«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
1. What is the nature of worldviews?
2. How can we empirically research worldviews and their interface with goals and issues of sustainable development?
3. Which worldviews currently co-exist in the Netherlands, and how do they interface with goals and issues of sustainable development?
4. How can we understand worldviews with particular potential for goals and issues of sustainable development, such as the emerging, ‘integrative’ worldview?
5. How can we use the gathered insights into worldviews for applying it to policy and practice for goals and issues of sustainable development?
9.2.1 Understanding the nature of worldviews Some philosophers and worldview-theorists have argued that how we understand and conceptualize the notion of worldview is dependent on our own worldview (see e.g. Koltko-Rivera, 2004; Naugle, 2002; Sire, 2004). I therefore discuss in the first chapter my own positionality and research worldview (Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011). Contrasting my understanding of the concept of worldview with related notions, such as ideology, paradigm, religion, and notably discourse—particularly in light of their diverging ontological, epistemological, and axiological foundations and historical context—I describe my research worldview as an emergent ontological and epistemological position that honors not only the creative agency of the human subject, but also the reality and even agency of objects in the world (Bhaskar, 2008 (1975)). In this position, I am inspired by contemporary approaches that position themselves as 301 alternatives to both positivism and constructivism, building forth on some of their most important insights, while simultaneously aiming to transcend their widely perceived shortcomings—notably critical realism and integral theory (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009; Bhaskar, 2008 (1975); Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006). In this context I argue that in my understanding and usage of the term, the notion of worldview reflects a commitment to both a constructivist/critical perspective as well as to a realist one. This comes to expression in the word worldview, which emphasizes view equally to world, and integrates them into a larger, or higher-order, whole. As I am employing it, the concept thus reflects a philosophical perspective that attempts to integrate the most important insights of both positivism—which tends to emphasize a world that can be objectively investigated by a researcher external to its object of study—and social constructivism—which tends to emphasize our view as human construction and product of historical, political, and cultural contingencies.
Moreover, while postmodern discourse theory is typically characterized by an ‘incredulity towards metanarratives’ and an emphasis on exposing their underlying power dynamics (Torfing, 2005), worldview-theorists tend to argue that overarching frameworks are inevitable and even useful for human cognition and functioning (K. A. Johnson et al., 2011; Koltko-Rivera, 2004; Naugle, 2002;
Sire, 2004; C. Taylor, 1989), while simultaneously acknowledging the ways they are informed by power and power struggles. While the postmodern position tends to be of an anti-hierarchical, anti-essentialist, and frequently nihilistic nature (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009; Butler, 2002), I tend to maintain a generally dialectical-developmental view of culture and society (see also Bhaskar, 2008 (1975); Habermas, 1976; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; Wilber, 1995). Lastly, I argue that the concept of worldview is particularly significant in the context of our contemporary, late post-modern predicament, which is characterized by a plurality of competing and frequently intensely polarized worldviews, urgent, multifaceted, and increasingly interconnected planetary issues that demand the coordination of such polarized perspectives, and a profound loss of meaning and purpose among many due to the loss of overarching narratives (see also Benedikter & Molz, 2011; C. Taylor, 1989). In my eyes, worldview is therefore truly a concept ‘whose time has come.’ 302 In the second chapter, I review the conceptualizations of ‘worldview’ of a series of philosophers whose views profoundly changed the spirit of an era, and are to some extent symbolic and representative of the larger currents of change taking place in the Western worldview—Plato, Kant, Goethe, Hegel, Nietzsche, Heidegger, the postmodern thinkers (Foucault, Derrida, Lyotard), as well as contemporary currents such as critical theory, integral theory, and critical realism. On this basis, I define worldviews as “inescapable, overarching systems of meaning and meaning-making that to a substantial extent inform how humans interpret, enact, and co-create reality.” Thus, the concept of worldview not only conveys that the world is viewed differently by different viewers, but also that those different viewers tend to enact, co-create, and bring forth different worlds—thereby emphasizing the power, significance, and potential of one’s worldview. In Tarnas’ (1991) words, “world views create worlds.” Additionally, I propose the Integrative Worldview Framework (IWF), which differentiates at least five interrelated aspects to the concept: ontology, epistemology, axiology, anthropology, and societal vision or social imaginary. A worldview is thus understood to be 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. This framework forms the conceptual foundation of my study, and facilitates the operationalization of the worldview-construct for empirical research, thereby making this somewhat abstract concept readily researchable. It may also serve as a tool supporting the process of exploration of and reflection on our worldviews—individual as well as collective, in research and in practice—thereby attempting to contribute to a process of cultural and social change towards a more sustainable society (in chapter eight, this idea is elaborated upon and suggestions for more reflexive policy-making and communications are offered). Lastly, I conclude that worldviews are profoundly historically and developmentally situated, arguing that the evolution of the worldview-concept is suggestive of an increasing reflexivity, creativity, responsibility, and inclusiveness—each of which are qualities that appear to be crucial for the global sustainable development debate.
303 9.2.2 Empirically investigating the structure of worldviews In light of the need for more robust, empirical research into the relationship between worldviews and sustainable development, I review and analyze existing measures such as the New Environmental Paradigm in chapter three. This review of multiple survey-approaches, which stem from different disciplinary and theoretical traditions, results in a meta-analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. On this basis it is concluded that a more optimal approach to empirically exploring worldviews should be comprehensive, systematic, and measure structural worldview-beliefs. Moreover, it is argued that a more optimal approach should be able to account for human and cultural development, instead of being limited to the frequently used binary frameworks (e.g. New Environmental Paradigm versus Dominant Social Paradigm, intrinsic versus instrumental values of nature, preservation versus utilization), which are unable to account for the cognitive possibility of integration. In sum, I argue for a new approach to exploring worldviews, thereby highlighting the value of the IWF.
