Still being academic – writings on management, environment and Deep Adaptation in 2020 by Prof Jem Bendell

In 2020 I co-authored some academic resources on management, environment and ‘deep adaptation’. Here is a quick summary and links, in case you are interested in these topics to a degree where you read or listen to academic outputs on them.

In an academic journal article, with Dr Katie Willocks of Lancaster University and Prof Richard Little, of Impact International, we explored ways of supporting learning within hospitals. In particular, we showed how the ideology of top-down managerialism can militate against a recognition of the motivation of staff in the caring professions, and side-line support for them to be better able to solve workplace disagreements as a means of professional learning. It’s basic common sense to seek to help not hinder nurses and doctors, but the dark forces of bureaucracy and commercialisation are so widespread in late modernity that it can be useful to challenge them empirically, as we have done in this paper.

Willocks, Katie, Bendell, J. and Little, R. (2020) Professional Learning from Disturbances in Healthcare: Managerialism and Compassion. International Journal of Management, Knowledge and Learning, 9 (1). Download here.

I also co-authored with Richard Little of Impact International, a chapter where we explain our analysis on why we witness so much poor leadership in organisations and societies. We conclude:

“The international emergency unfolding as we write (in May 2020) shows clearly that, set beside competence and compassion, charisma is otiose; that capital seems helpless, its “global leaders”, with a few honourable exceptions like Kent Taylor of Texas Roadhouse (Karunavirus 2020), lost and pointless in the face of natural force majeure. Instead, this emergency, and the even greater one of climate chaos that awaits behind it, demands that we invite one other to engage in dialogue about the difficulties and unknowns that can generate anger, anxiety and grief. Dropping the bad idea of leadership that has been enshrined in leader-pulp and practiced in the mini-feudal states that are modern corporations will be essential in humanity’s “deep adaptation” to our climate predicament (Bendell 2018). In that process, supportive reminders between us all to return to compassion, curiosity and respect will be more important than bold gestures by individuals (self-) labelled as exceptional. Amidst crisis and, for many, the breakdown of normal life, people of all ranks and none are stepping up to help their communities and society. Perhaps these could be described as acts of “breakdown leadership,” if only to build awareness of an alternative to the bad idea of leadership that helped bring us towards crisis and collapse. From such dialogue and amidst such selfless action, people may be able to find their own ingenious ways to retreat from the growth-fixated industrial consumer society for which nothing is sacred, over which a self-appointed cadre of bad – really very bad – leaders have presided for too long.”

Little, R. and J. Bendell (2021 forthcoming) ‘One reason there are many bad leaders is the misleading myth of “leadership”’ in Örtenblad, Anders Ed.(2021) Debating Bad Leadership: Reasons and Remedies, Springer. p234-259.

Although concluding with reflection on our predicament, that chapter was mostly about leadership, and so I went further in offering academic analysis on the environmental movement and the new field of Deep Adaptation to societal disruption and collapse in a book on the topic. With the help of a team of volunteer translators, it was published in French, called Adaptation Radicale. It outlines some of the aspects and implications of the new concept and movement. Proceeds will go to the Deep Adaptation Forum and XR France (so tell your francophone friends?). Intriguingly, the debate in France is ‘streets ahead’ of other places, as reflected by mainstream media reaction to my work.  

Bendell, J. (2020) Adaptation Radicale: Effondrement – comprendre, ressentir, agir. Les liens qui libèrent: France. Order here.

With Professor Rupert Read, who I have co-edited a book that is due out in May 2021, we wrote about how (not) to engage the elites as climate activists. The chapter came about after we discussed my 5 years being a Young Global Leader of the World Economic Forum, as he prepared to head to Davos to promote the message of Extinction Rebellion.

Read, R. and Bendell, J. (2020) Billionaire Rebellion? Extinction Rebellion: Insights from the Inside, Simplicity Institute Publishing. Order here.

