The Philosophy for Community to sustain and practice the culture of sustainability of development (Part 2)

di Vincenza Merlino

The Philosohy for Community: a transformative teaching methodology to practice the culture of sustainability of development

(…) Entrusting the future only to physical scientists and their technicians misses the primary cause of the current predicament and a crucial strategy for lasting solutions: changing human behaviour.

It is critical to examine the psychological dimensions of planetary difficulties because “environmental problems” are behavioural problems: They are caused by the thoughts, beliefs, values, worldviews ando so by the culture upon which human beings act.

(Koger, Winter, 2003)

If, as argued, to sustain the culture of sustainability pf development it is necessary for the content knowledge emerging from the actualization of an interdisciplinary vision in teaching/learning processes to be transformed into the acquisition of awareness of what takes place within the interconnections between natural systems and social systems and between what, in turn, influences and is influenced by the relationships between cultural systems and individual behaviors; to practice the culture of development sustainability it is necessary for the acquisition of such knowledge and awareness to be translated into ecological behaviors.

Defining “ecological behavior” as: any behavior that changes the availability of materials or energy in the environment or alters the structure the dynamics of ecosystems, Stern (2000) points out that by taking into consideration the impact that human behaviors have on the environment it is possible to grasp some useful indications for understanding the complexity of environmental phenomena.

This implies that while it is true that individual human behaviors are influenced by both social and physical-environmental factors, it is also true that each individual’s behavior has impacts both within the context of social systems relations and within the context of environmental systems relations so in short: the ecological crisis cannot be considered a problem created by an “Other” as distinct from “We” (Ghosh, 2017) and for which each of us can and must do our part.

However, the relevant literature-including the psychological levers that may or may not move ecological action (Steg et l. 2013; Bonnes et al. 2006) that are intertwined with the levers of the broader cultural symbolic system (Bordieu, 1980) that move everyday action-provides insight into the cultural and psycho-social dimensions of environmental sustainability that notes that: in the face of an ecological consciousness that has become solidly part of the mass narrative and of massive investments in technological innovation, significant difficulties are observed in strategically orienting individual motivations and behaviors, and in promoting their sedimentation into everyday practices that present a lasting impact from the perspective of sustainable development.

This should not be surprising insofar as, in the age of Fridays for Future, many young people declare that in the face of a considerable awareness acquired in the field of sustainable development they struggle to translate it into ecologically competent behaviors, that is, consciously and responsibly assumed in their daily actions and therefore impactful in the long run.

In this perspective, taking the point of view of sustainability psychology studies (Schwartz & Bilsky, 1990), it is interesting to note the implications of psychological barriers that, interposing themselves between intentions and motivations by hindering the translation of sustainable attitudes and values into concrete actions, affect the lasting assumption of sustainability-oriented behaviors.

In this direction is the work of Gifford (2011; 2014) who, defining an environmental attitude as that which corresponds to an individual’s attention to or commitment to the natural environment and its protection, understanding, or improvement Gifford (2002) considers among the psychological barriers that he connotes as dragons of inaction: i) cognitive limitations (including: ignorance, uncertainty, and prejudice); ii) ideologies (including: maintenance of the status quo, super-human powers, and “Technology will save us!”); iii) confrontation with other people (including: social comparison, norms, and social networks); iv) distrust (including distrust in experts and authorities and distrust in one’s own ability to affect events with one’s choices); and v) the risks of acting for the benefit of the environment (including: social risk, psychological risk, time risk).

This list, pointing out the fact that behind every sustainable behavior reside, in fact, influences stemming from both cultural and more purely individual factors, emphasizes that the promotion of sustainable behaviors is also an issue that fits into a broad and multifaceted framework whose complexity, captured in Triandis’ (1977) theory of interpersonal behavior, includes three determining dimensions: habits, intentions and facilitating contextual conditions.

