«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
12 It is worth noting that, while defined in a variety of ways across a number of contexts, the notion of ideology often evokes Marxist connotations. For the Marxist tradition, ideology is a fundamentally distorted way of viewing the world that essentially functions to serve (and mask) the interests of the dominant class while maintaining various oppressive and alienating dynamics for the subordinate classes (that is, the ideas of the dominant class are the dominant ideas) (Edgar, 2008a). However, beyond this more critical deployment of the notion of ideology, it is possible to define ideology more neutrally. For example, ideology can be defined as “a fairly coherent and comprehensive set of ideas that explains and evaluates social conditions, helps people understand their place in society, and provides a program for 19 world is viewed differently by different viewers, thus giving expression to a certain intrinsic relativism and denoting a standpoint that is more or less open to recognizing and honoring other standpoints (Wolters, 1989), an ideology is often defined as favoring one point of view above all others—adhering to and asserting the dominance of this perspective (Benedikter & Molz, 2011).
The notion of paradigm comes from the Greek paradeigma, meaning ‘pattern, example, sample.’ Thomas Kuhn (1996 ) gave the term its contemporary meaning when he adopted the word to refer to the set of practices that provide model problems and solutions (“exemplars”) for a community of researchers, thereby governing a scientific discipline at any particular period of time. While a paradigm tends to define what is valid and what not for the whole of the ideological constellation of a given time and place, the worldview concept, in contrast, potentially aims to explicate and acknowledge the existence of different viewpoints, even if they are in conflict with each other—thus, optimally, being ‘contradiction-capable’ and paradoxically constituted (Benedikter & Molz, 2011, p. 34).
There has been much debate about the origin, definition, and utility of the concept of religion (Aldridge, 2002; B. Taylor, 2010)—a debate that I will not reproduce here. The concept of religion in many ways overlaps with the notion of worldview, as it can essentially be seen as a cultural system that gives meaning to human existence. For example Smart (1989) argues that both secular and religious worldviews are characterized by seven major dimensions, including ritual, experiential, narrative (or mythic), doctrinal, ethical, social, and material ones. However, other authors argue that religion, beyond being a framework of meaning and meaning-making, deals with the invisible, supernatural, and/or divine aspects of reality (see e.g. Vonk, 2011). The term worldview is then seen as an umbrella term covering both religious and nonreligious frameworks of meaning. This is the understanding I will use here. Furthermore, since the trend in the West is of the rise of the nones, as the Pew Research Forum (2012) colloquially refers to the growing number of individuals without religious affiliation, my focus in this study is not on religious worldviews. The Pew social and political action” (Ball & Dagger, 1991, p. 8, quoted in Luftig, 2009, p. 48). Thus, one might say that ideologies are principally about translating ideas into social and political action—they are sets of ideas used for mobilizing the masses.
20 Research Forum’s latest results show that now even in the USA—in comparison with other advanced (post)industrial democracies a highly religious country— one fifth of the public, and a third of adults under thirty, are religiously unaffiliated, the highest percentages ever in their polling. However, while these individuals are not affiliated with any religion in particular, many of them are religious or spiritual in some way. Two thirds (68%) of them say they believe in God; more than half (58%) say they often feel a deep connection with nature and the earth; and more than a third (37%) classify themselves as “spiritual” but not “religious” (2012).13 Thus, while religion, and particularly the Judeo-Christian tradition, is of central importance in the formation and evolution of Western worldviews, my focus in this study is not on religious worldviews as such,14 although I do explore religious and spiritual ideas, feelings, and commitments as an integral part of worldviews. The most important reason for this choice is that the trend in the West is towards less institutionalized and formalized, as well as less traditional and literalistic understandings of religion,15 while noninstitutionalized and more contemporary forms and understandings of spirituality are growing (see e.g. Houtman & Mascini, 2002; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; Kronjee & Lampert, 2006; Pew Forum, 2012).
