Teal shadows – and how to deal with them

This year initiatives around Frederic Laloux’s notion of Teal organizations have emerged around Europe, most notably at the Integral European Conference in May that dedicated a significant space for Teal. But what is Teal, why is it relevant today and are there any blindspots? Which problems do Teal address and which new problems might arise as a consequence?

My background is that I’m a researcher in adult development where I study stages of psychological development, but I have a growing interest in cultural and organizational development, and leadership issues in relation to this. I’ve also participated to some small extent in starting up a Teal4teal salon in Malmö, Sweden, which have triggered some own thoughts and reflections. The aim of this article is to give a short introduction of Teal and to discuss some possible blind spots of it, or shadows, and how to address them.

What is Teal?
Teal is a colour representing a certain stage or level of consciousness according to philosopher Ken Wilber, which corresponds to the yellow level according to the Spiral dynamics model. Wilber also draw from insights from the Adult development field. See for instance this short introduction and this wiki, the original book or the newly released illustrated version.

Laloux investigated twelve organisations who he considered operated from a Teal level, and formulated three breakthroughs. I here consider these breakthroughs as defining principles according to which the companies at this level operate. The principles are: Self-management, Wholeness and Evolutionary purpose. Let us return to them, but first the most important question.

Why Teal?
Instead of just jumping on the hype we should review what Teal is and why it matters. What is the rationale of the Teal organisational paradigm, what problems does it address and what’s wrong with previous paradigms? In order to do so, we immediately see a central point of having this discussion. The notion of Teal presupposes that there are other forms or ways of organising, denoted by other colours, and that those forms might not be adequate in all situations and should not be taken for granted.

The colours represent different organisational paradigms that are based on different assumptions on how the organisation should be defined in terms of the nature of the hierarchy, non-hierarchy, holarchy or way that people organise within the organisation, and most importantly, the purpose of the organisation. They also come with different language and metaphors of the organisation such as “wolfpack”, “army” along with competition as “enemy” or as “competition”, organisation as “family” or “organism”, and a view on the how the employee works in a psychological sense and should be motivated. Laloux describes each paradigm according to a set of breakthroughs or conceptual inventions which solve some issues that previous paradigms have failed to address. And in turn, they may fail to address new problems, or even create new problem, that the next paradigm will have to deal with. The shifts from one paradigm to another is not a gradual and linear one, but rather transformative by nature.

So by having a conversation about what Teal is and what it isn’t, and if it’s a good thing, we can step out of the assumptions of other paradigms. Such discussions can give rise to questions such as “Do we need hierarchies or managers?”, “What is the organisation for and who decides that?”, which is great. The notion of Teal and the framework around organisational paradigms in turn offer metaphors and language with which we can have these kinds of valuable discussions. But let us move on and investigate what the Teal paradigm consists of, what problems it solves and the new problems it may give rise to. I do this by examining the core assumptions or breakthroughs that characterise the Teal level, starting with the notion of evolutionary purpose.

Evolutionary Purpose
I argue that an organisation exists essentially in order to address some problem or issue, thus it must have a purpose and this purpose is its raison d’être. For instance, organisations that operate from assumptions that are characterised as orange typically have as their purpose to maximise profit for the owner and shareholders and use employees and resources as means for this end. For organisations that are characterised as Green, a broader corporate social responsibility is acknowledged towards employees, communities, environment and so forth. The organisation is here typically considered to be a means to the end of serving the employees and other stakeholders. The stakeholders get to decide and define what the organisation should be and do.

A shift that Laloux describes for Teal organisations is the notion of an evolutionary purpose. The term “evolutionary” is typical at the Teal level, but here it doesn’t necessarily imply that the organisation should serve the evolution of mankind towards greater levels of development or complexity. Rather, it should reflect a deeper purpose of ‘greater good’ and that this purpose is not cut in stone but the result of a continual process of discovery. The key point of the evolutionary purpose is that no one gets to decide what the organisation is for. The organisation is treated as something that has a soul. The organisation itself decides its mission and raison d’être – its evolutionary purpose – and the participants or employees task is to listen and understand what it is. Thus, the employee serves the organisation, which in turn serves its purpose. This is distinct from previous levels where the organisation serves the shareholders or stakeholders. But it does have some similarities with amber organisations that serve something greater. For instance, the church ultimately serves God and the army serves its country. They have and are permeated with higher purposes, although these are seen as static and not evolutionary. The evolutionary aspect, as I interpret it, regards the organisation as a dynamic entity acting in a dynamic world. ‘More sense and respond’ than ‘predict and control’.

It may sound New Agey and it can always be discussed whether the organisation really have a soul in an ontological sense, but I really think it’s an interesting perspective to take in order to answer the question on what the organisation wants to do and why it should exist. For instance, a part of my work is about serving the field of research that I belong to. I don’t primarily serve the persons involved but rather the field as a whole that I see as something that is alive and organically changing and possibly evolving. Treating an organisation as something organic and alive can allow us to have a better understanding of the organisation’s purpose and how we can influence it. This breakthrough may address the core of the issue that many people feel disengaged and unmotivated at work. It may be that the work is not meaningful enough since they feel that it doesn’t contribute to making the world a better place. It may sound harsh, but if you don’t feel motivated at work, it might be because what you do is not that important.

I find this feature the most important and interesting to discuss in our current world where we either allow organisations to exploit their environment and employees, or see it as something primarily for satisfying our personal needs and wishes. However, one issue that I’d like to bring to the fore, which can be seen as a shadow of the higher purpose, is that people and employees may be seen as sole means for the greater good. This responsibility to the employee is something that the previous Green paradigm actually addresses in its feature ‘stakeholder value’ and should not only be transcended but also included at the Teal level or paradigm.

The notion of self-management addresses several issues of the Orange hierarchical structures. Firstly, hierarchies are often problematised from a conflict and power perspective. It is often argued from a Green perspective that hierarchies are bad per se and that getting rid of the managers is a way of achieving equality and equal influence between the employees and consensus in decision-making. A limitation with this, as often argued, is that the decision-making process gets very lengthy and not necessarily resulting in good decisions.

Secondly, a point with self-managing groups is that they can act as sensors to the outer environment and respond more quickly if they are more autonomous. Orange hierarchies presume a top-down chain of command where the needs and corresponding measures to be taken are defined by the manager and assigned to the lower level managers or employees along with means to complete the task. This modus of operation was primarily intended for large organisations acting in more stable environments but puts enormous demands on the top managers in terms of complex thinking. They need to be extremely mature and complex thinkers, but it’s not necessarily these post-conventional thinkers who make it to the top of the hierarchies. A central motivation to why the Dutch company Endenburg started experimenting with self-management was to quickly adapt to new circumstances, resulting in the governing system Sociocracy. It is often argued that Sociocracy, Holacracy and other Teal variants of organising are better at responding in more dynamic times and environments.

However, one should not idealise the manager-free and organic process too much. Often there is someone who calls the shots, formally or informally. There is always some person or persons who make the decision of going Teal in the first place, e.g. in the case of Zappos’ CEO making a top-down decision. Also, even if there are no formal managers there is a need for someone to facilitate the decision-making processes, which also is a sort of leadership. Sociocracy and Holacracy have formal roles of facilitators and practices around that. I will return to the role of leadership.

This is the item where I have least own experience and I see this as mostly an empirical question. How do the companies that try this manage? Does it really work? In which contexts? What problems arise and which practices are developed to address them? How formalised do the practices and procedures need to be? How does accountability work if no one formally owns a question?

The final breakthrough is wholeness which essentially refers to the psychological aspect. One reason that we are not fully engaged in our work, Laloux argues, is that we don’t show up at work fully. We come with a mask, persona or ego which is only a very limited aspect of ourselves. It is the aspect that we show, perhaps because we want to shine or because we are afraid of showing our own vulnerability. The shift to Teal is often characterised with a striving for integration of many aspects. Integration of mind, body, soul and spirit, of masculine and feminine, rational and emotional, extrovert and introvert and so forth. Instead of our limited egos, wholeness means that we should bring our bigger, deeper and more authentic selves to the organisation. To be ourselves.

Of the three breakthroughs, if treated as principles for designing an organisation, I find this the most idealistic and also most problematic. I can sympathise with the notion of vulnerability and not being afraid of backstabbing, but there are limits on how personal I want to get in an organisation. Even though the organisation may have a kick-ass purpose. A useful distinction is between professional, personal and private. I am professional if I only see myself as part of the role I’m filling and I can meet a colleague professionally and see her/him only from the role and value s/he brings to the organisation. This may be seen as cold and impersonal. If I am personal I can meet you as a human being and care for you beyond what is required from me in my professional role. Being private means having no boundary between my work life and my most intimate private life. I don’t get private with my colleagues and my students. That’s a boundary that we should be careful not to cross. Potentially, wholeness can threaten the integrity of the employee. On the topic of vulnerability, my discussion on Kegan’s and Lahey’s notion of DDO, Deliberately Developmental Organisations, is also valid here. Again, I sympathise with getting more whole at the organisation, but not too whole. The key question here is: can this principle be misused for exploiting the employee?

Further, and here I return to the leadership issue, the psychological description of wholeness is particularly problematic in my view. As stated, we have this shallow ego or mask that we remove in order for our deep authentic selves to reveal themselves. This is a pretty simplified and polarised view on our psychological functioning. I sympathise with creating a holding space where everyone gets treated respectfully, but there is something that I find disturbing with the notion of “taming the ego”. It can easily become a way of dismissing valid critique or solving conflicts to blame people for not “taming their egos”. If wholeness means bringing the whole self to the workplace, it would mean that I brought my ego, all my previous levels, perspectives and shadows. Teal (roughly corresponding to Strategist in Torbert’s term) doesn’t mean no ego, it doesn’t mean no conflicts, it means more of everything. Was Integral Institute free of conflicts and from big egos? As I see it, the notion of wholeness invites all kinds of problem on a deep psychological level. What type of leadership would it take to hold such a space?

One way of addressing this, instead of wholeness, is Holacracy’s notion of roles. You don’t bring your entire being to the workplaces, only what is required to fill the role. Sometimes I see critique of this being a cold and instrumental part of Holacracy. But I understand it primarily as a way of protecting the employee of getting exploited and leaving their egos outside. Holacracy is limited to the structural aspect while Laloux’s notion of Teal spans from the structural to the cultural and psychological – wholeness. This is not necessarily a deficiency in any of them, just a description of what they imply.

Conclusions and future work
I have discussed the development and movement around Teal and I do welcome the pioneering work and approach of Laloux, Holacracy, Sociocracy and all companies. Mostly since it offers a language around the organisational aspect of development. But also since it can create new solutions and better working organisations. With Wilber’s notion of Teal follows also insights on shadow aspects and the aim of this article is to identify some possible drawbacks of the new breakthroughs that may cause problems if this new way of organising is treated with too much idealism or is misused. I have also proposed ways to address them. Hopefully this can give rise to some further discussions and, who knows, maybe there is a Turquoise way of organising that can address these issues which in turn gives rise to new ones?!

Some questions that I particularly would like to explore further are those relating to the mental demands on the employee to initiate or participate in a Teal organisation. What level of maturity in terms of adult development does it require to be a leader and hold the space of wholeness? These are questions that I think deserve attention both from the AD community as well as from the Teal community. Presumably it is more demanding to work in a dynamic Teal organisation than for instance in a more static Orange one. The Teal paradigm has more degrees of freedom and have also access to the previous breakthroughs. Thus, it probably requires more from the employee in terms of complex thinking, adaptability, dealing with uncertainty, perspective-taking and so forth. Those are aspects that are very hard to promote top-down and to demand of the employee. This is not only a matter of pragmatism but also of ethics.

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Values as Complex Adaptive Systems – An Analysis of the Swedish Response to the Migration Crisis from a Value Systems Perspective

[The following text presents an analysis of the Swedish response and debate around the refugee crisis from a value systems perspective. It will be presented at the conference for Migration and the welfare states in October 2016. The text was updated 17/10 after helpful input from Robert Holmin.]


The Swedish response to the refugee crisis is analysed from a value system perspective, using the Spiral Dynamics model. The analysis gives an overview of the conflict between the traditional, modern, and postmodern values. Due to the crisis and changes in life conditions, traditionalistic and nationalistic values and perspectives have challenged the dominating postmodern values. Two defining aspects were the sheer volume and its economic consequences that made Sweden substantially reduce its intake, and the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, along with similar incidents in Sweden. The first aspect entailed a conflict between a postmodern emphasis on global human rights and tolerance, and traditional stability and national interest, as well as a modern emphasis on economic aspects and a preserved welfare state. The second aspect led to two expressions of the postmodern value system coming into conflict with each other, namely gender equality and multiculturalism. It is discussed whether the conflict leads to a regression of values or progress towards post-postmodern values.


”Instead, the entire house behind the façade is torn down, bit by bit. The façade remains until the decisive moment. At a given signal the old façade falls. Behind it there is already a new one. It seems to always have been there. In one stroke, everything changed. Politicians, journalists, everyone, follows.