These latter linked with the variables of the physical, sociocultural and economic environment (Triandis, 2007) can detect the intertwining of incentivizing social dispositions for the implementation of a certain behavior and the intentions of individuals toward sustainability issues, which in turn are influenced by attitudes, social and affective factors and established habits in the area of sustainability issues.

In this perspective, the sociological literature, with reference to the concept of bridge-sustainability, sustainability (Foladori, 2005) shows how social incentive arrangements cannot only concern economic incentives to change consumption actions in accordance with lifestyle adaptation consequent to the efficient use of enabling technologies as they fail to affect the assumption of sustainable behaviors in the long run (Smith, Stirling, 2010; Assefa, Frostell, 2007).

Indeed, it has turned out to be more effective to intervene in the practices that underlie the quality of social life by investing in the empowerment of people, which, in the long run, being able to actively intervene also in the necessary institutional reforms, can significantly impact the spontaneous emergence of behavioral patterns more suited to the processes of sustainability of development (Barr, 2003; Vlek &Steg, 2007).

In these terms, as is well known, precisely with a view to being able to take responsibility for obeying the principle of intra- and inter-generational social justice and equity that urges us to engage in ecologically competent behaviors today in order to leave a better world for future generations tomorrow, it is Sen (1985) and Nusbbaum (2000; 2012) who, understand the importance of social provisions incentivizing increased human capacities to empower human beings to be able and have to be more participatory in and of society.

Nusbbaum (2012), in particular, moving from an anti-utilitarian approach, in fact placing individual agency in close relation to the normative fabric of society, emphasizes the terms in which agency is linked both to social and institutional opportunities and to participation in public life and whereby in their collective making through a capacitating role of institutions that highlights the interdependence between the individual and social dimensions by calling into question the combined capacities comes to argue that: citizens must receive the institutional, educational and material supports necessary for them to become capable of realizing themselves in each given existential sphere through the exercise by them of practical reason [….]; policy must analyze the situation of each individual and ask what, in each particular case, are the necessary conditions for full personal realization in the various existential spheres.

These combined capabilities (Nusbbaum, 2000), actualized today in the terms of democratic accountability, collaborative governance, e-democracy; e-governance (PNR, 2021-2027), translate into essential tools for accelerating the process of change (UN, 2020: Decade of Action).

The latter, which sees in the evolution of territorialization policies of the 2030 Agenda SDGs (UN, 2018,VLR) the thematization of the concept of the local community as a place where a shared vision is established that urges common decision-making and mutual accountability (Ciaffi and Mela 2006), calls into question the phenomenon of a new active citizenship (Moro, 2013), which, having to do with a new way of perceiving one’s prerogatives and role in the management of problems, revolves around a redefinition of the relationship between institutions and citizens that demands of a new interweaving between the decision-making-deliberative dimension the empowerment and capabilities dimension; the learning-reflexivity-change dimension that points to the construction of forms of “urban co-governance” (Iaione, 2016) directed at transforming or accompanying the transition of city neighborhoods into collaborative districts and by this way building a city that is both smart and just (Iaione, 2015; Iaione, Cannavò, 2015).

The exercise of this new active citizenship can only be enabled by an education that, as also claimed by the young signatories of yuoth4climate, must commit to: (i) reshape the values underlying the educational system in order to promote collaborative approaches over competitiveness and value empathy and all types of intelligence rather than only academic intelligence, to enable students to address environmental issues as a community; (ii) create more educational opportunities to enable young people to realize their potential in order to implement their confidence in terms of the impact of their actions for sustainability; (iii) ensure useful teaching/learning processes to stimulate young people’s participation in decision-making processes involving policy projects on sustainability issues by building capacity in advocacy for public policies focused on environmental and climate issues at the local level and/or by providing incentives for mobilization and collective action to demand that policy act appropriately.

Education so understood implies, therefore, that: the interconnection between cognitive, affective, and situational/behavioral – dimensions-already contemplated in several sustainable development education manuals (e.g., UNESCO, 2018; GreenComp, 2022) – is aimed at the transformation of sustainability-oriented knowledge (cognitive dimension) awareness (affective dimension) and action (behavioral dimension) into ecologically competent behaviors i.e., responsible and impactful in the long run.

