«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Therefore, decision-making and communication processes may benefit from making worldviews more transparent through systematic reflection on them—that is, through having the different actors engage in a process of cultural self-reflexivity. Such cultural self-reflexivity may contribute to the use of a more comprehensive repertoire of methods and tools, and may enable policy-makers to avoid locking in on non-reflected frames (see also De Boer et al., 2010). For that reason, I suggest that communicators, strategists, and policy-makers seeking to foster sustainable solutions and policies engage in a reflective inquiry with an eye for self-assessment of their own predominant worldview-structure. One way this can be done is by investigating, reflecting on, and dialoguing about one’s answers to the exemplary worldview-questions in table 2, and/or by reading through the aspects of each worldview as denoted in figure two, noting patterns of resonance or dissonance between the structural descriptors and one’s own felt sense of one’s predominant assumptions and values.
In addition to its cultural variant, greater psychological self-reflexivity, that is self-reflexivity on a more personal and emotional level, is essential, as Moser (2007) argues:
Maybe the first insight is for communicators themselves to acknowledge their own emotional responses to environmental degradation and society’s responses. Many choose to work on climate change because of
Such reflexivity is highly beneficial, as “unacknowledged feelings among communicators can lead to the impulsive, frustrated, or at least unskillful use of threat and guilt appeals which are unpredictable at best and counterproductive at worst” (Moser, 2007, p. 72). For example, it seems likely that environmental communications appealing predominantly to the psychology of fear (e.g.
apocalyptic predictions or scenarios, however realistic they may be) reflect, in part, an expression of the communicators’ own fears, in the absence of sufficient psychological self-reflexivity.95 Such unacknowledged feelings and judgments may also pertain to whole worldview-structures. Take, for example, the frequent, wholesale postmodern disdain for modern corporate enterprise.96 As chapter eight argued, the ‘integrative environmental leaders’ tend to engage in different forms of psychological reflexivity (which they frequently considered to have been of importance for their success in their environmental and sustainability efforts).
Becoming aware of such feelings and judgments is crucial for generating authentic empathy, mutual understanding, and effective communications with other worldview-audiences, as disdain or depreciation for another worldview is likely to come through in one's communications, negatively impacting how one's communications are received (i.e. most people do not like it when they are talked down to). As the IWF assumes the enduring elements of each worldview to continue to exist in oneself, the process of working through these blockages and judgments in relation to various worldviews can be seen as a crucial form of intrapsychic integration vis-à-vis the ecology of worldviews operant with an individual self-system (Hedlund, 2008). Consciously integrating those 95 Interesting in this context is for example the work of Joanna Macy (see e.g. 2007), who, after working in the environmental and peace movements for decades developed a set of practices for emotional work for environmentalists, teaching them to constructively work with their negative emotions (fear, anger, despair, sadness, et cetera) thereby empowering them to be more effective.
96 Ironically, this kind of disdain is almost exclusively found in advanced industrial societies characterized by and built on this kind of successful, modern corporate enterprise (Beck & Cowan, 1996).
271 worldviews in oneself may thus support one to communicate with other worldview-audiences than the one(s) one is primarily identified with. If a policymaker or communicator cannot take the perspective of another worldview different from their own, this is a sign that they need to cultivate a greater capacity for mutual understanding—that is, the capacity to inhabit and empathetically resonate with divergent worldviews. This capacity, as several authors argue, is a necessary pre-requisite for engaging communications that foster coordination, bridge divisions, synthesize positions, and synergistically align perspectives towards common goals and win-win solutions (e.g. B. C.
Brown, 2012a; B. C. Brown & Riedy, 2006; Esbjörn-Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009). However, in order to engage other worldview-audiences from such a place of authentically wanting to understand and resonate with (rather than change) them, one will need to ‘bracket’ one’s own positions (or practice epoché, as the phenomenologists call it; see e.g. Moustakas, 1994). It is precisely this openness that potentially allows the outcome of the encounter to become truly participatory and mutually transformative. In short, such psychological selfreflexivity and integration will generally support one to communicate in a more ‘whole,’ empathic, and therefore effective way, engaging people more deeply and personally (see also Moser, 2007).
8.3.2 IWF as analytical tool for understanding worldview-dynamics in society Next to greater self-reflexivity, the IWF can also serve as an analytical tool to foster greater understanding of the worldview-dynamics at play in climate and sustainability-debates, as well as in society at large. An understanding of the worldviews operating in particular target segments of the public sphere appears to be essential in order to generate effective policies and communications. As many studies suggest, research into the values and views of specific populations is therefore necessary for generating effective interventions and communications (see e.g. McKenzie-Mohr & Smith, 2008; Steg & Vlek, 2009). However, an overarching framework like the IWF, which has the potential to synthesize research across multiple disciplines, may effectively disclose the general contours of the values and views of the primary sub-culture populations in the West, potentially augmenting the need for conducting further research in some 272 contexts. Moreover, in contexts in which knowledge of specific inflections and nuances of particular worldviews and their dynamics is needed, the IWF can function as a scaffolding for further research, providing a backdrop that can guide researchers in more effectively mapping a highly complex social-cultural landscape to design effective interventions and craft compelling communications.
