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Toon van Eijk: Multi-dimensional development, civic driven change and collective consciousness

Dr. Van Eijk is a senior rural development expert and multi-disciplinary tropical agronomist.

In recent issues of The Broker the concepts civic driven change (CDC), systems thinking, complexity theory and institutional innovation have been discussed. These concepts are certainly an enrichment of the debate on development and social change and need to be explored further. Nevertheless, in my view one element is still missing in this debate: the importance of individual and collective consciousness development. I suggest that a truly comprehensive approach to social change and development needs to include techniques for consciousness development. In this paper I present a diagram which depicts a comprehensive framework for social change and multi-dimensional development.

In recent issues of The Broker the concepts civic driven change (CDC), systems thinking, complexity theory and institutional innovation have been discussed. These concepts are certainly an enrichment of the debate on development and social change and need to be explored further. Nevertheless, in my view one element is still missing in this debate: the importance of individual and collective consciousness development. I suggest that a truly comprehensive approach to social change and development needs to include techniques for consciousness development. In this paper I present a diagram which depicts a comprehensive framework for social change and multi-dimensional development.

Development encompasses scientific, technological, economic, political, socio-structural, cultural and psychological aspects. Hyden (1983:2) defines ‘development’ as “changes in behavioural and institutional patterns that sustain growth”. Since institutions are always established and maintained by (collections of) individuals, development is thus first of all about ‘changes in individual behaviour’ and secondly about ‘changes in collective behaviour’ or ‘institutional change’. Civic driven change and institutional innovation are about changes in individual and collective behaviour.

Chambers (1997:220) distinguishes three interrelated dimensions in change processes: institutional change; professional change of working methods; and personal change of behav-iour and attitudes. In his view personal change is primary: the key to change processes is behaviour and attitudes. Personal change has to precede and accompany institutional change. In my diagram personal change belongs to category 3: cultural and personality factors. Unfortunately, hitherto mainly the outer categories receive attention in the debate on development: the categories 8, 7 and 6 (respectively scientific, technological and economic factors). Recently the categories 5 (political factors) and to a lesser degree 4 (socio-structural factors) receive some attention: issues such as good governance and civil society have come up. A gradual tendency to take also the more inner categories into consideration can thus be discerned. However, the three most inner categories do not play a role yet in the debate on development. Category 3 (the field of anthropology and psychology) is rarely discussed and the categories 2 and 1 (the consciousness factors) are completely ignored.

In actual practice it is very difficult to tackle problems of different nature (technical, socio-economic, political and cultural problems) and at different levels (at district, regional, national and global level) simultaneously. Holistic approaches are notoriously difficult to put into practice. Moreover, development is a process characterized by as many unanticipated as anticipated outcomes. Full control of the development process is not possible: we can only facilitate it by creating the right conditions. A crucial condition for development is effective interplay among many actors. The actions (behaviours) of many stakeholders in the develop-ment process need to be attuned so that potential synergies can be realized, but who has the intellectual capacity and political power to do this? It is my belief that we simply have to ac-cept the fact that development cannot be stage-managed. In addition to quantifiable scientific, technological and economic factors, other variables play a role which cannot be so easily quantified and managed. Although the need for concerted action among the many actors in the development process is obvious, it is not so obvious how to create cohesion between the different categories in my diagram.

The eight different categories of factors in the diagram are interrelated: they can be distin-guished for analytical purposes but they cannot be separated in their effects. Although the categories are interrelated, they are not equally fundamental (Ransijn 1985). The factors in the more inner categories (the consciousness factors) are the more independent variables, while the factors in the outer categories are the dependent variables. In my view the inner categories carry thus more weight. If we want to facilitate development more effectively, we need a new paradigm of development. We need a paradigm that pays attention to the underlying bottom of the many interfaces and interactions among actors. In our quest for such a paradigm we need to focus on a leverage mechanism with (preferably) broad impact. I suggest that the concept collective consciousness is such a leverage mechanism with broad impact. The attunement of the various categories in my diagram can be enhanced by the underlying field of collective consciousness.

