Common cause

Up to date I have written almost 100 introducing texts on adult development in Swedish and started to consider translating them to English, which is a future project. Until then I have compiled everything (and more) in a pretty condensed paper that I am about to submit to an open-access journal. The analysis is based on an idea I got two years ago and an earlier version was presented at the ESRAD meeting in Lund 2011.

Now, let’s take a brief look at another approach of mapping values or meaning-making of individuals and cultures in relation to issues of sustainability and consumerism. A recent but already famous quote by the British economist Tim Jackson that captures this is:

“We buy things we don’t need with money we haven’t got to make impressions that don’t last on people we don’t care about.”

But what governs what we buy and the way we act? According to the research by Shalom Schwartz our values are, to say the least, an important factor as they are said to represent our guiding principles. And his research shows that our values typically show up in clusters or groups. Schwartz’ research has been popularized by a handbook made by a British network called Common cause from which the following illustrative value-map is presented:

Ten value clusters are defined and conclusions from the research are e.g. that if one value cluster is prominent in your life you also tend to prefer values from the neighboring cluster and that you tend to shy away from values that are in opposite of the prominent value cluster. Values are also, very roughly, divided into intrinsic and extrinsic values where the latter are centered on external approval or rewards, such as striving for wealth, social status and power. These extrinsic values are easy to associate to Jackson’s quote or short-sighted, profit-maximizing Wall street investors from 2008. Intrinsic values are, on the other hand associated with connection with nature, concern for others, creativity and so forth. From this it is easy to draw the conclusion that intrinsic values are inherently good and extrinsic are just bad, but is it that simple?

“It is common to see people segmented into distinct groups or dichotomies (right/left, for/against, good/bad). The evidence, however, suggests that people are far more complex than this and are unlikely to subscribe purely to one set of values or another. Rather, everyone holds all of the values, and goals, but places more importance on some than others. Each of the values will therefore have an impact on any individual’s behavior and attitudes at different times.”

Intrinsic values are said to be associated with a behavior that is beneficial for a more sustainable society and that they should be endorsed in communications and campaigning, as well as in schooling. Although it is easy to sympathize with this conclusion one has to be extremely careful with saying what values other people should have. There are some ethical concerns and discussions that always need to be kept alive. And trying to change people’s values can easily back-fire.

Nevertheless, the values of a culture can and most definitely do affect how well we manage in our efforts to create a sustainable society. In his book Collapse, Jared Diamond refers to one reason why some societies fails to be sustainable in that they cling on to values that clearly aren’t fit for the situation they are in. On Easter Island people kept raising the famous statues in order to impress on the neighboring tribes and the own tribal members instead of perhaps working together or focus on more sustainable and equal food production. Another example is from the colonizing of Greenland where the Vikings refused to learn anything from or even cooperate with the Inuits and persisted on keeping cattle despite the fact that the sensitive environment eroded from this. A more contemporary example, coming from The first earth summit held in Rio de Janeiro in 1992, is the famous quote made by George W.H. Bush: “the American way of life is not negotiable” which signals that the rest of the world, the resource base and the environment should adapt after this, a view that grows more and more remote from reality.

The website’s name is Values and frames, so what does “frames” mean?

“Frames are both mental structures that order our ideas; and communicative tools that evoke these structures and shape our perceptions and interpretations over time.”

It could be said that values represent the drivers or motivation, the affective component of behavior, and the frames represents the cognitive aspect.

One question that I can’t find in the Common cause handbook is if values can be more or less mature. Well, if we compare the value map with models from the field of Adult development the answer would be yes. For example, in Spiral dynamics, which is a model of how values evolve on a cultural and individual plane, similar value clusters or value systems do show up (even the choice of colors appears to be almost identical!).

Further, the notion of frames appears to be very similar to what in Adult development is referred to as meaning-making, of which Jane Loevinger’s ego development theory and Robert Kegan’s subject-object theory are describing. So one could ask how Adult development perspectives could be fitted into the research of Schwartz and others, besides pointing out the similarities between the fields of research. They do differ in methods where the one in the AD field typically uses qualitative data that according to manuals are transformed into quantitative evaluations of stage (with the exception of MHC), while value surveys typically are being quantitative with multi-choice questionnaires.

One alternative is to use the same approach as the value survey above and try to find evidence in the data that one value system is more developed than another. This is something we have been working on in our Swedish network for some time. In our second ESRAD meeting in Coimbra, Portugal this summer I presented the work by Per Sjölander, who actually was able to identify value clusters with a varying degree of development from data from the World Value Survey, i.e. the value clusters represented stages of development. Those results will soon be published, so stay tuned!

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