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«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»

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Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies: An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our global environmental challenges In the global debate on sustainable development there appears to be a growing recognition of the importance of worldviews vis-à-vis the urgently needed transformation to more sustainable societies. As Mike Hulme (2009) argues in his widely lauded book ‘Why we disagree about climate change,’ debates about global environmental challenges such as climate change are disputes about ourselves— about our dreams, our fears, our assumptions, our identity—that is, about our worldviews. Some authors contend that the multiple crises we currently face are not only environmental, technological, economic, and political-institutional in nature, but also philosophical-existential, psychological, cultural, and even spiritual. Thus, worldviews are increasingly—and from a variety of perspectives and disciplinary angles—considered to be of vital importance in our timely quest for sustainable societies. A central argument and premise of this dissertation is therefore that an understanding of worldviews plays a major role in addressing our highly complex, multifaceted, and interwoven global sustainability issues.

The purpose of this dissertation, then, is to contribute to social-cultural transformation in the direction of more sustainable societies, by generating insight into the nature and structure of worldviews in the contemporary West and their interface with goals and issues of sustainable development. This aim is divided into five sub-aims, which

can be summarized as follows:

1) Understanding the nature of worldviews;

2) Empirically investigating the structure of worldviews;

3) Exploring various worldviews and their relevance for sustainable development;

4) Deepening insight into worldviews with particular potentials for sustainable development; and

5) Applying insights into worldviews to sustainability policy and practice.

347 In the first chapter, I carefully argue why worldviews are understood to play a major role in addressing our complex sustainability issues from four different disciplinary perspectives: philosophy, psychology, sociology, and political science. Despite diverging positions on the subject, environmental philosophers generally tend to see worldviews (and frequently the Western worldview) as ‘root-cause’ of our sustainability issues, and a profound change in them (or it) therefore as crucial to the process of forging solutions.

Environmental psychologists argue that a change of individual lifestyles is essential in the transition towards more sustainable societies, and an understanding of worldviews therefore significant. Consider for example the complex task of changing culturally embedded behavior patterns such as meat consumption, car- and energy use, voting, consumption of 'green' products, and support for environmental organizations and -policy. Moreover, as sociological research indicates, profound shifts in (the Western) worldview are already taking place, informing social and grassroots movements, environmental initiatives, democratic functioning, and societal change. There are also arguments from the perspective of environmental policy-making, as a critical reflection on the—often implicit—worldviews that policies are based on potentially helps to intercept less sustainable policy strategies and may form the starting point for more reflexive forms of policy-making. Finally, I elaborate in this chapter on my ‘research worldview,’ and contextualize the chosen mixed methods research design therein. This design consists of quantitative (a largescale representative survey in the Netherlands) and qualitative (in-depth interviews in Canada, the United States, and the Netherlands) studies, in combination with extensive literature reviews.

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