draw inspiration from the 2001 UNESCO Universal Declaration on Cultural Diversity: 

First, its functional meaning is an organized sector of activity dealing with the diverse manifestations – past and present – of human intellectual and artistic creativity.  Culture comprises individuals, organizations and institutions responsible for their transmission and renewal. The arts and cultural expressions, together with these individuals and institutions constitute what is commonly regarded as the “cultural sector”, a demarcated policy domain, concerned mainly with heritage and creativity. Culture as a sector of activity includes, but not exclusively, cultural workers, artists and other creative professionals; commercial (for-profit) businesses; not-for-profit firms in the arts and culture; public cultural institutions, such as museums and galleries, heritage sites, libraries etc.; education and training institutions in the arts; government agencies and ministries responsible for arts and cultural affairs; NGOs and civil society involved in cultural activity. 

A functional digital citizen is a person using information technology (IT) in order to engage in society, politics, and government. Digital citizens are “those who use the internet regularly and effectively.” They also have a comprehensive understanding of digital citizenship, which is the appropriate and responsible behavior when using technology. Since digital citizenship evaluates the quality of an individual’s response to membership in a digital community, it often requires the participation of all community members, both visible and those who are less visible.  A large part in being a responsible digital citizen encompasses digital literacy, etiquette, online safety, and an acknowledgement of private versus public information.

People characterizing themselves as digital citizens often use IT extensively, creating blogs, using social networks, and participating in online journalism.  Digital citizenship begins when any child, teen, and/or adult signs up for an email address, posts pictures online, uses e-commerce to buy merchandise online, and/or participates in any electronic function.  But the process of becoming a digital citizen goes beyond simple internet activity. According to Thomas Humphrey Marshall, a British sociologist known for his work on social citizenship, a primary framework of citizenship comprises three different traditions: liberalism, republicanism, and ascriptive hierarchy. Within this framework, the digital citizen needs to exist in order to promote equal economic opportunities and increase political participation.  In this way, digital technology helps to lower the barriers to entry for participation as a citizen within a society.

Holistically, digital citizenship covers both a social and political point of view, utilized at a local level in school and other educational systems while also being debated upon on a national level. There are many means of participating as a digital citizen to advocate for causes or specific issues that are controversial, and being a digital citizen encompasses a level of responsibility that includes universal goals that should be followed.  These goals emphasize equality and equal treatment across gender, religion, economic status, and political beliefs. The focus is on income inequality and distribution, which are ideas that influenced the development of various economic and political systems.  This defines egalitarianism as a philosophical perspective that promotes participatory citizenship in governance of an economic system for inclusivity.

Second, culture in its anthropological sense, refers to the people’s way of life – the different values, norms, knowledge, skills, individual and collective beliefs – that guide individual and collective action. In this sense of values and norms, culture is understood as a stock of intangible renewable resources upon which people draw inspiration and through which they express the meaning they give to their existence and its development.

The 2005 Convention contains two distinct approaches to bridge culture and sustainable development.  The first approach is reflected in Article 13 and refers to culture integrated in sustainable development, while the second approach is reflected in Article 14 and refers to culture as an instrument or a means to development. They say that parties shall endeavour to integrate culture in their development policies at all levels.  This is to create conditions conducive to sustainable development and, within this framework, foster aspects relating to the protection and promotion of the diversity of cultural expressions. (Article 13 of the Convention; Fig 8) 

Fig 8 Indicators for checking progress in seven dimensions of ‘culture for development’

Shared link to interactive map

Three distinct, but not mutually exclusive notions of development, are present in documents that frame the link between culture and development at the international level.  These are included in the 2005 Convention: development as economic growth in line with neo-classical economics; development as human capacity expansion, in line with the human development approach; and development in relation to present and future generations, in line with notions of sustainable development.  It is crucial to understand these differences, because the Convention uses them interchangeably, and they can be contradictory.

Development continues globally through increased urbanisation as ever more people from the countryside move to live in towns and cities.  It is a process associated with a decrease in the proportion of people living in rural areas, and the ways in which societies adapt to this change. Above all, as towns and cities become larger more people adopt different patterns of behaviour that define informal social relations.  These adaptations underpin everyday life for various social groups and the processes of social organisation and disorganisation which they promote are typical of modern urban cultures. 

The urbanisation of Grimsby resulted from the discovery of untapped fish stocks of the North Sea’s Dogger Bank and the invention of mass-catching trawlers to exploit them.  Expansion of the small town was paid for by scouring these fishing grounds creating a fishing culture with a narrow set of understandings or meanings shared by a group of people that are largely understood among members.  These understandings and meanings are clearly relevant and distinctive to survival of particular groups and are passed on to new members.  French geographers describe such a community bound to a local ecosystem for its survival as an ecumene (Fig 9).  When the ecosystem is no longer sustainable the idea of progress implies that changes in culture lie ahead.  Since the 1960s, Grimsby’s citizens have been asking themselves how they might bring forth knowledge from their past mindfully into the present.  Past cultures are relevant to envision the future when we recognize that every past thought-form, emotion and action taken by every single human being who has ever lived has shaped our present reality.  In other words, the question for educators who wish to import values of heritage into a future culture of sustainability is how do we understand the power and responsibility we have inherited?  This question is also relevant to the future of Yarmouth and Lowestoft, two fishing ecumenes based on the North Sea fishing grounds, who are also trying to adapt to life after fish with one foot in the past.

Fig 9 The marine fishing ecumene

Shareable link to interactive map

5 The spiritual practice of imagination

Some would say that peoples’ vision of the future of humankind is becoming more subjective and increasingly bound up with the transition from religion to a godless culture of spirituality.  Drawing on this visionary framework, spirituality is identified as bound up with the subjective life of intellectual freedom, while religion is seen as subordinating subjective life to an external authority of transcendent meaning, goodness, and truth. It is the subjective shift of modern culture that directs people away from religion and toward spirituality. In this respect, the idea that the essence of reality is a non-material spiritual quality is one of the most-common cross-cultural concepts in the history of the world.  Almost every indigenous group in the world has a term that describes a spiritual force or power of imagination that pervades all things, and constitutes the essence of all things.  For Frederic and Mary Ann Bussat living a spiritual life, imagination has two meanings. First, it is a human faculty.  It is the part of us that traffics in images, symbols, myths, and stories. It is the capacity we all have for innovative thinking and creative expression. Second, the imagination is an inner reality, a boundless realm not defined by our senses or reason.  We know from our dreams and an inner reality can enter via certain activities while awake. The practice of imagination encourages us to use this faculty and enables us to explore the world. To heighten the imagination you have to learn the language of imagination. Contemplate art and see yourself as part of the picture. Read myths and tell stories. Apply arts reasoning, known as abductive reasoning to explain sustainability (#aartes). Abductive reasoning starts with an observation or set of observations and then seeks to find the simplest and most likely conclusion from the observations. This process yields a plausible conclusion but does not positively verify it. Abductive conclusions are thus qualified as having a remnant of uncertainty or doubt, which is expressed in retreat terms such as “best available” or “most likely”.

Such ideas brought about a photographic exhibition in Milan (2016) entitled “Cathedrals of Energy’.  It contained over a hundred images by photographer Francesco Radino spanning architecture, industry and landscape. Together, they illustrated the iconic buildings of the Italian power utility, Azienda Energetica Municipale, all dedicated to the production of energy in Italy from north to south, with power plants and ancillary machinery ranging from the early twentieth century to today.  The exhibition tells about a visual culture of energy production and describes the buildings, places and architectures of AEM.  The images are all structures very different in appearance that combine the useful with the aesthetic and present new balances with the surrounding natural environment. Consequently, the four elements, earth, air, water and fire, become of essential importance, because they are not only linked to the processes of mass energy production, but also illustrate the union across several different professional domains of history, art, environment, mechanical engineering, architecture and the economics of an age of plenty. 

A similar cross curricular exhibition of cultural icons can be assembled for the shifting cultural ecology of Grimsby as a ruined temple of plenty (Appendix).  Appropriate spiritual icons for the historical journey would be its long-gone Corn Exchange, a cultural icon of life before fish; the great dock’s ice-making machine, ensuring that fresh fish could be marketed long after it was caught, now lying redundant in dockland.  Then there are the remains of the dockside fish market that secured Grimsby’s weekly wages and Armstrong’s masterpiece of hydraulic engineering, focused on the Dock Tower, which energised the whole cultural enterprise of deep sea fishing.  In the context of digital landmarking a culture we need to remember that through the ages spiritual pilgrims have found that, faced with a suitable icon, it is possible to step with ease into the inner realm of imagination.  Therefore, it is important to begin training young people to become digital citizens by pointing this out.  For example, downloaded census forms from the past become spiritual resources, using the spiritual practice of imagination to define families  immersed in a culture of srvival at the deepest level of the heart. (Fig 10).

Fig 10 Idea for a multiagency education project in Grimsby, with possible funders, for training digital citizens to value cultural heritage in relation to planning for a sustainable future

6 Appendix: icons of visual culture

Gasometro “Cutler” dell’Officina del gas alla Bovisa, Milano.

The Grimsby Ice Factory

Dock Tower

https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Grimsby_Dock_Tower

7 Internet References

East Marsh: a liberal’s view

Growing up in East Marsh

Lincs Inspire

Make Grimsby Great Again

Heneage 

Heneage 2

Old Grimsby

Egalitarianism

UNESCO: culture and development

UNESCO Culture for Development Indicators

Walk

Photo Gallery

Culture Magic

Theresa Hubel, Whose India?

Cultural vitality

Street view

Grimsby Local History Library

One foot in the Past 

Grimsby’s heritage assets

North Sea: overfishing

Impoverishment of the sea

History of corn exchanges

Futures of learning

July 29th, 2020

“We but mirror the world. All the tendencies present in the outer world are to be found in the world of our body. If we could change ourselves, the tendencies in the world would also change. As a man changes his own nature, so does the attitude of the world change towards him. This is the divine mystery supreme. A wonderful thing it is and the source of our happiness. We need not wait to see what others do.” – Mahatma Gandhi


Although an increasing share of the world’s population believes, as 97 percent of scientists do, in anthropogenic climate change and the need for shifts in human behaviors to ensure a sustainable future, there remains a sizeable gap between people’s beliefs and their behavior. Why are people sometimes unwilling to engage in sustainable behaviors? Are there differences between those who are willing to behave sustainably and those who are not? What are some barriers to behaving sustainably that policy makers can address? 

Erin Hamilton, Neil Lewis, Jr., co-Editors-in-Chief, Michigan Journal of Sustainability, (2017)


1  Learning for intercultural understanding and solidarity

As an international learning project, ‘Learning to Become’’ is developing around two main concepts, environmentalism and ecology, to produce a behavioural change across generations to live sustainably.  Environmentalism gives real urgency to the agenda of our relationship to nature, putting forward the idea that marginalized topics, such as climate change, species extinction, pollution, renewable energy, and overpopulation, should be central to creating alternative patterns of lifelong education, consumption, production, and leisure. This also means considering nature in an expanded field, interlinking with biological, technological, social and political knowledge systems. The second concept, ecology, is understood as environmentalism-in-action, an insuppressible dynamic process, where nature, human and other-than-human, co-perform.  Indeed the world is viewed both as a performed ecology, directed by human environmental management, and as an ecology performing itself, fuelled by climate. This allows us to think of nature in embodied, active, distinctly relational terms, whereby production of new knowledge across science, arts and sociology is possible within the transcendent , as well as within the everyday knowledge of nature.  What is missing is a universal behavioural narrative linking culture and ecology. In this context, we should be incorporating myths into future education that explain the world and human experience. Myths are as relevant to us today as they were to the ancients because they answer timeless questions and serve as a behavioural compass to each generation. Nowadays we need to incorporate myths into our curricula that are instructive and act as guides to social norms for living in harmony with nature. They also support the application of arts reasoning to explain sustainability.  Science alone is not sufficient (#aartes).

Intercultural understanding is an essential part of learning to adapt to climate change and its socioeconomic consequences so that we may live inclusively and securely with others in the rapidly changing  world of the twenty-first century. In particular, educational pedagogies and curricula should assist young people to become responsible local and global citizens, equipped through their education for living and working together in an interconnected world.

What is required to achieve this is a root and branch change in curriculum and pedagogy.  The aim is to free students to develop a personal intercultural understanding as they learn to to build their own body of knowledge for valuing their own cultures, languages and beliefs, and those of others. Personal, group and national identities now have to be shaped within the variable and changing dynamics of cultural ecology. Motivation to learn to live sustainably and inclusively across national borders must come through invitational learning, where curriculum and syllabus are negotiated to motivate individuals to become cultural explorers. Intercultural understanding involves students learning about and engaging with the human ecosystem in all its varieties. The aim is to recognise commonalities and differences and create connections with others so as to cultivate mutual respect for Earth’s biodiversity of which we are now the dominant part.  

Intercultural understanding is a major, missing theme in Western education that:-:

  •  combines personal, interpersonal and social knowledge and skills;
  • involves students learning to value and view critically their own cultural perspectives and practices and those of others.  This takes place through their cross curricula interactions with people and texts;
  • encourages students to make connections between their own worlds and the worlds of others, to build on shared interests and commonalities and negotiate or mediate differences; 
  • develops students’ abilities to communicate and empathise with others and to analyse intercultural experiences critically; 
  • offers opportunities for them to consider their own beliefs and attitudes in a new light, and so gain insight into themselves and others;
  • stimulates students’ interest in the lives of others;
  • cultivates values and dispositions such as curiosity, care, empathy, reciprocity, respect and responsibility, open-mindedness and critical awareness;
  • and supports new and positive intercultural behaviours. 

Although all these thematic elements are significant in learning to live together, three humanitarian dispositions regarding human suffering are important: to express empathy, to demonstrate respect and take responsibility.  In particular, human suffering must be addressed wherever it is found, which requires an educational grounding in humanitarianism. The purpose of humanitarian action is to protect life and health and ensure respect for all humanity.  Humanitarian actors must not take sides in hostilities or engage in controversies of a political, racial, religious or ideological nature.  Humanitarian action must be carried out on the basis of need alone, giving priority to the most urgent cases of distress and making no distinctions on the basis of nationality, race, gender, religious belief, class or political opinions.  Humanitarian action must be autonomous from the political, economic, military or other objectives that any actor may hold with regard to areas where humanitarian action is being implemented.

Humanitarianism enables individuals to interpret situations from a humanitarian perspective and empowers them to address challenges and take action in the spirit of the fundamental principles and humanitarian values of, for example, the Red Cross and Red Crescent organisations. Reasoning is a central and important thinking skill: thinkers need to be able to support conclusions with structured reasons and evidence, make informed, reasoned decisions and make valid inferences. The aim here is to evaluate science through the lens of art and reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity in tune with the planet.  Arts reasoning is applied to explain sustainability (#aartes).  

2 Learning about Agenda 2030

The 2030 Agenda was hammered out over two weeks in Paris during the United Nations 21st Conference of Parties (COP21) and adopted on December 12, 2015.  It marked a historic turning point for global climate action. World leaders representing 195 nations reached a consensus on an accord that has commitments from all countries aimed at combating climate change and adapting to its impacts.  The Paris Agreement could not take effect until at least 55 nations representing at least 55 percent of global carbon emissions had formally joined. This happened on October 5, 2016, and the agreement went into force 30 days later. 

Fig 1 2030 Agenda pledges to be totally inclusive 

Agenda 2030 also aims to strengthen countries’ ability to deal with the impacts of climate change and support them in their efforts. Like the UN Agenda 21 published in 1992 it is broad and holistic in nature, covering systemic issues such as hunger, poverty, and inequality, as well as the broader governance issues of accountability, financing, and corruption. There are seventeen sustainable development goals (‘SDGs’) which every state signatory has committed to achieving by 2030.  It is the first-ever universal, legally binding, global climate change agreement.   The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says urgent and unprecedented changes are needed now so we do not exceed the warming target, which they say are affordable and feasible.  However, 1.5C lies at the most ambitious end of the Paris agreement pledge.  However, the world’s leading climate scientists have warned that time is very short to put in place mechanisms that will hold global warming at the Agenda’s agreed maximum of 1.5C.  Beyond this even half a degree will significantly worsen the risks of drought, floods, extreme heat and poverty for hundreds of millions of people.  

Humanity’s grand ambition by adopting the Paris Agenda is surely to aim at an inclusive world development outcome within a stable and resilient Earth ecosystem. The dual adoption of the UN’s SDGs) together with the Paris Climate Agreement represents a global turning point in human social evolution. This human quest is to attain as many of the SDGs as possible by 2030 and then continue following a sustainable global trajectory well beyond 2030.  We have never before had such a universal development plan for people and the planet. For the first time in human history the world has agreed on a democratically adopted roadmap for humanity’s future, which aims at attaining socially inclusive and highly aspirational socio-economic development goals, within globally defined environmental targets.  Yet, despite this the global response to the 2030 Agenda has not been ambitious enough.  Now, five years after its approval, most people think about sustainability as only related to concerns about the environment and often neglect addressing the role of students in educational discourses of sustainability.  Whether or not the SDGs are achieved by 2030, young people growing up now and beyond 2030 will be living in the shadow of the Agreement’s possible political failure.  In this respect, educators are failing to grasp the importance of rethinking school curricula in light of a transformational, humanistic and holistic vision of education for living sustainably.  The 2030 Agenda is available to be adapted as a worldwide powerful education policy tool.  It  leads the way to effective, relevant learning opportunities, processes and outcomes to change the behaviours that have led us to the current potentially fatale impasse.  Curricula promoting Agenda 2030 at all levels, are expected to have a positive effect as levers for the sustainable, inclusive, fair and cohesive development to achieve the SDGs and bring about human equity within a safe biosphere.  From this point of view, the SDGs represent a knowledge framework to reflect and help people to construct the type of society envisioned in the Paris Agreement.

