Sense and Sustainability: Interdisciplinary Research in Environmental Studies


Femida Handy and Martin Bunch, eds

"An anthology of peer-reviewed work resulting from faculty-student collaboration in the  Faculty of Environmental Studies, York University"

ISBN 978-1-55014-510-6




Excerpt from the introduction by Handy and Bunch:

"Effective integration of knowledge requires a certain fluency in multiple academic disciplines, and an ability to bridge them. Beyond this, relevant application of knowledge to real world problems and issues requires the ability to reach beyond the purely academic realm to mobilize and engage with communities, governmental actors, non-governmental organizations and others. Frodeman and Mitcham (2007) point out that environmental studies is one of only very few fields that are at once; sensitive to questions of knowledge, values and their implications for society; that bridge the sciences and humanities; and that involve the general public in an interdisciplinary approach to developing an understanding of societal issues and problems. This approach, that Frodeman and Mitcham refer to as “critical interdisciplinarity,” builds deep pertinent knowledge about issues and problems (beyond purely disciplinary knowledge) by,

…[seeking] to take the effort involved in mastering or going deep in any one discipline and spread it over a number of disciplines, going just as deep in a discipline as is necessary or appropriate to grasp the essentials.

They continue by stating that,

Interdisciplinarity must be given a scope as wide knowledge itself, spanning the entire space from the natural sciences to the humanities. Although its breadth will, of course, include the social sciences, the insistent focus needs to be on the fundamentally humanistic question of what counts as pertinent knowledge. Knowledge for what? We need not merely to describe the role of values within science and society – the role of the social sciences – but also to assess these values, working with society as it struggles to address questions of social and environmental justice, human freedom and responsibility, and the proper roles of the public and private sectors (p. 513).

This is the sense of interdisciplinarity (encompassing a broad range of cross- trans- and inter-disciplinary definitions) that pervades the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York University. With this in mind, the Faculty of Environmental Studies at York (FES) has since its inception in 1968, mandated that students and faculty pursue an interdisciplinary approach to their studies so as to be able to express their academic creativity and discover new ways of synthesizing information. This reflects an understanding that many of the problems of our time, both local and global – from fighting global epidemics to preparing for natural disasters, from mediating forced human migrations to resolving ethno-political conflict, from revitalizing cities to revolutionizing women’s roles – cannot be comprehended or solved by insulated thinking. Student and faculty research at FES has used and integrated conceptual and methodological tools of many disciplines to understand these complex and pressing issues and to contribute to their resolution."


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