«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
4.5.1 Reflections and limitations From the perspective of SDT, one could argue that the two worldview-factors most strongly related to pro-environmental attitudes (Connectedness with nature and Willingness to change) are characterized by the recognition of an intrinsic dimension to reality (or an intrinsic ontology), conceptualized in either more secular terms (Inner growth), or more contemporary spiritual terms (Contemporary spirituality), and can thus be understood to be more intrinsically oriented. This intrinsic orientation seems to be most strong in the factor Inner growth, as it explicitly and directly refers to the intrinsic dimension of life (rather than via spiritual notions), and this orientation goes together with a sense of satisfaction in life, as well as the desire to contribute to society—precisely as SDT would predict (see e.g. Ryan et al., 2008; Weinstein et al., 2009). In contrast, the two factors that are negatively correlated with the proenvironmental attitudes seem to share a more materialistic or instrumentalist orientation, and can thus be understood to be more extrinsically oriented, as comes to expression in the focus on money (which SDT understands to be an instrumental goal), as well as in the ‘hedonic’50 orientation of Secular materialism.
Because worldviews and notably environmental attitudes (which appear to function as mediating factors between worldviews and behaviors) are associated with significantly more or less sustainable behaviors across a wide range of behaviors—from food consumption, transportation behaviors, second hand purchases, (voluntary) work, action and participation, to support for societal organizations, and political priorities—the concept of a sustainable lifestyle is suggestively substantiated (see e.g. Corral Verdugo, 2012; De Young, 1993; Schultz, 2001). However, some behaviors seem to be less or not at all informed by the worldview-factors and environmental attitudes, such as energy consumption (see also Vringer, 2005), and thus may need to be explained by other, for example, structural factors—such as economical, infrastructural, institutional, and social-practical barriers (see e.g. Gifford, 2011; Steg & Vlek, 2009). One can perhaps explain the differences in the kind of sustainable behaviors that individuals are motivated to get involved in from the perspective of SDT. Certain behaviors seem to have a larger potential for being intrinsically motivated or internalized than other behaviors, and thereby may have, or may activate, more capacities for fulfilling the psychological needs of autonomy, competence, and connectedness. For example, while food consumption has important instrumental motivations, also the potential intrinsic ones are abundant: the pleasure of eating, the competence and creativity one can experience in cooking, the connectedness one can feel with nature through using its products, the health one can experience from being well-nourished, et cetera (see e.g. Schösler & Hedlund-de Witt, 2012). However, a similar variety of potential intrinsic motivations is much harder to find in the case of putting the thermostat a degree lower or calling up one’s energy provider to switch to ‘green energy.’ Thus, perhaps differences in sustainable behaviors can be (partially) understood by differences in their capacity to be intrinsically motivated or internalized.
In terms of the larger worldview-dynamics in society, the results of my questionnaire resonate with Taylor’s conceptualization of a profound tension in our contemporary cultural landscape between an Enlightenment-inspired, 138 instrumental, understanding of reality (as comes to expression in notably Secular materialism and Focus on money) and a Post-Romantic, expressive cultural current that sees nature as inner source (as comes to expression in notably Inner growth and Contemporary spirituality), and the entirely different and to some extent even opposed trajectories towards sustainability they propose, namely Technological optimism versus Connectedness with nature and Willingness to change. The Traditional God-factor seems to be indicating the presence of a more traditional worldview. This worldview appears to have somewhat different tendencies in how it correlates with environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles, seemingly taking up a position in between the post-Romantic cultural current emphasizing connectedness with nature and the solidarity that that brings, and the Enlightenment perspective of assuming control of an objectified universe and solving environmental issues through technical and instrumental means (see also Sherkat & Ellison, 2007). The five worldview-factors could therefore be interpreted as pointing at the existence of at least three different clusters of related worldviews—or ‘families of views’ in Taylor’s terms—in Dutch society, which are however only partially portrayed here: a more traditional worldview (Traditional God), a more modern worldview (Secular materialism, Focus on money), and a more postmodern worldview (in both a more secular version, Inner growth, and a more explicitly spiritual version, Contemporary spirituality). Although this understanding needs to be substantiated in future research, it appears to be in line with findings from several other researchers (Habermas, 1976; Inglehart, 1997; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; O' Brien, 2009; Ray & Anderson, 2000), as well as with Taylor’s own insights (1989), who argued that, the lines of battle are multiple and bewildering […], I have been sketching a schematic map which may reduce some of the confusion. The map distributes the moral sources into three large domains: the original theistic grounding for these standards [traditional worldview]; a second one that centres on a naturalism of disengaged reason, which in our days takes scientistic forms [modern worldview]; and a third family of views which finds its sources in Romantic expressivism or in one of the
139 modernist successor visions [postmodern worldview] (pp. 495-496).
