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Global project objectives

A wide range of Anthropocene issues have now emerged in the public debate in the last decade, the best known of which being climate change. Simultaneously, the demand for educational content (especially university courses) dealing with these issues is growing everywhere, and it is fair to say that a large number of higher education institutions have not yet been able to deal with this increasing pressure in a satisfactory way. In fact, many university colleagues are ill equipped to cover the broad interdisciplinary content required to offer comprehensive course material.

The Anthropocene FACTS project aims at addressing this shortcoming in two complementary ways:

The objective of this educational material is to collect and present existing knowledge bearing on these issues and to foster the development of critical skills and systemic global thinking among university students. Controversial issues within and/or among various areas of science, in particular social sciences, will be covered in the course material, in a balanced and critical manner. To this effect, relevant methodological and epistemic issues shall also be discussed. Given the intrinsic transdisciplinary nature of this endeavor, these productions will be based on a contributory development logic, to integrate the widest possible expertise. 

Productions and dissemination

At first, the project productions will take the form of teaching material (precisely annotated slides, with references where appropriate), pedagogical contributions (content testing through the organization of summer schools, training of teachers) and subsequent derivative productions (booklets, technical sheets for secondary education). In the long term, we aim to produce also course books (in particular for higher education) and videos. The contributions will be produced in English initially. Our ambition is to translate a maximum of contributions into the main European languages.

The content development strategy is inspired by the dynamics of the free software community. It is based on the integration of peer contributions, for a variety of reasons: methodological and scientific soundness of the contents, incorporation of various perspectives where and when needed. This will foster the contributions of project members to various aspects of the project with different roles, and the adaptation of the pedagogical content for various purposes and uses. The creation of this content will follow a peer review process supervised by the scientific committee.

All contents will be issued under a Creative Commons free license (CC-BY-SA). All contributions will be acknowledged through citations (regardless of the role of the various contributors).

Epistemic positioning

The question of methodological soundness may not be consensual, in particular within social sciences. Economics, for example, is well-known to harbor different schools of thought, some of which do not even agree on the formal founding principles of the discipline. The underlying epistemological problem can be formulated at two different levels:

  1. Generic level. What is the object/objective of social sciences? What are the conditions of production of valid scientific knowledge in social sciences, and what are the different positions on this question? These questions depends on the social science under discussion, in particular on the extent methodological aspects are consensual within a particular field.
  2. Specific issues. Given a particular topic (e.g., economics of climate change), what are the various points of view? What are their respective weak/blind points and strong points? What is controversial and why? This can be discussed within the field concerned by the specific topic under discussion (e.g., within economics as a scientific discipline, from the points of view of various schools of thought) or from the point of view of different disciplines (e.g., economic sociology or political science).

The first level can lead to substantial discussions, even in an introductory lecture. In any case, the epistemic posture aimed at in the Anthropocene FACTS project falls within some form of realism (see next paragraph). In particular, forms of post-structural/postmodern attitudes reducing all scientific knowledge and understanding to an opinion arising from specific historical and political circumstances are not considered as scientific. This does not imply that scientific knowledge, especially in social sciences, is not contextualized; quite clearly, at the very least, specific social, political and historical contexts do shape specific scientific questions. 

“Realism” in the above sentence means that social phenomena have an intrinsic existence, and that social sciences aim at uncovering not only “facts” but also underlying causal processes (keeping in mind that the more abstract the facts, the more constructed they are). One key point here is that this realist stance has practical consequences on what can be considered as methodologically sound in the various areas of social sciences. At the introductory level aimed at for the Spring School, we may envision a quick overview of the various realist schools of thought.