«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Sustainable behaviors include pro-ecological, frugal, altruistic, and equitable behaviors, and involve aspects of individual lifestyles, such as consumer and dietary choices, use of energy and transportation, political priorities, support for policy measures, and contributions to societal change. However, such everyday choices are generally understood to be difficult to alter. Not only are there many structural (e.g. economic, infrastructural, institutional, social-practical) barriers for changing lifestyles, they also tend to be deeply embedded in worldviews, values, cultural associations, and habits (Gifford, 2011; Schösler & Hedlund-de Witt, 2012; Sorin, 2010). Worldviews appear to be particularly relevant in this context, as they not only tend to shape how individuals perceive ecological issues and their potential solutions, but also tend to influence individuals’ willingness to 8 partake in solutions themselves, including (political) support for addressing the issue societally (Kempton, Boster, & Hartley, 1995; C. Taylor, 1989).
For understanding the differences between a variety of worldviews and their interface with sustainable lifestyles, several major branches of psychology appear to be of particular interest, including environmental psychology, positive psychology, and developmental-structural psychology.4 The field of environmental psychology attempts to generate understanding into the determinants of proenvironmental behaviors, by studying individual differences in attitudes, values, beliefs, and worldviews.5 Where the emphasis in this field used to be on construing environmental behavior as emerging from altruistic values and selfsacrifice, researchers seem to increasingly explore how psychological, individual well-being can mutually benefit ecological, collective well-being, rather than being incompatible with it (see e.g. K. W. Brown & Kasser, 2005; Jacob, Jovic, & Brinkerhoff, 2009). Such approaches make connections with, among others, the insights of positive psychology—a branch of psychology aimed at empirically investigating, understanding, and facilitating positive human functioning (Seligman & Csikszentmihalyi, 2000). For example, Corral Verdugo (2012) understands sustainable actions to originate from positive dispositional factors such as capacities, positive emotions, virtues, and strengths, rather than being instigated by negative antecedents such as fear, shame, and guilt. Similarly, according to him, sustainable behaviors are maintained by psychological benefits such as satisfaction, well-being, and happiness—instead of primarily being associated with negative consequences such as discomfort, inconvenience, and sacrifice. Also positive psychology’s Self-Determination Theory (SDT) is increasingly used to understand sustainable behaviors and lifestyles (see e.g. J. I.
M. De Groot & Steg, 2010; Schösler, 2012; Schösler, De Boer, & Boersema, 2013; Weinstein, Przybylski, & Ryan, 2009), as studies indicate that people high in eudaimonic (i.e. intrinsically motivated) living tend to behave in more proWhile I use multiple studies from the field of environmental psychology for the formulation of my conceptual and methodological approach for exploring worldviews vis-à-vis sustainable development (in chapter three) and the formation of my questionnaire and interview-study (in chapters four and five), the fields of positive psychology and developmental psychology are mainly used as frames for interpreting my data.
5 A literature review of some of the central approaches in this field is discussed in chapter three.
9 social and sustainable ways, while people high in hedonic (i.e. extrinsically motivated) living tend to behave in less pro-social and sustainable ways (Ryan, Huta, & Deci, 2008). The surge of studies into ‘connectedness with nature’ can potentially also be understood in the context of such more positive approaches, which connect individual and ecological well-being (see e.g. Dutcher, Finley, Luloff, & Johnson, 2007; Mayer & McPherson Frantz, 2004).
Next to environmental psychology and positive psychology, also the field of constructivist developmental psychology or developmental structuralism may be relevant for understanding worldviews and their interface with sustainable development (see e.g. Kahn, 1999, who, in his study of the human relationship with nature, followed developmental psychologists Jean Piaget and Lawrence Kohlberg). Constructivist developmental psychology conceptualizes individuals as constructing knowledge through their interaction with the world, actively interpreting and trying to make sense of their ever-changing experience of reality—which naturally aligns with a worldview perspective as offered in this dissertation. Constructivist developmental theorists (e.g. Jean Piaget, Lawrence Kohlberg, Jane Loevinger, Robert Kegan, Michael Commons) argue that (ethical) reasoning and understanding change qualitatively over time, potentially evolving the ways in which humans know and relate to the world. They generally postulate that these qualitative stages form an invariant, irreversible, hierarchical sequence with each posterior stage integrating the previous stages, and each anterior serving as the necessary condition for the emergence of the next stage (for an overview of these theories, see P. Marshall, 2009; Mc Adams, 1994). Moreover, most developmental theories and models point in the direction of an increasing care and complexity with further growth, thus conceptualizing development to be generally beneficial to both the individual, in terms of greater inner freedom, awareness, and autonomy, as well as to the community or collective, in terms of an expanded circle of care (Cook-Greuter, 1999; Kegan, 1982; P. Marshall, 2009). The connections between this field and environmental psychology and positive psychology are to date little studied,6 but seem to have 6 Marshall (2009) explores the potential for integrating the fields of positive psychology and developmental structuralism, emphasizing, among others, the similarities in terms of their underlying conceptions of human nature. Both are positive and progressive and see the development of human nature as the unfolding of inner structures and potentials.
10 considerable potential.
