May 31, 2010

Integral Pluralism and Pattern Dynamics

Integral Pluralism and PatternDynamics™
By Tim Winton

I’ve just had an initial read of Sean Esbjörn-Hargens’s (2010) most recent article, “An Ontology of Climate Change”, due out in the next (Spring 2010) edition of the Journal of Integral Theory and Practice. I say initial read because I’m going to have to go over this more than a few times to take it all in. My blog post here is largely the process of unpacking Sean’s article, coming to terms with its implications for the field of Integral Theory and Praxis, and working through the relationship of my own work in Integral Theory and Integral Sustainability to the emergent space he has opened up.

There are some big theoretical moves enacted in this article- not the least of which is to bring the idea of “enactment” itself front and centre in integral discourse. To enact enactment, as it were. Sean also makes explicit, the hereto only weakly implied idea of Integral Ontological Pluralism (IOP) and connects it to the only slightly more strongly implied concept on Integral Epistemological Pluralism (IEP) through the only fully explicit pluralism currently widely articulated in Integral Theory, Integral Methodological Pluralism (IMP). This is the familiar—at least to Integral Ecology geeks like me—who (epistemology) is enacting, how (methodology) are they enacting, and what (ontology) are they enacting format from Sean and Michael Zimmerman’s (2009) recent book, “Integral Ecology”.
Sean introduces this triad of pluralisms as explicitly included in “Integral Pluralism”, and with that signifier brings forth a meta-perspective on Integral itself. This is big move number one: in fact this is huge and, I think, hugely exciting— not just for its chutzpah (and I mean that in a most integral sense of the word)—but also for its practical usefulness in meeting the challenges of a complex world. Sean illustrates this through a chart showing how Integral Pluralism allows us to identify the multiple (but overlapping) objects called “climate change”.

Ontological pluralism brings to awareness the fact that when we are talking about climate change, we are not all of us talking about the same thing, even if we are not entirely talking about different things. That’s the “overlapping” bit- not just one thing, but not so many or so completely unrelated to an underlying “reality” that they are completely fragmented. I should say here that Sean does not limit Integral Pluralism to the above-mentioned three pluralisms, and this opens up a host of other possibilities for inclusion within the purview of an Integral meta-perspective. For instance, by the end of the article Sean has added Integral Theoretical Pluralism to the mix.

Now, along with multiple perspectives and multiple methodologies we recognize multiple ontologies, allowing us to multiply Integral comprehensiveness and inclusion by some number of factors. And, through that increased comprehensiveness, enact a more sophisticated view and response to the challenges we face. Sean uses some illuminating graphics to demonstrate Modern, Postmodern and Integral approaches to ontology that I found particularly interesting- especially in their relationship to my own graphically intense Integral offering called PatternDynamics™. (See Appendix 1) Before we get to that though, we need to check out big move number two, Integral Enactment Theory.

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