1st Edition

The Ecological University A Feasible Utopia

By Ronald Barnett Copyright 2018
    228 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    228 Pages 6 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Universities continue to expand, bringing considerable debate about their purposes and relationship to the world. In The Ecological University, Ronald Barnett argues that universities are short of their potential and responsibilities in an ever-changing and challenging environment.

    This book centres on the idea that the expansion of higher education has opened new spaces and possibilities. The university is interconnected with a number of ecosystems: knowledge, social institutions, persons, the economy, learning, culture and the natural environment. These seven ecosystems of the university are all fragile and in order to advance and develop them universities need to engage with each one.

    By looking at matters such as the challenges of learning, professional life and research and inquiry, this book outlines just what it could mean for higher education institutions to understand and realize themselves as exemplars of the ecological university. With bold and original insights and practical principles for development, this radical and transformative book is essential reading for university leaders and administrators, academics, students, and all interested in the future of the university.

    Introduction: The coming of the ecological university Part 1: The idea of the ecological Chapter 1: The idea of ecology Chapter 2: Assembling the pieces Chapter 3: Beyond sustainability Chapter 4: Seven ecosystems Interlude: A Social Ecology of the University Part 2: The ecological university Chapter 5: The eco-university: Principles and maxims Chapter 6: Ecological inquiry Chapter 7: Beyond liquid learning to the ecological learner Chapter 8: Sightings of an ecological curriculum Chapter 9: Towards an ecological professionalism Chapter 10: Engaging the world Part 3: Ecological Audit Chapter 11: The idea of the ecological university: An audit Chapter 12: A university for the whole Earth Coda: A revolution in the offing


    Ronald Barnett is Emeritus Professor of Higher Education at University College London Institute of Education, UK. He has spent a lifetime in advancing a philosophy of higher education, and The Ecological University: A Feasible Utopia represents the culmination of that project.

    The Ecological University really is the book of our age on the idea of the university. It distils and much advances the essence of an argument and thinking about the university that’s been developing in Ron Barnett’s work for the last 25 years - a powerful effort’. 

    Søren S.E. Bengtsen, Associate Professor, Centre for Teaching Development and Digital Media, and Deputy Director, Centre for Higher Education Futures, Aarhus University, Denmark. 


    At a time where higher education everywhere is facing calls for increased social responsibility and change comes Ron Barnett’s visionary proposal for the Ecological University.  Don’t just read this, put it into action!

    Professor Budd Hall, Co-Chair, UNESCO Chair in Community-Based Research and Social Responsibility in Higher Education and Professor of Community Development, University of Victoria, Canada


    This is a timely and important new book by one of the world’s preeminent scholars in higher education. Ron Barnett does not shy away from some of the most pressing problems we face on this planet. The work of constructing feasible utopias involves, as he puts it, ‘the forging of new relationships between the university, humanity and the world’. To this imposing task, Barnett brings a sharp philosophical eye, an openness to new ideas, and a deep sense of ethical commitment. The result is a robust but readable account of the ecological university, a vision that is both realistic and hopeful.

    Peter Roberts, Professor of Education, University of Canterbury, New Zealand


    The position of universities within our society has never been simultaneously more vulnerable nor important. We are under siege from the perfect storm of reduced public finances, the rise of an anti-intellectualist political and populist culture and the dominance of a neoliberal order that requires a financial justification for knowledge advancement rather than the social, environment or cultural benefits that may develop. How should we respond? In this outstanding volume, Ron Barnett presents us with a path forward with the Ecological University. Beyond the traditional use of the term, Barnett outlines how the university is involved in a range of ecologies, from the social and cultural, to the political and environmental. The role of university, Barnett argues, is to apply an ecological philosophy to lead, strengthening and enhance these complex relationships - a message we should be inspired and guided by – before it is too late. The Ecological University may be utopian, but it is certainly feasible.

    James Arvanitakis, Dean of the Graduate Research School, Western Sydney University, Australia and Academic Fellow at the Australia India Institute and Centre for Policy Development.


    Ron Barnett’s odyssey to understand the core purposes rather than surface features of the university has taken more than a quarter of the century, and the dialogue has been as much with himself as us, his many readers. His latest book The Ecological University is much more than the latest adventure in his odyssey. It may read like a culmination, a gathering, but his thesis - now and always - is that the university is necessarily an unfinished project. There can be no homecoming to Ithaca.

    In this book he argues that the university is situated in seven ecosystems, of which the economy is only one (despite the dominant neoliberal discourse that has suborned so many politicians, scholars and even universities themselves). It is from these complex and fluid situations that the Ecological University has emerged, and which free it from imagined constraints and offer it endlessly open possibilities.

    Sir Peter Scott, Emeritus Professor of Higher Education Studies, UCl Institute of Education

    Ron Barnett’s latest book is framed within an ecological parlance of inquiry that accounts for the university on the basis of assemblages, engagements, reflections and sightings. Intelligently and passionately, he justifies the ecological university as a curricular space that is professionally and reflexively engaged within the world in relation to striated and smooth encounters.

    Yusef Waghid, Distinguished Professor of philosophy of education at Stellenbosch University, South Africa


    This is a deeply thoughtful and surprisingly optimistic celebration of the possibilities inherent within our universities from one of our most important theorists of higher education. 

    In this timely book Ron Barnett offers a compelling 'eco-philosophy of the university'.  Countering the narratives in which universities have become unduly wedded to instrumental reason, Barnett offers a utopian vision of the university, one which attends to the more complex ecology of the university -  the engaged and critical university with a deep sense of responsibility to foster the open circulation of ideas.  

    Barnett reminds us that the university is most needed at a moment when it is in peril.   This is essential reading for those who care about the future of our universities. 

    Judith Squires, University of Bristol


    The Ecological University: a feasible utopia' is a hugely important book. It presents a refreshing and hopeful view of higher education that reminds us of the importance of lifting our heads and looking beyond our own narrow measures of institutional performance to the bigger picture. It encourages us to look to the evolution of our universities whilst recognising the influence and fluidity of the ecosystems around us, and reminds us of our duty to work in harmony with them, to support them, and to nurture them.

    The message of this book is clear - it is time for universities to step up, and it is time for us to come together to redress the imbalance that our focus on the 'economic' ecosystem has caused. We must restore faith in experts and in the role that universities play in our society. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone who is reluctant to accept the new 'post-truth' reality that we now find ourselves facing.

    Joy Carter, Vice Chancellor, University of Winchester, UK.


    At a time when higher education’s purpose within the wider society is being questioned and in many ways diminished, there is a pressing need for new conceptions of the nature and purpose of the university. Ronald Barnett’s highly original proposal that we rethink the university as an ecological university is timely, felicitous, and profound. Conceiving the 21st century university as embedded in a network of ecosystems reflects the increasing complexity of universities and their interconnectedness with multiple aspects of the social, cultural, and material worlds. This is essential reading for understanding the nature and purpose of the 21st century university.

    David S. Owen, Professor of Philosophy, University of Louisville