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INTEGRAL WORLD: EXPLORING THEORIES OF EVERYTHING
An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber
Publication dates of essays (month/year) can be found under "Essays".
Part I: Wilber's Flatland | Part II: Piaget, Vygotsky, Harre | Part III: Cooley, Mead
Mark Edwards has an M.Psych in Developmental Psychology and a PhD in organisation theory from the University of Western Australia. He now works at Jönköping University in Sweden where he teaches and researches in the area of sustainability and ethics. Before becoming an academic he worked with people with disabilities for twenty years. He is the author of Organizational Transformation for Sustainability: An Integral Metatheory
of the Exteriors
Piaget, Vygotsky, Harre
and the Social Mediation of Development
"Der Mensch erkennt sich nur im Menschen, nur Das Leben lehret jedem was er sei." (A person knows herself only through others; only life teaches each what she is) (Goethe, Tasso, act 2, sc. 3.)
Man's activity is the substance of his consciousness. (Leontiev, 1977, p.18)
For Cooley the mind is not first individual and then social. The mind itself in the individual arises through communication. (George Herbert Mead, 1930)
For Vygotsky, development does not happen to us from the inside, from the outside, or from any combination of inside and outside. He rejected the inside-outside dichotomy that has been a part of psychology since its beginnings. He also rejected the linear conception of progress and dynamic conception of process necessary to explain the 'relationship' between inside and outside. He gave us a radically new conception of growth and psychological change, one based in Marx's dialectical conception of revolutionary activity. (Newman & Holzman, 1993)
In the first part of this series I presented Ken Wilber's view that all exteriors are "material" and that all exterior development is the layered complexification of matter in sensori-motor space. Ken sees the Right Hand exterior quadrants of behavioural and social development as a Flatland of "surfaces" that can be "registered with the senses" and which is "all empiricism, all monological gaze, all behaviourism, all shiny surfaces and monochrome objects" and which contain "no depth". As Ken puts it, "the Right-Hand quadrants are all material". By way of summary I present again Wilber's diagrammatic representation of the exteriors.
In the sections that follow I investigate some alternative views of the behavioural and social exteriors. Views that, while recognising the reality of interiors and subjective consciousness, nonetheless provide very different understandings of the Right Hand quadrants and the part that they play in human development.
In contrast to Wilber's interpretation of the Right Hand quadrants, I propose that a truly Integral understanding of the exteriors recognises their qualitative depth, their causal and developmental equivalence to the interiors, and their richness and profundity in terms of unfolding ontological complexity. I am arguing that, in a more balanced statement of Integral Theory, the Right Hand is not a Flatland any more than the Left Hand is. We not only need to include all quadrants in the explanation of human behaviour but we nee to have a valid understanding of what each of those quadrants represents and how they relate to each other. I am suggesting that Ken sometimes misinterprets the developmental relationship between the interior and the exterior quadrants and that he has neglected several very important schools of developmental thought that focus on exterior aspects of evolution and personal growth. This second part of the series will take a look at some of these schools, and in particular the sociological tradition of Cooley and Mead, the cultural-historical tradition of Vygotskian developmental studies and the Activity Theory approach to human development.
Figure 1: Wilber's view of the interiors and exteriors:
The exterior levels are material correlates of interior developmental transformations (after Wilber, 2000)
Before looking at these exterior approaches I want to first give some background on the blind spots in Wilber's understanding of exterior development. In particular I want consider the place of Piaget in his ideas and the neglect of the Vygotskian tradition of human development.
Wilber and Piaget
In the introduction to the revised edition of "Sex, Ecology, Spirituality" (Collected Works Volume Six), Wilber mentions that one of the major criticisms of the original edition related to his extensive use of the ideas of that great pioneer of cognitive development, Jean Piaget. It seems that some post-modern critics felt that Wilber, "used Piaget as the basis for [his] entire model of psychological development". I don't agree with this view at all. Ken is well aware of the extensive criticism of Piaget's theories and particularly that of the post-formal school of theorists who have significantly extended and improved on Piaget's original formulations. Ken has also incorporated the ideas of many other major schools and traditions of developmental psychology, spirituality, and philosophy into his theoretical framework. Although he often uses Piaget's model as a shorthand way of introducing or summarising part of the AQAL model, Wilber has certainly not based his "entire model" on Piagetian approaches. The use of Piaget as a way of introducing a stage-based model of human development is quite appropriate given some of the similarities that the Piagetian and the Wilberian model share.