The operationalization of worldviews into (at least) five different aspects illuminates the structure of worldviews (i.e., worldviews consist of ontological assumptions, epistemological assumptions, et cetera), thereby facilitating a more systematic, comprehensive, and structural approach to exploring worldviews.
Simultaneously however, these five aspects do not shed light on the content or categories of different worldviews (i.e., while one worldview assumes reality to be ultimately of a material nature, another worldview presupposes the nature of reality to be ultimately transcendent). In terms of such categories of worldviews, I propose to use a worldview-theory based on a dialectical-developmental perspective (see e.g. Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; O' Brien, 2009; Ray & Anderson, 2000).
In chapter four, which reports the development, conduction, and results of a large survey conducted in the Netherlands (n=1043), the usefulness of this framework is suggestively established, as the found factors reflect profoundly different conceptualizations of reality or worldviews, as comes to expression in the different ontological, epistemological, axiological, anthropological, and ‘societally visionary’ statements that they consist of. With respect to the dynamics of worldviews as found in this study, the research seems to point at the existence of at least three ‘families of views’ in contemporary Dutch society, 304 which however are only partially portrayed in this study. The worldviews that emerged from the data resonate with Taylor’s conceptualization of an Enlightenment-inspired, instrumental, disengaged understanding of reality (or more modern worldview), a Post-Romantic, expressive cultural current that sees nature as inner source (or more postmodern worldview), and a theistic worldview (or more traditional worldview). These findings thereby seem to suggest the usefulness of the operationalization of the worldview-concept into different aspects, as well as potentially a dialectical-developmental perspective that differentiates traditional, modern, and postmodern worldviews as heuristic framework. However, further research into these different worldview-structures is needed.
Particularly chapter seven explores the integrative worldview in more detail. Moreover, in this chapter the different aspects of the IWF are used as tool for the generation of data in the form of the construction of the interview-guide, thus demonstrating that the IWF cannot only be used for quantitative survey research as done in chapter four, but also for qualitative research. In chapter eight, existing research from notably sociology and developmental psychology is used in order to further elaborate upon the different worldviews (with section 8.2.2 exploring and discussing the differences and continuities between the postmodern and integrative worldviews). The IWF consisting of a structure of at least five worldview-aspects—that is, ontology, epistemology, axiology, anthropology, and societal vision—in combination with at least four ideal-typical worldviews—that is, a traditional, modern, postmodern, and integrative worldview—appears to be a useful and promising heuristic for empirically investigating worldviews and their relationship to sustainability issues. Thus, I argue, the IWF could function as foundation for a new worldview-theory, which, of course, needs to be further explored, tested, and refined.
9.2.3 Exploring various worldviews and their relevance for sustainable development Notably chapter four portrays the different worldview-structures that are present in the contemporary cultural landscape of a post-industrial society like the Netherlands. Although these three worldview-structures appear to be far from complete, the resonance with for example Taylor's perspective of a 305 traditional, modern, and postmodern worldview, as well as that of the results of the World Values Survey, is striking. At the same time, as I have also discussed in the above methodological section (9.1.2), many questions with regards to these worldview-structures still exist. For example, while especially the traditional worldview is only sketchily portrayed, the worldview-factor of Inner growth raises the question whether it may be more aptly signified as postmodern or as integrative. In addition to insight into the existence of these worldviews, chapter four also helps to illumine which of these worldviews has particular relevance for goals and issues of sustainable development. The results of this study show that there are significant correlations between worldviews,
environmental attitudes, and sustainable lifestyles in the Netherlands:
The overlapping worldview-factors of Inner growth and Contemporary spirituality (which can potentially be understood as a more secular and a more spiritual variation of a postmodern worldview), tend to be significantly related to the pro-environmental attitudes of Connectedness with nature and Willingness to change, as well as to more sustainable lifestyles—particularly in terms of food choices, transportation behaviors, political preferences, action and participation, and support for societal organizations.
The overlapping worldview-factors of Secular materialism and Focus on money (which potentially can be interpreted as different variations of a more modern worldview), tend to be significantly related to Technological optimism— an attitude signifying belief in markets and technology as solution to environmental issues, combined with a rejection of individual responsibility for these issues—and generally less sustainable lifestyles.
The worldview-factor of Traditional God can potentially be seen as a portrayal —albeit partial and unsatisfactory—of a more traditional worldview.
This worldview demonstrates somewhat ambiguous tendencies in terms of its sustainable lifestyles and environmental attitudes, correlating both with Connectedness with nature and Technological optimism (though less strongly than the other worldviews), and with certain environmental behaviors and lifestyles, while not with others.
Interestingly, some behaviors seem to be less or not at all informed by worldviews and environmental attitudes, such as energy consumption, and thus may need to be explained by other factors (see also Vringer, 2005). From the 306 perspective of Self-Determination Theory (SDT), the results of this study seem to suggest that, as SDT would hypothesize, individuals endorsing more intrinsically oriented worldviews (notably Inner growth) tend to behave in more pro-social ways, showing a sense of personal responsibility in their environmental attitudes and generally engaging in more sustainable lifestyles.
Simultaneously, the more extrinsically oriented worldviews of Focus on money and Secular materialism appear to be related to Technological optimism and generally less sustainable lifestyles.