Integral Manifesto Pt III(2): Integral Politics? / Integral Reality Framework: A Topology of Worldspaces

Books Discussed in this Section

Steve McIntosh (2007) Integral Consciousness and the Future of Evolution,  Continuum Books.

Neil Brenner (2001)  The limits to scale?  Methodological reflections on scalar structuration, Progress in Human Geography 25, 4 pp. 591-614 / retrieved from

What McIntosh is most proud of in his book, is his three-fold contribution to theory: 1) the contours of the integral reality framework, 2) the importance of the spiral of development, and 3) the evolutionary imperative of global governance.  Taking the best of his ideas together, amounts to an interesting hypothesis of worldspaces and their scalar relations– in other words, a topology of worldspaces. Although he has contributed some variations on original integral ideas, his work remains close to the foundational framework of “mainstream” integral, and so I propose to evaluate some of his tenets and the presmises of “mainstream” integral theory — as the fundamental “topology” of mainstream integral theory. In turn, this topology might be considered a geography of worldspaces derived from two fundamental assumptions about scalar relations: 1) that units are related exclusively in a transcend and include manner with lesser parts giving rise to greater wholes and systems comprised of nested sets or holons; and 2) that these holons (scalar units) scale along an evolutionary trajectory according to a pre-ordinate teleology. The IHDP paper on scalar relatins and human development identifies the relations in this sort of typology as a “constitutively inclusive nested hierarchy.” Indeed, the very concept of  holon  signifies exactly this: a unit in  a constitutively inclusive nested hierarchy. One can easily impose a teleological imperative onto a typology such as this, but doing so offers no proof that our assumptions about the categories, units, and relationships of scale are driven by that teleological imperative. Given some logical analysis, it is easy to see that without the prior assumption of scale, the conclusion is not derivable; but with the prior assumptions, the conclusion seems inevitable. In other words, once we step into the integral reality framework, there is no real debate about the “actual” consequences we “see” from evolution– the premises fall neatly into their conclusions.

However, when we are dealing with a topology of worldspaces, we are dealing with functioning socio-spatial processes that themselves are constructs of the individuals who themselves are responsible for the continual maintenance of as well as transformation of the internal relations of their scalar framework. Integral topology, as McIntosh conceives it, depends solely on an external absolutist framework (transcend and include hierarchies), and therefore relationships internal to that framework are considered to be static, pregiven or fixed. This may or may not be a satisfactory framework for describing “reality”, but with respect to living systems and human action in particular, involving subjects and agents who simltaneously act out, act through, and act on the relations of their inconnections, integral topology as it currently stands lacks the capacity to capture all the richness and depth of sociospatial process which scale internally and qualitatively as well. Re-quoting from Brenner’s IHDP working paper:

Processes of scalar structuration do not produce a single nested scalar hierarchy, an absolute pyramid of neatly interlocking scales, but are better understood as a mosaic of unevenly superimposed and densely interlayered scalar geometries. For, as Allan, Massey and Cochrane indicate, ‘… different kinds of social process have very different geographies and they do not all fit neatly into the same set of nested hierarchies.

A critique as severe as this might suggest that integral geography should be abandoned altogether. However, we can improve on the basic cartography that iSD lays out through a more sensitive and sensible approach. FOrst this requires us to be sensitive to the idea that the new geography is a dynamic sociospatial process, and we must view participants as true actors inside this sociospatial procss that simultaneously constitutes the “units” of the map as well as its morphogenetic field– a field that is always in the process of shaping and mapping. Secondly, our analysis of sociospatial space must include those very values we espouse that must be internal to the syste. This is problematic for McIntosh who espouses the values of non-ethnocentricity, democracy, and natural evolution, but whose analytic method systematically builds up a governance system based on exclusion, autocracy, and programmable approaches to the spiral of development. If our analysis is to be valid according to our values (rather than merely according to onto-theo-logics in service to our rational(ego)-centric cravings), we will derive a governance which enacts those very values we espouse, namely, a governance that is inclusive and open, participatory and representational, and based on a truly non-judgmental interpretation of the course of evolution. Thirdly, an integral geography of sociospatial dynamics, must finally come to terms with the difference between evolutoin based on the Darwinian model, and evolution confused with developmental models (as is the case with spiral dynamic’s base- the work of Clare Graves). Developmental models are predicated on an enduring individual as an entity of being that does not get replaced through successive stages of development. As cultures develop, as the human species develops sociospatially– there is no single enduring entity that pertains over time.  Furthermore, it is a stretch of the imgination to consider that social, technological and cultural development within human groups proceeds through the same dynamics as speciation in the Darwinian sense — since even if one day the reproductive patterns of humans are constrained by sociospatial distance, it is far from clear that “developmentally fixed” discrete structures would result. Even if we presume to conflate the terms — individual development on the one hand, and evolutionary speciation on the other– the dynamics are not the same. In fact, one might argue that the dynamics proceed in opposite directions — toward preservation of form through change in the case of development; and toward emergence of novel forms across system dynamics, in the case of evolution.

One might consider the vMemes of Spiral Dynamics not as structural stages of development nor as evolutionary forms, but as unique constellations– subsystems as it were, within the totality of human action , arising as particular variants of geo-social space, technological innovation, and economic systems.

These subordinate systems are not to be considered part of an evolutionary or developmental trjectory that enfolds prior forms into more recent forms, or that enfolds parts within a greater whole. Rather, they should be considered as co-creative partners, enacting human action — participatory agents in hte larger, ecological whole or holistic generative process of human action, whose essential dynamic is exactly this: to enfold (geo)social, cultural and technological relationships into robust (with respect to coherence and endurance) and resilience (with respect to novelty and change) units in response to internal and external adaptive processes of transformation. These three aspects of an integral sociospatial geography– subjects-as-actors, co-creating values, evolution and enfoldment– are considered in the next sections.