In order to strengthen the positioning of curricula toward an inclusive and equitable quality education the following questions have to be addressed:

  • How can a world development curriculum be conceived?; 
  • What role would it play in the reforms aimed at improving equity and quality of the learning processes?; 
  • What are the main regional challenges in relation to curriculum development?; 
  • How could countries align their curricula with their development needs? 

Transformative change in these directions is possible through five strategies that are powerful routes to reach most SDGs. The five practical measures are:

  • accelerated renewable energy growth sufficient to halve carbon emissions every decade;
  • accelerated productivity in sustainable food chains;
  • new development models to enrich the poor countries;
  • unprecedented inequality reduction;
  • investment in education for all with regards gender equality, health and family planning. 

These measures represent five “leverage points” to intervene in Earth’s globally interconnected geo-bio-socio-economic system. Together, they are capable of shifting our industrial cultural ecology onto a new steady state path in the decades ahead.  The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development provides many of the necessary signposts and guidelines to attain the vision. 

Report to the club of rome

The International Commission on the Futures of Education, established by UNESCO in 2019, presented nine ideas for concrete actions today that will advance education in the post COVID-19 world.  They encompass the UN 2030 Agenda for sustainability, particularly Goal 4, which deals with education.  We cannot return to the world as it was before.  

In summary, Agenda 2030:-

  1. Commits to strengthen education as a common good.

Education is a bulwark against inequalities. In education as in health, we are safe when everybody is safe; we flourish when everybody flourishes. 

  1. Expands the definition of the right to education 

This is necessary so that Agenda 2030 addresses the importance of connectivity and access to knowledge and information.  It calls for a global public discussion, that includes, among others, learners of all ages, about ways in which the right to education needs to be expanded.

  1. Values the teaching profession and teacher collaboration.

There has been remarkable innovation in the responses of educators to the COVID-19 crisis, with those systems most engaged with families and communities showing the most resilience.  We must encourage conditions that give frontline educators autonomy and flexibility to act collaboratively and move from teaching fixed bodies to facilitating students to assemble personal bodies of knowledge for living in an uncertain world.

  1. Points to education in a post-COVID global society.

With teachers as facilitators promoting student, youth and children’s participation and rights. This is a position where intergenerational justice and democratic principles should compel us to prioritize the participation of students and young people broadly in the co-construction of desirable change.

  1. Protects  the social spaces provided by schools as we transform education.  

Traditional classroom organization must give way to a variety of ways of ‘doing school’, but the school as a separate space-time of collective living, specific and different from other spaces of learning, must be preserved.

  1. Makes free and open source technologies available to teachers and students.

Open educational resources and open access digital tools must be supported. Education cannot thrive with ready-made content built outside of the pedagogical space and outside of human relationships between teachers and students.  Nor can education be dependent on digital platforms controlled by private companies.

  1. Ensures scientific literacy within the curriculum.

This is the right time for deep reflection on curriculum, particularly as we struggle against the denial of scientific knowledge and actively fight misinformation about climate change and how to respond to it.

  1. Protects domestic and international financing of public education.

The pandemic has the power to undermine several decades of advances.  National governments, international organizations, and all education and development partners must recognize the need to strengthen public health and social services but simultaneously mobilize around the protection of public education and its financing.

  1. Advances global solidarity to end current levels of inequality. 

COVID-19 has shown us the extent to which our societies exploit power imbalances and our global system exploits inequalities.  Agenda 2030 calls for renewed commitments to international cooperation and multilateralism, together with a revitalized global solidarity that has empathy and an appreciation of our common humanity at its core. COVID-19 presents us with a real challenge and a real responsibility. These ideas invite debate, engagement and action by governments, international organizations, civil society, educational professionals, as well as learners and stakeholders at all levels.

3  Learning to become

Learning to become is a UNESCO global initiative to reimagine how learning to become a global citizen can shape the future of humanity.  The vision is that knowledge and learning are humanity’s greatest renewable resources for responding to challenges and inventing alternatives.  Yet, education does more than respond to a changing world. Education transforms the world.  With accelerated climate change the fragility of Earth is getting more and more apparent. Persistent inequalities, social fragmentation, and political extremism are bringing many societies to a point of crisis. Advances in digital communication, artificial intelligence, and biotechnology have great potential to boost well being.  But they also raise serious ethical and governance concerns, especially as promises of innovation and technological change have an uneven record of contributing to human flourishing. 

The historical background to Learning to Become is the UNESCO 1972 Report; Learning to Be: the World of  Education Today and Tomorrow.  Forty decades later, this report, known as the Faure Report, named after former Prime Minister and  Minister of  Education of France, Edgar Faure, continues to influence education policy across the world. The Faure Report proposed lifelong education as the master concept for educational policies in the years to  come for both developed and developing countries.  It sets out a humanist vision of education and learning as a continuously renewed and evolving  process throughout life.  The world has changed greatly since 1972.  Globalization has accelerated. There has been tremendous economic growth, but also deepening inequalities. New technologies are revolutionising the way we communicate and share  information, as well as how we teach and learn.  The world population is getting younger every day, and the expectations of young people are rising for quality lifelong education and sustainable  jobs.  Swept along with these changes, education faces new challenges of equity, quality and relevance.  The world is changing; education must also change.  Societies everywhere are undergoing deep transformation.  New forms of education are required to foster competencies in cultural ecology for greater justice, social equity and global solidarity.   In other words, the educational framework of ecosacy has to be added to reading, writing and arithmetic as a fourth guiding principle and practice for students to achieve environmental understanding. Ecosacy is about learning to live on a planet under pressure on the basis of respect and equal dignity, helping to weave together the social, economic and environmental dimensions of sustainable development.

This is a humanist vision of education as an essential common good.  This vision renews with the inspiration of the UNESCO Constitution, agreed 70 years ago, while also reflecting new times and demands.  Today, education is key to the global integrated framework of sustainable development goals.  Education is at the heart of our efforts both to adapt to change and to transform the world within which we live. A quality basic education is the necessary foundation for learning throughout life in a complex and rapidly changing global environment. The world must abandon the 19th century curriculum that was designed for building empires and promoting white supremacy.

A report on financing third world development (the Addis Ababa Action Agenda July 2015) revealed that many countries, particularly developing countries, still faced considerable challenges to adopting the SDGs, and some had fallen further behind. Also, inequalities within many countries had recently increased dramatically. Women, representing half of the world’s population, as well as indigenous peoples and the vulnerable, continue to be excluded from participating fully in the economy.  Against this background, achieving the 2030 SDGs seems to some ‘like a sleepless dream’.  However, we should be taking the 2030 Agenda, and its precursor, Agenda 21, as a whole, not just the chapter on 2030 SDGs. If the SDGs point to the pathway for achieving the 2030 Agenda, the means of implementation are the Addis Ababa Action Agenda and, where relevant, the Paris Agreement).  These have provided the knowledge framework for curriculum development and measuring progress. 

Many believe that too much emphasis has been placed on developing a green economy when we know that a sustainable lifestyle has also to be based on social inclusion. This means improving the terms on which individuals and groups take part in society, so augmenting the ability, opportunity, and dignity of those disadvantaged on the basis of their identity.  The elements of social improvement are included in Agenda 2030 where they are integral to the creation of a knowledge framework for learning to live sustainably.

The environmental vision is an Earth free of poverty, hunger, disease and want, where all life can thrive without fear and violence; a world with universal literacy; a world with equitable and universal access to quality education at all levels; a world committed to free health care and social protection, where physical, mental and social well-being are assured. This future world reaffirms national commitments regarding the human right to safe drinking water and sanitation, where there is improved hygiene and where food is sufficient, safe, affordable and nutritious. This is a world where human habitats are safe, resilient and sustainable and where there is universal access to affordable, reliable and sustainable energy; a world in which every country enjoys a sustainable economy and decent work for all; a world in which consumption and production patterns and use of all natural resources, from air to land, from rivers, lakes and aquifers to oceans and seas, are sustainable; a world in which humanity lives in harmony with nature, under good governance.

The human rights vision is a world of universal respect for human rights and human dignity, the rule of law, justice, equality and non-discrimination; of respect for race, ethnicity and cultural diversity; and of equal opportunity permitting the full realization of human potential and contributing to shared prosperity. This is a world which invests in its children, where every child grows up free from violence and exploitation; a world in which every woman and girl enjoys full gender equality and all legal, social and economic barriers to their empowerment have been removed.  It is also a world where the knowledge framework is just, equitable, tolerant, open and socially inclusive, where the needs of the most vulnerable are met.

A knowledge framework is a device for exploring and linking distinct areas of knowledge. It identifies the key characteristics of each area by depicting it as a complex system of interacting components, which together, answer the following questions.

  • What is the area of knowledge about?
  • What practical problems can be solved through applying this knowledge?
  • What makes this area of knowledge important?
  • What are the current open questions in this area—important questions that are currently unanswered?
  • Are there ethical considerations that limit the scope of inquiry? If so, what are they?

‘Leaving no one behind’ lies at the operational heart of the 2030 Agenda. This principle is mentioned at least seven times in the Agenda itself, and has been a recurrent theme in documents, pledges, call to actions, interventions and statements delivered since by Member States, the UN and civil society. A clear commitment to inclusiveness is made in the text of the Agenda when Member States “pledge that no one will be left behind” while at the same time recognizing that the dignity of the human person is fundamental, and by pledging that all goals and targets be met for all nations, peoples and societies, committing to also reach those furthest behind . However, in spite of the frequent use and reference to this principle, focused efforts to leave no one behind remain insufficient, in terms of policy design, implementation and review. But only 14% of survey respondents regarded the needs of the most vulnerable and marginalized groups as being included in national reviews. Empowering people to ensure inclusiveness and equality is an ongoing and difficult task, but it is also an opportunity to take concrete, collective and focused actions to ensure that the pledge of leaving no one behind indeed includes every person everywhere as well as to review progress and challenges in realizing it is a core principle. 

Inclusiveness, equality and equity are not just issues for developing countries. Though marginalization and vulnerability take different forms in different countries, and different groups are left behind in different contexts, the presence of these groups and individuals is universal and constant. Reducing these local disparities must be elevated as a priority. Furthermore, inclusiveness and equality are global, not only national matters. The significant gaps between developed and developing countries persist and even widen. We should not forget that whole countries can be ‘left behind’. 

Ensuring inclusiveness, equality and equity means approaching the SDGs in an integrated manner. The realization of one of the goals will not be possible if progress across the other SDGs is not also ensured. Inclusiveness, equality or empowerment will never be possible unless its the root causes are addressed. These lie beneath exclusion and poverty, guaranteeing food and nutrition security, ensuring access to quality and equitable education and lifelong learning, universal health coverage, as well as fighting climate change by protecting the environment, its goods, services and resources. We need to ensure that empowering people and ensuring inclusiveness and equality also promotes development and protects the environment.   

‘Learning to Become’ has been adopted as a mindmap by International Classrooms On Line.  The map (Fig 2) is being developed as a knowledge framework for a four-stranded curriculum at all levels to reimagine how knowledge and learning can shape the future of humanity and the planet. The future of Learning to Become is to help change human behaviour to live equitably in a sufficient economy, not consuming Earth’s natural resources faster than they can be regenerated. The objective of this ‘action-curriculum’ is to guide people to behave sustainably through becoming more inclusive, more global, more green, more adversarial and more political.   Of overwhelming importance will be the management and direction taken by a new economics for the post Corvid-19 era in the context of Agenda 2030.

Fig 2  A themed curriculum for belonging: place and change.

https://mm.tt/1568562629?t=S8kyP6pkXe

Behavioral change is focused on five topics that together define inclusivity as a body of knowledge. namely world views, societal views, interpersonal views and individual views, which are defined as follows; 

It is important to regard all SDGs as global public goods for which costs as well as figures on interlinkages should be published. OECD countries and donors should move away from the practice of setting unilateral agendas or commitments focused only on a few SDGs. 

The outcomes of Learning to Become are: 

-for people:- The end of poverty and hunger, in all their forms and dimensions, and to ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality and in a healthy environment.

-for planet:- to protect the planet from degradation, including through sustainable consumption and production, sustainably managing its natural resources and taking urgent action on climate change, so that it can support the needs of the present and future generations.

-for prosperity:- to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives and that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature.

-for peace:- to foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies, which are free from fear and violence. There can be no sustainable development without peace and no peace without sustainable development.

-for partnership:- to mobilize the means required to implement Agenda 2030 through a revitalised global partnership for sustainable development, based on a spirit of strengthened global solidarity, focussed in particular on the needs of the poorest and most vulnerable and with the participation of all countries, all stakeholders and all people.

To confront the crises and challenges of learning to behave sustainably, their root causes must be addressed by promoting and defending a shared spirit of human solidarity that takes many forms, the simplest of which is friendship.

5  Learning for Intercultural understanding

Crossing cultural boundaries can reveal other ways of seeing what is worth knowing and teaching, but can also reveal how pedagogy and, indeed, a whole world curriculum, should be understood and adopted.  Comparative education is needed today where we find ourselves poised between the educational legacy of capitalist modernity and a radically new steady state global order.  Social, economic, political and technological changes are combining to produce new educational challenges and opportunities. Such challenges and opportunities for comparative education, as a field of study, call for learning to be liberated from the constraints  of formal educational institutions. It can be argued that schools have evolved to a point in their pedagogies where they curb both young people’s innate love of learning and their capacity to manage and direct their own educational experiences effectively in the light of their developing individual needs and interests. An oft cited example is the Barbiana School in Italy, in which the conventional curriculum was abandoned and teachers no longer taught formal lessons, yet pupils learned with a depth and commitment hitherto unparalleled in this rural village. 

The major international educational boundary is between East and West, exemplified by India, where it can be argued that the long development of Indian culture has rooted education in the East’s Dharmic thought-banks (Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Sikh, Gandhian,

etc.) where the world is governed by primordial consciousness.  Consciousness refers to an individual’s awareness of their unique thoughts, memories, feelings, sensations, and environments. Essentially, consciousness is awareness of self and the world around yourself. This awareness is subjective and unique to you. If you can describe something you are experiencing in words, then it is part of your consciousness.  The crisis humanity is facing is, in essence, a crisis of consciousness; a crisis of perception and values. It is becoming increasingly clear that the dominating materialist values of efficiency and economy need to be balanced by the equally important values of care, compassion and respect. 

In Hindu culture the quest for primordial consciousness is represented by the Gita, which appears as a central chapter in the Mahabharata, the mythical history of greater India. It is the essence of Vedic knowledge and one of the most important books of Vedic literature. Bhagavad-Gita is a conversation between Arjuna, a supernaturally gifted warrior about to go into battle, and Krishna, his charioteer. In the course of giving Arjuna all manner of spiritual and material advice, Krishna explains how our environment affects our consciousness, and how to attain the perfection of life.  In this connection, the Gita  talks at length about the “three modes of material nature.” These are subtle social forces that influence our behavior as well as every aspect of our physical, mental, and emotional world. The Sanskrit term for this collection of forces is guna, meaning “rope,” and the Gita explains how they pull us to act in various ways, even against our better judgment.

The behavioural effects of Sattva-guna, the mode of goodness, are seen when an atmosphere of peace, serenity, and harmony prevails in our environment and ourselves. Rajo-guna, the mode of passion, is felt as an insatiable desire for temporary things, striving for more and more of them, and perpetual dissatisfaction. Tamo-guna, is the mode of ignorance. The fourteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-Gita contains elaborate descriptions of these modes of material nature, their characteristics, how they affect us, and ultimately how to become free from their influence through the practice of bhakti-yoga, or, in a modern context, by creating an inclusive curriculum for achieving Krishna consciousness.  In comparative education the significance of the gunas is that they provide Eastern students with a learning pathway embedded in Hinduism for a progressive behavioural change from Tamo-guna to Rajo-guna on to Sattva-guna.  This can be the backdrop to progress reinforcing a personal goal of Agenda 2030.  That is to say, we have to move from ignorance of who we are via consumerism to a steady state economy. Krishna missionaries say that without Krishna consciousness, “we try to enjoy life through the body and mind, with hit-or-miss results.  And we fear death since we don’t know what happens afterwards”.

In her paper, ‘Religiously motivated conservation as a response to pilgrimage pressures in

Vrindavan’, Tamara Luthy examines Govardhan, a sacred hill in Uttar Pradesh. It is close to the urban centre of Vrindavan.  According to local lore and religious texts it is the location of numerous sacred groves.  It is one of many such areas that are circumambulated by pilgrims every year.  Small signs designating each sacred grove on the route provide a sense of connecting with the sacred geography described in the scriptures. Some of these groves are groves in name only; others still show lush vegetation. Some bear little resemblance to their scriptural namesakes. Yet, just as in the scriptures, cowherds still continue to tend to their animals grazing in the fields between groves.

Fig 3 Lord Krishna and the cowgirl Radha meet each other secretly on Govardhan Hill

Places of pilgrimage in India often experience environmental degradation as a result of pilgrimage pressures. They are not examples of ‘traditional land management systems’ that are struggling to adapt to the ‘new’ phenomena of pilgrimage. Instead, they represent contemporary management systems targeting the elements of sacred geography, which are being compromised by the pilgrims’ needs to ‘see for themselves’. This kind of conservation management system is an expression of a growing eco-conscious movement which was first articulated in the 1970s.  Eco-conscience is a broad term that means “marked by or showing concern for the environment.” There are many different ways people can make changes to conserve their environment, and the term ‘environmentally conscious’ now defines a fundamental belief system.  In the context of Vrindavan, sacred groves link a mythologized sacred geography (Fig3) to modern-day issues of desertification and environmental degradation, which are facing this religious tourism site in a way that has become a political issue. Luthy suggests that activists and devotees alike are beginning to rally around an image of ‘Krishna as an Environmental Deity’ in a move to create new conservation management regimes.These discourses involve negotiations of new understandings of place and usage, which are endeavoring to attract the attention of extra-local agencies and engage them in new alliances to save the sacred landscape. Friends of Vrindavan are dedicated to bringing about a renaissance of nature and culture in and around Vrindavan. 