To this end, taking into account what was previously argued about the contribution that P4C can provide to learners regarding knowledge, understanding of the culture of development sustainability, and awareness to sustain it that on based on scientific studies inherent to biophilosophy (Wilson, 1984), turns out to be fundamental to developing that comprehensive, complex and elaborate vision that considers the interrelationship between the elements that make up the biosphere as an organic whole in that: it would spontaneously empower people to address issues that affect their own relationship with the environment by voluntarily modifying their behaviors and lifestyles (Hinds et al. 2008); the further contribution that P4C can make to enable learners to exercise that new active citizenship concerns: (i) the implmentation of those cognitive, meta-cognitive and social-relational skills that are useful in defusing those dragons of inaction that hinder the link between knowledge, awareness and the assumption of ecologically competent behaviors; (ii) the enhancement of those capacities of practical reasoning, community belonging and social interaction that are useful in leveraging those factors that are linked to ecologically relevant actions and that, if not transformed in a positive sense, can inhibit the desire to actively participate in society.

From this perspective, based on the idea that the knowledge adequate to guide our being in the world is the result of intersubjective co-construction, P4C, as a dialogic/reflective/transformative educational practice, can provide the tools to enable the exercise of that new active citizenship through that redefinition of the intertwining of the decision-deliberative dimensions of empowerment and capacity; of learning-reflexivity-change, putting in place inclusive and participatory deliberative processes that, aimed at making informed decisions and acting responsibly, through the methodological expedient of CoPR unfold:

1.  In the wake of Dewey’s (1927) influence by paying attention to the cognitive dimension, embracing the epistemic value of public deliberation as a form of inquiry, with particular regard to the transformative implications and whereby they can be experienced by learners/members of CoPR as an opportunity for the activation of public inquiry practices, with added value in terms of knowledge and deepening of problems and opportunities for action, and thus as an opportunity to experience the sense and meaning of the identification of philosophy as that general theory of education that is capable of rejecting the pressures of a social context not directed toward adequate individual intellectual and moral growth as well as a means of being able to intervene in the course of events, modifying them, and therefore comparable to the conceptualization of “education for life” the enactment of an operational experiment in democratically free and mutually responsible community life [… ] a social function that ensures formation and development by means of participation in society (Dewey, 2012), and whereby “it is in the context of educating people to be reasonable people who seek to build a world in which they want to live and who do not accept a world in which they are obliged to live that the philosophical practice of community finds its social value” (Lipman, 2002); 

2.  In the wake of the influence of Mead (1934; 1938), of that conceptualization of bicontinuous conditionality and sociability of the universe, paying attention to the social-emotional-relational dimension that establishes CoPR as a privileged place where being able to give voice to all points of view and inclusively accommodate all perspectives learners/members of CoPR can experience the re-visitation of their own frames of reference values and the co-construction of new ones that, following openness to the full range of human knowledge and traditions in the extraordinary richness of cultures on our Earth, can lead to the negotiation of a global civic ethic oriented to the sustainability of development and paertanto based on a set of core values that can unite people of all cultural, political, religious and philosophical backgrounds;

3. In the wake of Peirce’s (2012) influence by paying attention to the metacognitive dimension that, by urging the acquisition of awareness of uncertainty as a heuristic tool, make learners/members of CoPR experience the exercise of mental adaptability and flexibility to make decisions and act responsibly even in the face of contradictions and risks.

