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Discovering the culture-led regenerative transformation of a city. Walter Benjamin as an inspiration for the Eco-Flâneur



Walter Benjamin developed the idea of the flâneur in ‘Charles Baudelaire: A lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. He used the powerful figure of the flâneur, a familiar character in the nineteenth century, to analyze modernity. In this paper, a close reading of the literature on Walter Benjamin and the flâneur is provided with a highlight on its relevance for a critical reflection on sustainability for higher education in management. The concept of the flâneur is taken further to eco-flâneur, i.e., strollers as students and teachers who see what is happening and changing in the city and how street life is being transformed towards sustainability. As an eco-flâneur they do not only discover the regenerative transformation of a city, but also co-create it. The eco-flâneur is suggested as an alternative pedagogy to unite soul, eye and hand, three elements that are brought into connection by Walter Benjamin and that are vital for a sustainability mindset. The concept of the eco-flâneur is used as a metaphor to rethink education and to suggest ways for transformative learning.
Discovering the culture-led
regenerative transformation of a
city. Walter Benjamin as an
inspiration for the Eco-Flâneur
Ingrid Molderez
*, Carina Branzila
, Wim Lambrechts
Pascale Maas
Centre for Economics and Corporate Sustainability (CEDON), Faculty of Economics and Business, KU
Leuven, Brussels, Belgium,
Department of Economics and International Relations, Alexandru Ioan
Cuza University, Iași, Romania,
Department of Marketing and Supply Chain Management, Faculty of
Management, Open Universiteit, Heerlen, Netherlands
Walter Benjamin developed the idea of the âneur in Charles Baudelaire: A lyric
Poet in the Era of High Capitalism. He used the powerful gure of the âneur, a
familiar character in the nineteenth century, to analyze modernity. In this paper,
a close reading of the literature on Walter Benjamin and the âneur is provided
with a highlight on its relevance for a critical reection on sustainability for
higher education in management. The concept of the âneur is taken further to
eco-âneur, i.e., strollers as students and teachers who see what is happening
and changing in the city and how street life is being transformed towards
sustainability. As an eco-âneur they do not only discover the regenerative
transformation of a city, but also co-create it. The eco-âneur is suggested as
an alternative pedagogy to unite soul, eye and hand, three elements that are
brought into connection by Walter Benjamin and that are vital for a sustainability
mindset. The concept of the eco-âneur is used as a metaphor to rethink
education and to suggest ways for transformative learning.
Walter Benjamin, eco-âneur, regenerative, cities, transformative learning, Brussels
Mein Flügel ist zum Schwung bereit,
ich kehrte gern zurück,
denn blieb ich auch lebendige Zeit,
ich hätte wenig Glück.
(Gerhard Scholem, Gruss vom Angelus)
Greetings from Angelus was written by Walter Benjamins close friend Gerhard
Scholem (Hamburger, 1982). The poem takes a central role in Benjamins essay
Theses on the Philosophy of History, completed in 1940 and originally published in
Neue Rundschau in 1950. It is the last essay in the volume Illuminations introduced by
Ingrid Molderez,
RECEIVED 29 November 2022
ACCEPTED 01 December 2022
PUBLISHED 20 December 2022
Molderez I, Branzila C, Lambrechts W
and Maas P (2022), Discovering the
culture-led regenerative transformation
of a city. Walter Benjamin as an
inspiration for the Eco-Flâneur.
Eur. J. Cult. Manag. Polic. 12:11088.
doi: 10.3389/ejcmp.2022.11088
© 2022 Molderez, Branzila, Lambrechts
and Maas. This is an open-access article
distributed under the terms of the
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(CC BY). The use, distribution or
reproduction in other forums is
permitted, provided the original
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publication in this journal is cited, in
accordance with accepted academic
practice. No use, distribution or
reproduction is permitted which does
not comply with these terms.
European Journal of Cultural Management and Policy
Published by Frontiers
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TYPE Original Research
PUBLISHED 20 December 2022
DOI 10.3389/ejcmp.2022.11088
Hannah Arendt in 1955. Writing private poetry was a long
tradition between German philosophers. The aim was not to
publish it, but just to send it to their intellectual friends
(Constantine, 2018). The cover of the collection of Scholems
poetry, translated by Scholem (2018), is not by accident the
Angelus Novus, an ink drawing by Paul Klee. This piece of art was
bought by Walter Benjamin in 1921 and kept like a guardian
angel (Farago, 2016;Jeffries, 2016;Sennett, 2018;Wolfe, 2020).
When it was stuck in Berlin when Benjamin left Germany, it was
brought to him in 1935. He could not take it with him while he
had to ee Paris in 1940, trying to pass the France-Spain border.
Benjamin tragically commited suicide to avoid arrest by the
ofcers of Nazi-occupied France. Just before leaving Paris, his
last writings and the angel were given to Georges Bataille who
kept it safe until after the war. The writings were then passed on
to Theodor Adorno and the Angelus Novus to Gerschom
Scholem who took care of it throughout his lifetime.
Scholems widow nally granted it to the Israel Museum in 1987.
The Angelus Novus was an inspiration for Walter Benjamin
and he called it his most precious possession (Farago, 2016).
The angel does not look like the traditionally imagined angel:
The angel stands suspended like a dummy or a marionette in a
mucky yellow eld; his wings are grand but inadequate, and he
seems trapped between forward and backward motion
(Farago, 2016). Or as Benjamin (1955), p. 249 described the
angel: Hiseyesarestaring,hismouthisopen,hiswingsare
spread. This is how one pictures the angel of history. His face is
turned toward the past. Where we perceive a chain of events, he
sees one single catastrophe which keeps piling wreckage upon
wreckage and hurls in front of his feet. The angel would like to
stay, awaken the dead, and make whole what has been smashed.
