Place of the Integral Approach in P2P Theory

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Text extract

Michel Bauwens:

The Place of the Integral Approach

Let's have a look at the first figure:

Parts Wholes Includes
Difference Postmodern approaches Integral Approaches Subjects and Objects
Similarity Analytical Sciences Systemic Sciences Objects Only

This table is an attempt to show how the integral approach is related to other approaches.

We can recognise two axes: one distinguishes attention for the ‘whole’, from attention to the ‘parts’; the other distinguishes attention to similarities and ‘structural unity’ between different phenomena, from attention to difference.

All four approaches are valid approaches in our attempt to understand ‘reality’.

The classic materialist approach is based on the reduction of any phenomena to its constitutuent parts, which are then studied separately. The idea of course is that such analysis is eventually followed by a synthesis, but the synthesis is always secondary, and for all practical purposes is often abandoned, since scientists have become hyper-specialised in their disciplines, and have difficulty understanding other specialised domains. It is still the mainstream approach in the hard sciences, and very important in the social sciences as well. The result is a fragmentation of our knowledge and worldviews. However, whatever it's limitations the reductionist method is the condition for the others to exist, as it provides the raw material of factual data and knowledge.

Current emphasis on the whole gives us the systemic sciences such as cybernetics, the system sciences proper, autopoiesis theory, chaos and complexity theories. In such an approach, a part is only considered through its function for the whole. Furthermore, it is geared towards the objective, there is no attention for its separate subjectivity, intention, will, etc... As in the systems approach to distributed networks for example, the subjective intentions of the agents is <bracketed> out of existence.

From the world of philosophy have come the postmodern approaches. This approach stresses that any worldview is dependent on perspective, that no part of a system can understand the whole. Therefore, it rejects ‘grand narratives’ for their hubris of taking an imagined godlike position of a part claiming to be able to know the whole. Postmodern approaches, also called poststructuralist, reject structuralist approaches, which look at structural unity, and like the systemic sciences, do not stress the subject, which they mostly consider to be an essentialist construction. Postmodern approaches stress ‘difference’, no ‘process’, no ‘object’, no ‘subject’ exists apart from the field or system it is part of, and in fact, is defined by its difference from the other things in the same field.

The Integral approach can be seen as a reaction against the limitations and unforeseen effects of the previous methods. Unlike analytical science, it focuses on the whole. Unlike systemic approaches, it always includes the subjective component. Unlike postmodern approaches, it does not shy away from integrative ‘grand narratives’. But it has also learned from the other approaches: that no attention to the whole can violate the truth of its parts, from the systemic sciences, that the whole is more than the sum of its parts, from the postmodern, that the integral is just another limited perspective, albeit a useful one. Integralism should therefore never be seen as a totalising, ‘imperialistic’ approach, but as another, integrative, multiperspectival way to look at the world. In fact, it can be said that any individual is an integrator, is a different composite, of his/her understanding of reality. But the specific effort, methodology, of the integral forces its practitioner to a more conscious effort to integrate as large a portion of truth as he possible can. Moreover, because it also knows the limitations of any individual perspective, it stresses that dialogic methods, involving intersubjective meeting of minds, can yield greater relative truth still.

To conclude, in my understanding, an integral approach is one that:

  • respects the relative autonomy of the different fields, and looks for field specific laws
  • affirms that new levels of complexity causes the emergence of new properties and thus rejects reductionisms that try to explain the highly complex from the less complex. It tries to formulate level-specific laws
  • always relates the objective and subjective aspects, refusing to see any one aspect as a mere epiphenomena of the other; it is subjective-objective in that *
  • it always relate the understanding of the objective, through the prism of a recognised individual perspective
  • in general, attempts to correlate explanations emanating from the various fields, in order to arrive at an integrative understanding; in this sense it is a hermeneutic discipline focusing on creating meaning

Some Integral Approaches

Ken Wilber's AQAL approach

One of the best known, and controversial, integral authors is Ken Wilber. For our purpose, we stress his use of a four-quadrant bases, subjective-objective AQAL framework (AQAL = all quadrants, all levels). It is a pretty systematic way, later refined into a integral methodological pluralism recognizing 8 basic perspectives to examine reality, and which should be ideally combined.