Lastly, the results suggest that the various factors can indeed be seen as part of profoundly different worldviews, as comes to expression in the different constellations of ontological, epistemological, axiological, anthropological, and ‘societally visionary’ statements they consist of. For example, the factor Inner growth does not only speak to personal (intrinsic) aspirations and values, but also gives expression to a certain ontology (e.g. life/reality has an inner dimension and is characterized by growth), epistemology (emphasizing nonrational modes of knowing), anthropology (human beings as egocentric), and societal vision (societal change starts within). These factors therefore seem to, in varying degrees, point to larger, overarching systems of meaning and meaningmaking—or worldviews—rather than to merely motivations and values. They thereby have the potential to generate a more comprehensive and holistic understanding of the environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles—and the differences between them—which researchers observe in society. Focus on money is a clear exception as this factor does not successfully illuminate the larger worldview the aspiration for money is potentially part of, although the statistical analyses do show that this aspiration is frequently related to a secular materialist understanding of reality. These findings thereby underscore the value of an integrative worldview-approach including multiple aspects (see also K. A.
Johnson et al., 2011), such as the Integrative Worldview Framework used here.
Simultaneously, these factors generate insight into the larger worldviews existing in (Dutch) society, even though they fall short in portraying the contours of these worldviews comprehensively. In my view, the found factors should be seen as indications of larger, more wide-ranging worldviews existing in society, rather than precisely representing them. These indications are useful for future research, as they could serve as ideal-typical heuristics guiding more comprehensive item-development.
4.5.2 Suggestions for future research The worldviews indicated and partially depicted in this study deserve further qualitative and quantitative exploration in future research, in an effort to illuminate the deeper logic of their relationship to environmental attitudes and 140 sustainable lifestyles, as well as to enhance our understanding of how these insights may be applied in the domain of environmental policy-making. The IWF could potentially aid such research by facilitating a comprehensive approach to exploring the different aspects of worldviews (see also Hedlund-de Witt, 2012).
This would allow one to generate more understanding into how environmental attitudes are potentially embedded in and related to other, sometimes seemingly unrelated, aspects of individual’s worldviews, such as their understanding of the nature of reality (ontology), their perspective on the role and validity of science (epistemology), or their understanding of suffering (axiology, anthropology).
Moreover, the above-sketched differentiation between traditional, modern, and postmodern worldviews could function as an ideal-typical heuristic supporting the further structuration of one’s questionnaire—functioning as a novel hypothesis guiding future research.
Another potentially interesting avenue for further research is the question of how environmental identity relates to environmental attitudes and more intrinsic motivations and worldviews. For example, the worldview-factor Inner growth and its strong relationship to Connectedness with nature may potentially be understood in light of the notion of ecological self, as originally formulated by the philosopher Arne Naess (1989). Like Naess, also for example Schultz and Zelezny (1999) speak of a more expansive sense of self that includes other people and nature (see also Bragg, 1996; Hedlund-de Witt, 2013;
Whitmarsh & O'Neill, 2010; Wilson, 2011). In their understanding, selfenhancement, which tends to be related to more egoistic concerns, reflects a narrow construal of self, while self-transcendence, which tends to be related to more biocentric concerns, reflects a broader, more inclusive, construal of self.