1.2.3 A sociological perspective As sociological research indicates, profound shifts in worldview are taking place, informing social and grassroots movements, environmentalism, democratic functioning, and societal change (e.g. Inglehart, 1997; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). According to the results of the World Values Survey (WVS)—the largest worldwide, cross-cultural, longitudinal database on worldviews, values, and beliefs—lasting economic growth in postindustrial societies results in a widespread and pervasive sense of material security among its citizens. This makes the priorities of the individual gradually shift from survival to selfexpression values, resulting in an increased emphasis on individual autonomy, free choice, and creativity. Another way to understand this change is as a gradual shift from an emphasis on wealth and material prosperity to an emphasis on wellbeing and post-material concerns. These value changes thereby give rise to a new type of humanistic society, in which the new societal movements, emerging on a large scale since the 1960’s, play a central role.7 Sociologists have described these movements—including environmentalism, peace and anti-nuclear efforts, the quest for emancipation of women, minorities, and gays—as new, because they cannot be explained only on the basis of material self-interest, but rather seem to express larger (‘postmaterial’) concerns with quality of life in a broad sense. Moreover, these movements tend to use new organizational structures (e.g. loose network-organizations instead of hierarchical structures) and new Constructivist developmental psychology conceives individuals as developing through stages or structures of ever-greater complexity, differentiation, and integration, towards greater internal freedom, awareness, and self-actualization (and self-transcendence in some models).
Positive psychology, combining Aristotelian and humanistic psychology notions of human nature, sees individuals as possessing innate ‘virtues’ or potentials that can be cultivated and expressed or actualized—an innate constructive developmental tendency that leads to wellbeing when given expression and pathology when thwarted. Constructivist developmental psychology has mapped some of these structures and positive psychology concerns itself with the study of what conditions, interventions, and institutions best facilitate healthy growth towards developmental fruition.
7 The author and entrepreneur Paul Hawken (2007) documents this large-scale, broadly supported, bottom-up societal movement in his book “Blessed Unrest: How the largest movement in the world came into being and why no one saw it coming.”
8 However, some authors have criticized this analysis and understanding. According to them, although the theory of postmaterialism provides a clear and in many respects persuasive explanation for the development and popularity of the environmental movement in the North, it appears that it does not allow for the expression of environmental concern in the less developed world. As the critics demonstrate (e.g. on the basis of the Health of the Planet Surveys, as well as the World Values Surveys), widespread citizen concern for environmental problems and support for environmental protection is not confined to wealthy nations, and in some cases (dependent on the measured items) even appears to be stronger in the developing world. However, differences in the nature of the concern were observed: for example, citizens of poorer nations were significantly more likely to rate the quality of their national environments as poor, and perceive environmental problems as health threats now and in the future, while citizens of wealthier nations were more likely to rate the quality of the world environment as poor, and express a preference for environmental protection over economic growth (Dunlap & York, 2008, p. 534). As the citizens from poorer nations tend to be more directly (materially) dependent on and subject to their environments for their livelihoods and health, the concern of these citizens for their local and national environment seems defendable from a postmaterialist framework. Moreover, I do not think that the postindustrialism hypothesis of environmental concern aims to, in the words of Dunlap and York (2008), “blame residents of poor nations (or their leaders) for the lack of progress in the global environment” (p. 551), but rather aims to give insight into the nature and motivations for environmental care and concern, as well as generate insight into the circumstances that may undergird these differences. Additionally, in my eyes, these critical perspectives seem frequently based on a simplistic understanding of the theory, as the analyses tend to distinguish between ‘rich’ and ‘poor’ countries, rather than between traditional/pre-modern societies, modern/industrialized societies, and postmodern /postindustrial societies. It may for example be that the citizens of both more traditional and more postmodern societies tend to show more concern for the environment, in contrast with citizens from societies closer to the modern ideal-type. This would not negate the postmaterialist values understanding of environmentalism, but rather demand a more complex, dialectical (as opposed to more linear) understanding of it.
According to multiple sociologists, Western society is becoming increasingly “self-reflexive” (see e.g. Giddens, 2009). One of the empirical indicators of this reflexivity is that during the past twenty years the publics of postindustrial societies have spent more time thinking about the meaning and purpose of life than they used to in the recent past (Inglehart and Welzel, 2005).
This growing interest in philosophical and ideological questions among the larger public suggests an intellectual openness that makes changes in terms of worldviews possible and increases the likelihood of sensitivity towards sustainability strategies that appeal to more profound, paradigmatic or cultural changes. For example, results from the Eurobarometer studies show that with respect to tackling climate change, across Europe, respondents in all countries (except Latvia and Malta) favour changes in ways of living over technological solutions, even if this means reduced economic growth. In eight of the wealthier European countries support for changing life styles is even above 70 per cent (Gaskell et al., 2010). Additionally, the 1995 World Values Survey found
dramatic differences in technological optimism between rich and poor countries:
asked whether “new technologies will resolve most of our environmental challenges requiring only minor changes in human thinking and individual behavior,” 62% of respondents from low-GDP countries agreed, whereas 55% from high GDP countries disagreed (Leiserowitz, Kates, & Parris, 2006). Thus, the process of postindustrialization and the changes of worldview associated with it not only seem to correlate with increased sustainability concerns, but also 13 seem to bring an orientation towards different kinds of solutions to these concerns.
Moreover, the observed reflexivity and questioning of the dominant worldview appears to correlate with potentially newly emerging worldviews. For example, several social scientists claim that the culture of contemporary spirituality is a pivotal part of the gradual but profound change taking place in the Western worldview, both reflecting the larger cultural development, as well as giving shape and direction to it (see e.g. Aupers & Houtman, 2006; Campbell, 2007; De Hart, 2011; Giner & Tábara, 1999; Hanegraaff, 1996; Heelas & Woodhead, 2005; Houtman & Aupers, 2007; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; B.