But a storm is blowing from Paradise; it has got caught in his
wings with such violence that the angel can no longer close
them. This storm irresistibly propels him into the future to
which his back is turned, while the pile of debris before him
grows skyward. This storm is what we call progress.The angel
is confronted with a storm, i.e., progress, that it cannot stop (De
Joya, 2014). Walter Benjamin (1955), p. 251 invites to think in a
critical way about dogmatic believe in progress: ... the
progress in the mastery of nature, not the retrogression of
society ...The angel is in-between two worlds, between a
god and human, between past and future, between world A
and world B, between the world we are living in now and the
word we have left. The angel is also a wake-up call that there can
be more than only a contemplating of what happened in the
past. Like De Joya (2014) asks: Arewe,liketheangel,hurled
into the future against our will?
Despite numerous and competing interpretations (Hope,
2020), in this article we want to use the spirit of the Angelus
Novus as a call for critical reection about the state of our
contemporary society. Can we resist the exploitation of nature
and man for the sake of growth or are the piles of debris hiding a
new society that rises from its ashes? Higher education in
management plays an important role in the current
sustainability challenges. The urgency to come up with
transformations in what and how universities teach and how
they create knowledge is recognised. Transgressing boundaries
between disciplines is needed, but rare within higher education in
management. In this article, literature is combined with a course
on sustainable management. The aim of the paper is to highlight
the relevance of Walter Benjamin and the âneur for opening up
the curriculum and encouring business and management
students to observe what is happening around them, to
discover the regenerative transformation of a city and to co-
create it accordingly. The article is structured as follows. In the
second section the relationship between Walter Benjamin and
sustainability is described. Then the analysis will be made about
the meaning of the âneur for the concept of the eco-âneur. In
the fourth section the pedagogical value of the (eco-)âneur is
explained with an illustration for higher education in
management in the fth section.
Walter Benjamin and sustainability
Walter Benjamin has a lot to offer in relation to
sustainability. His Angelus Novus can be perceived as a sign
of contemplation for the sustainability challenges we face
nowadays. Is the storm of progress catapulting us towards the
future, seeing the already massive debris growing, or will this
work as a trigger for a transformation? Benjamins (1955)
emphasis on the old co-ordination of the soul, the eye and
the hand, referring to the French author and poet Paul Valéry, is
similar to the emphasis on the combination of head, heart and
hand which are often mentioned in relation with sustainability
(Ivanaj et al., 2014). The four content areas of a sustainability
mindset that Kassel et al. (2016) suggest, i.e., systems perspective,
spiritual intelligence, ecological worldview and emotional
intelligence, are made explicit according to thinking, being
and doing, which are different ways of saying head, heart and
hand (Molderez et al., 2021). To be able to stimulate regenerative
transformations, the three are needed at the same time, although
in education the emphasis is often only on acquiring knowledge
in relation with sustainability.
Referring to Walter Benjamin as a source of inspiration for
rethinking management education and integrating
transformative learning is uncommon (Molderez, et al., 2021).
His work has been included in the analysis of many postmodern
and poststructuralist thinkers (Branzila, 2017). Walter Benjamin
is often characterised as an outsider, as Gerhard Scholem wrote
(Hamburger, 1982) and as an heterodox thinker about politics
and art(Farago, 2016). The enormous number of articles and
essays that he wrote during his short life is impressive because of
its depth and diversity (Eiland and Jennings, 2014). Thanks to
Walter Benjamin and his friend Siegfried Kracauer popular
culture was invented as an object of serious study. Especially
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his critical evaluation of modernity and the consumer society
made him a forerunner of cultural studies. There is only one
explanation that his work is still inevitable after more than
seventy years and that is the power of his ideasaccording to
Eiland and Jennings (2014, p. 3).
In his well-known text The Work of Art in the Age of
Mechanical Reproduction,Benjamin (1955) makes a
contrasting comparison between the doctor-surgeon and the
healer-shaman. Using Baudelaires motifs, Benjamin
introduces, as a metaphorical embodiment of the poet
according to Baudelaires perspective, the gure of the
chiffonier, the one who gathers urban waste and left-overs of
the city, an occupation that brings him closer to Lévi-Strauss
bricoleur. The occupations Baudelaire mentions: âneur,
chirurgien, shaman, chiffonier and bricoleur all resonate in
Benjamins work, but there is a special focus on the rstthe
wanderer that drew the authorsattention in this article. It also
drew the attention of numerous celebrated authors like Janet
Wolff, Griselda Pollock, Zygmunt Bauman, Gianpaolo Nuvolat
who all regard le âneur as an explorer of the citys landscape and
the ideology behind its representations. Bauman states: It is the
modern world which is the original âneur, the Baudelaire/
Benjamin human âneur is but its mirror image, its imitation,
the product of stocktaking, of forced adjustment and mimicry
(Bauman, 1994).
Benjamins (1999) Arcades Project also invites for a critical
reection on the contemporary state of cities. Only focussing on
attractions and spectacles shows a supercial city. It increases the
number of visitors, but at the same time shows its emptiness.
When the action is over, people leave and have not taking
anything else from it, like a deeper experience, a reection on
how the city and everybody who is part of it, is contributing to
making it better than before. Raworth (2017) calls this being
generous, i.e., giving back to the living systems of which we are
part.Regeneration goes much further than restoring systems,
but aims to bring them to a better or higher state(Du Plessis:
2022, p. 40). The speeding up of changes around us, like global
warming, drought, oods, stress, poverty and biodiversity loss
(Wilson, 2016;Wallace-Wells, 2019;IPCC, 2022;Roggema,
2022) can make us anxious and desperate, and especially the
younger generation might lose hope. Particularly, cities will see
the impact of this speed, but they also contain the seeds for
transformation. The increasing negative impact shows that the
stability of the past is making place for a growing uncertainty,
instability. Instead of being afraid, perceiving uncertainty as part
of life will become important and will emphasize that creativity is
needed to think about and work on a world where planet and
people ourish (Wahl, 2016). The destruction and collapse of
existing systems can then be an opportunity for something new.
