A considerable portion of classical and contemporary social movement studies builds more or less explicitly on (American) pragmatist ground, emphasizing situated engagements and relational processes of social formation in line with the three critiques addressed in the introduction to this volume, calling for more attention to (a) the interactions around moral identity formation, (b) the dynamical relationship between morality in social movements and in broader institutions and culture and (c) moral emotions (Touraine, 1992; Alexander, 2006; Lichterman & Eliasoph, 2014; McAdam & Kloos, 2014; Jasper, 2018). However, there has been only limited dialogue with the (French) pragmatist theory of justification and moral engagements (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006; Thévenot, 2014). In this chapter, I explore how a deeper dialogue between the two may nourish the aim in this volume of rethinking morality in relation to social movements and, more broadly, political civil society. While opening with a broad theoretical discussion, the main contribution of the chapter lies in the attempt at designing a questionnaire survey capable of seizing the kind of situated moral engagements in civic life conceptualized by the French pragmatic theory of justification. In turn, the survey data are used to assess the strengths and weaknesses of the theory of justification for the study of civic engagements, using various kinds of statistical analysis. In other words, the chapter can be read from two complementary perspectives. From the perspective of (pragmatist) social movement studies, the chapter presents, assesses and discusses an interesting approach to morality and moral engagements—the French pragmatist theory of justification. Reversely, from the perspective of the French pragmatist theory of justification, the chapter presents a first systematic attempt at designing a questionnaire survey in accordance with its approach (which has so far been deployed predominantly in qualitative research). Moreover, from a broader societal perspective, my modest hope is that the survey design and approach to the quantitative analysis here may provide policy makers and the broader public with less reified research about social movements, capable of nuancing dynamics of morality, context and agency.

The motivation for bringing in French pragmatism can be illustrated by contrasting two American pragmatism’s perspective on civic engagement with an influential non-pragmatist alternative. Again, American pragmatism emphasizes situated action, problem-response iterations and the codes of (symbolic) interaction that govern group dynamics. By contrast, Shalom Schwartz’s theory of ten fundamental human values (including, ‘achievement’, ‘hedonism’, ‘benevolence’ and ‘tradition’) provides a universal schema claimed to ground all political attitudes and engagements and to provide a key for understanding social and political conflicts (Davidov et al., 2008). Contrast this perspective with American pragmatist C.W. Mill’s word that: ‘There is no explanatory value in subsuming various vocabularies of motives under some terminology or list. … To simplify these vocabularies of motive into a socially abstracted terminology is to destroy the legitimate use of motive in the explanation of social actions’ (Mills, 1940, p. 913). French pragmatist theory is interesting because it offers an intermediate model based on a limited list of culturally and historically specific ‘justificatory regimes’. When engaging in public life, actors can tap into these regimes as a kind of templates for how to re-state one’s personal inclinations and dispositions into publicly legitimate arguments including a reference to a public good (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006). In other words, French pragmatism shuns unsituated universalism while retaining a focus on the grammars and repertoires available to actors in their civic engagements.

Following the discussion of the French pragmatist theory of justification and its relation to American pragmatism in the next section, I move on to the development of a situation-sensitive questionnaire for the study of justifications—specifically in relation to local greenspaces in Danish cities. Local urban greenspaces (UGS) are interesting because they are the loci of various forms of everyday use and practices, on the one hand, and of broader social and political issues and contestations, ranging from personal recreational value to city-specific questions of urban planning and to global environmental issues, on the other hand. In other words, local urban greenspaces afford loci of multiple and complex mediations of justificatory practices, all the while remaining situated—thus reflecting a broader interest in the motives and engagements underlying civic action and social movements (Frederiksen et al., 2014; Sevelsted, 2018; Toubøl, 2019; Carlsen et al., 2020). While social mobilization around rural areas and issues is certainly also important, cities present an interesting object of research in their own right. The questionnaire is used in a national survey among the Danish urban population (n = 1.130).