Now this is the corridor that applies. ”

(Hakelius, 2015)[The author’s translation]

The description came from Swedish columnist Johan Hakelius as he tries to capture the dramatic shifts in the discourse and debate around the migration and refugee crisis in October 2015. What was previously viewed by many as racist and intolerant became governmental immigration policy in an instant. The “corridor” refers to the space of acceptable opinions that you need to keep within if you don’t want to have a diagnosis of your mental health, a Swedish version of an Overton window. The term was coined by political scientist Henrik Oscarsson (2013), professor and director of the SOM-institute at Gothenburg University, which studies public political opinion. In relation to the issues of immigration and the refugee crisis, the opinion corridor can be seen as the space within which you express tolerance, acceptance and a general positive attitude towards migrants, a generous immigration policy and multiculturalism. However, as Hakelius illustrates, the opinion corridor and the discussion around values seem to has shifted significantly recent year, most notably with the refugee crisis and the sudden change in immigration policy. Further, incidents such as the sexual assaults in Cologne, Germany, and assaults at Swedish youth festivals have triggered discussions on the topic of Swedish values, what they are, what they should be and if they exist at all. The political debate around immigration is often likened with a minefield (Häger, 2015) – polarised and hard to navigate with a high social price for missteps and for presenting facts and opinions that do not fit within a narrative of tolerance. Häger (2016) describes how this polarisation has been reflected in journalism and a tendency of not reporting on issues that may promote intolerance towards immigration. Such development is sometimes argued to represent a regression towards the 30th style fascism. Regardless of position in the debate, there seems to be notion on progress and regress in terms of values, although the interpretations vary. But what does progress mean in terms of values? And how should the issue itself, on immigration and the refugee crisis, be addressed?

Challenges around the refugee crisis, immigration and integration issues can be characterised as wicked problems, also referred to as complex societal issues (see e.g. Jordan, Andersson & Rignér, 2013; Jordan & Andersson, 2010) or ill-structured problems (King & Kitchener, 1994). This means that the problems can be understood in more or less complex ways, they don’t have definite and final solutions but rather more or less complex and fruitful ways of being dealt with, and they demand the cooperation of many different actors and coordination of different perspectives in order to be properly addressed. The research field of adult development gives that competences that are useful in this context, such as complex thinking and reasoning (Commons, 2008), social perspective-taking (Selman, 1980; Kohlberg, 1981; Armon, 1984), develops throughout the adult life. They can also be supported by means of scaffolds and group processes (Ross, 2006), cognitive tools (Commons & Goodheart, 2008) and theoretical frameworks for perspective-taking (Wilber, 1996). In order to address the problems properly, a more complex understanding of the different perspectives need to be acknowledged, rather than stating that a certain perspective and associated values is either inherently good or problematic. Thus, we need to better understand what different values and perspectives there are, how they evolved, how they are changing and why, and to develop cognitive tools and scaffolds for supporting such understanding.

The shift in immigration policy in 2015 triggered a discussion on whether there exists a Swedish culture with a certain set of values. However, such discussion is far from new. Swedish mentality and traits, and how they have developed historically along with the socio-techno-economic development, have been discussed by scholars such as Daun (1994), Berggren and Trädgårdh (2006) and Lundgren (2013, 2016). Swedish values can also be understood by means of comparisons and by contrasting with the values of other cultures. There are several approaches to analyse cultural values, most notably the World Values Survey (Inglehart, 2007) where cultures are evaluated according to dimensions such as survival vs self-expression values and traditional vs secular-rational values in different waves since the 60s up till present time. Another popular cultural measurement is the Hofstede’s Cultural Dimensions Theory (Hofstede, Hofstede and Minkov, 2005) which evaluates values according to dimensions such as power distance, individuality and masculinity. These approaches view the cultures on an aggregated level and only acknowledge the differences of values between different cultures and not within it. Two approaches that can be used for capturing such differences are Schwartz Theory of Basic Human Values (Schwartz & Boehnke, 2004), which defines ten different value systems across cultures, and the GAL-TAN dimension (Hooghe, Marks & Wilson, 2002), the latter have been applied to describing and explaining the increasing polarisation in Swedish public opinion (Bergström, Johansson, Oscarsson & Oskarson, 2014). Psychological perspectives on political differences and polarization in USA have been investigated by e.g. Haidt (2013) who traces differing views on political issues such as immigration to different basic moral intuitions, an analysis that has gained some interest in Sweden, although it remains to be empirically validated in these cultural and political settings.

Such discussions and attempts to describe differences in values within and between cultures, particularly in Sweden, have also been problematised for several reasons. Firstly, that such characteristics exist at all are contradicted by the studies that emphasise differences and conflicts within the culture, which is a central aspect of the problem and of the present analysis. Secondly, it can be argued that it would be problematic to try to define such set of values since they might be considered to exclude people with other values. As previously stated, a complex challenge requires a diversity in perspectives and values. Thirdly, it can be problematic to define a static set of values since they are constantly changing due to external influence in terms of other cultural memes or changing circumstances. There is not a set of correct values that have been acquired but rather the result of a long developmental process without any fixed goal. A process that is likely to continue, particularly if the current values shows to be inadequate. It can thus be questioned whether the Swedish culture can be regarded as an entity with distinct and well-defined boundaries. Rather, the culture is in constant interplay with other cultures in terms of ideas, memes, people, technological breakthroughs and so forth, moving across the borders. Fourthly, what is often described as desired Swedish values are often values that can be found in any western democratic society. Fifthly, it can be argued that it is difficult to describe a culture in which one is part of, or in Robert Kegan’s (1994) terms, embedded in. The point of describing the own culture is to become aware of the unspoken assumptions and invisible norms that are taken for granted. So how can one describe that which is invisible and taken for granted?

Despite these objections and difficulties, it is here argued that some description and mapping of the values is called for, for several reasons. As previously stated, these complex challenges require that different perspectives and values are properly understood and represented as accurately as possible. Also, if people from other culture are to be properly integrated in or only to understand and be able to relate to the Swedish culture, it is not helpful to them to deny that such exists. The challenge that is presented to us can also be seen as an opportunity to discover who we as a culture. Concluding, there are different approaches to describing cultural values that are based on different assumptions and with different results. These different approaches along with respective difficulties should be considered in any attempt of describing the Swedish values and how they are developing. A key question is that regarding development in terms of progress or regress and a map should be able to capture this movement or at least offer a language for it. If the Swedish culture and its values can be regarded as a large system consisting of several different values that we may take for granted, such mapping could offer a scaffold or support for stepping out of the embeddedness in the system and to be able to see it from different perspectives.


The aim of the study is to analyse the Swedish values from a value systems perspective with focus around the recent development around the refugee crisis. The analysis takes as a frame and general perspective a view where values, value systems and the value systems landscape as a whole are seen as complex adaptive systems, which will be further elaborated in below. More specifically, the analysis aims to introduce a value systems perspective where today’s situation is seen as a consequence of the historic development and can explain whether the recent shift in values can be regarded as progression or regression in terms of cultural development. The analysis also aims at introducing a scaffold for social perspective-taking that can be useful for understanding the value system landscape, the conflicts that have arisen and how to address these conflicts in a constructive way.

Guiding Assumptions of the Analysis

The analysis will span several broad aspects of the problem that can be regarded as a complex issue. Sometimes the acronym VUCA is used to describe problems and situations that are characterised by Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. This calls for a number of simplifications and assumptions that will guide the analysis.

First, a systems theory approach will be taken. The Swedish response to the refugee crisis is at least to some extent affected by our cultural values. For instance, the high degree of tolerant attitudes towards immigrants has likely motivated a generous immigration policy. But the causality is not unidirectional, external events such as the refugee crisis has also triggered a shift in the value landscape, as described above. This motivates a systems theory approach where the Swedish values and value system landscape as a whole is regarded as a complex adaptive system (Cabrera, 2006) that is in a constant interplay with the surrounding world. They are seen as systems, since they consist of clusters of opinions and preferences in many issues; they are complex, since they cannot be fully understood or controlled; and they are adaptive, since they change when the outer circumstances and life conditions change.

In order to address the main question on how the values are changing in terms of progression or regression a developmental approach will be employed. Further, the sudden shift as well the historical development of values can be seen in terms of cultural transformations. The adult development field offers several such stage theories of the individual level. One of these adult development models is also commonly used for describing cultural development. Thus, the cultural values and public discourse is seen mainly as a consequence of the values and perspective of the individuals’ on an aggregated level. This application and connection between the individual and cultural level is further discussed in below along with the co-development with the techno-economic development (Wilber, 1996). As will be demonstrated, this connection and co-development makes the historical development highly relevant in understanding the current value landscape.

The approach takes into consideration the results of the mentioned models for values and political opinions along with their limitations and the difficulties associated with the problem. The cultural development will be described in general terms applicable to any western culture, and will be complemented with a feature that is seen as unique for the Swedish culture. In general, the approach to this highly complex problem will be guided by Occham’s razor, by choosing the simplest available model and the fewest and most plausible assumptions that offers the highest explanatory power and usefulness as a scaffold for social perspective-taking.

Oscarsson’s notion of the opinion corridor is sometimes discussed and problematized whether it exists at all. In this article it will be treated as existent and the analysis will not aim at proving that is the case, but rather at explaining why it exists, how and why it has shifted. Further, it is also assumed that last autumns shift in immigration policy was in correspondence with a shift in values, although it is difficult to demonstrate.

A key assumption and attitude towards the different values are common to all described models for describing values and attitudes is that the different positions or perspectives that are described are treated as valid ones and seen from a constructive light. The different perspectives are not seen as mutually excluding but rather as valuable in describing the complex problem. A model that fits these requirements is the “the emergent, cyclical, double-helix theory of adult biopsychosocial systems development”, more commonly referred to as Spiral Dynamics.

Theory and Key Concepts

The analysis will employ the model called “the emergent, cyclical, double-helix theory of adult biopsychosocial systems development” that was developed by Clare W. Graves (2005). The model is sometimes included among the adult development theories and has an indirect support from theories such as Loevinger’s ego development theory (Loevinger, 1976) and Kegan’s subject-object theory (Kegan, 1982). Graves collected essays of students on their views on the functioning of a mature human being, that were ordered developmentally. Graves was inspired by new ideas about general systems theory (Graves, 2005), which showed in the double-helix view of the psychological functional of the individual, group or culture were seen as a consequence of the environment and life conditions. This systems theoretical connection and description of the value system as a complex adaptive system is later articulated by Hamilton (Christensen, 2015). Graves described the levels or value systems in themselves as closed systems and human psychological functioning as open systems that adapted and moved through the different levels.

A broader ambition of the model was to describe the development of psychological functioning on the individual as well as on the cultural level. Further, it aimed for a synthesis between different psychological schools, represented by Maslow, Skinner and Rogers, and can thus be characterised as a psychological metathetory or framework for organising different views on the psychological functioning of the human being. Recent years, the model has been further developed by Beck and Cowan (2006) and has primarily been employed in describing value systems on the cultural level and to some degree on the organisational. It also shows similarities with frameworks for social or organisational development, such as Scharmer and Kaufer’s (2013) framework for socio-economic development, and framework for organisational structural development according to Laloux (2014).


A key concept in Spiral Dynamics introduced by Beck and Cowan is the vMeme, which refers to the value system. The concept of vMeme, paraphrased from Richard Dawkins’ book The Selfish Gene, denotes an amount of information, an idea, an -ism, a value or the like, that is spread through the population like a virus. Thus, a vMeme is a coherent set or cluster of basic beliefs, opinions and values that are related to each other and ​​based on one or more core assumptions. They describe what people consider to be healthy, rational and desirable in various situations. If a person, for example, shows a high tolerance for different cultures also advocating gender equality, one can expect that s/he also advocates human rights. Another person who advocates conformism and obedience can be expected to value tradition and security. Value systems are not just collections of opinions, but also perspectives on the world. One can say that it is not only a way of seeing the world, but also a way of not seeing the world. Similarly, Graves identified 8 different value systems in a developmental order, although three value systems, the traditional, modern and postmodern, suffices in order to accurately enough capture the debate around the refugee crisis. Further, the development of values and value systems is a very slow process and these perspectives have evolved throughout history. Thus, the current value landscape is considered to be a consequence of a developmental process of the culture. A further assumption is that the value systems and their historical as well as individual developments, oscillates between two polarities, those of individualistic and collectivistic. It is, however, not a pendulum motion going back and forth without any progression, but rather a spiral movement, that for each turn also moves upwards – hence the name of the model. Each new level or stage builds on the previous one, but is also a reaction against it and tries to solve the problems that the previous fails to address or creates.

Value Systems from Pre-traditional to Postmodern
The different levels can be described in terms of themes and logics based on certain assumptions that were derived from Graves’ material of essays on what is rational for a mature human being. The values and perspectives are simplified idealisations and needless to say, a typical person’s preferences and outlook are in general more complex than this. It should be noted that the descriptions reflect representative individuals’ values, perspectives and assumptions that are dominating at certain eras, and should not be seen as full descriptions on entire eras or scientific paradigms. For instance, few people with predominately postmodern values have really read Foucault, Derrida, Butler and other postmodern thinkers and build their arguments and worldview from those. The core assumptions at all levels are in general implicit and unexamined to the individual (Kegan, 1994). Here follows a brief description of a few value systems, a more thorough description follows in the historical review.

The traditional value system and perspectiveis characterised by conformism, collectivism and a traditional view on faith, knowledge, national identity and gender roles. These values can be traced back to the birth of the national states and the monotheistic religions. They can be seen to have emerged as a response to the significantly more violent and self-affirming pre-traditional value system. The traditional perspective is based on an assumption that stability, order and honouring tradition and formal authorities are most desirable for a society.

The modern value system emerged historically with the scientific and industrial revolutions, and emphasises rationality, scientific objectivity, technological progress and economic growth. Individualism and rationality are seen as ideals as well as questioning the conformism of the previous traditional values. This is the predominant value system in most western democracies. If the traditional values emphasise stability of the system, this one advocates system growth.

The postmodern values emerged in the public sphere with movements such as post-colonialism, feminism, the environmental and peace movements. In the personal level human bonds, tolerance and connections, and creativity are ranked higher than the cold rationality of the previous value system. System critique is at the core of the postmodern values, which is articulated in a critical stance towards norms, traditions, power structure and any attempt to exert power or to uphold stability.

