Global Social Witnessing: An Educational Tool for Awareness-Based Systems Change in the Era of Global Humanitarian and Planetary Crisis


  • Kazuma Matoba Witten Herdecke University



global social witnessing, bearing witness, relational responsibility, whole-system-awareness, interdependence, interpenetration, sociel field


‘Global social witnessing’ was originally proposed by Hübl and Ury (2017) and was developed as a practice of “contemplative social cognition” (Singer et al., 2015). Though ‘global social witnessing’ is applied in various contexts by group facilitators of contemplative practice (Cmind, 2014), the concept has not yet been subjected to thorough research and has not yet arrived at a common scientific understanding and definition, which needs to be addressed throughout the research methodology of applying this concept. This paper aims to propose ‘global social witnessing’ as an educational tool for awareness-based systems change by highlighting its philosophical and psychological foundations in search of its ethical implications for bearing witness, a term often used in psychotherapy (Orange, 2017). This body of work draws on Emmanuel Levinas’s philosophy of relational responsibility, and focuses on transformative, systemic learning. As a consequence, this exploration will hopefully generate further research questions that can serve as focal points for interdisciplinary projects of awareness-based systems change (e.g., philosophy, sociology, psychology, education, neuroscience, and physics).


Armstrong, K. (2018). I feel your pain: The Neuroscience of Empathy. Association for psychological science.

Bachen, C., P. F. Hernández-Ramos & C. Raphael. (2012). Simulating Real Lives: Promoting Global Empathy and Interest in Learning Through Simulation Games. Simulation & Gaming, 43(4), 437-460.

Bateson, C. D. (1991). The altruism question: Toward a social-psychological answer. Erlbaum.

Bateson, C. D. (2009). These Things Called Empathy: Eight Related but Distinct Phenomena. In J. Decety & W. Ickes (Eds.), The Social Neuroscience of Empathy (pp. 3-16). The MIT Press.

Batson, C. D., Dyck, J. L., Brandt, J. R., Batson, J. G., Powell, A. L., McMaster, M. R., & Griffitt, C. (1988). Five studies testing two new egoistic alternatives to the empathy-altruism hypothesis. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 55(1), 52–77.

Bateson, C. D. & Powell, A. A. (2003). Altruism and Pro-social Behavior. In I. B. Weiner, R. J. Nelson & S. Mizumori (Eds.), Handbook of Psychology Volume 3. (2nd ed.) (pp. 463-484). Wiley

Beck, U. (2002). The Cosmopolitan Society and its Enemies. Theory, Culture and Society, 19(1-2), 17-44.

Boell, M. & P. Senge. (2016). School Climate and Social Fields – an initial exploration.

Brazdau, O. (2014). Witnessing awareness and modes of cognitive awareness: a terminology proposal for the psychological assessment of witnessing and (meta)cognitive experiences. In D. Chopra (Ed.), Brain, Mind, Cosmos: The Nature of Our Existence and the Universe. Sages and Scientists Series Book 1.

Brown, M. (2005). Corporate integrity: Rethinking organizational ethics and leadership. Cambridge University Press.

Clarke, B. (2014). Neocybernetics and narrative. University of Minnesota Press.

CMind. (2014). The Tree of Contemplative Practices [Illustration]. The Center for Contemplative Mind in Society.

Cook, F. H. (1977). Hua-Yen Buddhism: The Jewel Net of Indra. Penn State Press.

Fuchs, T. (2016). Intercorporeality and interaffectivity. Phenomenology and Mind, 11, 195 – 209.

Grantham, T. (2011). New directions for gifted black males suffering from bystander effects: A call for upstanders. Roeper Review, 33(4). 263-272.

Herrmann, L., K. Matoba & Wagner, A. (Forth coming. Defining Global Social Witnessing. [Unpublished paper]. Witten & Herdecke University.

Holton, R. & R. Langton. (1999). Empathy and Animal Ethics. In D. Jamieson (Ed.), Singer and his Critics (pp. 209-232). Blackwell.

Hoskins, K., B. Martin & M. Humphries. (2011). The power of relational responsibility. Electronic Journal of Business Ethics and Organization Studies, 16(2), 22-27.

Hübl, T. & W. Ury. (2017). New approaches to healing collective conflict and trauma: our responsibility as global citizens. Kosmos – Journal for Global Transformation.

Ishii, S. (1998). Developing a Buddhist en-based systems paradigm for the study of Japanese human relationships. Nichibunken Japan Review, 109-122.

Ivanhoe, P. (2015). Senses and Values of Oneness. In B. Bruya (Ed.), The Philosophical Challenge from China edited (pp. 231- 251). MIT Press.

