Overview of modules
Module 1: Holistic science
In this module, students learn about different paradigms and approaches to understanding life and the living world. They learn about the history of scientific enquiry and about the very particular lens of objectivism and reductionism that emerged in the period of the Enlightenment. They also learn about the emerging practices of a participatory science where the conscious observer is included in the research process and about other perspectives that have challenged conventional notions of objectivity, such as phenomenology and embodiment. The aim is that, through this approach to the study of science, students broaden and deepen their understanding of the complexity of life and of the challenge of developing appropriate modes of enquiry that engage with the living world. The role of ethics in science is also considered together with the idea of social justice and environmental responsibility in relation to underlying principles of scientific practice. The Holistic Science module is followed by a study of ‘Research Methods’ (described below).
Module 2: Research methods
In this module students learn about different approaches to qualitative and quantitative research and about first-, second-, and third-person perspectives. They learn about validity, quality and reliability in research. Students also learn how to identify prior studies and gaps in the field. An emphasis in this module is to ensure that students are well equipped with literature searching skills and the ability to critically evaluate a range of types of published work from experiential description and hermeneutic interpretation to statistical analysis. As well as field trials and quantitative research methods, the module covers action research, phenomenology, and other qualitative methods that include the full complexity of personal and social experience within the research process. In this module students will become familiar with a wide range of approaches and data gathering techniques in order to prepare for the Research Design module, in which they will proceed to design a study of their own.
Module 3: Sustainable practice 1
This module supports students in developing a breadth of knowledge and experience of sustainable agriculture approaches and initiatives that includes, but is not limited to, approaches arising from their own field of interest. This module introduces students to the range of sustainable practices that they will go on to study and introduces them to a network of established contacts. It also develops their skills in approaching and broadening that network. The module introduces students to the practice of gathering case studies and how they can be used in research and to inform and develop one’s own professional practice.
Students are expected to undertake site visits and interview practitioners using a range of approaches to agroecology. They are expected to reflect upon the key elements of design, application and implementation of principles and practice in at least two different sustainable agricultural traditions. Students may also include initiatives involved with sustainable food production, processing or preparation along the entire food chain as part of their research process into sustainable practice.
Module 4: Research design
This module builds on the knowledge and skills developed in the Research Methods module to assist students in designing a research project. Using the literature review they have already written they move on to framing a research question of a size appropriate for a more in-depth study. They learn how to design evolving, participatory research strategies appropriate for their area of enquiry, including choice of methodology, methods and appropriate solutions for documentation and evaluation. Students will learn how to plan and conduct research that both tests and is responsive to the full ethos of holistic sustainable production. Having chosen an approach the individual students will then work with the module tutor or an identified specialist to practice aspects of the approach they will be using. The module will also introduce students to planning strategies that will be necessary to manage a research project and maintain momentum over the period of the dissertation.
Module 5: Sustainable practice 2
This module builds on the work of module 3 with further case study visits and reflection of one’s own practice. Where module 3 encouraged a study of an initiative that arises out theory and practice that is unfamiliar to the student, and encourages a ‘compare and contrast’ approach with more familiar approaches to the study, this module can take a different form. Students can begin to link this module to their dissertation planning (should they go on to undertake the MA) and undertake studies of initiatives that are addressing similar issues to those intended as the focus of the research for the dissertation.
Module 6: Communicating Holistic Approaches
This module ensures both breadth and depth of knowledge by consolidating the participants’ understanding of the theoretical underpinning of a range of holistic approaches, i.e., not just the one they may currently practice or be focusing on for their dissertation. By studying both theories and examples of practice, drawn from module 3, participants will be in a good position to compare and contrast approaches and broaden their repertoire of explanatory frameworks. This module also focuses on communicating about holistic approaches. Communication styles practiced will include: sharing expertise across different traditions of holistic practice; deliberative practice and consultation with stakeholders; writing for different age groups; writing for the lay public; press releases; using social media; and producing education or marketing materials.
MA – Modules
Students who choose to undertake a full MA (having completed the postgraduate certificate or provided evidence of equivalent qualification) undertake the requirements set by Alanus University for completing the MA – Philosophy of Social Innovation: Researching Holistic Agroecology.
General Studies Modules
Ethics and Professional Practice
Social Research Methods
Social Dimensions of Agroecology –the project
For the specialisation project and dissertation students have personal supervision for their project: this would normally be a practitioner in the practical area of their research project and an academic to support the research design, progress and writing. The student chooses the area for the research topic with advice from the faculty and the support of their peers. This could be, for example, research about some aspect of plant or animal husbandry, research about how we organise the ownership and use of land, or research about the food pathways we structure in order to feed ourselves. It could also have a more general focus such as a project exploring the human relationship to nature and the natural world.
The final dissertation of approximately 20,000 words includes a literature review, a discussion of methods and findings. Students also present their research at a research seminar that is attended by the new cohort of students to build connections between each student cohort, which could develop into mentoring, teaching or other mutually supportive relationship for future work.