On sustainability and higher education: Towards an affirmative ethics





Sustainability, Higher education, Affirmative ethics, Sustainability education


Sustainable development has been the dominant focus in sustainability discourses over the past three decades. In 2015, the United Nations Member States adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development as a blueprint for peace and prosperity. The agenda is to be driven by the now well-known 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The higher education sector has not been left unaffected by these developments. In 2021, we saw Times Higher Education (2021) for the first time introducing its impact rankings, which assess universities against the United Nation’s SDGs. This new category of the university ranking system may see universities increasingly account for their contributions towards both ecological sustainability and social justice. Paradoxically, higher education would have to embrace SDG targets as a social justice imperative, but within a neoliberal performance architecture and by applying the ethics of neoliberal market fundamentalism. In this article, we trouble the underlying normative, economy first (instrumentalist) assumption and anthropocentric approach to sustainability and its relationship with (higher) education. We argue that sustainability is not a means to an end (instrumentalist), but a social and ethical process that is situated, open and forever inbecoming. In doing so, we draw on Rosi Braidotti’s (2019; 2013) critical, posthumanist perspective, which enables us to perform two methodological moves: 1) a critical philosophical exploration of the concept sustainability and 2) generating affirmative propositions for thinking about sustainability education. At the heart of Braidotti’s (2019; 2013) postulations is the affirmation of hope to enable sustainable transformations and futures. In addition, she proposes an ethics of joy and affirmation that functions through transforming negativity into positivity. Through this affirmative ethical philosophy, we offer alternative imaginings of sustainability and generate six affirmative propositions for sustainability in higher education.


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How to Cite

Du Preez, P., Le Grange, L., Maistry, S., & Simmonds, S. (2022). On sustainability and higher education: Towards an affirmative ethics. Perspectives in Education, 40(3), 118-131. https://doi.org/10.18820/2519593X/pie.v40.i3.8