Projects Overview (Explanations)
Knowledge Project (Explanations)
Integrative Knowledge and Transdisciplinarity Project
Overview: Integrative Knowledge Project
Scope and rationale
The fragmentation of society is frequently deplored, as is the fragmentation
of knowledge supposedly relevant to any appropriate response to the global
There continue to be calls for integrative, interdisciplinary or unified
conceptual approaches to remedy this situation. Attempts to develop such
approaches have themselves become fragmented, such that certain integrative
insights are considered irrelevant, superficial, or misleading by those advancing
other such insights.
- Integrative concepts: A principal characteristic of
the global problematique is its apparent complexity. This calls for a complex
response interrelating many different intellectual resources and insights
and involving sensitivity to very different kinds of constraint. Integrative
approaches of this kind have proved inadequate or exceedingly difficult
to implement in a society characterized by specialization and fragmentation.
Following token interest in interdisciplinarity in its own right, recent
years have seen an emphasis on a project-by-project pragmatic approach.
This avoids the need for any form of conceptual framework transcending
individual disciplines, but begs the question as to the relationship between
The purpose of this project is to assemble descriptions of
the range of concepts or conceptual approaches which are, in some way,
considered integrative and which are held by some international constituencies
to provide the key to the organization of any effective strategic response
to the global problematique. Many of the words used to label these concepts
are those which are considered indicators of the power of an advocated
approach. They frequently appear in project proposals to trigger favourable
response, whether or not any content can be given to them in practice.
Words like "global", "integrative", "networking" and "systematic" are the
magical "words- of-power" in the modern organizational world.
- Embodying discontinuity:
In this period characterized both by profound disagreements and by intense
efforts at consensus formation, there is widespread recognition of the
disadvantages of the former compared to the advantages of the latter. This
recognition is itself a danger however when it detracts from complementary
efforts to recognize the advantages to be derived from the living reality
of disagreement processes as compared to the corresponding disadvantages
associated with dysfunctional consensus formation. Typically the former
leads to characteristic difficulties in handling differences, "otherness" discontinuity,
uncertainty, ignorance and the underdefined, which all arise frequently
in social processes, especially in any transitional period of social transformation
when there is a possibility of a "new" or "alternative" order.
the search for such a new order, many "answers" continue
to be produced in response to the global problematique, whether in the
form of explanations, programmes, strategies, ideologies, paradigms or
belief systems. The proponents of each such answer naturally attach special
importance to their own as being of crucial relevance at this time, whether
in the short-term for tactical reasons, or in the long- term as being the
only appropriate basis for a viable world society in the future. This widespread
focus on "answer production",
a vital moving force in society, obscures both the significance of the
lack of fruitful integration between existing answers and the manner in
which such answers undermine each others significance. Such answers are
inherently limited in that they fail to internalize the discontinuity,
incompatibility and disagreement which their existence engenders, in such
a way as to "contain",
whether conceptually or organizationally, the development processes they
promote. This naturally results in the emergence of new problems.
order is thus engendered by the fluctuation in practice between the extreme
policies of essentially antagonistic answers counteracting each others
weaknesses and excesses. It is this same fluctuation which the proponents
of each dominant answer at present make every effort to prevent, as a way
of maintaining their dominance in the short-term, but at the expense of
development in the longer- term. But it is on this very fluctuation that
a viable new order needs to be built if it is to contain a development
that is inherently dynamic. The desperate search for "the" model
of a new magical alternative order (of necessarily temporary and limited
appeal) can thus be usefully complemented by a concern for models of alternation
to order the pattern and timing of cyclic transformation between such alternatives,
as and when they emerge into the ecological pool of available models.
raises a major difficulty since, as noted above, no single framework (whether
logical or otherwise) can encompass the dynamics of alternation between
such frameworks, whether it be cartesian or holistic, linear or non-linear,
technocratic or ecological. Perception through any one of them necessarily
precludes simultaneous perception through any other one (as with the wave
or particle theories of light). It follows that no single conceptual language
or paradigm is appropriate to the task of bridging across the discontinuity
between frameworks to support the development process. This raises questions
as to the nature of such a bridge and of the language with which such a
bridge may be constructed.
