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Unit information: Research for a Sustainable Society in 2018/19

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Unit name Research for a Sustainable Society
Unit code EFIMM0044
Credit points 20
Level of study M/7
Teaching block(s) Teaching Block 2 (weeks 13 - 24)
Unit director Dr. Gaya
Open unit status Not open

Students to have successfully completed introductory modules on research methods and design (e.g. TB1 modules of qualitative and quantitative methods).



School/department School of Management
Faculty Faculty of Social Sciences and Law


The interrelated crises of degenerated ecosystems, climate change, social dislocations and economic inequalities comprise the greatest challenges facing humanity today so that institutions and organisations, whether government, for-profit, third sector or activist, need urgently to find, promote and implement more sustainable ways of living. This will involve profound changes demanding societal, economic and political transformations. It is therefore imperative that social sciences research directly contributes to the resolution of conflicts and tensions, the examination and assessment of trade-offs and negotiation between competing interests that will invariably result from those changes.

This unit therefore aims to deepen students’ knowledge and appreciation of sustainability issues and to provide them with an understanding of and engagement with a range of qualitative and quantitative methods that are particularly suited to researching sustainability. This is because they are focused on achieving ‘real-world’ impacts as well as producing academic outputs. They include:
• action research and participative research methods, a broad and diverse family of approaches that emphasise the co-generation of practical knowledge that is of direct use to the communities involved as well as theoretical insights
• multi-criteria decision analysis, a set of approaches that allow to account explicitly the multi-dimensionality of the sustainability goal and the complexity of socio-economic and ecological systems
• creative engagements with sustainability issues that draw on the transformative power of the arts.
The unit will be research-led and delivered by researchers drawing on their own experiences of working with a range of organisations and forms of organising in this field.

Intended learning outcomes

At the end of this unit, students will be able to
1. Identify salient sustainability issues with which a range of different types of organisations are attempting to engage.
2. Explain and discuss barriers to achieving greater sustainability such as tension and conflict.
3. Identify, discuss and critically evaluate relevant academic literature.
4. Employ and critically appraise a range of research methods designed to achieve ‘real-world’ impacts as well as generate academic insights.
5. Design and evaluate a research strategy that tackles the sustainability related research problem in a coherent and explicit way.

Teaching details

Lectures and interactive seminars

Assessment Details

Formative assessment
An individual, coursework assignment of 2000 words. Students select a sustainability issue and identify three academic papers relating to that issue, each using a different methodology. They summarise the issue and the papers and evaluate the research method employed in each.

Summative assessment (100% contribution)
An individual coursework assignment of 4000 words. Students select and discuss a sustainability issue and related challenges (ILOs 1 and 2) drawing on relevant academic literature (ILO 3). They identify, discuss and critically evaluate a research method appropriate for working towards a resolution of that issue (ILO 4) and outline an appropriate research design (ILO 5).

Reading and References

McDonough, W., & M. Braungart. 2002. Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way we Make Things. New York, N.Y.: North Point Press
Esty, D., & A. Winston. 2006 Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value and Build Competitive Advantage. Yale University Press
Linkov, I. & E. Moberg. 2011 Multi-Criteria Decision Analysis: Environmental Applications and Case Studies. CRC Press
Reason, P., & Bradbury, H. (Eds.) 2010. The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. Second edition. London: SAGE.
Bradbury, H. (Eds.) 2015. The SAGE Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. Third edition. London: SAGE.
Coghlan, D. & Brydon-Miller, M. (Eds). 2015. The SAGE Encyclopedia of Action Research. London: SAGE.

There is no single text that covers creative engagements with issues of sustainability. Instead, a range of articles in journals and books is recommended, to include:
Gaya, P, & Phillips M.E., 2015. ‘Imagining a sustainable future: Eschatology, Bateson’s ecology of mind and arts-based practice’, Organization, published online before print December 7, doi: 10.1177/1350508415619240.
Gaard, G., 2015. From ‘cli-fi’ to critical ecofeminism: Narratives of climate change and climate justice’ in in M.E. Phillips & N. Rumens (eds), Contemporary Perspectives on Ecofeminism, London: Routledge, 169-192.
Phillips, M.E., 2015. ‘Developing ecofeminist corporeality: Writing the body as activist poetics’ in M.E. Phillips & N. Rumens (eds), Contemporary Perspectives on Ecofeminism, London: Routledge, 57-75.
Phillips, M.E. 2014 ‘Re-writing corporate environmentalism: Ecofeminism, corporeality and the language of feeling’, Gender, Work & Organization, 21:5, 443-458.
Plumwood, V. 1996. ‘Being Prey’ in J. O’Reilly, S. O’Reilly & R. Sterling (eds) The Ultimate Journey: Inspiring Stories of Living and Dying, Palo Alto, CA: Travelers Tales.