Regenerative thinking focuses on the opportunity of creating new
systems inspired by living systems (Reed, 2007;Du Plessis, 2022).
Applied to a city, regeneration does not only refer to
materials and ows, but also to humans who must be taken
care of. Roggema (2022) touches upon the need for
contemplation, for spaces that are left empty so that the city
can become a mindful place. Empty holesmust be created to be
able to become whole. Public, physical and natural spaces invite
people to wander and wonder, to reect and to form a basis for
transformative change. Transformative change is a major
alteration in the way that a person senses, perceives, or
understands the world and the new internal representations of
life and thought that he or she creates as a result of that seismic
shift(Holland, 2018, p.1, referring to Jack Mezirow, 2003). The
transformation takes place through a process of learning, often
called transformative learning. According to Sterling (2011) this
is: learning which touches our deeper levels of knowing and
meaning, and, by so doing, then inuences our immediate and
concrete levels of knowing, perception and action.
Transformative learning can be triggered by the climate
change and its devastating impact on all living beings on
Earth, but also by more aesthetic encounters such as art or
poetry (Molderez and Ceulemans, 2018;Molderez et al.,
2021). Little research has been carried out so far on the
transformative learning impact (Michel et al., 2020)oron
outdoor experiences in particular, Holland (2018) being an
exception. Considering the need for transformational learning
with regard to sustainable issues (Sterling, 2011;Michel et al.,
2020) more research is needed on integrating experiences in the
curriculum of higher management education that facilitate and
encourage transformative change. Flannerism is perceived as an
outdoor experience and its merits for transformative learning is
the topic of the following sections.
From âneur to eco-âneur
Walter Benjamin did not invent the term âneur, but is
linked with it because he rst evoked the gure in the poetry of
Charles Baudelaire (Lauster, 2007;Hughes, 2017). The idea of the
âneur was particularly developed by Benjamin (1985,2006) in
Charles Baudelaire: A lyric Poet in the Era of High Capitalism,
rst published in English in 1973. The themes of Baudelaires
poetry, as well as his artistic gure had a long-lasting impression
on Benjamin, perhaps due to his interest in the society of the 19th
century. The city of Paris and its newly-built arcades, fostering
modernity and those wandering through it, observing and not
only that, appear in more than one of Benjaminsreections.
There is a denite connection between Walter Benjamin and
Charles Baudelaire, as unlikely as this may seem considering one
is German and the other French, one is a narrator and the other a
poet and they led such dissimilar lives in very different periods of
time. However, BaudelairesLes Fleurs du mal is reected in
Benjamins work and untimely death, as well. He also translated
several poems in German and wrote quite extensively on
Baudelaire; his essays are considered revolutionary and shed a
whole new light on the Romantic poet: The Baudelaire who
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steps forth from these pages is the âneur who afxes images as
he strolls through mercantile Paris ...a complex object: a largely
apolitical writer whose poetry we must nevertheless comprehend
before we can formulate any responsible cultural politics of
modernity(Benjamin, 2006).
Le âneur is very typically Frenchmentioned by other
authors as well, for example Balzac or Victor Hugo in his
monumental work Les Miserables, when he writes that to
walk is human; to anner is Parisian.”“The âneur, or street
prowler and wanderer, is gloried in the work of Balzac and
Alexandre Dumas, and only later, in a different tone, in the work
of modernists such as Aragon and Baudelaire(Shields, 1994).
Baudelaire therefore echoes the nineteenth centurys character
and imprints him in the collective memory. Benjamin takes it
even further, offering to le âneur a philosophical dimension. Le
âneur of Baudelaire and later Benjamins, walks around the city
just to seehe is essentially an attentive observer who tastes the
world by pacing and watching it. Unmistakably, le âneur is
accompanied by a turtle, the slowest of the walkers, symbolizing
the slow pace in which the stroller-observer takes in the city.
Baudelaire and Benjamins wanderer has become so much part of
the collective memory that even a very modern publication like
Financial Times mentions him and the denition resembles the
one above: Aâneur is just a noticer of things, or what
Baudelaire called a botanist of the pavement ... the idea of
aimless urban strolling had taken on an elitist air ... Using
ones waking hours to roam without direction or purpose also
goes against a culture of productivity.(Ganesh, 2022). Despite
the rush and speed that dominate modern societies, there is an
urgent need for slowing down, for le âneur to be able to develop
a sustainable mindset, our reective system must be triggered to
shift perspectives in doing, being and thinking. This is how
transformative learning can be fostered as a way towards
creating another system.
Walter Benjamin used the powerful gure of the âneur, a
familiar character in the nineteenth century to analyze modernity.
As Schipper (2017) highlights, Benjamin introduced the concept of
the âneur into academia in 1929 and since then it has been a source
of inspiration for many scholars (McDonough, 2002;Shaya, 2004;
Dameron, 2000;Gluck, 2006;Featherstone, 1998;Picton and Roger,
2015;Hughes, 2017;Comay, 2017;Kula, 2018;Degen et al., 2020).
Hughes (2017) describes Benjaminsâneurassomeonewho
explores, enjoys and embraces the city. He strolls without a
particular aim. Benjamin (2006, p. 68) writes: ... the street
becomes a dwelling place for the âneur; he is as much at home
among house facades as a citizen is within his four walls ...Although
Benjamin (2006) focused on 19th century Paris, the concept is still
relevant for the 21st century. Like Hughes (2017),p.71explainsit:
... the âneur becomes a plastic gure who can be moulded and
extrapolated ...The âneur wanders and by wandering through the
city, any city, he wonders without having the purpose of reecting
about something in particular. The movement of wandering comes
close to becoming moved because of the wonder. It happens in
between. And this ts with understanding a âneur as a mode of
being, pertaining to a particular gaze, one who is always on the cusp of
modernity (Hughes, 2017, p. 69). This cusp is very relevant because
new things happen on the edge. The freewheeling âneur(Hughes,
2017, p. 82) is reminiscent of Robert Pirsigs (1989) Zen and Art of
Motorcycle Maintenance. Pirsig (1989), p. 14 emphasizes that the
travelling is more important than arriving somewhere very specic.
