16.6.11

Integral Ecology Reading Group – Week 2

As usual I’m a bit behind with contributing to the reading group, but I would like to draw attention to Sam Mickey’s excellent post at Knowledge Ecology (here) on Chapter 2 of Integral Ecology entitled, “It’s All About Perspectives: The AQAL Model”.

The chapter goes through the basic tenets of Ken Wilber’s ‘integral perspectival’ AQAL (“all quadrant, all level”) meta-framework which attempts to synthesize and organize as many different perspectives as possible. Following Max Weber and Jurgen Habermas, Wilber argues for the modern differentiation of three major epistemic modes: the subjective (1st person perspective), the intersubjective (2nd person perspective) and the objective (3rd person perspective) – or, the beautiful, the good and the true. From these 3 basic modes of knowing the world Wilber adds the interobjective (3rd person plural) perspective to create what the authors believe is a "post-disciplinary" 4 quadrant model capable of integrating data and knowledge from every major discipline in the sciences and humanities.

Ambitious? Surely. Hubris? Perhaps. But the model does have its strong points. For example, the AQAL  framework does seem to allow us to sort various approaches according to their methodologies and domains of interest. Behaviorism (Skinner) clearly took a 3rd person perspective with its focus on the objective, observable behavior of organisms, whereas hermeneutics (Gadamer) focuses squarely on the dynamics of intersubjectivity using a 2nd person, interpretive methodology. And conventional ecological sciences, as the authors are quick to point out, focus of the inter-objective processes of the world from a 3rd person perspective, whereas existentialism or introspective psychology investigate subjectivity from a 1st person perspective.

What is important here is that the authors believe taking a multi-perspective and integral approach to ecology and environmental issues helps us identify blind spots, and important points of consideration, and therefore better equips us in our effort to understand the many dimensions and complex relationships involved in such issues. What the AQAL framework does, so it is argued, is prompts us to include multiple perspectives, and therefore multiple methodologies in our investigations.

There is much more to the AQAL model than I have time to go into, but you can learn more about Wilber’s meta-framework here.

SO what I’ll leave you with is some excerpts from Sam’s post, and some interesting tid-bits from the resulting comments:
After proposing post-disciplinarity, E-H&Z describe two aspects of perspectivalism, ontological and epistemological. First, an ontological claim (“sentient beings are capable of taking a perspective, or opening a clearing that allows phenomena to present and reveal themselves”) (48). The phrase “opening a clearing” sounds suspiciously Heideggerian to me (especially knowing that Zimmerman is a Heidegger scholar). In any case, this claim implies that perspective (like interiority) isn’t exclusively human. Rather, the world is made of perspectives. [Sam]

…the second aspect of perspectivalism, an epistemological claim (“all knowing is perspectival”) (48-49). We are told not to “confuse the map with the territory” but, instead, to recognize how “the map is a performance of the territory,” such that all knowledges (all maps) are situated in the concrete limits of perspectives (50, 55). Against postmodern relativism (a straw man, to be sure), perspectivalism asserts that the partial truths of perspectives can be arranged according to nested hierarchies (holarchy) in which truths transcend and include any less comprehensive truths (63f). [Sam]

The authors keep reminding us not to take their framework too literally and not to mistake the map for the territory. They reassure us that the flat representation of the AQAL model is “not a Cartesian grid” but is more of a “Buddhist mandala,” which is full of multidimensionality and depth that are only discerned in light of meditative engagements (59).[Sam]

And from the comment section:
It is quite apparent that the AQAL model is very heavy on classification, possibly at the expense of adequate description. Sam, I think this goes some way to further pushing your point that AQAL can be both “too precise” and “not precise enough.” I would say it is too precise in classification and not precise enough in description. [Adam Robbert]

I really do find the quadrants helpful, but beyond that the AQAL system feels very heavy to me- almost like an OS that takes up so much space on a computer that it can’t actually perform any of the functions it is designed to run. [Adam]

Along with the tri-ecological vision found in Guattari and of Wilber’s big three, the integral ecology model proposed by Leonardo Boff brings together the mental, social, and environmental dimensions of ecology. Boff is influenced by Guattari’s three ecologies and by the cosmogenetic principle of Thomas Berry and Brian Swimme, which is a threefold principle involving autopoiesis, communion, and differentiation (mental, social, and environmental, respectively). [Sam]

I think…the AQ can be made to work like a Guattarian machine, or a Peircian semiotic hub (Wilber’s “big three” being analogous to Peirce’s triadics). But it’s the hierarchic developmentalism that has always been Wilber’s hallmark. On the other hand, submitting those (AL) parts of Wilber’s model to empirical data might result in a loosening of some of its built-in assumptions, e.g. into a more horizontal understanding of hierarchies (a la DeLanda). [Adrian Ivakhiv]

All the context you need and much more substance can be read in the original post and comments. Please check out the rest here. [And be sure to look for Adrian Ivakhiv’s summary and comments on chapter 3 and 4 in the next few days…]

5 comments:

Anonymous said...

my dad tried teaching some aspects of engineering to architecture students but they never could really get past their fascination with their own master-plans coming together on the page of the blueprints to take into account the evolving on the ground realities of actual building projects/sites.

Timothy Morton said...

Some responses to the last couple of chapters here.

michael- said...

@Dirk - imagine what might be possible if there was a language or framework, or sensibility which allows both arch students and engineers to enhance each other's understanding and position possible responses?

AQAL attempts this, but does it succeed?

michael- said...

Thanks Tim!

Anonymous said...

I think that these things have to be worked in actual projects, esp. problem solving, and it may be more about ways of managing/engaging than of over/pre-views. There will always be differences, sacrifices, and conflicts of interest so how to work them thru, what/who counts/matters and how? how to be flexible and yet commited, in it for the long haul but attuned to what presents. how do we come to be the adults we always hoped would lead the way but almost never show up?

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