Home > Research > Publications & Outputs > “The Sociological Imagination”

Electronic data

  • 2019baughanphd

    Final published version, 1.24 MB, PDF document

    Available under license: CC BY-NC-ND: Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License

Text available via DOI:

View graph of relations

“The Sociological Imagination”: researching sustainability, using phenomenography

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis

  • Patrick Baughan
Publication date2019
Number of pages177
Awarding Institution
  • Lancaster University
<mark>Original language</mark>English


Sustainability has become an area of increasing relevance and prevalence in higher education, most universities now practising and encouraging various sustainability and environment-based initiatives. However, the more specific areas of Education for Sustainable Development and sustainability in the curriculum remain widely contested. Whilst sustainability has been explored in the context of most disciplines, there is a relative paucity of published work exploring sociologists’ perspectives. As a consequence, this study sought to investigate sociologists’ perspectives about sustainability in higher education and in higher education curricula. Twenty-four sociologists were interviewed using the phenomenographic approach, which focuses on variation in understandings of a specific phenomenon. The design of the project accounted for suggested weaknesses in previous sustainability research, was undertaken at three different universities, and included an equal number of staff and student participants. All interviews were undertaken, transcribed and analysed by the researcher, and particular attention was given to the data analysis phase of the project, in which phenomenographic procedures were adopted. Analysis led to the development of two outcome spaces, respectively entitled ‘Sustainability and me’ and ‘Sustainability and my discipline’. Each outcome space comprised a series of categories of description, demonstrating clear variation in sociologists’ conceptions of their own relationships with sustainability, and of the relationship between their discipline and sociology. Based on these outcomes, it is argued that sociological perspectives could be important in guiding future education, practice and policy about sustainability. They provide insights into challenges and debates associated with sustainability and can play a role in offering ideas for the progression of relevant initiatives in higher education institutions. In addition, claims are made for new knowledge yielded by the study and limitations and ideas for future research are noted. Whilst a matter of on-going debate within the higher education sector, sustainability is of vital and urgent importance in contemporary society. As a representative of the educational research community, I intend this thesis to serve as an invitation to the sociological community to develop its involvement in this area.