Ecological worldviews: An exploratory study of the narratives of environmental studies students, or, Hearts and minds: Knowing our place in the world

Malachy Adam Shaw-Jones (1992)

This work is an exploratory qualitative study of the ecological worldview. Ten graduate students in environmental studies were interviewed about their relationships with the natural world. Relevant literature on the ecological worldview and the psychology of survival is reviewed. Its importance is noted in the light of current environmental problems. The historical "roots" of the ecological worldview are explored with particular attention paid to their intellectual, cultural, and scientific dimensions. Contemporary psycho-social manifestations of the ecological worldview are presented, focusing on deep ecology and feminist positions. The study design was informed by a conceptual framework that included the categories of Interdependence, Belonging and Community, Compassionate Values, and the Transpersonal. The methodology involved an analysis of in-depth interviews with the participants. The results of the study provide a multi-dimensional portrait of the core aspects of the ecological worldview. These include refined details within the original conceptual framework and the additional dimensions of "Knowing", "Working In", and "Working Out"--the epistemological, psychological, and behavioral "fruits" of this worldview. The participants' worldviews are found to have been influenced by the core ecological concept that all natural processes and entities are interdependent and interconnected. The participants' narratives show evidence of their experience of connectedness to nature, of their compassionate and postpatriarchal values, and of a spiritual dimension to their relationships with nature. Their behavior in the world expresses their care and concern for the environment. Their inner world reflects their experience of growth and change, hope and despair. Last, it is noted that the participants attempt to know the world with both their hearts and minds--they value both traditional objective, positivist epistemologies and more subjective, naturalist approaches including direct experiences of nature. A discussion of the implications of the study includes directions for future research, as well as notes toward a psychology of interdependence--an ecopsychology--that explores humankind's relationship with the environment from an ecological perspective. The study ends with reflections upon polarities and balance, and on the potential of the ecological worldview to contribute to the well-being of both self and society, the person and the planet.