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Peer-Review Record

From the Anthropocene to Mutual Thriving: An Agenda for Higher Education in the Ecozoic

Sustainability 2019, 11(12), 3312;
Reviewer 1: Anonymous
Reviewer 2: Anonymous
Reviewer 3: Matthew Adams
Sustainability 2019, 11(12), 3312;
Received: 1 May 2019 / Revised: 2 June 2019 / Accepted: 13 June 2019 / Published: 15 June 2019
(This article belongs to the Special Issue A Research Agenda for Ecological Economics)

Round 1

Reviewer 1 Report

This is a very interesting and engaging paper. I found the more 'philosophical/theoretical' aspects compelling and important.

The methodology for the analysis of the chosen textbooks could certainly be better and more fully articulated. I found this aspect of the paper the weakest

Author Response

Thank you for your review and for taking the time to read and critique our paper. Also, thank you for your comments and your commendations on our theoretical and philosophical aspects.


In response to your comment regarding the methodology and methods section, we have gone back to the manuscript and rewritten a particular paragraph in the hope that this clarifies the matter and at least partially addresses your concerns. Thank you for getting us to look more closely at this and for making us stronger in this regard. 

Reviewer 2 Report

This article is as timely as it is important. The authors are to be commended for bringing together such diverse topics and fields into a coherent investigation. Though it is perhaps too much to ask in such a forum, I can't help but wish to see more about how the authors envision a change in how universities design their programs and teach their students. Again, this just might be too much to ask here. I hope that they continue to pursue this question. 

My main disappointment was that the authors give no indication of any understanding of the work of Alfred North Whitehead, the philosopher of relationality par excellence. His philosophy of organism should be a touchstone for any such project. Whitehead developed the most coherent account of a fully relational worldview that conceives of every element of reality as at once a subject and object (what he called a subject-superject). He rejects the Kantian Copernican revolution with its inversion of ontology and epistemology, seeing internal relatedness as the basis of general understanding. And he conceives of the very achievement of reality to be the achievement of value. In other words, Whitehead's philosophy of organism touches on each of the central claims the authors make and does so more than half a century earlier than most of the sources used here. 

A similar disappointment could be shared regarding the authors' lack of engagement with the rich and complex work in environmental ethics, some of which make similar calls for change in ontology, epistemology, and axiology. To list but a few examples, look at Deep Ecology (e.g., Naess, Devall, Sessions), Holmes Rolston's Environmental Ethics, ecofeminism (e.g., Plumwood, Warren). 

In this reviewer's estimation, these are serious scholarly omissions. It gives the impression of utter ignorance of significant conversations at exactly the intersection being advanced by the authors. This is all the more disappointing given that this reviewer finds this to be such an important work of scholarship. 

I hope that the authors take the time to incorporate some of these textual references into the body and in notes.

Author Response

Thank you very much for your review. We do indeed see this paper as a beginning to our exploration of aligning higher education with a new vision for humanity’s place in the cosmos.  While you are right to say that more detail may be too much to ask in this current manuscript, we hope this is the first of a fuller articulation of higher education reform, and we are already planning further papers in which issues of reform and pedagogy are more fully developed.  In response to your main suggestions:


Point 1: Incorporating the work of Alfred North Whitehead.


Response 1: Undeniable: this is a serious scholarly omission on our behalf. Your pointing this out not only helps this paper to be taken more seriously among scholars, but also gives us much to reflect upon as we re-configure and adapt our curriculum for training later PhD cohorts in our own program. Point well taken. In response we have added to the manuscript a short paragraph on Whitehead’s thought and its alignment with our ‘ologies of the Ecozoic’. We hope this addresses your concerns. 


Point 2: Engagement with environmental ethics, particularly similar calls for change in ontology, epistemology, and axiology.


Response 2: In hindsight, this omission is just as debilitating for us, the authors, as for you, the reviewer. We simply did not incorporate the main proponents of environmental ethics closely aligned with and preceding our own theoretical framework of the ‘ologies’ of the Ecozoic, and this is poor. We have thus taken your suggestion and incorporated references and citations to a number of the authors you mentioned, as well as others. Looking back over our essay it appears that we did more to cite current authors in our theoretical framework and in doing this left out those who were at the forefront of exactly the type of work we are proposing in environmental ethics.  Thank you for calling this to our attention.