I will now briefly illustrate how this framework may facilitate one to better understand contemporary policies, debates, or communications around sustainability issues. An interesting example is the complex debate around biotechnology and its potential merits and risks in terms of sustainable development (Hedlund-de Witt, Osseweijer, & Pierce, forthcoming). Several studies suggest that the different positions and opinions that the larger public holds towards industrial biotechnology can be understood in terms of larger cultural patterns or worldviews. For example, in a European-wide study using the data of the 1996 Eurobarometer survey on biotechnology, two different patterns of resistance against biotechnology were found, which the authors characterized as a ‘traditional’ and a ‘modern’ skepticism. However, from the perspective of the IWF these two different forms of skepticism would be more accurately understood as ideal-typical ‘traditional’ and ‘postmodern.’97 These data showed that the two different groups of skeptics appeared to not only be characterized by certain demographics (age, education level, residence), but also by their political, religious, and value orientations. As the authors argued, “modern biotechnology is commonly confronted by both a ‘pre’-industrial 97 Understanding these patterns of resistance against biotechnology in terms of a traditional and a postmodern worldview aligns better with some of these authors own framings, as according to them, the ‘modern’ group is characterized by “postmaterial values,” and tends to articulate a “post-industrial” critique with respect to biotechnology. Additionally, in virtually every respect the characteristics of this group align better with an ideal-typical postmodern worldview—from their emphasis on uncertainty, systemic impacts and unpredictability, their trust in non-governmental and societal organizations, their politically left-wing inclination, their emphasis on the marginalization of certain interests, to their distrust of corporations to adequately take care of societal interests and needs. It appears that because these authors study ‘resistance’ against biotechnology, rather than the different positions with respect to biotechnology (thereby seemingly making the acceptance of biotechnology the implicit norm), the ideal-typically modern position tends to be overlooked. This example thereby underscores and illustrates how the IWF can support heuristic understanding of the larger currents and patterns in certain complex sustainability-debates.
273 critique of intervention in ‘nature’s order’, as well as a ‘post’-industrial critique of the potential risks involved with the new technology” (2002, p.192). While the traditionalists appear to be critical on a more principled, a priori basis, the postmoderns tend to demonstrate a more pragmatic orientation, emphasizing that intervention in nature through biotechnology is not reprehensible per se, but that it is instead dependable on conditions and circumstances, such as potential risks, perceived benefits, and the regulations in place. Moreover, the results also showed that while postmoderns tended to trust NGO’s such as environmental and consumer organizations, traditionalists were less sure whom to trust, generally placing a higher degree of trust in the medical profession, and in some Catholic countries in religious organizations. Postmoderns also displayed a much higher level of active participation in the biotechnology discourse, generally pleading for regulation of the industry, labeling of GM food, and public consultation (Nielsen et al., 2002). Thus, while individuals with a traditional worldview may be skeptical of industrial biotechnology because technological intervention in nature is seen as a-priori unacceptable—since there tends to be a belief in a natural, God-created order that humans should not interfere in (‘Mankind has no right to play God!’)—individuals with a more ideal-typically postmodern worldview may be skeptical because of the risks and uncertainties that are hard to oversee as nature is conceptualized as a complexly interrelated, somewhat fragile, set of systems (Nielsen, Jelsøe, & Öhman, 2002;
see also M. Thompson, Ellis, & Wildavsky, 1990). In contrast, individuals with a more modern worldview may exhibit more trust in science and technology and less problems with interfering in nature, frequently displaying a technological optimism or ‘techno-trust’ that assumes that environmental problems and other risks will be solved or managed through the further development of science and technology, as was found in chapter four (see also Koppejan & Asveld, 2011).
Also in the stakeholder-debate vis-à-vis the emerging ‘bioeconomy’ there appear to be several competing perspectives (sometimes described as ‘masternarrative’ and ‘rivaling narrative’, see e.g. Levidow, Birch, & Papaioannou, 2012b) that could be understood and illumined through the lens or heuristic of the IWF. One perspective could, ideal-typically speaking, be characterized as a more ‘modern,’ technologically optimist view that emphasizes the great economic and sustainability potential of the bioeconomy, and tends to see the further 274 development of science and technology as a solution to the crises contemporary societies are faced with. The other perspective appears to be much more cautious, critical, and skeptical, emphasizing that the industry’s interests are driving the agenda for the bioeconomy, and frequently underscoring uncertainties and risks while advocating for more small-scale and participatory solutions and economies, and speaking up for marginalized voices such as those of developing countries, small farmers, and sensitive ecosystems. This latter view could potentially be characterized as being of a more ‘postmodern’ nature (Hedlund-de Witt et al., forthcoming). Thus, as an analysis of the literature on both public acceptance of biotechnology and the stakeholders debate about the emerging bio-economy shows, the IWF can heuristically illuminate the deeper assumptions, values, and concern at play in such highly complex debates, in which clearly much more is at stake than an argument over the scientific facts (see also Hansen, 2013; Sarewitz, 2004).
8.3.3 IWF as scaffolding for effective sustainability communications and solutions The IWF can also function as a kind of general scaffolding to support the crafting of effective climate communications. As communication research has contended, in order to be effective, messages need to resonate with the worldviews—that is, the assumptions, values, and visions—of the audiences that they aim to convince or inspire (McKenzie-Mohr & Smith, 2008; Moser & Dilling, 2007; Nisbet, 2009). Next to the importance of resonating with the audience’s worldviews and values, many researchers have emphasized the importance of communicating positive and empowering values and aspirations (Futerra, 2005; Moser & Dilling, 2007; Nisbet, 2009). In this context, it has been argued that many communication strategies around environmental issues are problematic, because they aim at increasing the sense of urgency through fear, guilt, or shame appeals (which, according to the majority of studies, tends to be counterproductive except for under specific circumstances; see Moser, 2007), or because they tend to be overly technical, dry, or scientific (Lappé, 2011;