In a chapter in a book on the frontiers in business sustainability, I offered reflections on my previous two decades helping innovative cross-sector partnerships to develop. I suggested the same spirit of unconventional working from the mid-1990s could today lead to collaboration between social justice radicals and start-up entrepreneurs, rather than cautiously incumbent corporations and NGOs. 

Bendell, J. (2020) ‘In the Company of Rebels: Towards a Role for Cross-Sector Partnering in Radical Change and Deep Adaptation to Climate Chaos’, in Marshall, A. and D.F. Murphy (eds) Citizenship and Sustainability in Organizations: Exploring and Spanning the Boundaries, Routledge/Greenleaf. Here.

Writing about the book, John Elkington, of Volans Ventures, explains how it brings “some early pioneers of corporate social responsibility—including Sir Geoffrey Chandler, Malcolm McIntosh and Allen White—into the world of Extinction Rebellion, Fridays For Future and the world of ‘Deep Adaptation’ championed by… Jem Bendell. The result: an intriguing bridging of different epochs of CSR and sustainability, and of ideas and agendas. A key reference for an agenda whose time has come.”

Thanks John 😊

The University of Cumbria also released an Occasional Paper which is my most important follow up to the one from 2018 that went viral (with over a million downloads). It focuses on the how to hold space for each other to explore the emotional, intellectual and spiritual implications of an anticipation of societal collapse, so we can engage usefully with this predicament.

Carr, K. and J. Bendell (2020) Facilitation for Deep Adaptation: enabling loving conversations about our predicament. Institute for Leadership and Sustainability (IFLAS) Occasional Papers Volume 6. University of Cumbria, Ambleside, UK. Download here.  

In the abstract we explain: “In this paper some of the aspects of Deep Adaptation facilitation that have emerged from a community of practice of volunteer facilitators are summarised. These aspects include containment, with the intention of enabling co-responsibility for a safe-enough space for difficult conversations to occur with difficult emotions. Another key aspect is welcoming radical uncertainty in response to the anxieties people feel, as their sense of self, security and agency are challenged by the anticipation of collapse. A third aspect of this facilitation is making space for grief, which is welcomed as a natural and ongoing response to our predicament. A fourth aspect is a curiosity about processes of othering and separation. That arises due to our assessment that a seemingly innate process of imagining separation, and therefore ‘othering’ people and nature as less significant or meaningful, has been a habit in modern society that impedes responses to social and environmental crises.”

In 2020 the normal way of giving presentations changed somewhat! I was involved in 4 conferences.

I gave a keynote talk at a seminar of Bath University, that offers a simple introduction to Deep Adaptation. I think it the quickest way to learn about it from the ‘horse’s mouth’ rather than people who have their own ‘axes to grind’. Yikes, that was a metaphor megamix. But I speak more clearly in the video, which you could watch for an hour here.

Bendell, J. (2020) Sustainability, Climate and Deep Adaptation, keynote lecture at the symposium on ‘Deep Adaptation and system wide disruption of organisations for sustainability’, University of Bath, UK, December 2nd. Here.

I gave a presentation at a panel of the International Leadership Association, alongside a representative of the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC), Miguel Alejandro Naranjo Gonzalez. You can see the panel here. Miguel responded to my presentation in a very open and constructive way, demonstrating how we should be exploring things together without prejudice:

“Both focusing on the mitigation side, reduction of emissions… and the work… on Deep Adaptation are complementary. We will definitely need to face impacts of climate change… All over the world people are already suffering because of the impacts of climate change and this… is only going to become… more difficult. So, the approach that Jem [Bendell] presented on helping individuals deal with the difficult situations they are going to be living is definitely very important. It is of course beyond the level that we usually deal with in the climate change secretariat… The Deep Adaptation is deeply personal… so speaking from a personal point of view, I completely agree and appreciate that kind of work.”

