«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
Taylor, 2010). Also Ray and Anderson (2000) observed a similar shift in worldview, emphasizing the creative and sustainability potential of what they call “the cultural creatives.”9 Taylor (2010) speaks of a contemporary nature spirituality that is quickly spreading around the world and becoming increasingly important in global environmental politics. According to him, it motivates a wide array of individuals and increasingly shapes the worldviews and practices of grassroots social activists and the world’s intelligentsia: “it may even inspire the emergence of a global, civic, earth religion” (p. x). Moreover, other researchers emphasize the importance of a newly emerging integral or integrative worldview, which has affiliations with contemporary spirituality, an enhanced appreciation of nature, and a concern with sustainability issues in general, while simultaneously being characterized by an attempt to bring together and integrate spirituality and transcendence with rationality and science, rather than reducing one to the other, or cultivating one at the expense of the other (Benedikter & Molz, 2011; Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006; EsbjörnHargens & Zimmerman, 2009; Laszlo, 2006; Van Egmond & De Vries, 2011;
Wilber, 2001, 2007). These broad changes in worldview, taking place in the contemporary West and beyond, are thus not to be neglected in attempts to create more sustainable societies, and appear to be of substantial importance for the formation and formulation of sustainability strategies, policies, and practices.
9 These ‘cultural creatives’ are, according to the researchers, turning away from materialism, hedonism, and status display, and are creating their own culture, based on ecological and planetary perspectives, emphasis on relationships and woman’s point of view, and commitment to spirituality and psychological development.
14 1.2.4 A political science perspective While global environmental protection has been on the international political agenda since the 1972 United Nations Conference on the Human Environment, these efforts have not been sufficiently effective in altering the trends of humaninduced environmental degradation (Biermann et al., 2012). As many now recognize, the failure to alter these fundamental trajectories is largely due to widespread disagreement and gridlock in the global debate on contemporary sustainability challenges such as climate change (Hulme, 2009; Nisbet, 2009;
Victor, 2011). It is therefore becoming increasingly clear that the lack of agreement and the often intensely polarized perspectives this lack is based on, is itself a major, if not the major obstacle to forging robust, effective solutions and building a secure, sustainable, and flourishing ‘planetary civilization’ in the twenty-first century. As Hulme (2009) has argued, differences in worldview and culture often underlie the ubiquity of such diverging and polarized perspectives in stakeholder negotiations and public opinion, thereby hampering the cooperation and communicative action that is so urgently needed. For example, several voices have pointed out how intractable political conflicts in the U.S. are the result of ‘culture wars,’ or clashes in worldviews. It has also been asserted that diverging worldviews are at play in international conflict (see e.g. KoltkoRivera, 2004).
Worldviews not only inform how we conceptualize the issues that we are dealing with, but also our potential responses to them (Douglas & Wildavsky, 1982; Kahan et al., 2012). Different worldviews depart from fundamentally diverging assumptions concerning the nature of reality and the position of the human being in the larger whole, and as a result propose distinct and to some extent opposing solutions for responding to our sustainability issues. For example, for some individuals, solutions are to be found in the workings of the free market and the development of technology; other perspectives emphasize the need for public institutions, arrangements, and regulations (see e.g. Milfont & Duckitt, 2004; PBL, 2004). And while for example climate change is seen from one perspective as an urgent threat to human civilization, from another perspective it is a hype created by environmentalists (Hulme, 2009). However, although the divergence in perspectives and cultures clearly leads to misunderstanding, conflict, and inertia, some voices have also emphasized the 15 value of such diversity for addressing our global issues (Calicott, 2011;
UNESCO, 2002b). Precisely because of the diverse range of solutions, strategies, and perspectives that different worldviews tend to bring forth, cultural diversity can be seen as having the potential to enhance our overall capacity for adaptation and transformation (see also O' Brien, 2009).
Moreover, generally speaking environmental policy is intimately connected with, and largely dependent upon, the larger worldview-dynamics in society. That is, policies, technologies, and measures can only to a limited extent be successfully implemented without some degree of support and agreement of the larger public. Such support is largely a function and reflection of the predominant worldviews and values held by the varying cultural strands within the public sphere, as research shows that worldviews, values, and beliefs are strong predictors of policy opinion and support (Shwom, Bidwell, Dan, & Dietz, 2010). Moreover, as Inglehart and Welzel (2005) demonstrate on the basis of the WVS, the democratic institutions and responsible forms of governance that are critical components of any sustainable solution are themselves a product of cultural changes and the emergence of certain values and worldviews. That is, the empirical data of the WVS suggest that the causal arrow runs from the widespread emergence of what the researchers call ‘self-expression values’ to effective democracy, and not the other way around. Therefore, without societal support, which itself appears to be substantially informed by the worldviews prevailing in society, implementing environmental policies and strategies is likely to be stymied.
