Friday, December 28, 2012

Changing Values: The Global Transformation of Values Has Already Begun


The following is a section from the German Advisory Council on Climate Change (WGBU) report, World in Transition: A Social Contract for Sustainability. They identify in this study some wide-scale values change - perhaps a move toward a more worldcentric perspective - that the identify as "post-materialistic." I posted an outline earlier today - here - which links to the full 400-page PDF file of the study.


Changing Values: The Global Transformation of Values Has Already Begun



In the following, the WBGU brings forward a twofold argument. Firstly, that the necessary transformation into a low-carbon society already corresponds to some of the prevalent attitudes and value systems in many of the world’s countries (Box 2.1-1). Secondly, that the transformation can therefore be viewed as a positive factor in the sense of increasing subjective life satisfaction for large parts of the population. 

Value systems are always linked to cultural and social context. In pluralistic societies, they are ‘negotiated’, i.e. hotly debated, against the background of practical problems and dilemmas. Value conflicts are just as normal as distribution conflicts, and – always assuming that they are carried out peacefully and solved amicably – promote social change and cultural innovation (Dahrendorf, 1957). Any kind of reflexion on the development progress and transformation chances of today’s societies must start with empirically proven values and attitudes. This highlights many issues, such as: what are the value systems in the poor and in the wealthy regions of the world, and how do they differ? And, again region-specific, how is the relationship between the goal of (increasing) material wealth on the one hand, and postmaterialist ideals of self-expression and consideration of the natural environment on the other, developing? What rank is accorded to the growth of both national economies and the global economy in relation to environmental and climate protection?


Since the beginning of the modern era, attitudes and considerations inspired by personal benefit maximisation have established themselves. With the advent of industrial mass production, the ‘good life’ has increasingly become synonymous with material wealth. In the course of the ‘Great Transformation’ (Polanyi, 1944), the economy has been extensively disembedded from its relation to society and life worlds. This functional differentiation of the economic system has lent it an autonomy that has made possible a previously unimagined extent of productivity growth. However, it has also led to the whole social order being subjected to economic principles (Schimank, 2009). This is (only) the case once market principles affect all other subsystems (such as politics, culture, family, etc.) thereby turning rational cost-benefit analysis into the interpretation pattern that determines the actions of society as a whole. This focusing of individual and collective attitudes and preferences has had as much of a determining impact on the self-definition and self-observation of developed industrialised societies as it has on the implementation of socio-economic modernisation in most of the developing societies in the south. This generalisation (or tunnel vision) means that the aspects of a ‘good life’ and sustainable development have become secondary.


Nevertheless, a rethinking process seems to be currently taking place in many parts of society in a great number of countries; just one example from Germany to highlight this, and prove the point: according to a survey published in the autumn of 2010, carried out by the Emnid Institute and commissioned by the Bertelsmann Foundation, a significant part of the German population views growth and capitalism with scepticism: a mere third of Germany’s citizens believes that growth will automatically impact positively on their own personal quality of life. Immaterial values such as social justice or environmental protection are accorded so much importance that they influence the attitude Germans have towards the economic system; for example, 88 percent of respondents think that the current system is not suitable for taking environmental protection, resource conservation, and social redistribution, adequately into account. The majority would like a ‘new economic system’, and does not really believe in the resilience and crisis resistance of purely marketdriven economic systems. Particularly younger Germans do not trust the market’s self-restorative powers, and call for improved compatibility between economic growth and environmental protection. The survey substantiates that in Germany, postmaterialist thinking is by no means limited to the well-off and educated. For the majority of respondents, health, social relationships and environmental status were deemed to be far more important sources of personal quality of life than ‘increasing money and wealth’ (Figure 2.1-1). 75 % of respondents with higher education entrance qualifications, and 69 % of respondents with a mere school leaving certificate, agreed with the statement ‘I consider wealth to be less important than environmental protection and debt reduction’ (Bertelsmann Foundation, 2010).

The increasingly sceptical view of the current economic system’s performance and its externalities rests not least on the realisation of the system’s social costs that result from economic activities relying on short term benefits and gains (Section 1.1), but also on the improvements of material wealth in low-income household settings, leaving space for alternative, postmaterialist value-orientations and lifestyles. These have emerged from the eco (or green) niche, and – as will be shown in the following – are now increasingly determining general perspectives; this also applies in economically less developed regions.

Box 2.1-1: Values, Attitudes and Opinions


The terms ‘values’, ‘attitudes’ and ‘opinions’ have different meanings in psychology, sociology and political sciences (see Häcker and Stapf, 1994). For the most part, it is assumed that attitudes are based on values, and that these attitudes influence people's behaviour, even if research (Eckes and Six, 1994) assumes that there is no particularly close connection between attitudes and behaviour. In this report, the WBGU uses these terms as follows:

1. Personal and cultural values: According to Kluckhohn (1951), values are a shared perception of something worth having or striving for. Cultural values therefore refer to something that has evolved socio-culturally, something that exists independent of individuals. Personal values, on the other hand, refer to the subjective concepts of desire and specific value orientation. Personal values or value orientation therefore describe the individuals' relatively stable preferences with regard to different values (Häcker and Stapf, 1994).

2. Attitudes: Contrary to the rather abstract ‘values’ and ‘value systems’, attitudes relate to certain objects, people (groups), ideas and ideologies, or specific situations (Häcker and Stapf, 1994). Attitudes represent evaluation and action tendencies with regard to attitude objects, and are usually stable in the medium-term. They are therefore neither long-term value systems, nor short-term intentions.

3. Opinions: Are generally considered to be the verbalisation of attitudes and values (Rokeach, 1968). Attitudes are usually measured by several items, i. e. asking carefully selected questions and statements which are indicators for certain attitudes to evaluate one attitude object, thereby ensuring that the results are reliable.

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