Environment Centre cz bw204
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The Institute for Social Ecology (part of the University of Klagenfurt) deals with present and past interactions of societies with their environments, regarding both societies and nature as complex systems which follow (partly) different rules. In this field of research it has gained national and international reputation for theoretical and methodological achievements. For more than ten years, it has also gained a lot of experience in interdisciplinary teaching.

Abstract of the speech

Teaching Sustainability at IFF, Social Ecology

which will be given at the conference “Sustainability at Universities: What Are the Possibilities” (to be held in Prague, Czech Republic, on 5 – 6 September 2005)

by Mag. Simone Gingrich (Institute of Interdisciplinary Studies of Austrian Universities – „inter-university“ institute working in association with the Universities of Klagenfurt, Vienna, Graz, and Innsbruck)

The Institute for Social Ecology (part of the University of Klagenfurt) deals with present and past interactions of societies with their environments, regarding both societies and nature as complex systems which follow (partly) different rules. In this field of research it has gained national and international reputation for theoretical and methodological achievements. For more than ten years, it has also gained a lot of experience in interdisciplinary teaching.

Sustainability is one of the core questions in our four main research fields: Societal Metabolism, Land Use, Environmental History and Transition Studies. In all these areas we investigate the interrelationships of societies and their environment on different spatial and temporal scales, focusing mainly on the analysis of societal pressures on the environment.

The students at our Institute come from various disciplines – for reasons of organisation and cooperation mainly social and natural sciences. Mixed groups of students come together and learn from each other. The courses are organised in various forms (workshops, group projects, directly research-related,…) in order to encourage the students to engage in discussions and reflections.

From next semester we will offer the Master’s study program “Social and Human Ecology”, enabling students with BA degrees in different social, natural technical or economical studies to move their focus to our Institute’s activities. Believing that a solid disciplinary education serves as a necessary foundation for interdisciplinarity, we think that a Master’s program is an appropriate setting to obtain a degree in Social Ecology.

In this program, introductory courses of the program “pick the students up from where they are”, introducing a common set of theories, concepts and methodology. Further on, a complementary block within the curriculum of the Master’s program ensures that the students will also get acquainted with some of the main concepts of the studies they have not previously chosen but will need as social and human ecologists. Interdisciplinary communication is also considered explicitly in the curriculum.

We hope to reach a wide range of students with this program, believing that the heterogeneity of student groups enriches the process of studying. However, there are some organisational constraints: E.g., for biology studies in Vienna, there is as for now no possibility to finish as BA – therefore, biology students will be partly underrepresented in the first stages of the program. However, we are sure to contribute to the interdisciplinary field of studies in Vienna and Austria with our teaching activities.