«Annick Hedlund-de Witt Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our ...»
19 For example, the critical realists tend to refer to a process without a pre-ordained goal, endpoint, or formal trajectory, yet having a “tendential rational directionality” (Hartwig, 2011, p. 501) to describe this kind of non-linear development. Also Inglehart and Welzel (2005) argue that “modernization is not linear. It does not move indefinitely in the same direction but reaches inflection points at which the prevailing condition of change, changes” (p. 5). This notion is based on the empirical finding that over time also the direction of change changes.
24 developments), while some form of qualitative or structural change can nonetheless be observed. This means that not only do certain qualities increase or decrease according to one or more specific criteria, but also that different criteria are appropriate for an adequate description of a new developmental stage. Thus, in a developmental movement two or more qualitatively different stages can always be distinguished (Van Haaften, 1997a). Moreover, new stages do not randomly arise, but they evolve out of and are in some sense ‘produced’ by the antecedent stage. In the words of Van Haaften (1997a), the later stages “depend on the earlier ones in the sense that the prior stages are necessary (though of course, not sufficient) conditions for the coming about of the later ones. It is in this sense that several stages can be identified as causally and conceptually connected parts of a single developmental sequence” (p. 18). Since I am not comparing different moments in time with each other, I do not investigate development in this dissertation. However, I do draw on theorists who ascribe to such an understanding—such as Charles Taylor, Ronald Inglehart, Jürgen Habermas, and Ken Wilber—and use their ideas for the interpretation of my data.
As I will argue in the next section, how development is conceptualized will profoundly inform one’s understanding of sustainable development.
1.3.2 Sustainable development, the idea of growth, and quality of life Sustainability and sustainable development are complex, often used, and passionately debated concepts. The Brundtland Commission—the UNsponsored World Commission on Environment and Development (WCED), led by Gro Harlem Brundtland—coined the notion of sustainable development in 1987 in ‘Our Common Future,’ a publication that marked a turning point in the thinking on environment, development, and governance (Sneddon, Howarth, & Norgaard, 2006). Their definition quickly became classic: "Sustainable development is development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (WCED, 1987). Although this definition has been widely debated and criticized (e.g. as container concept, oxymoron, cover-up), and many alternatives have been proposed, it is still the most widely accepted starting point for scholars and practitioners concerned with environment and development dilemmas.
25 Sustainable development speaks at least to environmentally, socially, and economically sustainable development, also referred to as the three different dimensions of ‘planet, people, and prosperity’ (Söderbaum, 2007). Next to ecological and economic dimensions, sustainable development as a concept thus also has strong social-ethical dimensions, particularly because it involves issues of distributive and procedural justice, and has profound implications for notably future generations (intergenerational equity) and for the poor (interregional equity) (see also Wardekker, Petersen, & Van der Sluijs, 2009). Although sustainable development includes social and economic dimensions, the focus in this dissertation is principally on the environmental dimensions. While introduced more than 25 years ago, sustainable development—as guiding institutional principle, as concrete policy goal, and as focus of political struggle— appears to remain salient in confronting the multiple challenges of our new global context (see e.g. Sneddon et al., 2006).
Generally speaking, sustainable development is a broad concept that speaks to a wide range of issues, ranging from what are sometimes referred to as 'grey issues,' such as climate change, energy, pollution, and resource management, to 'green issues,' such as nature conservation, biodiversity, and ecosystem health. In this dissertation, I draw on both these fields and the (sometimes distinct) literatures associated with them, even though the relationships between these fields are not always unambiguous or unproblematic.
That is, a certain tension between more environmental (frequently instrumental, managerial) and more ecological (nature-oriented) approaches is sometimes discerned. An example is the complex debate about agriculture, fuelled by competing claims in different fields of science: according to some, large-scale, industrial agriculture, often aided by genetic modification, will feed the planet’s growing population most sustainably. In sharp contrast, others emphasize the need for small-scale, agro-ecological (e.g., organic) agricultural strategies in order to reach goals of global sustainable development (see e.g., Levidow, Birch, & Papaioannou, 2012a). As I will argue more extensively below, next to environmental, social, and economic dimensions, sustainable development thus also has cultural dimensions, which shape how the concept is understood (see also Burford et al., 2013). Moreover, while sustainable development in practice is frequently operationalized and implemented in a rather technical way (e.g., 26 referring to sustainability indicators), in this dissertation I engage the concept more as societal and cultural ideal. Instead of focussing on technocratic solutions and approaches, I concentrate more on what moves and inspires individuals to act sustainably, or not. For example, in chapter seven this comes to expression in my exploration of the worldviews of a number of leaders in the (mainly Dutch) sustainability-field, whom are widely experienced to be inspirational.
The Brundtland definition of sustainable development is generally seen as an attempt to unite worlds that are frequently in conflict with each other, particularly the expanse and growth associated with (economic) development and the limitations associated with sustainability and ecological conservation.
