Ronald Barnett, On the possibilities and responsibilities of the ecological university.

[excerpts from The Ecological University: A Feasible Utopia] The ecological university understands its interconnectedness with the world but also actively seeks to do what it can through these connections to advance the wellbeing of the world; it assists its advancement. (Barnett, 2018: 33-34). It identifies large themes and practical projects on which disciplines can work together and bring their contrasting perspectives to bear (ibid: 36). The ecological university is no simple assemblage. But ‘ecology’ may just play a part in imparting some direction to its paths of possibilities and so energizing the university, while hinting at an ethical stance of a certain kind towards the world (ibid: 40). Barnett introduces seven ecosystems as ‘spaces of flows’, zones with which the ecological uni can engage with its world:

The knowledge ecology | Habermas posited three: scientific, technical and hermeneutic the technical having colonized the other two. However, a. digital age has brought multimodality, widening a more social form of knowledge, b. besides academic knowledge there is the embodiment of understandings of particular worlds, c. knowledge is influenced by mega-corporations, d. cultural knowledge is getting revenue-generating dimensions. The ecological potential of universities is thus considerably expanded.

The ecology of social institutions | There is an isomorphism between unis and organizations but there exist extreme variations across them based on their financial and cognitive power and their value orientations. However, a. rival value systems can be there even if there is a dominant value set, b. unis are encouraged to trade with orgs, c. orgs have an interest in engaging with unis.

The ecology of persons | the relation of humans to the world: for some, human subjectivity is torn apart or manufactured, for others, there exist as possibility of the emancipation of human psyche within society. However, time is speeded up and space are compressed. Unis contain individuals who are bound to be subject to managing their own subjectivity. Second, unis have a responsibility for the formation of their students. Liberal and utilitarian education friction resurfaces: is education about the whole person or a contribution to economic growth? A wider ecosystem of persons is finding their way into education.

The ecology of the economy | Unis constitute a large portion of any economy and have become points of investment: they are a business and they are expected to contribute to the growth of business. Thus are required to demonstrate a measurable impact, preferably an economic one. The ecological uni widens the sense of economy. Its resources go beyond the financial realm and its investments have an ethical dimension.

The ecology of learning | Knowledge capitalism encourages an environment that is increasingly competitive, individualized and oriented towards capital gain. The social world, however, is unwilling to accept this economically loaded script and multiple learning ecologies are emerging as social and individual level. A new learning ecosphere is developing bringing new possibilities to uni.

The ecology of culture | The emergence of rationality was a story of a society freeing itself from culture. However, the ecological uni cannot be culture free: it turns on culture of concern.

The natural environment | Towards a sense of being imbued with nature, having a due concern for it. Not oriented towards restoration, but the strengthening of the natural world itself.


Barnett, R. (2018). The Ecological University: A Feasible Utopia. London, New York: Routledge.

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