Dissertation Abstracts

University (eco)system: Phenomenology of the greening of Athenaeums

Author: Anzoise, Valentina V A, valentina.anzoise@gmail.com
Department: Sociology and Social Research
University: University of Milano-Bicocca, Italy, Italy
Supervisor: Guido Martinotti
Year of completion: 2009
Language of dissertation: italian

Keywords: campus , sustainability , perception , knowledge society
Areas of Research: Environment and Society , Visual Sociology , Regional and Urban Development


Sustainability is one of those complex and multidimensional terms, such as quality of life and governance, which is increasingly present in academic research, as well as in the national and international political agenda. During the last decades many international declarations (Talloires 1990, Copernicus 1993, Lüneburg 2001) recommended that Higher Education Institutions should take the lead in institutionalizing sustainability as an ongoing process, which must consider the environmental, as well as the social and economical dimensions.
The main reason for universities to assume this role is that they have the opportunity to develop as “fully integrated learning environments”, which promote research, teaching and management in the perspective of sustainability. Furthermore, they could represent “labs” and “windows” for the design, testing and dissemination of sustainable innovative solutions for the community and society at large.
Nevertheless, different urban populations have different attitudes and perceptions of sustainability: they adopt different behaviors, also in regard to the same environment, according to the purposes and patterns of the use they make of services and spaces, but also to the way their features and affordances are communicated and enacted.
The aim of the first part of the thesis (Nature and Society) was to give an overview of theoretical evolution of the ecological paradigm and of the establishment of environmental issues in the public opinion discourses as well as in policies and international legislation. A second aim was to critically analyse the contribution given by different disciplines (Environmental sciences, Economics, Sociology, Psychology, Architecture, etc.) to the study of Man and Nature relationship, to the development of the notion of sustainability, and to that of norms and tools (like the Agenda 21) to achieve it.
One of the main hypothesis is that the relevance of Universities is related also to the centrality assumed by this key institution in the frame of contemporary kwnowledge-based society. Indeed, the greening of Universities can represent not only the expression of the social responsibility of such important actors, but also a competitive advantage in the territory where they are situated and in the space of flows of which they constitutes crucial nodes.
The second part (Phenomenology of the greening) provides a methodological and empirical contribution to campus sustainability studies while taking into consideration the point of view of the most relevant university population: the students. This phase has been conducted adopting a qualitative and inductive approach, where different qualitative and visual techniques have been used, i.e. direct photographic observation on the field, native image making and visual focus groups with the students, and in depth interviews with privileged witnesses.
The underlying hypothesis is that people asked to talk visually about an environment are forced to reflect on what they normally take for granted. The outcomes of this research provide useful insights both for policy making and to re-think and re-design educational institutions.
Conclusions point out innovative campus sustainability measures all over the world and EU recommendations and legislation.