Bedford 2045 – part 2

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates

This is the second post this week on Bedford 2045 which was first published as part of Huckle J. and Martin A. 2001. Environments in a Changing World (London, Prentice Hall).

In Chapter 3 (Sustaining Development) of Higher Education and Sustainable development: possibility and paradox, Stephen Gough and I commented on this classic text.  We wrote this just before the extract that I cited:

"... there are those who ultimately want no truck at all with ‘development’ (at least as the term is usually understood), and advocate instead that humans should choose to live in steady-state communities of some sort.  Such communities may well be described as ‘sustainable’ or as practising ‘sustainability’.  They are usually envisaged as being small scale.  They are often modelled on some real or imagined historical example, perhaps with the addition of such modern conveniences as are thought excusable or indispensable.  They are never animated by competition or market-exchange, but always by collaboration for the common good and a state of harmony between society and nature.  An interesting example is provided in Box 1."

Box I was the Huckle & Martin text.

We then wrote this immediately after the box:

It may very well be argued that for Bedford to arrive at the circumstances described in Box 1 would constitute a form of development.  Further, the example continues by suggesting, among other things, that a Brazilian firm is looking for opportunities to manufacture anti-cancer drugs in Britain.  This too, surely, would be development if it happened.  But why would it?  The problem is that both the provenance and the continuance – that is, the development – of this ‘sustainable community’ depends on assumptions about social change which are as counter-historical as they are economically unsupportable, and which, more fundamentally, rest on a particular conception of what it means to be rational.  In this book we are working with a conception of development which incorporates the view of Amartya Sen when he writes that:

"Exclusive pursuit of self-interest is not banished, in any way, from the domain of rationality, but neither is it mandatory. Its role in rationality is contingent on self-scrutiny."  (Sen, 2002, 47)

People may rationally choose to behave in ways which render a town like the one described in Box 1 wholly unsustainable.  We would add that there is abundant historical evidence that they often do so, that there are clear economic and social reasons why they might, and that anything recognisable as a university might well facilitate them in doing so.  For example, what if Tom wants to take out a high-interest loan to buy a villa in Spain for Bill, who very much dislikes looking after children in his old age but feels that he must do so because of community pressure?  It is surely possible that the Credit Union (or some of its members) will see advantages in setting up a fully-fledged bank to meet demand for financial instruments of this kind, so diverting funds from lower-return uses and also creating a need for specialists in financial management.  These specialists are recruited from the leading university in the field, which happens to be in Scotland.  They demand a premium payment above the rates set by the Neighbourhood Council for their inconvenience in moving to Bedford, so enabling them to choose individual over collective service provision and injecting additional spending power into the local community.  Meanwhile Tom, who has simply made a rational choice based on the balance of his preferences, needs extra paid work at the best rate he can get to cover the interest on his loan.  As a result he doesn’t have time to give Jake his breakfast any more.  And so on.

Our point here is not that people should hate looking after children or want villas, but that any useful conception of either sustainable development or higher education has to accommodate the possibility that they might.


In the first post, I posed these questions:

  1. would you like to live in this version of Bedford?
  2. what sort of schooling and HE would there need to be to make (and keep) Bedford 2045 possible?

My response to [1] is that I think it would likely be an unpleasant place to live because there would be a lot of strife within the community as the core values underpinning Bedford 2045 would have, one way or another, to be imposed upon increasingly, skeptical, disillusioned and angry population.

The place would clearly be rife with propaganda about how good life was in Bedford compared to, say, Leighton Buzzard, Dunstable, Luton or Milton Keynes, where (no doubt imperfectly) regulated capitalism was still able to provide people with wants as well as needs.  There would also obviously have to be be Stasi-style snooping and informing by (keen and willing) volunteers in order to discourage the sort of individuality of thought and action that undermined values.

As for [2], well that's for later this week when I consider the paper that Susan Brown wrote for Steady State Manchester.

Posted in: Comment, News and Updates


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