Life Conditions

According to the model the value systems are fundamentally a consequence of how the individual (or culture) perceives the world around them. Thus, a value system can be seen as an agent’s response to its life conditions, which comprise of:

• Locations and physical environments, for example in the inner city of Stockholm, in the suburbs, or in rural areas,

• Problems and challenges faced, such as working conditions or safety in the neighbourhood,

• Social circumstances as governed by social status, gender, education and family situation.

These life conditions should not be seen as objective truths, but rather, we experience them from different perspectives. We do not see the world as it is, but we see it largely as we want to see it and from the perspectives that are associated with our respective value systems. The notion of life conditions is therefore central to the model and one of the main points of the analysis is the following: if life conditions change, we can expect that the value systems landscape on a cultural aggregate level will change accordingly. For instance, after the 9/11-attacks 2001 the value system landscape in the USA shifted towards more traditional, emphasising security and patriotism on the expense on postmodern values such as tolerance for other cultures (Sjölander & Stålne, 2012). This is in accordance with the adaptive aspects of the complex value systems.


In collaboration with Ken Wilber, Beck elaborated on the model and referred to it as Spiral Dynamics Integral and thus further relating the value systems to the development of a psychological as well as a structural level. For instance, by linking the different value systems with different forms of structural complexity in terms of governance, organisational logics and techno-economic development, as well as in terms of meaning-making or mindset, i.e. frames of reference and ways that individuals take perspective on the world. The model has not received some interest outside of academia due to its applicability as will be demonstrated. An example of the application in the structural dimension is the evolution of economic ideologies and systems (Dawlabani, 2013). Other applications are as a framework for organisational development (Cacioppe & Edwards, 2005), for cultural clashes in post-apartheid South Africa (Beck & Lindscott, 2011) and on the development and conflicts of the Middle East (Maalouf, 2014). It is also fairly easy to relate to the development of scientific paradigms and the history of ideas, megatrends, and technological breakthroughs. However, in order for the model to be more accepted in academic settings, further empirical support is called for (Stein & Heikkinen, 2009) along with establishing closer relations with other approaches for value systems as described in above. A rough sketch of such comparison will be presented in the following to illustrate the model’s relevance.

The GAL-TAN dimension: In the analysis of the most recent Swedish parliamentary elections a new perspective was introduced to the public. Besides the classic right-left scale previously mentioned a second vertical scale was advocated, GAL-TAN, with the former indicating Green, Alternative, Libertarian and the latter Traditionalist, Authoritarian, Nationalistic. The parties that were successful in the election positioned themselves at different extremes of the dimension or scale, mainly the Feminist party and the Sweden democrats. The analysis gives that parties and persons with a general positive attitude towards immigration positive tend to have libertarian values ​​(GAL) and immigration critical parties correspond to authoritarian values (TAN). A brief comparison with Spiral Dynamics shows that GAL should correspond to the postmodern values, although the libertarian values also could be associated with the modern values. The TAN seems to correspond quite clearly with traditional and nationalistic values. This would be a reasonable conclusion, although it would need further empirical support.

Shalom Schwartz value systems: Another commonly used model to describe value systems was developed by Shalom Schwartz (Schwartz & Boehnke, 2004) and popularised in contexts around the environmental and transition town movement as Common Cause (Holmes, Blackmore & Hawkins, 2011). Schwartz’ model can be characterised as an inductive one, meaning that it is primarily based on empirical data. The values and value systems emerged as the respondents’ preferred values were grouped into different clusters. The Spiral Dynamics model, however, can be viewed more as a deductive model with levels and their descriptions formulated early on in the research process from evaluated essays and subsequently empirical data are assimilated into the existing model. A drawback with inductive methods is that they do not disclose any underlying mechanism or logic, they only describe the groupings and distribution at different times. Hence, a deductive framework should be more favourable as scaffolds for social perspective-taking. However, both approaches should not be seen as mutually exclusive, rather they can complement each other, and can be shown to be consistent with each other. Correspondingly, Loevinger’s ego development theory and Kegan’s subject-object theory can be seen as mutually complementary to each other in a similar way as Schwartz’ and Spiral Dynamics. An analysis by Strack (2011) demonstrated that they are based on the same structure, and Schwartz himself suggested a continuing work where the value systems are arranged according to a development dimension.

World Values ​​Survey: The most influential measurement of cultural values is the World Values ​​Survey (WVS) (Inglehart, 2007). WVS has since the 80s studied the values ​​of socio-cultural, moral, religious, and political issues among a representative sample of the populations of many different cultures in five year intervals, resulting in different cultural value maps. These maps are usually used to illustrate how values ​​differ between different cultures. The data is openly available and can also be used to study how values ​​are distributed within cultures, and can also be analysed from a development perspective. Such an analysis was carried out by Sjölander, where the value systems of the dates 1996 and 2006 in both the USA and Sweden were compared (Sjölander & Stålne, 2012).

Summary of the Spiral Dynamics Model and some Critical Remarks

Spiral Dynamics can thus be characterised as a deductive framework for how values ​​develop throughout history. Here focus will be on describing three of the currently most dominating value system and their corresponding perspectives. The model provides a rough overview of the value system landscape of a typical industrialised Western country from a developmental perspective. These simplifying assumptions are beneficial to the models applicability and its popularity, although they should be made as explicit as possible. A further assumption is that all cultures move through the same stages. Hence, there is a need to complement an analysis of a certain culture with a discussion of cultural uniqueness. Even if the stages are accurately captured, every journey is unique.

One obvious criticism that can be directed towards the model is its normative elements. A model or theory being normative means that it not only describes how the world or a part of it is constituted, but it also prescribes how it should work. Normativity can be more or less explicit and can in this case imply that certain value systems are more desirable than others without demonstrating why. One way to avoid this normativity is thus to clarify the underlying argumentation or by referring to the empirical data. Another way is to be transparent with the assumptions and axioms on which the model is based. Here the model of hierarchical complexity (Commons, 2008) can be seen as a good example.

In contrast to, for instance, Schwartz’ model and WVS, the Spiral Dynamics model describes value systems as being more or less developed. It is not explicitly normative in that higher levels are better or more desirable; Graves himself emphasised the adaptive alignment between values and life conditions as central, although he considered progress of a culture to be beneficial in the long run. Nor is it deterministic, progress is not predestined to happen. Temporary setbacks, more permanent regressions or collapses are always possible (Stålne & Horn, 2014). Further, such an assumption is the advocacy that the spiral should be balanced and therefore “healthy” (Beck & Cowan, 2006). This means that a culture needs a representation of all value systems ​​up to the highest existing level. From this assumption follows, firstly, that cultures cannot skip a step, but need to pass all levels. And further, that value systems that are further down the spiral will never disappear or should be fought per se. This idea can possibly find support in view of the value system landscape as a complex adaptive system. Values ​​and value systems do allow themselves to be fully described or controlled. Thus, the model can function as a taxonomy for cultural values and as a societal version of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs (Maslow, 1962) in terms of values. However, it should be added to the discussion that although value systems can be regarded as more or less developed on a cultural level, they can be held and argued for by means of more or less complex and mature ways.

In the discussion of these normative aspects it should be noted that one of the main points of the model is the part that is all but normative. The different value systems and their corresponding perspectives can also be seen as different kinds of rationalities. Rationality, or action-logic, mean frames of reference; an understanding of what are desirable behaviours, goals and values. Assuming that there would be a single set of correct, rational and good values, ​​where other values ​​are irrational and based on fear or malice, would have been normative, if anything! Although the model rests on several assumptions, it is very broad in its claims and demands further research in order to be more fully recognised in the scientific community it is interesting due to its usefulness as a heuristic and scaffold for social perspective-taking and for supporting a big picture view on values and perspectives and how they have evolved.

A main assumption of the model is that all cultures pass through the same developmental stages or levels. However, the model does not give any characteristics of individual cultures. Therefore, the uniqueness of, in this case, the Swedish culture, will also be explored in this analysis. In the following section, the Swedish culture and history will be discussed from a Spiral Dynamics perspective, in which the different value systems will be introduced.

An Overview of the Swedish Value System Landscape with a Historic Context

Here follows an introductory description of the dominating value systems ​​or perspectives, and how they emerged in the Swedish culture, starting at the Viking Age and its dominating pre-traditional values. The historical description is very general, resting on Daun (1994), Berggren and Trädgårdh (2006), Lundgren (2013, 2016), and Berggren and Greiff (2000), serves as an overview on Swedish history seen from the perspective of the Spiral Dynamics model and will be connected with current phenomena and perspectives. The perspective serves to illustrate how the historic development is relevant and present today. The value systems were colour coded by Beck for pedagogic reasons, which will be described in the following.

The pre-traditional (red) values emerged in the Viking Age in A.D. 800-1100 as a consequence of, among other things, a revolutionary development in a marine technology that opened the way to the oceans with the conquest of new lands and plundering of places which lacked proper defence and countermeasures for several hundred years. The Swedish voyages eastward were likely driven mainly by trade with inhabitants along the Baltic and Russian coasts, and further down the rivers toward the Orient and Constantinople or present day Istanbul. At the end of the Viking Age the Swedes consisted of a number of loosely connected and practically autonomous regions with their own provincial laws. They worshiped and sacrificed to the Norse pagan gods of Odin, Thor and Frey. Vikings can be considered a clan culture where blood ties and honor were very important for the identity. Retaliation and vendettas were common elements according to the Icelandic sagas. According to pagan religious beliefs, the bravest and best warriors were brought to Valhalla after their death to fight in glorious battles at the end of the world, in Ragnarök. This warrior mindset, lacking fear of death, was very effective in combat.

According to a Spiral Dynamics perspective, the prevailing cultural, political and structural organisation was well consistent with the pre-traditional value system. The Viking Age was put to an end on the battlefield, the rest of Europe got better at defending themselves. In the late 900s Christianity was introduced by Danish king Harald Bluetooth who was baptised and later became a leader in the Christian political sphere. This guaranteed him protection from other military adversaries within the Christian realm.

The pre-traditional value system appears today to a very small extent and has so far little influence on the debate. They can be seen as a form of extremely individualistic self-assertion, where the outside world and social context are seen as fundamentally threatening. Purpose and meaning of life is given by acquiring power at the expense of others. The means to achieve this are threats, force and violence. This simple rationality or action logic is: the strongest will win! It is a mindset well suited in contexts of more or less organised crime.

The traditional (blue) values emerged in the shift from the Viking to the Middle Ages when the Swedish state emerged, roughly in the 1100s. This new Sweden became in essence a feudal society, with a strict hierarchy with the king at the top, with static roles and with a ruling elite that exerted top-down power. Although the feudalism was not that pronounced, since the farmers had political power to a large extent, compared with those on the continent. During this time the church developed as an increasingly important player on the scene, although in comparison with other European states it had a relatively less prominent position, mainly because the power came to be divided with the nobility, bourgeois and farmers.

Martin Luther’s Reformation movement in Germany spread to Sweden, meaning that the sermons were conducted in Swedish, the Bible was printed in Swedish, and literacy of the general population became a concern for the church. Sweden began to function better as a country administrating a functioning judicial system, also making use of raw materials such as iron and copper as subsequent trade took off. Another important aspect of the functioning of the internal politics was the political development towards a proto democracy with parliamentarianism. The establishment of the “Ståndsriksdag”, a parliament consisting of four separate “houses”: nobility, clergy, burghers and farmers, had a factual impact in the 1600s. This ancient tradition is commonly cited as unique in international comparison. Here, the farmers had a real political influence. Historians and ethnologists usually point to this order to explain both our inclination to negotiate and reach a consensus in various discussions, and also our trust in the state and an understanding that the societal system is ultimately beneficial (Österberg, 1989). This tradition, according to many, is manifested in today’s political and organisational culture. Sweden is described as a culture of cooperation and consensus, and according to WVS we rank among the highest in the world in terms of trust in social institutions, and among the lowest in corruption (Lundgren, 2013). This culture of consensus is in this analysis regarded as the unique Swedish trait that is added to the picture.

In the Middle Ages Sweden operated according to a traditional logic, in terms of Spiral Dynamics. It relied on a conformist and authoritarian logic of a hierarchical, feudal social structure, in which you were born into your place in the hierarchy. Agriculture accounted for the dominant share of production and employment. The traditional logic is associated with order, justice and stability.

Today the traditional value system and perspective is characterised by conformism, collectivism, and a traditional view of e.g. faith and knowledge, national identity and traditional gender roles. In the political landscape, the traditional values are associated with the former working-class movement, and can today be seen in the policy of for instance the Sweden Democrats. Institutions that operate on a traditional logic are those who are connected to the core task of the state, guaranteeing external and internal stability and security, such as the military and the police forces.

The modern (orange) values are associated with the transition into modernity and capitalism that emerged in Sweden around the 1750s. Already hundred years before, philosophers, such as Rene Descartes, Francis Bacon, and also scientists such as Isaac Newton, who formulated classical mechanics in the 1600s, paved the way for modern science. The Enlightenment and later along the extraction of fossil fuels, brought about the Industrial Revolution. The French revolution with the development of democratic ideals of human equality and the right to vote, even though women’s suffrage would take yet another hundred years, was a strong force in this European transition. Enlightenment ideals can be seen as the triumph of reason over the traditional collective authority, science liberation and victory over the church and religion, and the liberation of the individual from the law of social order that we today in Sweden call Jante, meaning roughly that you shall not think you are the least bit better at anything than your fellow citizens. From a financial market perspective, man later came to be regarded as a rational being whose highest purpose should be to maximize self-interest, homo oeconomicus.

