Metaphors used by some engineering academics in Australia for understanding and explaining sustainability

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Journal Article
Environmental Education Research, 2006, 12 (2), pp. 217 - 231
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Metaphors can be powerful teaching and learning tools which may help us to understand novel, complex or abstract concepts using familiar language and thought structures. Academics routinely use metaphors in their university teaching to explain new or difficult ideas to students. In this article the authors argue that tertiary teachers metaphors for sustainability warrant formal investigation, as they will likely influence the construction and delivery of sustainability curricula. Based on this contention, we conducted in-depth interviews with eight Australian engineering academics which centred around the question What do you mean by sustainability? . From the interview transcripts, we explicated and described four distinctly different metaphors. These were: sustainability as weaving, sustainability as guarding, sustainability as trading, and sustainability as observing limits. We describe each of the metaphors in detail and speculate on some of the underlying assumptions which underpin them. In conclusion, we advance the idea that sustainability might be taught using an explicit multiplicity of metaphors and that each metaphor would express important aspects of the phenomenon of sustainability. This approach would capitalise on the diversity of existing metaphors in the academe, and could result in curricula which reflect the richness and depth that a variety of perspectives can bring to understanding a complex, abstract, flexible concept like sustainability.
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