Bendell, J. (2020) Leading in a time of dying: personal reflections on leadership for deep adaptation, presentation at Balda, J. (Chair). (2020, November 9). Leading Societies Towards Carbon Neutral and Adapting to Disruption [Panel]. At the ‘Leading at the Edge’ The 22nd International Leadership Association ( global conference, 9th November 2020, Miami, USA (taking place virtually).  Text here. Video here.

I also prepared a presentation delivered by my colleague Dr David Murphy to a conference on collaboration for social progress, where we discussed insights from research about the kinds of collaborations that members of the Deep Adaptation Forum are engaged in. This research will be published by the end of 2021.  

Bendell, J., DF Murphy, L Stott, and M Knocks (2020) Partnering After Sustainability: Collaboration for Deep Adaptation to Climate Chaos, Presentation at CSSI 2020 Conference, University of Limerick, Ireland, 24th June.

As I work in the University sector, it made sense for me to begin to explore what an anticipation of societal disruption and collapse might mean for the role and future of Universities. Therefore, I participated in a Climate Commission event on deep adaptation, and also gave a public lecture on the implications of climate crisis for Universities, which is available on video

Bendell, J. (2020) Presentation at the EAUC Climate Commission: Evidence Gathering Event – Deep Adaptation, 19th May, London, UK. Info here. Video here.

Bendell, J. (2020) Universities facing climate chaos – approaching deep adaptation, Public Lecture at the University of Cumbria, UK, May 18th, 2020. Video here.

2020 was also the first time I wrote about Deep Adaptation for publications (other than my blog!). In a Resilience article with the co-founder of Extinction Rebellion, Dr Gail Bradbrook, we explained the powerful motivation for activism that can arise when no longer attached to stories of reform, material success or assuaging our pain about our predicament. In openDemocracy, I summarised some of the key topics of dialogue and debate that are emerging within a new Deep Adaptation movement, amongst those who see beyond misinformation.

2020 was a period where I produced a number of personal blogs in support of participants in the Deep Adaptation Forum, for which I volunteered during 18 months until September 2020. I categorise those various writings here.

In 2021 I will continue my transdisciplinary exploration of the implications of anticipating, witnessing and experiencing societal disruption and collapse. Without robust transdisciplinarity, academics tend to conclude the quite silly things when they move from narrow fields of study to offer ideas on social problems and social change. That is not only because subject specialisms lead to much exclusion of complexity, but also those subject disciplines are produced by the cultures they are part of. Insights from anthropology on academic disciplines, feminist epistemology, critical discourse analysis of scholarship, and the field of ‘postnormal’ science, all suggest that any scholarship and the data it produces are not without cultural context and influence. Unless we have some understanding of the way that context and influence then shapes our way of knowing the world, we handicapped in our insight, and could even be harmful with our recommendations. In my experience the best grounding for working in a transdisciplinary way is to draw from the three intellectual fields of cognitive linguistics, critical discourse analysis, and the philosophy of science, so that the way language and ideology shapes both questions and norms of analysis can be better understood. That way one can better spot when a limiting assumption exists, when a conclusion is over-extending beyond its context, or when a particular bit of information connects with something from another field in a meaningful way. It is also helpful to experience insight meditation (also known as Vipassana), to better see how the mind is constantly averse or attracted to ideas about reality, self and other. That can allow a lighter and less emotional sticky form of exploration of information and ideas. It also really helps to have substantial cross-cultural experiences, and to have worked outside academia, as well as moving across disciplines during an academic career. Unfortunately, many academics who reach senior positions in their fields have not had that variety of experience. Sometimes they get triggered by transdisciplinary folks like me, especially if the world feels more and more concerning to them (as it should). If that last paragraph sounded mumbo-jumbo to you then don’t worry – basically it’s about not letting knowledge get in the way of self-reflection and humble curiosity. But if you are an academic and it’s mumbo jumbo to you, then I could recommend some readings.  

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Ps: Fascinating panopticon library? Let’s not be mentally imprisoned by disciplines.