Wilber also recognises the important place that Piaget holds in the area of practical epistemology. No previous researcher did as much as Piaget to empirically investigate the development of knowledge in the formative years of human growth (Beard, 1969). Other eminent developmental researchers such as Lawrence Kohlberg, Carol Gilligan, Giselle Lebouvie-Fief, Karmilov-Smith, Michael Commons, the post-formal developmentalists and neo-Piagetians all owe much to Piaget's groundbreaking work. To a very significant degree Piaget set the standard by which individual development has been investigated and largely conceived. Given these considerations, his frequent use and incorporation of many Piagetian concepts into his Integral Theory model is valid and to be expected.
I also don't agree with the post-modern critic that Piaget's model is a flawed form of universalism. There are certainly some culturally dependent aspects of his chronology of stages and greater flexibility in some of his propositions on the "genetics" of his operational structures. But in general, as Wilber has argued, the Piagetian notion of stage development in cognition has held firm in a variety of cross-cultural settings.
So, to my thinking Wilber is right to place great importance on Piaget's model and to incorporate many of its key findings into the Integral framework. However, there is another and very different aspect of Wilber's use of Piaget's theory that is, for me, problematic. This aspect has never been raised previously (except in some of my scribblings on the Visser site) and relates directly to the issue of how exteriors and interiors are currently represented in Integral Theory. This problematic issue is not that Wilber uses Piagetian ideas extensively to both summarise and inform his views on development, it's that he never refers to that school of human development that poses the major theoretical alternative to Piaget, the neo-Piagetians and all developmental theorists who take an constructivist and individualist approach to development. That school was founded by the other great developmental psychologist of the early twentieth century Lev Vygotsky.
Before looking at this issue in more detail I want to make it clear that it is overly simplistic to propose that Piaget takes an interior and individualist approach to human development, just as it is to say that Vygotsky takes a exterior and collectivist approach. Both of these great pioneers recognised the complementary nature of cognition and social context. That being said there is no doubt that the two saw development in different terms. Piaget saw it to be the result of maturational processes that impact on our capacity to know, understand and imagine. Vygotsky saw development much more as the result of socio-historical mediation of meaning from social context to personal realisation. As Vygotsky's oft quoted statement of the "genetic law" puts it.
"Any function in the child's cultural development appears twice, or on two planes. First it appears between people as an inter-psychological category, and then within the child as an intra-psychological category. This is equally true with regard to voluntary attention, logical memory, the formation of concepts and the development of volition. We may consider this position as a law in the full sense of the word." (Vygotsky cited in Wertsch 1985, p.61)
Both Vygotsky and Piaget knew that development is complex, that it involves the inside and the outside of existence and that it requires both individual transformation and collective emergence. But when one reads the works of these two theorists one can't help but be struck by the very different explanatory orientations that they each had in their research and their theoretical propositions. The point that concerns me here is that while Ken has incorporated the Piagetian approach into his model, he hasn't fully accommodated within the integral framework the insights from the Vygotskian tradition of developmental studies. This oversight impacts considerably on the way Integral Theory is currently used to treat the exterior aspects of topics such as politics, ecology, community development, education and spiritual development.
Piaget and Vygotsky
Vygotsky and Piaget were both born in the year 1896. Piaget was a child prodigy and had a great interest as a child in biology and his first published papers were on the biology of molluscs! Piaget's doctorate was done in the area of natural science. Vygotsky was also recognised early on as a gifted student but his early studies focused on literature and philosophy. His doctorate was in law. I find it quite interesting that Wilber, quite rightfully, affirms Piaget as one of the great "structuralists of the interior" when Piaget came from, and always saw himself, in the tradition of empirical observation, measurement and scientific rigour. Piaget's view on method was essentially empirical. He said that, "the progress of knowledge is the work of an inseparable union between experiment and deduction" (1972, p. 62). In contrast to Piaget's background, Vygotsky immersed himself in the study of the humanities and the arts from a very early age. In school and university he was a connoisseur of poetry and philosophy, and wrote his first major works on Hamlet, the study of consciousness and the psychology of art. So we have Piaget, the great "structuralist of the interior", coming from a observational and empirical base and, Vygotsky, the social theorist of the exteriors coming from a dialogical interpretive background.
