«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Making use of the Integrative Worldview Framework (IWF) by systematically covering the five different aspects of worldviews may support the operationalization of the worldview-concept in a comprehensive manner. This is particularly significant as to date no approach has systematically and comprehensively investigated worldviews, and as such explored their significance in relationship to environmental and sustainability-issues. Moreover, the IWF may contribute to revealing gaps in existing research, thereby outlining directions for future research. For example, reflecting on the reviewed approaches it becomes clear that the epistemology-aspect tends to be underemphasized in this field of research, as it does not seem to be covered by any of the reviewed approaches (see table 3). Similarly, the IWF can be used to reflect on the specific aspects that each of the existing measures cover, or fail to cover.
For example, the NEP seems to be largely concerned with the anthropology and societal vision aspects, while the other aspects appear to be underemphasized. In this way, the proposed framework may advance existing research or stimulate new research, as well as contribute to illuminating how existing approaches are related to each other, thereby potentially supporting their integration.
Furthermore, the employment of the five aspects of worldview organizes and systematizes the process of questionnaire-development, which contributes to the investigation of respondent’s structural assumptions rather than their surface positions and opinions, as well as enhances the overall methodological transparency of the research. Simultaneously, the IWF may support researchers to explore beliefs and assumptions as a coherent pattern or system—that is, as truly ‘overarching systems of meaning and meaning-making’ rather than as 106 isolated ideas and disconnected beliefs. For example, the IWF can be used to explore spirituality by investigating spiritual assumptions, experiences, and understandings with regard to each of the five aspects, as well as in a way that can dynamically account for human and cultural development (e.g. by distinguishing between more traditional religious and more contemporary spiritual notions; see Fowler, 1981). Thus, instead of conceptualizing spirituality as an isolated phenomenon or separate aspect, employing the different aspects may facilitate exploring it as an integral part of an individual’s worldview, coming to expression in his/her most fundamental assumptions concerning the nature of reality, knowledge acquisition, et cetera. For these reasons, employing the five worldview-aspects may engender a more systematic, structural, and comprehensive articulation and investigation of worldviews in survey- and other empirical research.
Moreover, as Koltko-Rivera (2004) has argued, an adequate understanding and operationalization of the worldview construct “may be useful in tying together questions and subfields into at least a relatively more unified psychology” (p. 46). Additionally, because the concept of worldview has penetrated multiple disciplines (e.g. anthropology, religious studies, sociology, philosophy, psychology), the use of the worldview-construct as an integrative framework could have the two-pronged benefit of encouraging greater interdisciplinarity as well as facilitate the further development of the insights that these disciplines have already generated (K. A. Johnson et al., 2011). As several authors have argued, in the context of our planetary issues of global environmental change, such interdisciplinary cooperation and integration across the social sciences is urgently needed (Biermann, 2007; Hedlund, 2010; O' Brien, 2010). Furthermore, such an integrated investigation should not be limited to the structure of worldviews (as operationalized in the five aspects of worldviews), but also address their content, through using more comprehensive, preferably interdisciplinary, worldview-theories that address the five aspects and their interrelationships in an overarching way. In this context, I have argued that it is important to move beyond the (ambiguous) binary frameworks that appear to be prevalent in many existing approaches, as they tend to conflate perspectives (or worldviews) that in reality are distinct, thereby leading to confusion and misunderstanding. Employing a more dynamic, dialecticaldevelopmental perspective to understand the worldviews present in our contemporary cultural landscape, may support one to avoid such conflations and account for more complexity and diversity. In this way, such interdisciplinary worldview-theories are given shape by building forth on—among others—the insights that have been generated through over a hundred years of empirical research in developmental psychology (Kegan, 1982), using it to understand the relationship between humanity and nature (see e.g. W. T. De Groot, 1999;
Esbjörn-Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009; Kahn, 1999; O' Brien, 2009). In that sense, the proposed approach may also serve as a heuristic for both generating and interpreting data, thereby facilitating a generally more dynamic understanding of worldviews.
Summing up, the IWF appears to have empirical benefits notably for the process of survey design and development, generally supporting a more systematic, comprehensive, structural, and dynamic operationalization of the worldview-construct, as well as for the process of data-analysis and interpretation, offering a generally more dynamic and pluralistic framework for understanding worldviews. The analysis of current measures and the proposed framework therefore seem to have significant potential to support empirical research into the complex and controversial relationship between worldviews and (more) sustainable lifestyles—an important and timely undertaking in the context of our complex, pluralistic, contemporary culture, which is faced with an ever-increasing intensity of global ecological, societal, and economic challenges.
Table 3: The five aspects of the IWF facilitate one to see which worldviewaspects are explored by existing approaches and how they are interrelated.
We have yet to capture, I think, the unique combination of greatness and danger, of grandeur et misère, which characterizes the modern age. […]. Briefly, it is that this identity is much richer in moral sources than its condemners allow, but that this richness is rendered invisible by the impoverished philosophical language of its most zealous defenders.
Modernity urgently needs to be saved from its most unconditional supporters – a predicament perhaps not without precedent in the history of culture.
- Charles Taylor46 45 In: The Philosophical Discourse of Modernity (1987), p. 110.