Factor analysis reveals positive correlations among all the variables operationalizing the justificatory regimes and no clear separation of different latent dimensions, whereas the theory would suggest clustering of a few regimes (‘compromises’) in contrast to other such clusters (‘conflicts’). This result also predominates both in the multiple correspondence analysis (MCA) and in the correlational class analysis (CCA), although the latter does display weak signs of secondary differentiation. Based on this result, I suggest shifting the conceptualization of the measures from one of justification to one of concerns with the overall issue—local urban greenspaces . I then proceed to assess the explanatory power of an index of concern based on the eight variables on civic engagement in local urban greenspaces. Finding a strong and statistically significant correlation, I conclude that the notion of concern overall provides the best account of the results. In the concluding discussion, I consider different aspects of the apparent challenges to Boltanski and Thévenot’s theory of justification. First, I consider the possibility of a statistical artefact (respondents reacting differently than expected to the questionnaire). While possible, I argue that this remains a challenge to the theory itself as well. I then turn to a consideration of the different methodological implications of conceiving the issue, respectively, in terms of justificatory regimes and concerns. I argue that the latter demands a methodological framework that is more attentive to the conflictual, contradictory and problematic aspects of concerns in a specific situation than afforded by the generic scheme of coherent justificatory regimes. On this basis, I outline an agenda for future research.

Two Variants of Pragmatism

Broadly speaking, American pragmatism emphasizes the importance of ‘situation’ and focuses on the ‘problems’ and ‘concerns’ that motivate people to act. It exhibits less interest in what something is in itself and instead explores how it works in a given situation. It generally favours iteration and abductive modes of inquiry. In the social movements literature, it is not exactly commonplace that scholars declare themselves to be flag-bearers of specific philosophies. Nevertheless, it is worthwhile for our purposes here to note the widespread deployment of pragmatist principles in the literature. For example, there is a focus on how different kinds of language are used to mediate between different kinds of situations. Alexander (2006) argues that the civil sphere requires individuals and groups with particular experiences to employ universalist language in order to be generally accepted in a community. In turn, Eliasoph and Lichterman (2003) argue that even universalist moral languages (such as that of individualism) are always applied situationally. Jaspers aims at a new understanding of emotions in social movements, not as the irrational counterpart to cognition but as parts of complex processes involving different trade-offs, temporalities and even contradictions. More broadly, social movements are seen not as isolated domains of society but as a social activity through which cultural representations cast conflicting images of society in a constant production of itself (Touraine, 1992).

French pragmatic theory, inaugurated with Boltanski and Thévenot’s (2006 [1991]) On Justification: Economies of Worth, shares many concerns and intuitions with its American counterpart, although of course borne out of a different intellectual climate with its reference points in Durkheim, Mauss, Bourdieu and structuralism, rather than Parsons, Dewey, and Lazarsfeld (Boltanski, 2011; Thévenot, 2014). Boltanski and Thévenot modelled their notion of justification to mediate between ordinary people’s situated disputes and the claim to universality of the moral repertoires employed in such disputes (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2000). By describing a universal ‘grammar’ for justification and identifying a limited number of justificatory repertoires that can be mobilized in everyday disputes, they sought to avoid naïve relativism in favour of inquiries into the ways in which justification is anchored in ‘reality tests’, the engagement of object of ‘qualification’ and practices of ‘evaluation’.

With On Justification, Boltanski and Thévenot thus initiated a new moral sociology—the pragmatic sociology of critical capacity (Blokker, 2011). Their core assumption is that when people encounter difficulties in realizing their personal goals, ideals or affections in contact with the social world, they may engage in justificatory practices in order to legitimize their course in dialogue, negotiation or conflict with others. In so doing, they draw on a finite number of justificatory regimes available to them as a kind of cultural grammar. Each of these schemes has been formed historically and fulfils a number of a priori criteria that qualify them as legitimate forms of justifications, including reference to a common humanity, a principle of differentiation and a common good (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006, pp. 74–76). Through the formulation of arguments in such terms, they are raised to a level of generality (montée en généralité) at which they are potentially acceptable to other people as more than individual idiosyncrasies or personal interests (Blokker, 2011). Where other theories of justificatory repertoires (Walzer, 1983; Elster, 1992) linked worth to distinct social spheres, Boltanski and Thévenot insist on the generic nature of their justificatory regimes and that they can, consequently, be mobilized by different actors across different social situations. Thus, as a kind of grammar for justificatory practices, the theory is said to avoid cultural relativism (Boltanski & Thévenot, 2000).

