Maja Göpel, Head of the Berlin Office at the Wuppertal Institute in Germany is author of the chapter ‘Shedding some Light on the Invisible: The Transformative Power of Paradigm Shifts’, in the recently published ‘Resilience, Community Action and Societal Transformation’. Here, she answers a few questions about her contribution to the book.
This interview is published with thanks to Gesa Maschkowski, Celayne Heaton Shrestha and Tom Henfrey from the Transition Research Network.
Can you give us a brief introduction to your work?
When I was a teenager I stumbled across a question that has become the quest behind my work: why do humans collectively not bring about the societies that individually they claim to wish for? This quest took me into various academic disciplines and institutions and led me into grassroots-activism as well as EU and UN lobbying. I feel I found a decent answer in what could be called the patterned freedom under which we make history: under circumstances not of our choosing but inherited from the past. My mission now has become to empower people to detect and reflect upon such patterns and what they can do to break out of those not helpful for bringing about the sustainable futures they want.
You are the author of the chapter ‘Shedding some Light on the Invisible: The Transformative Power of Paradigm Shifts’. Could you explain, in a nutshell, what your chapter is about?
The chapter wants to translate into individual or small scale strategies the big picture analysis of how large scale systems transform, and this in order to facilitate the intentional engagement of people in shaping the direction of change. To me, the key for that is to open up all those human-made systems and artifacts we call reality and search for the deep-seated sources of their emergence and ongoing perpetuation, adaptation or transformation. These sources are the values, beliefs, mindsets and interests of purposefully acting humans. Here is where the game changers lie, in the process of critically reflecting on the reasons and intentions that shaped the design of economic incentives, technological innovations and governing frameworks that we now confront as circumstances.
How can we support and enable the mind shift?
I think we do not so much need to tell people what should be different, but to invite them to express what they already know and encourage them to present this as a legitimate and sensible view. This can take place in the form of proper dialogue where common sense answers are opened up and the basic premises of abstracted models and concepts reassessed for their validity and usefulness in seeing and capturing the deeper purpose of life and social development. Or in simply breaking out of the constantly accelerating, smart-phone fused and information overloaded daily lives that at least urbanites in Western societies now call reality, so that minds can slow down and bodies can be invited back to send their information about what wellbeing feels like, which types of relationship help it – and which do not. It is more about reclaiming the true meaning of important values and ideals than about replacing them with others. What then needs a proper reinvention are the outdated goals, rules and patterns that we have built into the organizations and infrastructures limiting our freedom.
What makes you hope that we can change towards a more resilient and sustainable society?
Being a Gramscian scholar and systems thinker means to look for the opportunities in crises. Since the financial upheavals in 2008 we have left the period where one type of crisis could be viewed as a single problem and more and more people see the connections between environmental, social and economic exploitation and instability. The economic growth development model whose values, beliefs, mindsets and interests were shaped in a world of 1 billion people and seemingly endless amounts of planet has lost its credibility. The story is broken. Gramsci would have said: hegemony is over, the old is dying and the new cannot yet be born. System transformation scholars call this period the navigation phase with a tipping point quality in which deeper, more structural and formerly unthinkable changes become possible. This means we are facing very turbulent times – but those are the times where the intentional interventions of human beings have the most impact and sustainability and resilience speak to the deeper fears as well as aspirations of our times. They seem like key ingredients of the new story.
It includes accounts from people and organisations at the front line of efforts to build community resilience, cutting edge theory and analysis from engaged scholar-activists, and commentary from sympathetic researchers.
It is available from permanent publications.
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