education systems

Systematic activist educator

Liam Phelan

Connections between education, social justice and sustainability are of key interest for me. This is why I teach.

Dr Liam Phelan‘s biographical note at the University of Newcastle starts with “My primary research interest is sustainability and how to achieve it”. We talk about that.

Liam works at the nexus of climate change, finance, human rights and ecological sustainability. His recent research interests have focussed on governance of the Earth system as a complex adaptive system comprising human-social and ecological elements, and its key characteristics, including thresholds, non-linear change, and capacity for surprise. We talk about education, perverse resilience and much more.

We face a sustainability paradox: maintaining the desirable familiar stability of the Earth System requires a radical change in the human-social systems nested within it.

We have a pressing ecological need for radical social change to ensure the ongoing viability of human society’s ecological foundations

How many concerned citizens does it take to change a light bulb? Probably just one. But the magic really comes from a community approach.

Transformation is essential.

When did we last have an argument about gravity?

Think about how you want your world to be, and make it so.

From a systems perspective, the idea that something on planet earth is not part of planet earth is plainly nonsense.

Some realism is important, but we also need the idealism so we know where we are going.

(Am I an activist?). Yes. Absolutely. I feel that university is a place you can do activism. You could also work at Greeenpeace, go to parliament, wherever you like. There are real places you can do activism. Activism is an activity, it is an active approach. (That doesn’t conflict with the objective, critical thinking role of the academic?) Activism requires critical thinking – that’s how I came to be teaching at the university. The privilege of being required to do critical thinking in the cause of activism…with civil society organisations…exposed all the time to cutting edge thinking, but sometimes without the time to spend thinking more deeply – theorising – these things are possible in academia. (You’re OK with wearing your heart on your sleeve?). Yeah, (Stanley Fish, critical thinking and nothing else). That worked for a while, but those days are past. The idea that scientific research, critical thinking can exist without some explicit normative basis is silly.

Trainspotting: Liam references Rebecca Solnit’s work but the title eludes him. Here are two of the likely suspects: Hope in the dark (2004) and Storming the Gates of Paradise (2007).