Beyond individualism; what’s there and how do we get to it?


  • Sophie Sturup Xi'an Jiaotong-Liverpool University




We currently face existential challenges which demand radical change to how we live.  Taken with the potential transition to sustainable development, this radical change will strike deep into the heart of our ways of being, not just our ways of living.  There is an opportunity here to transform what it is to be human.  But what would we transform into?  Where can we learn these new ways of being?  Where are the models that could allow us to capture this transformation?

Individualism has slipped all bounds. So much so that it is no longer possible to speak of community, except perhaps the gated communities of our minds (which we enhance through the use of the internet) (Calthorpe & Fulton, 2001). The private is sacrosanct, impinged only by the individual themselves in pursuit of their own advantage. The vision for a different future, the sustainable development goals, are accused of being co-opted.

Strategic Planning is entrenched in this individualism. Plans cannot talk of choices for the greater good, only in terms of compensation for individuals harmed. Plans cannot talk of limits, unless they are temporary, encompassing strategy for overcoming them with the next technological innovation. Those who cannot speak are blamed for their silence, or at best cared for inside helping everyone. Data driven planning provides justification for incremental improvement while sustaining what already is. There is little or no room to discuss what WE want to sustain.

This paper, presents some preliminary thinking on this topic. It provides a framing of the problem of individualism, as well as the benefits individualism has undoubtedly created. It explores sources of alternatives from older ways of being from communitarianism through to indigenous knowledges. In outlining a research agenda, ideas of possible means to implement such a transformation are explored.


Calthorpe, P. & Fulton, W., 2001 The Regional City, Island Press, Washington