Southern African Journal of Environmental Education

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Problematising development in sustainability: epistemic justice through an African ethic

Siseko Hudson Kumalo


This paper critically engages with the concept of development through an analysis of epistemological justice in education for sustainable development (ESD) and presents alternative strategies for adaptation of the concept in the South. Many definitional challenges still surround development studies. The paper draws on the work of Wolfgang Sachs (1999) who asserts that the notion of sustainability has been consumed by development, presenting a view of sustainability which challenges the current and dominant economically driven hegemonic development discourse in which sustainability has become embedded. Further useful perspectives for this paper are offered by Amartya Sen (2001) who refers to development as a form of freedom. Sachs (1999) maintains that global definitions of development cement the dominant hegemonic discourse of the leading North, which has resulted in an obfuscation of the epistemological contribution from the South. The paper argues that, in the integration of congruent and enabling conceptual frameworks, allowing epistemic justice and validating the lived experience of learners through socially responsive pedagogical frameworks, South Africa is beginning to respond to the global environmental crisis. At the core of the paper is the question of whether an African ethical position advances the attainment of sustainability objectives. The paper concludes by positing a shift in scholastic and social understandings of development, and redefining the term from a changing terrain which may seem immutable with the current environmental crisis.

Keywords: Epistemology, development, pedagogy, justice, African ethics

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