Piaget has often been characterised as proposing a model of development that works for the "inside out" and Vygotsky a model that operates from "the outside in". While this view is more of a caricature than a true summary of the two theories, obviously Piaget was more individualist and cognitivist in his understanding of human development while Vygotsky was very much more social and activity focused. Although both Vygotsky and Piaget are regarded as seminal figures in the history of contemporary developmental psychology, there is no mention at all of Vygotsky or his colleagues in any of Wilber's writings (this will not be the last time I point out this quite unbelievable fact speaking as I am from the viewpoint of a developmental psychologist). This is really quite astounding given that Vygotsky is one of the great developmental psychologists of the 20th century and that he founded one of the most important schools of developmental studies of modern times. So, why this resounding silence on one of the world's greatest developmental psychologists and on the various schools of development that have sprung up in his wake? Well, it's probably just an oversight. But this omission leaves a considerable hole in Integral Theory's understanding of the exteriors and the part they play in development. At the very least it leaves the model very much reliant on Piagetian developmental principles and somewhat neglectful of cultural-historical ones.
Ken Wilber has always regarded the cognitive development model of Jean Piaget's as the pre-eminent example of human development. He regards Piaget's system as "one of a handful of truly great contributions to psychology (and philosophy and religion)", (1995, p.209). Wilber rightfully recognises Piaget's research studies as, "pivotal" and as, "a stunning accomplishment, certainly one of the most significant psychological investigations of this century". Although Wilber does not endorse all of Piaget's theoretical constructs, it is clear that he has fully incorporated several core aspects of Piaget's genetic epistemology. These include, i) Integral theory's conception of structural levels, stages or waves of development, ii) the description of those basic structures at least up to, and including, normative development, iii) ideas such as assimilation (translation), accommodation (transformation) and equilibrium (non-equivalent integration), and, iv) Integral theory's focus on the interior of the individual as the structural genesis and source of transformation in development. Each of these aspects of development has seen it's fair share of debate over the years, and Wilber has often considered the evidence concerning the first points. It is the third issue, that of the role of interiors and exteriors, of individuals and collectives, of development and learning that I will focus on in the following.
The importance that Wilber places on the Piagetian model of growth can be seen from the fact that its basic elements are described and referenced in every one of Wilber's major books on human growth starting with, "The Spectrum of Consciousness" in 1976 and continuing through every major book up to and including "Boomeritis" in 2002. There are literally hundreds of references in Wilber's books to the works of Piaget and many pages of discussions about his theoretical concepts and the cross-cultural evidence that supports them. Ken sees Piaget as "the first constructivist developmental view of the world" (Excerpt D, ¶ 233) and as "the first great evolutionary or developmental structuralist" (Excerpt D, ¶ 231). In addition, particularly since 1995, there is the substantial presence and influence of the post-Piagetian and post-formal reasoning theorists in Wilber's writings. When these are added to the volume of direct references, one can begin to see the significance importance of Piagetian and neo-Piagetian ideas for the explication of Wilber's Integral philosophy.
My objective in pointing this out is not to call into question Piaget's genius or contribution to developmental studies, or to be critical of Wilber's treatment and application of Piagetian ideas. I simply wish to draw attention to the importance that Wilber places on western European and American models of development, as exemplified in the Piagetian approach. A traditions that sees development generated by the active engagement of individuals and which results in interior structural transformations. Of course, Piaget is not the only developmental theorist who takes this perspective in the explanation of human growth. That development is the result of the rearrangement of internal schemas, moralities, cognitive structures, and mental capacities is a view that is shared by many theorists and is an assumptions that underpin most of the theories that come under the banner of developmental psychology. Freud, Loevinger, Kohlberg, Mahler, Graves, Kegan, Commons, Alexander and many other major figures in developmental psychology also belong to this tradition. But there are other traditions that no not come from this individualist-interiorist-constructivist perspective and these schools of human development do not hold these assumptions about the source of developmental change. More to the point, the distinctive viewpoints of these alternative models have, unfortunately, not been fully integrated within the set of explanatory principles that Integral Theory draws on. In contrast to the prominence in Wilber's writing granted to Piaget and co, there is a relatiove lack of reference to, and application of models that take an exterior-centric perspective. These include the very well-known and well-researched cultural-historical and activity theory (CHAT) approaches.