The Enlightenment and modernity also meant a redefinition of the individual, on the cultural, as well as on the psychological level. The modern Swedish society was constructed according to a principle that is referred to as “state individualism” (Berggren & Trädgårdh, 2006), which is characterised by an accented individualism, mostly a breaking loose from family ties, sponsored and supported by a strong welfare state that guarantees economic security, e.g. if you lose your income or get divorced. Thus, the Swedish modern individualisation project can be said to be an emancipation from the family and the collective that would instead be replaced by the state. Public schools were introduced in 1842, which contributed to Sweden in 1850 having the highest literacy and the highest number of university students per capita in Europe. This is an obvious example of how the state supports the citizens’ education and personal development, although the school also had as its mission to foster the pupils into good and law abiding citizens.

In the late 1800s industrialisation took off with large successful engineering companies, such as LM Ericsson, Asea, Alfa Laval, SKF, Electrolux and steel companies such as Sandvik and LKAB. With this followed a rapid urbanisation and a new working class quickly grew to 30 percent of the population. In 1880, 85 percent of the population were still farmers, which decreased to 50 percent at the onset of World War I. Sweden kept out of the war but was still one of the poorest countries, and many chose to emigrate to America. This wave of emigration, peaked in the second half of the 1800s due to population growth, combined with a crop failure. The emigration was encouraged as many positive reports in the form of letters and newspaper articles came from the United States.

Finally, it should be noted that the strong industrial development in Sweden during the mid 1900s, largely was due to a strong Swedish tradition of engineering and the ability to collaborate within and between companies. But it also had its cause in Sweden keeping out of  World War II which could thus produce and export while the rest of Europe was being rebuilt. This created a demand for labour, which was a strong incentive for women to enter the labour market. Further, immigrants from southern Europeans could be put to work, primarily in the engineering industry. From being one of Europe’s poorest countries, from where people emigrated, Sweden quickly became one of the world’s richest, to where people immigrated from all over the world.

Today modern values ​​are most evident in the business sector where companies and individuals compete on a market logic. Economic liberalism and capitalism developed as a consequence of the deregulation of banks and trading on the free market, as opposed to a state-controlled planned economy. Continuous economic growth and a positive future outlook are at the core of the modern value system. Technological and scientific advances are key and define a culture’s success from this perspective. The scientific ideals are seen in the positivism of natural sciences, with the scientific hypothetical-deductive method at its base.

The postmodern (green) values ​​emerged roughly half a century ago with political movements such as post-colonialism, feminism, and the peace and environmental movements. One of the three big postmodern political movements that has had a strong impact in Sweden is the environmental movement with sustainability as central concern. This can be seen as a reaction to modernism’s logic and belief in technological and scientific advances, the view of nature as an inexhaustible resource, a reaction which was triggered by advances in systems theory applied in Limits to Growth simulations from 1972 (Meadows, Meadows, Randers & Behrens, 1972). Climate change and its consequences have subsequently emerged as an increasingly influential and defining issue for the civilisation. Since the early 70s environmentalism and sustainability perspectives went from being a marginal alternative movements to having a widespread acceptance in the population as a whole, but particularly in the media and the political establishment. Climate change and sustainability issues are obvious examples of how new values ​​are emerging as a consequence of changed living conditions.

In the transition to modernity it was primarily man’s emancipation that was of central concern, but with time the awareness of women’s situation was gradually increasing. Feminism is usually described in three waves: the first involved a quest for equal rights and suffrage in the early 1900s, the second, in the post-war period, focused on upgrading the status of the woman with gender equality and with a voice against discrimination, and a third wave that can be regarded as postmodern feminism, which instead focused on how gender is constructed by means of cultural beliefs that are inherited as we raise our children differently depending on their sex. The strong impact of the feminist movement in Sweden is reflected in Hofstede’s cultural studies, where we rank as the world’s most feminine culture (Hofstede, Hofstede & Minkov, 2005).

If environmentalism and feminism can be seen as two major political postmodern movements, then post-colonialism together with anti-racism is the third. In different value studies Sweden is described as one of the world’s most tolerant towards other cultural expressions and towards immigrants (Inglehart, 2007), which is typical for countries with a high emphasis on self-expression values but is likely to have several specific reasons. We have an own history of emigration, mainly to America in the 1800s and we only need to go back a few generations to find starvation and poverty in our own country. We also have many positive experiences of immigrants having enriched the country, for example German and French immigrants in the 17-18th centuries  and in the form of post-war labour immigration by Finns, Turks and other central Europeans. In addition, it should be emphasised that tolerance towards other cultures tends to increase with the level of cultural development. Postmodern values ​​are often associated with tolerance and care for all people, regardless of ethnicity and sexual orientation. It is significantly more difficult to be homosexual, for example, in a culture dominated by traditional values.

On the political arena multiculturalism has been the dominating ideology, which means the view that foreign cultural expressions are seen as enriching and worth preserving instead of immigrants having to abandon their previous cultural expressions and identities and fully assimilate into the Swedish culture. Immigration policy has long been Europe’s most generous relative to population size, but has strong support from politicians and foremost in the established media in which the postmodern values ​​have the strongest foothold. Politicians and the mainstream media have aimed at being in the frontline of cultural development advocating tolerance, feminism and anti-racism. A logical assumption would be that the state and the elite are more progressive, at least given this view of how development unfolds. This has apparently been a recipe for success during the last 1000 years. However, the debate about the refugee crisis has gradually become increasingly polarised from the time the Sweden Democrats entered parliament in 2010, although the polarisation process and fragmentation has been ongoing for decades (Bergström, Johansson, Oscarsson & Oskarson, 2014).

According to the view on development according to Spiral Dynamics, a certain value system and perspective doesn’t necessary replace the earlier. Even though it addresses some problems that the earlier one fails at, they rather build on each other so that one value system emerges on top of the previous. From this follows on that in the current debate, the postmodern value system should not be expected to be the only one present. The modern and traditional value systems are in increasing extent active as well. Thus, the traditional, modern and postmodern perspectives are all active in the cultural values landscape and represented in different positions and opinions in the public debate.

Conclusions from the Historical Review

The review of the Swedish historical development through the value systems recognises some unique cultural features in international comparison, such as the ideal of consensus and the high trust in the state. They have been beneficial factors for our cultural success and strengths when our sparsely populated country has competed on an international market and developed through the value systems. But from a systems theory perspective, what were formerly the strengths and success factors for Sweden has increasingly turned into weaknesses. This is seen in the postmodern values, which dominate among established politicians and the media, which is evident from e.g. surveys of political sympathies and values of journalists (Asp, 2012). The postmodern values have become the new norm. All are expected to be feminists and anti-racists, which has created a polarisation of the debate since not all agree. Thus, it has previously not been generally accepted to discuss limitations in volumes, economic aspects, security concerns, and national identity, in relation to refugee issues. Arguably, this may have contributed to the growth of the immigration-critical Sweden Democrats party. The opinion corridor can from the developmental perspective be understood as the combination of the ideal of consensus and high trust in the government and the establishment, along with the strong influence of the postmodern values which are presented as the democratic, just and tolerant values to have. However, as stated in the introduction, the values are shifting and some reasons for this beyond the particular issue of immigration politics will be discussed in the following.

Recent Development and Changes in Life Conditions

Now the stage is set for a closer analysis of the debate and response to the refugee crisis from these perspectives and how these have challenged the postmodern values and perspectives. However, value systems are adaptive and changes when the life conditions and the development in the surrounding environment change, and the refugee crisis is far from the only aspect that influences values. If we want to understand the rise of traditional values in Sweden as well as in other Western countries, other events and aspects of the development should be considered. Here follows a brief description on some key events and trends that is likely to have influenced our values and worldviews.

At the time of the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, the Euromaidan revolution in Ukraine took place and shortly thereafter Russia annexed the Crimean peninsula. Separatists in Eastern Ukraine started an uprising which was supported by Russia, first in the form of military equipment, then with “volunteer” troops, while all official involvement was denied. This is a new type of warfare than previously conventional war, usually referred to as “hybrid warfare” which includes irregular troops, disinformation, psychological operations, aggressive military exercises over (and under) the Baltic sea, cyber-attacks and a generally threatening rhetoric, with the intent to destabilise the opponent without direct military measures. This development has triggered a broad discussion and concern around security issues, military spending and a possible joining in NATO. The increased concern over security issues can be seen as part of a rise of traditional logic and perspectives, and henceforth in traditional values. Another reason for an increase in traditional logic is the emergence of ISIS with terror attacks in France and Belgium, and committed cruelties in Iraq and Syria. From a traditional perspective, such phenomena should not be answered with more tolerance but by emphasising more security and order.

Despite these advances of the traditional logic, the postmodern perspectives were the dominating narrative, in particular around the increasing flow of migrants. In the summer of 2014, just before the national election, Prime Minister Fredrik Reinfeldt held a famous speech where he urged the Swedes to “open their hearts” to the refugees. The fact that the Migration Agency asked for increased funding and discussions on the economic perspectives in connection with the refugee crisis brought the focus to economic aspects and made it clear for many that the refugee crisis was not necessarily an economic opportunity to Sweden, but could rather be a cost. With this, references to volumes or costs started to be considered as valid objections to the generous refugee reception, although the reference to human rights and having a moral responsibility to help those who are fleeing across the Mediterranean trumped all other arguments in the political response. A very powerful, and for the debate defining, image became the drowned three-year-old Alan Kurdi, who was washed up on the Turkish shore in the summer 2015. The picture made the debate even more emotionally charged, and the polarisation between the postmodern and the other values ​​increased. The stronger the polarisation, the more difficult it is to take the other side’s perspective. However, the other two value systems and perspectives became increasingly vocal in the debate. These objections are described in the following section.

Critique on the postmodern view on the refugee crisis

Firstly, there are objections from a traditional perspective that primarily emphasises law, order and security. This is seen in relation to the lack of integration and with suburb areas populated with high fraction of immigrants that are seen as living outside society and no-go zones where the police are unable to maintain order and security – a breeding ground for radicalisation and hundreds of people traveling from Sweden to Syria to fight with ISIS. In connection with those issues the work situation of the police force with a heavy workload, a reorganisation and increasing number of policemen leaving the force are discussed to a greater extent. A large part of police resources have been allocated to handling the influx of refugees, of which a large share have disappeared and gone underground before being registered as asylum seekers. ‘Control’ is a key word and of central concern according to the traditional vocabulary.

Then, from a nationalistic perspective, the multicultural society is seen as a threat towards the integrity of the Swedish culture – a line of reasoning held by the Sweden Democrats. The objections have not had any great impact among the mainstream media or the other parliamentary parties. In the debate on immigration a common perception has been that the traditional values ​​and perspective have been equivalent to those of the Sweden Democrats. But rather, I argue, the Sweden Democrats have been allowed to usurp the traditional values, ​​where other parties have abandoned them and instead indulged in modern and postmodern values.

Objections from a modern perspective have mainly focused on practical and on economic aspects. Famous professor of public health Hans Rosling argued that our prime measure should be to donate money to the UNHCR, to which Sweden has considerably reduced its aid in order to fund the substantial increase in costs for the refugees managing to reach our border. Rosling argued how much more cost effective it is to help those in situ than those who come here. Rosling then highlighted a conflict between refugee costs and the cost to help those who are unable to leave the refugee camps, for example by not having the money to pay the smugglers. Another criticism has come from Tino Sanandaji, Swedish economist with Kurdish background. He has time and again exposed how the mainstream media gives overly optimistic numbers on costs, education levels and long duration to get immigrants into employment. We are ranked as the lowest in Europe to integrate immigrants into the labour market, mainly because the job marked consists of so few low-wage jobs. Sanandaji has argued that the welfare state cannot be sustained should the large influx of refugees continue. Another argument has come from the professor of history, Lars Trädgårdh. He has described the debate about the refugee crisis as a conflict between two different perspectives, one based on human rights (postmodern) and one based on a social contract that can be likened to an insurance company (the modern). We work and pay taxes, and we expect to utilise the welfare when we get ill, have children or retire. If the social welfare erodes and with that the trust in the state to be able to keep its part of the contract, then our work and willingness to pay tax will decrease and the system cannot be sustained. But Trädgårdh also linked the argument to a traditional logic of the social contract also being based on a common vision and identity based on a national belonging. These are lines of reasoning that also have shown themselves in established media. Leading critics of the postmodern values ​​have also been the bourgeois editorials, and their perspectives on the issues of immigration and integration that have challenged the culture of consensus and the opinion corridor. Four examples are: Anna Dahlberg, Ivar Arpi, PM Nilsson and Alice Teodorescu. Still, the postmodern values were dominating among the politicians of the Social Democrats and the the Swedish Green Party, that are in office.

However, the new security situation in the area around the Baltic Sea, the internal security and the maintenance of law and order, the Euro crisis, Brexit and the EU’s major internal tensions, have made the traditional and nationalist values ​​become increasingly prominent in Sweden, as well as on the EU level. The factor that had the greatest impact over the past year is probably the rapidly increasing influx of refugees during autumn of 2015.

ID controls on the Öresund bridge

In April 2015, Prime Minister Löfven answered a direct question regarding the volume of the refugee flows: “No, there is no limit. We will keep receiving according to the conventions we are bound to” (Sydsvenskan, 2015). But in October, the government and parties from the political opposition (not including the Sweden Democrats and the Left party) made an agreement on how to handle and reduce the large refugee flow. There was in fact a limit, and the volumes had reached unsustainable proportions. And here we are now at the time described in the introduction. The previously unthinkable had suddenly become the new reality. And the dominating part of media that has campaigned towards tolerance and human rights, and upholding the opinion corridor, quickly adapted to this new order. This shift captured in the introducing quote by Hakelius can be seen as an aspect of the value system landscape as a complex adaptive system.

