Progress Report on Evolution of Individuality


Progress Report on Evolution of Individuality

Project leaders: Garry Jacobs & Eleonora Masini

A. Background

1. The theme of social development has been on the Academy’s agenda for more than a decade. A special session chaired by Harlan Cleveland was conducted at the Vancouver GA in 1998 and a monograph entitled Human Choice: The Genetic Code for Social Development was published co-authored by Harlan Cleveland, Garry Jacobs, Ashok Natarajan and others. In 1999 a one day workshop in Washington and a three day conference in Chennai were organized in collaboration with MSS on the same theme. Workshops were also conducted on this theme at Zagreb in 2005 and Hyderabad in 2008.

2. The focus of these sessions was primarily on the development of social capital and social organization. It was also recognized that the relationship and interaction between the individual and the collective constitute a central dynamic of the process, but attention was focused on the organization of the collective rather than the development of its individual members.  

B. Scope

1. The concept of self-actualization or individuation is found as a common thread in the writings of pre-eminent psychologists such as Carl Jung, Abraham Maslow and Carl Rogers. All of them characterize the self-actualized individual as one with the capacity to contribute to the overall welfare of the society in contrast with the egoistic self-centeredness and pursuit of self-interest commonly associated with the term ‘individualism’. Thus, individuation has to be distinguished from egoistic individualism.

2. The objective of this project is to examine the relationship between the individualized person and the society, the role of actualized individuals in different fields in furthering the evolution of the society, and the characteristics and attributes of the social collective that are most conducive to the emergence of self-actualized individuals. It also proposes to examine whether in recent centuries societies are developing toward greater freedom and greater support of individuation of their members.

3. The project is also intended to explore the central role of human resourcefulness and creativity in the development process, with emphasis on the contribution of creative individuals – pioneers, business and social entrepreneurs, inventors, original thinkers, artists, writers, etc.

4. This project focuses on the interface between social development, the evolution of law and human rights, social, cultural and psychological development. It encompasses perspectives drawn from the political, economic and cultural history, biography, education, literature and the arts.

5. This project is one of only two projects proposed in the initial round of planning that provides a field for linkage between the arts and science.

C. Steps Taken

1. A survey of Fellows in January 2010 indicated considerable interest in this topic, but when the project was launched as an e-conference in February 2010 the chair was fully occupied with the final intensive phase of work on the SPC’s second report and could not give this project the attention it required.

2. The e-conference, which ran for two months, generated 40 topics and discussion papers and 64 comments. Eleonora, who was actively involved in framing the issues, Augusto Forti, Goran Hyden, Robert van Harten and Ashok Natarajan were among the most active contributors. Janani Harish, who has just been elected as Associate Fellow, contributed several papers exploring the relationship between individuality and social development in literature.  

3. The initial plan was to include a series of webcasts, but after controversy broke out at the May 2010 Board meeting at Florence, the plan for webcasts was suspended.

4. After the Florence meeting, Ivo Šlaus and Garry Jacobs met with Augusto Forti, who spoke of the possibility of organizing a conference on this theme in Venice, but it could not be pursued because of paralysis on the Board.

5. In continuation of this theme, last year Garry Jacobs and Ivo Šlaus conducted a research project on the role of human capital in social development which was published in Sustainability journal in January 2011.

6. A special session on Individuality was conducted during the major international conference on “Humanities and the Contemporary World” organised by the Montenegrin Academy of Sciences and Arts at Podgorica, Montenegro in June 2012. As a warm-up for the Montenegro Conference in June 2012, the World Academy of Art & Science conducted a two-hour live web-seminar on The Emerging Individual, on Friday, February 17th, 2012. This seminar involved short presentations followed by an open discussion of themes related to the Academy’s Individuality Project. The e-conference explored the essential nature of individuality, the social and cultural factors that foster it, its role in social development, its myriad expressions in the original thinker, creative artist, political leader, entrepreneur, inventor and social innovator, and the means available to society to foster it.

7. In 2013-14, WAAS continued its major research project on the role of Individuality in Human Accomplishment and Social Development. Research focused on examples of outstanding individuals in history, literature and biography. It also included preparation of lectures for a post-graduate course on individuality and accomplishment for presentation in Europe at the Inter-University Centre, Dubrovnik, in August 2014.

D. Next Steps

1. As Winston and Alberto have proposed, the project scope should be expanded to examine the interrelationship between personality, decision-making, power and culture.

2. One proposal is to initiate a series of webcasts to explore the views of psychologists, writers, artists, philosophers, scientists and entrepreneurs on this theme.

E. Assessment

1. The project team believes that this project offers considerable scope for an original and important contribution to thought on social development which spans all fields of knowledge and creative expression, thus offering a unique opportunity to engage large numbers of the Academy’s members in dialogue on an issue of relevance to all of us.