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3.1 Integrative concepts

1. Comment

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 is used.

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 time."

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.

2. Classification

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, 1974)

    (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 to it.

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.