In November ID controls were introduced at the Öresund Bridge, which had the immediate effect of a substantial reduction in refugee flow. The police could not maintain order and register those who came, costs soared, and the Migration Agency struggled to administer and arrange short term accommodation for all that arrived. The ID controls can be seen as a defeat to the postmodern values ​​and perspectives. One can say that the postmodern values ​​and ideals not only came into conflict with the other value systems, but also with the reality and the practical aspects. It can be expressed as idealism being defeated by realism and reality constraints, at least for now. But new conflicts awaited the postmodern perspective. In particular mainstream journalism.

The sexual abuses in Cologne

The introduction of ID controls created a change in the political reality, the media followed accordingly. But one event, or actually several, that triggered a critical discussion on media’s role were happening in Cologne on New Year’s eve, when over 600 women were subjected to sexual abuse. It would take a few days before it was reported in media, as most of the perpetrators were from North Africa, and many of them asylum seekers (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 2016). When the media reported on the Cologne incident it was revealed that similar events had taken place in Stockholm, albeit on a smaller scale at the We Are Stockholm Festival. The most prominent Swedish morning paper DN had refrained from reporting from this despite having been tipped off, which was reviled by alternative media (Frick, 2016). This triggered an intense discussion of to what extent media had not reported correctly on the crimes, or withholding information that could have a negative effect on the general opinion on immigrants.

One factor to bring to the fore here is that this issue is not convenient to address from a postmodern perspective which has as conflict and power perspective as core tenets. The Cologne- and We are Stockholm-abuses illustrate how the two groups, women and immigrants, both of which are assumed to be subordinated and oppressed according to the logics of the two postmodern ideologies, feminism and multiculturalism/anti-racism, come in conflict with each other. Thus, it can be said that two aspects of postmodern values come in conflict with each other. The more apparent the complex nature of a problem is, the harder it is to maintain a polarised view with a good and evil side. When issues such as this one emerges, the postmodern values have proved to be inadequate, at least to be able to claim to be “the only true and good values”.

On a cultural level, we seem to have reached the point where the prevailing postmodern perspective and values have ​​failed to properly address the very important, if not defining, situations described above. The political refugee agreement and ID controls have shifted the opinion corridor and the postmodern values have ​​come into conflict with what was possible to implement in terms of the refugee crisis. And further, the abuses in Cologne and the We Are Stockholm-festival illustrated how the postmodern values and perspectives ​​come in conflict with themselves and the established media’s postmodern bias in reporting. Therefore, we must conclude that the postmodern values have failed to offer a coherent story of the complex and rapidly changing VUCA world and how to act in it, and cannot be seen as the only real and desirable ones.  But on the other hand, neither can they be seen as completely incorrect or irrelevant. But where will we go from here? Does this shift mark a regression and slow collapse of the previously so developed values, back to fascism of the 1930th or are there other possibilities?


In the article, last autumns shift in immigration policy and values was described and analysed using Spiral Dynamics as a tool or heuristic, which introduces the three value systems, traditional, modern and postmodern values and their respective perspective on the refugee crisis. The model was introduced and compared with other similar models on values and attitudes, and then applied for reviewing Swedish history from where the current values and perspectives can be deduced. The historical review showed that the culture can be characterised by an ideal of consensus and as being dominated by postmodern values. However, these have shown inadequate in addressing the recent years’ development in terms of refugee crisis and the worsening security situation. Before the implication of this is discussed, some methodological considerations will be addressed.

Methodological considerations

The Spiral Dynamics model is in this analysis characterised as a heuristic rather than an established scientific model, mostly due to its broad claims and weak empirical support. Therefore, an effort has been made in discussing the model’s assumptions and the possible relation with other more established scientific theories, which should be regarded as work in progress. The developmental aspect of the Spiral Dynamics model should be commented further. This is supported from other adult development theories on the individual aspect, most notably from the ego development perspective (Loevinger, 1976).

The Spiral Dynamics model can offer descriptions of different perspectives which makes it useful as a scaffold for social perspective-taking. However, some of these descriptions were formulated decades ago and need to be updated, most notably the description of the postmodern values and perspectives (Stålne, 2016). It should be noted that the three perspectives are described as being equally complex from a cognitive and individual perspective. This means that all perspective can be applied, defended and argued for in more or less complex ways. From this perspective, preferred value is not a good indicator of ability for complex thinking or personal development. On the cultural level, Graves’ view was that values primarily do and should adapt to the circumstances or life conditions. In the long run, however, societies should benefit from developing according to the description of the model. Thus, beyond being a heuristic for perspective-taking, the Spiral Dynamics model can offer a taxonomy for cultural progression as well as regression. This brings us back to the question if last autumns shift in policy and values should be regarded as a regression.

A systems theory perspective

The shift in values may from a systems theory perspective be characterised as a transformation, but in which direction? And how can we understand the value system landscape as a complex system? According to dialectical thinkers such as Basseches (1984) and Laske (2008), and systems theorists such as Scharmer (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013), Meadows (2008) and Senge (1990), a complex system can be described in terms of different characteristics such as stability, process, diversity, resilience, antifragility, transformations and collapse (Tainter, 1988). Around the time of the shift in values was preceded by a discussion around collapse of the asylum system, of law and order, and of the welfare state as a whole, which is worth investigating further but beyond the scope of this article to address. However, the perspective can be applied on the Swedish culture as a system with different properties, such as stability.

The stability aspect can manifest when an external event influences the system and the system responds by resisting and pushing back (Senge, 1990). Correspondingly, any attempt to attack and defeat the traditional values ​​have so far only contributed to them fighting back and even growing stronger since these perspective have been best at responding to some of the events previously described. The transformational aspect can be seen when the system departs from its original equilibrium and finds a new one – or collapses. When it comes to ecosystems or the climate system, it is said that the climate is stable up to a certain point, referred to as a threshold or ‘tipping point’. In the value systems landscape, such a threshold was passed last autumn. However, the new equilibrium should prove to not be that stable. The process aspect is reflected in the view that the cultural values are in continual motion. The Swedish value system landscape is a living system in constant interaction and adaption with its surrounding. The resilience can be seen as the systems’ ability to adapt and recover from chocks or disturbances. In relation to this, the opinion corridor can be seen as a low degree of diversity which entails fragility and a low resilience that could lead to a regression in terms of values, which might seem as a likely development. However, there are other possible interpretations of the situation which will be discussed in the closing section.


A key conclusion from the analysis seems to be that the recent shift in values is a regression from more developed values, ideals and perspective to less developed so. Although it will be difficult to tell for certain at this point, there is another possibility provided by the Spiral Dynamics model and related theories from the research fields of adult development and systems theory. In the discussion this possible transformation will be introduced and the conditions and actions necessary to achieve this.

As previously mentioned, the Spiral Dynamics model outlines eight different levels, of which the postmodern values represent the sixth in order. The alternative path is that last autumn’s shift in the value landscape could eventually mark a shift from a postmodern to the integral (yellow) value system? These are also denoted integral (Wilber, 1996), flex-flow (Beck & Cowan, 2006), metamodern, Society 4.0 (Scharmer & Kaufer, 2013), Teal (Laloux, 2014), post-postmodern and reconstructive postmodernism (Griffin, 2002; Kegan, 1994). This new value system can be understood as a synthesis of all previous value systems and their corresponding perspectives. The term integral, coined by Jean Gebser (1991), indicates that it will integrate and bring together the previous value systems in a synthesis instead of seeing them as different truths of which only one can be right and the others are wrong. Rather, they are seen as important perspectives which all have different features and fulfil essential purposes. A central principle of the integral value system, or rather ‘metasystem’, ​​is the emphasis on the developmental dimension, where instead of economic development the development of the psychological, cultural and social aspects are of central concern, to which the economy is means.

Often it is assumed that development takes place by one paradigm replacing the previous, with the agricultural society having been replaced by the industrial society, which then has turned into the information society. This is however not an accurate description, we still live in an agricultural society, even though agriculture represents only two percent of the population and two percent of GDP in Sweden. We also still live in an industrial society, rather than all working in the postmodern knowledge sector. Similarly, from an integral perspective it can be said that a value system of a culture does not replace the previous one, but rather, they build upon each other. Although the different value systems critique each other from their respective perspectives, and although they have largely arisen as a reaction towards the limitations of the previous value systems, all value systems, from this perspective, need to perform their respective functions. For instance, a functioning market economy requires stability in terms of law and order, such as property rights and trade agreements being respected. High levels of corruption and crime make it difficult to do business. The integral value system requires postmodern ​​as well as modern values with its  technological and scientific progress, and a certain amount of traditional order and security. Thus, the introduced notion of Spiral Dynamics as a heuristic for perspective-taking as a necessary skill for dealing with complex issues also functions as a scaffold for a transformation of this new set of cultural values. The article and analysis has been performed from this perspective.

Returning to the initial question of the discussion, it has been stated that the Spiral Dynamics model could be seen as a taxonomy for socio-cultural development, and not as being deterministic in any way. Thus, there is no guarantee that the shift in values described above will result in a progress toward more complex values. It is always difficult to differentiate signs of collapse with signs of transformation, since both entail some sort of breakdown in current structures, logic and identity. To grow and transform is to some extent to die. So, is this crisis a sign of collapse or transformation and progress?

The answer is, to some extent, probably both. We will see some parts struggling and maybe even collapsing while others finding opportunities and thriving. Typically, there are some groups that will benefit, learn and develop from this new situation and order, while others will suffer economically, socially and psychologically. So the question should rather be: how can we contribute to a development where as many areas and sectors as possible can thrive and develop in a healthy direction?

Competences and challenges for change-makers

This is of course an extremely complex question, but I’d like to address a few aspects in terms of competences that are needed for change-makers, as well as for the culture as a whole. This is taken with the Swedish context in regard, but could to some extent possibly apply to other cultures in similar situations.

First, the debate around the immigration and refugee crisis has been very infected and the tone and debate climate have suffered accordingly. The debate and the crisis has, so far, been costly in economic terms as well as in terms of cultural capital, trust and cohesion. There is tremendous amount to be learnt from this experience, for instance about who we are as a culture, where we came from and where we might be heading, and what defines a culture. Thus, the first concern should be to rebuild the public debate climate which now seems to be locked in polarisation. Different public arenas must give room for a multitude of voices, not only those who adhere to a certain set of “right” values.

A more specific aspect or skill that is needed in the public debate is the ability to differentiate between healthy and unhealthy values. So far, the postmodern values have been declared to be the correct values and the traditional, and later the modern, as problematic per se. It needs to be acknowledged that there are healthy aspects of nationalistic values and perspectives, such as upholding the law and defending the country, as well as having a healthy and balanced cultural integrity and identity, whatever they might be. Further, there are of course healthy aspects of modern values, emphasising the importance of having a functioning industry and welfare state in the future as well, and also being able to direct the economic help where it can be most useful to most people. Also, unhealthy aspects of all value systems need to be addressed, even postmodern. The most obvious one being the conviction that the other ones are wrong.

It has been argued that the Swedish attitude towards immigrants and refugees has been characterised by having a big heart, however, the mind also needs to be included. The refugee crisis is part of larger mega-trends where security issues, climate change, food security, financial crisis and the rise of right wing nationalists can be seen as being interlinked. Complex thinking is an essential skill in order to see the connections and see the world transforming, and to be able to have an own impact on it. Complex thinking is also needed in order to assess different arguments. An experience from the Swedish debate is that arguments based on the “right” values have been more influential than those from the “wrong” side. The more complex arguments and thoughts should be allowed more space, regardless of who’s side they’re on.

The recent decade’s cultural development in Sweden has been characterised as a fragmentation in terms of media intake, use of social networks (or lack of), and of opinions, most notably in the issues around immigration. In a culture with a 1000-year history of emphasising consensus, we need to accept disagreement and even conflict as the new normal condition. This could mean to some degree letting go of our consensus ideal.

Finally, actual suggestions on how to address the actual issue of the refugee crisis is beyond the scope of the current analysis. The remaining conclusion in this matter is that all perspectives need to be considered and all have important functions and parts to play in addressing the crisis and related complex issues. And possibly lead to something new.


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An Everyone Culture by Kegan and Laskow Lahey

Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey just released the book An Everyone Culture – Becoming a Deliberatively Developmental Organization. Here are some quick thoughts on it along with some background.

In 1982 Kegan wrote The evolving self where he took departure from Jean Piaget’s stage theory and introduced his subject-object theory, SOT, on how we make meaning in increasingly complex ways (this article offers some background on Kegans work). According to the theory a measurement instrument, subject object interview, was created by Lisa Lahey, Kegan and colleagues. In 1994, Kegan released In Over Our Heads – the Mental Demands of Modern Life, where he elaborated and applied the SOT in different dimensions of our lives, such as parenting, partnering, school, work life etc. Here Kegan connects the different orders of consciousness or meaning-making with the demands that modern life exposes us to, and argues that a significant proportion of the population does not live up to this. These two books have since been very influential in the field of adult development, rightfully so.

In 2009 Kegan wrote Immunity to Change, ITC, together with Lisa Laskow Lahey, where they introduce the Immunity to change process. ITC builds on the insights from the SOT and the dynamics of stage transition where meaning-making can be seen as frames of reference based on certain assumptions that are invisible or taken for granted by the person. Moving from one order of consciousness to the next one means being able to see these assumptions and thus making them an object. So, you go from being the frames of reference and identifying with them as a subject, to having them as an object. The ITC process doesn’t necessarily induce transitions of orders of consciousness of the individual that performs it, but can help in getting rid of some blockings and unproductive assumptions on the way. The ITC process was also introduced in a MOOC and several instructors have been trained in facilitating it. Thus, Kegan can be said to have moved from being a researcher to dealing more with applying the insights with the process tool, foremost in organizational settings and to a mainstream audience.