6 Learning by invitation

Few students are drawn to lists of facts. Not many find computations, theorems, and proofs inherently interesting. Worksheets evoke little satisfaction in the young.  The impetus to learn generally does not come first from content itself, but rather because a teacher has learned to make the content inviting.

What invites students to learn? Because students vary, what is inviting will vary as well. In general, however, students have at least five needs that teachers can address to make learning irresistible: affirmation, contribution, purpose, power, and challenge. Sometimes, teachers find that the learning environment is key to meeting student needs. Sometimes the mode of instruction is key. Generally, environment and instruction work in tandem to invite, inspire, and sustain student learning.  Approaching acting to live sustainably through spiritual consciousness of environment and instruction make the content practically important.

For those who are educated to be aware of current environmental issues, self-efficacy is an important barrier to action, where individuals often feel powerless in achieving large goals such as mitigating global climate change. Moreover, lack of motivation to change one’s behaviour is correlated with the belief that individuals are incapable of performing effective large scale pro-environmental actions.

Martin Haigh believes that it is important to design effective learning invitations, which encourage a learner to engage and overcome inhibitions that may hold them back from assembling and applying environmental knowledge.  To this end he introduces five styles of learning invitation based on an individual’s classroom mindset and explores how they may be employed to lever positive educational outcomes.  The mindset to learn is established by questioning the learning environment.  These questions may be used to evaluate a classroom and act as performance indicators of an individual’s progress as a learner.

1 Affirmation

Many young people seek first an affirmation that they are significant in the classroom. Perhaps more and more young people are uncertain of their significance in the world at large, or perhaps the young have always been on a quest for significance. Whatever the reason, students in school need to have affirmative answers to the following questions:

  • Am I accepted and acceptable here just as I am?
  • Am I safe here; physically, emotionally, and intellectually?
  • Do people here care about me?
  • Do people here listen to me?
  • Do people know how I’m doing, and does it matter to them that I do well?
  • Do people acknowledge my interests and perspectives and act upon them?

2 Contribution

To make a difference in any sort of community, one must contribute. Many students come to school looking for a way to contribute to their world. They need to to know:

  • They can make a difference in the classroom?
  • They can bring unique and valuable perspectives and abilities to the classroom?
  • They can help other students and the entire class to succeed?
  • They can connect to others through mutual work on common goals?

3 Purpose

Students come to school in search of collective purposes. They need answers to the following questions:

Do I understand what we do here?

  • Do I see significance in what we do?
  • Does what we do reflect me and my world?
  • Does the work we do make a difference in the world?
  • Will the work absorb me as an individual?

4 Power

From infancy, the young seek increasing dominion over their world. Turning over in the crib, learning to open the refrigerator door, crossing the street, deciding what to wear to school, and spending the night at a friend’s house are important milestones, in part because they signal growing independence and power. Teachers who purposefully assist young learners to develop a sense of power invite their students to learn. To feel powerful in the classroom, students need affirmative answers to the following questions:

  • Will what I learn here be useful to me now?
  • Will I be able to make choices that contribute to my success?
  • Do I know what quality looks like and how I will be able to create quality work here?
  • Does dependable support for my journey exist in this classroom?

5 Challenge

Something deep inside humans seeks challenge despite fears. Students feel they will be challenged in the classroom when they have positive answers to the following questions:

  • Will the work here complement my ability?
  • Will the work stretch me?
  • Will I be able to work hard in this classroom?
  • If I work hard will I generally succeed?
  • Will I be able to be accountable for my own growth, and contribute to the growth of others.?
  • Will I be able to accomplish things here that I didn’t believe were possible?

Levers of learning engage the three modes of nature (the guṇas) as evoked by Satish Kumar’s “Spiritual Compass.” The leverage aims to raise learners away from the mode of inertia and darkness (tamas), toward compassion, peace, and clear-sightedness (sattva),

typically, via the fire of action (rajas). The value of the tamas mode is as a motivation and

fulcrum for change and the problems that develop when rajas (i.e., action) becomes

both the way and the goal. So are the limitations of sattva, goodness, which while it may be holistic, reflective and serene, needs help (the rajas) to convert its dreaming into reality.  Haigh says, using the approach would help internationalise educational curricula and shift education’s current focus from “Doing” (rajas) to “Being” (sattva).

Vrindavan is not just another town on the map. It is Krishna’s abode and a powerful centre of spiritual consciousness. If here, at such a sacred place, the balance of nature is under threat, what does this signify for the well-being of the rest of the planet? On the other hand, if Vrindavan’s woodlands and wildlife flourish once again, then a message of hope will be sent to all of India and to the world that it is possible to bring human demands on the environment in line with Earth’s limited productivity.  Preserving a pastoral landscape of the mind is a good example of the application of arts reasoning to explain sustainability.

7  Internet references

Three modes of nature

Govardhan Hill

Design and management proposals for Govardhan Hill

What Is Invitational Learning?

Green lifestyle

Steady state socialism

Participatory socialism

Mind Maps

Education 2030

Making mind map

2019 Not enough progress

Syllabus & curriculum

Krishna conciousness

India; the arts in conversationary

Bhagavad Gita, Chapter 14

Faith and environment matters

Living sustainably

Ethics of sustainability

Moral Compass; Satish Kumar

What is a myth?

Learning to be Inclusive

July 10th, 2020

1  Cultural ecology

Cultural ecology is simply the study of how humans adapt to social and environmental factors in order to belong, survive and prosper.  Basically, belonging is the creation of societal structures to acquire food, make a home, bring up a family and thereby generate a sense of well being.  This is the fundamental dynamic of cultural ecology, which is defined by tracing an individual’s relationships with family, neighbours and political governance of spaces and places. Through these interactions we are part of nature in everything we do.  No one would deny that culture and its related activities is an ecology, having many links with local development of place.  Vibrant, cultural activities give meaning to a place where a community mobilises resources and generates its own socio ecological dynamics. This process can release the creativity of those who live there and make the territory more attractive to residents, visitors or innovators.  On the other hand, there are places with low socio ecological flows, because they lack local amenities, such as shops, pubs, cafes, transport links, green spaces and playgrounds.  These places have greater inequalities between poor and affluent households. Amongst residents there is widespread grief, concern and despair because the government does not seem to have a plan of action that is dignified and comprehensive and seeks to address the core concerns. These concerns are aggravated in an increasingly complex era of climate crisis, environmental degradation and rising social inequity.  Here, new challenges are appearing for building a just and inclusive global society to accommodate the most marginalised and vulnerable. Many of the latter are the historic victims of white supremacy. These so-called developing populations are often the least responsible for ecological risks and threats, but are the most affected by their emergence. In this context, initiatives like the Black Lives Matter movement can be a cry for restorative justice.  The question is how can we achieve a just and inclusive global society that contributes to restoring sustainable relationships between culture and ecology, where the ecosystems range from the Brazilian rainforest to the ‘urban jungles’ of Europe and the USA? 

2 Guiding principles of inclusivity

People are educated to create “in-groups” and “out-groups,” based on similarities and differences. The more people are taught to perceive someone to be different, the less likely they are to feel comfortable with, or trust, that person.  They position the person in their out-group. This kind of categorization of exclusion, while usually unconscious, but reinforced by cultural norms, can do significant social damage.  However, there is deep uncertainty about how to create inclusive environments within schools and about how to teach inclusively. Inclusive education was initially focused on providing for students with disabilities in mainstream schools.  It now encompasses a much broader definition that refers to all those, black or white, who may have been historically marginalized from meaningful education, who come from poor, varied multicultural and multi-diverse backgrounds, or who are at risk of not achieving their potential as self-regarding individuals.

The Black Lives Matter movement is a powerful, non-violent peace movement that systematically examines injustices that exist at the intersections of race, class, and gender; including mass incarceration, poverty, non-affordable housing, income disparity, homophobia, unfair immigration laws, gender inequality, and poor access to healthcare. 

The movement began in 2013 with the use of the hashtag #BlackLivesMatter on social media after the acquittal of George Zimmerman in the shooting death of African-American teenager Trayvon Martin. The movement became nationally recognized for street demonstrations following the 2014 deaths of two African Americans: Michael Brown, resulting in protests and unrest in Ferguson, a city near St. Louis, and Eric Garner in New York City.  Since the Ferguson protests, participants in the movement have demonstrated against the deaths of numerous other African Americans by police actions and/or while in police custody. In the summer of 2015, Black Lives Matter activists became involved in the 2016 United States presidential election.  The originators of the hashtag and call to action, Alicia Garza, Patrisse Cullors, and Opal Tometi, expanded their project into a national network of over 30 local chapters between 2014 and 2016.  

Black Lives Matter is a decentralized network and has no formal hierarchy.  The movement returned with global headlines and gained further international attention, promoting restorative justice, during the universal George Floyd protests in 2020, following his killing by police officer Derek Chauvin in Minneapolis, Minnesota 

Restorative justice is more a philosophy than a specific method.  It offers a non-adversarial, problem-solving process that involves people who have been harmed (victims) with the harmers/offenders and members of the community.  The aim is to find solutions through connection, not exclusion. It is understood that the growth and learning that occurs often transforms people, relationships and communities.  Contemporary protest movements, like  Black Lives Matter are distinguished from historic movements by relying on decentralized leadership.  They utilize social media and technology and have a central role in addressing social justice issues.  In this context,  principles of humanism guide our endeavors to be more civil, fair, and charitable with one another.  We are all in this together, regardless of colour, sex, political affiliation, level of wealth, creed, age, or sexual orientation. Coexistence is marked by equitable rapport and reciprocity.  Therefore, those who consider themselves humanists, who promote unfettered, egalitarian human welfare; those who desire a humane society and seek to humanize all individuals, need restorative justice as a the only rational educational philosophy

Thirteen Principles for learning to be inclusive emerged in the School Week of Action, mounted by Black Lives Matter, February 3-7, 2020.  It was part of the educational  theme of Teaching for Change and  involved Washington D.C. Area Educators for Social Justice in partnership with educators, and community members. It was built on the momentum of past local weeks of action within the School Week of Action campaign, then taking place in cities across the U.S.  The objective was to promote a set of national demands for education based on the Thirteen Black Lives Matter guiding principles that focus on improving the school experience for students of colour..  

3  A curriculum for change

Enshrined in the UN’s 2030 Agenda for sustainable development is the principle that every person should be included in reaping the benefits of prosperity and enjoy minimum standards of well-being. This is captured in the Agenda’s 17 Sustainable Development Goals.  The goals are aimed at freeing all nations and peoples and all segments of society from poverty and hunger to ensure healthy lives and access to education, green energy and information about how to live sustainably. It is recognized that these goals are difficult to achieve without making institutions work for those who are deepest in poverty and most vulnerable to discrimination.  Therefore, the Agenda embraces broad targets aimed at promoting the just rule of law, ensuring equal access to justice and broadly fostering inclusive and participatory decision-making. These goals and targets, when effectively translated through education into action and properly benchmarked, represent essential elements of social inclusion learning processes. Therefore, learning to be inclusive in a global context is vital to target and attain sustainable development goals for people of all ages and ethnicity.

So that humanity can reach the 2030 targets there is no better place to start unlearning white supremacy, and begin the social reconstruction of whiteness, than the 13 principles of inclusivity set out by ‘Black Lives Matter’. They were designed for a syllabus in restorative justice encompassing the whole of humanity.  The understanding was that the privileges conferred on white people by a racist system are ill-begotten, and that benefiting from others’ oppression is neither a morally acceptable nor a spiritually healthy way to live.

Restorative Justice is the most important of the 13 principles of inclusivity, with universal applicability, into which all others flow. It  brings those harmed by crime or conflict and those responsible for the harm, into a coalition enabling everyone affected by a particular incident to play a part in repairing the harm and finding a positive way forward. This is part of a wider field of action called restorative practice.  Planning for 2030 sustainability and developing restorative practice go hand in hand.

Restorative justice is different from criminal justice, which focuses on retribution, deterrence and incapacitation. The focus of restorative justice is on reparation to the victim, on reintegration of the victim and offender, and on the victim as the person who was most directly harmed by the offence. We know that if you hurt somebody, you have to help them feel better; you can’t just say, ‘Sorry; and walk away. We also know that it’s important for people to be able to make a better choice another time, and it is everyone’s job to help them make better choices and to give them chances to do that. 

Restorative practice can be used anywhere to prevent conflict, build relationships and repair harm by enabling people to communicate effectively and positively. Restorative practice is increasingly being used in schools, children’s services, workplaces, hospitals, communities and the criminal justice system.  In this new Black Lives Matter environment, with heightened racial sensitivities and cries for restorative justice, whites and black people may approach each other with some hesitancy and anxiety about not knowing exactly what to say.  In this connection, they may want to speak boldly but feel constrained, muzzled or just completely exhausted and therefore choose to instead simply fume on the inside. A shared commitment to restorative justice is the much needed common ground and this is why restorative justice should be the central pillar of school curricula aimed at behaviour change.

Exclusive behaviors are any behaviors that make an individual feel like they are not a part of the group in which they find themselves.  The reaction is either to leave the group and become more exclusive or to remain and change behaviour to become more inclusive.

The three big ideas in restorative justice are: 

  • repair: crime causes harm and justice requires repairing that harm; 
  • encounter: the best way to determine how to do that is to have the parties come together to decide together; 
  • and transformation through learning to be inclusive to facilitate fundamental changes in people, relationships and communities.

Education for social justice has implications for what we teach (curriculum) and how we teach (pedagogy). 

4  Mapping knowledge domains

During the last two decades there has been an explosion in the amount of information available to education and the accessibility of that information due to a vast increase in electronic storage. New techniques of analysis, retrieval, and visualization have been made possible by great increases in processing speed and power of search engines operating on the World Wide Web.  In the light of this, the term “mapping knowledge domains” was chosen by Richard M. Shiffrin and Katy Börner to describe a newly evolving interdisciplinary area of science aimed at the process of charting, mining, analyzing and sorting, which enables the navigation and display of knowledge (Fig 1).

Fig 1 Mapping the process of turning data into knowledge

Data, information, concept and knowledge are often used interchangeably, but they are really four different things.

i Data is just facts, which may or may not be useful.

ii Information is a selection of data collected for some meaning or purpose.  Within this category, a topic is a unit of information with a title and content, short enough to be specific to a single subject or answer a single question, but long enough to make sense on its own and be authored as a unit.

iii  A concept is a cognitive grouping of topics that defines a main idea or a theme.

An example of concept is a book that is focused on satirical poetry..

iv Domain knowledge is a set of concepts defining a specific, specialized discipline or field. People who have domain knowledge, are often considered specialists or experts. A body of knowledge is the complete set of concepts that make up a professional domain, as defined by the relevant learned society or professional association.

v General knowledge is a collection of concepts from everyday life, not all of it has practical use. 

The curriculum for learning to be socially inclusive is built around the 13 guiding principles of ‘Black Lives Matter’  The key messages are: 

  • social exclusion is a multidimensional phenomenon not limited to material deprivation; poverty is an important dimension of exclusion, albeit only one dimension. Accordingly, social inclusion processes involve more than improving access to economic resources. 
  • social inclusion is defined as the process of improving the terms of participation in society, particularly for people who are disadvantaged, through enhancing opportunities, access to resources, freedom of voice and respect for rights. 
  • measuring social exclusion is challenging due to its multidimensional nature and the lack of standard data sources across countries and for all social groups at highest risk of being left behind. 

While social inclusion is a core aspiration of the 2030 Agenda, conceptual and analytical work on what constitutes inclusion, as well as efforts to improve data availability, are needed. 

The goals for learning to be inclusive are to establish a pedagogy and curriculum for changing the mindset of individuals or groups regarding their worldviews, collective views, interpersonal views and their individual views about being someone other.  A political model to establish this is ‘steady state socialism’ in a cosmopolitan society, where human needs sit in balance with the resources needed to satisfy them 

‘Learning to be Inclusive’ is an experimental multiethnic online pedagogy to support people who wish to become more inclusive in their attitudes to others.   It explores ideas of educational blogging being evaluated by ‘International Classrooms On Line.  The methodology is to use Google Blogger as an interactive tool for assembling a personal body of knowledge on the theme of restorative justice.

Bloggers trawl the Internet for information and present it as pages and posts using the 13 principles of Black Lives Matter as conceptual place holders. within a knowledge framework comprising five knowledge domains, to display their findings. Their learning objective is to use blogging to explore and develop their own inclusive mindset for avoiding exclusive behaviour (Table 1).

The educational domain to be explored is ‘Belonging Place and Change’ and at the moment there are three themes (three separate blogs).

i ‘The theme of Belonging Place and Change’,  

ii ‘Evolution Islands’;

iii ‘Learning to be Inclusive’.  

The way it works is that the basic piece of information for a post or page is a website.  A piece of text from the site is posted to a particular blog with a picture and the URL, tagged with a title that connects it to one of the topics that is being developed in that blog (Table 1). By this means the blogg becomes a personal body of knowledge. 

Table 1 A themed curriculum for place and change.

(Based on a ‘Kid friendly’ version of the 13 guiding principles by Lalena Garcia)

Change is focused on five topics that together define inclusivity as a body of knowledge. namely world views, societal views, interpersonal views and individual views, which are defined as follows; 

Topic 1 ‘Worldviews’.

Globalism

Globalism means that we are thinking about all the different people all over the world, and thinking about the ways to keep things fair everywhere.

.Diversity

Different people do different things and have different feelings. It is important that we have lots of different kinds of people in our community and that everyone feels safe. 

Topic 2 ‘Societal views’.

Families

There are lots of different kinds of families; what makes a family is people who take care of each other. It’s important to make sure that all families feel welcome. 

Villages and Neighbourhoods 

There are many different kinds of families; what makes a family is people who take care of each other; those people might be related, or maybe they choose to be family together and to take care of each other. Sometimes, when it is lots of families together, it can be called a village. Neighbourhood is generally defined spatially as a specific geographic area and functionally as a set of social networks.  It is a spatial unit in which face-to-face social interactions occur; these are the personal settings and situations where residents seek to realise common values, socialise youth, and maintain effective social control.