Having no purpose does not mean that there is no end. On the
contrary, the end will be there, but this is unclear from the beginning.
The focus is on the process and this process will eventually lead to an
outcome, and end. This allows for opennes to whatever happens in
the meantime. Similarities with serendipity also become clear. Horace
Walpole coined the term when he was reading a Persian fairly tale in
1754, The Travels and Adventures of Three Princes of Sarendip. The
princes made several discoveries by chance and perspicacity. This
inspired Walpole to describe this phenomenon as serendipity.Itis
now also used as a methodological approach to refer to the ability of
discovering interesting and valuable cases, sites, items, that one was
actually not looking for. As explained by Copeland (2019), p. 2386
serendipitous discovery is a process rather than an event and can be
marked by several interactions of chance and wisdom that enable the
valuable outcome.It is precisely the context the individual is in and
the interaction with it, that bring about this discovery. The âneur
strolls the streets in a serendipitous way which allows to detect what is
happening in urban life.
Baudelaire describes le âneur as a person with a special
status, as only a privileged one could afford the luxury of
strolling, unobserved, the arcades with shops from Paris,
observing the mystery of the city and the crowds, without
mixing with them: a prince enjoying his incognito wherever
he goes(Baudelaire, 1970). Benjamin outlines le âneur in a
similar key, using Baudelairesâneur to start an exploration of
the mind in relation with the modernity of the city life, marking
yet another afnity of thought between the two important
writers. However, there are authors who see le âneur as an
activist, not just an idle wanderer of the city. Benjaminsâneur
represents mainly his exploration of the modernitys symbols,
images and impressions, or as Kevin Milburn reads it: the
âneur did not just observe urban life; but was, according to
Benjamin, engaged in an archaeologicalprocess of unearthing
the myths and collective dreamsof modernity(Milburn,
2010). Furthermore, authors like David Harvey, describe le
âneur as not only wondering idly, but walking with a
mission: to map the citysterrainandevokesitsliving
qualities(Harvey, 2003), thus making the city accessible to
the rest of the world. A similar perspective is encountered in the
book of Shieldsdescribing le âneur as a gure of resistance to
the work-a-day pressure of the punchclock(Shields, 1994), a
character ghting his own individual ght against
consumerism. Featherstone (1998) also discusses annerism
as a methodology for uncovering the traces of social meaning
embedded in the layered fabric of the city(cited in Stevenson,
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Walter Benjamin (2006), p. 99 contrasted two gures: the
âneur and the badaud: In the âneur, the joy of watching
prevails over all. It can concentrate on observation; the result is
the amateur detective. Or it can stagnate in the rubbernecker, then
the âneur has turned into a badaud.A badaud is part of the public
or of the crowd (Benjamin, 2006, p. 249) which means the âneur is
always in, but never of the public. The âneur needs to observe the
An eco-âneurtakes the romantic gure that was central in
literary works by Poe, Joyce, Baudelaire, Döblin and Proust
(Schipper, 2017) further. Being part of an era that puts
sustainable challenges at the forefront, the eco-âneur
becomes the observer of the sustainable spectacles that emerge
in the city. As much as the âneur was essential for the streetlife
in 19th Century Paris (Benjamin, 1969), the eco-âneur can
become a powerful symbol of the regenerative transformation of
a city. The eco-âneuris witnessing what is going on in the city
and this witness makes him an active producer. By strolling in the
city, the city invites the âneur to reect upon it. The eco-âneurs
are transformed into a performative spectator(Schipper, 2017,
p. 193). The city then acts as a theatre and the eco-âneurs are the
artists, the co-producers of the city. They are not just detached
observers, but by wandering and wondering they discover and
become touched by their selection and interpretation of what is
happening in the city. Writing as early as the beginning of the
20th century, Lewis Mumford advocated for progressive urban
planning and discussed the city as a theater of social action.
Flaneurism is an appropriate method of taking social action,
from being environmentally friendly by walking instead of
driving to discovering the city in a live interaction with the
city itself and perhaps even modifying it for a better future. Also,
the city is an appropriate stage for a aneurthe very denition
of the term involves walking as an observer, a spectator of the city
life. As Mumford (1938),p.46 puts it: to embody these new
possibilities in city life, which come to us not merely through
better technical organization but through acuter sociological
understanding, and to dramatize the activities themselves in
appropriate individual and urban structures, forms the task of
the coming generation.
The eco-âneur reminds of Robert Coopers (1983)
interpretation of Echo and Narcissus, the Greek myth about
Narcissus who rejected the affections of the nymph Echo. She
eventually wasted away until only her voice remained. According
to Cooper (1983), p. 202 this Greek myth is an allegory for the
signicance of the other: As punishment for his inability to love
others, the gods made Narcissus fall in love with his own
reection, which paradoxically he both possessed and yet
could not possess. Narcissus rejected the life-giving structure
of the outside society, mediated by other people. We know
ourselves only through the echo of the Other.Ec(h)o, as in
ecology, is not something different from ourselves, but is more
like a reection of ourselves. It tells us something about ourselves
and vice versa. The way we are also says something about how we
see ecology. It reminds us of our responsibility. Like in Edvard
Munchs The Scream, the echo of the cry for help, with the ears of
our body, the cells of our brain, the awareness of our mind,
symbolizing the body, the head and the heart (Benjamin, 1955).