Social scientists as Sorokin and Durkheim say that society is something outside us and something inside us. Society has an objective aspect (concrete social structures) and a subjec-tive aspect (a collective consciousness). The collective consciousness is the totality of interacting human minds of a certain collectivity. The collective consciousness and the socie-tal structures are the inner and outer side of the same reality. Visible societal structures are manifestations of invisible collective consciousness. One could say that societal structures are forms of ‘crystallized’ collective consciousness.

The collective consciousness constitutes the basis of all substructures in society. The technological, economic, political, social, cultural, educational and religious substructures are connected through this collective consciousness. All individuals, who inhabit these substruc-tures and who together shape the collective consciousness, are connected through a field of collective consciousness. The collective consciousness is the integrating, inner structure of society.

The collective consciousness is a crucial factor in processes of social change. It facilitates the interactions between the various categories in the diagram. It is impossible to change all interdependent societal substructures simultaneously. Only the very factor that connects all substructures and their constituting individuals -the collective consciousness- can facilitate such holistic change. If we can enhance the coherence and quality of the underlying collective consciousness, increasingly holistic changes become possible. The collective consciousness is the leading variable that integrates a society. It is a kind of invisible hand that keeps things together. The collective consciousness has a kind of orchestrating quality. Is this bold statement supported by evidence?

Societal stress is often caused by conflicting interests between individuals (or groups of stakeholders) and society at large. The reduction of societal stress and conflict is crucial to any development process and can be facilitated by techniques for consciousness development. Such techniques need to be subjected to scientific scrutiny. One can argue that the (individual and collective) effects of techniques for consciousness development are mere wishful thinking, self-deception or random coincidence. But one can also adopt a more scientific stance and empirically investigate these effects. Research on, for example, the Transcendental Meditation (TM) technique indicates that not only the practitioners themselves are positively affected, but also the persons in their (immediate and distant) surroundings. Especially when groups of meditators practise together advanced TM techniques, an influence of harmony, coherence and orderliness is radiated into the surrounding. In addition to the beneficial physi-ological and psychological effects on individual meditators, this so-called field effect of con-sciousness can also be scientifically investigated.

Radio, television and radar work by sending waves through an unbounded, infinite, invisible and all-pervading electromagnetic field. Although these waves are invisible, they do have effects. The concept of a field is not only a guiding image but also an invisible reality. Consciousness too is an infinite, invisible field with waves that radiate throughout society. In a similar way as an electromagnetic field mediates effects-at-a-distance, the field of collective consciousness mediates (inter-human) effects-at-a-distance. Mediation of behavioural change by verbal and non-verbal communication in direct social interactions – as commonly practised by social scientists, extensionists, facilitators, CDC practitioners and parents – needs to be supplemented with mediation of behavioural change-at-a-distance through the field effect of consciousness.

Personal behavioural change is a minefield and the subject of much psychological and managerial babble (Chambers 1997:232), but a pro-active attempt to large-scale behavioural change can be facilitated by effective use of the field effect of consciousness. Luckily the theory of the field effect of consciousness can generate predictions which can be empirically tested. In one study the effect of a group of TM practitioners, who were assembled in Jerusa-lem, on crime, traffic accidents and fires in Jerusalem, on the Israeli stock market and on open warfare in neighbouring Lebanon was investigated (Orme-Johnson et al. 1988). The reductions in crime, traffic accidents, fires and warfare were statistically significant while the stock market went significantly up. The struggle for publication of the results in the Journal of Conflict Resolution, edited at Yale University, took more than three years. In an unusual ‘Editor’s Comment’ which was printed with the research paper Bruce Russett, editor of this journal and professor of political science at Yale, said: “The following article presents and tests a hypothesis that will strike most readers (myself included) as, to say the least, unorthodox… Yet the hypothesis seems logically derived from the initial premises, and its empirical testing seems competently executed. These are the standards to which manuscripts submitted for publication in this journal are normally subjected” (Journal of Conflict Resolution, vol.32, no.4, December 1988).

