Sustainability at Universities a "Feel-Good" Term...No Comment

Ashley Thorne

Today's No Comment item is an excerpt from an article in the UK-based Times Higher Education reviewing an anthology titled Sustainability at Universities - Opportunities, Challenges and Trends (Walter Leal Filho, ed., Peter Lang: 2009):

The great virtue of a topic such as sustainability, that it requires collegiality and transdisciplinarity, can also be its great vice, making it a plastic phrase that all adhere to with varying invested meanings. The phatic nature of sustainable development is not critically interrogated in this volume and this is its biggest let-down.

There is a fallacy in talk of sustaining the university. What appears to be a morally responsible institution striving for ecological justice can often hide very unsustainable practices. The subjectivism of "sustainability" is both its strength and its weakness. It speaks to a feel-good, inoffensive view of oneself and one's institution, yet it also has the power to hide the reality of harmful social patterns. This book engages with important issues, but to move beyond discussion we require more practical, critical analysis.

The article's author, Gerald P. Aiken, is a research postgraduate in the department of geography at Durham University.

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