Discourses, according to Foucault (1972), are “practices that systematically form the objects of which they speak” (p. 49). Others have defined the concept as “an ensemble of ideas, concepts and categories through which meaning is given to social and physical phenomena, and which is produced and reproduced through an identifiable set of practices” (Hajer & Versteeg, 2005, p. 175). Discourse analysis therefore “sets out to trace a particular linguistic regularity that can be found in discussions or debates” 13 The religiously unaffiliated are also found to be about twice as likely to describe themselves as political liberals than as conservatives, and solid majorities support legal abortion (72%) and same-sex marriage (73%). The ‘rise of the nones’ thus appears to be associated with the trend of postmaterialization and the rise of self-expression values as observed in the World Values Survey (Inglehart, 2008; Inglehart & Welzel, 2005).
14 For a study focused on religious worldviews and their interface with environmental issues, see for example Vonk (2011).
15 For example, the percentage of Americans who say that the Bible should be taken literally has fallen in Gallup polls from an average of about 38% of the public in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s to an average of 31% since (Pew Forum, 2012).
21 (ibid), thereby aiming to reveal the underlying ideas, assumptions, power structures, and/or interests that often implicitly guide these debates—as well as those that it precludes. Discourses thus define and constitute objects as well as the boundaries of what is taken to be socially acceptable or deviant (Mert, 2012). Although there is overlap between the concept of worldviews and the concept of discourse, I argue that discourse analysis is generally focused on specific content (such as the debate around sustainable development, or ecological modernization), while the concept of worldview aims to clarify and explicate the ontological, epistemological, and axiological foundations, or deep structures, undergirding any such content.16 Moreover, looking at both concepts from a historical perspective, one could argue that the concept of discourse is closely associated with postmodernity and can only be adequately understood as a response to the problematics of modernity. It is in this light that I tend to understand discourse theory’s interest in ‘dethroning’ and deconstructing what is generally seen as the oppressive meta-narratives of modernity—such as that of ‘progress’ and the ‘triumph of science’—and revealing their underlying power dynamics and hidden interests (see e.g. Bentz & Shapiro, 1998; Butler, 2002; Hacking, 1999).
In contrast, I understand the concept of worldview, at least in its contemporary meaning,17 to be necessitated by the particular predicament and life-conditions of 16 However, within discourse theory, discourses are also understood as having different levels of abstraction or depth, or as Wæver (2007) puts it, “degrees of sedimentation” (p. 37).
As Mert (2012) observes, “the more a discourse structures (or governs) our understanding and articulations, the deeper it lies in the consciousness of the society and the more normal it feels” (p. 63). Potentially, it is at these most ‘solidly sedimented’ levels of understanding where the notions worldviews and discourses begin to converge. Notably, Foucault’s concept of “episteme” comes close to my notion of worldviews, as it is generally understood to refer to the historical a priori that grounds discourses and knowledge within a particular cultural milieu and historical epoch (see e.g. Naugle, 2002). An episteme can thus be seen as the (epistemological) foundation of any discourse or idea.
17 While the concept of worldview (Weltanschauung) was coined by Immanuel Kant in 1790, referring to the universal human structures that inform our cognition and perception, the concept in its contemporary meaning—emphasizing notably the diversity between human beings and their cultures, as well as their own (individual) volition and agency with regards to it—is much newer (Naugle, 2002). As several authors have argued, “the construct is inherently postmodern in its implicit position that reality is, at least to some extent, 22 our late postmodern time, which is characterized by a plurality of competing and frequently intensely polarized worldviews, a profound loss of meaning and purpose among many due to the loss of overarching narratives, and urgent, multifaceted, and increasingly interconnected planetary issues that demand the coordination of these polarized perspectives (see also Benedikter & Molz, 2011;
Hedlund, 2010; C. Taylor, 1989). While the concept of worldview, like the concept of discourse, reflects the constructed nature of our positions and emphasizes the responsibility and empowerment that that can bring, it at the same time tends to acknowledge the inevitability and even usefulness of overarching frameworks for human cognition and functioning (see notably Koltko-Rivera, 2004; Naugle, 2002; C. Taylor, 1989). This stands in sharp contrast with a primary impulse in postmodernity, which arguably tends to discard overarching frameworks and narratives—Lyotard (1984) famously defined postmodern as “incredulity towards metanarratives” (p. xxiv).
