Sociology - Conference Items

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    Single use plastics versus consumerism in the case of snack food packaging; evolving societal norms, culture and tipping points
    (International Sustainable Production and Consumption, 2018-10) Byrne, Edmond P.; Dunphy, Niall P.; Mullally, Gerard; Sage, Colin; Crowley, Shane V.
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    Propagating an integral and transdisciplinary approach to sustainability education
    (EESD, 2016-09) Byrne, Edmond P.; Mullally, Gerard
    Recent directions in engineering for sustainable development (EESD) (and in ESD more generally) have pointed towards an increasing realisation that in order to adequately begin to address respective meta-problems associated with global (un)sustainability, ‘object world’ disciplinary perspectives alone are insufficient. Instead, the required depth of knowledge that expert disciplinary knowledge can provide must be both complimented and built upon by other disciplinary as well as experiential knowledge. Integral and transdisciplinary approaches to learning can play a central role in helping achieve this. When such approaches are applied, they facilitate the possibility of new and emergent knowledge and insights which can transcend disciplinary bounds, with the potential to reach places where no single disciplinary approach can; a classic case of ‘whole greater than the sum of parts’. This however requires a degree of disciplinary humility and openness to other approaches and disciplinary norms, as well as a degree of trust, patience and time. Nevertheless, in the context of seeking authentic sustainability, it is necessary. The classical engineering degree structure is not amenable to this approach. Engineering has traditionally seen itself as a ‘problem solving profession only insofar as ‘problems’, including complex socio-technological ones (with ecological and economic import) can be neatly reduced to well-defined closed system decontextualized ‘puzzles’ which can then be algorithmically optimised. This is deeply problematic as it cannot map reality; specifically, complex contemporary 21st century reality, instead resulting in emergent ‘unintended consequences’. A key intervention point therefore in the development of a fit-for-purpose cohort of engineering graduates capable of addressing emergent twenty first century meta-problems is through their formative education. Here integral and transdisciplinary approaches to sustainability education/ESD offer a useful approach. But this requires not just the inclusion of ‘sustainable development material’, but a perpendicular reconceptualization of pedagogical approaches. This approach coheres with contemporary pedagogical best practice as it privileges relational and constructivist approaches to learning over the traditional atomistic approach, incorporating as it does, peer to peer and personal reflective learning opportunities. This paper reflects on the experiences of a programme where undergraduate chemical engineering students undertaking a sustainability module collaborate with students on an analogous sociology module. It describes how this transdisciplinary collaboration takes an integral approach to sustainability learning, incorporating both subjective and objective perspectives as well as inter-subjective and inter-objective. The work reflects on how this initiative worked by drawing on student feedback and the authors’ experiences.
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    Engaging with sustainability through collaborative and transdisciplinary approaches to education
    (University of British Columbia, 2015-06) Byrne, Edmond P.; Mullally, Gerard
    Sustainability is a normative topic framed by disciplinary perspectives. This can be problematic as the tools that are used and applied to meta-problems and ‘grand challenges’ associated with societal (un)sustainability, and which may result in proposed ‘sustainable solutions’, are framed through the lens of the ‘object world’ disciplinarian. Traditional engineering education and practice has tended to frame problems in narrow techno-economic terms, often neglecting broader social, environmental, ethical and political issues; or what might be termed the social complexities of problems (Bucciarelli, 2008; Mulder et al., 2012). This reductionist approach has sought to close down risk and uncertainty through deterministic modelling and design, resulting in frameworks/models which provide an air of misplaced confidence but which are incapable of accounting for (or recognising) unknowability, and can thus lead to behaviour which ironically, results in increased fragility, rather than promoting increased robustness or resilience. Researchers in the social sciences and humanities are inherently more comfortable and adept with dealing with complexity, uncertainty and unknowability. This paper is posited in this context, whereby chemical engineering and sociology students taking respective disciplinary sustainability/environmental modules were brought together to work on a common assignment dealing with some aspect of sustainability. This paper reflects on this collaborative exercise, including the experiences of the students themselves, alongside some challenges and successes. It concludes that transdisciplinary approaches to learning are not just desirable in addressing wicked and meta-problems when addressing challenges of (un)sustainability, but represent a sine qua non for building the social capacity in confronting these issues.
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    Orientation paper and primer for discussion: New paradigm thinking - alternative visions transcending the disciplines
    (University College Cork, 2013-09) Sage, Colin; Byrne, Edmond P.; Mullally, Gerard; Office of the Vice President for Research and Innovation, University College Cork