The theory distinguishes eight regimes of justification (Thévenot et al., 2000; Boltanski & Chiapello, 2006; Boltanski & Thévenot, 2006; Lafaye & Thévenot, 2017). These are summarized in Table 7.1. For example, in the ‘market’ regime, worth is essentially measured by price in the competitive market. Adam Smith is the canonical figure here. The logic is that the rich must have some qualities attractive to many other people, making them want to trade at a profitable rate. The social image of the worthy in this regime of justification is the tradesman or trader. The common good claimed to be produced is, as in Adam Smith, wealth in society. However, there is also a sacrifice that must be made for people to obtain worth and which makes the favourable social position of the ‘big’ people (les grands) legitimate. In the market regime, the sacrifice that must be made is self-restraint, that is, control over one’s own immediate desires in order to re-focus efforts on how to satisfy the desires of others (and to make a profit from doing so). However, the sacrifice in itself is not enough to legitimize grandeur. There has to be a concrete, situated test of grandeur. In the market regime, this test is the exchange situation, which will prove whether or not the person seeking to achieve grandeur (wealth) has sacrificed enough and in the right way. It is not coincidence if this sounds a lot like classical economics (e.g., Fisher, 2012 [1930]).

Table 7.1 Eight regimes of justification

Boltanski and Thévenot’s theory of justification affords an interesting framework for the attempt at (re-)invigorating morality in social movement studies and political civil society studies more broadly. Indeed, the theory has had some success in parts of the sociological literature on public contestations, for example, to study processes of social coordination in which different actors (e.g., city planners and activists) are engaged in debates, negotiations or protest involving argumentation, justification and critique (Thévenot et al., 2000; Blokker, 2011; Silber, 2011; Blok, 2013; Holden & Scerri, 2015; Centemeri, 2017; Eranti, 2017; Lafaye & Thévenot, 2017; Luhtakallio & Tavory, 2018; Salminen, 2018; Thévenot, 2019). This literature suggests that in the case of Nordic city planning, a precarious ‘compromise’ has been reached between ‘market’, ‘industrial’, ‘civic’ and ‘green’ regimes (Blok & Meilvang, 2015, see also Wachsmuth & Angelo, 2018).

The literature applying the theory to social movements and civic engagements has so far been mainly qualitative, European, and focused on contestations of urban space and on environmental disputes, but the theory obviously claims a much broader scope. For social movement studies, the theory presents a model for the kind of socially legitimate language(s) that individuals and groups may employ to advance their course in the public (cf. Eliasoph & Lichterman, 2003; Alexander, 2006). It also provides a spectrum for analysing how alliances, compromises and conflicts between different regimes of justification may take place at a larger scale in a given society under the influence of social movements among other things (Thévenot et al., 2000; Boltanski & Chiapello, 2006). Moreover, it does so on a pragmatist basis, emphasizing situated engagements and an instrumental analysis of social reality.

Given that the theory emerged as a critique of Bourdieu’s sociology and as an attempt to ‘free’ the actor from the constraints of social structures and habitus, it is not surprising that it has been met with critique for ignoring social structures, power and interests (e.g., Fligstein, 2006). However, internal critiques have also been raised, such as the incapacity of the seemingly universal requirement of appeal to a ‘common humanity’ to account for openly racist forms of justification (Godechot, 2009). However, my main concern is more methodological—that the theory involves a risk of artificially ‘recognizing’ its ‘list’ of ‘vocabularies of motives’ (Mills, 1940, p. 913). Moreover, how are we to deal with variations within each regime? For example, what do we do with apparently similar discourses about ‘the market’ that are organized around radically different problems (Krarup, 2019) or with different responses to the same fundamental problems related to ‘the market’ (Krarup, 2021a, see also 2021b)? The theory refers such variation to ‘compromises’ between regimes, but in the cited studies, variation stems from tensions and paradoxes intrinsic to ‘the market’. Thévenot’s own work on green justification reveals substantial variety and complexity in terms of what counts as ‘green’ (Thévenot et al., 2000; see also Blok, 2013). Reversely, Boltanski and Chiapello (2006) argued that a distinct new regime emerged from a compromise between previous forms. In these cases it becomes somewhat blurred what the relationship is between the apparently ideal (or idealized) regimes of justification and the more muddy reality of social practice. Or, as John Levi Martin (2017) would ask, are the regimes real phenomena or are they rather heuristic conceptual tools for the researcher? Following the somewhat disappointing result of the statistical analysis below, I therefore suggest that rather than maintaining an ambiguous distinction between regimes of justification, on the one hand, and situated controversies, issues and problems, on the other hand, it may be more fruitful to develop an integrated notion of concerns or, more generically, problems.

