In this paper I examine two activities which are often attributed with a role to play in social transformation, namely environmental education and research, for their potential to contribute to collective change. I do so by drawing on the results of a recent empirical study in southern Africa, in which I distinguished four orientations to research in/and environmental education. In exploring the transformatory roles of research and environmental education, as conceptualised in these four orientations, I conclude that the most prevalent orientations reveal modernistic assumptions which limit their potential to contribute to social transformation.
The decision to interpret the results by focusing on social transformation grew out of what I regarded as the most significant dimensions of the context of the study. These are the global and regional calls for social transformation in response to the environment crisis, the dramatic political changes in parts of southern Africa, the need to improve education in the region, and finally, less obvious global epistemological shifts in the conceptualisation of science, education and social research.