Today research on the TM technique has been published in 160 peer-reviewed scientific journals and edited books, including some of the leading journals in many fields. Doctoral dissertations on the TM program have been carried out at 24 independent universities not af-filiated with any of the TM organizations. A bibliography of scientific studies on TM, including physiological, psychological and sociological studies and theoretical and review papers, can be found at the Truth About TM website. Numerous references can also be found in Van Eijk 1998. The research on TM suggests that the field effect of consciousness results into a coherent and high quality collective consciousness, which in turn results into societally (and probably also ecologically) appropriate behaviour.

The reconciliation of diverging interests is facilitated by a coherent collective con-sciousness of high quality: a collective consciousness in which noses point in the same direction and which is not contaminated with stress. The resulting harmonic atmosphere apparently facilitates the emergence of high quality collective agency and synergistic cooperation, two elements which constitute the heart and soul of civic driven change. Civic driven change would thus be underpinned by changes in collective consciousness. Nevertheless, consciousness development is not an overnight solution: it takes time and relevant knowledge and skills grounded in the natural and social sciences remain indispensable in the search for sustainable development. Although techniques for consciousness development are not a silver bullet and hard work in the many facets of development remains indispensable, they do facilitate and speed up this work.

Since societal changes are grounded in the (collective) behaviour of individuals, transfor-mation of (individual and collective) consciousness -and thus behaviours- results into changes in societal structures from within. Although the outer categories in my diagram continue to dominate the development debate, it becomes increasingly clear that personal change is a conditio sine qua non for sustainable development. And effective personal change can be fa-cilitated by consciousness development.

The most inner category in my diagram is labelled ‘pure consciousness’. Throughout the history of mankind numerous scientists, artists, philosophers, sages and common men in dif-ferent cultures and ages have referred to the deepest, most refined level of consciousness as the level of pure consciousness: a consciousness-as-such without any content of conscious-ness, without any thoughts or inner talk. There must be a carrier (pure consciousness) and content of the carrier. This pure consciousness can be described as a preceding, trans-personal, all-encompassing consciousness. The personal process to access the level of pure consciousness (through for example meditation techniques) can be labelled experiential spiri-tuality. This spirituality is fundamentally different from ‘faith based on authority’ as pro-moted by most institutionalized religions. Experiential spirituality is, most of all, character-ized by personal, direct experience of pure consciousness (preferably via effective techniques for consciousness development which result into repeatable experiences).

I have said before that full control of the development process is not possible; we can only facilitate it by creating the right conditions for civic agency and synergy to emerge. A coherent and high quality collective consciousness could be the single most important condition. It can generate a high level of societal trust and effective and efficient cooperation among people. Today’s important issues such as multi-dimensional development, conflict management, environmental degradation and global governance would be easier to handle with an enhanced level of collective consciousness.


  1. Chambers R. (1997). Whose reality counts? Putting the first last. Intermediate Technology Publications, London.
  2. Hyden G. (1983). No shortcuts to progress. African development management in perspective. Heinemann Educational Books Ltd, London.
  3. Orme-Johnson D.W., C.N. Alexander, J.L. Davies, H.M. Chandler & W.E. Larimore (1988). International peace project in the Middle East: The effects of the Maharishi Technology of the Unified Field. The Journal of Conflict Resolution, 32, 776-812.
  4. Ransijn P. (1985). A rational way to peace and fulfilment. The unified field of consciousness in a sociological perspective. Soma Scientific Publisher, Lelystad, The Netherlands.
  5. Van Eijk T. (1998). Farming Systems Research and Spirituality. An analysis of the foundations of professionalism in developing sustainable farming systems. Ph D thesis, Wageningen Agricultural University, The Netherlands. Open pdf-file.
Author: Toon van Eijk

About the author

Dr. Van Eijk is a senior rural development expert and multi-disciplinary tropical agronomist.

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