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Part II KNOWLEDGE BUILDING Learning in Civic Ecology Practice 105 Chapter 5 THE NATURE OF TRANSFORMATIVE LEARNING FOR SOCIAL-ECOLOGICAL SUSTAINABILITY Martha Chaves and Arjen E. J. Wals Learning seems to be the talk of the town nowadays. Once the exclusive domain of the educational sciences and learning psychology,and restricted to formal education , learning has become a key mechanism for realizing change, adaptation, innovation, and transitions in the context of the grand sustainability challenges of our time. Such challenges include slowing down the extinction crisis, ensuring food and nutrition security, and countering rising inequality and runaway climate change. Sustainability can be understood as an emergent property of complex interactions that bring about the well-being of planet Earth, including all forms of life, now and in the future. Such well-being necessitates the processes of living within the constraints of a dynamic equilibrium between continuity and discontinuity, growth and decay, uncertainty and clarity, and disruption and adaptation. Dealing with such seemingly intractable challenges or “wicked” problems (Brown, Harris, and Russell 2010; Rittel and Webber 1973) calls for a wide range of learning configurations: learning individuals, learning organizations, learning networks, learning communities, and even learning societies. This, however, does not imply just any kind of learning; the learning required for breaking with dominant and resistant unsustainable routines and systems is learning that makes explicit—and asks us to continuously reflect on—our assumptions, values, and ways of seeing the world (Wals 2015). This is learning that also reveals the powers and inequities that tend to keep things the way they are or force us in directions we may not want to go—in other words, learning that questions what is taken for 106 KNOWLEDGE BUILDING granted, the normalized, the hegemonic, and the routine. Further, it is learning that enables us to make changes and to transform others and ourselves, while learning from this process. To complicate things, all this needs to happen in a world that is in constant flux—a world where what we thought was true yesterday turns out to be quite different today. This is a world where what we think works well in the Bronx in New York may not work very well in de Bijlmer in Amsterdam, and not at all in Temeke in Dar es Salaam, or in an eco-village in Colombia. We might call this reflective learning, or more introspective and interactive reflexive learning (Ryan 2005; Dyke 2009). Reflexive learning can assume a critical and even disruptive quality, transforming and transgressing stubbornly resistant patterns and systems based on undesirable foundations and values (Lotz-Sisitka et al. 2015). Being or becoming reflective—let alone being or becoming reflexive—does not come easily. In fact, people tend to avoid the deeper questions and to steer away from the feeling of unease caused by friction, disruptions, or dissonance (Barker 2003).Yet it is these tensions and inner conflicts that create the kind of energy and questioning needed to learn in terms of rethinking the way we think,and when the conditions are right,cocreating new ways of thinking,seeing,and doing (Mezirow 2000b; O’Sullivan, Morrell, and O’Connor 2002). This requires going deeper into our habits and assumptions to interrogate the foundations of our practices (Argyris and Schön 1978) and to enable participants in multi-stakeholder settings to redesign and cocreate new practices that, at least for the time being, are more sustainable than the ones they seek to replace (Pahl-Wostl et al. 2008). “Boundary crossing,” where people, ideas, and practices that transgress traditional boundaries come together to make a change, often enables this type of deeper learning (Star and Griesemer 1989; Crona and Parker 2012; Krasny and Dillon 2013). Civic ecology practices might represent a space for deeper learning , whereby everyday people set out to discover, understand, and address local problems through trial and error, often in partnership with NGOs and local, regional, or national governments (Krasny et al. 2013). However, we know little about both the nature of learning in civic ecology practices and the outcomes of such learning. Are citizens engaged in boundary crossing in multi-stakeholder environments able to transform and transgress resistant patterns and systems that contribute to local and global systemic dysfunction? What might be some levers and barriers for such learning and the possibilities for designing spaces, physical and social, that facilitate boundary crossing? To address these questions we begin by exploring design principles for boundary crossing that contributes to transformative learning in civic ecology...


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