Our Common Future (WCED, 1987) explicitly argues for the necessity of a new era of economic growth “that is forceful and at the same time socially and environmentally sustainable,” (chairman's foreword) in order to address global poverty and the population growth, environmental degradation, inequality, and suffering associated with it. At the same time, the report displays an acute awareness of the generally devastating impacts of economic development upon the environment, and therefore talks of a new development path, one that sustains “human progress not just in a few pieces for a few years, but for the entire planet into the distant future” (p. 12). The report thus can be interpreted to argue for a different kind of economic development—one that is socially just and environmentally sustainable—as well as for a generally interdisciplinary approach that recognizes the interdependent and interlocked nature of the different global crises.20 Up to today many sustainability debates are concerned with the notion of ‘growth’ and its (un)desirability (Boersema, 2002). According to some authors, the notion of sustainable development has—with its colonial, developmentalist roots and modernist connotations—predominantly been used to co-opt or 20 In the words of the report: “There has been a growing realization in national governments and multilateral institutions that it is impossible to separate economic development issues from environment issues; many forms of development erode the environmental resources upon which they must be based, and environmental degradation can undermine economic development. Poverty is a major cause and effect of global environmental problems. It is therefore futile to attempt to deal with environmental problems without a broader perspective that encompasses the factors underlying world poverty and international inequality” (WCED, 1987, p. 11).
27 marginalize eco-political movements and further the agenda of the Western, capitalist society, while selling a green story (Mert, 2012). The critics of the concept generally advocate more radical societal changes, and have comprehensively and incisively deconstructed sustainable development’s basic contradictions and its power-laden, problematic assumptions (e.g. Fairhead, Leach, & Scoones, 2012; McGregor, 2004). Despite the validity of many of these critiques, the critics have, in the words of Sneddon et al. (2006), “left little more than ashes in its place” (p. 260). Moreover, this (critical) understanding appears to, at least partially, depend on the enactment of the notion of development.
Some authors argue that instead of narrowly identifying development with aggregate economic growth, the concept of development itself can evolve towards a more broadly defined understanding (Sneddon et al., 2006).
Such a wider notion of development could, for example, be informed by the notion of development as freedom, following Amartya Sen (2000), who argued that development can be seen as a process of expanding the real freedoms that people enjoy, for which the growth of GNP can be (but not always is) an important means. With that, Sen questions the narrower views of development (e.g., modernization theory), and analyzes the myriad ways in which economic and social debates about development have failed to struggle with fundamental issues regarding ethics, human rights, and individual freedom. Also relevant in this context are Ronald Inglehart’s empirical observations (on the basis of the WVS) that economic development is a foundation though not an endpoint of a larger process of human development, which can be characterized by a widening of human choice and increasing tolerance and emancipation (e.g. Inglehart, 2008;
Inglehart & Welzel, 2005; Welzel, Inglehart, & Klingemann, 2003). According to for example UNESCO (2002b), development should be understood “not simply in terms of economic growth, but also as a means to achieve a more satisfactory intellectual, emotional, moral and spiritual existence." Moreover, developmental psychologists and positive psychologists frequently tend to associate psychological development with psychological health and maturation, overall well-being, and increasing levels of care and compassion for others (e.g. Cook-Greuter, 1999;
Kegan, 1982; Kohlberg, 1984; P. Marshall, 2009). Thus, the concept of development—though in the context of sustainable development generally narrowly constructed as material or economic growth—can clearly also signify 28 and invoke other human aspirations, including psychological, moral, spiritual, and intellectual development. Additionally, as some authors have argued, the thinking around sustainable development has initiated a move away from neoclassical economics to other forms of economics, such as ecological economics (the field that aspires to contribute to the integration of ecology and economy), and offers an attractive alternative to conventional material growthoriented development thinking (see e.g. Sneddon et al., 2006; Söderbaum, 2007).
Both the genius and pitfall of the Brundtland definition is that it does not articulate what needs to be sustained, or how, nor what the nature of the development involved is. According to some, sustainability is therefore essentially concerned with the quality of life and the possibilities to maintain that quality in the future—that is, sustainability of quality of life (PBL, 2004). The concept of sustainable development is thus necessarily intersubjective and intercultural, and in effect demands a reflection on and exploration of the (cultural) worldviews undergirding one’s usage of the concept, such as one’s notions of development and quality of life (see also Söderbaum, 2007). Different worldviews—different views on, for example, knowledge production and research design (epistemology and methodology), basic value orientation and perspective on ‘quality of life’ (axiology), political preferences (societal vision), notions of development (ontology), and the nature of the individual (anthropology)—are thus likely to have strongly informative roles vis-à-vis positions on sustainable development. As for example Sneddon et al., (2006) argue, proponents of a mainstream version of sustainable development tend to demonstrate tendencies towards (post)positivism, exemplified in “a great deal of faith in quantitative representations of complex human-environment relations” and “individualism, economism and technological optimism,” (p. 260, 261) while critics of sustainable development appear to be, for the most part, social constructivist in perspective, emphasizing the mediated nature of knowledge and the historical contingency of development processes, and frequently using qualitative rather than quantitative research designs. These authors themselves argue for a “pragmatic and middle path,” emphasizing an integrative pluralist approach, an evolving notion of development beyond its more narrow materialeconomic construction, and a more explicit emphasis on the normative aspects of research (p. 260). From an epistemological perspective it appears that Sneddon 29 et al. discuss the three major research worldviews—post-positivism, social constructivism, and pragmatism or critical realism (Alvesson & Sköldberg, 2009;
Creswell & Plano Clark, 2011)—and their interplay with the concept of sustainable development. See section 1.5 and table 1 for an overview of these three major research worldviews.