Education for Sustainable Development: Languages and Sustainability

Author: Alison Phipps


Alison Phipps discusses how an education for sustainability might be fostered within the field of languages and intercultural studies. This is part of the Subject Centre's Education for Sustainable Development Project.

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Table of contents

How might an education for sustainability be fostered within the field of languages and intercultural studies?

In what follows I understand sustainability holistically as relating to environmental, linguistic and cultural sustainability.

Past projects

In the past I have been involved in several projects which have sought to develop both critical, cultural, linguistic and intercultural approaches to broad questions of sustainability. Of particular note was my course 'The Greening of Germany' which enabled students to focus on the subject of 'rubbish' as a cultural, intercultural, linguistic and historical phenomenon. I developed an experiential, ethnographic approach to the topic with my students in order to relativise, localize and interculturalise the aspects that emerge when students are confronted with different perceptions of rubbish to their own.

Present projects

I am presently focusing on questions of sustainability in tourism, travel and languages which relate to environmental, linguistic and cultural issues. The phenomenon of language death/genocide, cultural homogenization under globalization, the debates around English as a lingua franca and the environmental impact of cheap air fares, the democratization of travel and mass tourism come together in my research and in my teaching of courses of tourism and anthropology, languages and anthropology and Cultural and English Language Teaching.

From this work a number of principles have emerged which relate to the embedding of sustainability across the curricula in which I have involvement.

  • Sustainability relates in significant ways to local (importantly NOT global) imaginings and ways of life.
  • Sustainability is implicated in its own discourse. It requires languages & it requires a poetic activism.
  • Sustainability may be successfully encountered through experiential curricula
  • Education for sustainability goes to the heart of deeply held views and requires teaching for transgression and for transformation: It is political teaching and it is not politically neutral.
  • Education for sustainability is closely linked to Education for Peace.
  • Sustainability is a cross-border, intercultural issue.
  • Although there are relativities and contradictions within understandings of sustainability there are also hard principles that need to be discovered and cannot be 'taught' mechanistically.
  • Sustainability is about International, Intercultural and Interagentic relations. It requires all three.
  • Theoretical, methodological, political and experiential dimensions need carefully balancing.

In the broad fields of languages, intercultural communication and tourism studies, sustainability emerges for me through engagement with particular, and often politically tricky, issues (ontological not epistemological).

  • Language death vs. language genocide ( passive or active) - actual cases (Gaelic vs English)
  • Ecolinguistics - does a world view die with a language? Does a language die under globalization. What of local perspectives & the land?
  • Are language learning tourists sustainable? Under what kind of circumstance?
  • Does theatre live or die from tourism? What does a live performance relate, in a particular place, space & time, that other media cannot? What sustains it?
  • Why is 'dirt, matter out of place?' Why is dirt and pollution important? How can this be discovered through an analysis of lexical terms?
  • If linguists/translators are border crossers what implications does this have for peace, environmental justice and their communication?
  • Language, mimicry and the land - how does the material world and our mimetic function alter the environment and how is does our dwelling in the biosphere affect the material world?