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Environmental Responsibility through Social Construct Analysis: Insights from a Twenty Year Experiment

  • Frank Fisher (a1)


Maurice Strong's UN environment conference in Stockholm, 1972, provided international legitimacy for environmental concerns. From that springboard a number of Australian universities established the nation's first environmental studies programs, all Masters degrees. Ten years later Monash University made its program's first and only substantial transformation, a formal obligatory (‘core’) introduction to transdisciplinary thinking. This special sectionof the AJEE offers six examples of student writings from that attempt. They are drawn from the work of the year 1999 students who undertook part 1 of the three part core subject Systems Thinking and Practice.

In 1979, seven years after its commencement, an Ad Hoc Committee to Review the Master of Environmental Science Program at Monash University proposed to ‘integrate the diversity of subjects that comprise the core’ and to minimise the ‘dangers of superficiality … and narrow specialisation’. No further guidance was given as to what this meant nor how it was to be done. Nevertheless, from this seed began the intellectual transformation the program. No additional funding was provided. The project was simply supported by the good will of staff from various faculties. To date a thousand students have wrestled with the new program in one form or another.



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Bateson, G. 1973, Steps to an Ecology of Mind, Bantam, N. Y.
Bateson, G. 1980, Mind and Nature: A Necessary Unity, Bantam, N.Y.
Fisher, F. 1991, ‘Society not science should be the arbiter’, The Age, 29/10, pp. 20–19.
Fisher, F. 1993a, ‘Dissolving the stranglehold of the fix: A role for social construction in dealing with environmental dislocation’, and 1993b, ‘Emergence of a circumspect society: Introducing reflexive institutions’, Futures, 25, 10, a: pp. 10511062 and b: pp. 1077-1082.
Fisher, F. 1994, ‘Crossing thought borders’, The Australian, 8 06, p. 26.
Fisher, F. 1995, ‘Understanding the context of action: Playing a role in shaping our urban environment’, Community Quarterly, 35, pp, 411.
Fisher, F. 1996a, ‘Stop seeing microbes as aliens that must be nuked’, letter followed by responses under the general title: ‘Learn to live and let live’, The Australian, 04 22, p. 10 and April 26, p. 12.
Fisher, F. 1996b, ‘Transdisciplinary Teaching: Overcoming the inevitable dislocation in applying science without regard to its context’ in W., Gasparski, et al. ed, Social Agency, Praxiology Yearbook 4, pp. 157176.
Fisher, F. 1996c, ‘The Fourth E’, IEA Trans. Multi-Disciplinary Engineering, GE20, 1, pp. 1929.
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Fisher, F. 2000a, ‘Environmental science for the Third Millenium: Development of a Metascience’, Eingana, vol. 23, no. 3, pp. 35.
Fisher, F. 2000b, ‘Environmental science as a social science’ in Michie, J., ed, Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences Vol. 1, Fitzroy Dearborn, London, pp. 487490.
Hacking, I. 2000, The Social Construction of What? Harvard U.P., Cambridge.
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Lilienfeld, R. 1978, The Rise of Systems Theory. An Ideological Analysis, Wiley, N.Y.
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Miller, J. 1978, Living Systems, McGraw Hill, N.Y.
Ritiel, H. 1982, ‘Systems analysis of the “First & Second Generations'”’ in Laconte, P., et al. eds, Human Energy Factors in Urban Planning, NATO Advanced Study Institute, Series D, B.S.S. no. 12, Nijhoff, pp. 3563.
Roberts, A. 1979, The Self-Managing Environment, Allison & Busby, London.
Schumacher, E. 1976, A Guide for the Perplexed, Cape, London.
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Waddington, C. 1977, Tools for Thought, Paladin, London.
Whitehead, A. 1985, Science and the Modern World, Free Association, London.


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