We can never shirk responsibility, because we have heard.
The pedagogical value of the eco-
In this section, we further elaborate on Walter Benjamins
work and the pedagogical value of the (eco-) âneur in relation to
management education. The general aim of education has been
debated for centuries, and is still under discussion today. For
many philosophers, like Aristotle, the aim of education was the
ourishing of the individual, oriented towards leading a good life.
For the later Stoics, the aim was to liberate individuals from
customs and habits (Abicht and Opdebeeck, 2016). The
discussion focuses on the aim of education as providing
people with knowledge. According to Kitcher (2009) three
types of knowledge are foreseen: 1) knowledge of particular
propositions that have been explicitly taught; 2) habits and
dispositions to judge and to act in private and in social
contexts; 3) skills to acquire further knowledge of the rst two
types. Providing knowledge has a social aim, and according to
Mill (2002, cited in Kitcher, 2009), the principal task of education
is preparing people for their role of citizens in a democracy,
i.e., the ability to make informed and reasoned decisions about
matters of public policy. He presents four perspectives on
education: 1) promoting individual ourishing; 2) producing
citizens who will participate well in current democratic
institutions; 3) expanding public knowledge; 4) fostering the
advancement of human culture (Kitcher, 2009).
Especially John Dewey outlined the role of education in
democratic societies, with a specic focus on enabling citizens
to lead ourishing lives, and contributing to progressive
improvement of society. Within this context, Dewey stressed
the importance of critical thinking (Lambrechts et al., 2013;
Lambrechts, 2020). Within the current context of
sustainability issues in society, the fundamental questions
regarding what needs to be taught, what kind of education is
required, what needs to be revisited: what does individual
ourishing mean in a society in light of sustainability issues?
A critical view on traditional customs in society is essential, and
education needs to enable citizens in a democracy to develop
these critical thinking abilities (Nussbaum, 2011).
Martha Nussbaum stresses the importance of the arts in
higher education, as a way to encourage broad development of
the learner: Leading business educators have long understood
that a developed capacity to imagine is a keystone of a healthy
business culture(Nussbaum, 2011). While some initiatives have
been exploring this role (e.g., Shrivastava et al., 2012;Molderez
and Ceulemans, 2018;Molderez et al., 2021), today it seems
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rather uncommon to introduce arts-based pedagogies in
management education. It is within the context of critical
thinking that the eco-âneur proves its pedagogical value.
The notion of the eco-âneur could serve as a way to open up
the curriculum, and encourage students in business and
management education to observe what happens around
them. While the original âneur was the aristocrate, detached,
the gourmet of the street, the eco-âneur might serve specically
as an observer of the regenerative transformation of a city.
Benjamins notions of connecting soul, eye and hand, could
be connected with contemporary interpretations of
sustainability mindsets and competencies, focusing on head,
heart and hand (Molderez et al., 2021). Such individual
sustainability competencies have been studied in the context
of management education (e.g., Lambrechts et al., 2018). They
have been conceptualised and dened, yet mainly with a focus on
the knowledge component (i.e., head), thereby overlooking the
importance of heart and hand. Recent developments in this eld,
such as the European sustainability competence framework
GreenComp(Bianchi et al., 2022), outlines these
competencies with focus on knowledge, attitudes and skills.
These could be connected with head, heart and hand as well
(Molderez et al., 2021). As such, the eco-âneur, while observing,
develops specic understanding of urban transformation and
transition processes. While performing the act of strolling
around the city, a more holistic development of sustainability
competencies is encouraged, touching head, heart and hand.
Being an eco-âneur in higher
management education: Discovering
regenerative transformations in
There are different ways of stimulating critical thinking
abilities in higher management education. The concept of the
âneur is taken further to eco-âneur, i.e., strollers as students
and teachers who see and reect upon what is happening and
changing in the city and how street life is being transformed
towards regeneration. The eco-âneur is suggested as an
alternative pedagogy to unite soul, eye and hand, three
elements that are brought into connection by Walter
Benjamin and that are vital for a sustainability mindset. Eco-
âneur is also used as a metaphor to rethink education and to
suggest ways for transformative learning and education (Balsiger
et al., 2017). A âneur was the aristocrate, detached, the gourmet
of the street, while the badaud was more associated with the
working people, emotional, the gourmand (Shaya, 2004).
Education should integrate both: the detached observer
looking for knowledge and the one who is touched by what
he observes. But there is more than image. Students can also be
stimulated to become an eco-âneur, i.e., one where hands,
hearts and heads are united (Ivanaj et al., 2014). Inspired by
Paul Shrivastavas (2010) article Pedagogy of Passion for
Sustainabilitywe will elaborate on how to combine
sustainable management with physical exercises. It also ts in
the growing attention for slow experiences, like slow food, slow
fashion, and in the importance of walking, not only to explore the
beauty of nature (Somerville, 2022) or to protest in a peaceful way
(Kumar, 2021), but because of its health effect (Hansen et al.,
2017;Degen et al., 2020;OMara, 2021;Grant and Pollard, 2022)
and transformational capacities (Wareld and Hetherington,
2018) even when it concerns urban walking (Herrmann-
Lunecke, et al., 2020). Routine walking is conceptualised as a
territory-making process. Mindful of the social context and
bodily experience, walking offers insights into the possibilities
of making points of connection with the performances of plants
and animals (Grant and Pollard, 2022).
The eco-âneur will be used as an alternative pedagogy to
illustrate another way of discovering the regenerative
transformation of a city while relying on different models of
social entrepreneurship (Alter, 2003;Bruder, 2020;Klomp and
Oosterwaal, 2021), named as Sustainable Entrepreneurial
Promenade.This is not just a promenade, but a discovery of
what is going on in a city (Mahmoud et al., 2022). The method
will give the participants the possibility to experience the city by
themselves, i.e., to discover the regenerative aspects of the city, to
see a city with different eyes and to be open for innovative
initiatives that are regenerative.