Questionnaire and Analytical Strategy

The material analysed consist of 1130 survey responses from a national representative study among Danish residents between 18 and 84 years old in cities of more than 10,000 inhabitants. The sample was drawn randomly from the national register of social security numbers (CPR), and the survey was carried out by Statistics Denmark (the National Bureau of Statistics). Respondents were sent a questionnaire (see below) by a special public emailing service used by state institutions such as tax authorities to communicate with Danish citizens (e-Boks). Non-respondents and partial respondents were contacted by phone and urged to complete the questionnaire. The response rate is 29.4% (counting only full responses and including persons from the sample with secret address and the like that prevented contact). This is fairly low and may imply problems of representativity. However, the analysis in this chapter is not so much about making inferences from the sample to the population as it is to identify different justificatory patterns in the data. Certainly, representativity problems may imply that some patterns are overlooked, but they should not affect the patterns that are found.

The questionnaire was developed by the author and underwent pilot testing with 22 respondents with varying sociodemographic backgrounds recruited through the author’s extended network. The use of questionnaire methodology poses a serious challenge to the situational basis of pragmatic theory. Moreover, the focus on morality, concerns and engagements calls for a methodology that goes beyond abstract attitudinal questions. Consequently, questions were developed that evoke ‘your city’ and ‘local urban greenspace ,’ tying it to concrete developments of potential concern to the respondent, such as attracting more tourists, supporting more wild nature or stimulating local grassroots (see Table 7.2). The aim is to make respondents answer to a concrete situation (even if hypothetical) in their city or local community. Certainly, this breaks with traditional survey strategy to the extent that it aims at exposing all respondents to the same stimulus in order to activate true attitudes in the responses (Saris & Gallhofer, 2014). Ultimately, pragmatist sociology is interested in situational concerns more than abstract attitudes and will consequently have to accept and work with the condition that responses refer to different situations for different responses. Indeed, it is for this reason that pragmatism favours abductive modes of inference (qualified guesses about what is at stake) over inductive generalizations or deductive hypothesis testing (Timmermans & Tavory, 2012). The abductive logic of pragmatist inquiry makes research an iterative movement of questions and responses. Notably, this is why the analysis here is not restricted to one statistical technique but employs three different techniques to illuminate different kinds of relations in the material (see below).

Table 7.2 Operationalization of the eight justificatory regimes

The questionnaire deploys eight regimes of justification (Table 7.1) in eight questions about the use and management of local UGS (Table 7.2). The idea was to see how the regimes are mobilized, contrasted and compromised in relation to UGS at a larger scale in Denmark. The questions consisted in statements that the respondents should rate their level of agreement with. Now, it may be that many people are a priori favourable toward many different kinds of initiatives related to their local urban greenspaces but become more selective when initiatives are presented in relations of mutual trade-offs and, more broadly, with a cost attached to each initiative. Indeed, as we have seen, the idea of a specific ‘sacrifice’ intrinsic to each regime of justification is an important point in Boltanski and Thévenot’s theory (see Table 7.1). Accordingly, the eight questions made explicit reference to specific sacrifices related to each initiative through an ‘even if…’ (Table 7.2). Finally, the eight questions were presented in immediate sequence and in relation to the same overall issue (your local urban greenspaces) so as to emphasize the potential contrasts between them. While the theory allows for people to switch and combine justificatory repertoires across situations and issues, the theory would have difficulties accounting for people mobilizing all justificatory regimes in relation to the same issue and in the same situation (the survey interview). In this way, the study sought to turn what is usually seen as disadvantages with survey methodology (from a pragmatic perspective) into an advantage. Potentially, the applied strategy may provide us with insights about contrasts and compromises between different forms of justification in relation to a specific issue and type of real-life situations.

The statistical techniques used will be discussed in more detail when they appear in the analysis. Generally speaking, the three techniques account for patterns in the data in different ways. Multiple correspondence analysis (MCA ) produces a geometrical space in n dimensions responding to overall contrasts between different response patterns. Correlational class analysis (CCA ) produces cluster-like classes based not on similar responses but on similar contrasts. For example, rather than grouping all ‘green’ justifications together, CCA should group respondents who agree and disagree along a green-market axis in a different group than those (dis-)agreeing along a green-civic dimension. Finally, multiple regression analysis (MRA) is the more standard statistical technique that assumes one dependent variable and assesses the isolated explanatory power of different independent ones. Thus, the three techniques offer different ways of grouping and partitioning the data, affording a large degree of flexibility for the pragmatic theory of justification to exhibit its potentials and nuances.

