Thursday, February 14, 2008

Hazel Henderson’s concepts to guide students in the field

Image: Books by Hazel Henderson on Evolutionary Economics
Yesterday we met as a group to discuss the forthcoming Environmental Perception course that will take all 75 students of the NID Foundation programme to the Dolka Village/Town in Gujarat for a one week stay in the field along with their teachers as part of the course. The Environmental Perception course was evolved and innovated in 1976 by Professor Mohan Bhandari who was the then coordinator of the Foundation Programme at NID. It emerged out of the interest that NID faculty had for providing real life exposure to our design students to both urban and rural India at an early stage and as a context for the design process course that would be the culmination of the Foundation inputs at NID as well as for the project based education that was to follow.

The Foundation Programme in those days extended over one and a half years across three semesters, nay four, since each year had three semesters, two major and one summer semester as well. We had a number of meetings in those days away from NID to discuss the content and impact of the Foundation Programme and I was fortunate to be one of the teachers invited to participate in these meetings since I used to teach the course in Geometry for the foundation in those days, which was then called “Geometrical Construction”. The intentions of the meetings was to explore how the NID student could be sensitized to be a good designer as well as a wholesome human being who had the empathy to deal with the complexities of the Indian reality and we felt that the Foundation Programme would be the right place to start this journey. The other teachers involved in these meetings were Profs. Kumar Vyas, S Balaram, S Sethuraman, Mahendra Patel, Vikas Satwalekar, Helena Pehentupa, J L Naik, S M Shah, P M Choksi, NN Patel, Gitto Patni, Aditi Shirali, and myself. The meetings were facilitated by the Academic Administrator M G D Nair and moderated by the psychologist, late Prof Pullin Garg of the IIMA, Ahmedabad. In later meetings the group included Dhimant Panchal, Suranjana Satwalekar, and Krishna Patel who also started teaching in the Foundation in later years. Mohan Bhandari as coordinator had to balance a tight rope of many views and suggestions from the faculty participants and these meetings were a great source of learning for all the teachers involved.

This year the Environmental Perception course is being anchored by Chakradhar Saswade and Swasti Singh with the field involvement of Dilip Oza and Bhadresh Shukla. As the teachers of the Design Concepts and Concerns course we were requested to include in the first session of the course some elements that could help prepare the students to learn from the field. This brief also extended to the Science and Liberal Arts module that is offered to the students before they depart for their field study experience. This year we shared a paper by Hazel Henderson titled “21st Century Strategies for Sustainability” which I introduced to the students yesterday in class in a brief lecture that was part of the group briefing session about the objectives of the course as well as matters of logistics and behaviour that was expected from the students in the field. Hazel Henderson is a futurist, writer and economist who has written many papers and books which can be broadly called environmental and evolutionary economics and she is the creator of the Calvert-Henderson “Quality of Life Indicators” which looks beyond the scope of conventional economics at social and ethical issues at the heart of such a debate. Born in 1933 in Bristol, England she has been an advocate of evolutionary economics that is modeled on biology and deals with complex interdependencies and resource constraints which would help inform our students and provide them with an adequate framework to look at an Indian village and the social life therein. This is important since most of our students are from urban settings with very few who have life experiences from a village setting.

Hazel Henderson has in her very distinguished career written seven books on her ideas about economics and her papers and books are now available at NID for use by our students and faculty. Her concepts of the Economics of Love that accounts for unpaid work done in any economy by women and children usually are in most cases ignored by the rational economists who look at the GDP kind of metrics which may not give a correct view of village economics and therefore our students were advised to look beyond the obvious and at data below the surface with empathy and a sensitivity that would not upset the village folks in any way. This learning would go a long way to bring both sensitivity as well as the humility to deal with user groups and their particular issues and concerns and help the design student orient themselves to be of service to the complex needs of our rapidly changing society. Hazel Henderson’s papers can be downloaded from her website at the link below. Her Quality of life indicators include: Education, Employment, Energy, Environment, Health, Human Rights, Income, Infrastructure, National Security, Public Safety, Recreation and Shelter. Students could keep these indicators in mind when they draw the village environment and the activities that they see in the field and when they get back to the campus for the documentation and reflection phase they could model all these relationships from their first hand data rather than just from the books and newspaper reports that they would otherwise have had access to.

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