Ivanhoe, P. (2017). Oneness: East Asian Conceptions of Virtue, Happiness, and How We Are All Connected. Oxford University Press.

Izutsu, T. (1983). Bewusstsein und Wesen. Iudicium Verlag.

Jarvis, P. (2005). International dictionary of adult and continuing education. Taylor & Francis.

Kiely, R. (2005). A transformative learning model for service-learning: A longitudinal case study. Michigan Journal of Community Service Leaning, 12, 5 – 22.

Kohlberg, L. (1958). The development of modes of thinking and choices in years 10 to 16. Chicago: University of Chicago.

Levinas, E. (1969). Totality and Infinity. Duquesne Uni. Press.

Levinas, E. (1996). Peace and Proximity. In A.T. Peperzak, S. Critchley, & R. Bernasconi (Eds.), Emmanuel Levinas: Basic writings philosophical (pp. 161-170). Indiana University Press.

Levinas, E., Peperzak, A. T., Critchley, S., & Bernasconi, R. (1996). Emmanuel Levinas: Basic philosophical writings. Indiana University Press.

Luhmann, N. (1987). Soziale Systeme. Suhrkamp.

Matoba, K. (2015). Cosmopolitan society, identity and education. Actual Problems of International Relations. National University of Kyiv, Vol. 123.

Meadows, D. H. (2008). Thinking in systems: A Primer. Chelsea Green Publishing.

Morris, L. (2020, January 27). Holocaust survivors mark 75th anniversary of Auschwitz liberation. The Washington Post.

Nishi, N. (2018). Ku no tetsugaku: Chukannha-tetsugaku to kubetsu no sisutemu riron (Philosophy of emptiness: Madhyamaka-philosophy and system theory of distinction) [Unpublished doctoral dissertation]. Hitotshubashi University.

Nishida, K. (1911, 1980). Zen no kenkyu (An inquiry into the good). Tokyo: Iwanami-shoten.

Orange, D. (2017). Climate crisis, psychoanalysis, and radical ethics. Routledge.

Petitmengin, C., M. Van Beek, M. Bitbol, j.-M. Nissou, & A. Roepstorff. (2017). What is it like to meditate? Methods and issues of a micro-phenomenological description of meditative experience. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 24(5-6), 170-198.

Philpot, R, Suonperä, L. Mark, L, Wim, B., Rosenkrantz, L. (2019). Would I be helped? Cross-national CCTV footage shows that intervention is the norm in public conflicts. American Psychologist, 75(1), 66–75. doi:10.1037/amp0000469. hdl:10871/37604. ISSN 1935-990X. PMID 31157529

Pikiewicz, K. (2013). The power of strength of beating witness. Psychology Today (online).

Scharmer, O. C. & K. Kaufer (2013). Leading from the emerging future: From ego-system to eco-system economies. Berett-Koehler Publishers, Inc.

Scharmer, O. C., Pomeroy, E. & K. Kaufer (2021). Awareness-based action research: Making systems sense and see themselves. P. Reason H. Bradbury-Huang (Eds.), Handbook of Participatory Research and Inquiry. Sage Publication Ltd.

Selman, R. (1980). The growth of interpersonal understanding: Developmental and clinical analysis. Academic Press, Inc.

Siegel, D. (2012). Pocket Guide to Interpersonal Neurobiology: An Integrative Handbook of the Mind. Norton & Company

Singer, T. (2012). The past, present and future of social neuroscience: A European perspective. NeuroImage, 61(2), 437-449.

Singer, T., B.E. Kok, B. Bornemann, M. Bolz, & C. Bochow. (2015). The ReSource Project. Background, Design, Samples, and Measurements. Max Planck Verlag.

Smith, M. (2013). Ecological community, the sense of the world, and senseless extinction. Environmental Humanities, 2, 21-41.

Suzuki, D. (1959). Zen and Japanese Culture. Charles E. Tuttle Company.

Thiele, L. P. (2011). Indra’s net and the midas touch. The MIT Press.

Trilling, D. (2018, Jun 5). Five myths about the refugee crisis. The Guardian.

Walach, H. & von Stillfried, N. (2011). Generalised Quantum Theory—Basic Idea and General Intuition: A Background Story and Overview. Axiomathes, 21(2), 185-209.

Wilson, E. (2010). From apathy to action: Promoting active citizenship and global responsibility amongst populations in the global north. Global Society, 24(2), 275-296.

Young, M. (2006). Bearing witness against sin: The evangelical birth of the American social movement. The University of Chicago Press.



How to Cite

Matoba, K. (2021). Global Social Witnessing: An Educational Tool for Awareness-Based Systems Change in the Era of Global Humanitarian and Planetary Crisis. Journal of Awareness-Based Systems Change, 1(1), 59-74.