Towards Sustainability: The Role of Knowledge Generation

Transforming Knowledge for Sustainability: Towards Adaptive Academic Institutions

Thaddeus R. Miller, Tischa Muñoz-Erickson, Charles L. Redman in the International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education


Some people believe that there is a gap in between the generation of knowledge by academia and the utilization of said knowledge by society. Miller argues this, where the methods by which academic institutions produce knowledge are currently insufficient in tackling a transition to sustainability. He states that the ability of academic institutions producing knowledge and or predictions about the future have a limited ability to adapt to changing societal conditions or lack the ability to frame problems which address the normative nature of sustainability issues. He challenges the current paradigm for the construction of knowledge through his redefinition of sustainability knowledge as such, it recognizes the complexity of system dynamics, is socially robust, acknowledge by multiple epistemic cultures, and incorporates normative criteria. Miller posits that current knowledge is too static to address the complexities of sustainability issues, and the focus should be on knowledge processing rather than knowledge transfer. An example he proposes is the question on “why do we care about climate change?” rather than addressing the dynamics that lead to climate change; he believes that such a question will lead to academics engaging in research that will allow populations to adapt to both climate change and vulnerability to current weather systems. Through the work he has engaged in, he theorizes five principles to generate knowledge around, namely, “awareness” of the problem and implications of alternate solutions, “stewardship” towards limited natural resources, “creativity” to discover technological solutions and new patterns of behavior, promote “institutions” that encourage learning and adaptation towards changing circumstances, and a sense of “justice” to maximize benefit for the widest range of citizens. To meet this aim, he proposes an adaptive cycle towards the production of sustainability knowledge in which reflexivity and epistemological pluralism are critical conditions that need to be met. The fleshes out this cycle and explains it to significant depth which is worth a look. To end, Miller implores academic institutions to break away from traditional, disciplinary structure of knowledge production and replace it with one that is adaptive towards societal needs and able to co-produce with society knowledge for sustainability.

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