Additionally, as several authors have argued, global environmental challenges tend to become scientized, thereby concealing the ways that differences in worldviews, values, and normative frameworks fuel and inform the political disagreements surrounding these issues (Hansen, 2013; Hulme, 2009; Sarewitz, 2004). Those who advocate a certain line of political action (e.g. to act on climate change, or not, or to allow genetically modified organisms (GMO’s) on the market, or not) are likely to claim a scientific justification for their position, while those opposing the action will invoke scientific uncertainty or competing
scientific results. Sarewitz (2004) refers to this situation as an excess of objectivity:
rather than science enabling actors to resolve political disagreements, it tends to exacerbate them, as it is frequently possible to compile supporting sets of 16 scientifically legitimated facts for different—and even mutually opposing— value-based positions in an environmental controversy. This is not so because of a lack of scientific understanding, or because ‘science is not doing its job well,’ but rather because of a lack of coherence among competing, frequently equally legitimated, scientific understandings. That is, in this view, reality is sufficiently rich and complex to support a science enterprise of vast methodological, disciplinary, and institutional diversity, allowing researchers to operate within a range of different assumptions, to rely on different methods, and to use different scales of analysis. For example, based on a case-study of the Danish biofuels debate, Hansen (2013) demonstrates how two distinct scientific perspectives on biofuels originate in different disciplines and can be affiliated with different political positions. The ‘reductionistic biorefinery perspective,’ grounded in biochemistry and neighboring disciplines, works upward from the molecular level, and envisions positive synergies in the use of biomass. In contrast, the ‘holistic bioscarcity perspective,’ grounded in life-cycle analysis and ecology, works downwards from global scope conditions, and envisions negative externalities from an increased reliance on biomass (Hansen, 2013). Because the ‘scientization’ of environmental discourse tends to conceal the interests and worldviews undergirding the conflict and disagreement, bringing the valuedisputes “into the foreground of political process is likely to be a crucial factor in turning such controversies into successful democratic action” (Sarewitz, 2004, p.
399). Thus, Sarewitz emphasizes the importance of openness on how worldviews interface with the preferred positions of political actors, thereby freeing the enterprise of science itself (which currently is, according to Sarewitz, frequently concerned with “the meaningless task of reducing uncertainties pertinent to political dispute, rather than addressing societal problems as identified through open political processes” (p. 399) as well as creating a more reflexive policyprocess.
Some political scientists also contend that institutions themselves are to be understood as a result of, what Mert (2012) refers to as “sedimentation of discourses through social practices” (p. 26). Or in other words, as a result of dominant beliefs and worldviews becoming embodied and institutionalized through collective practices and norms. An awareness of the underlying, frequently implicit assumptions and value-orientations—that is, the 17 worldviews—that undergird and guide these discourses and policy-strategies, enable one to scrutinize and reflect upon them, thereby enacting more reflexive forms of governance (see e.g. Huitema et al., 2011; Voβ & Kemp, 2006) as well as increasing their democratic and deliberative quality (Hajer & Versteeg, 2005).
As PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency has argued, thinking from the perspective of diverging worldviews may help to intercept less sustainable policy strategies and detect (sometimes unexpected) transverse connections—for example between national and international stakes. Through such an approach, the perils of a single worldview can more easily be identified, supporting a more robust policy strategy and potentially bridging the differences between the diverse worldviews. The confrontation of worldviews then may form the starting point of a creative process for the seeking of syntheses and new ways of policymaking (PBL, 2004, 2008).
1.3 Philosophical foundations and discussion of key-terms
1.3.1 Worldviews and the research worldview guiding this dissertation Based on an extensive exploration of the philosophical literature, as will be described in detail in chapter two, worldviews are in this study defined as the “inescapable, overarching systems of meaning and meaning-making that to a substantial extent inform how humans interpret, enact, and co-create reality.” This definition highlights the enactive and co-creative dimension of worldviews, and emphasizes their complex, reciprocal relationships with the world(s) that they bring forth, as well as are being brought forth by. Simultaneously, this definition emphasizes that worldviews are not a patchwork of loosely related phenomena, but a coherent pattern or system that integrates seemingly isolated ideas into a common holistic structure (see also Dewitt, 2004; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). Although a comprehensive understanding of the worldviewconcept is used in this dissertation, I primarily study worldviews as interiors, that is, on the level of ideas and assumptions, affects and perceptions, orientations and intentions, rather than analyzing how worldviews come to concrete expression in, for example, artefacts, art, music, or architecture, which can be 18 understood as the exterior forms in which worldviews can come to manifestation.
That is, any artifact or cultural expression can potentially be understood to embody worldview-beliefs and religious or cultural ideas and ideals in a material form. While my focus is on the intangible, interior dimensions of sustainable 10 development, I do explore how they come to expression in, and interface with, the more exterior and concrete dimensions, such as in sustainable behaviors, consumer choices, and political preferences. Moreover, in this dissertation worldviews are explored both from ‘within,’ that is, in the inner experience and perception of individuals themselves (in the in-depth interviews), and from ‘without,’ through analyzing the statistical patterns as found in individually scores items (in the survey-method).11 The concept of worldview may appear to be similar or even interchangeable with concepts such as ideology, paradigm, religion, and discourse, and they indeed possess some degree of referential overlap. However, worldviews can nonetheless be clearly distinguished from these concepts—a task I feel is worth taking up, in an effort to clarify the concept and articulate the philosophical foundations undergirding my understanding and usage of the term.
The concept of ideology, while elusive, can be defined broadly as a set of beliefs, values, and goals of a social or political group that explain or justify the group’s decisions and behaviors.12 While the concept of worldview conveys that the 10 While exterior forms simultaneously also inform interiors such as worldviews, as the causal arrow is more likely to be mutual rather than one-sided (see also C. Taylor, 1989).
11 The survey-method is used to construct worldviews on the basis of statistical, quantitative analyses of individual’s own perceptions and descriptions of their views and values. In that sense, the analyses of the survey-results could be seen to describe and disclose worldviews from the outside, as the observed worldview-patterns are as such not described by individuals themselves; in fact, the found worldview-factors are the result of statistical analyses grouping items together that correlate with each other.