Collective value

Everybody is important, and has the right to be safe and happy

Topic 3 ‘Interpersonal views’.

Empathy

It is important to think about how other people feel, because different people have different feelings. Sometimes it helps to think about how you would feel if the same thing that happened to your friend happened to you.

Loving engagement

It is important to make sure that we are always trying to be fair and peaceful, and to engage with other people (treat other people) with love. We have to keep practicing this so that we can get better and better at it

Intergenerational inclusivity

It is important that we have spaces where people of different ages can come together and learn from each other. Another way to say that is intergenerational.

Thinking genealogically about place 

Genealogy, in short, is first and foremost a way of thinking, and thinking genealogically is one of the distinctive characteristics of human cognition. Because they are the very objects of our genealogical imagination, ancestors and relatives deserve a prominent place among the foundational pillars of being.

Topic 4 ‘Individual views’.

Gender

There are some people who think that women are less Important than men. We know that all people are important and have the right to be safe and talk about their feelings

Transgender

Everybody has the right to choose their own gender by listening to their own heart and mind. Everyone gets to choose if they are a girl or a boy or both or neither or something else, and no one else gets to choose for them. 

Being queer

Everybody has the right to choose who they love and the kind of family they want by listening to their own heart and mind. 

Being unapologetically yourself

There are lots of different kinds of people that vary in the colour of their skin,  But all share a common biochemical heritage with other living beings.  So It’s important to make sure that everyone is treated fairly, and that’s why people all over the world, white as well black, are part of the Black Lives Matter movement.’ 

5 Concepts for learning to be inclusive

1795 

Humankind classified according to ethnicity

Johann Friedrich Blumenbach

The idea that there are independent human ethnic groups can be traced to the late 1700s, when German anthropologist Johann Friedrich Blumenbach attempted to classify humans, largely by how they looked and where they called home.

His final classification of 1795 divided all humans into five groups, defined both by geography and appearance: the Caucasian variety, for the light-skinned people of Europe and adjacent parts of Asia and Africa; the Mongolian variety, for most other inhabitants of Asia, including China and Japan; the Ethiopian variety, for the dark-skinned people of Africa; the American variety, for most native populations of the New World; and the Malay variety, for the Polynesians and Melanesians of the Pacific and for the aborigines of Australia.

He not only used geography and skin colour but, notably, the size and shape of skulls to explore what he called the “varieties of mankind.” but held that all races and peoples were equal and stated that the “many varieties of humankind as are at present known to be one and the same species.  Later, unscientific thinking by Europeans, that one race is superior to another, has led, historically, to some of the worst of human behavior; colonization, slavery, apartheid and genocide.

1945-50 

Unesco and the (One) World of Julian Huxley.

As a discipline, biology had been at the heart of modern cultural and political debates about the nature of human diversity and its significance since the mid-nineteenth century. By the 1930s, as fascist European political parties brutally claimed scientific legitimacy for their regimes, biologists such as Julian Huxley emphasized the diversity of humanity was a minor outcome  of evolution. 

The social unity of humankind expressed in cosmopolitanism and internationalism, were crucial ideological contexts for the creation of Unesco, and the shape that Julian Huxley, Unesco’s first Director-General, gave to that organization. In the history of Unesco’s early years, Huxley is often depicted as its hero, charting ‘the broad course to which the organization became committed’, and granted the natural sciences, and scientists, a central place in the shaping of Unesco’s internationally-targeted cultural and educational programs. 

1963

A Talk To Teachers

James Baldwin

Since I am talking to schoolteachers and I am not a teacher myself, and in some ways am fairly easily intimidated, I beg you to let me leave that and go back to what I think to be the entire purpose of education in the first place. It would seem to me that when a child is born, if I’m the child’s parent, it is my obligation and my high duty to civilize that child. Man is a social animal. He cannot exist without a society. A society, in turn, depends on certain things which everyone within that society takes for granted. Now the crucial paradox which confronts us here is that the whole process of education occurs within a social framework and is designed to perpetuate the aims of society. Thus, for example, the boys and girls who were born during the era of the Third Reich, when educated to the purposes of the Third Reich, became barbarians. The paradox of education is precisely this – that as one begins to become conscious one begins to examine the society in which he is being educated. The purpose of education, finally, is to create in a person the ability to look at the world for himself, to make his own decisions, to say to himself this is black or this is white, to decide for himself whether there is a God in heaven or not. To ask questions of the universe, and then learn to live with those questions, is the way he achieves his own identity. But no society is really anxious to have that kind of person around. What societies really, ideally, want is a citizenry which will simply obey the rules of society. If a society succeeds in this, that society is about to perish. The obligation of anyone who thinks of himself as responsible is to examine society and try to change it and to fight it – at no matter what risk. This is the only hope society has. This is the only way societies change

1996  

Color Conscious

Kwame Akroma-Ampim Kusi Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann:

In America today, the problem of achieving racial justice-whether through “color-blind” policies or through affirmative action provokes more noisy name-calling than fruitful deliberation. In Color Conscious, K. Anthony Appiah and Amy Gutmann, two eminent moral and political philosophers, seek to clear the ground for a discussion of the inclusion of race in politics and in our moral lives.  Appiah begins by establishing the problematic nature of the idea of race. He draws on the scholarly consensus that “race” has no legitimate biological basis, exploring the history of its invention as a social category and showing how the concept has been used to explain differences among groups of people by mistakenly attributing various “essences” to them. 

Appiah, a British Ghanaian philosopher, argues that, while people of colour may still need to gather together, in the face of racism, under the banner of race, they need also to balance carefully the calls of race against the many other dimensions of individual identity; and he suggests, finally, what this might mean for our political life. 

His focus is on the long-term political and economic development of nations according to the Western capitalist/ democratic model, an approach that relies on continued growth in the “marketplace” that is the capital-driven modern world.

When capitalism is introduced and it does not “take off” as in the Western world, the livelihood of the peoples involved is at stake. Thus, the ethical questions involved are certainly complex. He says it is not up to “us” to save the poor and starving, but up to their own governments. Nation-states must assume responsibility for their citizens, and a cosmopolitan’s role is to appeal to “our own” government to ensure that these nation-states respect, provide for, and protect their citizens.

If they will not, “we” are obliged to change their minds; if they cannot, “we” are obliged to provide assistance, but only our “fair share,” that is, not at the expense of our own comfort, or the comfort of those “nearest and dearest” to us.  From this position he views organisations such as UNICEF and Oxfam in two lights: on the one hand he seems to appreciate the immediate action these organisations provide while on the other he points out their long-term futility. 

Gutmann examines alternative political responses to racial injustice. She argues that American politics cannot be fair to all citizens by being colour blind because American society is not color blind. Fairness, not color blindness, is a fundamental principle of justice.

2000

The revolution that wasn’t 

Sally McBrearty and Alison S. Brooks

Proponents of the model known as the ‘‘human revolution’’ claim that modern human behaviors arise suddenly, and nearly simultaneously, throughout the Old World ca. 40–50 ka. This fundamental behavioral shift is purported to signal a cognitive advance, a possible reorganization of the brain, and the origin of language. Because the earliest modern human fossils, Homo sapiens sensu stricto, are found in Africa and the adjacent region of the Levant at >100 ka, the ‘‘human revolution’’ model creates a time lag between the appearance of anatomical modernity and perceived behavioral modernity, and creates the impression that the earliest modern Africans were behaviorally primitive. This view of events stems from a profound Eurocentric bias and a failure to appreciate the depth and breadth of the African archaeological record. 

2002

Slavery and the Roots of Racism

Lance Selfa

Because racism is woven right into the fabric of capitalism, new forms of racism arose with changes in capitalism. As the U.S. economy expanded and underpinned U.S. imperial expansion, imperialist racism developed, which asserted that the U.S. had a right to dominate other peoples, such as Mexicans and Filipinos. As the U.S. economy grew and sucked in millions of immigrant laborers, anti-immigrant racism developed. But these are both different forms of the same ideology, of white supremacy and division of the world into “superior” and “inferior” races that had their origins in slavery. What does this discussion mean for us today? First, racism is not part of some unchanging human nature. It was literally invented. And so it can be torn down. Second, despite the overwhelming ideological hold of white supremacy, people always resisted it, from the slaves themselves to white anti-racists. Understanding racism in this way informs the strategy that we use to combat racism. 

Antiracist education is essential, but it is not enough. Because it treats racism only as a question of “bad ideas” it does not address the underlying material conditions that give rise to the acceptance of racism among large sections of whites.  To thoroughly undermine the hold of racism on large sections of white people requires three conditions: 

  • first, a broader class fightback that unites workers across racial lines; 
  • second, attacking the conditions (bad jobs, housing, education, etc.) that give rise to the appeal of racism among large sections of workers; 
  • and third, the conscious intervention of antiracists to oppose racism in all its manifestations and to win support for interracial class solidarity. 

Racism and capitalism have been intertwined since the beginning of capitalism. You can’t have capitalism without racism. Therefore, the final triumph over racism will only come when we abolish the source of racism, capitalism, and build a new socialist society. The hold of racism at the base of capitalism breaks down when the class struggle against the bosses forces workers to seek solidarity across racial lines. Socialists believe that such class unity is possible because white workers have an objective interest in fighting racism. The Influence of racism on white workers is a question of their consciousness, not a question of some material bribe from the system they receive. Struggle creates conditions by which racism can be challenged and defeated. 

2020:

 Black Lives Matter guiding principles that focus on improving the school experience for students of colour.  

The Black Lives Matter movement is a powerful, non-violent peace movement that systematically examines injustices that exist at the intersections of race, class, and gender; including mass incarceration, poverty, non-affordable housing, income disparity, homophobia, unfair immigration laws, gender inequality, and poor access to healthcare.

The goal of the Black Lives Matter at School Week of Action was to spark an ongoing movement of critical reflection and honest conversations in school communities for people of all ages and ethnicities to engage with critical issues of social justice. It is the duty of educators and community members to civically engage students and build their empathy, collaboration, and agency so they are able to thrive. Students must learn to examine, address, and grapple with issues of racism and discrimination that persist in their lives and communities.

2020

Place and Change

‘Place & Change’ is a project on the theme of humanistic geography, promoted by International Classrooms Online. Its aim is to evaluate the use of Google Blogger to create pages and posts on themes of place and change.  One such theme is ‘Learning to be Inclusive’.

Learning to be Inclusive

This is a theme within the concept of ‘Place and Change’. Learning to be inclusive is a lesson for everyone.

‘Place & Change’: something to blog about

June 16th, 2020

“It’s almost 11 years since I first began blogging! Who would have thought that simple decision to begin a blog would have led to so many fantastic outcomes for me, for my students, and for my community?  This post unpacks 18 benefits of blogging for teachers and students. But first, let’s explore why blogging has lasted while other tools have come and gone.  The simple reason is, a blog is more than a tool. It’s anything you want it to be. A blog is a blank canvas and a virtual home for you to set up however you like.”

Kathleen Morris (2019), Primary School Teacher.

1 Evolution is progress?

After the First World War, the British Zoologist, Julian Huxley, was occupied with the long term questions raised for the future of humanity by Darwin’s theory of evolution. The central problem in determining whether evolution manifests progress concerns the identification and justification of a standard according to which improvement can be measured. As might be expected, much of the debate over evolutionary progress has focused on this problem.  In fact, Darwin’s first reflections on impediments to human progress were prompted by his experiences of savage qualities in the slave-owning colony of Brazil, and by his encounters with the Yahgan peoples of Tierra del Fuego.  There he saw first hand that harsh conditions, privation, poor climate, bondage and servitude, are impediments to human progress.

Eight decades later, after the First World War, Huxley wrote,

 “Is it possible to speak of progress when at this present moment there are vast poverty-stricken and slum populations with all the great nations, and when these same great nations have just been engaged in the most appalling war in history?”.  

Huxley had argued, even then, that progress, defined as an improvement in the well-being of human beings through social evolution, was indeed possible. After another world war had produced not only greater carnage but also the means of humanity’s own self-destruction, Huxley still hung on to his belief in evolutionary progress.  Indeed, in 1945 he was briefly associated with plans to use Skomer, a small offshore island in South West Wales, as an educational field station for students to set up their own projects to highlight progressive evolution. By “progress,” he meant the tendency of all life forms to grow better equipped over evolutionary time to carry on the business of existence and survival. 

“Biology,” he wrote, “presents us with the spectacle of an evolution in which the main direction is the raising of the maximum level of certain qualities of living beings, such as efficiency of organs, size, accuracy and range of senses coordinating a capacity for knowledge, memory, educability and acting with emotional intensity”.  

“These are all qualities which in one way or another lead to a more efficient control by living things over the external world, leading to their greater independence of environment.  Huxley’s summary of this argument was, “Animal types have limited possibilities, and sooner or later exhaust them: humanity has an unlimited field of possibilities, and can never realize all of them”.  

In this connection no doubt Huxley was reflecting on the powers of social evolution to benefit human well being.

2 One-World: a political conservation target

At the end of World War II Julian Huxley was firmly associated with the concept of  the social evolution of cosmopolitanism connected with internationalism and the origins of UNESCO. In the first few years of UNESCO’s operation, delegates and functionaries portrayed “world citizenship” as the path to permanent world peace and self well being.  It is a necessary social target arising from the evolution of diversity in human society, from tribes to nations, from national consciousness to “one world” living.  Huxley, as UNESCO’s first director-general, was a key figure in that history. His conception of cosmopolitan internationalism provides an important link between the history of postwar international organizations and a long nineteenth-century vision of historical and political progress leading to the abolition of imperial policies and practices, notably the end of slavery.

In this history Huxley found profound, long range consequences. Human beings, diverse in their capacities and self-awareness, were not compelled to pursue solely their individual self -interest. They could also cooperate to achieve the common needs of society. More importantly, human self consciousness made possible “not only innumerable single changes, but a change in the very method of change itself”.  The change was a transition from evolution by blind processes operating on the opportunities, provided by blind chance, to humankind’s deliberate choices for living peaceably in the long term.   

Nature conservation was one of these choices which Huxley, with his UK contemporaries Max Nicholson and Peter Scott, promoted on an international scale.  He conceded that we had so far not used our capacities very wisely to shape the world; and he allowed that savage qualities were still to be found in a deplorably large number of human beings. “Our feet still drag in the biological mud,” he wrote, “even when we lift our heads into the conscious air.” Still, he found a certain comfort in the belief that evolution had continually raised the upper levels of biological organisms; and further comfort in the recognition that humankind, so far existing for only a moment in evolutionary time, still had future generations to work out its problems and realize its possibilities. 

Julian Huxley used the genetics of heredity to argue against any biological foundations for antidemocratic ideologies, be it Nazism, Stalinism, or the British laissez-faire and class system. He presented genetics itself as inherently democratic. Arguing from genetics, he developed an understanding of diversity that cuts across divisions of race, class, or gender. Human diversity rightly understood was advantageous for societal progress and in recognising this he pressed for the concept of ethnicity to replace that of race in discussions of human diversity.  Huxley argued for democratic reforms and increased planning geared toward greater social equality. He took issue with the notion that evolutionary history does not carry any moral lessons for human societies. Rather than being its antithesis, evolution is the basis of human sociality. In fact, the entire future progress of individuals and communities toward a democratic world was founded on the principles of social evolution at a parochial level.

Huxley summarily declared, 

“In the light of evolutionary biology man can now see himself as the sole agent of further evolutionary advance on this planet, and one of the few possible instruments of progress in the universe at large. He finds himself in the unexpected position of business manager for the cosmic process of evolution”.

At our present point in time we need to revisit Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism, which he defined as the scientific management of the great challenges facing the progress of future generations.  Today, this challenge is to curb global warming and distribute Earth’s limited resources equitably whilst celebrating human equality in diversity. For Huxley, humanism was about establishing a cognitive pedagogy to develop a learner’s unique individuality, understanding who we are and what we stand for. No one person is the same. Evolutionary  humanism encourages young people to explore their own selfhood and well-being, while also gaining a better understanding and greater respect for the identities of others, all through self learning (Fig 1). 

Fig1 Conditions for progressing individual wellbeing through evolutionary humanism.

Before Huxley disengaged from the Pembrokeshire islands he selected the Skomer Vole, an isolated subspecies of the mainland vole, as the icon for his idea of evolutionary humanism.

3 Practical, humanistic geography

The new National Curriculum for Wales has just been launched and one of its six pillars of learning and experience is the Humanities Area.  The humanities can play a number of roles in a person’s life, including providing greater insight into the world, helping to better understand both the past and the future and fostering a wide sense of empathy. One of the most important outcomes of the Humanities Area in the Welsh syllabus is preparing students to fulfill their civic and cultural responsibilities.  The aim is for them to become informed, conscientious, engaged, critical citizens fostering social justice and equality.  In Wales the Area encompasses the classical subjects of geography; history; religion; values and ethics, enhanced with the contemporary subjects of business studies and social studies. These disciplines share many common themes, concepts and transferable skills, while each having its own discrete body of knowledge and skills.  Regarding geography, people may think that it is about capitals, land forms, and other material features. But it is also about projecting emotional tone and social meaning.  The latter defines humanistic geography, which emphasises people’s perceptions, creativity, personal beliefs and sharing ideas and achievements with other cultures. 

Humanistic geographers study topics such as the cultural construction of place and landscape. These topics determine the cartography of everyday life, using the power of language and meaning to create and transform environments, place and identity for the better.  They are concerned with religious symbolism and geographical myths and narratives. Common to all of these expressions of cultural ecology is a concern with understanding meaningful, humanly constructed worlds.  Students who are beginning to study these as isolated topics may wonder why they have not been taught about the unifying power of humanistic geography. How could a geographical orientation that has been associated with so many cross subject themes of current interest be largely ignored.  This relative neglect is difficult to understand when the cartography of everyday life can be easily charted in the humanistic geography of gardens, roadside verges and cracks in the pavement; all features that bind people imaginatory to place from an early age.  In this context, the real practical task in developing a humanistic pedagogy centred on place and change is to harness love of place for individuals to present their own body of knowledge and share it, for feedback from others.  Sense of place is increasingly recognized as key to human wellbeing in social- ecological systems. Yet there is a limited understanding about how to define and evaluate it for conservation.