Individual Aspects Collective Aspects
Interior Aspects Subjective field
The subject / the self
Intersubjective field
Spirituality / Worldviews
Exterior Aspects Objective field
Technological artifacts as extensions of the body; the body and brain
Interobjective field
Natural Systems / Political, economic, organizational system

Every phenomena has four aspects. It is always individual, but also always part of a system; and it has both objective measurable characteristics, and a interior aspect. This gives us four clear distinct realms for investigation: subjective, intersubjective, objective, interobjective.

An advantage is its comprehensiveness. There are few other integrative approaches of such a large encompassing scope. Looking at any phenomena from those different angles, is a very comprehensive way of looking at the world.

  • It is also a tremendous way to avoid different kinds of reductionisms:
  • the objective reductionism of the analytical sciences, reducing any whole to its material parts, in a permanent attempt to explain the more complex by the less complex, the immaterial by the material, the subjective by the objective. While such a reductionist and analytical approach yields tremendous value, it is also at the same time an impoverishment.
  • The interobjective reductionism of the system sciences, which also do not integrate the subjective component, again reducing reality to its materiality, or rather to its ‘functionality’.
  • The subjective reductionism of any ‘idealistic’ approach that takes the human will, or divine will, as paramount, without sufficient attention to its grounding in intersubjective and interobjective systems and in materiality. More recently this tendency emerges as cognitive reductionism, where reality is reduced to the cognitive apparatus of the human.
  • The intersubjective reductionism of some postmodern approaches, where everything is reduced to its constituent fields, for example language. In such an approach, materiality is often forgotten, everything becomes a ‘discourse’.

There is one particular aspect of Ken Wilber that is useful in understanding peer to peer, and it is the stratified view of the self. The followers of Ken Wilber have adapted the psychological system of Clare Graves, and its derivative Spiral Dynamics system, as a kind of popular synthesis of the evolving states of consciousness. It sees the evolution of human consciousness as a succession of adaptive systems, organized around typical value constellations.

Roy Bhaskar's Four-planar Social Being

A quick reminder of Roy Bhaskar's four-planar social being shows a remarkable similarity with the AQAL scheme. Bhaskar recognizes four spheres:

  1. the stratification of the subject or self (interior-individual for Wilber);
  2. the interpersonal relations (interior-collective intersubjectivity for Wilber);
  3. our relationship to social structure (the exterior-collective interobjective world for Wilber);
  4. our material transactions with nature (interior-individual objective for Wilber).

Another important integral aspect of Bhaskar is the stress on the stratification of the self. This is a keystone of integral theorists such as Ken Wilber, Jean Gebser, Aurobindo, Georg Feuerstein and others.

Humans are layered persons. We have an instinctual apparatus and corresponding reactions, we have an emotional apparatus, a mental apparatus, a transmental ‘witnessing’ apparatus, at the very least. But because of our civilisational evolution, these different layers are far from well integrated. There has been a lot of unconscious ‘repression’ of our earlier layers, especially by mental layer, resulting in many individual and collective pathologies. As I see it, every human being should at some point of his life, undertake a ‘regression in the service of the ego’, i.e. make a voyage of discovery into the repressed aspects, undertake a ‘dark night of the soul’. An important aspect of the integral approach is it developmental aspect, a focus on the fact that humans, societies, systems, evolve from the simple to the complex, from one historical formation to another. By uncovering this development, making the unconscious conscious, we become more whole, more integrated. Thus an integral approach obtains a ‘transparency’ in terms of our functioning, an ability to recognize ‘where we are coming from’, not only historically, but ‘here and now’: which layer is active, and ‘is it appropriate’. In our particular civilisation this means a growing capacity to grasp reality as ‘a whole’, and understanding how our different layers operate simultaneously. We can go beyond the ‘cognicentrism’ that is our common cultural lot n the West. Through our own comprehension of our personal perspectives, we can better understand other perspectives, and thus achieve a growing ‘meta-perspectivity’.

Roy Bhaskar's dynamic-emergent materialism is equally squarely within the integral approach, since it recognizes phase-specific laws and categories.