In order to introduce the main scope of the book, imagine that you are interested in personal development and apply the ITC process on yourself. You succeed, make progress and then go back to your organization where you soon find yourself reverting back to your old habits. This can also be observed in therapy when you back in your social environment tend to go back to your old behavior. Therefore it can be a point in involving family and peers so they can accept and support the new version of you, so to speak, instead of resisting the change.

But what would it look like if an entire organization has a culture where it is not only accepted for you to grow and change, but even expected of you to develop as a person and expected of you to consciously take measures to make that happen, e.g. by using the ITC process? And not only in the work role but as a whole human being. An Everyone Culture introduces the notion of a deliberately developmental organization, a DDO, where the company culture is based on that exact assumption.

A central aspect that Kegan and Lahey is putting forth is vulnerability, and refer to Brené Brown’s work. In typical work settings we are doing two jobs, they argue, one of doing what we are supposed to do at work and then one of covering up our weaknesses. Vulnerability in this context means being open and transparent about your limitations, failures and weaknesses. If not, you won’t be able to learn from your mistakes. And not only do you want to learn from them, but also see them as a source of personal development. In relation to this, leadership has as a main function to ensure a holding environment so that people that expose their weak sides won’t get a lower salary or get backstabbed, the fear of which is probably the main reason for us not to be more vulnerable at work or in any context.

This focus on failures and mistakes may sound counter intuitive, we are often told that in groups we should primarily focus on and build on peoples’ strengths and positive aspects, while focusing on weaknesses can be a way of putting the employees in place and exert power over them. Kegan and Lahey argue, from the three companies they have studied, that no one there is safe from exposing their own failures and that anyone can provide negative feedback to anyone. Thus, the leaders need to go first and set examples with exposing their own “backhands”. This way, the company culture and view on personal development involves everyone in the organization, not only handpicked talents. I find this interesting and a useful discussion. Being able to be vulnerable and expose your limitations, I believe is a very important factor of becoming a learning organization. If everyone covers up their mistakes, no one will learn anything. And I think the organizational culture sets the bar for how much you dare to expose yourself.

But in DDO:s it’s not only being able to expose your weak sides, you are obliged to do something about them and develop. Therefore the third dimension of a DDO, where the two first are the individual aspect of developmental aspiration and the communal holding aspect, is developmental practices, i.e. a set of tools and methods that will help the employee, the group as well as the organization to develop.

In the end of the book, the authors give some further context and limitation on their scope by applying Ken Wilber’s quadrants of interior/exterior and individual/organizational. From this they argue that their main scope and interest have been on the interior quadrants of development psychology (interior and individual) and organizational culture (interior and organizational):

“We confess, as the authors of this book, that collectively our natural bent has been toward the [individual interior] and from there, to the [collective interior]. We have long been interested in the way the less visible issues [the interior aspects] have been omitted from the leadership agenda and from the responsibilities management must take up if organizational life is to become what companies and their members need it to be.” (p 244)

It’s great that they are explicit about this limitation, and given my introduction on Kegan’s work, this focus is understandable. However, and here follows my main criticism, when I started reading the book I expected to find some further connections to the structural dimension. For instance, I would want to know if there is any correspondence between a DDO and a Teal organization in Laloux’ terms. Or correspondence with organizational structures described by Sociocracy or Holacracy, or the structural aspect of Spiral dynamics. One common denominator is the notion of “evolutionary purpose” and “bringing the whole person to work” described by Laloux. But this connection is not discussed or referred to by Kegan and Lahey at all. It seems that they have focused only on applying their own research and not so much reviewed others. The research around ITC is recent, but the adult developmental aspect they refer to is 20 years old.

Regarding the structure of the three organizations that have been studied, I get the impression that they are based on an orange meritocratic and modern logic. Two questions that I would be interested in learning more about are:

What are the connections between teal/yellow organizations, the level or complexity of the organizational culture, and the meaning-making and complex abilities of the employees? This book can offer some pieces of this puzzle, but not an overview. This is a blind spot in Kegan and Lahey’s book, if the organization demands that I develop my whole being, then correspondingly, I would expect to be able to influence the organizations structural logic as well as purpose.

And regarding the organization’s purpose. Here the three organizations claim that they have the two main goals of profit and employee growth, and that they are not mutually exclusive, but rather reinforcing. Being a DDO and investing so much effort in the employees to grow is not a means to the end of making more money, but an end in itself, they argue. This sounds great, but I would be even more appealed to these organizations if they did something of relevance for the world or if CSR or sustainability were central concerns. These aspects are however absent from the discussion. The three organizations chosen could be in any industry, which is intended since it demonstrates a point that it’s possible for any company to be a DDO. Ok so, but Bridgewater – a hedge fund?!?

Concluding, nevertheless I find the book interesting and useful for me. As Kegan, my interest is shifting from the interior individual quadrant to the collective ones. Hopefully, the next book by him and his colleagues will make further progress into the structural quadrant, and relating with more recent developmental research within the organizational realm. I believe that’s where their growing edge lies.

Addendum 11/6: In relation to this book and my review, a further critical perspective can be added based on the ethics of promoting adult development exercises and development of the whole person. See this excellent article by my kolleague Sofia Kjellström from 2009, with special attention on Kegan’s and Lahey’s Immunity to change process, ITC:

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Dialectical thinking at the 2016 ESRAD symposium

Next spring, in 23-25 May, we will arrange our fifth ESRAD symposium in den Haag in the Netherlands. For this symposium we have formulated four adult development research areas that are of particular interest, one being dialectical thinking. The other areas are wisdom, ego development and transformations in the adult life. To some degree these areas can be said to overlap, see the call for proposals for further details. We can gladly announce that prof. Michael Basseches has confirmed that he will give a keynote speech. Basseches is one of the pioneers of the research in dialectical thinking, DT, described in his book Dialectical thinking and adult development from 1984.

How do DT relate to other AD theories, e.g. stage theories such as the Model of Hierarchical Complexity and Robert Kegan’s subject object theory (both those theories contain references to DT)? As other AD theories, such as the previously mentioned, DT describes a type of post-formal thinking that transcends formal logical thinking as described by Piaget, although it can be traced back to the first process model of thesis-antithesis-synthesis according to Hegel.

A common distinction among stage theories is the one between cognition and meaning making. Cognition refers to cognitive capabilities or tools, such as the ability for complex reasoning and problem-solving demonstrated e.g. by the Model of Hierarchical Complexity, whereas meaning making in Kegan’s terms can be expressed as frames of references, subject-object balance or self-other coordination. Another proponent of DT, Otto Laske, refers to Kegan’s theory as one regarding socio-emotional development, which together with King and Kitchener’s reflective judgment model constitutes the person’s stance towards the world. Cognition, as in DT, is for Laske the person’s tools with which s/he uses to resolve problems such as social dilemma.

Both MHC and DT can be seen as measures of cognitive abilities or complex thinking, but how do they differ? MHC is a formal theory based on axioms that prescribe how higher order elements are created by means of a coordination of elements from a previously lower order. The orders of hierarchical complexity are ideal forms according to which behaviour can be evaluated and from which the person’s stage of hierarchical complexity can be assessed. The transition process of a person moving from one stage of hierarchical complexity to the next higher one can be seen as a dialectical one, which is described by e.g. Sara Ross. Typically, the person goes from arguing from a thesis at stage n, deconstructing the thesis, constructing an alternative antithesis, deconstructing that one too, on to relativism which is followed by process leading to a synthesis, which constitutes the thesis at the higher stage n+1.

From a MHC perspective, when DT is assimilated into MHC, DT is the nature of the thinking process and movement between the stable stages. Stage transitions can be characterised as the process of being able to coordinate seemingly opposite or paradoxical elements, a thesis and an antithesis, into a new and more complex synthesis. Thus, the dialectical process can be said to have as its goal more complex thinking. The transition process between the stages is considered to be a learning one and doesn’t necessarily reflect that the world would be dialectical in any sense. Rather, it is seen that we as thinkers perceive the world as being full of paradoxes, contradictions and processes as a consequence of us not being able to see it complexly enough. But when we reach the next stage the fog lifts, confusion resolves and we can see more clearly and complexly. Until the next paradox and contradiction arise, which will be resolved at the next stage, ad infinitum (?!)

In contrast, from a DT perspective the world is in itself considered to be full of movement, chaos and processes where things emerge from the void, flourish, transform and perish back from where it came. Including ourselves. DT marks a shift not only in perception and understanding of the world, but also entails a shift in attitude where one, in Basseches’ words, “trade off a degree of intellectual security for a freedom from intellectually imposing limitations on oneself or other people”. From a DT perspective, recognising paradoxes and contradictions are not signs of an incomplete synthesis, but rather normal conditions in a world that is fundamentally filled with paradoxes and contradictions. As Laske describes it in his recently released book Dialectical thinking for integral leaders – a primer:

“In other words, if you want to understand the “real” beehive, the beehive as it occurs in the real world, you’ll need to see it as a transformational entity that to describe you will need all four classes of thought forms provided by Table 1.1, certainly Ce [structure and stability of system], Pl [embeddedness in process], and Rl [patterns of interaction and influence], if not also Te [developmental movement]. If you are not prepared or able to use these, you can forget about understanding a beehive (or organizations in real world, for that matter).”

So what is DT, how does it work and what tools or models are there to help us see the transformative nature of the world? According to my understanding of dialectical thinking, which comes from Vurdelja, Laske and Basseches, as well as from Jordan and Andersson here in Sweden, dialectical thinking is not a coherent theory in the same sense as most AD theories or theories in general. Rather, it’s a collection of thought forms that can be used as mind openers, or as Laske puts it “somewhat mechanical logical tools for thinking beyond logic.” In integral terms, the concepts of “transcend and include” and “pre-trans fallacy” could be regarded as integral examples of thought forms as they describe evolutionary as well as epistemological patterns.

The thought forms are organised in three groups, process, context and relationship, according to Basseches. Laske adds a fourth group or quadrant, transformation, and places seven thought forms in each group. In a simplified version, presented in the recently released primer Dialectical thinking for integral leaders, Laske uses three thought forms per quadrant, i.e. twelve in total.

The aim of using the thought forms, separately or in a more developed way by combining different ones, is to be able to perceive and facilitate change and transformation in different domains. Basseches is more focused on the personal and relational domains whereas Laske and Vurdelja work mostly in business and organisational settings, although these domains should not be treated as separate:

“It will also have become clear to the reader of the Primer that what initially appears as a tool for boosting one’s own thinking is an even more powerful tool for transforming organizational, political, and educational cultures.”

An individual’s ability, or fluidity, in using and combining the thought forms can be assessed, which can give support for coaching and development. Besides fluidity, such an assessment gives a profile of the individual’s thinking style also in terms of predominately used quadrants. Perhaps this shift in attitude of DT makes this approach more suitable than the stage theories of the AD field for those who are more interested in activism and facilitation of change and transformational processes!?

For integrally interested readers, I think that a shift in focus from stage theories to DT can be compared to a similar shift in interest from Integral theory and AQAL to complex thought and Critical Realism according to Morin and Bhaskar, respectively. Obviously, stage theories such as MHC and DT should not be seen as contradictory, but rather as being complementary and even compatible to each other.

This is of course only some very brief introductory thoughts. To find out more, join us at the ESRAD symposium in den Haag next spring!

Some further reading for those interested in dialectical thinking:

Michael Basseches’ Dialectical thinking and adult development from 1984, his introductory article on DT in Integral review:


Otto Laske’s Measuring Hidden Dynamics of Human Systems (2009) and Dialectical thinking for integral leaders: A Primer (2015)

Iva Vurdelja’s doctoral dissertation (2011), How Leaders Think: Measuring Cognitive Complexity in Leading Organizational Change: https://etd.ohiolink.edu/ap/10?0::NO:10:P10_ACCESSION_NUM:antioch1309564744#abstract-files

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The disowned moon

Why do I have a moon? What happened?

I’m not certain, but I think I suffered a severe trauma as a very young planet. A trauma caused by an impact with another celestial object. I was one and I was whole. But in that impact I lost a part of myself. A part that became disowned from me. Slowly drifting further and further away.

With time, life on me grew more and more complex – I grew more and more complex. A chemical soup, an atmosphere, water, life, plants, animals, human civilizations. But the moon, my disowned shadow, stayed in the same condition. A saddening lifeless rock, frozen in its development.

Still, I feel you. You affect me physically when you pull my oceans towards you and away from you. We are entangled in a dance, bound by gravity. And your light affects life here. But why do you have one face always turned away from me? Are you hiding something from me on your backside?

I travelled out in space. And I decided to go to the moon. I don’t know why. Perhaps out of curiosity. Not because it was easy, but because it was hard. Still it seemed that the distance was feasible. I wouldn’t have gone that far away hadn’t you been there.

So finally, after 4.5 billion years of separation, I landed on you. A tiny part of me, one of my species, walked on you and reconnected with you. Touched you. And what did I find?

I discovered myself. Through the eyes of this species, for the first time I saw myself. I couldn’t see me from myself, but only from a distance. A pale blue dot in space.

Traumas are a natural part of development and life. We lose a part of ourselves. And sometimes, this shadow becomes the strongest force to our development.

Thank you moon. I can let you go now.



