You are here

Sustainable Development

A system of 14 complementary concepts (Part #1)


Tentative exploration developed from the framework of W T Jones (The Romantic Syndrome: toward a new method in cultural anthropology and the history of ideas. Martinus Nijhoff, 1961). See also Differences in Style of Artistic and Policy Endeavour (1984).


It is a basic mistake to assume that the concept of sustainable development can or should be held in the same way, whether between cultures or within any culture. The questions as to whether an individual or a society can 'develop' through work (other than in the obvious ways that preoccupy educators, economists, physicians and psychologists) are not understood in the same way in different contexts.

For some, although alternative understandings of sustainable development are a reality, individual and social development does not necessarily mean a journey through a pattern of such less readily accessible modes. Individual and social maturity has not been effectively defined and it is uncertain whether it lends itself to definition. And for many, the degree of individual suffering in the world renders quite absurd any discussion of human and social development that does not concentrate on basic human needs. In some traditions, however, it is the failure to cultivate some of the less widely recognized modes of 'sustainable development' which is directly responsible for the ills engendered in the world.

It is useful to attempt a systematic approach to the variety of ways in which sustainable development might be perceived, as a means of increasing understanding of the constraints on providing any satisfactory definition. This will also make evident the difficulty of attracting any consensus on strategies of human development and environmental responsibility. Whilst it is possible to discuss these perceptual modes as models, a broader and more insightful discussion results from treating such models as part of a set of metaphors.

The following alternative perceptions are therefore discussed as metaphors or windows through which sustainable development might be understood. Each has strengths and weaknesses in contributing to that integrative form of sustainable development which must necessarily escape definition. Grouped in pairs these may be considered as 'axes of bias' forming a profile of preferences for any particular individual or group. It is the interaction between such profiles in debate which predeterlines its course, to a larger degree irrespective of the declared intention to be 'objective':

These 'axes of bias' derive from work by the philosopher W T Jones who was concrned with a new methodology in dealing with strongly held differences in any debate. His interest was provoked by the unending debate on the definition of the 'romantic period' -- hence the title of the book. The result, which he extended to both the sciences and the arts, is one way of understanding the different emphases which people and cultures may bring to any debate -- prior to any 'rational' discussion on substance. They are not mutually exclusive. This initiative could be related to that on the underlying metaphors of different management styles as explored by Gareth Morgan (**). Can each such emphases or bias be recognized as a skill in a pattern that interrelates their differences?

(a) Order vs Disorder

Namely the range between a preference for fluidity, muddle chaos, etc. and a preference for system, structure, conceptual clarity, etc.

1. Ordered array: Modes of development can be viewed as constituting an ordered array, like stations on a subway network. This view would tend to be favoured by those who are used to defining their environment in an orderly manner, in terms which favour management and control, whatever the degree of simplification necessary. In such an array, all modes are relatively accessible, although some may only be reached through intervening conditions. Modes are different, but not necessarily better in any developmental sense. In this metaphor, development might be envisaged in terms of extending and complexifying the network into a rich array of modes. This would be contrasted with a less developed condition equivalent to a subway network with relatively few stations and (possibly unconnected) lines. Goals of human development might be expressed in terms of improving the stations, increasing the facility of movement throughout the network, and organizing the network into the most effective configuration of stations. (To be contrasted with...)

2. Disorder and chaos: Modes of development can be viewed as completely unordered, to the point of being essential chaotic and disorderly. This view would tend to be favoured by those who have lost control over their environment, realize that they are subject to more forces than they originally assumed, or simply prefer the challenge of the disorderly and unpredictable (cf William James, Bergson, Schopenhauer, Rousseau). Modes of development are then too confusing to present any stable or orderly features permitting them to be distinguished or labelled. In this metaphor, development might be more concerned with ways of experiencing this chaos more completely, responding to it in a manner unfiltered and uncensored by artificial orderings.

re completely, responding to it in a manner unfiltered and uncensored by artificial orderings.


[Parts: Next | Last | All ] [Links: To-K | From-K | From-Kx ]