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Doing research on education for sustainable development

Jyrki Reunamo (Department of Applied Sciences of Education, Faculty of Behavioral Sciences, University of Helsinki, Finland)
Anita Pipere (Faculty of Education and Management, Institute of Sustainable Education, Daugavpils University, Daugavpils, Latvia)

International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education

ISSN: 1467-6370

Article publication date: 11 April 2011




The purpose of this paper is to describe the research preferences and differences of education for sustainable development (ESD) researchers. A model with the continuums assimilation‐accommodation and adaptation‐agency was applied resulting in quantitative, qualitative, theoretic and participative research orientations.


Reunamo's general model of agentive perception was used to design the 32‐item questionnaire, Research for ESD so as to reveal the degree to which the researchers are accommodating their thoughts and actions to real phenomenon, and considering their research as having theoretical or practical agency. The questionnaire was administered to 83 ESD researchers, mainly from European countries.


The most valuable discovery was the desire of ESD researchers to contribute to societal development. The results describe the first continuum of research activity with the need for opening up to the requisites and possibilities of environmental change while applying the existing prerequisites of scientific rigour and validity. The second continuum highlights the research as a knowledge resource for just political or individual choices on the one hand, and the direct application of the models and actions for needed change on the other hand.

Research limitations/implications

It would be difficult to create a reliable register of ESD researchers worldwide. Thus, the opportunity sample of ESD researchers available to the authors was used in the study.

Practical implications

The model, after adjustments, appears to be a promising tool in the study of research orientations. To study complex and controversial subjects such as sustainable development, the researchers need to be aware of their preferences and orientations.


The paper shows the possibilities of the agentive perception model in the case of ESD researchers.



Reunamo, J. and Pipere, A. (2011), "Doing research on education for sustainable development", International Journal of Sustainability in Higher Education, Vol. 12 No. 2, pp. 110-124.



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Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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