This is where curricular blogging comes in (Fig 2). 

4 Blogging for self learners

Fig 2 A circular cosmopolitan network of educational bloggers

Place & Change’ is a project in humanistic geography, promoted by ICOL (International Classrooms Online), to evaluate the use of Google Blogger for motivating students  to create personal pages and posts presenting their understanding of the topic of ‘place and change’. 

From a practical point of view, by blogging students are exploring the blending of ancient and modern ways of presenting knowledge i.e. using deep text with pictures (the blogged pages), and using pictures with shallow text, but linked to deeper levels of information (the blogged posts).  The task of a blogger in a syllabus of humanistic geography is to integrate pages and posts to unify a personal body of knowledge about a feature in a particular locality they feel passionately about, making their blog a contribution to cultural wellbeing.

Therefore, ‘Place & Change’ is a focus for place-based, cross curricular, environmental education using outdoor classrooms to integrate the science of sustainability with the conceptual ideational framework of cultural ecology.  Place can be an actual island surrounded by water, or any space, isolated by natural or artificial means, where a distinctive element exists amidst a larger differing ‘social sea’.  For example, a knowledge island can be a potted plant, a grassy patch or a local mainland nature reserve.  As a spatial arrangement each space can be described as a cosm, from Greek, where it has the meaning “world, universe; order, arrangement.” This meaning is found in such words as: cosmic, cosmopolitan, cosmos,and microcosm.

Thus the world is viewed as a vast, diverse mosaic of cosms large and small.  Each offers the inquiring mind a menu for self-learning; a knowledge structure for individuals to come to their own understanding of the world around them.   Their personal body of knowledge, encapsulated in a blog, is passed on to others for feedback in a creative, global learning community.  This is the essence of humanistic education where students have a unique opportunity to develop self understandings to position themselves as caring citizens in Earth’s future diverse social order.  In this process teachers are facilitators to draw out human wellbeing in every student.  

For most people nature reserves, as cosms of diversity, are more than a calculation of economic advantage. Only by spending time in places because they deliver biodiversity as a public good do we have a sense of how rich in birds, flowers and insects our surroundings could be.  Without such benchmarks, we lose all sense of what we should expect, and what we can cherish. We lose all sense of the wild, and our evolutionary connection to it. 

Some who regard nature reserves as a parochial irrelevance, when the stressed Earth is facing a perfect storm of climate change, overconsumption and rising population, should travel to the Welsh national nature reserve of Skomer Island and breathe in a world where colour comes from a different palette.  Or they could read Patrick Kavanagh, the Irish poet. 

All great civilisations are based on parochialism.  To know fully even one field or one land is a lifetime’s experience. In the world of poetic experience it is depth that counts, not width. A gap in a hedge, a smooth rock surfacing a narrow lane, a view of a woody meadow, the stream at the junction of four small fields – these are as much as a man can fully experience.

These are the cosmopolitan truths to blog about (Fig 3), not what the blogger had for breakfast this morning!

Fig 3 A post from the demonstration educational blog: ‘Islands and Evolution’.

5  Internet references

Pages and posts in a ‘Place & Change’’ blog

Notions about natureMicrocosms and macrocosms in art

Minimum age for blogging

Using blogs in the classroom

Personalising knowledge with hyperbooks

May 24th, 2020

“How about the American classroom? Our method of teaching hasn’t radically changed over the past century. It’s stuck, it’s dated, and it’s in need of radical transformation. While there are bright spots in the private school system, the public education system–where the vast majority of our children are being taught, guided, and motivated–is a dated, bloated, inefficient, bureaucratic dinosaur. It lost sight and understanding of its consumer a long, long time ago.”

Shawn Parr


1 Historical context

Our current education system, built on the Industrial Revolution model, focuses on IQ, in particular memorization and standardization, skills that will be easily and efficiently supplanted by artificial and augmented intelligence (AI), where IQ alone isn’t sufficient. A good blend of IQ (intelligence) + EQ (emotional intelligence) + RQ (resilience) is critical to unleashing a student’s potential.  The latter is particularly relevant to the uptake of individualised distance learning. 

In 1979 Professor Denis Bellamy, a UK advocate for educational reform, created a network of educators and organisations who were exploring new ways of handling and communicating cross-subject knowledge about the use of natural resources for human production (natural economy). This developed during the 1980s in the Natural Economy Research Unit (NERU) within the Department of Zoology of the National Museum of Wales, which was funded by the education directorate of the EU.  One of NERU’s first contracts was a consultancy to help produce a new examination syllabus about world development for the Cambridge University Local Examinations Syndicate.  It was promoted as the subject natural economy within the Syndicate’s International GCSE.

From 1992 NERU’s educational projects focused on new opportunities arising from the Rio Environment Summit to work with Welsh and English schools and their communities to create citizen’s environmental networks for democratic participation in local economic development. This work was centred on the use of educational IT tools to promote systems thinking about ‘sustainability’. The belief was that a new hybrid model of education would eventually emerge, for individualised collaborative learning with significant benefits to society.   

An important practical outcome was the Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network (SCAN), which is now an integral part of the education/ interpretation work of the National Museum and Galleries of Wales. Current projects are concerned with packaging classroom resources, which have been produced and tested by teachers, to embed environmental education in the Local Agenda 21. SCAN makes the resources freely available on-line to help bring the study of systems for resource management off the sidelines of the National Curriculum.

The Cambridge natural economy project led to the production and testing of an self-navigating cross curricular knowledge system. This is applied as a text-based computer format for voyaging the global issues, problems and challenges of population, business, and natural resources. Formatted on Longman-Logotron’s pioneering ‘Hyperbook’ software, it was used in 1994-96 as a basis for groups of teachers, and their sixth form pupils, to begin producing educational models of the relationships of jobs to local resources. 

The hyperbook system for localised learning germinated  from a discussion between Colin Tubbs (English Nature), Denis Bellamy (National Museum of Wales and the Countryside Council for Wales), and Emma Wrigglesworth (the New Forest Committee/New Forest Museum). The idea was  to produce interactive computer resources for schools focused on the New Forest as an ecological island in an ‘urban sea’. Colin Tubbs agreed to the use of the text of his book, ‘The New Forest; An ecological history’, for this purpose. The aim was for it to be formatted by NERU as a self-indexing programme, and made freely available within the SCAN schools as a cross-curricular exemplar of environmental management. The idea was that Tubb’s text should be cross-referenced by students with hypertext to other relevant materials, particularly with regard to updating.  It became a hyperbook, which at the moment is hosted in a basic format as The New Forest Flip Book by Publitas.

2 What is a hyperbook

A hyperbook is a digital app designed to be strongly related to the book metaphor. Books are the traditional repositories of information and knowledge. People know how to read them, how to use a Table of Contents, how to use an index, etc. By maintaining the same model on screen, people’s access to electronic information can be a representation of the book itself, which can be consulted like a physical book. This approach helps to overcome some of the limitations inherent in reading through a computer screen.

In 2003 Gilles Falquet and Jean-Claude Ziswiler published a paper entitled ‘A Virtual Hyperbooks Model to Support Collaborative Learning’.  It was a report on several pedagogical projects exploring the collaborative construction of a scientific hyperbook. They established that the core of a hyperbook is an exposition of a distinct subject presented in a document format as a pdf file’  This core file is freely available and can be customised with annotations, and links made from it, to extension/updating material.  Thus, people can personalise the file without modifying its original content.  Hyperbooks, together with mind maps, wikis, blogs and personal websites comprise the infrastructure for self-learning. As such they are important resources for a humanistic education where the pedagogy is focused on facilitated learning to guide students to create their own personal body of knowledge.  A hyperbook allows each learner to build this unique understanding using hypermedia elements (texts, images, audio, video, animations) which are stored in a modularized way.

In making a linear document (article or book) a single desired reading order is predefined. Readers always know where they are. When authors are writing a book, and are adding pages, they always know what they may expect the reader to have read when that reader reaches the page being written. However, in hyper documents this assumption is no longer valid. Given a rich link structure there are so many ways to navigate through a hyperdocument that it is impossible for an author to foresee which pages a user will have read when jumping to a certain page. Hyperbooks are a prime example of a type of hyperdocument that is written in such a way that the user can jump to any page, understand the information on that page and see links to other related pages that can also be understood. Users are also compilers so building a hyperbook is a good example of what has been called ‘fingerprint self learning’. 

The teaching objectives of making a hyperbook are:

• to help the students see the relationships that exists between the different concepts presented during a course, hence the hypertextual nature of the book; 

• to give students the opportunity to participate in the collaborative writing of a large electronic document;

• to show that the same subject matter can be seen from different points of view expressed as expressions of multi author creativity;

• to provide an individual with tools to assemble a personal body of knowledge about a subject they are really interested in and communicate it online.

3 An example of how a hyperbook is made?

In 1946, a year-long project was launched by the West Wales Field Society to investigate the wildlife of the small Welsh offshore island of Skomer.  The report on the expedition was compiled by Ronald Lockley and his brother in law, John Buxton, from the field notes of academics and local naturalists who took part in the island expedition.  These notes were the basis of the book ‘Island of Skomer’ edited by Buxton and Lockley, published by Staples Press in 1950.  This book is the core of a Skomer Hyperbook and illustrates problems of assembling an electronic version of a paper book..  

Estimated costs of the island survey amounted to about £3,000, a third of which was to come from grants and the balance from members of the WWFS. There is no information about the circumstances of the publication of ‘Island of Skomer’.  The book carries a notice saying that copyright is reserved.  This is a formality indicating that the copyright holder reserves, or holds for its own use, all the rights provided by copyright law.  However, no individual or organisation has ever claimed copyright of Island of Skomer.  Considering the way in which the Skomer field survey was carried out by a large body of volunteers, in a modern context, ‘Island of Skomer’ would be an item in a commons media file repository.  It  would be available to everyone in the public domain as freely-licensed educational media content (te.g.text, images, sound and video clips).  It is in this spirit, after  extensive and fruitless searching for a copyright holder, that Denis Bellamy and Mike Alexander, a former Warden of the island, launched the Skomer Hyperbook in 2020 as a free educational online resource.

From this point, the core document of The Skomer Hyperbook is a digitised version of ‘Island of Skomer’. It provides a holistic menu and topic scaffold for individuals or groups to express their understanding of the island as a humanistic model of cultural ecology. Indeed, the Skomer Hyperbook emerged as an exposition of evolutionary humanism.  The essence of a humanistic education is to facilitate individuals to build a personal body of knowledge.   

3 Evolutionary humanism

There is no doubt that the pioneer conservationist and President of the WWFS, Julian Huxley, was the driving force behind the 1946 Skomer field survey and its publication.  His vision for the island was an educational resource for the promotion of ‘evolutionary humanism’ by personalising kowledge about the connections between culture and ecology.  He defined this concept in his introduction to the 1961 anthology ‘The Humanist Frame’, as:

“…  a new idea-system, whose birth we of the mid-twentieth century are witnessing, I shall simply call Humanism, because it can only be based on our understanding of man and his relations with the rest of his environment. It must be focused on man as an organism, though one with unique properties. It must be organized round the facts and ideas of evolution, taking account of the discovery that man is part of a comprehensive evolutionary process, and cannot avoid playing a decisive role in it”.

In other words, if you are a Humanist, then accepting Darwin’s theory of evolution as the font of humanity comes with the territory.  Science, not religion, affirms that the human species is an emergence from natural evolutionary forces with no supernatural input into its workings or ethics.  It was with this in mind that Huxley promoted the use of Skomer island for outdoor learning adventures into evolutionary humanism. The current quest is to resolve how the evolution of ethics comes to be at the heart of humanity’s response to global warming.  Hypermedia resources, such as a hyperbook, provide the necessary tools to span these two topics that are central to the future of humanity on Earth. 

Unfortunately, Huxley’s vision of Skomer as a cross curricular study centre to promote evolutionary humanism was not realised. He moved on into the international conservation arena as a founder of UNESCO.  Skomer was eventually declared a national nature reserve in 1959, largely because of its crucial position in the survival of the vast numbers of seabirds that nest there.  Now, Skomer is a first class illustration of the current trend of conservationism, where the aim is  to protect the environment for future generations using scientific data backed up with legislation.  Its wider and deeper potential as a holistic focus for educational reform, linking culture with ecology, was largely forgotten until Huxley’s vision for Skomer was revisited by Denis Bellamy and his students who began using the island for place-based learning through adventure in the early 1970s.

It is significant that the first page of ‘Island of Skomer’ is given over to a drawing of the Skomer Vole by the Welsh wildlife artist Charles Tunnicliffe.  This animal is a distinct subspecies of the mainland vole, which evolved on the island, probably after being introduced by the first human settlers.  In this context, the Skomer Vole can be said to stand as an icon, or emblem, of evolutionary humanism and wildlife protection.  

4 Reverence for life

In Huxley’s mind, the core of evolutionary humanism is that religion is a tool invented to enforce a system of ethics that was already established.  He argued that the direction of moral progress was toward greater human fulfillment and the realization of values that had “intrinsic worth” i.e. the value that something has “in itself,” or “for its own sake”. Only a society that respected individual rights, stressed education, encouraged responsibility, and promoted the arts, could realize those values. In this respect, we have barely scratched the surface to understand how notions of intrinsic value should affect public attitudes toward conservation.  Rather than being a “flimsy notion” that distracts from the development of sound conservation measures, Huxley took the view that the intrinsic value of nature provides a robust and necessary basis for developing a conservation-based relationship with nature.  This expression of reverence for life in all its diversity had emerged in the interwar period.  For example, writing in 1924, Albert Schweitzer summarised the ethics of wildlife conservation as follows; 

“Ethics in our Western world has hitherto been largely limited to the relations of man to man. But that is a limited ethics. We need a boundless ethics which will include the animals also.… The time is coming when people will be amazed that the human race existed so long before it recognized that thoughtless injury to life is incompatible with real ethics. Ethics is in its unqualified form extended responsibility to everything that has life”.

Therefore, one of the key papers to be attached to the Skomer Hyperbook was a biography of Schweitzer feely available in the World Heritage Encyclopedia.

Schweitzer’s theme of ‘reverence for life’ was picked up by Rachel Carson in 1962.  She was the ecologist and science writer who campaigned in America against the flagrant use of chemical pesticides. She prefaced her book, ‘Silent Spring’ with a quotation from a letter Schweitzer had written to a beekeeper whose bees had been destroyed by pesticides: 

“Man has lost the capacity to foresee and to forestall. He will end by destroying the Earth”.  

Through Carson, and others following her path, Schweitzer’s most positive legacy infiltrated the Western ecological movement from the 1960s.  Indeed, Skomer played a role in tracing fatal pesticide residues into food chains.

Julian Huxley’s internationalist and conservation interests led him to choose humanism as being more directed to supplying a basis for the ethics of wildlife conservation.  He traced his decision to embrace humanism to the evolutionary underpinnings of the early primates, who developed ideas about what was good and bad as it pertained to their flourishing as a species. Morality was birthed in humans from these biological intuitions, and as populations increased, they could no longer depend on smaller communities to govern moral standards. Religion solved this problem, proving to be a successful tool in policing large groups on what was moral and immoral. This goes to show that morality transcends religion as its point of origin. 

Huxley believed that our faculties are capable of deciphering good from evil  but our relationship with religion is such that we misattribute our moral foundations to the divine.  Religions make claims about how things should or ought to be, how to value them, which things are good or bad, and which actions are right or wrong.  These normative statements and behavioral norms, as well as their meanings, would have been an integral part of social life as experienced by Skomer’s prehistoric farmers.  The norms are an adaptation that evolved in connection with social coordination, cooperation and stability. This capacity involves being in the state of accepting a norm, which we should thus expect to be a standard part of human moral behaviour.

It is relatively easy to see how evolutionary humanism gave meaning to Huxley’s life.  It helped him to engage with the self-questioning, common to all humanity seeking connections between culture and ecology: Who am I? What is my purpose?  What is our place in existence?”

“[Evolutionary humanism] has enabled me to see this strange universe into which we are born as a proper object both of awe and wondering love and of intellectual curiosity. More, it has made me realize that both my wonder and curiosity can be of significance and value in that universe. It has enabled me to relate my experiences of the world’s delights and satisfactions, and those of its horrors and its miseries to the idea of fulfillment, positive or negative. In the concept of increased realization of possibilities, it provides a common measuring rod for all kinds of directional processes, from the development of personal ethics to large-scale evolution, and gives solid ground for maintaining an affirmative attitude and faith, as against that insidious enemy … the spirit of negation and despair. It affirms the positive significance of effort and creative activity and enjoyment. In some ways most important of all, it has brought back intellectual speculation and spiritual aspiration out of the abstract and isolated spheres they once seemed to me to inhabit, to a meaningful place in concrete reality; and so has restored my sense of unity with nature”

There are many institutes devoted to the study of ethics and studies of current ethical issues that range from labour-management relations to human trafficking. We need the arena of cultural ecology to explore ethical issues that may arise in the future at the interface between people and Nature, which are not well understood today. These issues have to be resolved to fully assess and address the 2050 plans for human survival. Hyperbooks are tools for learners to take early steps in that process.

Appendix.  Five simple steps to make a hyperbook

1 Each page of a paper book is scanned to produce a collection of jpeg files, one file per page.  

2 Each jpeg picture file is inserted, in sequence, into the pages of a word processor document using an app such as Word or Google Docs.

3 The document is saved as a pdf file that can be opened in a pdf viewer, such as Adobe Acrobat, and navigated by scrolling the pages up and down. 

