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Solving For Pattern: A Practice-Based Approach to Social and Ecological Justice Learning and Action



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This research contributes to the ongoing discussion of how to address social and ecological justice as interconnected objectives in the promotion of learning and action. The design and development of the research project has been guided by two assertions: one, that an integrated approach to social and ecological justice is needed to respond to crises facing our world; and two, the development of learning and action must be grounded in experiential knowledge gained through working towards solutions to social and ecological problems as a daily practice. Through a qualitative research process, semi-structured interviews were conducted with thirteen individuals working in community-based organizations that focus on child and youth safety, nutrition, and education; environmental and outdoor education; settlement experiences and the needs of new Canadians; inclusion of individuals with special needs; healthcare and safety of those living with poverty and addictions; and challenging racism, homo/transphobia, and colonialism. The research study was guided by the following question: In what ways can experience-based knowledge of working towards social and ecological justice inform theorizing on integrated social and ecological justice learning and action? A critical approach to constructivist grounded theory was used in the gathering, analysis, and discussion of research data. The research process involved open-ended interviews; verbatim transcription; memoing; primary, secondary, and tertiary coding with NVivo software; and, testing for thematic saturation. Key questions discussed in the semi-structured interviews included: What role does learning and action toward social and/or ecological justice play in your work within the community? What do you see as the problem (or problems) giving rise to the conditions you are working to improve in your daily practice? What kinds of strategies do you use to achieve your goals of learning and action? And, what obstacles do you face as you seek to address problems you observe in the community? The analysis and discussion of research data considered links between foundational ideas from multiple disciplines and insights shared by participants about their daily practice. The analysis chapter presents a detailed account of participants' stories that invites readers to draw their own connections between the reviewed theory and participants' insights. The discussion chapter centres on three themes that highlight the intersections between participants’ insights and key ideas drawn from the theory. The three themes—the normalization of dominance, resistance masquerading as neutrality, and witnessing as a foundation for learning and action—are presented as learning foundations that can support learners in critically examining multiple linked forms of oppression and ecological degradation. These foundational learnings are proposed as a basis for guiding learners in the process of meaningfully engaging a diverse range of social and ecological justice issues. The research considers how learning might contribute to the development of a capacity to embrace varied learning objectives that are associated with social and ecological justice. The underlying goal of this work is to promote approaches to social and ecological justice that address both the individual factors relevant to a particular issue and the broader patterns that impact the issue. The vision for such an approach is to support unity among those individuals and organizations working toward social and ecological justice objectives, and to imagine solutions that in Wendell Berry's (2005) words “solve for pattern” (p. 33).



Integrated Social and Ecological Justice, Learning Theory, Community Activism, Pedagogy Development



Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Interdisciplinary Studies


Interdisciplinary Studies


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