46 In: Sources of the Self. The Making of the Modern Identity (1996), preface.
4.1 Introduction A change of individual behaviors and lifestyles is generally considered to be of vital importance for making the transition to a sustainable society (Leiserowitz et al., 2006; Steg & Vlek, 2009; World Watch Institute, 2010) However, as research and practice over several decades have shown, lifestyles are generally not becoming more sustainable, nor are changes in that direction easily made (Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005; PBL, 2007). It has been frequently argued that worldviews play a fundamental role in shaping lifestyles and behaviors (De Vries & Petersen, 2009; K. A. Johnson et al., 2011; Koltko-Rivera, 2004;
Tellegen & Wolsink, 1998). While values have been conceptualized as important life goals or standards (Rokeach, 1973), and environmental attitudes have been defined as “the collection of beliefs, affect, and behavioral intentions a person holds regarding environmentally related activities or issues” (Schultz et al., 2004, p. 31), the concept of worldview is generally understood to consist of foundational assumptions and perceptions “regarding the underlying nature of reality, ‘proper’ social relations or guidelines for living, or the existence or nonexistence of important entities” (Koltko-Rivera, 2004, p. 5). As discussed in chapter two, worldviews are then understood as the inescapable, overarching systems of meaning and meaning-making that substantially inform how humans interpret, enact, and co-create reality, and contain, for example, values and environmental attitudes. Some authors have therefore argued that the concept of worldview can function as an integrative framework with which to investigate the interaction of beliefs, values, and traditions (K. A. Johnson et al., 2011; see also Koltko-Rivera, 2004). While worldviews have not been a central focus in the field of environmental psychology, precisely because of its wide-ranging nature, the concept may turn out to be particularly useful to come to a more inclusive understanding of individual differences in environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles. In order to better understand environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles, insight into the larger worldview they may be related to— as well as the worldview(s) they can be contrasted with—is of substantial relevance. It allows us to place environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles in a larger, historical-cultural context and understand them more holistically, that is, as part of how individuals perceive and value reality at large.
In his acclaimed Sources of the Self: The Making of the Modern Identity, Charles Taylor (1989) traces the roots of our contemporary cultural worldview(s), resulting in kind of a ‘genesis of the modern identity.’ In this context, Taylor argues that notably two historical-cultural currents—of the Enlightenment and Romanticism—powerfully inform our contemporary worldview. These currents are in conflict to this very day, coming to expression
in the battle over environmental issues and how to respond to them:
Although the Romantic religions of nature have died away, the idea of our being open to nature within us and without us is still a very powerful [aspiration]. The battle between instrumental reason and this [Romantic] understanding of nature still rages today in the controversies over ecological politics. […] One sees the dignity of man in him assuming control of an objectified universe through instrumental reason. If there are problems with pollution or ecological limits, they will themselves be solved by technical means, by better and more far-reaching uses of instrumental reason. The other sees in this very stance to nature a purblind denial of our place in things. We ought to recognize that we are part of a larger order of living beings, in the sense that our life springs from there and is sustained from there. […] The notion is that sharing a mutually sustaining life system with other creatures creates bonds: a kind of solidarity which is there in the process of life. To be in tune with life is to acknowledge this solidarity (p. 384).
In this quotation, Taylor suggestively outlines several aspects of these different worldviews, briefly sketching their ontologies (an objectified universe versus a larger order of living beings), epistemologies (instrumental reason versus being open to nature within and without), axiologies (an emphasis on instrumental versus intrinsic values), anthropologies (humanity assuming control versus humanity as part of the larger order), and societal visions (solving ecological issues through technical means versus through a different way of relating to nature, and life). According to Taylor, one of the most esteemed philosophers alive today, environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles can 113 thus not be adequately understood without considering their historical-cultural roots and the larger worldviews they are related to.
This study, therefore, aims to generate insight into how environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles are related to worldviews in individuals and (Western) society at large. I do this by developing a questionnaire that explores different aspects of individuals’ worldviews—that is, their ontology, epistemology, anthropology, axiology, and societal vision—next to their environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles (i.e. intentionally benefitting the environment). In this way, I place environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles in a somewhat larger, cultural context, intending to illuminate if and to what extent these phenomena can be understood as part of larger worldviewdynamics in society—as the work of Taylor strongly suggests. I am thus interested in the cultural roots and larger context of environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles. Although this exploration takes place in a Western society where experiences of schooling and society are similar (that is, in the Netherlands), I still expect worldviews to vary substantially. Taylor (1989) has demonstrated that, in addition to worldview-differences between societies, also within a single society sharply contrasting worldviews co-exist, informing individual choices (e.g. concerning food, health, environment) and potentially leading to enduring political controversies, as the above quotation illustrates.
Moreover, prior research has also empirically demonstrated such differences between, for example, conceptions of nature and value orientations within societies (e.g. S. H. Schwartz & Bilsky, 1987; Van den Born et al., 2001).
I will start with providing some background of contemporary worldviews, by sketching their historical-cultural origins (on the basis of Taylor’s work), as well as understanding them in the context of SelfDetermination Theory (SDT). SDT, like Taylor, distinguishes intrinsic from extrinsic (or instrumental) orientations and motivations. Despite being different academic fields, there thus appears to be a certain conceptual resonance between these two approaches, which may be useful in understanding how environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles interface with, and are embedded in, larger worldviews. These insights in turn inform the formulation of the Likert-type items for the questionnaire, as will be described in the methodological section.
After describing the results as generated through the questionnaire, I use these