The CHAT models of human development have been active in Russia and Europe for at least 50 years and in America since the 1970's, however, their most eminent theorist, Lev Vygotsky, is not referenced in any of Wilber's writings. This omission is not because Vygotsky is some minor player in the developmental field. On the contrary, he is recognised as one of the most important and influential of all developmental theorists. In recent decades the developmental ideas of Lev Vygotsky have initiated a renewed interest in the West in socio-cultural and activity-oriented theories of individual and collective development. Indeed, Vygotsky's cultural-historical theory is currently regarded by many as one of the most widely applied all developmental models (although Vygotsky died in 1934, his major works have only been available in English since the 1960's). Vygotsky is one of the most influential developmental theorists in educational psychology and neo-Vygotskian ideas are very prominent in fields as diverse as situational learning, social theories of development, the psychology of art, the social construction of knowledge, and language acquisition (Wertsch, del Rio & Alvarez, 1995).
Given that the neo-Vygotskian school is one of the major approaches in developmental psychology of contemporary times, it's theorems and propositions and findings must be considered by and, where necessary, integrated within the Integral Theory framework. This task is crucial for the ongoing development of Integral Theory and will undoubtedly open up valuable new methodologies and insights for the theory as a whole. It may even mean that some aspects of the current understanding of Integral Theory will need to be revised. I, for one, believe that this will be the case. For example, as I pointed out in the first part of this series of essays, Integral Theory's current understanding of the exteriors quadrants is significantly flawed and Vygotskian ideas have much to offer in this area. Yet, as I mentioned earlier, there are no references at all to Vygotsky's large and important body of work on human development in any of Wilber's works. Any conceptual model that claims to be integrative and based on a systematic examination of all major developmental approaches must include the Vygotskian perspective or else fall far short of those goals. In the following I hope to take some initial steps in pointing out the additional explanatory value that the exterior-focused approaches, such as Vygotskian cultural-historical approaches, hold for Integral theory.
Although his influence seems to be on the wane, Piaget will remain a very important theorist on the developmental landscape and it will always be valid for writers on human development to use his constructs as a basis for posing further ideas. But in many ways the Piagetian model of staged growth through endogenous structural transformation is losing it's scientific and philosophical credibility (Morss, 1990, 1993). Some writers within the social therapy movement (Newman & Holzman1996) point out that Piagetian theory is,
sinking into oblivion under the contemporary onslaught from two different (and opposed) forces: the post-Piagetian "infant as genius" movement, and the postmodern, social-constructionist and Vygotsky-influenced activity-theoretic movement(s). (Newman& Holzman, 1996, p.45)
While I don't believe that Piaget will ever "sink into oblivion" I do believe that the Vygotskian alternative are creating much more powerful explanatory frameworks for understanding developmental issues.
As to the theoretical differences between the two, it is not so much that Piaget looks to the interior to explain development while Vygotsky looks to the exteriors. It is much more that Piaget situates developmental processes within the bio-psycho-social realm of active individuals rather than recognising the prior place of cultural mediation, social agency and collective enculturation that so informs the Vygotskian approach. Once again, Newman and Holzman make the point very clearly that,
Piaget's ontology is as much individuated as Freud's, and he has contributed just as significantly to the construction of the autonomous, individuated subject. Both presuppose an inner-outer duality and the primacy of the biological as structurally and ontogenetically prior. Freud's individuated subject is in constant conflict with the impinging "outside" (social world); this is the source of the individual personality. Piaget's individuated subject "assimilates" what is "outside"; this is the source of the individual knower. Piaget's active child is only instrumentally active. That is, the child's interaction with physical objects in the environment is a means to an end--it stimulates internal mental schema. The development of intelligence is, for Piaget, the development of knowing.
In the end, Piaget's view of development is that of the internal maturation of individually located organising structures. As he puts it,
"Actions, whether individual or interpersonal, are in essence co-ordinated and organized by the operational structures which are spontaneously constructed in the course of mental development." (Piaget, 1962)
I do not want to differentiate between Vygotsky and Piaget purely in terms of a interior/individual-exterior/social locus of cognitive development. It is not true that Piaget saw development simply in terms of individual children constructing knowledge through their actions on the inanimate world. Neither is it true that Vygotsky saw all development as the result of social factors. What really separates the two is that Vygotsky saw all higher development, i.e. non-biological, as mediated through cultural artefacts and through the "accumulated products of prior generations". The following diagram attempts to show this distinction in graphic terms.
