Enhancing environmental awareness (9 Sept 05)

Date: 9 September, 2005
Location: CILT, London
Event type: Workshop

Programme | Event report

sky and clouds

Past event summary

The English Subject Centre and LLAS have recently completed projects as part of the HEFCE's Education for Sustainable Development initiative. Sustainable development is not always seen as a natural concern for humanities disciplines, but the work of the English and LLAS Subject Centres and of many of our practitioners has demonstrated that environmental issues can be approached through studies of historical and contemporary cultures, societies and literatures. The study of these subjects can help practitioners and their students to reflect on their own practices.

English: Education for Sustainable Development web page

LLAS: Education for Sustainable Development web page

Programme for 9 September 2005
Time Session
10.30 - 10.45 Registration and coffee
10.45 - 11.30 Integrating sustainability literacy into literature, languages and area studies courses
Andy Johnson, Forum for the Future
11.30 - 11.45 Coffee
11.45 - 12.30 English as an eco-discipline
Ben Knights, English Subject Centre
12.30 - 13.30 Lunch
13.30 - 14.15 Real and virtual rubbish: Keeping things tidy in Modern Languages
Alison Phipps, University of Glasgow
14.15 - 15.00 Global issues, local responses: Engaging with environmental issues through languages and area studies curricula
John Canning, Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies
15.00 - 15.45 Education for Sustainable Development in English
Greg Garrard, Bath Spa University College
15.45 - 16.15 Tea and Plenary
Chair: Ben Knights


Event report: Enhancing environmental awareness through Literatures, Languages and Area Studies

by Martin Delveaux

inspired by
some of
the ideas

- Workshop attendee

It seems fair to say that it finally has dawned upon the world that we are facing an unprecedented environmental crisis, and HEFCE's recent initiative "Education for Sustainable Development" is a timely reminder of the fact that rethinking and changing our relationship with the natural world is paramount to ensure the survival of the biosphere. This intriguing workshop dealt with ways in which education for sustainable development can be envisaged and achieved in Further Education.

Andy Johnston, from the Forum for the Future, started the day by inviting us to think what a 'perfect' and sustainable world would look like. While areas such as technology and population control generated a great deal of controversy, terms like tolerance, decentralisation and sustainable literacy were generally accepted. The Forum for the Future's working definition of sustainable literacy is to:

  • understand the need for change to a sustainable way of doing things, individually and collectively.
  • have sufficient knowledge and skills to decide and act in a way that favours sustainable development
  • be able to recognise and reward other people's decision and actions that favour sustainable development.

It was pointed out that one of the main analytic tools and set of values to explore sustainable development is ecocriticism, and Ben Knights, director of the English Subject Centre, gave an insightful run-through of English as an eco-discipline. Locating the origins of the subject in European Romanticism (Jonathan Bate's groundbreaking Romantic Ecology springs to mind), Dr. Knights outlined the development of literatures that questioned Enlightenment values of instrumentalism and superior rationality while valuing evocations of landscape, wildlife, habitats, human communities in traditional habitat, the integration of thought and feeling and experience of natural life as formative. Dr. Knights also pointed out the general development from poetry as engagement with nature (Wordsworth) to a kind of poetry of protest (Clare, Hopkins ) which Ruskin and Morris, at the end of the nineteenth century, translated into an incisive critique of industrial capitalism. The rise of the novel as a way of representing human activity in a given habitat was mentioned as well as the twentieth-century notion of culture as habitat (Snyder). Finally, Dr. Knights suggested that green' teaching treats knowledge as habitat and models knowing as process, rather than ownership. 'Green' teaching encourages us to make connections between different areas rather than seeing problems as isolated entities.
Download presentation: English as Eco-Discipline: a Case Study (PowerPoint, 775Kb)

Dr Alison Phipps, of the University of Glasgow , spoke about real and virtual rubbish in her talk "Keeping Things Tidy in Modern Languages". She described a project she set up at Glasgow with German students and their cultural experience and reaction to environmental issues while being in Scotland . Seeing culture as the medium through which humans either interact with, or adapt to, the environment, Dr. Phipps offered a revealing insight into how cultural exchanges can enhance the awareness of, and implementation of, sustainable development. She underlined the need to see environmentalism as a cultural discourse in which one person's rubbish can be another person's valuable material, and that the shift from rubbish' to valuable' is based on ethical and social discourse.
Download presentation: Real and Virtual Rubbish: Keeping Things Tidy in Modern Languages (PowerPoint, 99Kb)

John Canning, from the Subject Centre for Languages, Linguistics and Area Studies (LLAS), spoke about how to engage with environmental issues through languages and area studies curricula. He pointed out that the there is not one single definition of the term "sustainable development" and that it is difficult to translate into other languages; not only the most common foreign languages but also minority languages. Dr. Canning emphasised the usefulness of case studies abroad and gave examples from Germany, Canada and projects on location of wind-farms in France.
View paper: Global issues, local responses: Engaging with environmental issues through Languages and Area Studies curricula

Finally, Greg Garrard, from Bath Spa University College, focussed on how Ecocriticism invites us to read representations of the environment, starting his talk by showing the latest TV advertisement of the Carbon Trust. Dr. Garrard mentioned Andrew Ross's important distinction between images of ecology' and ecology of images' and emphasised that the second category, concerned with material production and reproduction of images, is becoming increasingly important in Ecocriticism. Garrard emphasised the need to see global connections and realise that frequently our environmental health comes at the cost of other nations: companies often move to other countries where legislation on pollution is more lenient. He also pointed out that ecocriticism is probably unique in the humanities in that it relies on a scientific discipline, ecology. This circumstance it is not entirely unproblematic since ecocritics need to be specialists in ecology, too. Garrard pointed out that it is a common misconception among ecocritics that a stable habitat requires biodiversity: some northern tundras, for example, are not biodiverse at all but nevertheless have been stable over many centuries. Finally, he brought up for discussion whether we want to see Ecocriticism as a set of values, almost ideological in that respect, or rather as a critical tool within academia.
Download paper: Questionnaire on sustainability orientation of Subject Centres: Response of the English Subject Centre (Word doc)

The successful day finished with a general discussion of how we could promote ecocriticism, as academics and environmental practitioners.