«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
The study reported in chapter four thereby seems to provide suggestive evidence for the idea that sustainable lifestyles might be (also) conceptualized as positive behaviors that indicate psychological health and well-being (as a result of being intrinsically oriented in life) and potentially also facilitate psychological health and well-being (see also Corral Verdugo, 2012; De Young, 1996).
Overall, the found worldviews hold different, and to some extent even opposed, attitudes towards the environment, while also displaying different tendencies in the sustainability of their lifestyles. In that way, the study gives an overview of potentially relevant worldviews and their relationships to environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles in the Netherlands.
9.2.4 Deepening insight into worldviews with particular potentials for sustainable development As the results of the survey demonstrated, several cultural phenomena, such as the culture of contemporary spirituality, the contemporary emphasis on inner growth and self-exploration, and the emphasis on nature experience and connectedness appear to be of particular interest in this context. Chapters five, six, and seven therefore report the further investigation of these phenomena, such as spiritual nature experiences (chapter five), contemporary spirituality (chapter six),108 and the integrative worldview (chapter seven), and their interface with goals and issues of sustainable development.
108 The culture of contemporary spirituality appears to resonate with the central ideas of both the Inner growth and Contemporary spirituality factors. That is, even though the Inner growth factor phrases its ideas and commitments in secular rather than spiritual terms, the general content of these ideas is highly congenial to these of contemporary spirituality, such as in its focus on inner growth, the endorsement of post-material values, et cetera. Also from 307 In chapter five, contemporary nature spirituality is made comprehensible and palpable for the reader by offering an insiders-perspective into it. This is done through exploring the spiritual dimension of nature experience and its relationship to environmental responsibility, as reported in semi-structured, in depth interviews (n=25) with nature-lovers/environmentalists and spiritual practitioners in Victoria, Canada. Although these individuals were not directly asked for their worldviews, their understanding and experience of both nature and spirituality were extensively explored, thereby providing insight into central aspects of their worldviews, including their ontologies, epistemologies, axiologies, and anthropologies. Many participants explained that these spiritual nature experiences profoundly informed their worldviews, sense of environmental responsibility, and sometimes their career choices. The research thereby illuminates three pathways to a sense of environmental responsibility: profound encounters with nature, contemporary spirituality, and their convergence in spiritual nature experiences.
Chapter six reports an investigation of the sociological literature on the culture of contemporary spirituality, resulting in a delineation and overview of its potentials and pitfalls for sustainable development. This chapter demonstrates that this culture and worldview can both be a potentially promising force, as well as a phenomenon posing specific risks. Table ten gives a concise overview of the main potentials and pitfalls as identified in this study. Moreover, a developmental-structural understanding was introduced in order to be able to distinguish between more monistic and more integrative tendencies in this culture.
In chapter seven, I focus on the integrative worldview, which, according to several authors, attempts to reconcile rational thought and science with a spiritual sense of awe for the cosmos (Benedikter & Molz, 2011; Esbjörna theoretical perspective this appears to be particularly relevant, as social scientists have claimed that the rise 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 (Campbell, 2007; De Hart, 2011;
Hanegraaff, 1996; Heelas, 1996; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005). Moreover, several authors have pointed at the ecological sensibility and the sense of personal responsibility that is frequently associated with this subculture (see e.g. De Hart, 2011; Giner & Tábara, 1999; Hanegraaff, 1996; Heelas, 1996; Heelas & Woodhead, 2005; Kronjee & Lampert, 2006; B. Taylor, 2010).
308 Hargens & Zimmerman, 2009). This study generates insight into this worldview by qualitatively exploring it in semi-structured, in-depth interviews with integrative environmental leaders and innovators (n=20). The results demonstrate that these individuals tend to: share an evolutionary/developmental, spiritual-unitive perspective on the nature of reality (ontology), hold a positive view on human nature as characterized by a vast, though generally unrealized, potential (anthropology), emphasize an internalization of authority, as well as an integration of multiple modes of knowing (epistemology), and engage in their sustainability-work from a spiritual foundation (axiology). The results also show how these premises logically flow forth in a ‘sustainable social imaginary,’ which is 1) positive; 2) emancipatory; 3) inclusive of post-rational ways of working/knowing; and 4) integrative/synthetic. The chapter concludes that this social imaginary—particularly because of its compatibility with other worldviews and its attempt to integrate and synthesize (instead of polarize with) other perspectives and viewpoints—may serve the important task of public communication and large-scale mobilization for sustainable solutions to our pressing, planetary issues.
9.2.5 Applying insights in worldviews to sustainability policy and practice An important contribution of this dissertation to sustainability policy and practice are the possibilities that the IWF offers for enhancing reflexivity vis-àvis the policy-making process. As demonstrated in chapter eight, the IWF has the potential to serve as: 1) a heuristic for cultural and psychological selfreflexivity; 2) an analytical tool for understanding worldview-dynamics in society; and 3) a scaffolding for effective sustainability communications and solutions. By reflecting on and clarifying the worldview that undergird one’s aims, the way one attempts to realize those aims through policies and practices, as well as one’s evaluation of their outcomes, may have a powerful and transformative effect on the policy-making process. Moreover, a basic understanding of the structure and dynamics of worldviews in the contemporary context is likely to contribute to more attuned and thus more effective communication and cooperation for sustainable solutions. For example, while certain (e.g. ideal-typically ‘postmodern’) audiences may be compelled by arguments based on inter-generational justice, ecosystem health, global 309 interconnectedness, and species preservation, other (e.g. ideal-typically ‘modern’) audiences may be more convinced by arguments around economic competitiveness and job creation, or by the personally felt consequences of a carbon tax or certain economic benefits. To foster such reflexivity, I recommend that communicators, strategists, and policy-makers engage in a reflective inquiry with an eye for self-assessment of their own predominant worldview structure, using, for example, the IWF. The IWF can thereby function as a concrete tool for facilitating the emergence of 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 transverse connections. The confrontation of worldviews may then form the starting point of a creative process for the seeking of syntheses and new pathways for policymaking (PBL, 2004).
