Sustainable development and social learning: Re-contextualising the space of orientation

  • 12 September 2016

Volume 62, Issue 5, pp 563–586

Author: Terri Seddon (Faculty of Education and Arts, Australian Catholic University)


In the lead-up to the 2007 Australian federal election, Labor candidate Kevin Rudd described climate change as the “great moral challenge of our generation”. In the years since then, the heat in Australia has been rising – in terms of both temperature and climate politics –, but government action has slowed down. Endorsement of economic growth is prioritised, with only intermittent recognition of environmental costs. At grassroots level, citizens’ attitudes are influenced by social norms. This kind of social learning is a major constraint on sustainability. Therefore, it seems useful to consider how educators might help build sustainable futures. To understand how historical context entangles social learning in ways that complicate policies associated with Education for Sustainable Development (ESD) and practices of Education for Sustainability (EfS), the author of this paper draws on the concept of “space of orientation”. Focusing on adult education, she traces the contradiction between “globalisation” and “sustainability” through policy logics, relational practices in Australian adult education and the “necessary utopia” which provides a point of reference for making futures. She argues that spaces of orientation are a critical resource in this era of intensifying conflicts of interest between economic priorities of globalisation and environmental priorities intended to slow global warming, because they mediate context and orient learning in ways that clear a path towards sustainability through the entangled histories of this present.

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