Moreover, while postmodern discourse theory has frequently been criticized for its extreme relativism and even ‘anti-realism’ (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009;
Butler, 2002), the concept of worldview conveys a critical realist commitment to a world ‘out there,’ which is to some extent independent of, and thus not completely subject to, our human constructions. This comes to expression in the word worldview, which emphasizes world equally to view, and integrates them into a larger, or higher-order, whole. As I am employing it, the concept thus reflects a research worldview, which aims to integrate the most important insights of both positivism—emphasizing a world that can be objectively investigated by a researcher external to its object of study—and social constructivism— emphasizing our view as human construction and product of historical, political, and cultural contingencies. This research worldview is informed by contemporary (research) philosophies such as Bhaskar’s critical realism (Bhaskar, 2008 (1975)) and Wilber’s integral theory (Esbjörn-Hargens & Wilber, 2006; Wilber, 1995), which will be discussed in sections 1.5.1 and 2.3.7.
Additionally, while discourses tend to be conceptualized as somewhat arbitrary constructions rooted in the power interests of the dominant or privileged classes, I tend to see worldviews as much more non-arbitrary, subjectively constructed rather than objectively universal in its totality” (Koltko-Rivera, 2004, p. 8; see also Wolters, 1989).
23 structured phenomena, rooted in a broader logic and patterning that cannot be reduced to historical, cultural, and political contingencies alone. That is, I tend to maintain a generally developmental view of culture and society, in line with some of the main thinkers and researchers that I draw on in this dissertation, such as Charles Taylor, but for example also Ronald Inglehart, who both defend the idea that some form of gradual, non-linear development can be—but not necessarily always is—observed in history and society. This position contrasts in important ways with the notion of development in its modernist connotations—that is, of a uni-linear, deterministic, triumphalist developmental progression from ‘primitive’ levels of social evolution towards the ‘civilized’ status represented by the modern West18—and ascribes to a much more complex, dialectical, open-ended, and unpredictable process of change.19 In this understanding, development is decoupled from the notion of ‘progress’ (i.e. one can also speak of negative 18 Such an approach has, in my eyes, rightfully been deconstructed by (notably) postmodern philosophers, anthropologists, and sociologists alike, mainly because of its Eurocentric, neocolonial, and derogatory implications, and its commitment to an oversimplified ontological parsimony that is out of step with the complexities of the empirical evidence (e.g.
De Mul & Korthals, 1997; Ferguson, 2002; G. Marshall, 1998). As De Mul and Korthals (1997) argue, “although postmodernism is difficult to define and […] many of the philosophers associated with it even deny that such a definition is possible, the critique of the typical modern notion of “development” is without doubt one of the most striking characteristics of this heterogonous group of thinkers. Surely, postmodernism is right in pointing at some problematic and sometimes dangerous aspects of traditional theories of development” (p. 245). Indeed, a strength of postmodern critique is its underscoring of the constructivist dimension of the phenomenon of development, and the ways it has been distorted into an ideology that functions to legitimize dynamics of cultural and institutionalsystemic oppression. These criticisms are therefore highly relevant for any philosophy of development that wants to avoid these problems and dangers, but they do not hold for the notion of development per se. In contrast, as also De Mul and Korthals (1997) argue “when it is so [complex, dialectical] understood, philosophy of development is in many respects more able than postmodernist theories to give a fruitful interpretation of changes in the conceptual frameworks of individuals and collectives” (p. 245).