A Space of Justificatory Strategies

Table 7.3 provides the raw correlation matrix, yielding a first and rather striking finding—all correlations between the eight justification variables are positive. Factor analysis (not shown) reveals a maximum of two underlying dimensions—one based especially on renown and project justifications (with some civic and industrial) and another based on domestic (with some green and inspiration). These appear to be far from the established view of an industrial-civic-market compromise (with some green). Indeed, not only are the two dimensions hard to decipher analytically, but there is also a strong (0.63) correlation between them, suggesting that they may be reduced to a single dimension encompassing all eight justification variables. However, it is possible that the somewhat brute factor analysis (assuming constant linear relationships between the variables) hides more subtle relationships from view. Two other statistical techniques are employed capable of detecting different kinds of relationships between the variables.

Table 7.3 Correlation matrix of justification variables

Multiple correspondence analysis (MCA ) treats variables as categorical and measures the χ2 distances between them (Le Roux & Rouanet, 2010). Like multiple regression analysis (MRA ), it uses least squares to regress linear functions that capture the most variance, but where MRA appoints a single (‘dependent’) variable on which distances are measured, MCA uses all the variables. The idea is that the resulting function captures a latent dimension in the data space. Whereas MRA already knows what its dependent variable represents because it is given in the respective survey question, MCA must now conceptualize its dimensions based on the contrasts in the data they represent. Here, as the space is generated from the eight justificatory survey questions, it may be assumed that the resulting dimensions will concern different justificatory strategies.

The first MCA yields a result where three clouds are separated clearly from each other: ‘Don’t know,’ ‘No opinion’ and substantial answers (agree/disagree). In other words, there is a strong tendency for respondents to respond either ‘Don’t know,’ ‘No opinion’ or substantially (agree/disagree) across the eight justificatory regimes. This is the first indication that it is rather the overall attitude toward urban greenspaces than the specific justificatory regime that dominates the response patterns.

Going one step further, we would like to inquire whether there are divergent response patterns among the substantial responses, ignoring the ‘Don’t know’ and ‘No opinion’ responses. In MCA, it is possible to set ‘Don’t know’ and ‘No opinion’ as passive modalities (not contributing to the construction of the cloud). This is slightly problematic because these modalities are quite large in some instances (in one question they together hold 19.4% of the respondents). However, the result is clear: The MCA now exhibits a strongly convex pattern (Fig. 7.1), indicating that there is really only one latent dimension dominating the responses, ranging from ‘strongly agree’ to ‘strongly disagree’ across the eight questions (Fig. 7.2). While the Guttman effect is common with ordinal data, this is still a surprising result given the theory, as there seems to be no discriminating principles between the justificatory regimes at the aggregate level.

Fig. 7.1
figure 1

Cloud of individuals

Fig. 7.2
figure 2

Cloud of modalities

We could think that this result is driven by the outliers—those relatively few who either agree with all or disagree with all regimes. However, we remove the tails of the distribution by calculating an average justificatory score across the eight variables, assigning a numerical value to each of them from 1 to 4 (‘Strongly disagree’ = 1, etc.). When all respondents with an average agreement score below 2 (n = 50) or above 3.5 (n = 81) are removed, the result is slightly different, but not more in line with the theory. Now, all the ‘Strongly agree’ are opposed to all the ‘Partly disagree’ along the first axis and all the ‘Strongly disagree’ to all the ‘Partly agree’ along the second axis. Certainly, the oppositions are no longer linear, but there are no relationships of contrast between the regimes either.

Justificatory Classes

One critique that could be raised against the MCA result is that it proceeds at an aggregate level while situations and people differ. For example, some people may think in terms of a green-civic compromise, while others think in terms of a green-industrial or a green-market compromise—but these distinctions become blurred when one looks at all respondents taken together. Indeed, with a plurality of such compromises, the aggregate result may just be an apparently positive correlation across all regimes of justification. Correlational class analysis (CCA) can help us decide whether different groups are in fact oriented by different regime compositions.

