Comments: Integrative concepts
Integrative Knowledge Project |
Since the intention is only to present the results of a preliminary
compilation of material with a view to more detailed evaluation, only the
following points are noted:
(a) Range: The entries included cover a very wide range of approaches,
as was the original intention. It is to be expected that the inclusion
of some of the concepts should be queried as well as the exclusion or omission
of other concepts.
(b) Duplication and overlap: A number of the entries may be considered
to be duplicates, because the names given to the concepts are held to be
synonyms. Some such entries have in fact been combined, but others have
been kept separate where the different words tend to be used in different
contexts, even though they may be considered to mean the same thing.
(c) Confusion: Considerable confusion was noted in the use of
some of the terms, particularly in connection with: integrated and integrative;
unity (of science) and unified (science); interdisciplinary and multidisciplinary.
There seems to be little general awareness of the subtle but very real
implications of the distinctions which some authors attempt to make between
the concepts in such pairs or series, particularly wherever interdisciplinary
Such confusion was noted as early as 1937 by Thomas Hopkins with respect
to the term integration (1937): "Integration has come to be one of the
"big" works in the American language. Like all "big" words this one tends
to lose its specific meaning; frequency of use invariably leads to diffusion
of meaning; the heavier the load a term is required to carry the more rapid
is its loss of specificity. This rule is especially applicable with respect
to words which have a value connotation. When the value involved is one
which receives ready and general approval, such a word is easily borrowed,
and each borrowing brings about expansiveness of meaning. The value which
inheres in the term integration is wholeness or unity. In an age which
is characterized primarily by fractionalism, by fragmented and segmented
experience, it is natural that thoughtful persons should reach out for
concepts of unity. Hence the popularity of the word integration in our
More recently fears have been expressed that there is an escalation
in the number of projects and proposals in which terms such as integrative,
holistic, interdisciplinary, global, synergistic, organic, between the
sciences and the arts, etc are used in a variety of permutations.
Such approaches may in some cases be social rather than more strictly intellectual
phenomena, tending primarily to satisfy the needs of their protagonists
(and to impress sources of new funds) rather than providing substantive
contribution to the field.
Some groups may attempt to avoid inconsistency and cognitive dissonance
by using big umbrella categories and over-arching terms to disguise rather
unsubstantial ideas and give some conceptual illusionary security. No attempt
has been made at this stage to include any criticism of the concepts included
in the light of such possibilities.
(d) Western bias: The entries included mainly emphasize a western
concept of order emerging from the industrial era. The point has been made
that eastern concepts of order and integration need to be examined, since
they may prove more appropriate to the post-industrial era (Magoroh Maruyama,
1974). The implications of this distinction may be helpful in classifying
the concepts at some later stage as suggested below.
(e) Partial approaches: Each of the concepts included highlights
a particular feature of order. Some do so very clearly because they are
relatively abstract, others do so very imprecisely because of the loose
manner in which the relevant term is used. Because of the importance of
terms such as integration and synthesis in this context, some entries involving
them are included mainly to record high frequency usages (eg racial
integration) which may obscure other usages.
As the series stands, the entries suggest a variety of classification
schemes to clarify and relate the different notions of ordering. From an
examination of the concepts included, the outline of a framework may emerge
within which appropriate distinctions, and links, between them can be made.
This is suggested by the possibility of interrelating the dimensions associated
with the following:
(a) the series constituted by the progressive structural complexification
associated with multi-disciplinary, pluridisciplinary, cross-disciplinary,
inter-disciplinary and transdisciplinary (Erich Jantsch, 1972)
(b) the series of organization forms ranging from hierarchical (bureaucracy),
through systems organization, to network organization
(c) the distinction between homogeneity and heterogeneity (Magoroh Maruyama,
(d) the emergence of new integrative levels
In an x-y coordinate system, for example, the y-axis could represent a
progressive increase in hierarchical order, to a limiting condition in
which all elements (of the universe under consideration) are interrelated
vertically under (or to) one dominating element of category. The x-axis
could then represent an increase in horizontal interrelationship between
elements progressively more distant from each other, to a limiting condition
in which every element (of the universe under consideration) was related
in some way to every other element.
Ordering in terms of the y-axis is then achieved by grouping elements
in terms of a single (possibly complex) hierarchical pattern that remains
fundamentally unchanged wherever it is applied. This necessitates the suppression
of essential differences between elements in the (long-term) interest of
conformity to the pattern as a whole. Incompatible elements are rejected,
isolated or eliminated. Unforeseen complexity, when it emerges, is either
encompassed by forcing it into the existing pattern or by a special replication
of the basic pattern in response to the new situation.
Ordering in terms of the x-axis is achieved by interlinking elements,
directly or indirectly, irrespective of their compatibility, and solely
in terms of the pattern of local functional requirements. This necessitates
the rejection of any ordering, systematization or standardization in the
interest of the whole, in favour of the (immediate) interest of the elements
within the local functional pattern. Unforeseen complexity, when it emerges
locally is either linked directly into the existing network of interrelationships,
or indirectly by the generation of a new variety of element to respond
Clearly some integrative or transdisciplinary concepts are associated
more closely with y-axis ordering, rather than with x-axis ordering. Other
concepts contain different degrees of both types of ordering. Of special
interest is the possibility of highlighting the presence of concepts which
contain a balanced mix of both types of ordering (namely on the diagonal).
