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Union of Intelligible Associations

Projects Overview (Explanations)
Integrative Knowledge Project (Explanations)

Integrative Knowledge and Transdisciplinarity Project

Overview: Integrative Knowledge Project

Scope and rationale
Organization and structure
Information content
Method and development

Explanatory comments

Reservations and disclaimer
Media used & multi-media

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 problematique.

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 such projects.

    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.

    In 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.

    Any new 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.

    This 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.

    It 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.

Information content

  • 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 be explored.

Explanatory comments

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, or problems.

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 27 documents.


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 knowledge.
  • 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 of alternation.

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 on-line

Media 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 on-line.

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.

From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential

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