- Patterning disagreement: Most conceptual schemes, whether
purely theoretical or basic to the practical design of a development programme,
are organized into sets of concepts, principles, priorities, or functions.
Several such sets may be interrelated in a more elaborate scheme. It is
the pattern of such interrelationships which ensures the coherence and
integrity of the approach. Patterns therefore constitute a special form
of presentation. Such patterns tend to be presented in isolation and often
such that only the sub-patterns are explicit. Little is known about them
as conceptual patterns. Given the need to interrelate concepts into a coherent
pattern, so that they can be effectively communicated without loss of information,
it is appropriate to explore the design of conceptual patterns of many
elements and interconnections, whether explicit or implicit. Such explorations
can contribute to the development of pattern languages through which groups
can define and interrelate the non-material features appropriate to the
quality of life in their environment.
There is no ongoing research into interdisciplinarity in its own right and
the literature on it is dispersed under many unrelated headings (which library
information systems make no attempt to cross-reference). And yet words like "global", "transdisciplinary", "networking" and "system" continue
to emerge as the magical "words of power" triggering favourable response
to project proposals addressing the global problematique. A minimum requirement
at this time is therefore an indication of the range of integrative concepts
from which some indication of their unique contributions can be deduced.
Some entries were formulated by the editors as part of a review of methodological
problems which emerged during their participation in the Goals, Processes and
Indicators of Development project of the United Nations University (1978-82).
Organization and structure
The project as a whole attempts to respond to the dramatic problem of how
to interrelate vital conceptual insights which are essentially incommensurable
and in practice often mutually antagonistic.
- Integrative concepts: The section includes 632 entries briefly describing
concepts which are considered integrative by some constituencies, whether
or not they are accepted as significant or integrative by others.
- Embodying discontinuity: The section contains 70 entries which constitute
a critical review of a series of approaches to the problem of embodying or
bridging conceptual discontinuity. There is a progression through the series
to more complex approaches which in different ways embody that discontinuity
into some kind of alternation dynamic between alternative perspectives.
A plurality of responses is not in itself an adequate response, especially
since each fails to internalize the discontinuity, incompatibility and disagreement
which its existence as an alternative engenders.Some of the work has explored
the possibility, implicit or explicit in recent studies, that a more appropriate
answer might emerge from a patterned alternation between alternatives. This
calls for a focus on the models of alternation by which the pattern and timing
of cyclic transformations can be ordered between mutually opposed alternatives.
It highlights the possibility that the kind of integrative approach required
may not be fully describable within the language of any single conceptual framework,
however sophisticated. The use of metaphor in exploring new ways of understanding
complexity is illustrated by one set of experiments, presented here as a demonstration.
is for this reason that the second part explores the possibility, implicit
or explicit in recent studies, that a more appropriate answer might emerge
from a patterned alternation between alternatives. This calls for a focus on
the models of alternation by which the pattern and timing of cyclic transformations
can be ordered between mutually opposed alternatives. It highlights the possibility
that the kind of integrative approach required may not be fully describable
within the language of any single conceptual framework, however sophisticated.
- Patterning disagreement: This section, composed of 20 entries, is an editorial
experiment in generating a pattern of progressively more differentiated conceptual
incompatibilities as a basis for a more appropriate manner of psycho-social
organization. It is based on insights in a wide range of different concept
schemes that use sets of concepts of different sizes to contain qualitative
complexity. Its merit lies in its deliberate attempt to internalize discontinuity
and disagreement within the pattern. It is based on research presented to
sub-projects on Forms of Presentation and on Methodology of the project on
Goals, Processes and Indicators of Development of the United Nations University.
- Profiles of 633 integrative concepts
Method and development
The information used was obtained from a wide range of specialized reference
books as discussed in the commentary.
Development: In addition to the refinement of the existing entries and to
the extension of the range (eg to include artificial intelligence concepts),
the paradoxical problem of classifying interdisciplinary concepts could also
Detailed explanations and general comments are provided in a collection of
11 documents. In contrast to entries in other sections, comments are incorporated
into individual entries.
Research studies on integrative knowledge, written in relation to this project
and to international organizations, are directly accessible from separate checklists:
As noted above, the information on integrative knowledge, is seen as one of
the keys to the global organization of knowledge about organizations, strategies,
Note that more general comments and explanations, regarding the collection
of projects initiated within the framework of the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential, are available in a collection of
The contents presented by this project may be considered as complementing
the other projects in ways such as the following:
- Metaphors and patterns: By
the manner in which integrative knowledge is communicated and through the
evolution of forms of communication to reflect new aspects of integration.
- Human development: By the
manner in which advances in the integration of knowledge are paralleled by
integration of the individual and of society and require such integration
in order to become meaningful.
- World problems: By the importance
of integrative knowledge for comprehending the nature of the global problematique,
and by the manner in which that problematique calls for new kinds of integrative
- Transformative approaches:
By the integrative characteristics required of innovative techniques.
- Human values: By the challenge
of providing integrative frameworks to interrelate seemingly unrelated values
and by the inherently integrative nature of value perspectives.
- Organization strategies: By
the challenge of relating integrative understanding to the implementation
of concrete remedial actions
Reservations and disclaimer
Because of the essentially integrative nature of the concepts, the distinction
between an integrative and an unintegrative concept is unclear. It could be
said that every concept is unclear. At one extreme, every concept may be considered
as integrative; at the other, particular schools of thought would accept only
a very limited number of their central concepts as integrative. Many of these
concepts call for lengthy comment which is not possible in this framework;
in such cases only highly abridged entries have been included.
Unlike entries in most other sections, those included here reflect an editorial
attempt to review the efforts of a wide range of authors to respond, in one
way or another, to the conceptual problems of discontinuity. The editors have
attempted to interrelate these initiatives and to indicate how they collectively
contribute to an understanding of alternation, and that in fact the central
theme they together identify can itself only be comprehended by alternating
between the essentially incommensurable perspectives they represent. The implications
of their insights have been deliberately oriented toward comprehension of the
global problematique which may be very far from the intention of the authors.
Whilst this procedure may have resulted in distortion of their views, the
editors do consider that presenting such unrelated views as a configuration
offering complementary perspectives does go some way to avoiding the problems
of entrapment in a particular language. The stress on ordered patterns of "alternation" is
of course another form of entrapment. At this stage however it does seem to
cast new light on the problem of embodying discontinuity in response to the
global problematique, especially since it effectively draws attention to its
own limitations. For those who find the various jargons unhelpful, many of
the metaphors in Section CM were designed to clarify the significance in practice
Although the results of this deliberate editorial experiment are interesting
and indicative of further possibilities, the entries raise many questions
concerning the appropriateness of the language used. The language is stilted
and artificial in an attempt both to maintain the pattern and to flesh it
out with suitable material from a variety of sources that distinguished allusively
between qualities if at all.
Statistics on concepts of integrative knowledge, in the light
of the methodology of this project, are provided in tables in the commentary
and were published in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential. They are also also available
used & multi-media
The profiles of approaches to
are published in:
The information generated by this project on integrative and transdisciplinary
understandings has been published initially in the Encyclopedia
of World Problems and Human Potential; subsequently it has been made available
Although no efforts have as yet been made to explore relationships between
the different approaches to integrative knowledge using multi-media techniques,
the multi-media experiments to explore the complexity of relationships between
problems, strategies, values, organizations and human development through experimental
visualization techniques are in response to the concerns of this project.