CODA: An Integral Approach Described

Coda / April 2005

Michael Bauwens

A newsletter about participation in multiple worlds, multiple visions, but one humanity ; a monitor of P2P developments ISSUE 65: April 20, 2005

If you would place explanatory theories about the evolution of matter/life/ consciousness into two axes, one defined as the “relative attention given to either the parts or to the whole” and another as “relative attention given to difference or to similarities,” integral theory would be that kind of hermeneutical system that pays most attention to the whole and to structural similarities, rather than to the parts and to difference. In doing this it runs counter to the general tendency of modern objective science to focus on parts (to be analytical), of postmodernism to focus on difference, and hence to reject integrative narratives, and to systems theories and its follow-ups, which ignore subjectivity. It is this distinction from dominant epistemologies, which makes it particularly interesting to uncover new insights missed by the other approaches. A key advantage of the integral framework is that it integrates both subjective and objective aspects of realities, refusing to reduce one to the other.

Generally speaking, an integral approach is one that:

  • Respects the relative autonomy of the different fields, and looks for field specific laws;
  • Affirms that new levels of complexity causes the emergence of new properties and thus rejects reductionisms that try to explain the highly complex from the less complex;
  • Always relates the objective and subjective aspects, refusing to see any one aspect as a mere epiphenomena of the other. This implies a certain agnosticism as to the theories that posit one particular quadrant as the more fundamental cause (such as for example historical materialism);
  • In general, attempts to correlate explanations emanating from the various fields, in order to arrive at an integrative understanding.

The combined use of the four quadrants also has important advantages in avoiding various kinds of reductionisms:

  • The analytical-materialist reductionism (scientism), which attempts to totally explain the world of life and culture by the properties and processes of matter;
  • The biological/Darwinistic reductionism, which attempts to totally explain the life of culture by the animalistic processes of survival of the fittest;
  • The ‘wholistic’ reductionism of the system sciences, which do not take into account the agency of the subject;
  • The linguistic reductionism of extreme postmodernists, which tend to totally bypass materiality and reduce everything to language games.

In conclusion: the integral approach allows us to use these various partial perspectives and to use them as heuristic devices, so that we can obtain a fuller picture combining them. What distinguishes an “integral approach” from the other approaches is its use of a subjective-objective explanatory framework.

> Russ Volckmann