Thus, contemplating the multidimensionality of the dimensions involved in the process of testing one’s abilities the P4C, once again urging the exercise of complex thinking which on this occasion, on the basis of the declination of higher thinking (Lipman, 1993) that is connoted as that thinking which is capable of orienting to the elevation of attitudes and behaviors insofar as it is endowed with i) cognitive flexibility understood as the competence of managing thinking in discussion, ii) creativity understood as the ability of thinking to redesign the frames of reference values; (iii) caring understood as the ability of thinking to pay attention to what it deems important, aims at a balance between cognitive and affective, perceptual and conceptual, physical and mental, between what is governed by rules and what is not (Lipman, 2005) and through which one must firmly oppose the dualistic approach that the affective sphere and cognitive sphere are two distinct and autonomous functions at odds with each other, can instill a desire to act in society insofar as promoting the subject’s constructive role in the development of his or her abilities simultaneously guarantees the possibility of implementing and enhancing his or her capacities for practical reasoning, empowerment, community belonging, and co-responsible social interaction by urging him or her to:

1. Identify his or her own potential through which he or she can recognize the relevance of his or her own contribution to the improvement of his or her own life and community consequently reinforcing confidence in his or her ability to significantly affect the reduction of environmental impact through his or her own choices;

2. Reflect on the personal, social and place identity building processes to enable a better management of resources and the activation of processes of caring for the relationships between natural and social systems, increasing social cohesion useful to put in place the principle of collaboration for the achievement of a common goal, to create together new paradigms and sustainable projects that can contribute to the development of the local community by affecting the global perspectives of sustainability:

3. Gain a sense of individual and collective responsibility to claim involvement in decision-making processes to identify political responsibilities and demand more effective policies, publicly supporting the development of policies that promote sustainability.

With this in mind, P4C: (i) by actualizing a teaching/learning process that unfolds in the cybernetic mode (Bateson, 1972) whereby the change that learning can bring about concerns the correction of the set of alternatives on which the choice is based through the innovation of pre-existing schemas and value frames of reference, and thus learning involves a radical transformation of perspective that implies an awareness of acting as learning subjects and not as subjects passively acquiring information; (ii) by providing learners/members with the opportunity to develop their skills to exert a more radical influence on the choices that affect their being in the world, the ways in which they can participate appropriately in society; (iii) by implementing and consequently enhancing, those skills that provide the indispensable tools for analyzing and identifying the foundations for co-building authentically just and equitable societies; can be configured as a globally understood mode of training capable of finalizing the deliberative processes that are activated within the CoPR to the exercise of that new citizenship that can follow the acquisition of those cognitive tools, metacognitive and socio-relational tools through which the learners/members of CoPR have learned to re-frame their life project not only personally but also socially on the basis of the de-colonization of the imaginary that they have been urged to carry out in order to learn how to re-learn more consciously the way they think, desire and act regardless of the material resources available to them but in relation to their own abilities to transform their resources into personal achievements and social goals;  to ultimately transform knowledge, awareness and actions into ecologically competent behaviors to practice the culture of sustainability of development.

With this in mind, if one can agree with Bronfenbrenner (1979) that the interconnections that run through the different ecological levels, starting from simple and articulated associations arrive at complex and systemic relationships related to the transformation of collective consciousness and general cultural, social and political dimensions, then one can well hope that practicing P4C can also bring about such effects trusting that Lipman (2005) may also be right when he argues that if each community consists of individuals engaged in self-correcting exploration and creativity, by the well-known effect of concentric waves spreading out, as when a stone is thrown into the pond, ever larger, ever more inclusive communities are being formed and if urged to engage in ecologically competent behavior can help usher in an era that the philosopher calls the “Chthulucene” (Haraway, 2019).

This era characterized by the achievement of a balance among all the elements of Nature, based, in turn, on mutual respect and that form of responsibility identified by the neologism response-ability, and modeled perhaps on capabilities (Nussbaum, 2012), calling into question the ability to generate responses in the face of the urgencies of the present that humans must learn to reactivate through sprawling thinking with which to understand that his or her possibility of progress depends on the ability to con- become sympoietically with a con-become that must involve the entire planet, could constitute that contribution of the humanities to harmonize the knowledge of the earth system and actualize, as a result, that cultural transition desired to practice the culture of sustainability of development. 

Part 3: