Learning from Bad Practice in Environmental and Sustainability Education

by Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard (Author)
©2018 Textbook X, 176 Pages


Learning from Bad Practice in Environmental and Sustainability Education illuminates the notion of bad practice from the perspective of environmental and sustainability education (ESE) and how it is possible to learn from it in order to avoid the relentless pitfalls and blind spots that are part of any educational field. Combining lessons from Danish and South Korean NGOs involved in both formal and non-formal ESE with emerging theoretical perspectives on education, the important question is: Why do practitioners, educators and researchers have such a hard time dealing with the challenges of bad practice and is it possible to understand bad practice as not only something that mars the educational purpose of ESE, but also as something that at the same time protects the very ideals we find in the fields. Through empirical analysis, and theoretical perspectives from Jacques Lacan and Slavoj Slavoj Žižek, Learning from Bad Practice in Environmental and Sustainability Education argues how we, as teachers, practitioners and researchers can learn from bad practice and move beyond the comfortable position of finger pointing and push for more genuine good practice.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Acknowledgments
  • Chapter 1. Bad Practice?
  • Learning from Bad Practice
  • Environmental Education vs. Education for Sustainable Development vs. Environmental and Sustainability Education
  • Studying Bad Practice
  • Denmark and South Korea
  • An Accelerating Analysis
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 2. Danish and South Korean Environmental and Climate Change NGOs
  • The NGOs and Civil Society
  • Civil Society and Environmental NGOs—South Korea
  • Civil Society and Environmental NGOs—Denmark
  • The Korean and Danish Environmental and Climate Change NGOs
  • South Korean and Danish Environmental NGOs—Spanning Different Societies
  • South Korean Environmental and Climate Change NGOs
  • Danish Environmental and Climate Change NGOs
  • Environmental NGOs with Educational Aspirations
  • Note
  • References
  • Chapter 3. Why Educators Engage with Non-Formal ESE
  • South Korean Non-Formal ESE—Ideals of Radical Change
  • Danish Non-Formal ESE—Ideals of Gradient Transition
  • Ideals as a Driving Force?
  • References
  • Chapter 4. The Significance of ESE Ideals
  • The Importance of Perceptions, a Lacanian Take on the Perceived
  • The Significance of Non-Formal ESE Ideals
  • The Symbolic, the Imaginary, and the Real
  • Global Climate, “Sustainability,” and the Symbolic Big Other
  • The Global Climate as the Lacanian Real
  • The Big Other of “Sustainability” and “Climate Change”
  • Objet Petit a and the Cause for Desire
  • What Do You Want from Me?
  • References
  • Chapter 5. Understanding Fields of Learning
  • Youth in South Korea and Denmark
  • Daily Life
  • Emotions and Rationality
  • Conflict and Consensus
  • Four Fields of Learning
  • What is the Significance of “Fields of Learning”?
  • Fields of Learning as Ideological Phantasms
  • The Mirror Stage
  • The Great Lure of “Participation” and “Interactivity”
  • The NGOs and the Constant Risk of False Activity
  • The Public as the Subject Supposed to Know
  • The Fall of “Sustainability” and “Climate Change”
  • Notes
  • References
  • Chapter 6. New Perspectives on Bad Practice
  • Everyday Bad Practice
  • Bad Practice as Disavowal
  • The Need for Cynical Identification
  • Two Levels of Bad Practice
  • Traversing the Phantasm of “Sustainability” and “Climate Change”
  • References
  • Chapter 7. Learning from Bad Practice
  • Critique of the Critique—Mixing Lacan, Žižek, and Empirical Analysis
  • The Inescapable Enlightenment
  • Changing Practice—the Educational Efforts of the Danish and South Korean NGOs
  • Theoretical Perspectives—Rethinking Bad Practice
  • References
  • Series index

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The concept of bad practice and how to understand it has shaped the better part of the last decade of my life. I have discussed this endlessly with all who wanted to listen and great thanks goes out to all of them. Jeppe Læssøe has guided me on my intellectual journey into the field of environmental end sustainability education and always remained generous with his thoughts and insights. Alan Reid and David Kronlid gave me my baptism by fire as they took an interest in my work on bad practice and insisted that the key to survival in international academia is as much intellectual hardship as it is having fun and enjoying the academic processes. Justin Dillon and Connie Russel, the editors of the Peter Lang Book series on [Re]thinking Environmental Education took me under their wing and endured my endless questions during the last couple of years. Friends outside of academia also contributed throughout the years with Signe Andreasen Lysgaard being my greatest and dearest critic, Malthe Ibsen Sørensen being a staunch critical friend, Ida Schacht Rosenbäck saving me again and again and Olle Mølgaard Bang designing a truly fitting cover. Thank you all. Finally, the continued discussions among the colleagues in the REAL-research collective continues to provide stimuli that should see me into several coming decades of working on bad (and perhaps even better) practice.

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Finally! After weeks, months even, of late nights at the office, endless meetings and hours poured into typing more or less interesting reports, vacation has arrived. Two full weeks of time off for you and your family. So what to do? Where to go? What the local suburb lacks in sunshine, warm beaches and rolling waves might be found in other places. A tropical island might be just the thing. France should be wonderful this time of the year. Or what about a luxurious stay at a Moroccan Kasbah, which might bring smiles back and ensure a proper tan that will smooth over the inevitable return to the 9 to 5 routines?

While the individual urge to escape to sunny and exotic places might be strong, the related toll on environment and climate can be hard to justify: The flight alone to such a wondrous place will spew tons of CO2 into the atmosphere, not counting the consequences of the subsequent overconsumption of (not so) local enjoyments. Everybody knows flying and tourism have the potential to wreak havoc on climate and local environments. But what to do? Certainly staying back home will not make things much better, and you are, after all, not an extremist, but an environmentally conscious citizen and consumer wanting to do the least harm and potentially some good for both planet and people. An eco-vacation perhaps? Hiking in the woods and scavenging your own food? Not always much fun, especially not in November ← 1 | 2 → in the northern hemisphere. The need to ensure your own wellbeing clashes with your convictions of what good practice is, and perhaps this time you really need a vacation enough to justify a little bit of harm to the planet. After all, what difference do you make in the big picture?

This book is about these dilemmas; how they can lead to bad practice and how we can understand them better and learn from them. There are times when you know what you should do but your life and the structures that support it lead you to do something else, something that you consider “bad.”. Bad practice can be understood as what you need to uphold in order to sustain your life, and lifestyle, but which still clashes with your ideas of what is right and wrong in the bigger picture. This book is not about pointing fingers or making bad practice go away by snapping them; this book is about dilemmas such as the one described above, where your convictions about what you and others should do in order to help the environment and mitigate climate change clashes with the everyday life that dictate what you can and cannot choose.

The point is not intended to eradicate bad practice. Instead, I argue that we can learn from real world examples of the everyday hardship that ideas of best practice bring about and not simply dismiss bad practice as something that we need to get rid of. In order to develop this perspective throughout this book, I differentiate between bad practice as an everyday term that is used in a wealth of different settings in order to describe something unwanted, and the capitalized Bad practice as an analytical concept that draws on the everyday use of bad practice. In the following, I develop the notion of Bad practice based on the examples of and perspectives on bad practice drawn from environmental and sustainability education in South Korea and Denmark.

I understand Bad practice as an analytical effort that tries to deal with empirical bad practice along the lines of the Rittel and Webber’s concept of wicked problems. From my perspective, bad practices are often exactly wicked in that they are issues difficult or impossible to solve because of incomplete, contradictory, and changing requirements that are often difficult to recognize (Rittel & Webber, 1973), and as with wicked problems, my use of the term “bad” points toward resistance to resolution, rather than “evil” (APSC, 2007). This book is about learning from Bad practice in order to enrich our practice and theories of environmental and sustainability education so that we, as teachers, educators, researchers, and citizens can develop and strengthen ESE practices and avoid large-scale interpassivity and disillusioned educators and students in practice. ← 2 | 3 →

Learning from Bad Practice

Through this book I examine the notion of Bad practice in educational settings and seek to understand how we, as individual educators, teachers, students, and researchers, seem to be up to our necks in various kinds of bad practice and how this might not always be such a bad thing. What can we learn from bad practice, and how can we support “best practice” through understanding the seemingly unavoidable scores of bad practices that seep through in so many daily settings?

This focus on bad practice and the need to develop analytical perspectives on the notion emerged during my time as a PhD student. I was new to the field of environmental and sustainability education (ESE) research and loved every minute. I had finally encountered a chance to develop my passion for research and my ideals of contributing to a better world. As I grew accustomed to the field and its history, it became clear that even the researchers involved in this field had a very hard time getting anywhere near actually living a sustainable or environmentally friendly life. Within my first couple of years in academia I had travelled around the globe several times in order to attend conferences, participate in projects, and engage with interesting projects. The practices that underpin a research field such as ESE research can be considered deeply unsustainable, at least when doing the simple CO2 emission math. At the same time, the field seems to be obsessed with identifying and promoting examples of promising practice and best practice, in addition to their close relatives, evidence-based practice and the seemingly subtler evidence-informed practice (e.g. Corcoran, Walker, & Wals, 2004; Hargreaves, 1997; Oliver & Conole, 2003; Rickinson, 2001). Such perspectives are often expressed in research projects that focus on collecting examples of “best practice,” and then analyzing and showcasing them in the hope that the mechanisms of a given best practice can be transferred from one setting to another, or simply inspire a little less bad practice (Van Poeck & Lysgaard, 2016). At times, this approach works, but more often than not it seems very difficult to translate a specific best practice, with all its ties to a unique and varied context, to another time and place. Another popular strategy is to condense a given practice into a simplified and detached best practice. While this approach may work at times, it also leads to huge issues with seemingly oversimplified answers to complex and contextually bound questions.

As time passed, my focus on best practices and the impossibility of living up to them in research spurred my interest in notions of best and bad ← 3 | 4 → practices, not only at a research level (even though that would be interesting as well), but within the ESE practices in Denmark and South Korea that I was studying, and how people dealt with concepts of bad practice in their everyday lives and practices. The result of that focus now forms the basis for this book. I have no wish to point fingers at any particular efforts to use concepts of best practice in order to change what researchers, teachers, or even societies might find wrong. This is a time-honored approach, and as a researcher I am often involved in studies that can present new opportunities for learning and change. By investigating the concept of bad practice and how it reveals itself in empirical settings and through theoretical analysis, the hope is to argue that: (1) bad practice might not be only bad, and at times can even be understood as a way of coping with the often impossible contradictions that surround each individual in modern society, and; (2) investing too heavily in quixotic ideals of best practice shuts down some of the educational potential that, I will argue, is a feature of many bad practices.

When examining bad practices, and how we can learn from them, I focus on how meaning is created by the individual in contemporary society, and especially on how different notions of the “rational” are constructed, often entailing choices that are seemingly rational and common sense, but which, in the bigger picture, might prove counterproductive to fulfilling notions of the good life. Issues linked to best/promising/good and especially bad practice will guide this endeavor as I examine what rationalities are at play within the field of ESE in a range of contexts and how these correlate with the actions and perceptions of educators and practitioners.


X, 176
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Oxford, Wien, 2018. X, 176 pp.

Biographical notes

Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard (Author)

Jonas Andreasen Lysgaard (PhD 2012, Aarhus University, Denmark) is Associate Professor in Education Science and Global Social Challenges at Aarhus University, Denmark. He has published widely on notions of bad practice and new notions of materialisms in education. His recent publications include: "Education between discourse and matter," in Nature in Education (Peter Kemp, Ed., 2015), with Kristoffer Lolk Fjeldsted, and "The significance of ‘participation’ as an educational ideal in education for sustainable development and health education in schools," in Environmental Education Research (2015), with Venka Simovska.


Title: Learning from Bad Practice in Environmental and Sustainability Education
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188 pages