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To which question is Integral the answer? A report from the IEC.

Having arrived home from Budapest and the first Integral European Conference I thought I’d share a few reflections on my experiences. The emphasis here will be on the two sessions I participated and presented in and the keynote that I was mostly interested in.

The focus and emphasis of the conference, as I perceived it, was more on total experience rather than on theory and academia, as well as putting Wilber’s AQAL theory as central rather than following the development of the ITC and broadening to other similar meta-theories and theorists. My impression was that the aim was integration and unity in the community-building rather than differentiation and diversity of ideas.

I submitted two abstracts, one together with Svein Horn on integral perspectives on Peak oil and the other one was a proposal for a workshop on adult development. The first was accepted in the first round and the latter was accepted as an academic presentation instead, which I think was a good choice.

I arrived in Budapest and to the IEC with slightly mixed feelings. Perhaps it’s part of my cultural secular heritage to be skeptical or at least sensitive towards any forms of movements and community building, especially with an integrated spiritual dimension. Although I have previously seen myself more as being part of it. But the stronger the shared identity, the harder it is to scrutinize, criticize and to transform if necessary. The tighter you hold a community with a shared set of values, ever so evolved, the more it will exclude people and the more it will stagnate in the long run.

After some keynotes it was time for the first session. Each session contained several presenters that talked about roughly the same theme, and one of the presenters had also been chosen to facilitate the session as a whole. My first session was on adult development, one where I was both presenting and facilitating. Chairing or facilitating a session and at the same time presenting is not optimal and some other uncertainties around the content and forms of discussion added to the stress. Our session drew a large audience, the room was packed with about 50 persons, some sitting on the floor. I suspect that Susanne Cook-Greuter added some star quality and of course the topic of exploring the highest stages of development likely had some allure, despite our focus on a critical discussion and on problematizing.

My presentation had the theme of differentiation and stepping out of embeddedness, e.g. of an integral meaning-making, and on introducing MHC. The last half-hour we formed a big circle in the room and shared our thoughts on development vs crisis, development vs suffering, enlightenment vs psychosis and so forth. The topic was quite heavy and when we did a final round of formulating wisdom questions to bring with us, the last one: “How do we not forget to have fun in the process?” was relieving and could bring us back to a more playful mode.

The conference schedule contained several organized and facilitated group processes, but I preferred the evening activities that allowed for more spontaneous socializing, such as the boat party and the gulash party, where I made the following recording that I could use for next day’s presentation on energy as an illustration of how the first energy revolution, the domestication of fire, has shaped us:

The following morning Suanne Cook-Greuter gave her keynote speech titled “On being human” that addressed problems, concerns and beauty of a more universal human nature rather than specific for high stages or integral. Interestingly, she mentioned the new “Superhuman potential” marketing campaign as a good example of how one should not relate to or promote development. And among other things, I noted that she has good taste in art (using the same piece of art that use as a header image for this website).

To me Gauguin’s painting Where Do We Come From? Who Are We? Where Are We Going? represents humanity’s quest for meaning and is formulated as three questions. In relation to this Integral can be seen as an answer that addresses those very questions. Or in Wilber’s words:

“to explain why dirt would get right up and eventually start writing poetry.”

To which his answer became integral theory or AQAL. After the forming of Integral Institute, Integral became more of a movement and the answer AQAL started to look for new questions, such as what economy, education, politics, psychology, medicine should look like or how various theories should be organized, or even as a theory of everything and also as foundation of meaning-making.

When Svein and I worked on our paper we had as our primary aim to introduce Peak oil to an integral audience using integral perspectives. But when we took a broader energy perspective we concluded that AQAL was an insufficient answer even to the original question on dirt writing poetry. The sun gets far too little credit for this process! And we can also say that the future does not look quite as bright with this energy and collapse perspective introduced, to say the least.

The audience for my presentation and the ecology/sustainability session as a whole, was significantly smaller than the adult development session, but it rendered interesting discussions afterwards and also during the evening.

The following morning I was approached by “Jack Wolfskin” who had participated in the ecology/sustainability session and he thanked me for my presentation and for our work on the energy issues, which he thought was important. However, he said that it had been a bit hard for him to follow and get all the information. I agreed that I may have packed one or two diagrams too many in it and that the scope of the work ranging from history/anthropology, engineering to philosophical aspects of human development did not easily allow itself to be introduced in 20 minutes, although I personally felt quite pleased with my presentation and the feedback I got.

But no, although I had given a very enthusiastic impression, I hadn’t really connected with the audience to make sure that they followed and received my message. My eyes had been directed more above rather than having direct contact with the audience, he claimed. After a few moments reflection I agreed that there might have been some fear involved in presenting something that I thought would be controversial in this context.

- But now we connect, he said.

- Yes, we do.

Beyond what can be achieved by means of strategies and practices, a shared set of values or life purpose, and beyond politeness and psychological defenses, we were just two human beings meeting. We met in a long embrace and a space that allowed me to admit to myself that it had been quite a stress for me. Although I had many interesting, stimulating and enriching discussions and meetings during the conference, this was my most intimate one.

But what was there to fear? Perhaps fear of being rejected by a community!? But mostly I think I feared that someone would react the way I did when I first discovered these perspectives five years ago – my world fell apart.

It was a relief to find that there were several participants that welcomed these new perspectives. And it was also a pleasant surprise that we received official recognition by being awarded Best academic paper!

Svein and I are grateful for this recognition and I would like to personally thank the organizers for all their hard work in creating and hosting this conference!

Edit: One of the main organizers, Dennis Wittrock, wrote in his report from the IEC the following on our award:
Our Academic Advisory Board consisted of Prof. Marzanna Kielar and Dr. Aneta Gop from Warsaw, Poland. Of all of the academic papers we had received two stood out in particular. We awarded the authors Kristian Stålne (Sweden) and Svein Horn (Norway) for their paper “An Integral Perspective on Peak Oil and an Energy Perspective on Integral Theory” because of the quality of constructive criticism it brings to the field. The second academic paper award went to Simon Sirch from Germany for his paper “Extreme Sports: An Integral View and Quest for Applications” for his novel and thorough integral approach in the field of sports.

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Peak Oil at IEC in Budapest

Next week the first Integral European Conference takes place in Budapest, where I will make two presentations: one about Adult development and one about Peak Oil: Here is the abstract. This post will focus on the second and introduce the crossing of an energy perspective with an Integral or AQAL perspective. I have been engaging in Integral theory for almost ten years (here is an introduction in Swedish), I was introduced to the issue of Peak Oil almost five years ago and now seems to be the time to aim for a synthesis between them.

I have written a few earlier blog posts on Peak Oil and its relation to Integral theory and worldviews: Here is an introduction to Peak oil, here I give some Adult development perspectives on Peak oil and here I reflect on the difficulties on integrating Peak oil (or Collapse) perspectives into Integral theory.

The conference paper and work is the fruit of a joint effort together with Svein Horn from Norway, who was first on the integral scene to give perspectives on Peak Oil in an own book chapter in 2009. Although we wish that we’d have a lot more time and energy (!) to put into the work, we think that can give a significant contribution to introducing energy perspectives in integral contexts and into integral theory.

The preliminary outline of the presentation, which will follow the outline of the paper, is as follows:

First Peak oil will be introduced. This is outlined in the recent blog post. This can be seen as the engineering and scientific part of the presentation. Next we move to the historical part where we review the human history from an energy perspective and its importance and necessity for human evolution. This is a perspective that up till now has been omitted in Integral theory and AQAL according to theorists, such as Ken Wilber and Sean Esbjörn-Hargens.

But why is it so? Why hasn’t the Peak oil issue gained more attention in integral contexts and by Integral theorists? First it can be said that they are not alone. The energy perspective is often overlooked by economists, historians and anthropologists (although they seldom claim to be integral and all-embracing), although the issue seems to gain in attention now that we are facing problems and disturbances in our energy supply.

Here we turn to the more philosophical or meta-theoretical part of our work. When we try to assimilate an energy perspective to the AQAL theory and the quadrants we face two problems. The first is that it simply doesn’t seem to fit into any quadrant. Intuitively, it would perhaps fit into the lower right structural quadrant, but that is not how Wilber describes tetra-evolution in this quote from Excerpt A:

“With regard to the LR social system and its techno-economic base, what generally happens is that a technological innovation begins in the mind of some creative individual (UL)–James Watt and the steam engine, for example. This novel idea is communicated to others through the inventor’s verbal and cognitive behavior (UR), until a small group of individuals eventually understands the idea (LL). If the idea is compelling enough, it is eventually translated into concrete forms (e.g. the building of actual steam engines), which now become part of the socio-economic base (LR).”

Thus, the lower right quadrant according to Wilber’s description of evolution and human development is the structural or techno-socio-economic aspect of that which is developing. Tetra-evolution in this sense is the interplay between the four quadrants’ development. And of course, we could see the different systems for extracting energy as significant for a certain stage of development. But not energy itself. Energy comes from the sun (except for nuclear and geothermal), we don’t produce it – we harvest it from our surrounding environment.

It is interesting that Wilber uses the industrial revolution as an example without addressing the influence of energy and that industrialization would not have taken place hadn’t we found coal and then oil and gas to burn in large scale. We conclude that the quadrants given by the AQAL theory do indeed include many useful perspectives, but also limit our view on evolution so that we can overlook important aspects such as our energy dependence.

When we discuss the consequences of peak oil with an integral lens, and an “energy addendum” so to speak, we come into the issue of possible decoupling. Decoupling between energy and the lower right quadrant and between the lower right and the other quadrants.

And we also go one step further and investigate the view on the future according to the integral and the energy perspective. What is the direction of the universe according to these two perspectives? And here we find some conflicting conclusions, to say the least.

But that can be left as a cliff-hanger and reason for joining our presentation, session and discussion. See you there!

Oil platform Holly

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A short introduction to Peak Oil

We need to transition the community away from fossil fuels!

This is a message we hear often today, too often according to some. But still, it seems to progress slowly. Climate negotiations stalled in Copenhagen and since then not much has happened on the scene of world politics. People generally seem not interested enough to assert pressure on their leaders or for that matter themselves reduce their transportation and other energy consumption. And now we also have an economic crisis to take care of. We first need to get back on track with our economic growth before we can consider reducing carbon dioxide emissions, it is typically stated. And global warming is, after all, something that happens to someone else, somewhere else and some other time…

But if we again ask us why we should transition, there is another answer. Instead of focusing on the waste product of fossil fuels, the CO2 emissions that are causing global warming, there is a very good reason to look at the resource side, how much fossil fuels is left to extract and consume. And that is exactly what Professor Kjell Aleklett has done with his research team at the Division of Global Energy Systems at Uppsala University in Sweden, the last decade or so. In 2012 he released his book Peeking at Peak Oil that summarizes the results of their research and of his own experiences of the issue.

It is a somewhat different physics book to read, with historical views, anecdotes, own reflections, comments on and sometimes criticism of other experts and politicians, meetings with intelligence services(!) and some economics. But it is primarily a physics book, which is a very important point to make and the reason why you should listen more to Aleklett in the future. Energy and oil extraction, more often referred to as “production”, primarily regards physics and geology. But today it is mainly economists who “decides” the extent of future oil extraction and consumption. But no economic model contains any scenario where oil extraction will decline, after what is referred to as Peak Oil, the time of maximum global oil extraction.

But how can Aleklett and his colleagues be so certain that oil extraction will decrease in the future? The most straightforward way to estimate this is to study how much oil is found throughout history, where one finds that the largest discoveries were made in the 60′s and that it is increasingly difficult to find new sources of oil, despite investment and new technology. New oil reserves are usually found in places that are hard to access and that require hazardous deep-water drilling in the Gulf of Mexico or the Arctic when the ice melted. The easily accessible oil, the so called low hanging fruit, have already to a large extent been extracted and consumed.

By making inventories of the size of the world’s oil reserves, calculate how fast these can be exploited, make realistic estimates of future discoveries and account for other unconventional fossil energy sources, such as Canadian tar sands or natural gas from fracking, and renewable energy sources, such as biofuels, Aleklett concludes that we have major problems and not much preparedness.

So when does Peak Oil occur? You can’t really tell what the maximum extraction is until you have past the peak, but it seems that we may already have done so. Since 2005, the global extraction of oil remained at a constant level. During this plateau phase, the domestic consumption of the exporting countries increased, which means that the nations that must import oil has had to make do with a steadily declining export market. In addition, the importers China, India and Southeast Asian countries increased their consumption, a trend that is expected to continue (see the diagram below where the global oil extraction optimistically is assumed to be constant).

What then can be expected in the wake of Peak Oil? One could as well ask what consequences it already has had. Oil accounts for over 90% of the fuel to the transport sector which will be affected in the first place, which is evident at the gas pump when you fill up your car and for the airlines companies that are struggling. But it also has a significant impact on the world economy. Oil demand during the 00s has steadily increased while the extraction has not been able to follow the increase as the leading economic analysts have predicted. If supply can’t follow the demand, the price will go up and on 11 July 2008, the oil price peaked at 147 US $/barrel, which most likely was the trigger for the global economic mayhem and crisis, starting with the US subprime crisis:

”In the United States before the financial crisis in 2008 it was noted that it was these poorer, fringe-dwelling households that were the first to be affected by high oil prices. The more than doubling of the oil price from 2005 to 2008 took a huge toll on the budgets of these households. One way for them to cope was to abandon their mortgage payments and give their house keys back to the banks. Thus, Peak Oil and the financial crisis were intimately linked.”

