«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Wilber, 2001, 2007). Such new forms of nature-spirituality are becoming an essential component of modern culture in the context of globalization (Gibson, 2009; Hedlund-de Witt, 2011; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; Partridge, 2005; Ray & Anderson, 2000; B. Taylor, 2010). For example, the Pew Research Forum’s latest results show that in the USA one fifth of the public, and a third of adults under thirty, are religiously unaffiliated, while frequently being ‘religious or spiritual in some way.’ More than half (58%) of them say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth (2012). Thus, while what some refer to as cosmic piety (Giner & Tábara, 1999) is clearly on the rise, these new forms of ecospirituality simultaneously tend to base their worldviews on their interpretations of the data and hypotheses that scientists supply—thus incorporating crucial forms or rationality. As Taylor (2010) has argued, scientific insights as generated by, for example, ecology, physics, and cosmology, frequently inform a spiritual sense of awe for the cosmos and function to legitimize central notions in this worldview, such as the sense of interconnectedness and kinship with the rest of
life. In the words of Benedikter and Molz (2011):
As these authors argue, in this context the terms integral, integrative, or holistic denote a “search for inclusion of the largest number of possible viewpoints on one and the same issue or question, even if those viewpoints may be conflicting with each other” (p. 34). That is, a contradiction-capable, overarching view “that captures the potential unity of the issue only through the full recognition of its differences, inbuilt dialectics and paradoxes” (ibid.).73 Precisely because of its attempt at integration, this emergent cultural movement appears to be relatively compatible with other cultural currents in contemporary society. Therefore, notably in the context of the current widespread disagreement, polarization, and gridlock in the global debate around our global environmental issues (see e.g. Hulme, 2009; Victor, 2011), an important contribution of this movement may be that it offers such an integrative worldview and perspective. Moreover, as multiple authors have argued, the ‘cosmic piety’ associated with this worldview may result in a profound sense of care for the health and flourishing of our planet as a whole (e.g. Giner & Tábara, 1999; Hedlund-de Witt, 2011; B. Taylor, 2010). Additionally, this movement seems to be offering a ‘sustainable social imaginary,’ a vision or imaginary of a 73 Benedikter and Molz (2011) therefore speak of ‘neo-integrative’ worldviews, as these contemporary approaches are, in their recognition and inclusion of pluralism and diversity, fundamentally different from the ideologies that “have claimed since the nineteenth century to be the integrative theory par excellence, integrating or subsuming all other theories of their time. […] All these ideologies, understood as integrative paradigms or grand narratives, notwithstanding huge differences in detail and in the potential scope of their respective projections, departed factually from the assumption that a guiding prejudice or leading bias about the sense and perspective of the whole, i.e. a paradigm in the strict sense of the term, was needed for any historical period to guarantee the unfolding of its full potential for progress. That implied the view that the whole was more important than its constituent parts, and that the whole had to follow different, ‘higher’ logics from those followed by its parts. It implied the view that it was not an accident but a historical necessity to define integration and inclusion by means of exclusion, and—if necessary—even forced by unification. Ideologies, defined as paradigms, claimed to serve the greater good if necessary also by sanctioning a resort to violence to achieve a (frequently forced) unification and wholeness, falsely defined as integration” (pp. 31-31).
211 more sustainable society, in the form of new ways of addressing environmental and sustainability-issues (B. C. Brown, 2012a; Esbjörn-Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009).74 In chapter two, worldviews have been defined as inescapable, overarching systems of meaning and meaning-making that to a substantial extent inform how humans interpret, enact, and co-create reality. A worldview is thus a complex constellation of ontological presuppositions, epistemic capacities, and ethical and aesthetic values that converge to dynamically organize a synthetic apprehension of the exterior world and one’s interior experiences (Hedlund-de Witt, 2012). A societal vision or social imaginary can be defined as a broad understanding of the way a given people imagine their collective social life (C. Taylor, 2004), and can be seen as a vital part of any worldview. In the context of our urgent planetary issues, a new, more sustainable, social imaginary appears to be particularly relevant, because it can facilitate and inspire the needed technological, institutional, political, economic, and cultural innovations. That is, in order to realize a sustainable society and lifestyle, it first must become a real social imaginary (Frank, 2010), particularly because it is such a common understanding that tends to make common practices and a widely shared sense of legitimacy possible (C. Taylor, 2004). A compelling vision of what a sustainable society would look like, and how it would be experienced by the individuals participating in it, also appears to be essential to the important task of public communication and large-scale mobilization for sustainable, lifeenhancing solutions to our planetary issues (Futerra, 2005, 2009; Moser, 2007;
Moser & Dilling, 2007; Schösler & Hedlund-de Witt, 2012).
While there is some theoretical literature pertaining to this emergent worldview and cultural current (see e.g. Benedikter & Molz, 2011; EsbjörnYet this integrative movement does not only offer potentials and solutions for sustainable development. It may also pose certain threats or pitfalls, as I extensively discuss in chapter six (see also B. Taylor, 2010). For example, while a focus on inner fulfillment may alleviate consumerism and support the transition to a green economy (K. W. Brown & Kasser, 2005;
Jacob et al., 2009), this culture may simultaneously bring a potential risk for narcissism and egocentrism (Lasch, 1978; Wilber, 2007), commercialized and instrumentalized forms of spirituality (Campbell, 2004), and appropriation and commodification of indigenous and other spiritual traditions (York, 2001). Although important enough to mention here, in this chapter the focus is not on such criticisms and possible pitfalls.
