Sources of environmentalism: A model incorporating knowledge and Douglas and Wildavsky's "grid-group cultural theory"

Date of Completion

January 2001


Political Science, General




Environmental concern is robust and widespread and there is no consensus regarding the sources of it. Proponents of ‘Douglas and Wildavsky's Grid-Group Cultural Theory’ (GGCT) claim that it maintains substantial predictive power for a broad range of perceived risks including those related to environmental issues. The theory posits that there are only four ways of life/biases—egalitarian, individualist, hierarchist and fatalist—that derive from the intersection of two dimensions of social life: grid—the degree of individual freedom; and group—the degree of social boundedness. The chief claim of the theory is that egalitarians are likely to be the most pro-environment of the four worldviews. The theory also suggests that individualists will be pro-development, hierarchists will be pro-order and government and fatalists will show no preference. The existing empirical literature relating GGCT to environmental attitudes and support is relatively limited and contains a number of shortcomings. ^ First, a fundamental problem concerns the failure to properly characterize individuals within GGCT itself. The most common approach is to use continuous as opposed to categorical measures of bias that do not characterize individuals as having a particular cultural bias, though grid-group theory states explicitly that individuals “fit” into one of the four mutually exclusive categories. ^ Second, literature assessing the strength of GGCT has not used nationally representative surveys from more than one country. ^ Third, GGCT and existing literature disregards the role of the poorly understood and seemingly important variable of knowledge. ^ This work attempts to address each of these major issues in the existing literature by employing categorical measures of the worldviews, nationally representative International Social Survey Program data from two countries (Norway and New Zealand) and by including knowledge as a variable. The results of the Ordinary Least Squares regression, which includes bias, postmaterialism, knowledge, knowledge interaction terms and six demographic variables (gender, age, income, political identification, and residence) suggest that bias, knowledge and the demographics are poor predictors of environmental concern. In order to further this research it is necessary to reassess the measures of bias that are employed. ^