Criticisms of technocratic and managerial sustainability responses to global environmental change have led scholars to argue for transformative shifts in ideology, policy, and practice favoring alternative, plural transformation pathways to sustainability. This raises key debates around how we build transformative capacity and who will lead the way. To further this critical dialogue, this dissertation explores the potential for sustainability experiential learning (SEL) to serve as a capacity building mechanism for global ecological citizenship in support of transformation pathways to sustainable wellbeing. In the process it considers how the next generation of those primed for sustainability leadership identify with and negotiate diversity—of perceptions, values, agency, and lived experiences—in what constitutes sustainable wellbeing and the approaches needed to get there.
Inspired by the STEPS (Social, Technological and Environmental Pathways to Sustainability) Centre’s transformation pathways approach, this research proposes a Transformative Capacity Building model grounded in a Transformation Pathways to Sustainable Wellbeing framework that integrates and builds upon tenets of the original pathways approach with transformative learning, Value-Believe-Norm, and global ecological citizenship (eco-citizenship) theories and concepts. The proposed model and framework were applied to an in-depth ethnographic case study of sustainability experiential learning communities formed within the four Summer 2015 Global Sustainability Studies (GSS) programs at Arizona State University. Using mixed methods, including semi-structured interviews, participant observation, and Photovoice, this study examines the values, perceptions, and perceived agency of participants post-program in relation to the knowledge-making and mobilization processes that unfolded during their international GSS programs. Of particular interest are participants’ cognitive, moral, and affective engagement as SEL community members.
Through multi-level thematic analyses, key values, perceptions, agency and engagement themes are identified and influencing relationships highlighted across the different SEL communities and programs. Implications of these factors and their relationships for capacity building for eco-citizenship and future program development are considered. The dissertation concludes by translating study findings into actionable pathways for future research AND practice, including the proposal of program development and implementation recommendations that could enable future sustainability experiential learning programs to better contribute to transformative capacity building for eco-citizenship.