Additionally, the integrative worldview as explored and portrayed particularly in chapter seven may have specific relevance in this context, as it may be of support to develop policies, practices, communications, and interventions that are compatible with and attuned to multiple worldviewaudiences—precisely because of the integrative nature of this worldview.
Moreover, the successful and innovative change-agents interviewed in chapter seven articulate powerful ideas that anyone developing sustainability policies or practices may be able to learn from or be inspired by. For example, these leaders emphasized integrative/synthetic ways of working—that is, ways of working that aim to align, integrate, and synthesize environmental and sustainability values and interests with a diverse range of other societal values and interests, aspiring cooperation and collaboration instead of polarization, thereby potentially also depoliticizing environmental issues (or diminishing some of the unnecessary politicization; see also Zimmerman, 2012). Moreover, as logically follows from their evolutionary, spiritual-unitive ontology, most participants tended to argue for a positive approach towards sustainability-issues. They described to be moved by an inspiring vision of what a sustainable society could look like, rather than by fear about or discontent with the present state of affairs. Several of them emphasized the importance of communicating such an inspiring vision to the 310 larger public, rather than fear, doom scenarios, failures, and guilt—which appears to be in line with recent insights about how to effectively communicate climate change. In fact, several authors claim that a ‘vision of a future worth fighting for’ is the great absentee in current climate communications (see e.g.
Futerra, 2005, 2009; Moser, 2007; Moser & Dilling, 2007).
Lastly, also the special role of nature and nature experience deserves explicit mention. As primarily chapters four and six show, the potential of nature (experience) is great. Chapter four demonstrates how a sense of connectedness to nature is correlated to more sustainable behaviors and lifestyles, including for example consumer choices, political priorities, and citizen initiatives. This underscores the important role of (both national and local) governments in making such a sense of connectedness with nature physically possible by making/keeping nature easily accessible, particularly in the cities. These chapters also draw attention to the importance of nature education (and perhaps more importantly, profound nature experiences) for children. As notably chapter five shows, such profound experiences of nature can change people’s worldviews, and career’s. For many activists, it was unforgettable experiences in nature that initially sparked their commitment to their environmental and sustainability work (see also Chawla, 1998). Moreover, the interview-participants of both studies seemed to share an immense respect for nature, a reverence that informed their orientations and behaviors in life in a profound way—which was also found to be a result of wilderness programs with representative individuals (Kaplan, 1995; Kaplan & Talbot, 1983; Talbot & Kaplan, 1986). Next to numerous other health, psychological, social, and environmental benefits of nature (see e.g. Frederickson & Anderson, 1999; Herzog et al., 1997; Kaplan & Talbot, 1983; Parsons et al., 1998; Talbot & Kaplan, 1986; Ulrich et al., 1991;
Weinstein et al., 2009; Williams & Harvey, 2001), this finding should alert organizations aiming for more sustainable practices, policies, and societies, encouraging them to facilitate people to experience nature, both frequently and intensively.
9.3 Future perspectives: Societal and policy-implications In this dissertation I have attempted to generate insight into the complex interface between worldviews and goals and issues of sustainable development, thereby focusing on how to define, operationalize, and empirically research worldviews (particularly in chapter two, three, and four). In addition, I explore the larger landscape of different worldviews in the contemporary West and their relevance for environmental policy-making (particularly in chapters four and eight), and zoom in on newly emerging worldviews such as the integrative worldview (particularly in chapter seven), and associated phenomena such as the culture of contemporary spirituality and nature spirituality (particularly in chapters five and six). What then, are the larger societal and policy-implications of this extensive study?
In the first place, empirical research into values, beliefs, and attitudes could benefit from the kind of overarching, heuristic that the IWF aspires to be.
The IWF, with its differentiation of at least five different aspects, and at least four different major ideal-typical worldviews, deserves further empirical scrutiny and research. When used as a heuristic, it can both generate more case-specific insights into worldviews and worldview-dynamics in society, as well as further the process of laying the foundation for a new worldview-theory. For example, in a new research project at the University of Technology in Delft, I am using the IWF as analytical tool for understanding the complex—high potential, high uncertainty, and high-stakes—societal debate around the controversial policy concept of the ‘bio-based economy’ or ‘bio-economy’ (see e.g. Birch, Levidow, & Papaioannou, 2010; Koppejan & Asveld, 2011; Schmid, Padel, & Levidow, 2012). In this project I am not only using the IWF for analyzing and structuring the societal debate, but also as a support and blueprint for developing a largescale, representative survey that will be conducted in four different countries on four continents (that is, the Netherlands, Brazil, USA, and Malaysia). In this way, the IWF in its expanded articulation and understanding will be empirically tested and refined, used in a wider range of cultural contexts, and explored in terms of its potential for policy-application and communication.
Secondly, worldviews and their powerful effect on and interface with goals and issues of sustainable development need to be explicitly and systematically included in sustainability policies, practices, and initiatives.