This really means that Vygotsky recognised the developmental depth of the exteriors in a way that Piaget did not. I believe that the idea of cultural mediation, as the CHAT theories see it, is only possible when the social world of behaviour, social roles, institutions, technology, communication systems, workplaces and social environments is regarded as a world of developmental depth and not as a material Flatland as it is currently portrayed in Integral Theory. Vygotsky's mediational picture of development is far more dynamic and cognizant of developmental exteriors than Piaget's constructionist model. The following diagram tries to capture this developmental dynamism.
The AQAL model of quadrants and stages lacks a dynamic that connects the development of the individual with the collective and the Left Hand with the Right hand quadrants (which are topics covered in depth in my "through AQAL Eyes" series). The Vygotskian notion of social mediation seems to me to be a starting point in the identification of this connection. Integral Theory's principle of non-exclusion requires that the valid truths and authentic insights of each knowledge quest be recognised and incorporated into its explanatory framework. I am proposing here that one of the major schools of the developmental sciences has not been adequately treated in Integral Theory to this point and that this will need rectification if it is to remain true to this principle of non-exclusion. I suggest that these additional and complementary Vygotskian and neo-Vygotskian ideas can provide significant and novel contributions to the exposition of Integral developmental theory and I seen no reason why the cultural-historical approach cannot be integrated into the broader developmental framework of Integral Theory.
Commonalities and contrasts
Let's look at some of the commonalities and contrast between Vygotsky's cultural-historical perspective and Wilber's AQAL model. First, I want to state that I believe that Wilber's Integral theory is probably the most comprehensive attempt to collate and integrate all the world's major knowledge traditions and understandings of reality. Perhaps the most important conceptual extension of Wilber's basic developmental approach occurred in 1995 with the publishing of his wide-ranging work, "Sex, Ecology, and Spirituality". This work proposed a massive expansion of Wilber's structural model of development to include behavioural, cultural and social domains of evolutionary growth. However, as I have pointed out several times (1999, 2000, 2001), the collective perspectives in Wilber's writings remains curiously underdeveloped, especially given the potential of the more collectively oriented quadrant model. On top of this, some aspects of the model, for example its epistemological principles and developmental logics, have not subsequently been updated to include broader socio-cultural perspectives.
The lack of reference to truly collective approaches to development is nowhere more evident than in absence of Vygotskian concepts from the Integral explanatory framework. This absence is puzzling given the many commonalities that exist between the Wilber and Vygotsky and given the potential that Vygotskian perspectives have for fleshing out Wilber's recent addition of a more socio-cultural understanding of development (Wilber, 1995). In fact, Vygotskian ideas have the potential to inform Wilber's treatment of the social dynamics of individual and collective growth in much that same way that Piagetian ideas have informed his stage description of individual development and the dynamics of cognitive growth.
There are many common intellectual links between Vygotsky and Wilber. Vygotsky was, from a very early age, attracted to the ideas of Hegel and the German idealists and, similar to Wilber, he repeatedly applied Hegel's dialectical process of transformation throughout his writings. Vygotsky shares other formative influences with Wilber. He maintained throughout his life a deep appreciation for the writings of Sigmund Freud and the psychoanalytic school. Vygotsky was, from the very first, extremely interested in consciousness and interior experience. Like Wilber, he was fascinated with James' "Varieties of Religious Experience" and, although he worked during a time that was heavily influenced by physiological and behavioural psychology, he was always avidly anti-reductionist in his approach to behaviour. Indeed, his first psychology papers were on the need for a scientific and non-reductive study of consciousness. At that time he stated, "consciousness is not to be viewed ... as a second line of phenomena. It is the problem of the structure of behaviour".
Vygotsky also shared Wilber's enthusiasm for grand theory building and he argued repeatedly for the forging of a comprehensive "general psychology" that, "should be a unified science with a single set of theoretical concepts and explanatory principles" (Van de Veer & Valsiner, 1991; pg.143). Van de Veer and Valsiner (1991) state that Vygotsky's main concerns in psychology were his "quest for synthesis" in understanding human development and the need for a non-reductive investigation of consciousness, both of which are clearly very prominent motivations for Wilber. Vygotsky's non-reductive psychology would attempt to explain higher mental processes in their own terms from both functional (objective reactological) and subjective (descriptive introspectionist) perspectives. Hence, he was aware of both gross and weak varieties of reductionism more than 50 years before Wilber had identified and warned against such tendencies.