In the article Pedagogy of Passion for Sustainability,Paul
Shrivastava (2010) listed possibilities that connect sustainable
management with physical exercises. For example, he suggested
strategic exibility through yoga; competitive strategy through
football or basketball; cooperative strategy through games and
social activities that require cooperation such as dancing.
Strolling like an eco-âneur could be added to the list.
It might be a bit odd to focus on the city of Brussels for a
promenade. Charles Baudelaire hated Brussels because there
were no shopwindows. Strollingsomething that nations
with imagination loveis impossible in Brussels. There is
nothing to see and the streets are unusable(Benjamin, 2006,
p. 81). Since the time of Baudelaire a lot has been changed for
the better. According to the Global Destination Index (GDS)
Brussels ranks number 14 and this is mainly due to the large
percentage (23%) of green areas such as forests, public
gardens, parks and sportgrounds. Nevertheless, in the Top
20 Sustainable Smart Cities in the World, Brussels is not
ranked. Yet, Brussels is not really known for its outstanding
close concentration of sustainable examples. Strolling
through the city as an eco-âneurtriggerswithinthe
stroller the possibility to see as a philosopher, as a critical
thinker and discover how the city and its street life are
In line with the chronicle under the heading of Promenade à
Parisof the early Le Petit Journal founded in 1863 (Shaya, 2004),
the Sustainable Entrepreneurial Promenade (SEP) was created as
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a tour for fresh news with respect to sustainable organisations.
Shaya (2004), p. 51 refers to a chronicler who makes the purposes
of the SEP explicit: Iamaâneur, and even I am sometimes
surprised at the strange sights that seem to rise out of the soil of
this Paris that we think we have always known.Streets are like an
open book for the regenerative transformation of a city and ready
to discover for an eco-âneur.
Every city can be used as a case, but, since the Campus
Brussels of the Faculty of Economics and Business is located in
the city centre, it is rather obvious to start as a stroller here.
However, students always look surprised when they are asked to
put on walking shoes when the Sustainable Entrepreneurial
Promenade(SEP) is announced. Studying sustainable business
models by taking a walk through the city centre of Brussels is not
an ordinary way of teaching a topic in a curriculum for Higher
Education in Management. Nevertheless, in pedagogical articles
related to sustainability, combining body and mind is strongly
recommended. But doing it effectively is not so obvious. SEP has
been part of the course on Sustainable Management since 2013.
SEP was created in the spirit of the eco-âneur. Because of the act
of strolling with a sustainable gaze, participants are walking like
an eco-âneur: discovering things without knowing what this will
be beforehand. Teaching the students to look with different eyes,
to blur the boundary between knowing and experiencing, to be
open for a different view of the city, the city enacts knowledge.
The students are free to walk any route from point A to point
B. They are instructed to walk in silence to fully surrender to what
the city has to offer. The starting point is at Brussels Campus and
the ending point is at the Place du Jardin aux Fleurs
(Bloemenhofplein). The square itself is an iconic example of
how a public place can be transformed in a short period of time.
Just by a few strategically placed ower boxes that counteract the
trafc, the place ourished from a place of urban tragedy over
trafc accidents and senseless violence to a meeting place for
residents, school-age children and youth (Dhondt, 2022a). This is
just one example of how the walk gives students the opportunity
to zoom in on the citys policies, such as the importance of the
pedestrian zone, and to illustrate gentrication.
Formed harmony like at the Place du Jardin aux Fleurs is
difcult to nd in the middle of the city in Brussels, especially at
the location of the KU Leuven Campus Brussel. Located close to
the central station, the campus connects to the shopping district
and the Queens Gallery, which is rather an ode to the consumer
society. Nevertheless, the gallery gives plenty of opportunities to
think about sustainable chocolate and the Fairtrade label. Other
retail chains can also provide input for an eco-âneur. For
example, Dille and Kamille (2022) with their success story of
almost 50 years of dedication towards zero plastic gives space to
think about the use of natural materials. Yet the question is
whether commercial institutions will prevail over public places
and cultural institutions during the promenade.
Between long streets of commercial shops and eateries,
numerous non-commercial institutions with a social interest
can be spotted as an eco-âneur. For example, Cinema Nova
(2022) which is right around the corner from the campus is
dedicated to independently produced lms. The street scene of
the social venue indicates eccentricity and hints at the grind of
the variety of different creative forms of expression. The cafe-bar
also welcomes different disciplines to bring them together for
meetings, debates, exhibits, installations, performances,
workshops and concerts. Yet, only the eco-âneurs who take
it slow and stop in front of the venue notice that the letters Nova
are made from old materials such as a wheel, a chair leg and a
Cinema Novas goal is to explore alternative realities within
the increasingly commercialized and polarised society. We notice
the emergence of artistic platforms in Brussels that share
similarities in their social values. The Kaaitheater (2022)
devoted to the performing arts, wants to reect the polyphony
of Brussels society. They show their openness to the broad
spectrum of artists and visitors with their motto How to be
many?MAD Brussels (2022) aims to encourage creative minds
to be innovative, sustainable and inclusive with their Centre for
Fashion and Design. They support junior designers to develop
their brand and label. Together they want to bring that creative
aura to Brussels. A success story that blossomed from Brussels
social initiatives is that of Siré Kaba. The Belgian fashion designer
with Guinean roots wants to bridge the gap between Africa and
Europe. By means of her clothing designs, she succeeds in
contradicting the poor image people have of Africa. In a
social workplace in Molenbeek, she makes her colorful and
elegant wardrobe (BRUZZ, 2021a).