CCA is an improvement of Amir Goldberg’s (2011) relational class analysis (Boutyline, 2017). The fundamental idea here is that people may think of cultural distinctions in different ways but that the overall schemas are collective. Respondent A strongly agreeing with all justificatory regimes and another respondent B disagreeing with all of them belong to the same ‘class’ in the sense that their schema of distinctions is the same. Similarly, respondent C agreeing with half of the justificatory regimes and strongly disagreeing with the rest shares the overall scheme of agreement and disagreement with respondent D indicating the exact reverse preferences. In this way, CCA maps another kind of patterns than MCA does. The downside of CCA is that it cannot meaningfully handle missing data, so all respondents declaring ‘Don’t know’ or ‘No opinion’ on any of the eight questions must be excluded, leaving us with n = 734. It is of course possible to impute the missing values. However, it is not clear whether imputation would affect the results. Moreover, ‘Don’t know’ and ‘I have no opinion’ are arguably substantial responses when it comes to identifying justificatory regimes, undermining the analytical value of imputation. Results with imputation (not shown) yield somewhat different classes but the same overall pattern with few (11%) negative correlations, all of which are weak (<0.32).

CCA of the eight justificatory regimes in the data produces four meaningful classes of responses. However, only 8 out of 96 correlations (8%) between the eight regimes in the four classes are negative, and only one of these narrowly exceeds the ‘weak’ threshold (0.32). Again, this indicates that there are almost no real contrasts within each class—only a distinction between stronger and weaker positive correlations. In fact, only one class contains some notable contrast (Table 7.4). The class (n = 135) exhibits moderate correlations between green, market, inspiration and domestic justifications in contrast to renown and civic justifications. However, the contrast is weak at best (−0.33 correlation between green and renown justifications). The other three classes (tables in Appendix) contain virtually no contrast. This indicates that they are variations of ‘omnivores’ (Boutyline, 2017). The second class (n = 186) groups market, inspiration, domestic and renown—that is, almost the same combination as the first class but with a positive correlation to renown instead of a contrast and with a weaker link to green. The third class (n = 189) has predominantly moderate correlations except for market justifications, which are all weak (<0.32), indicating indifference rather than contrast to the latter. Finally, the fourth class (n = 181) groups market, renown and project, on the one hand, and green and inspiration, on the other hand. However, since there are no negative correlations between the two groups, these emerge rather as ‘alternatives’ or as two dimensions within the class than as a contrast.

Table 7.4 The green-market-inspiration-domestic (vs) renown-civic class

In other words, the overall picture in the correlational class analysis is consistent with the result of the factor analysis and the multiple correspondence analysis, exhibiting very little or no contrast between justificatory regimes. At best, we find patterns of non-exclusive alternatives and indifferences. Within the pattern of omnivorousness, the most notably ‘compromise’ seems to be one between market, inspiration and domestic with variants also including green and renown justifications. This combination is quite different from the market-industrial-civic (with some green) observed in the qualitative literature. Intuitively, it makes sense to combine market, inspiration and renown in relation to local urban greenspaces, as these would form a kind of ‘recreational’ or perhaps even ‘hedonistic’ compromise. However, it is not clear how to understand the fact that this is sometimes combined with domestic and green justifications as well. Finally, the result do not appear to be very robust, since imputation of missing values changes the classes somewhat, indicating weak or even arbitrary separation of the classes.

Justifications, Values or Concerns?

The overall image so far is that respondents strongly tend to answer evenly across all justificatory regimes. When respondents deviate from this pattern, it is more a question of favouring one aspect of urban greenspaces over others than an outspoken contrast between opposing visions. In other words, the principal line of division does not appear to follow generic regimes of justification that have been formed outside the specific realm in question and may be mobilized ‘off-the-shelf’ on it, but rather to simply be the overall degree of what (American) pragmatists would undoubtedly call ‘concern’ with local urban greenspaces as such. However, there is one alternative to this reading—already hinted in the introduction—that merits consideration: Schwartz’s theory about a universal structure of ten human values (Davidov et al., 2008). One of the items used to measure what Schwartz and colleagues call ‘universalism’ (i.e., ‘understanding, appreciation, tolerance and protection for the welfare of all people and for nature’) reads that ‘people should care for nature. Looking after the environment is important’ (Davidov et al., 2008, p. 21). However, seeking to match the results above with this value scheme quickly runs into similar problems as the ones encountered for the theory about justificatory regimes.