Such concepts tend to interrelate a maximum variety of concepts from a
new level of integration, with new characteristics, which facilitates the
emergence and optimal containment of new variety.
Such distinctions are important in connection with the degree and manner
of order or organization in conceptual schemes, social organizations, or
society in general. Where such distinctions are blurred, new and more appropriate
concepts of order can only emerge with difficulty because they can be too
easily condemned as identical to the known forms that have proved inadequate.
Hopefully a simple framework can be elaborated to clarify such distinctions
and draw attention to new possibilities of order and integration.
3. Geopolitical integration as a metaphor of discipline integration
There is an interesting structural parallel to be explored between the
national-international-supranational dimension and the disciplinary-interdisciplinary-transdisciplinary
dimension. Just as there are many subtleties and peculiar combinations
accepted under the term international, with little effective supranationalism,
so there may be many subtle combinations of disciplines to be considered
under the term interdisciplinary, but with little effective transdisciplinarity.
(a) Integrity: In each case there is concern with the relationship
between sovereignty or territorial integrity and the powers conferred upon
some more comprehensive framework. In one case the territory is a geographical
area, in the other it is a subject area. In defining international it is
important to distinguish between its use as applied to regional groupings
of different extent: Andean, Caribbean, Baltic, Scandinavian, African,
Afro-Asian, and European, for example.
(b) Significance of integration: The extent determines to some
degree the relative significance of the integration achieved as would be
the case with discipline groupings such as: amongst the medical sciences,
amongst the natural sciences, between the natural and the social sciences,
etc. In both cases there are many examples of token integration,
and of lack of integration disguised by token collaboration and talk about
integration. Then in the case of international there are groupings based
on non-contiguous areas such as Commonwealth countries, developing countries
(OECD), ideological blocs, or land-locked states. Universal organizations
raise the problem of the legitimacy and viability of micro-states and the
manner of their participation in organizations such as the United Nations.
(c) "Secession": The same is true of micro-disciplines (and disciplines
emerging from the tutelage of some powerful and long-developed discipline,
reluctant to relinquish its hold), although few efforts have been made
to create a universal framework to encompass all the disciplines, whether
on an equal footing or not.
(d) Non-axiomatic forms: The qualifiers attached to international
are also suggestive of relationships to the subject area of the discipline
other than those dependent on a body of axioms, principles, and laws: international
governmental, international nongovernmental nonprofit-making, and international
nongovernmental profit-making (multinational).
There is also the possibility that the dynamics of the controversies
between disciplines, and the expansion of the subject area of some disciplines,
may well follow a similar pattern to the dynamics of the relationships
between states as illustrated by history from the tribal period through
recent centuries. Further examination of the different aspects of this
parallel is justified by the familiarity and richness of the nation-state
system's structure and dynamics and its consequent ability to draw attention
to structural features which may be present or embryonic in the system
of disciplines. It is interesting that both the geographical area and the
subject area may offer opportunities for equivalent structures and processes,
and that the subject area dynamics may increasingly provide a psycho-culturally
satisfactory substitute for geographical area dynamics in a world characterized
by space limitations and overcrowding. It would however be regrettable
if the more unfortunate features of the geographically based dynamics (eg
imperialism, colonialism, feudalism, cold-war) were to be repeated on a
subject area basis, given that many lessons could possibly be learnt from
the geographical parallel.
4. Possible future improvements
(a) Revision and elaboration of the preliminary version of the descriptive
texts on each concept included in this edition by qualified advocates of
each such integrative concept.
(b) Addition of other integrative concepts not covered by the preliminary
list in this edition.
(c) Inclusion, where relevant within the entries on concepts, of the
names and addresses of centres, organizations, or institutes where the
particular integrative concept is:
investigated in an academic setting
advocated and promoted to a wider group, and possibly to the general public
the special concern of an information clearing house
developed or implemented in some way (eg through training courses)
(d) Inclusion, where relevant within the entries on concepts, of some indication
of the extent to which the concept is accepted and used.
(e) Inclusion, where relevant within the entries on concepts, of statements
critical of the particular integrative concept and its potential utility.
(f) Development of a network of relationships between the integrative
concepts (in a manner analogous to that of other sections), particularly
in order to draw attention to concepts which are more powerfully integrative.
(g) Inclusion of the results of one or more experiments in classifying
integrative concepts which attempt to highlight, by their position within
the classification scheme, those concepts which reflect a more powerful
or comprehensive integration.
(h) Build up a bibliography of books, academic articles and reports
that focus on, or draw attention to, some aspect of integrative processes
and methods. Such a bibliography should function as a collecting point
for documents scattered through a wide range of literature to the point
of being irretrievable in terms of the integrative concern which is common
to them. (See Section KY).
(i) Inclusion of one or more general surveys or essays of the range
of integrative concepts, drawing particular attention to those concepts
that represent a more powerful and complex form of integration.
From Encyclopedia of World Problems and Human Potential