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Technical writing or literature?

A powerful essay published in Argomenti, which discusses the methods for analysing the issue of sustainable development

A technical approach versus a humanistic approach. Two contrasting viewpoints almost perennially paired in any attempts to analyse reality. A duality that is even more relevant in the circumstances experienced by modern production and society, caught between market needs, social pressures, and environmental risks. Ultimately, the issue always remains the same. To truly reach sustainable development, is it best to apply technology or humanities? A complex issue that demands a non-binary answer. Reading “Approaching the limits: from Planetary Boundaries to Ecological Minds. Discussing the Culture of Sustainability “, an essay by Gianfranco Franz (from the Department of Economics and Management, University of Ferrara), which recently appeared in Argomenti, journal of economics, culture and social research, is a good way to effectively settle some of the thoughts on the topic.

The author explains that the essay investigates the “substantial failure of theories and practices of sustainability, reconstructing the development of the notion itself to endorse the need for a humanistic approach towards sustainable development”. It is Franz’s opinion that “humanistic culture, social disciplines, education and research” must “contribute to the transformation of current social and economic models to win the battle for sustainability and build new ecological thinking”. Not just technology, therefore, is needed to find a better way of production and life in the community. To demonstrate this principle, Franz first retraces what is defined as “sustainability chronology” to then approach the issue of the lack of communication between technical and humanities disciplines with regards to the question of sustainable and balanced development (but not only). Franz focuses then on what he calls “the rhetoric of what should we do?”, formulas on what should be done to “save the world”, to consequently reflect on the (somewhat opposed) relationship between culture and measure, that is, between quality and quantity. From here, the author begins to analyse the contribution of both the humanities and the new threshold developed within the debate on sustainability and development. A threshold that has given rise to methods linked to the study of “footprints” (ecological and cultural above all) that any society might leave.

Gianfranco Franz’s research has strong merit: it contributes to the understanding of how complex the issue of sustainability is, before which any attempt at simplification becomes vain and harmful. Franz, therefore, does not provide definitive solutions and formulas, but encourages thought by really evaluating the whole body of studies dedicated to a theme that is simultaneously cultural and technical: and he achieves this by juxtaposing major scientific and literary contributions (for instance, Giacomo Leopardi).

Franz’s work is not easy reading, but is certainly worth the effort.

Approssimandosi ai limiti: dai Planetary Boundaries alle Ecological Minds. Argomentando intorno alle Culture della Sostenibilità
Gianfranco Franz (Department of Economics and Management, University of Ferrara)
Argomenti – Rivista di economia, cultura e ricerca sociale, 13, 2019

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