Close to the end location of the walk, the statue Zinneke Pis is
located. The urinating dog is thematically related to one of
Belgiums most famous monuments, Manneken Pis. The fact
that Zinneke is representing hybrid breeding, is symbolic of the
cultural diversity within Brussels. In 2021, the city of Brussels
registered 183 different nationalities (Flemish Community
Commission, 2021). This means that Brussels is the most
cosmopolitan city in Europe and therefore a laboratory for
cultural diversity. According to the Regional Plan for
Sustainable Development (Government of the Brussels Capital
Region, 2018), diverse populations contribute to Brussels
identity and the citys economic dynamism, social and cultural
diversity and attractiveness on a Belgian and international level.
Would anybody strolling by Zinneke make the connection with
the multicultural city?
The dogs name Zinneke is derived from the river Zenne that
once owed through Brussels. According to the mythical stories
of the founding artist Tom Frantzen (2013), the dog was of a
tough breed: it survived being thrown into this river. Next to this
story, the river Zenne has an eventful past in Brussels. The river
that once brought prosperity to Brussels and is an integral part of
its development also has its cruelty. Periods of ooding, disease
outbreak and bad odour prompted the construction of the Zenne
Tunnel in 1886. The river that once had a large presence in
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Brussels still ows in serenity through the centre today. Yet, only
when searching for silence the underground river will show itself
(BRUZZ, 2021b). On the Saint-Géry (Sint-Goriksplein) next to
the brasserie Lion dOr, there is a courtyard with a minuscule
piece of owing watera water entity that follows the old trace of
the Zenne. Stepping into the courtyard, a change of environment
can be noticed. A shift from a surrounding of fast-paced life
bustle of the city reigns to one where the calmness of owing
water can be seen, be heard, and perhaps even be felt. A humble
island amongst a modern-day hectic setting where one can come
to rest. There are more such sites in Brussels, but they will only
show themselves during the process of discovery.
The route that the students stroll along starts from the lively
city centre and goes in the direction of the canal. In many
Western cities, a similarity can be seen: the Canal area is
often known as the citys problem neighbourhood where
poverty and violence are prevalent. This is no less true in
Brussels. Yet, in recent years we have seen changes in the
streetscape: old empty factories are being transformed into
places where creativity and social initiatives can ourish. A
good example is the former Citroën factory, a massive
building resembling a cathedral of steel and glass. Its location,
close to the historic centre and next to the canal, was in the 1930s
the ideal place for Mr. Citroen to place the largest car factory of
that time (Centre Pompidou, 2022). However, over the years, the
dynamics and needs of the city have changed tremendously.
Automation and the outsourcing of production made room for
initiatives that can full contemporary needs. The iconic factory
building is rethought in a way that ts better in the Brussels of the
21st century: an international cultural centre. This way of
integrating the old and the new is an illustration of how
culture, wellbeing and sustainability are interrelated to one
As students walk towards the canal, they see more and more of
the citys real character as a result of those transformations. Here are
a lot of alternative organizational forms such as social enterprises
and hybrid organizations that mix social and business goals. The
Salvation Army is a good example. Service to the urban poor is
supported by participation in the market. After all, clothing sales are
held at regular intervals in which everyone can participate. The
proceeds benettheiroperation(Dhondt, 2022b).
Close to the Salvation Army, the brewery Brussels Beer
Project (2022) can be found. Although the brewery has a
standard business model of selling beer, they t in the
concept of a regenerative city. Metropolitan cities are known
for having many people living on a small piece of land. Likewise,
where a lot of people live, there are a lot of food surpluses. This
makes circular initiatives within food processing indispensable in
a regenerative city. Brussels Beer Project is the pioneer in making
beer out of recycled bread and is known for its upcycling projects.
The word projectin their name reects that they do not see
themselves as a normal brewery but rather as a project built on
collaboration, experimentation and positive impact. A project
that has been started with a few hundred crowd funders and
almost 10 years later has grown to a community ten times the
original size. A community that is constantly considering how to
make a greater positive impact with the project. For this reason,
the announcement was made that they will no longer export beer
outside of Europe starting in 2023. This decision was made even
though the expectation is that this negatively affects their revenue
in the short term. However, the founders resist against short-
term thinking and make choices that t their long-term
sustainable vision. This long-term vision aligns with their
recently obtained American sustainability label B-Corp and
their goal of becoming best in class in environmental impact
and others (BRUZZ, 2022).
However, the discovery of alternative forms of organization
becomes particularly interesting when the Canal is crossed to
Molenbeek. Atelier Groot Eiland (2022) applies the
employment modelon a large scale. Their goal is to combat
poverty by supporting as many Brusselsresidents as possible in
their search for work. Their projects are therefore very diverse:
from a restaurant, to a joinery, to a city vegetable garden, and an
organic shop where, through training courses and work
experience, people once again believe in a different future.
What all the projects have in common is the shared focus on
sustainability, social entrepreneurship and alternative economic
business models. As a cooperative model,the Foodhub is one of
their examplary projects. In addition to organic products that
often come directly from small and medium-sized producers,
attention is paid to the participation of customers, employees and
producers. Foodhub wants to pay a fair price to the producer and
advertises how that price is structured. For example, as far as
their olive oil in bulk is concerned, 69% of the nal price goes to
the producer and 3% to transport. And suddenly you wonder
why not everything can be so transparent. Learning how to stroll
therefore achieves its goal: thinking about surprisingly different
alternative ways of doing business.
After 40 min of being an eco-aneur, the students shared
their experiences in the form of a reection report. First, they
described two elements of the city that t in their view of a
regenerative city, then their conception of a regenerative city and
nally their reections on the experience.
The urban elements that stood out to the students range from
holistic concepts that involve a considerable amount of
brainwork to the ne details that are only seen when standing
still in the city. Most answers included urban biodiversity. For
example, the number of different green walls shows that the
students see nature in a regenerative city as indispensable. But
even more creative solutions were noticed such as plants placed
in hanging ashtrays, sidewalk tiles replaced with greenery and a
hotel for insects. Also, the social initiatives were just as much
noticed by the students. The elements range from small elements
that make the city liveable for different groups such as wheelchair
infrastructure to social initiatives to bring people together in a
cafe run by volunteers or a community vegetable garden. Getting
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around in a city also resonates with the students and various
alternatives to the car and car-free zones have been named.