Vygotsky displayed throughout his tragically brief career a great concern for a holistic and integrative understanding of higher level human abilities. He said that,
"Human activity is not a mechanical sum of unorganised skills but it is structurally captured and organised by dynamic, holistic strivings and interests".
As with Wilber, Vygotsky's integrative focus is most evident in his attempt to synthesise the many approaches to development and particularly to general theories of cultural and biological evolution. Of particular importance for Vygotsky were the evolutionary ideas of James Mark Baldwin. Van de Veer and Valsiner (1991, p. 193) claim that Baldwin's ideas were, in fact, fundamental to Vygotsky's establishing of the cultural-historical school of development. Vygotsky gained from Baldwin his emphasis on the unity of evolution and involution, the emergence of self out of the social dynamics, and the sociogenic origin of cognitive processes. Wilber himself has recently acknowledged Baldwin as "the most pivotal" of early pioneers of an integral approach and regards him to be the "first great developmental psychologist in modern history" (1999, p. 510). Little wonder then that Wilber and Vygotsky should both employ some common theoretical orientations and goals.
These shared formative influences and theoretical interests are quite striking. They provide a strong indication that there might be many benefits from attempting some integration of the ideas of these two great developmentalists. There are also, however, many contrasts that can be made between the Vygotskian and Wilberian models. These differences are similar to those that have already been briefly alluded to between Piaget and Vygotsky. But it might do to look more directly at the contrasting approaches of Wilber and Vygotsky. Let's look first at the higher functions of adult development. For Vygotsky, "All the higher functions originate as actual relations between human individuals" (1978 p. 57). For Wilber development comes as a result of increasing interiorisation. He says that "increasing growth and development always involve increasing internalization (or increasing interiorization)" (Wilber, 2000, p. 263). Moreover Wilber believes that this is true for "all schools of developmental psychology".
For Vygotsky, "the social dimension of consciousness is primary in time and in fact. The individual dimension of consciousness is derivative and secondary" (Vygotsky, 1979, p.30). For Wilber the individual and cultural dimensions of consciousness are primary and the social exteriors are derivative. The interior Left Hand domains determine and create the exterior Right Hand domains. He says, for example, that "increased technological depth [is] the product of increased cognitive depth" (Excerpt A, ¶ 130), that "concrete operational cognition ... produced horticultural technology" (Excerpt A, ¶ 139) and that, "the consciousness of the inventor ... clearly determined the base [Lower Right quadrant]" (Excerpt A, ¶ 140). Wilber sees social development as starting with the interior insight of individuals. Social change begins for Wilber in the Upper Left individual consciousness quadrant.
What generally happens is that a technological innovation begins in the mind of some creative individual (UL)--James Watt and the steam engine, for example. This novel idea is communicated to others through the inventor's verbal and cognitive behavior (UR), until a small group of individuals eventually understands the idea (LL). If the idea is compelling enough, it is eventually translated into concrete forms (e.g., the building of actual steam engines), which now become part of the socio-economic base (LR). (Excerpt A, ¶ 138)
I need not state that the CHAT theories of development take a completely different approach to social transformation. I am arguing here that Wilber sess the interior and individual domains as the generative domains of transformation. Of course he always includes all the quadrants in that transformation but attributes cause to the interiors of individuals. This is also true for his understanding of how relationships form and how the other is included into a culture. Take also his description of how the separate "I" becomes a "We" (the following is closely based on and extract from Excerpt C of Volume of the Kosmos Trilogy).
- "I" meet a strange, alien, or foreign holon and treat it like an "it" or instrumental object;
- then "I" advance to the understanding that this holon is a sentient being which therefore possesses a real interior, an "I" or proto-"I" (UL);
- "I" start to be perceived the alien not just as "it" but as a "you";
- "You" can be approached as a potential partner in mutual resonance, felt meaning, communication, or intersubjective exchange of one sort or another;
- If that resonance succeeds at any level, then this foreign "you" (or outside-interior) can become a "thou" which is part of the newly-disclosed "we" (or shared-inside-interiors; first-person plural [LL]);
- My "I" and the other "I" experience intersubjectivity as an extraordinary, amazing, mysterious "we".