4 The pdf file is opened in a pdf editor, such as Pdf Elements, where text, pictures and hotspot links can be added to customise it.

5 Finally, the modified pdf file may be converted to a flip book, using an app such as FlipPDF, which can be navigated by turning pages horizontally left to right and right to left.

Place-based adventure classrooms

May 5th, 2020

“We’ve all experienced the power of place: those moments when we’re immersed deeply in experiencing the world around us and what’s happening there is real and meaningful. Learning in these moments is organic and visceral. There’s much to learn from the places we inhabit — from traveling across the globe to getting out into our own communities. Yet, formal learning experiences, that leverage the power of place, remain the exception and not the rule.”  https://www.gettingsmart.com/wp-content/uploads/2017/02/What-is-Place-Based-Education-and-Why-Does-it-Matter-3.pdf

1 Adventure-education

Adventure is typically defined as an event involving risk, challenge, and excitement as an out-of-the-ordinary experience.  

Education is a group process of imparting knowledge, values, skills and attitudes to a group, which can be beneficial to an individual.  

Learning is a personal process of self discovery adopting systems, values and  skills to assemble a personal body of knowledge. 

In summary, education is knowledge imparted to a group by a teacher, whereas learning is personal knowledge gained through experience aided by a facilitator.

Therefore there are two kinds of adventure classrooms.  The first kind has a framework to educate by helping people to learn how to do things.  The second kind of adventure classroom supports people to think about what they need to learn as individuals to find their identity in a bigger scheme of things.

2 Education through adventure (ETA)

ETA has taken the form of team/trust building, cooperative games, physical education, and outdoor risk challenges (e.g., high ropes courses, nature and wilderness team activities, expeditionary pursuits). Education through adventure typically occurs within small-group settings, with the learning and experience limited to the small group. While ETA is not restricted to outdoor pursuits, it is often associated with the outdoors and environmental and sustainability education, and is typically employed in formal or informal settings.

In ETA programs, participants are physically or psychologically challenged, with a focus on risk-taking, group problem solving, and individual psychological growth and development . Six specific outcome areas for adventure education are: 

  • leadership, 
  • self awareness, 
  •  interpersonal skills, 
  • and adventuresomeness. 

Formal processing or reflection activities are incorporated into some, but not all, adventure education programs.

3 Learning through adventure (LTA)

LTA  provides a framework for the design of learning experiences that allow individual learners to explore real-world issues through authentic, field-based narratives. Nowadays this takes place within an interactive personalised online learning environment. LTA blends experiential, inquiry-based, and authentic learning, and synchronizes an online learning environment with teacher-led schooling activities.

It is grounded in eight core principles: 

  • a defined issue in a geographical place; 
  • an authentic narrative; 
  • a sound curriculum grounded in inquiry;
  • collaboration and interaction opportunities between learners, experts, teachers, and content; 
  • synchronized learning opportunities that tie together what is learned with a wider curriculum; 
  • an online venue to deliver content; 
  • multiple media that enhance the curriculum; 
  • scaffolding for the facilitators as well as the explorers.

Within an LTA program, a team engages in an exploration centered on a specific location and a menu of social or environmental issues. Individuals choose which issue they would like to research. The team travels out into the field, actually or virtually, to capture authentic data and narratives.  These narratives may be synchronised with a predesigned inquiry-based curriculum tied to that expedition, issue, and location. The field experiences, data, media assets, and observations of individuals are shared online. It is an environment in which learners are able to actively participate and collaborate with the explorers, their peers around the world, their facilitator(s), and a variety of field experts. These online collaboration and interaction opportunities allow learners to form connections between what is happening in the real world and their studies. Learners complete activities related to the real-world events, engage in online and face-to-face discussions encomposing them, and present potential solutions to issues that are raised.

 Fig 1 Learning through adventure as a project-based process

Learning through adventure is a process (Fig 1).  It involves:

  • A facilitator and and a small group of explorers
  • An adventure learning classroom, indoor, outdoor or virtual
  • A menu of issues from which individuals can make a free choice
  • A database
  • An individual’s research plan
  • An online office toolkit
  • A personal website for reporting content and learning outcomes.

4 Examples of place-based adventure learning classrooms

4.1 Place based learning: Skomer Island

Skomer, a small offshore island in South West Wales, played a significant historical role in the development of LTA because it was a focus of Julian Huxley’s idea of evolutionary humanism in the 1930s.  Huxley moved on to become a founder member of UNESCO.  His idea was applied by Denis Bellamy to establish a succession of field courses on Skomer and the adjacent  island of Skokholm, organised on humanistic principles, in the 1970s with university staff facilitators and small groups of students. 

The small group tutorial is one of the cornerstones of adventure learning. By implication then, the role of the tutor/facilitator is of pivotal importance.  This is because student learning depends on the facilitator’s understanding and appreciation of his/her responsibilities to bring out individual needs and leanings for each student.  Student explorers are then left to make a plan for their investigation.  Progress is shared with the group.   Just as the finer details of the implementation of any LTA programme are unique to each institution, so will be the precise expectations of the facilitator. It is therefore necessary to make the expectations of facilitators explicit to staff and students from the outset.

In an ideal situation, where classes are small, the facilitator’s primary role is to ensure there is student learning and interaction during small group sessions. Prior to embracing facilitation, facilitators need to understand and accept the philosophy that underpins project-based learning. Each educator must therefore believe in the benefits of individualised, active, constructive learning and be able to relinquish teaching control. Historically, for the good teacher, this meant explaining such that all students took away the same body of fixed, examinable knowledge, that was really the property of the teacher. So, for many academics, project based learning, as an educational philosophy, questions many of the epistemologies underlying their previous activities in a traditional didactic curriculum.  Therefore, LTA may be met with some resistance. The transition from teacher to facilitator requires faculty to develop staff skills through workshops and perhaps staff incentives.

There are five basic principles of humanistic education which make it particularly suitable for online classrooms and lifelong, place-based learning:

  • Students should be able to choose what they want to learn. Humanistic teachers are facilitators, not disseminators of knowledge. They believe that students will be motivated to learn a subject if it’s something they need and want to know.
  • The goal of education should be to foster students’ desire to learn and teach them how to learn. Students should be self-motivated in their studies with a desire to build a personal body of knowledge on their own and communicate it to their peers.
  • Humanistic educators believe that grades are irrelevant and that only self-evaluation is meaningful because grading encourages students to work for a grade and not for personal satisfaction. In addition, humanistic educators are opposed to objective tests because they test a student’s ability to memorize and do not provide sufficient tutorial feedback to the teacher and student as a learning unit.
  • Humanistic educators believe that both feelings and knowledge are important to the learning process. Unlike traditional educators, humanistic facilitators do not separate the cognitive (knowledge) and affective (attitudes) domains.
  • Humanistic educators insist that classrooms need to provide students with non threatening environments so that they will feel secure to learn. Once students feel secure, learning becomes easier and more meaningful. 

The five basic principles of humanistic education can be summarized as:

1) Students’ learning should be self-directed.

2) Classrooms should produce students who want and know how to learn.

3) The only form of meaningful evaluation is self-evaluation.

4) Feelings, as well as knowledge, are important in the learning process.

5) Students learn best in a non threatening environment.

IT practical work in the context of a humanistic education involves each learner assembling a personal body of knowledge about a particular feature of the local environment backed up with a digital library.  The outcome of the investigation is then presented online as a mindmap delineating connections with, and dependencies on, other features and a wider curriculum. These individual digital presentations thereby become information packages for others to build upon.  An example is the educational framework proposed by Julian Huxley for Skomer. The features contributing to a holistic view of the island are listed in the contents of the book ‘Island of Skomer’ (Table 1), published in 1950 as the report on the first field survey of the island in 1946.

Table 1 Features of Skomer Island suitable for humanistic education projects

History

The Flora

Spring Migration

Land-birds

The Petrels

The Auks

Gulls and Cormorants

Small Mammals

The Atlantic Seal

Marine Biology

Autumn Migration

The Rock Types 

This list can be regarded as the holistic catalogue of a Skomer digital library from which a student can select a feature of its social history, biodiversity, geology or archaeology to assemble a personal body of knowledge that can be displayed on line (Fig 2; Table 2).

Fig 2 A humanistic mind map for navigating from a personal body of knowledge about Skomer’s  Puffins to enter the wider context of a syllabus about global warming

Table 2  Four examples of websites created collaboratively by Skomer explorers. 

Skomer: a Mind Map

Skomer: a Knowledge Island

Rescue Mission Planet Wales

Global Warming

International Classrooms Online

The nearest that current formal education comes to Julian Huxley’s ecological humanism is the Engaged Ecology MA at Schumacher College.  This is a radical experiment in embodied learning. The programme invests learning with a deeply immersive connection to place, to give students the tools they need to take meaningful action in the world. By taking first-hand authentic experience as the very foundation for learning, and enriching it with more traditional academic reflection, engaged ecology encourages students to develop solutions-based practices to discover for themselves how best to approach the world’s seemingly intractable ecological and social challenges.  Engaged ecology asks three fundamental questions to be answered by all place based learning activities : What is place? Who are we? And, what, then, can we do?

4.2 Place based learning: extreme rurality

At the turn of the present century, Mark K Smith,writing for the website INFED explored the significance of ‘association’.  He defined association as joining together in companionship to undertake some task using the educative power of volunteering to play one’s part in a group or association. He drew upon the work of Konrad Elsdon and his colleagues, who in the early 1990s, undertook a large scale survey of British local voluntary organizations. They highlighted the sheer scale of commitment. Around 12 million women and men were involved in running 1.3 million bodies.  These were what we might describe as, ‘small democracies’ with tremendous educational potential.

There was a “… great range of learning, change and satisfaction over and above those which are deliberate, inherent in the organization’s objectives, and expected by their members. The one which was given priority almost universally, and reported as being of greater importance than the content objective of the organization, is quite simply growth in confidence, and its ramifications and secondary effects of self-discovery, freedom in forging relationships and undertaking tasks, belief in oneself and in one’s potential as a human being and an agent, and ability to learn and change both in the context of the organization’s objectives and in others.”

On the other hand R. D. Putnam, in his 1990’s book , ‘Bowling Alone’, marshalls groundbreaking evidence to argue there has been a decline in ‘social capital’ in the USA.  He charts a drop in associational activity and a growing distance from neighbours, friends and family. Crucially he explores some of the possibilities that exist for rebuilding social capital to develop a sense of identity and  belonging. This need is particularly acute in rural communities, exhibiting extreme rurality. It relates primarily to areas that have a very low population density, where monoculture agriculture and related activities usually dominate the landscape and economy, and places where transport and communications need to cover very large distances making travel and service provision relatively difficult and costly.  Low associational activity fuels outward migration.

The rebuilding of rural social capital was the goal of an EC funded project of the 1980s called BIOPLEX.  This was based in the small Suffolk village of Chediston, which in those days, despite its extreme rurality, was a significant centre for local agricultural innovations to increase farm efficiency and minimise pollution. The project was mostly concerned with the economics of farm anaerobic digesters and the final report is now regarded as a classic milestone in this research area. However, a particular section of the EC’s protocol was to make a preliminary assessment of the future role of PC technology in the home-to-home networking of innovation within and between village communities. But before that could happen there had to be a process of place-shaping in order for people to become as one with their environment. Although the project was managed from the University of Wales, a local genealogist, living in Chediston volunteered to spread the word and organise digital resources and PC training to order.  Otherwise, the villagers were left to their own devices to produce local stories in the context of agreeing some common threads of social history that unified the villages. 

The first work produced was ‘Blything.  Blything is an ancient division of the county of Suffolk called a hundred. Some historians believe that Blything denotes ‘the people of the Blyth’, a tribal grouping of the Iceni, one of the first gatherings of pre-Roman families that colonised the valleys of the River Blyth.   The aim was to assemble a living history of the people of the Blyth in terms of past and present land management, the patterns of work and settlement and their hopes for the future.  Later, nine villages in the adjacent hundred of Wangford joined the project, now known as Blything and Nine Parishes (BANP). Above all, BANP was a bottom-up general model for people everywhere to attain a sense of place. The outcome is a collection of web sites which have long been available online as an international education resource in cultural ecology, receiving thousands of unique visitors a year. 

Smith’s INFED essay highlighted the factors limiting the take up of self education which were certainly revealed in the BANP project.  BANP was set in the informal learning of everyday life in contrast to the specified curriculum objectives of the life of a school or college. This distinction between ‘natural societal setting’ and ‘formal instructional setting’ is expressed as the everyday world of individual experience  in the family, at work, at play.  Formal education an ‘educational agent’ takes on responsibility for planning and managing instruction so that the learner achieves some previously specified objective. Smith feels that we have to be careful with the idea of ‘educational agents’. On a narrow definition they could be considered to be people only in the employ or under the jurisdiction of recognized educational institutions, who have as their prime task enabling people to assimilate an imposed body of knowledge. This would seem to be an unnecessarily restrictive definition given the sort of situations where people do much of their BANP type learning. We know for example that this leads to failure when local authority planners drive community development from the top down.  

Smith thinks it is probably more productive to take ‘educational agents’ to be anyone who consciously helps another person to learn – whether that help is given directly or takes the form of creating an appropriate environment to facilitate personal learning.

The Parham Millennium Parish SCAN is an example of how small rural communities can be left alone to develop an idea bottom up, which puts their village on the map. It was an ‘overspill’ from BANP. Parham village is only a few miles from Chediston.

This is how the project was seen by Parham’s villagers.

“… the Parish Council invited Professor Denis Bellamy, Ruth Downing (Prof. Bellamy’s Local Assistant) and Trevor Gibson (Suffolk Coastal District Council’s representative) to an open meeting held on 3rd February 1998 to explain the principles of producing a Parish Scan. We hoped that as many people as possible in the village would be able to contribute information for the project. A specially formed ‘Millennium Committee’ would be responsible for the organising, formatting and publication of material. It was to be a pioneering exercise as we were the first village nationally to undertake such a project.” 

BANP had shown that there must be strong local leadership and a widespread feeling feeling that the goal is worth attaining.  For Parham, leadership came from the Parish Clerk and the generally accepted goal was to produce a book as a celebration of the Millennium.  The book positioned the village as it was in the year 2000 in relation to its long, exceptionally rich, historical heritage and its hopes for the future.  Parham’s success came because the village was the agency that selected the project and fuelled it to completion.

Here then are two place-based adventure classrooms for others to develop:

Go to:- Community learning

Go to:- Ecological learning

5 Internet references

Place based learning

Djscovery

Francis Bacon

Probono economics

Adventure learning 1

Experiential learning

Adventure learning 2

Rural resilience

Du Fu: a poet of place

Curiator

Community learning

Community and culture

Scenic amenity value

Life satisfaction

Amenity migration

Science of scenery

Ancestry in perspective

INFED 1

INFED 2

Skomer an island for playful learning

Mapping identity and a sense of belonging

April 15th, 2020

Whoever defines India, whoever speaks to and for its people and whoever imagines its destiny with the hope of determining its future…can stake their claim to ownership of India by the very act of writing about it.  Teresa Hubel: Whose India? (1996).

1 Space, place and identity

In humanistic geography, space and place are important concepts. Space is something abstract, without any substantial meaning.  It is a location which has no social connections for a human being. It has observable boundaries but no meaning has been ascribed to it.  Space constitutes a simple geographic reference point. It is by having cultural significance that space becomes place; a human resource on its own.  It becomes valued visually in memory and is thereby protected as landscapes. (Figs 1, 2 & 3)

Place refers to how people are attracted to a certain space and endow it with a sense of belonging rather than merely passing through. In this connection, a place can be seen as space that has been given a cultural meaning. In other words, ‘Place’ is a location created by human experiences. It  exists as space that is filled with meanings that come from what people appreciate and value about it. Their ‘place’ is personal and multi-dimensional. It is temporal as well as spatial, because it thickens with the addition of physical elements, personal memories, local stories, history and archaeology. It is not just a question of how things look, but of how things feel to those who know a place well.  

Spaces are turned into places through human settlement. Place becomes central to the settlers identity.  In this context, identity is an even bigger issue than race, filling our imagination and requiring careful attention. Indeed, identity is a major preoccupation of our times.  Many people are on a quest to determine who they are, how they belong and where they fit in. Refugees are searching for roots in distant and foreign lands. Indeed, within the great scheme of things humanity has always been on the move, fitting in where it can find a more lasting identity, something above and beyond the mere physical and material to give meaning to their lives. People begin this search from being somewhere in nowhere land, wanting to belong.  Identity won’t happen on its own, you have to give birth to it, work at it and create it through an act of will.

This attachment is defined as landscape, i.e. a “place” with its meanings and contributions to societal identity. Places are mapped and landscapes are pictured.  A map is a symbolic representation of selected characteristics of a place, usually drawn on a flat surface. A landscape is the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features. Places are mapped and landscapes are pictured. A landscape is the visible features of an area of land, its landforms, and how they integrate with natural or man-made features.

First and foremost, landscapes are perceived as a physical space, covering topics such as environmental preference and the evolution of the psychological processes through which preferences arise. Second, landscape is perceived as place within concepts such as “sense of place” and “place identity”.  Place identity is a particular element contributing to sense of place. Third, landscapes have a role in psychological wellbeing.  

Numerous studies have shown that participation in leisure activities out of doors not only prevents disease and improves physical health but also benefits mental health by reducing anxiety. Psychological restoration bridges the approaches that treat landscape as space and those which treat it as place.  Actually, the European Landscape Convention (2000) conceptualises ‘Landscape’ as being made up of both space and place. Advocates of place-based education can accommodate public participation and negotiation to identify local knowledge and sense-making practices. This process is particularly important in local planning to support sustainable development.

How do practices on the ground transform; what motivates people to transform (needs); what should be changed or transformed (challenges); how to transform these via innovations and through which practices transformation can be achieved.

