Concept development and transformative agency in the forging of a Campus Sustainability Statement : Insights from a Change Laboratory research-intervention.

Scahill, John and Bligh, Brett (2022) Concept development and transformative agency in the forging of a Campus Sustainability Statement : Insights from a Change Laboratory research-intervention. PhD thesis, Lancaster University.

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With HEIs increasingly expected to provide leadership and guidance on the global challenges of climate change and sustainability, a body of literature has emerged concerned with embedding and implementing sustainability in HE. Prominent narratives in that literature discuss different approaches to implementing and embedding sustainability, identify the associated drivers and challenges, and debate the nature of the role that HE should play. However, relatively little attention has been focused on the processes by which stakeholders come together and develop their own concepts and frameworks, or how doing so develops the agency of those stakeholders to drive action in an institution. This thesis examines how stakeholders jointly developed a Campus Sustainability Statement (CSS) in their institution—subsequently launched in February 2017—and how doing so involved manifesting their transformative agency. It draws upon data from a Change Laboratory research-intervention project, in which participants came together in workshops to discuss and enact sustainability-related change in their institution over the course of five months, leading to several outcomes including proposals for academic programmes and a university research centre as well as the CSS. The analysis, which draws on workshop recordings and semi-structured interviews, uses a framework of concept development and transformative agency derived from the tradition of activity theory. The analysis first explores how the series of workshops unfolded; narrows the focus to consider the development of the CSS concept and associated manifestations of agency; and then highlights how the development of the CSS concept and participants’ agency were related. The thesis derives a range of themes relating to the relationship between the development of agency and the concept, highlighting how certain forms of agency can lead to major conceptual shifts while others typically lead to refinement. Manifestations of agency such as resisting and criticising in particular, played an important role in developing the CSS concept. The formulation of the CSS was heavily shaped by early criticism of the researcher’s initial ideas; principled resistance changed the direction of the research-intervention at key moments; and ongoing criticism served to encourage refinement of the concept throughout much of the research-intervention. Conversely, the CSS was specifically developed by participants in ways that were designed to embed agency into the concept. This work contributes to the literature on implementing SHE by emphasising the important role that collaborative concept development has to play in terms of addressing terminological barriers, engendering support from staff and developing the transformative agency of those involved in the process.

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Thesis (PhD)
?? change laboratorysustainability in higher educationsustainabilityactivity theoryconcept developmenttransformative agencyformative interventioninsider researchexpansive learning ??
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18 Jan 2022 17:55
Last Modified:
11 Jun 2024 23:32