Tuesday, July 6, 2010

An approach to critiques of integral theory.

When considering essential critiques of integral theory it is important first to consider just what we mean by "integral theory". In this context, of course, we are largely referring to the body of work created by Ken Wilber. Although this work is beginning to be augmented by others, both in the metatheoretical sense and in applications of the metatheory, the core of integral theory is obviously the work of Wilber. Beyond recognizing this obvious core, we must also recognize that Wilber's work is not monolithic. It is, at times, theory, metatheory, criticism, defense, polemic, application, and popularization. Wilber's work also is constantly and ever a work-in-progress with at least 5 major stages, if not more. So out of this evolving, heterogeneous mass of ideas, what, then, is the essential core of integral theory? And when we seek to offer essential critiques of integral theory, just what are we critiquing?

In brief a relatively short list of distinct areas comes to mind:

metatheoretical claims - this would be the most current metatheoretical structure Wilber has offered in which he sythesizes multiple theories into his overarching and unifying claims - roughly speaking this would be his AQAL, IMP, and IPM structures, however he may offer metatheoretical perspectives that do not fit neatly into these categories. It seems likely that the substance of these core metatheoretical claims should be Wilber's primary intellectual legacy and it is critiques of this core that are the most essential and relevant. Critical inquiry might address the degree to which integral theory successfully orients one toward individual fields of study, the degree to which anomalies or conflicts are resolved by integral theory, or the universality of its key elements.

theoretical claims - At times, Wilber allows his speculation to descend out of meta-theory and into theory itself, perhaps because he sees an implication of his metatheory that has not been metatheoretically realized, or perhaps because his understanding of his source material has led him to some position on is own. Both of these are valid areas for him to attempt. One might argue that his unique expertise is more suited to the former than the latter and one might also be justifiably skeptical of outright theoretical claims made from this secondhand standpoint without direct access to raw data and injunctions of the various theorists. If we consider the metatheoretical claims as the object of needed critique, then simple theoretical implications would be analogous to the predictions of simple theory that are tested with empirical data. The validity of those predictions are a valid test of Wilber's metatheory.

factual and theoretical support for those claims - Theory and metatheory take data and theory, respectively, as their object. One must build arguments based on those objects for the validity of theories and metatheories. It is always possible to critique a theorist's data, their injunctions for generating it, their interpretation of it, etc. Wilber's case is no different. The objects of his theorizing and metatheorizing are open to criticism and some may turn out to be invalid or weak, in which case we have to consider whether Wilber's theoretical constructs based on those objects are invalidated or weakened in turn. It does not automatically follow that this would be the case. A theory is not inexorably dependent upon the validity of every data point in its view. But problems of this kind also can't be dismissed out of hand.

rhetorical structure and implications of the above - similarly, the manner in which theories are communicated, recorded, delineated, and argued may be examined. Data may be sound, theory may be sound, and yet the structure and surface of the arguments advanced in support of the theory may be weak for any number of reasons. Some easy targets in Wilber's work have been his rhetorical flourishes which may be argued to be irrelevant or even perhaps counter-productive through offering insult to his audience. While it is easy to get distracted by these surface features, they alone do not invalidate integral theory and while they may be essential critiques of Wilber's literary offering, they may not qualify as essential critiques of integral metatheory.

postmodern critiques of bias and structure - While not directly a critique of theoretical content, these critiques are valid and relevant. What is the worldview that produces integral theory? What are its biases and weaknesses? How are those weakness embodied or overcome in the theory itself? What are the implications of the metanarrative integral theory offers? How might a conscious or unconscious adoption of that metanarrative affect power and justice in the world? What are the strengths and weaknesses of a worldview informed by this metanarrative? What perspectives are excluded in spite of the integral ambition to enfold and include all perspectives? What might the cultural consequences of this metanarrative be?

institutional and personal embodiment - related to the postmodern critique might be a direct critique of the persons and institutions informed by, and involved with, integral theory. What are their strengths and weaknesses? How are they revealed in embodied action and experience? How are those related to integral theory itself? What might those real consequences reveal about integral theory itself? For instance, one might critique the behavior and consequences of institutions, staff, and programs of JFKU's Integral Theory program, Fielding's program, Integral Institute, Integral Life, EnlightenNext, iEvolve, Integral Coaching Canada, Pacific Integral, etc. This is subtly different than a critique of applications of integral theory. It is more a look at how human beings and their organizations manifest, develop, and behave when attempting to realize an integral application or to propagate, develop, or study the theory itself. How has integral theory actually manifested in human life and interaction? What might that say about integral theory itself?

applications - subtly different from the institutional and personal critiques above, critiques of applications would have to be twofold - firstly, one could criticize an application according to many of the same lines outlined above for integral theory, then secondly the degree to which the application faithfully followed the principles of integral theory would have to be examined. If an application failed to withstand critique in an important way, was that failure related to its use of integral theory? If so, was its use of integral theory faithful and etc., or did it suffer from some key failure to apply integral theory properly?

Probably the most direct and relevant areas in which essential critiques will arise are in the metatheoretical claims, the support for those claims, and the postmodern view of the metatheory and its claims. Critiques of the rhetoric of integral theory, the excursions into simple theory, and the embodiment and application of integral theory, while important to greater and lesser degrees, are not the indispensible critiques that the community of integral scholar/practitioners must pursue to establish the validity of integral theory.