If communities are to fully embrace the ethic of landscape sustainability, they must be the primary agents for change in that landscape, not simply the beneficiaries of changes originated or mandated by others. This agency is expressed and actions on the ground accomplished through local organizations that can channel and interpret local needs and demands into effective collective action. However, community organizations such as cooperatives, advocacy groups, church groups, and self-help groups, will pursue sustainable management of their place and its resources only if the benefits of doing so enhance the economic and social wellbeing of the people who belong to these groups. Community groups must own the process of place planning and management if it is to be sustainable. This ownership is built when these groups decide for themselves the social, economic, and ecological objectives of landscape management, the modes of implementation, the indicators of success, and the lessons learned. By reflecting on the decisions they have made in implementing their own initiatives, local groups build their capacities to continuously adapt to ecological, economic, and social challenges and opportunities.

2 Parish SCAN 

Local government planning exists to solve community problems.  People need to bother with environmental appraisal because any inadequacies of community life will only be overcome by the community itself. There is no doubt that any community has the skills to do this, by recognising that things can be changed for the better, and that each individual contribution brings satisfaction to the individual, as well as benefit to the community. 

It was only in 1969 that central government recommended setting up machinery for the public to participate in planning. From this time it became urgent to find methods to involve people actively, from grass roots, in the problems, issues and challenges of managing local change. In the 1980s attempts were made to formalise ‘village appraisals’. The aim was to encourage communities to map their neighbourhood; its character, history and social needs. However, the original flexibility of approaches and methods was quickly lost when the system was hijacked by organisations requiring specific information from communities to direct their top down funding. ‘Form-filling’ turns most people off, particularly when the subject matter does not act as a conduit for their particular local passion. 

Parish SCAN was a reaction to official form-driven environmental appraisal. It was actually invented, in 1995, by Welsh teachers responding to Rescue Mission Planet Earth, a summary made by young people of the Rio action plan known as Agenda 21.  SCAN is a voluntary process, originating in the outcomes of the 1992 Rio Environment Summit aimed at creating local policies and programs that work towards achieving sustainable development. SCAN, as originally envisaged, encompasses awareness raising, capacity building, community participation and the formation of partnerships.  The objective was to bring children into the appraisal system by creating social links with communities served by their school to boost information gathering and databasing. Its advantage to the school is that the neighbourhood where a child actually lives becomes its outdoor classroom. For the community, the school becomes an information technology centre for long-term recording, and citizen networking.  SCAN is therefore a flexible holistic system. It can begin, either in a school (School SCAN), or in one of its communities, (Parish SCAN), with the aim of eventually uniting both bodies to make, and manage, environmental improvements. 

Parish SCAN was the option chosen by the village of Parham in Suffolk as its contribution to the millennium celebration.The Parham Parish SCAN is a detailed record of the village as it was at the beginning of the 21st century, with a browse through its history and a tentative look into its future. It was prepared by village people, for village people and is a comprehensive record of the life in their village. The data was organised in three chapters;  a glance at the past; aspects of the present and an appraisal of the future. The final publication was the result of many hours of dedicated research by parishioners who hoped that it may be a testament to life in Parham as it was seen by its 113 households in 2000, as well as a fitting tribute with which to mark the millennium. It is important to stress that SCAN was a grassroots initiative driven by the Parish Council under their tireless Clerk. In this context, Blything and Nine Parishes was brought to fruition by a resident historian with ancestral roots in Suffolk going back to the 16th century and beyond. In other words, local residents have to ‘step up to the plate’ to make things happen. 

 Like all villages, most of Parham’s parishioners commute to earn a living. With no shop or school Parham has to cope with the common problems of rural placelessness. It is significant that SCAN was adopted after the village had carried out an appraisal and was awarded Suffolk’s Village of the Year. The aim was to sustain the momentum and tap the wider community. Although not a tourist centre, Parham has plenty for its inhabitants to become passionate about. Set in a classic glacial landscape, it has a rich social heritage; a centre of Saxon local government; a power base for Tudor politics; a front-line airfield during the Second World War.  A store of wildlife is embedded in its woodlands, ponds and field boundaries. However, the SCAN published as a 170 page professionally bound book, shows what any community can do to develop social roots, and the organisation required to bring such a project to fruition. The vision of the parishioners was that the Parham story would continue to be developed by its 300 parishioners as their contribution to a local Agenda 21 Citizen’s Environmental Network, incorporating year-on-year checks to measure change, and ensure things change for the better. 

3 Cultivating the ‘background hum’

Because of increasing geographical mobility, economic change and the rise of an individualist culture in the UK there has been a loosening of close ties in communities. Indeed, today’s dynamic, rootless communities need to evolve, to reconnect, so that people cultivate the background hum of sociability that has long been associated with neighbourliness.  The giving and receiving of help within communities is an aspect of social life that is taken for granted, yet it is little researched or understood. It was the subject of research by the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, entitled Landscapes of Helping: Kindliness in neighbourhoods and communities (2015).  

Social connectivity increases the likelihood that people will be known to one another, have their needs recognised and have people to draw on for support. Therefore, in identifying mechanisms which foster kindliness we also describe those which simultaneously build neighbourliness and sociality as the foundations of place. It’s premise was that kindliness cannot be considered apart from wider processes of individualisation which are often perceived as threatening social bonds. The belief is that, given certain conditions, cultures of kindliness can still be developed; based on emotional attachments, shared values and social forms that actively sustain relationships of trust and mutuality. 

This Rowntree study explored ‘kindliness’, or informal helping, in Hebden, a semi-rural location in West Yorkshire, in order to understand how it can be fostered in communities. In particular it identified the following conditions that may help kindliness to flourish in communities.

Making kindliness palatable – it was important that kindliness was facilitated in ways which were sensitive to language and presentation. If people retained a sense of personal independence and dignity they were more likely to ask for and accept help. Non-help-focused conversations and activities could help people express their needs indirectly. 

Nurturing bonders and bridgers – Hebden had many people who worked to strengthen the bonds between individual members within communities or ‘bonders’, as well as people who worked across different sections of the community or ‘bridgers’. These people were important in facilitating one-to-one kindliness and also creating connections between different sections of the community. 

Building common cause – it was important that people had opportunities to come together to articulate experiences. In Hebden, communities expressed these shared values when uniting to defend common values and build ‘common cause’ because this offered a means to break down barriers and mis-perceptions, enabling people to appreciate that they have similar values and experience the landscape or by coming together through shared interests. Hubs of helping to create a sense of community can be more easily developed when there is an identified focal point for people to share information and make contact with others. The erosion of such facilities as shops or Post Offices has been detrimental in many neighbourhoods and this research highlighted how important it is to develop ways of connecting communities. In Hebden this had taken the form of ‘virtual hubs’ such as Google groups or Facebook pages and the creation of a wealth of formal, group based associations. In addition, the idea of community-run shops, pubs and other local facilities offer promising new possibilities. 

Third Spaces – a conscious attempt to create public spaces where people could come into daily informal contact was key in promoting sociability and trust. Public space has long been an essential feature of urban housing design, yet it is not always ‘owned’ by people locally. It was important that the development of space tapped into the emotional connections people had with their neighbourhood. Creating kinder economies – social enterprises whose business aims were about more than the ‘bottomline’ worked to support local networks and facilitate helping. In Hebden this relied on people having the resources and time to develop alternative business models, as well as resist threats such as the encroachment of big corporations.

Creating a shared myth (a story) – it seems important that people feel a strong sense of attachment to the place where they live because if they value a place they are prepared to invest in it and in the people who live there. In Hebden this was built around its positive unifying features and expressed through community-wide events, communicated in local media and through newsletters and joint ventures around common interests. 

Of these mechanisms creating a shared myth (a story) is the most fundamental condition because without it individuals cannot fully define their presence in space as having a continuity with the past and an identity with those who have come before.

4 Place ambassadors 

The designation ‘place ambassador’ was created in the SUSPLACE programme (2015-19), a European Marie Curie funding scheme aimed at training early stage researchers in innovative, interdisciplinary approaches to study sustainable place-shaping practices. With the motto, ‘Shaping better places to live and visit’ SUSPLACE involved two community engagement projects in two distinct locations: the Portuguese village of Carvalhal de Vermilhas and the Brecon Beacons, a National Park in Wales. In both places documentaries were produced together with residents, which helped them become place ambassadors.  They became confident in promoting their attachment to the cultural heritage expressed as landscapes imbued with valued elements, such as footpaths and ways of life, expressing the slower pace of a preindustrial economy. Their stories were valued by urban dwellers seeking respite from the stresses of consumerism. 

Carvalhal de Vermilhas has around 200 inhabitants. It faces depopulation, an ageing population and lack of employment, but has the potential to develop sustainable practices in tourism. Brecon Beacons is in a somewhat better economic situation, but suffers from similar issues. Being a national park, tourism is already one of its main activities. In both places, the researcher worked together with residents to test a new conceptual framework and to develop a co-produced documentary. The projects are an example of collaborative and inclusive strategies of place branding. By participating in the projects, the residents had a say in how they would like to shape their place with regard to tourism policies and development. The resulting documentaries show the intangible heritage of the places and communities. They are also used as a tool to allow residents to reclaim their right and power as citizens to shape their place according to their needs and place values. Ownership and responsibility as well as shared power over the visual narratives mobilise participants to take action for their place. Co-producing the documentary also motivated residents to be more effective and become collective ambassadors of their place. Moreover, the two documentaries can now be used to promote the places more effectively to visitors, and potentially also to new residents and young people. 

5 Know your place

‘Know Your Place-West of England’ was a top down local authority initiative to support individuals who wished to explore their neighbourhood online through historic maps, collections and linked information. It was established in 2015 and ran until 2017 as a digital heritage resource to help people have online access to a range of local historic data.   But more importantly it provided an online heritage hub where people could add information about their local area, building a rich and diverse community map of local heritage for everyone. It was free to use and anyone could add to the shared map.

Know Your Place achieved the following Approved Purposes:

  • To scan, digitise and geo-reference historical maps from Gloucestershire, South Gloucestershire, Wiltshire, Somerset, North Somerset, Bath and North East Somerset and Devon. 
  • To recruit and train volunteers. The project recruited c.100 individuals and 70 went on to volunteer for the project, giving 4946 hours’ work to the project.
  • To deliver basic conservation of fragile maps. Maps were stabilised for safe digitisation and their access online is reducing physical handling and wear and tear of the original documents.
  • To create a mobile app. Know Your Place has been designed to be compatible for use by smartphones, tablets and other devices while on the move.
  • To create an exhibition to be toured to six venues. The exhibition toured 12 venues, and remains available online.
  • To deliver a range of heritage learning activities including talks and presentations, a blog, heritage walks, school resource packs and oral histories. The events programme ran 98 events reaching 2689 people and has now ended.
  • To upload condition surveys of heritage assets to the website. By July 2017, 1197 public contributions had been added to the Community Layer, at an average rate of 180 per month.

6 “Blything and Nine Parishes”

‘Blything’and Nine Parishes’ was an EC funded project launched in the 1990s.  The aim was to evaluate IT methodologies for individuals and communities to collect data about places and create knowledge about the long-term changes in cultural spaces. SCAN ( Schools in Communities Agenda 21 Network) was the practical element of ‘Blything and Nine Parishes’.  It was associated with the creation of a new school subject about world development called natural economy, produced by the University of Cambridge Local Examination Syndicate. This initiative was aimed at embedding the United Nations Charter in the education system, particularly with respect to practice, tolerance and living together in peace with one another as good neighbours.

Blything and Nine Parishes models two of the ancient groupings of Suffolk villages into divisions called hundreds.  They were chosen to model neighbourliness because they have survived as social units of local government for over a millennium and today they are examples of extreme rurality.  This blog revisits Blything and Nine Parishes with a new collection of websites presenting notes on landscape elements in the hundreds, culled from maps art and writings, exploring how people can shape more sustainable places together. In this blog, Blything Nine Parishes is compared and contrasted with four other similar community initiatives aimed at strengthening the capacities and autonomy of people in places to take a grip on the uncertain future.

The Blything/Nine Parishes project was designed to test an innovative methodological procedure at the dawn of IT and the Internet, which would involve residents with personal computers networking to reclaim their sense of place in modern processes of rurality.  The objective was to gain an understanding of the long-term development and transformation of rural life, drawing on insights from topography, archaeology, geography and historical ecology. This ‘background hum’ is characterised by people’s awareness of each other, by a respect for each other’s privacy and by a readiness to take action if help is needed. The central question is can kindliness be defined as ‘neighbourliness-enacted’?  Also, can kindliness describe the process of reconnection within communities as the ‘reinvention of sociality’ ?

In contrast to Know Your Place, Blything and Nine Parishes was a bottom up initiative. Its philosophy was that a community’s past is stamped into the land by the people who first decided to settle there and negotiated  boundaries to ensure its sociopolitical and and resource sustainability. Such was the origin of two places in the UK county of Suffolk named ‘Blything’ and ‘Wangford’. These places are examples of ancient administrative divisions, called ‘Hundreds’.  Geographically, each is part of a larger division.   The term “hundred” is first recorded in the Saxon laws of King Edmund I (939–46).  Here it is presented as a measure of land defining the area served by a Hundred Court.  The origin of the division of lands into hundreds is obscure. It may once have referred to an area of 100 hides. In the early Anglo-Saxon period a hide was the amount of land farmed by and required to support a peasant family.  Alternatively the hundred may have been an area originally settled by one “hundred” men at arms, or the area liable to provide one “hundred” men under arms. 

In the Domesday Book Blything Hundred comprised 56 named places with around 2000 households.  The Hundred was aligned with the watershed of the River Blyth which reached the sea at Dunwich.  In Anglo Saxon times Dunwich was by far the largest of the coastal havens situated between the North and South Hundred Rivers.  These two rivers marked the northern and southern coastal boundaries of Blything Hundred . The name Blything suggests that it was an ancient place occupied by a group of self-governing farmers known as ‘people of the Blyth’.  Land divisions are often older than we think and from this point of view there has been speculation that Blything could be a British tribal area predating the Roman occupation. Without doubt this makes Blything a good place to develop a shared myth amongst its inhabitants.

Regarding Wangford Hundred, this hundred is written in Domesday Book as Wanneforda and Waineforda.  Some historians believe this derives from an alternative name for the River Waveney, Wangford’s northern boundary, and thus it meant “ford for wagons across the Waveney”.  However, British History On Line believes the hundred takes its name from the village of Wangford, which is actually within Blything. The community of Wangford within Blything is named after the ford which was a major road crossing of the River Wang, a tributary of the River Blyth.  There were 24 places in the hundred of Wangford in Domesday Book. Nine of its present parishes were selected for comparison with twenty three selected from Blything, which are on its boundary.

This blog revisits Blything Nine Parishes with new websites presenting notes on landscape elements, from maps art and writings involved exploring how people can shape more sustainable places together. https://sites.google.com/view/suffolkscan/home

Taking a long view of Suffolk places there was certainly human occupation in the area we now know as East Anglia before the great Anglian Glaciation around 450,000 years ago, but most traces of it have been obliterated by scouring ice.  On this human time scale people first arrived in Britain at least 780 000 years ago and have recolonised East Anglia after several major glaciations to leave an archeological pattern of occupation closely related to the shifting climate. Pakefield, at the mouth of the North Hundred River, is the site of one of the earliest known areas of human habitation in the United Kingdom. In 2005 flint tools, and teeth from the water vole Mimomys savini, a key dating species, were found in the eroding cliffs. These are the markers for the earliest hominins in England about 700,000 years ago, potentially a cross between Homo antecessor and Homo heidelbergensis. Of all the glacial periods Britain went through in the last million years, the Anglian glaciation was the most extreme. Human survival in Britain became impossible. The absence of humans lasted for many millennia.  After the glaciers finally retreated, somewhere between 10,000 and 8,000 BC, the waters of the Atlantic spilled over into the North Sea as the ice-sheet melted. Gushing melt waters carved out the valleys of Suffolk’s rivers, which today cut through the clay plateau. These valleys are very large in relation to the actual size of the streams that flow in them. With this warmer phase, the tundra, an expanse of frozen subsoil, gave way to birch and the willow scrub, which was eventually followed by forest with pines and oaks. In the open grasslands the bison, mammoth and hippopotamus lived, and as the reindeer herds gradually moved north, the woods were once more inhabited by red deer, pigs and auroch cattle.  

Around 7,000 years ago the coastline of Suffolk lay some 7 km to the east of its present location, and the land was forested with oak, elm, lime and alder. This space became the hunting ground of nomadic Mesolithic hunter gatherers whose flint tools have been found on the southern bank of the River Blyth at Halesworth.  At the small Halesworth encampment, scrapers, burins (a kind of flint chisel) and borers were found. Also excavated were several potboilers, pieces of flint which were heated in a fire, then dropped into a water-filled skin bag in order to cook meat. 

The history of Britain’s population is all about arriving, staying and settling, or leaving, moving and settling elsewhere. Farmers from continental Europe began to settle in different parts of Britain after the last Ice Age, around 12,000 years ago. Ever since, these islands have been continuously occupied as new arrivals mixed with existing residents.  Neolithic farmers settled along the fringes of the glacial clay plateau, where the slopes of the river valleys were easier to drain and cultivate than the central claylands. The latter had developed a thick tree cover, but spaces were becoming places as people began to carve out farmlands from the primary woodlands. For example, at Henham on the Blyth estuary, groups of Beaker flat graves have been excavated together with extensive Iron Age remains of clay-lined pits and part of a large circular building. Elsewhere, in Suffolk extensive prehistoric coaxial field systems have survived. 

By the 1st century human settlement was expanding into the central wooded areas, and at the end of the Roman occupation a network of dispersed Saxon settlements spread across the area.  At the time of the Norman Conquest, the present villages and many isolated farmsteads and hamlets had been established and Suffolk was one of the most densely populated in England.