Notably, while ‘green’ justification matches one aspect of the value of universalism, other justificatory regimes match other values in Schwartz’s theory. For example, ‘stimulation’ corresponds closely to the inspiration regime, tradition to the domestic and achievement to renown. These four examples cover the entire ‘circle of values’ in Schwartz’s theory making it equally paradoxical to encounter so little exclusiveness and so broad synergies. The Schwartz theory would have to make a very strong claim that all eight variables ‘really’ measure the same universal value (e.g., universalism)—despite the very different emphases manifest in them intuitively corresponding to different such values.

By contrast, American pragmatism would be able to account for the results in a less speculative manner, claiming that the eight questions all reflect a single concern with local urban greenspaces. Indeed, from this perspective, it may be speculated that respondents mobilize this concern (or lack of concern) in the specific survey situation requiring them to answer the eight questions, disregarding the differences in justificatory (or value) in each item’s phrasing. While still speculative, of course, the assumptions imputed here are considerably weaker than the ones needed to save either of the two other theories. Indeed, from an American pragmatist perspective, it could be argued that both theories fail to account for the results on the same grounds—by ‘subsuming various vocabularies of motives under some terminology or list’ (Mills, 1940, p. 913). To be sure, this leaves us with little insights about the general social repertoires in which respondents draw in relation to local urban greenspaces. However, such repertoires are not excluded—only, sometimes it is better to insist on one’s ignorance than to make too daring inferences from theory.

Conducting an analysis based on the notion of concerns rather than justifications will have to wait a later occasion. However, within the scope of the present chapter, we may attempt to reverse our perspective on the eight variables under study from one of different justificatory regimes to one of different aspects of a single dimension: concern for local urban greenspaces. The limitation here will be that the eight variables are not prepared to distinguish different concerns in relation to urban greenspaces, but viewing them under one as a concern with urban greenspaces may be the first step in the change of approach to ‘concerns first.’

Concern with Urban Greenspaces

Besides the eight justificatory questions, the survey questionnaire also contains measures of civic engagement in urban greenspaces —more specifically of activism and participation in urban green community life. Treating the eight justificatory regimes as a single dimension and assessing their correlation with civic engagement provide a good indicator of whether or not that dimension reflects concerns or not. If it does, we would expect a considerable positive correlation, but if the resulting correlation is weak or insignificant, it will be a strong signal that we are on the wrong track. Indeed, concern and engagement in some respects may be inseparable concepts. However, the aim here is not to isolate two factors in order to test a causal relationship so much as it is to provide support or rebuttal for the thesis that the eight variables taken under one represent a single dimension of concern.

I construct a simple index of overall concern with local urban greenspaces in the following way. I first assign a numeric value of 1–4 for each justificatory regime, setting ‘Don’t know’ and ‘No opinion’ as missing values. I then calculate the mean of the non-missing values across the eight variables, setting respondents with less than three out of eight filled values as missing. This variable thus ranges from 1 to 4 with 104 respondents having missing values. As can be seen in the descriptive table and histogram in the Appendix, the variable has a fairly normal distribution and a standard deviation of 0.51. I then construct an ordinal variable on whether the respondent has been actively engaged in or simply participated in urban green community activities, ranging from hiking tours to sport and maintenance and cultivation and to political engagements. Using these variables, I conduct an ordinal logistic analysis of the correlation between concern and engagement in urban green community life, controlled for the educational level, family income, gender, age and city size (see the Appendix for descriptive statistics on the variables). Table 7.5 presents the results of the analysis.

Table 7.5 Ordinal logistic regression on green urban community engagement

Concern comes out with a considerable significant effect on urban green community participation. Exponentiated, the parameter estimate 0.588 gives an increase in odd ratio of 1.8. In other words, an increase of 1 point on the concern index (ranging from 1 to 4) almost doubles the odds of one step up in green urban community engagement (from none to participation or from participation to active). The result thus supports the thesis that the eight questions represent a single dimension that may be better described as a ‘concern’ for local urban greenspaces than in terms of justification. The result is far from conclusive but opens a range of new questions to be addressed.

