Annick Hedlund-de Witt defends PhD thesis on Worldviews and the Transformation to Sustainable Societies



Aula VU; De Boelelaan 1105, Amsterdam

Annick Hedlund-de Wit defends PhD thesis on 'Worldviews and the Transformation to Sustainable Societies. An exploration of the cultural and psychological dimensions of our global environmental challenges'

Annick Hedlund-de Witt

Prof.dr.J.J. Boersema

Tineke Reus

Institute for Environmental Studies (IVM)

Earth and Life Sciences

PhD conferral

Worldviews and the transformation to sustainable societies addresses one of the most challenging questions of our time. Its unique vantage point is based on the recognition of the crucial importance of worldviews vis-à-vis the urgently needed transformation to sustainable societies. Its purpose is to contribute to such transformation, 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 dissertation carefully argues 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. It also elaborates on the author’s ‘research worldview,’ and contextualizes the chosen mixed methods research design therein. The concept of worldview is then explored in the history of philosophy in order to define and operationalize it. Using quantitative and qualitative studies in combination with extensive literature reviews, the Integrative Worldview Framework (IWF) is developed. This framework operationalizes worldviews into five constitutive, interrelated aspects—ontology, epistemology, axiology, anthropology, and societal vision—and differentiates between four major, ideal-typical worldviews, namely traditional, modern, postmodern, and integrative ones. 

Next to shedding light on these worldviews, this dissertation demonstrates that there are significant differences between them in terms of environmental attitudes and sustainable lifestyles. Notably, while the modern worldview is frequently associated with a stance of ‘technological optimism’ and generally less sustainable lifestyles, the postmodern and integrative worldviews tend to be related to a sense of connectedness with nature and more sustainable lifestyles. Several phenomena, such as the culture of contemporary spirituality, the recent emphasis on nature experience, and the emerging integrative worldview, appear to be of particular relevance for sustainability, and are therefore further explored and analyzed. 

Finally, the resulting insights are applied to sustainability policy and practice by arguing that the IWF has the potential to serve as: 1) a heuristic for psychological, cultural, and policy reflexivity; 2) an analytical tool for understanding worldview-dynamics in society; and 3) a scaffolding for effective sustainability communications and solutions. This dissertation may thereby contribute to the important tasks of public communication, policy-making, and large-scale mobilization for addressing our urgent global environmental challenges.

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