What is a modern ecological thoughtprint?


June 11, 2011 by sgoobie

There is no more crucial task than to recognize and understand our current dominant ways of thinking about Nature, to unearth their origins, and to grasp the nuances of other alternative ecological thoughtprints.  But what variety of ecological thoughtprints may exist in the world?  In other words, how might ways of thinking about Nature vary from one culture or society to the next?

Of course, we can be too reductive in attempting to answer this kind of question.  Labelling society X with ecological thoughtprint Y ignores inherent complexity and diversity for the sake of pure convenience.  This is the trap which befell early anthropologists.  However, with a cautious and self-criticical approach, we can generally identify some common ways of thinking in various societies in the world – together forming a complicated spectrum of perspectives on Nature.

Although we risk becoming overly dualistic and simplistic, we might say that there exists a rough continuum of ecological thinking from a “modern thoughtprint” found today predominantly in industrialized Western societies, to an “alternative thoughtprint” found in some nonindustrialized non-Western societies – some in the past, still some in the present.  Again, there is a vast amount of generalization happening here – but we will delicately proceed with this assumption to see where it leads.

What then is a modern ecological thoughtprint?

That is, in the present age of modernity – in societies where such a dominant culture exists – how do people think about Nature?  How do people justify their impact on the Planet?  How is their relationship with the Land legitimized?

Although the term has no universal definition and is much debated, modernity can refer to the working out of European Enlightenment beliefs in human affairs 1.  The project of modernity is largely at one with that of the Enlightenment 2.  Modernity can refer to “modes of social life or organization which emerged in Europe from about the seventeenth century onwards and which subsequently became more or less worldwide in their influence”3.  It is an essentially European phenomenon, appearing when Europe affirms itself at the center of world history 4.

But what exactly does modernity stand for?  What are its basic foundations?  And how does it relate to ecological actions?

A fairly extensive review of literature reveals a list of some theoretical and intellectual ways of thinking which various authors claim are central to the age of modernity. These are the dominant cultural bases, argue some, of the modern era. One might regard these as a kind of group of ideological ingredients—the multitude of hegemonic “isms”—making up the modernist “stew”. While this list is certainly not exhaustive, according to the following authors the basic ways of thinking of modernity include:

  • scientism 2, 5, 6
  • reductionism 8, 9
  • mechanistic philosophy 10, 11
  • empiricism 12
  • dualism 13
  • anthropocentrism 7, 13
  • instrumental rationality 1, 7, 14, 15
  • economism / capitalism 5, 14, 15
  • Eurocentrism 4
  • individualism 5, 7, 16
  • linear progress (progressivism) 5, 13, 14

These ways of thinking seem to interact within societies in complicated ways to form a modern worldview with important ecological ramifications – that is, a modern ecological thoughtprint.

Countless questions explode forth from such an analysis:  What are assumptions behind these ways of thinking within the modern thoughtprint?  How do they connect together?  How do they show up in our everyday lives today?  How do they influence action toward the Planet?

Most importantly:  Are there other ways of thinking beyond the above selection which point toward alternative ecological thoughtprints – and hope for the future?

One of the major projects of this ongoing dialogue is to try to answer these critical questions.

Adapted from:  S. Goobie, Yes We Can: Sustaining a Language for the Land in Education (Master’s capstone paper), 2009.


1  Bonnett, M. (2002). Education as a form of the poetic: A Heideggerian approach to learning
and the teacher-pupil relationship. In Peters, M.A. (Ed.), Heidigger, Education, and Modernity (229-244). USA: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers, Inc.

2 Foster, H. (1995). Postmodern culture. London: Pluto Press. p. viii.

3 Gidden, A. (1991). The consequences of modernity. Stanford: Stanford University Press.

4  Dussel, E. (1993). Eurocentrism and modernity. boundary 2, 20 (3), 65-76.

5  Jacques, P. (2006). The Rearguard of Modernity: Environmental Skepticism as a Struggle of
Citizenship. Global environmental politics, 6 (1), 76-101.

6  Habermas, J. (1995). Modernity—An incomplete project. In Foster, H. [Ed.], Postmodern
(3-15). London: Pluto Press.

7  Taylor, C. (1991). The Malaise of Modernity. Cordcord, Ontario: House of Anansi
Press Limited.

8  Mirovitskaya, cited in Ascher, W., & Mirovitskaya, N. S. (2001). Guide to sustainable
development and environmental policy.
Durham, NC [u.a.]: Duke Univ. Press.

9  Sarewitz, cited in Ascher, W., & Mirovitskaya, N. S. (2001). Guide to sustainable
development and environmental policy.
Durham, NC [u.a.]: Duke Univ. Press.

10  Dillon, J.J. (2008). Reclaiming humanistic psychology from modernity: Problems and
solutions. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 48, 221-242.

11  Khatchikian, C. (2008). A holistic perspective in natural sciences. In Diriwächter, R.,
& Valsiner, J. [Eds.], Striving for the whole: Creating theoretical syntheses. New Brunswick: Transaction.

12  Kirk, J. A. (2007). The future of reason, science and faith: Following modernity and
post- modernity.
Aldershot [u.a.]: Ashgate.

13  Bonnett, M. (1997). Environmental education and beyond. Journal of Philosophy of
, 31 (2), 249-266.

14  Huckle, J. (1999). Locating environmental education between modern capitalism and
Postmodern Socialism: A reply to Lucie Sauvé. Canadian Journal of Environmental Education, 4, 36-45.

15  Rogers, R.A. (1994). Nature and the Crisis of Modernity. Montreal, Canada: Black Rose
Books Ltd.

16  Schultz, P. W., & Zelezny, L. (2003). Reframing environmental messages to be congruent
with American values. Human Ecology Review, 10 (2), 126-136.


6 thoughts on “What is a modern ecological thoughtprint?

  1. […] activity.  Instead, it is that societies in many places in the world have adopted and maintained ways of thinking which permit this extremism to happen.  Action starts not just with the “low hanging […]

  2. […] the thoughtprint is a description.  It attempts to describe our ways of thinking – ways of thinking which themselves are extremely complex.  It allows us to systematically […]

  3. […] Modern ecological thoughtprints are grounded in ways of thinking such as scientism, mechanism, dualism, utilitarianism, and so on.  It is in institutions like schools that we generally find young people pledging their allegiance to the modern ecological thoughtprint.  This is problematic if we decide that one of the roles of schooling is to assist future societies in their shift toward sustainability. […]

  4. […] conditions of one of her creatures.  We find a human mind in need of repurposing.  In this, the modern ecological thoughtprint demands our […]

  5. […] modern ecological thoughtprint is a weaving together of all those ways of thinking used to legitimate the destructive practices of […]

  6. […] thinking about the natural world, ways which may offer balance to the extremes of the destructive modern thoughtprint.  They point to a colourful creation of a more meaningful, focused and integral spiritual […]

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