Concluding Discussion

The chapter began by identifying a strong (American) pragmatist tendency in the main debates and currents of social movement studies identified in the introduction to this volume, concerning the interactional, institutional and emotional aspects of morality. It then inspected a specific (French) pragmatist theory of justification, that of Boltanski and Thévenot (2006), as a potentially valuable approach to morality and civic engagements in social movement studies. Specifically, the theory of justificatory regimes promises a way to steer between the situated critical engagements of people, on the one hand, and the broader social repertoires on which they may draw in their public engagements. In other words, the theory potentially offers mediation between the strong American pragmatist basis of much social movements scholarship, on the one hand, and competing theories about values and political engagements based on universal structures, such as Shalom Schwartz’s theory (Davidov et al., 2008). More broadly, engaging with these questions may potentially contribute to making survey research contribute with less reified results to policy makers and the media, hopefully opening up for more nuances about the dynamics of morality, context and agency in relation to social movements.

Exploring this potential, I designed a set of questions to measure the eight different justificatory regimes identified by the theory for a national survey on local urban greenspace engagements in Denmark. Based on the theory, I expected to be able to map contrasting justificatory practices and compromises. However, the predominant result across a number of different data mining techniques was that the eight regimes correlate very closely—both at the overall level and at the subgroup level. In other words, respondents vary mainly not by favouring one (set of) justificatory regimes in contrast to others, but in their level of justificatory intensity across the eight regimes. This unifying dimension, I argued, may better be described as ‘concern’ with local urban greenspaces than in terms of justificatory practice—let alone of universal values. Regressing an index of concern for local urban greenspaces constructed from the eight variables on respondents’ levels of civic engagement in their local greenspaces provided support for this reading.

Although everything was prepared in the questionnaire design to set up a ‘situation’ corresponding to the pragmatist notion hereof, we should first ask whether our result could be an artefact of measurement. Specifically, it may be that respondents read the eight consecutive questions about how to manage urban greenspaces not in their justificatory details but only superficially and in light of their own stronger or weaker engagement in this general theme. However, if this is the case, it would not only be a problem for the questionnaire design. Indeed, it would rather confirm the American pragmatist thesis that responses are predominantly motivated by an overall concern for local urban greenspaces, rather than being structured by pre-existing justificatory regimes or values. If the questionnaire design had not departed from a preset classification of justificatory regimes, but from an ambition to explore the different concerns people associate with urban greenspaces, we might have found variation among more than one dimension as was the case. This brings us to a scrutiny of the potential challenges with the theory and its methodological implications.

In the spirit of C.W. Mills, the notion of concerns invites for a more exploratory analysis of the conflicts, contradictions, uncertainties and tensions that people respond to – both in their civic engagements and when faced with a survey questionnaire. It does not imply an a priori rejection of structures, but circumvents attempts at importing schemas defined outside the concerns in question as a way to make sense of civic practices. This does not mean that the notion of concern demands a naïve confinement to a here and now. Rather, it turns the question around and demands that any connections to structures and problems outside the here and now in question make part of the analytical demonstration.

Concretely, instead of designing survey questions according to a generic justificatory scheme of regimes, it would demand a search for all possible layers and aspects of different peoples’ concerns in relation to local urban greenspaces. For example, it would not invoke ‘attracting tourists, companies and labour force to the city by creating attractive greenspaces’ as a strategy to measure the market regime of justification, that is, a justificatory thinking in terms of money and wealth. Instead, it would scan the different economic issues that may arise in relation to greenspaces. It would quickly find that such issues involve connections not only to tourists, companies and labour force but also to issues, for example, of pollution, biodiversity, education, recreational value and public health. The challenge would be to seize as many as possible of these relations, leaving open for the subsequent analysis the question of the overall structures that bind these issues together, searching for patterns among these heterogeneous measures. Such structures may not be those of coherent justificatory regimes, but may equally well take the shape of problems, conflicts and contradictions. Thus, instead of defining what ‘the market’ means in the theory, inquiry would focus on the situated problems of delimiting it from other categories, such as ‘nature’ (Krarup, 2019, 2021a, 2021b). In other words, the content by which the theory characterizes each of the justificatory regimes is inseparable from the concerns and problems that motivate public contestation in the first place. Departing from predefined regimes may undermine the methodological sensitivity to the complex and structures of those concerns in the specific situation at hand. Consequently, describing concerns in terms of general patterns or structures must be a result of the analysis rather than a pre-specified scheme.