HEMS 4: Towards environmental justice in the UK: Educating for inclusive environmental volunteering and conservation

Faculty: Health, Education, Medicine and Social Care

Supervisors: Dr Elsa Lee, Dr Alison Greig, Poshendra Satyal (external), and Dr Helen Wheeler

Interview date: 21 March 2022

Environmental justice refers to the inequities in both the sources and experiences of the impacts of unsustainable environmental practices. This concept has been addressed internationally and across a range of disciplines, but until recently it has not featured in either education nor in how British society conceptualises the social consequences of environmental degradation.

Movements like Fridays for Future, and Black Lives Matter have brought these issues into sharper focus. There is now a critical need to understand how best to approach environmental justice through education in the UK, where engagement with environmental issues is intensifying, partly catalysed by COP26 (Glasgow).

This effort is underpinned by a longstanding tradition of world leading research. However, there is growing consensus about the need to diversify the research community and engage with members of communities long excluded. This is particularly true of volunteering in conservation organisations.

The successful candidate will be able to access underrepresented social groups and will focus on a sample of volunteer-based conservation organisations to:

  • use ethnographic methods to map the barriers and enablers to diverse engagement and their effect on voluntary conservation activities
  • develop guidelines and recommendations for the co-production of just and inclusive conservation practices and education
  • develop materials to improve education and training and community engagements programmes provided by volunteer-based environmental organisations in the UK.

The candidate will use ethnographic methods over a 1214 month period with two or three UK community-based organisations that are actively working to improve the inclusivity of their volunteering programmes. Participating organisations will be selected through purposive sampling, drawing on the supervisory team’s extensive networks.

The aim will be to generate a depth of knowledge co-produced with communities, that will allow for the development of a model through thick descriptions of the kinds of barriers that under-represented groups face, that reveal the implicit and unconscious biases that might characterise these spaces. The data will comprise ethnographic fieldnotes from participant observation and transcripts of interview and focus group discussions with a range of organisational and community members.

One possible theoretical framework for this work is Sandra Harding’s Strong Objectivity, which argues that including a diversity of epistemologies can improve the objectivity of scientific knowledge (and thus the effectiveness of education programmes and volunteering programmes).

Another potential framework is pluriversality as conceptualised by Arturo Escobar, based on studying waterway regeneration projects in Columbia. Pluriversal thinking suggests creating equitable spaces for a multiplicity of voices to be included in knowledge production relating to environmental activities capacitates addressing problems holistically and effectively. The candidate will explore the analytic power of these frameworks.

The transdisciplinary supervisory team includes environmental educationalists, natural scientists and conservationists, as our publication and supervisory records demonstrate. The team has extensive experience of researching and working with environmental organisations supporting volunteer and education programmes and research degree supervision.

If you would like to discuss this research project prior to application please contact elsa.lee@aru.ac.uk

Apply online by 27 February 2022.

Funding notes

This successful applicant for this project will receive a Vice Chancellor’s PhD Scholarship which covers Home tuition fees and provides a UKRI equivalent minimum annual stipend for three years. For 2022/3 this will be £15,609 per year. The award is subject to the successful candidate meeting the scholarship terms and conditions. Please note that the University asserts the right to claim any intellectual property generated by research it funds.

Download the full terms and conditions.