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Critical emotional awareness as a key competence in education for a sustainable future
Örebro University, School of Law, Psychology and Social Work, Örebro University, Sweden. (Psykologi)ORCID iD: 0000-0002-6613-5974
2016 (English)In: Competence 2016: International conference on competence theory, research and practice / [ed] Mulder, M., Wesselink, R., Biemans, H. & Lans, T., 2016, 552-557 p.Conference paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

Problem domain

Education for sustainable development (ESD) is one important tool to handle global problems such as climate change. Some researchers argue that ESD should focus on transformative learning aimed at critical awareness and change of unsustainable norms, habits, and structures. The need of disruptive competence building is emphasized.

Questions, Purpose

This presentation takes its starting point in the above mentioned accounts of ESD, i.e., transformative learning and disruptive competence building. The purpose is, however, to show, through theoretical argumentation and by referring to empirical studies, that it is important to also include emotional aspects. The concept of “critical emotional awareness” as a key-competence in ESD will be introduced. The questions in focus are: Why is it important to focus on this competence? What components does it consist of? How does it differ from other similar concepts? What are the ethical and practical implications of including critical emotional awareness in ESD?

Development of the argument

Studies will be presented showing that negative emotions of for instance anxiety, unease and dissonance can be evoked by the seriousness and complexity of global problems but also by these pedagogical approaches “identity threatening” character. These emotions can sometimes be positive forces in the learning process, but they can also be hard to face, and whether or not they will help or overturn transformative learning may have to do with how these emotions are coped with and regulated. Therefore, it is not enough to disrupt unsustainable cognition/thinking, norms, and practices if aiming for transformation, there is also a need to focus on critical emotional awareness as a key-competence in ESD. This competence includes awareness not only of emotions and underlying values involved in the learning process, but also of different emotion-regulation strategies and how these are influenced by emotion norms. The capacity to disrupt unsustainable coping strategies and to promote more sustainable ones, seen from the perspective of subjectification and transformation as goals of ESD, is also an important part of this competence. “Critical hope” is an additional vital component that will be touched upon. In addition, the difference between “critical emotional awareness” and “the therapeutic turn in education” that focuses on emotional competence, not as enabling change, but as a tool to adapt to the dominant societal order will be discussed. Finally, ethical and practical implications of including critical emotional awareness as a competence in ESD will be elaborated on, and both possibilities and constraints will be in focus.


In this presentation it has been argued that when aiming for transformative learning in ESD, there is also a need to include critical emotional awareness. By rupturing the order of things, by disrupting, and transgressing, negative emotions are evoked. These feelings can be hard to confront and therefore can be coped with in more or less constructive ways both at an individual level and in social processes. This coping is influenced by larger emotion norms. By realizing this, a whole new network of power relations opens up for scrutiny. It is not enough to critically examine unsustainable thinking, norms, and practices; one also need to be aware of unsustainable ways of dealing with emotions and of how “power” governs even what seem to be our most private feelings. Hence, it is important for educators to acquire critical awareness of these aspects to respond professionally when applying transformative learning in ESD.


The presentation will end by elaborating on practical implications for teacher education of including critical emotional awareness as a key-competence in educating for a sustainable future. Thus, how this competence can be nurtured in both future educators and their future students will be discussed.


Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2016. 552-557 p.
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Research subject
URN: urn:nbn:se:oru:diva-52866OAI: oai:DiVA.org:oru-52866DiVA: diva2:1039946
Competence 2016, International conference on competence theory, research and practice. Part of symposium: Sustainability competences: meanings, possibilities, and constraints, Wageningen University, The Netherlands, October 19-21, 2016
Swedish Research Council Formas, 2010-1152
Available from: 2016-10-25 Created: 2016-10-07 Last updated: 2016-10-26Bibliographically approved

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Ojala, Maria
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