212 Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009; Hedlund-de Witt, 2011; B. Taylor, 2010; Wilber, 1995, 2001), empirical studies exploring this integrative worldview ethnographically—that is, from within, describing and analyzing the views and cultural meanings as held by these individuals themselves—are rare (see particularly B. C. Brown, 2012a, 2012b). This study therefore aims to generate such insight into this integrative worldview and its potential for offering a lifeenhancing, ‘sustainable social imaginary.’ Using the in-depth-interview as main method, the worldviews of twenty integrative environmental leaders and innovators75 are explored. This results in an articulation of their generally shared ontology, epistemology, axiology, anthropology, and societal vision/social imaginary. In this article, I focus on the emerging patterns and the common views more than on the many differences that also exist between these individuals. I have attempted to describe these views as these individuals understand, articulate, and rationalize them themselves, rather than trying to evaluate or challenge their claims and views, thus offering generally sympathetic insight into this worldview. Simultaneously, by including frequently heard criticisms in the discussion-section, I aim to sketch a nuanced perspective on this worldview.
Although these individuals are not representative for the larger public, an advantage of this selective group is that these participants, who are often authors and opinion-leaders themselves, tend to be articulate and thoughtful. This greatly supports the complex interview-task of getting individuals to reflect on their frequently implicit and unarticulated worldviews. Moreover, because the majority of these individuals are leaders and innovators in the sustainabilityfield, they have experience translating their ideas and worldviews to concrete practices and approaches for sustainable development. Additionally, the highprofile nature of this group may support readers to explore these ideas on their own merits, instead of being influenced by negative connotations with spiritual or esoteric ideas and beliefs. Lastly, these individuals seem to belong to, what Rogers’ (1995) has called ‘the innovators’ and ‘the early adopters.’ According to his diffusion of innovations model, such individuals tend to have considerable influence in the larger process of socio-cultural and economic change. Exploring
7.2 Methodology In this study, the semi-structured, in-depth interview has been chosen as a research method, because it facilitates use of questions that are relatively personal and cover subjects that tend to be considered of a more profound nature. In these interviews the different aspects of worldviews, operationalized according to the Integrative Worldview Framework as discussed in notably chapter two and three, are systematically covered. The IWF operationalizes the concept of worldview in five different aspects—its ontology, epistemology, axiology, anthropology, and societal vision/social imaginary—thereby differentiating this complex and potentially abstract concept in workable domains. An interviewguide (see appendix IV) was developed to support the process of ‘uncovering’ and ‘explicating’ the worldviews of the participants, by asking questions that systematically address these five different aspects. The second part of the interview focused on the participants’ perceptions of current societal and cultural processes.
In line with the tradition of ethnographic interpretative research, the experiences of the participants are explored and described with a high level of detail, in a “storytelling” yet also analytical fashion, with the aim of generating insight about cultural themes and worldviews (Creswell, 1998). The interviews were conducted face-to-face and took 75 to 90 minutes each. Interviews were conducted at the participants’ home or office, and in a few cases in a public space 214 such as a coffee shop or café. The twenty participants were selected on the basis
of the following criteria:
1) Participants were suspected to have a more integrative worldview, an assessment that was primarily based on their social profile as well as information from public interviews and other sources such as books and websites. The central criterion for this assessment were statements that demonstrated that these leaders were motivated by a personal sense of (contemporary) spirituality or a more reflexive framework of meaningmaking in combination with a commitment to science and rationality, thus following Benedikter and Molz’ definition (2011) of (neointegrative as introduced above.
2) Participants showed a considerable affinity with sustainable development (and in the majority of the cases, this was their main professional focus).
3) Participants fulfilled leading positions in the larger, societal debate on sustainability and/or eco-social well-being. As a result of that, most of them are (nationally) well-established individuals in their fields of expertise.
4) Participants were sought in four different sectors of society: civil society;
government and policy; business & finance; academia.
First, several nationally well-known participants were approached via email with the request to participate in an interview. More participants were then found through snowball sampling (see e.g. Seidman, 2006). I attempted to strike a balance between male and female participants. This selection-process resulted in twenty different participants from four sectors of society (see appendix V for an overview of these individuals and their professional background), including highly successful and influential individuals such as Herman Wijffels (Dutch economist and politician for the Dutch Christian Party, former representative at the World Bank, former chairman of the SocialEconomic Council, et cetera), Josephine Green (sustainable visionary of multinational electronics company Philips), Bart-Jan Krouwel (co-founder of Triodos-bank, recently chosen as “the most sustainable bank in the world” by the UK Financial Times), internationally known spiritual activist Joanna Macy, and Marianne Thieme (parliamentary leader of the Dutch ‘Party for Animals’).
In terms of the data-analysis, interviews were coded according to the 215 grounded theory approach, thus aiming to stay as closely as possible to the data and the terminology used by the participants, rather than subjecting the data to a preconceived theory or logically deduced hypothesis (Charmaz, 2006). In this approach, analyzing and coding partially takes place during the interview itself, in order to identify themes as they emerge. This has the advantage that specific information can be explored in more depth, and that the analysis can be directly verified and clarified with the participant. The disadvantage can be that analytical processes become less transparent, and unconscious biases of the interviewer may influence the interview-process. I addressed these disadvantages by taking a course in interview methodology, in order to gain interviewing skills and become more aware of my own potential biases.