Reviewer 3 Report

I was taken by the clarity and forthrightness of the radical approach to HE offered here, namely the requirement for ‘radicalreorientations of curricula, practices of engagement with communities outside the academy, re-conceptualizations of what knowledge itself is, and a re-thinking of how this knowledge is beingproduced’ (p. 2). The analysis of textbooks is informative, but, I can’t help thinking, hardly surprising. Wouldn’t we expect established, canonical texts to reproduce and reiterate ontologies of separateness, epistemologies of domination, axiology of development and progress, lodged as they are at the heart of mainstream science? I agree that there is a need to radically reshape such approaches, i.e. ‘To transition into the Ecozoic, the sciences and humanities must transcend this frame and build in an integrative manner in its stead, a manner of shared thriving. This shift would have profound effects throughout every traditional discipline of the academy’ (p. 13) - this is often already acknowledged within all of the disciplines mentioned, if still from the margins, and often in new interdisciplinary and transdisciplinary developments. I agree that ‘we will need approaches and textbooks that tell a story alignedwith the Ecozoic’;  More vital is an account of how we might engender change in HE and align with the Ecozoic, and detailing what those changes might look like. The authors do get to this, but for the most part it is at a level of generality and assertion of a relational ontology and epistemology.  It gets more specific from p. 12, but still patchy on practicalities e.g.


·     frame learning as the ‘construction of meaning’ instead of the ‘transmission of knowledge’

·     a classroom that trains students to question the social desirability and ecological sustainability of the growth-driven system, and to envision alternatives.

·     Localizing ‘the fruits of contemporary civilization’s scientific achievements within the lands from which they came

·     analysis of how broad social structures contribute to biodiversity loss, and how they might contribute to conservation and rejuvenation


I would like to hear more about practicalities of a transformed classroom and HE experience, more about how becoming Ecozoic might be embedded in examples of finance, trade, law, and public policy – we have a short paragraph on each; and more detail on alternative models of pedagogy being developed in the institutions listed on p. 16; and more about how what the authors propose should be carried out using their framework would have any impact on established and traditional approaches to pedagogy and incumbent institutions. 


On the whole, I wasn’t wholly convinced of the value of asserting the need for a different approach at this length – more valuable would perhaps be some of the applications they suggest using the framework, or the production of textbooks aligned with it. The paper feels a little stuck at a level of generality and established critique. 

Author Response

Thank you very much for your review of our group’s paper! We wholeheartedly agree that we can expect textbooks, as representations of “the established thought traditions” of many disruptive the fields, to reinforce the discontinuities between humankind and the planet’s ecosystems. That this finding, to a certain degree, is expected is partially the point of the exercise. We sought to highlight which barriers exist to the Ecozoic and illustrating the depth and breadth of their prevalence in our cannon is part of that process. Further, the overwhelming evidence that we saw of prevalence of norms such as the domination and development narratives was perhaps even greater than we expected. The insidious ways that these narratives have percolated throughout often quite disconnected and siloed disciplines we found to be so particularly pernicious that they warranted the deep dive that we undertook. 


Your desire for greater specificity is warranted and appreciated. Your particular emphasis on the finance, economics, law, and governance sections (5.2.1-5.2.4) was quite helpful. We sought, particularly in these sections to reduce the generalizations and to incorporate further specificity. Recommendations for transitioning from “value to you” to “value to all” mentalities in finance, the suggestion of a more holistic version of green supply chain management in trade, and the proposal that policy students broaden their conception of stakeholders to include non-human members and utilize a framework like deep sustainability to guide their priorities were all included in an effort to provide more specific and pragmatic recommendations into how students within these fields should be taught differently. 


Finally, we too agree that work beyond this paper is necessary to transition HE to the Ecozoic. Your proposal of new textbook creation that is aligned with our perspective is a valuable insight. There was some debate on this matter; some within our group think that textbooks themselves are part of the problem, whereas others of us are more comfortable with their continued use. Consequently, at the time of writing, a “new textbook” approach was not tenable. Nor perhaps is it something that we could have accomplished in a generalizable way without producing this paper. It is difficult to know which critiques on current texts we would like to levy from our group perspective without first ascertaining which issues are actually present. We believe that this is where the value of this paper exists. It serves an agenda setting piece that provides direction for further future reform, whether that is in new textbooks produced, curriculum or program design, or in department or school priorities. By demonstrating the prevalence of the discontinuities throughout the disciplines we examined we hoped to illustrate the gravity of problem HE faces: it is in need of near total reevaluation and reform. 


We hope that our revisions increased specificity in a way that spoke to your request for it and that our response clarifies the value we sought to produce. 




Leadership for the Ecozoic

Round 2

Reviewer 3 Report

The authors have responded positively and constructively to all referee comments. The new and edited text goes far enough in addressing referee's concerns collectively, and improves the overall coherence of the paper and the significance of its contribution.  

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