The relationship between oil consumption and economic growth is complex, but the two do correlate to each other. And that is of course not consistent with the constant economic growth that is a prerequisite for the current economic system to stay healthy. Some would argue that oil extraction can always be increased through economic instruments such as increased investment and technological innovation, should the economy so require. Aleklett, on the other hand, regards the economy as something that has to adapt to the physical reality. Economy does after all mean “householding”.

Peak Oil also has some major political implications. EU (as a whole), and the US leads the consumption league and both have major economic problems, which implies a global shift in power that now also starts to have social consequences. Also consider that the two, by far, largest oil exporters Saudi Arabia and Russia, one can understand why Western politicians prefer not to offend them unnecessarily, such as calling them dictators or the like. Not even Obama complained when Saudi Arabia went into neighboring Bahrain to crack down on democracy activists. And this spring we have seen Russia using the “gas-weapon” as a means of gaining political influence on its neighboring countries, such as Ukraine, as well as on the EU. So it really is an inconvenient truth that Aleklett delivers.

But is it really a truth? Because it is far from all who agree, for example most economists, analysts in the oil business and political advisers. But unlike others Aleklett’s group have produced a solid body of research in the form of a large number of peer-reviewed articles and doctoral dissertations. Neither are they funded by any oil company or allow themselves to be influenced by political interests. Above all, they base their estimates on calculations that they present openly instead of making guesses that the world’s energy policies until now have been based on. So if you disagree with the conclusions or if you believe that the alternative energy source X will solve everything and save the day, the obvious counter-question should be: “How many millions of barrels of oil per day do you anticipate that X can replace and how quickly can X be developed?” A useful overview of alternative energy sources is given in Richard Heinberg’s short booklet “Searching for a miracle”, that is available online.

After this very limited and at most incomplete summary, it can be concluded that we must adapt to a future with less energy and we must do it quickly. Not because we should, but because we have to. Our inability to transition primarily affects ourselves and in a very near future. It is difficult to say how soon, but a lot has happened to the economy in just the last five to six years after the beginning of the economic crisis. Here a 5 to 10 year horizon is typically discussed, rather than the 50 to 100-year perspective of the climate change issue.

A final reflection from Aleklett on the future:

“…but what the world needs most is a global leader who understands systems thinking.”

I would put it this way : The world needs many leaders who can step out of the conventional “business as usual” thinking, that are at least meta-systematic thinkers and that can take perspectives on physics, economics, politics, security, etc. and their interrelatedness.

Here follows some psychological perspectives on Peak oil, and in particular an adult developmental perspective.

Illustrations from the book are by Olle Qvennerstedt and one from Wulffmorgenthaler.com.

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Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 5

In this final part I would like to offer some conclusions, evaluations and perspectives on the course we gave. You can read about preparation of the course and how it was carried out more explicitly in the previous parts:

Part 1 – The preparation process
Part 2 – Introduction and energy
Part 3 – Food production, material flow and the big history of values
Part 4 – Solutions, principles of sustainability and who we are in relation to nature

Firstly, the core principle and aim of our teaching can be summarized in one sentence as follows:

Introducing knowledge, overview and perspectives on our global and grand challenges and balancing this with tools, insights and embodiment on what it means to grow as human beings and to engage with these challenges we face.

The ambitions of the course have certainly been greater than what has been possible to achieve in 48 hours. The ambitions have been about bridging gaps:

  • bridging the personal/local scale and the global,
  • bridging the concrete issues and the complex perspectives,
  • bridging abilities and tools with challenges and their solutions (or way of dealing with them),
  • bridging seriousness of the future outlooks, the playfulness of the present and fascination of past achievements,
  • bridging integral and sustainability

The last point has been one of my strongest motivations. I am quite familiar with integral theory, especially with the vertical or developmental perspective that you find in the adult development field that I perform and publish own research in. But my engagement in issues of sustainability, e.g. energy perspectives such as Peak oil, has only been for the recent four years. I still feel like a beginner in this field (and I really am!) and despite all complexity scaffolds, such as MHC and AQAL, and abilities for perspective-taking the learning process has been very hard for many reasons.

One is that a broad view on sustainability has not been easily assimilated into any integral framework, at least according to my understanding (although it has been pointed out that there are not one integral theory but several, e.g. Morin and Bhaskar). Even if you have the ability to take several perspectives and is a complex (e.g. metasystematic) thinker, you still need to dig into the concrete issues with all their details. My sidekick Stina, with her several decades of experience of environmental and sustainability issues, made sure that I was aware of this. It takes decades to build up true expertise and abilities in these types of issues, even if you are a complex thinker in other domains.

One example to my difficulties to assimilate sustainability issues into to the integral framework is the following: When you learn about sustainability you sooner or later realize that we are not sustainable. It is not only one perspective or way of looking and engaging in the world that is unsustainable, it is our entire modern civilization and our societies. Evolving to the next stage in complexity or meaning-making, whatever that might be, does not necessarily solve any issue.

Engaging in issues. Photograph: Stina Deurell

The most central or core question that integral aims to answer is typically “How do we grow/develop/evolve?” and a core question in sustainability is “How can we keep on doing whatever we do sustainably?” From this very simplified (and anthropocentric) way of looking at it one can realize that if we’re not developing sustainably, we can’t develop more than temporarily. Therefore, I find it easier to see integral as something that should be assimilated into sustainability, or at least in this context.

Despite my difficulties I certainly believe that integral models and theories can offer important tools, insights and perspectives that we absolutely should make use of. And those I have tried to introduce and employ in my course. A common question in integral settings is how to introduce abstract and challenging models such as the quadrants and levels such as those given by Spiral dynamics. Here I’d like to propose some lessons and guidelines I have discovered during the process:

  • Most importantly, the main focus of the integral models and the way they were introduced, were as tools for solving or addressing problems. The models themselves were not the goal of the teaching or holy in anyway – they are means to achieving something that is more important – addressing the problems of sustainability we work with.
  • Therefore, I try to introduce them at the right time, when they can be successfully applied and even better as support and confirmation when students are “already there” or to illustrate what they may be missing.
  • The integral models are typically complex meta-models, so they need to be built up piece by piece. The more the students are involved in this process the better and the easier for them to make it their own. This was the strategy behind creating the Big history timeline.

When it comes to important and useful principles I think that Wilber’s concept of transcend-and-include is central, and in our course we gave more emphasis to the latter. We have transcended nature and now we need to re-integrate and include it as well. We need to move from the anthropocentric view of integral to the view that emphasizes that we are still nature. Although integral typically give more emphasis to the transcendence it still contains the inclusion. And this shift, we could also see it as the shift from Eros to Agape, is something that perhaps is a trend in the integral discourse nowadays.

For me personally, the demanding process that led to the course and carrying it out felt like a journey with a happy ending. On a whole I’m very pleased with how it turned out and I think that we have a concept that works as it is or can and should be further developed. But on the other hand, when it comes to sustainability, so much is going in the completely wrong direction.

Course evaluation
Here are some voices from the course evaluation we did, where we asked what they thought was good, what was missing or needed improvement and what they take with them.

“I can’t really say that I missed something during this workshop – lectors were really nice, the topic was interesting and the way of learning new information was really well-made and well-prepared.”

“Also it is a pity that so few students attended this workshop because we need more you people to know about is! THANK YOU REALLY MUCH!!!”

“…sharing ideas, inspiration, discussion, global view, connection atmosphere, space for everyone to discuss…”

“I found very interesting and inspiring the cross [the quadrants]”

“I was surprised how enjoyable this course was. I understood almost everything, I gained lot of new info and it raised lot of questions as well.”

“I don’t have any suggestions for improvement. We had enough space for discussions and own opinions which I normally miss in those courses. It was dynamic and interesting.

The most important things I take with me

Using of energy (I didn’t know we use so much oil)

What is Earth Stewardship and Anthropocentrism -> how they relate

And with other topics about which we spoke I already heard before but I got some new ideas.


“The things that could be improved was to have more time to dig into the issues.”

On the question if the students would recommend the course or the teacher(s) to other students all students answered “definitely yes” on a scale ranging from Not at all, rather not, partly yes and definitely yes. This was also the case for questions regarding if the teachers could transmit the essence of the subject to the students, if the teacher used the latest research and knowledge within the field, if the students were treated with respect. The only negative opinions that were expressed was that some wanted to have more time to engage in the problems that we had introduced.

The overall rating of the course from a scale ranging from 1 to 10 (1 – a waste of time; 10 – a life changing experience) two students gave the highest score 10 and the mean value was 8.75.

As a final comment I just want to say that Stina and I had a wonderful time with the students who really contributed and engaged with us, and with the environment and culture in lovely Olomouc. We certainly hope to return some day and meet again!

Exploring Olomouc. Photograph: Stina Deurell


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Human-nature relations in Czech Republic – Part 4

Day 3

Session 7-8 – Own work and presentations. The last day started a bit slow, the students weren’t really sure on what we expected of them. The task was formulated as follows:

“In a short oral presentation of max 5 min, take one problem or big issue of importance and formulate some own principles for sustainability.

Try to formulate principle/s that can address what you can do on a personal/individual level and on a societal level.

What need to be changed in order to address the problem?

We will offer feedback and support and evaluate!”

We had to discuss further what we meant by a principle, but it got clearer during the discussion at the presentations. Typically, what was presented were either stated in negative terms as being against something: “we need to stop…”, “we have to decrease…”, or as solutions to various problems: “if we build…” or “we can invent…” In all cases we pushed them to formulate sustainability principles, not as specific so that they can’t be generalized and not as general so that they became too vague. For example, hyperloops is a proposed solution to transportation problem but the sustainability principle is that transportation systems needs to run on renewable energy, in this case solar panels. The system itself also needs to be sustainably produced, i.e. with circular material flows.

At the presentation we also found the opportunity to introduce another useful tool in the four perspectives or quadrants of the AQAL model. One student had in her presentation already touched upon all perspectives and from that we could introduce the quadrants so they could become a support and confirmation of what she already had found out by herself. If we want to transform a culture it is often necessary to address all quadrants. Therefore, one possible trap with proposed technological solutions is that relying on them doesn’t address what can and should be done on a personal level, e.g. decrease own energy consumption.

At lunch time Stina and I joined with three of the students that showed us a small guerrilla gardening project in the very center of Olomouc! After eating we talked about the results and how to make the final discussion and closing of the course. From a biospheric perspective Stina pointed out that most of the issues, discussions and principles had taken place from an anthropocentric perspective and that this needed to be addressed.

Guerrilla gardening in Olomouc. Photograph: Stina Deurell

Session 9 – Conclusions and closing. The final session started with me writing the course title (accidentally in wrong order):

Earth stewardship or anthropocentrism:

Human-nature relations

First I asked the students what anthropocentrism means?

– Well, when we place ourselves at the center of the world, as the most important thing.

Ok. And about human-nature relation? Why should we care about nature?

- Because if we don’t, we won’t survive! We need to take care of the nature since we are dependent on it!

This is of course correct, some technological solutions that we hear of today, such as artificial and 3D-printed meat or colonization of other planets, can be seen as ways of denying how totally dependent we are on nature to produce its ecosystem services, its half-meter thick layer of fertile soil, the pollinating bees and so forth. We should really acknowledge this fact.

But when we think of it again, isn’t this a purely anthropocentric view? Doesn’t this imply that nature is there for us, for our purpose? What if nature has a value of and in itself and should be respected as such?! In this case we can really have a relation with nature, a respectful one. We don’t talk about animal rights because they will be of better use to us if we treat them better. We do it because we respect them. However, the biologist had a further objection:

- But isn’t this division between human and nature false? We are nature too!

Indeed! From this conclusion we went back to the timeline and traced another theme in our history from stardust to life, to plant, to animal, to conscious human being with a technological, psychological and cultural evolution. The further we have traveled on our journey, the wider the gap seems to have been from us being part of nature to something that is separate. On one hand we seem to again and again have transcended our boundaries and limitations, but we also seem to have lost ourselves and were we came from in the process. In a psychological sense we have transcended nature but not included it.

The way forward that Stina and I argued for, and tried to embody throughout the course, was to emphasize both aspects of the development, the awesomeness of the process that led us here and beyond and the abilities and tools we have cultivated that can aid us, as well as the essentiality to reconnect to our past and the nature in us.

Finally when asked about the meaning of the word “stewardship”, I think that the proposed answer “to serve” best captured the way forward and concluded the course. Nature is not here for us or belong to us, rather, from this perspective we are here to serve nature and take care of that which we at the same time are. Yet one further shift, an even less anthropocentric, is to see nature as taking care of and embracing us, something that Stina explores in her project Wider Embraces (see in below).

A theme from our part was how to balance these perspectives or paradoxes. We needed to get the students understand the urgency and seriousness of the problems we’re facing, but yet give them tools, capacities and empowerment so that they can be effective change agents in an uncertain future.

Stina is enjoying a delicious cheescake after the course was done, and we were pretty done too! Photograph: Kristian Stålne (with Stina’s camera)

We took farewell and parted after a course evaluation and some final reflections. After this last session we went to a café and Stina could have a raspberry cheesecake that was as well-deserved as it was delicious! In the final part I will offer some evaluations and reflections on the process as well as on the outcome of the course.

References and further reading

Can we rely on technological development? TED-talk on the subject matter: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZB50BfYlsDc&feature=share

Introduction to the quadrants (and the rest of the AQAL-model): http://integrallife.com/node/37539

Charles Eisenstein reasons about how we have differentiated from nature and as Stina and I argues that we should aim for and reintegration or inclusion of nature. This book is also a lot about economy: http://sacred-economics.com/

Stina Deurell has a project called Wider Embraces that emphasizes the shift from us being there and taking care of nature to us being embraced by nature and the biosphere: http://widerembraces.com/

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