Names of some villages we have today come from the Anglo-Saxon settlers. Some were named after the chieftain (leader) and end with ‘ham’ or ‘ing’. Today’s parish boundaries originated in the territorial divisions of these families.  Beating the bounds is an ancient custom still observed in some English and Welsh parishes. Under the name of the Gangdays, the custom of going a-ganging was kept before the Notman Conquest.  A group of old and young members of the community would walk the boundaries of the parish, usually led by the parish priest and church officials, to share the knowledge of their community’s space, and to pray for protection and blessings for the lands.

Culture and space are now mapped into parish boundaries that can redefine:

  • the notion of place;
  • the production of creative goods and services;
  • the importance of history;
  •  the intrinsic value of what is local and unique.
  • the ethic of landscape sustainability

Therefore a parish can be interpreted as a socially constructed narrative, locking people into their environment.  As a narrative it can be understood in two ways: as a means to make sense of the world (a way of knowing) and as a practice (a way of doing),  Language is used to build ‘knowing’ and ‘doing’ into local knowledge via storytelling. Places are reproduced and communicated by telling stories.  Indeed this process of creating environmental knowledge starts with an exploration of people’s sense of place, which governs their attachment to their environment and their desire to protect it. 

Fig 1 Hundreds of Suffolk (a SPACE in SuffolkSpaces)

Fig 2 Map of Benacre Parish, Suffolk (a PLACE in Blything Hundred); boundary in red

Fig 3 Lock’s Lane, Benacre (A LANDSCAPE in Benacre)

7  Postscript

The value of cultural heritage is generally recognized as being an important factor in creating sustainable and resilient human settlements   In particular, the local evaluation of heritage underlines the importance of protecting and enhancing the identity values of places. The objective is to guarantee an inclusive and fair human-centered community development. Heritage interacts actively with people, bringing them together reinforcing and blending the sense of identity and belonging.  Taking all of this into account, the future of sustainable communities lies with IT as a collection of tools for gathering and disseminating information and knowledge about the past, present and future of ‘place’. IT has not killed physical space. Instead, the digital, the physical and the cultural can be recombined in new updated versions of place. Here the internet has entered physical space becoming the Internet of Things (IoT) and it is changing the way we interface with the space around us.  Communities are at the center of place-innovation that is unfolding across all geographic, industrial and technological borders. It is not so much devices that are being linked together but the “connected person.” At the center is a person who is making use of the IT applications and services that are enabled by the devices, i.e. the things, and their unprecedented integration. The things express good human behaviours such as thinking of others, considering the impact of one’s actions and being kind. 

People in every community will always have to face challenges and will need to find new ways to stay connected and check in on one another to maintain physical and mental wellbeing and share accurate information and advice e.g. for conservation and medical wellbeing. This is the lesson of COVID 19.  IoT enables keeping up to date, sharing information and being a positive part of the local community conversations. Different elements and groups will be at increased risk. Social isolation and loneliness are key concerns for all ages. With respect to bringing people together to advocate for community action, neighbourly support can make a huge difference in a world fraught with global challenges. The current threats of global warming and disease pandemics are set to impact all of us in one form or another.  With respect to their role as active citizens stronger local connections of people with their community places are vital to see future environmental crises out. Personal IT tools are going to be essential in order to fully participate in one’s community . Already, many people maintain personal web pages to express their opinions on issues ranging from news and politics to movies, or to serve as a showcase for their creative endeavors related to place-making through writing, poetry or music. A personal web page gives the owner generally more control on his or her presence in search results and how they wish to be viewed online. It also allows more freedom in types and quantity of content than a social network profile can offer. They also provide a link from the local world to the individual, and from the individual to the wider word, putting what really matters into a clearer light.

Having a website allows a person to have full control over his or her ‘brand’. They have complete ownership over it.  How it looks and what it says are entirely up to the writer, making it the ultimate platform to reflect exactly who they are, why they do what they do, what makes them different and the value they provide.  Further to this, having a website gives security and certainty when it comes to the owner as an individual. There are no terms and conditions they need to follow, nor do they have to worry about it shutting down. Many sites, such as Google, are easy to make and free.  Having a personal domain also means that the owner can produce content that is exclusive to his or her brand. For example, content in the form of blogs can only be found on that particular website, giving an opportunity to rank in search engines with specific keywords that relate to the impact of the owner on their neighbours and making a difference in the wider world. 

In summary, having your own website means building a presence in a village appraisal on your own terms, the way you want it to be.  How much more could be incorporated in the Parham Parish SCAN if every family in the village could network its own website?

8 Internet references

SCAN for Suffolk Places

Beating the bounds

Sandlands

Tides of change

The dimensions of place meanings

SUSPLACE

COMDEKS

Its not easy to make a landscape

Archaeology of the Suffolk coast

Old maps

Rural Settlement Changes

Hundreds

Wangford Hundred

Good neighbourliness

Know your place

Pevsner in Suffolk

Place ambassadors

Our place in the future

Magnetic Fields

Pace of change

Preparing for a post growth future

March 20th, 2020

Incompatibility of ‘sustainable’ and ‘growth’

In 1960, Article 1 of the Convention of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) included the specific aim of achieving “the highest sustainable economic growth”.  Only in subsequent decades did enlightenment filter through to some corporate and political mind-sets, which acknowledged the mutual incompatibility of “sustainable” and “growth”. Ultimately we all need to believe that bringing together the understanding, intelligence, compassion, and concern for one’s descendants, that nearly every human being is capable of demonstrating, will ultimately lead to a vision of sustainability as the only viable future.

The starting point for this discourse is that humanity is taking from Earth more than it can regenerate and is producing more waste than it can assimilate.  Therefore we have to change our behaviour to bring our demands on the planetary ecosystem in line with its limits.  In this respect we have to decide to go either for a culture of harmony, based on sharing public goods, or for a culture of continuing discord based on unequal distribution of individual wealth. To help us make this choice a new body of knowledge linking culture with ecology is needed.  It is required to promote a process of citizens’ involvement in transition from a technological culture to an ecological one based on renewable energy.  The political dimension of cultural ecology includes some bold ideas such as an equal education budget for every citizen, to be invested as they choose.  But it mostly rests on old ideas of participatory governance, progressive taxation, and income guarantees, underpinned by a culture of sharing ecological resources equality within and between countries.

The Bassey model

Whilst contending that societies need to move from economic growth to cultural growth, Michael Bassey, in his book “Convivial Policies for the Inevitable; (2012)”  acknowledges that such a massive shift in day to day living will be a very tall order, whether amongst world leaders or the burgeoning millions of individuals aspiring to greater material wealth. We get an inkling of  how difficult such a global change would be in the isolationist responses of countries to protect their monetary wealth in response to the corona virus pandemic (COVID-19; 2020).  

In reaching a condition of cultural growth we need to appreciate and value what we have. We need to create things without damaging our planet, and learn how to live convivially. Bassey warns we may be forced to start relating to each other in long-forgotten ways, because there is no alternative. What is meant by “convivial” in this context?  Bassey believes it is a “way of living, through which people gain quality of life and enjoy happiness by striving to be in harmony with themselves, and with their social, cultural and natural environments”. Taking the UK economy as a starting point, he suggests there should be a minimum living wage, maximum take-home pay, and acceptance that as unemployment is inevitable, our society should be re-orientated so that unpaid work at home or in the community is recognised for its intrinsic value through support via a “universal citizen’s income”.  

Those people inextricably bound up in the values and validations of typical growth- orientated, oil-based economies are characterised by Bassey as “wealthists”, whose pursuit of affluence brings about an “acne of over-consumption”. Wealthist politicians rise and fall on their ability to grow the GDP. It doesn’t matter what it takes, whether it’s ripping up environmental protections, gutting labour laws, or fracking for cheap oil: if you achieve growth, you win. Citizens of green, no-growth economies are dubbed “convivialists”.  Prosperity for convivialists consists in their ability to flourish as human beings within the ecological limits of a finite planet. This was the view of the UK Sustainable Development Commission as far back as 2009 when it promoted “Prosperity Without Growth”. The challenge for our society now is to create the conditions under which this is possible”. In response to global environmental degradation and human poverty we need to learn how to create sustainable societies which do not depend for their survival on a wealthist worldview.  Indeed, the convivial discourse takes a quite different perspective. While the poorer countries need to sustain development, ie economic growth, in order to achieve convivial joy for their peoples, the richer countries need to develop stable economies. i.e. zero growth, in order to achieve harmony with the environment. In particular, Bassey argues that convivial education is the foundation for the four pillars of sustainability: namely ‘social justice’, ‘environmental responsibility’, ‘economic viability’ and ‘cultural development’. Further, he suggests that adult education rather than schooling needs to be the present focus and that a powerful stimulus to this would be non-mandatory referenda posing significant, if difficult, questions arising from adopting the four pillars of sustainability. 

In the convivial discourse, education is the route into conviviality and it happens within the family, community and workplace as well as in schools, colleges and universities. The educational goal is learning to live a convivial life in terms of coming to understand oneself, other people, one’s natural environment and one’s cultural world and growing in harmony with these. Through this way of living one learns a measure of self-sufficiency. It is a life-long and holistic process embracing both formal and informal learning.

From the convivial perspective of creating cultural harmony, ultimately it must be the case that the economy of every country and the joyfulness of its people will depend primarily on what they make of their own territory. It will depend on soil, on climate, on the technology they use in relation to soil and climate, on how they conserve the land, and on how they organise their affairs to provide social justice and cultural development for all.  Bassey believes that in the past all communities were like this and often they suffered extreme privitation: but a modern sustainable society would not be primitive. Creating it puts the clock forward, not back. Drawing on scientific and technological developments within a steady state economy there would be convivial work opportunities for all to achieve a high quality of life and non monetary prosperity. To develop a democratic culture of harmony requires creative interaction between education and society. Ideas of progress need to be unshackled from the creation of wealth. Political courage is needed to stand firm against the critics who lack the imagination to see it as ultimately being the only way for succeeding generations throughout the world to enjoy satisfying and high quality lives.

The Piketty model

Thomas Piketty in his book ‘Capital and Ideology (2020)’ retells a global history with a scathing critique of contemporary politics and a bold proposal for a new and fairer economic system. Piketty challenges us to revolutionize how we think about politics, ideology, and history and galvanize a global debate about inequality. He exposes the ideas that have sustained inequality for the past millennium, reveals why the shallow politics of right and left are failing us today, and outlines the structure of a fairer economic system.  

Piketty argues for a new “participatory” socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, the production of public goods, and education for the democratic sharing of knowledge and power.  Our economy, he observes, is not a natural fact. Markets, profits, and capital are all historical constructs that depend on past choices. Piketty explores the material and ideological interactions of conflicting social groups that have given us slavery, serfdom, colonialism, communism, and hypercapitalism, shaping the lives of billions. He concludes that the great driver of human progress over the centuries has been the struggle for equality and education and not, as often argued, the assertion of property rights or the pursuit of social stability. He says the new era of extreme inequality that has derailed that progress since the 1980s, is partly a reaction against communism, but it is also the fruit of ignorance, intellectual specialization, and our drift toward the dead-end politics of national identity.

Once we understand this, we can begin to envision a more balanced approach to economics politics and environment. Here, Piketty argues for a new “participatory” socialism, a system founded on an ideology of equality, social property, education, and the sharing of knowledge and power. His standpoint is simply a moral one: inequality is illegitimate, and therefore requires ideologies in order to be justified and moderated.  

“All history shows that the search for a distribution of wealth acceptable to the majority of people is a recurrent theme in all periods and all cultures”.  

Piketty’s core political and methodological belief is in the emancipatory power of public data: that when people are given sufficient evidence about the structures of society, they will insist on greater equality until they are granted it.  However, Western democracies are currently dominated by two rival elites, reflected in many two-party electoral systems: a financial elite (or “merchant right”) that favours open markets, and an educational elite (or “Brahmin left”) that stands for cultural diversity, but has lost faith in progressive taxation as a basis for social justice. With these as the principal democratic options, nativist parties prosper, opposing educational and economic inequality, but only on the basis of tighter national borders. Pikettty’s message is that there is a vacancy for parties willing to defend internationalism and redistribution simultaneously.  His vision is of future generations sharing the public good of a bountiful Earth equitably with maximum opportunities for joyful lives

QUESTIONING OUR  PLANETARY FUTURE

Michael Bassey has suggested that a stimulus to wide-spread learning about how to develop a post growth culture would be if the government held a referendum on the issues involved. Instead of an opinion poll based on a sample of perhaps a thousand people, suppose that all adults are expected to cast votes expressing their views in a national ballot along the same lines as a general election.  The kind of questions that might be asked are displayed below. 

Suppose that the ballot paper included the area (not the local) postal code. This would mean that local authorities and the people themselves became aware of what each area thought. Suppose that such a referendum was seen as not binding a government (ie non-mandatory) but as indicating a direction that the community expects its policies to take. And suppose that such a referendum was repeated every three years – so that people would have the chance to rethink their position and continue the debate.

Asking good questions is central to learning and sometimes can be more important than getting the answers, particularly when the questions encourage people to think critically.  

The following questionnaire is an example to guide the production of a democratic educational scaffold for lifelong learning about the links between ecology and culture. In particular it probes respondents’ opinions about the  limits to Earth’s carrying capacity; the limits to economic growth; the limits to waste emissions; the need for a new relationship between culture and ecosystems and an education system for living sustainably. 

An interactive version of the questionnaire produced by International Classrooms On LIne (ICOL) is available HERE.  

As followers of this blog ICOL invites you to fill in the interactive questionnaire that will help ICOL to plan an education pathway for sustainability.

The results will be presented at www.blog.culturalecology.info.


You are asked to select one of the answers to each question to indicate the response that is nearest to your present opinion. If none reflects your opinion, or if you feel you know too little about it, use the response ‘Cannot answer this question’. Many people will say, ‘I can’t answer these questions’. Not knowing is the beginning of the path to wisdom. You may simply start to realise that in a strong democracy each and every one of us has a part to play in determining what the future will look like. This is more than enough.

The questionnaire will take 10-15 minutes to fill in and may stimulate you to think differently   about the topic.


1 Limits to Earth’s carrying capacity

Are we facing limits to Earth’s carrying capacity for human life? 

(a) No because we can engineer our environments more productively to serve human needs as we have done in the past

(b) No because affluence and modernisation is bringing falling fertility rates so reducing human demands on the environment

(c) Yes because we have already exceeded key planetary boundaries, with visible consequences of deforestation, biodiversity collapse, resource wars and climate change.

(d) Cannot answer this question.

Is it time for a post-growth economy?

(a) No because economists and politicians tell us that we need growth in order to boost people out of poverty.

(b) No because if the economy doesn’t keep expanding by at least 2% or 3 % a year in developed countries, it collapses into crisis.

(c) Yes because we can choose to replace GDP with more holistic measures, like the Genuine Progress Indicator (GPI)

(d) Cannot answer this question.

 2 Limits to economic growth

 Are there limits to economic growth?

(a) No, because it is unlikely that the limits to economic growth will ever be reached.

(b) Yes because economic growth will eventually cease but there is no need to take action now.

(c) Yes because economic growth cannot be maintained within Earth’s limits..

(d) Cannot answer this question.

How can malnutrition and starvation be eliminated across the world?

(a) By free trade which ensures economic growth for all countries, rich and so lifts the poor out of poverty.

(b) By rich countries providing aid and intermediate technology which ensures that people can maintain themselves from the resources of their own territory.

(c)  By global food aid, whereby food is grown in donor countries for distribution or sale abroad.

(d) Cannot answer this question.

How serious (life threatening) are the changes in the global environment that are being made by humankind?

(a) Very serious for us and needing urgent action now.

(b) Quite serious for us and needing action in the foreseeable future.

(c) Not serious for us in the foreseeable future and not requiring action

(d) Cannot answer this question

3 Limits to waste emissions

What is the most important action to bring consumption in line with Earth’s ecological productivity?

(a) Consume less goods and services

(b) Plant trees to absorb carbon dioxide from the atmosphere.

(c) Increase the efficiency of  production of goods and services

(d) Cannot answer this question

Which of the following themes is most important when you buy things?

(a) It has to be up to date

(b) It has to have a long lifespan

(c) It has to be part of a circular economy where all wastes and discards are recycled.

(d) Cannot answer this question

4 Need for a new relationship between culture and ecology

What is the best interpretation of sustainable development? 

(a) Sustaining economic growth year by year, while trying to alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

(b) Aiming for no economic growth in order to create sustainable societies that alleviate poverty and protect the environment.

(c) Aiming for a steady state economy with international policies of trade and aid that promote the sharing of Earth’s resources equitably

(d) Cannot answer this question.

 What would be an appropriate definition of prosperity in a steady state economy?

(a) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the hope that world leaders would address global challenges related to poverty, inequality, climate change, environmental degradation, peace and justice.

(b) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the commitment of people to voluntary altruistic actions

(c) An appropriate definition of prosperity would be the year on year accumulation of monetary capital 

(d) Cannot answer this question

Where survival is reasonably assured and basic needs are met, what kind of culture will give the better quality and meaning to individuals’ lives?

(a) A culture of wealth creation will give the better quality of life

(b) A culture of harmony through sharing will give the better quality of life.

(c) A culture of creativity as an enabler of economic development will give the better quality of life

(d) Cannot answer this question

5 Need for a new education system

Should we educate young and adult people in order that they learn of the socio-ecological predicaments of the Earth?

(a) Yes.Involve young people in designing and co-producing educational materials

(b) No. Adult education should focus on learning the skills needed to train for the new jobs that economic growth demands.

(c) Yes. Train educators as facilitators to help learners assemble a personal body of knowledge to live sustainably 

(d) Cannot answer this question.

What kind of pedagogy is needed to cope with the socio-ecological predicaments of Earth?

(a) One that produces specialists because the predicaments of Earth require technical fixes.

(b) One that produces generalists because the predicaments of Earth require cross disciplinary fixes. 

(c) One that produces humanists because the predicaments of Earth require a different kind of thinking from that which we used to create them

(d) Cannot answer this question