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  • Polina Kireva

i3s Ecological Minds

The international conference “Thinking and building the social and ecological transition – can we teach Utopia?” was held on 6th of June 2018, in i3S (Institute for Innovation and Investigation in Health) of the University of Porto (UPorto).

A multidisciplinary team of researchers presented various perspectives towards the study of and education in utopia. The goal of the event was to invite the university community to reflect on how different disciplines can work together to prepare students to become agents for a different society –

one that enables the change of existing social and mental models towards sustainability.

The conference was opened up with the presentation of the book “Cultures of Sustainability and Wellbeing” by Professor Fátima Vieira.

There were two panel roundtable sessions, followed by discussions with the auditorium. In the first roundtable participated: Anna Olsson (from i3s, UPorto), Fátima Vieira (CETAPS, UPorto), Orfeu Bertolami (Faculty of Sciences, UPorto), Júlio Borlido Santos (i3s, UPorto) as well as Paola Spinozzi and Richard Chapman (from Routes towards Sustainability network, University of Ferrara, Italy).

The second roundtable included Isabel Menezes (CIIE, UPorto), Paulo Magalhães (CIJE, UPorto), Paulo Mota & Paulo Farinha Marques (CIBIO, UPorto), Giangi Franz & Massimiliano Mazzanti (Routes towards Sustainability network, University of Ferrara, Italy).

Both roundtables were followed by very interesting and active Q&A sessions with the participation of students, researchers and other academia, present at the conference.

The conference concluded that it requires efforts on behalf of all fields and levels of academic communication and cooperation: inter-, multi- and transdisciplinary to build up ecological minds – bringers of positive and more sustainable societal change.

Bionotes of the researchers, present in the roundtables:

Fátima Vieira is a researcher in literature and culture with a special interest in Utopian Studies and Food Studies. Over the past two decades, she has made a considerable investment in outreach projects, as she considers the so-called “third mission” of the university to be crucial for the development of our society. She is very much interested in finding new ways of training young researchers to prepare for and contribute to the social and ecological transition that we all need to happen.

Anna Olsson is a researcher in animal welfare and (animal) research ethics. With her background in farm animal production, environmental and social sustainability are important for her outlook on research in a changing world. She finds that the ethical challenges brought about by biotechnology development increasingly highlight bigger social issues which few of us know where or how to address in a constructive way.

Paola Spinozzi has developed comparative and interdisciplinary approaches to the study of literature in relation to utopia as a genre, the visual arts, and science. For many years she has pursued the idea that humanistic and scientific thought form an integrated system of knowledge and representation. She co-coordinates the Routes towards Sustainability network, focusing on the humanities and identifying forms of sustainable wellbeing that can be achieved through the development of diverse biocultures. Starting from the assumption that habitats are physical as well as ontological, ethical, and psychological, she believes that environmental awareness and agency can be strengthened by directing higher education towards the formation of new ecological minds.

Giangi Franz is an architect and planner with an extensive experience in policies and practices for sustainability and local development, strategic spatial and social planning, urban economy, and urban creativity. For more than two decades he has worked with municipalities, regional governments, and local communities, and in 2012 he founded Routes towards Sustainability, an international university network promoting multi- and trans-disciplinary approaches to the development of places, cities, and communities. He has coordinated workshops and designed experimental postgraduate programmes involving European, Latin-American and Japanese universities, among which the MA in Ecopolis, which he directed from 2001 to 2013.

Massimiliano Mazzanti specializes in environmental and ecological economics, with special attention to eco-innovation dynamics, eco-innovation effects on socio-economic performances, environment & development, waste management and policies, economic valuation of non-market goods. He explores microeconomic and macroeconomic perspectives, bringing together theory and economic policy investigations within and outside economics and political economy. A special goal of his has been the use of economic tools for policy relevant analyses and attempt to create synergies between fields and disciplines. Over the last 5 years he has set up SEEDS, a University Research Centre, and directed IAERE - Italian Association of Environmental and Resource Economists.

A background in history gives a cultural and anthropological flavour to Richard Chapman’s linguistic research, while extensive experience in teacher training results in a pragmatic bent in his approach to language. After initial research in language teaching and testing, and publishing various coursebooks in the field, he has developed an interest in the roles of the English language in a global context, exploring the potentialities of English as a lingua franca and using corpus-based research tools to observe the pragmatics and use of English in current political contexts.

Paulo Mota is a researcher in animal behaviour, with main interests in the evolution of communication systems and the value of what is communicated within each animal social system. The ecological and evolutionary continuity of cognitive processes between humans and other animals, revealed by animal behavioural biologists, has changed the way we interact with them and raised a number of ethical issues. He is also very much involved in public engagement with science activities both in museums and through citizen science projects.

Orfeu Bertolami is a theoretical physicist and his research ranges from problems of cosmology, classical and quantum gravity, quantum physics and fundamental physics in space. He has been teaching physics for over 40 years and at university level for the last 30 years. He has been involved in outreach activities involving physics, science and history of science since the start of his professional activity. He has always been a concerned citizen on the long term sustainability of the human civilisation and culture.

Isabel Menezes works in the Department of Educational Sciences. Her research deals with citizenship education and the civic and political participation of children, young people and adults to explore how the "political" has a potential for the agency and empowerment of groups in risk of exclusion. Some recent projects explore the role of participatory research, particularly with children and adolescents, as a means to develop comprehensive and transformative knowledge about a diversity of social and ecological problems. Parallel trends of interest are the social responsibility of universities and doctoral education.

Paulo Magalhães is a researcher on the interactions between human societies and the Earth System as a whole. His primary interest is to contribute to and support new legal solutions that allow representing the global and indivisible Earth System function with the fragmented and divided human societal organisation. To this effect, he proposes to scale-up the legal model of condominiums to the global level.

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