But there are of course many differences with Wilber, outside the scope of this preliminary review. Important is this: Wilber has a focus on individual consciousness, more particular the particular phasing of the level of consciousness, and he focuses on how psychogenesis determines sociogenesis, that the social structure derives from the state of consciousness of the individuals in the society. The whole focus of Wilber's work and his Integral Institute is on the individual and his spiritual advancement. Wilber's stress on stratification, has led to a hierarchical view of the universe, and to a general neoconservative outlook. Wilber's integralism is, in the final analysis, system-confirming, as I have argued elsewhere. Wilber's focus on the critique of postmodern academic thinking as the main stumble block for social progress, has increasingly aligned him with neoconservative social forces, and their campaigns against political correctness. Wilber's personal incapacity to deal with peer review and scientific critique, generates cultic aspects which are absent from the academically embedded work of Bhaskar.

Roy Bhaskar's approach, this is immediately noticeable, is relationally oriented, it is about our relationships with, our embeddedness in the planes of existence. If it is true that modernity was about ‘extracting the individuality’ out of everything; then the postmodern moment has clearly been one focused on extracting the relationality out of everything. At first ‘deconstructively’, but after the heyday of postmodernism philosophy, ‘constructively’. The peer to peer relational dynamic, and everything it entails, is about constructing a human relational infrastructure, and so a relationally-oriented approach, such as Bhaskar's, holds greater promise than Wilber's individualist orientation. But I'm not yet aware that such work, of confronting Bhaskar's framework with emerging peer to peer theory, has effectively been done, and this essay is a first call to do so.

Toni Negri's multitudes and singularities

Toni Negri, with Michael Hardt the author of the landmark books Empire and Multitudes, is in my opinion an integral thinker as well.

  • Negri is not averse of grand narratives, i.e. for looking at structural similarities. He uses and describes the succession of social formations and tries to identify their logic, as he does in Empire; he has a stratified view of social evolution, but unlike Wilber, does not identify ‘later’ as ‘better’; rather he stresses the availability of alternative paths, that were defeated and not taken.
  • Negri is clearly subjective-objective in his approach. He rejects the purely objectivist forms of Marxism, and his own post-Marxist theorizing stresses the role of subjectivity as a prime mover causing objective changes (following Tronti, he stresses that the producers’ desire for liberation predates the re-organising of productive forces by the ruling classes; the latter is a response to the former; and there is no merely objective evolution of productive forces, it is seen rather as a political process as well)
  • Negri is meta-paradigmatic, he is clearly open to various theoretical traditions and sources a wide variety of ideas from different backgrounds, and in particular it can be said that he ‘transcends and includes’ the thought forms of the postmodern era. (though he stresses that his main sources, i.e. Foucault, Deleuze and Guattari, explicitely rejected the label of postmodernism and argued against it)
  • Negri differs in many respects from the neoconservative Wilberian synthesis:
  • Wilber's has become system-confirming, Negri is system-critical. His theorizing is explicitely aimed at changing the world. Wilber is very dismissive of the current agents of change such as the alterglobalisation movement.
  • Wilber sees the agent of change to be a spiritual elite, who through meditative practices changes their worldview (state of consciousness), and can eventually change things through critical mass, something that will take many generations. But at the apex of his ‘sociogenesis follows psychogenesis’ hypothesis, he choses as exemplars notorious spiritual abusers such as Da Free John and Andrew Cohen.: Negri sees as the agent of change the multitudes, the worldwide community of producers, especially (but not exclusively) the new knowledge workers
  • Wilber focuses on individual change; Negri focuses on collective change; Wilber sympathies are for the individual search, the spiritual loner engaged in meditation; Negri expresses sympathies for engaged spirituality and the Catholic left.

In conclusion, though Negri is not a formal ‘integral’ author (he is not familiar with the tradition), his work exemplifies many, but not all, integral aspects. But he is certainly more advanced in terms of a relational and critical ‘integral theory’ than Wilber himself.

Comparing Negri to Bhaskar; while the latter is clearly open to the transcendent, and sees it as a key part of this theory, including an integration of the non-dual (similar to Wilber in that respect), Negri is on the contrary a pure immanentist. There is clearly a dimension lacking in his thought.

But unlike Bhaskar, Negri seems to have developed a whole conceptual apparatus which is very useful to understand the emergence of peer to peer, namely concepts like the multitude(s), individuals as singularities, the principle of non-representationality in politics and social life, and concrete attention to the new peer-based organizational formats, such as the coordination format. Whereas it seems that Bhaskar field of struggle and creation is science and philosophy, fighting an essentially epistemological battle, Negri and his followers are more embedded in concrete social struggles of contemporary social movements.