Lastly, the students have a good eye for circular initiatives to
reduce the pile of waste that city folk creates. Different Rs derived
from the European waste strategy towards a circular economy
(Institute for European Environmental Policy, 2022) are reected
in this: QR-codes to Refuse physical yers, shops that only sell
local products to Reduce transport emissions, Reusing items
through a vintage store, entrepreneurs that upcycle items to
Repurpose and garbage bags to Recycle paper.
The aspect that the students did not have to rush and that their
goal was to wander around was considered pleasant. It gave them the
life. Also, for most it gave the feeling of calmness even though they
were present in the big city. For others, the task of discovery actually
brought a sense of enthusiasm by seeing what others do not see.
Surprisingly but profoundly positive, all the students indicated that
they think it is appropriate to include such a promenade like the eco-
âneur in a management programme. Most students justied the
positive response with the fact that they interacted with a different
their surroundings. A few described that this active thinking creates
a certain awareness. The awareness described ranges from the
different ways of thinking to the creation of awareness for
sustainability. The exercise required them to think deeply about
howtheyviewtheconceptofsustainability and the city provides a
source of inspiration. Yet, the downside of the awareness is also
reported: the negative side of the city also comes in harder like the
number of unsustainable businesses, trash and bad odour. However,
this is an opportunity for students to interact with the reality of the
city and to reect on how their mental concepts twithinreality.
Students articulated the eco-aneurasapossiblebridgeinthe
theory-practice gap in different ways such as chance to bring
theory to life,”“real problems and solutions,”“using the
theoretical topics,”“thinking about possibilities,and itsnot
always easy to understand everything by only learning the
theory.Some students even went a step further and theorized
that the competencies used during the promenade would also be
useful for their later careers: you can get creative ideas to include in
your organizationand for the managers to think more out of the
box.Although, a minor group of students kept their answers within
the state of the moment and spoke about the promenade as a fun
activity that was good for group cohesion and that the outdoor
activity is good for their wellbeing.
In addition to the studentspositive responses, they were also
asked how the experience could be improved. Since the
promenade is an exercise that students do not usually
practice, nding regenerative aspects in the city was seen as a
challenge. As a result, the majority of students felt that the
activity was too short: they wanted more time to explore the
city and reect upon their thoughts. Others expressed a need for
examples because they do not yet fully understand the concept of
a regenerative city. Also, a need for guidance was expressed since
it was hard to slow down the passor to nd the right thing.
The studentsoverall conclusion was that it takes some practice
to really become an experienced eco-aneur.
Transformative learning experiences can be facilitated according
to Sterling (2011),butby their naturenot guaranteed. The eco-
âneur was created for the purpose of stimulating transformative
learning, although it is only a small element in a bigger curriculum of
other courses that focuses on other types of learning. Nevertheless,
being different in a landscape that is focussing much on doing
things better,anddoing better things,seeing things differently
(Sidiropoulos, 2014;Michel et al., 2020), might have a better effect
on the students than imagined.
In the same lines as Shields (1994),Harvey (2003),Milburn
(2010) and Featherstone (1998) the concept of the Eco-Flâneur is
attempting to assume the same role of an observer noting what is
wrong, reading the landscape and the city in different keys and
perhaps taking a stand against what spoils its face and what is not in
accordance with the environment. Walter Benjamin was critical for
progress. Progress leaves behind the vulnerable, the Earth and her
inhabitants, including humans. A city should also be a heaven for
them. The organisations that were discovered by the students and
teachers during the experience of the eco-âneur, showing this other
side of a city, the roots of a city, they work for the common good and
illuminate the seeds for a regenerative city. Benjamins beloved
Angel of History is then also a metaphor for faith in a different
future, a regenerative one where we give more back than we take.
The modern eco-âneur is a responsible person, observing and at
the same time aiming to make a difference. Modern times ask for
action and re-action, especially in our endangered world, so perhaps
le âneur is now ready to step out of the Baudelarian pages and
become an activist.
Students aneuring the city of Brussels discover its cultural
landmarks, and come up with new ideas for a more
regenerative city, thus co-creating the city. They observed
things to be improved, they came up with feasible ideas to
make the city more regenerative. These conclusions can be
afterwards put in practice by communicating them to the
people in charge, for instance the mayorshouse.
Alternatively, they can be used in projects that would
involve everyone working together and changing the face of
the city for the better.
Not all cities are inclusive enough for all categories of people.
The accessibility functions according to the principle: the city should
t and accommodate all, equally. The students-aneurs can be an
agent of change in this regard, too, by noticing where things can be
improved for the less fortunate. After all, it is not enough for the
public ofces to make the city physically accessible, there is work to
be done on peoples mentality, to help them notice and think about
the people with different abilities around them. The lack of
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inclusiveness or solutions implemented incorrectly are as damaging
as carelessnessthe lack of empathy between people, the lack of
awareness of those around us.
Data availability statement
The original contributions presented in the study are
included in the article. Further inquiries can be directed to the
corresponding author.
Author contributions
All authors listed have made a substantial, direct, and
intellectual contribution to the work and approved it for publication.
Conict of interest
The authors declare that the research was conducted in the
absence of any commercial or nancial relationships that could
be construed as a potential conict of interest.
The authors would like to thank the community of the PhD
Program in Environmental Sustainability and Wellbeing, Ferrara
University, Italy; the participants at the workshop Co-creative
and transformative learning environmentsorganized by the
Higher Education Summit in Hasselt in 2022; the students of
the third Bachelor Environmental Health and Safety Management
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