The Intersubjective Relational Typology of Alan Page Fiske

However, despite all of the above, and the general usefulness of integral theories as an approach to understanding the emergence of peer to peer, I have found them to be less useful, in a direct concrete manner, as the models of intersubjectivity presented by Alan Page Fiske, discussed in his major work ‘The Structure of Social Life’. Here we have a stratification of intersubjectivity that is immediately useful in categorizing peer to peer, which satisfies Bhaskar's criterion of categorical realism.

Since modes of production are embedded in intersubjective relations, i.e. they are characterized by particular combinations of them, this will give the necessary framework to distinguish P2P.

According to Fiske, there are four basic types of intersubjective dynamics, valid across time and space, in his own words:

“People use just four fundamental models for organizing most aspects of sociality most of the time in all cultures . These models are Communal Sharing, Authority Ranking, Equality Matching, and Market Pricing.

Communal Sharing (CS) is a relationship in which people treat some dyad or group as equivalent and undifferentiated with respect to the social domain in question. Examples are people using a commons (CS with respect to utilisation of the particular resource), people intensely in love (CS with respect to their social selves), people who "ask not for whom the bell tolls, for it tolls for thee" (CS with respect to shared suffering and common well-being), or people who kill any member of an enemy group indiscriminately in retaliation for an attack (CS with respect to collective responsibility).

In Authority Ranking (AR) people have asymmetric positions in a linear hierarchy in which subordinates defer, respect, and (perhaps) obey, while superiors take precedence and take pastoral responsibility for subordinates. Examples are military hierarchies (AR in decisions, control, and many other matters), ancestor worship (AR in offerings of filial piety and expectations of protection and enforcement of norms), monotheistic religious moralities (AR for the definition of right and wrong by commandments or will of God), social status systems such as class or ethnic rankings (AR with respect to social value of identities), and rankings such as sports team standings (AR with respect to prestige). AR relationships are based on perceptions of legitimate asymmetries, not coercive power; they are not inherently exploitative (although they may involve power or cause harm).

In Equality Matching relationships people keep track of the balance or difference among participants and know what would be required to restore balance. Common manifestations are turn-taking, one-person one-vote elections, equal share distributions, and vengeance based on an-eye-for-an-eye, a-tooth-for-a-tooth. Examples include sports and games (EM with respect to the rules, procedures, equipment and terrain), baby-sitting coops (EM with respect to the exchange of child care), and restitution in-kind (EM with respect to righting a wrong).

Market Pricing relationships are oriented to socially meaningful ratios or rates such as prices, wages, interest, rents, tithes, or cost-benefit analyses. Money need not be the medium, and MP relationships need not be selfish, competitive, maximizing, or materialistic—any of the four models may exhibit any of these features. MP relationships are not necessarily individualistic; a family may be the CS or AR unit running a business that operates in an MP mode with respect to other enterprises. Examples are property that can be bought, sold, or treated as investment capital (land or objects as MP), marriages organized contractually or implicitly in terms of costs and benefits to the partners, prostitution (sex as MP), bureaucratic cost-effectiveness standards (resource allocation as MP), utilitarian judgments about the greatest good for the greatest number, or standards of equity in judging entitlements in proportion to contributions (two forms of morality as MP), considerations of "spending time" efficiently, and estimates of expected kill ratios (aggression as MP)." (source: Fiske website)

Every type of society or civilisational is a mixture of these four modes, but it can plausibly be argued that one mode is dominant, and imprints the other subservient modes. Historically, the first dominant mode was kinship or lineage based reciprocity, the so-call tribal gift economies. The key relational aspect was ‘belonging’. Gifts created obligations and relations beyond the next of kin, creating a wider field of exchange. Agricultural or feudal-type societies were dominated by Authority Ranking, i.e. they were based on allegiance. Finally, it is not difficult to see that the capitalist economy is dominated by Market Pricing, which is the dominant mode today. In the third part of our essay, we will try to demonstrate that peer to peer is a contemporary expression of what Fiske calls ‘Communal Shareholding’."

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