This process is summarised by Wilber as the following relationships:
1) "I - It" => 2) "I - You" => 3) "I - Thou" => 4) "I We"
This example makes it clear that Vygotsky, in direct contrast to Wilber, always has the "I - We" as the initial point in all developmental processes. The "I It" relationship only comes about when all communication and attempts at connection fail completely or are deliberately manipulated for evil ends. For Wilber the first point is always "I It" and so the communicative process depends on the level of consciousness in the Upper Left quadrant of the initiating "I". This s because Wilber sees development as initiated in the consciousness quadrant. As he says in "The Atman Project" "meditation [an Upper Left process] is development". More recently, in his discussion of the agency of individuals, Ken makes it clear that he thinks developmental agency is a purely interior quality and that the interiors generate action and development. Here are some quotes that summarise his position.
Individual holons have something like a sensitive centre--a locus of prehension--or an individual subjectivity, agency, and intentionality. 221
Interiors cannot merely be reconstructed by exchange of exterior signs--that makes no sense whatsoever. The entire string of communicative signals, at whatever level--atoms to ants to apes--can only get started (and stopped) with interior resonance. (Excerpt C, ¶ 482)
Right-Hand holons, for example, have agency only in the exterior sense of mass-energy impacts and registrations (where they follow physical laws, habits, rules, and regulations, including those of physical causality) (Excerpt C, ¶ 387)
Ken's understanding of the exterior Lower Right quadrant is that it provides the "material base" for all the "superstructure" development that lies in the Interior Lower Left. The agency of the LR is that of "mass-energy impacts" while that of the LL is driven by the intersections of the interior consciousness of like-minded individuals. It might be said that, although Wilber, through his AQAL model, has set up the potential for a balanced view on the relationship between the interiors and the exteriors in development, that potential has not yet been reached. I believe that it is only with the integration of cultural-historical approach that Integral Theory will reach its full potential to describe a comprehensive model of development. The exterior quadrants posses creative and generative agency just as the interiors do and no explanation of development is complete without both.
Ken's orientation still lies very much within the Piagetian constructivist tradition where development is the result of the structural operations within the individual. Vygotsky's view is very different and the idea of mental functioning that Vygotsky employs differs greatly from that of most Western psychologies. Instead of beginning with the assumption that mental functioning occurs within the individual it begins with the concept that mental processes occur primarily between people in their verbal and communicative behaviour and that these processes are only secondarily appropriated by individuals. As Cole puts it, Vygotsky assumes that mind is "distributed" throughout a collective rather within separated individuals.
Vygotsky's approach to development was very much a transformative approach. he clearly shared a view that development was an unfolding process towards more integrative capacities. As he himself says,
"the comparison of different social institutions of different societies ... [can] establish sequences of historical development and differences in functional social structures that foster higher mental processes (Vygotsky, cited in Wozniak, p.16)
Vygotsky was very much a developmentalist in the classic sense that he recognised sequences or stages of qualitative unfolding. In this he was no different to Piaget and Wilber. He also saw the connecting processes that linked these stages.
One process of development paves the way for the following and is transferred and crosses over to a new type of development. We do not think it possible to place all processes (ontogenetic, phylogenetic and social-historical) along a single continuum. Rather we propose that each higher level of development begins where the preceding one finishes and serves as a continuation in a new direction. This change in direction and in mechanism of development by no means precludes the possibility of a connection between one process and another. Indeed it presupposes such a connection. (Wertsch (1985, p.29)
The difference is that Vygotsky is seeing these stages and "higher levels" in what Wilber regards as a material, sensori-motor flatland of rocks and trees and technological systems. Where Wilber sees only the flatland of material networks, Vygotsky sees the developmental source of all levels. What Wilber regards to be sensori-motor surfaces in monological interaction Vygotsky regards social behaviours in overt communication.
Perhaps the ultimate statement of the difference I am trying point out here is that while Wilber sees society and culture as the result of the four quadrant development of individuals, for Vygotsky, "it is through others that we develop into ourselves" (Vygotsky, 1981, p. 181). Integral Theory needs both of these views. At the moment the Vygotskian understanding of development is seriously absent from Integral discussions. Just read the following quote from Vygotsky and see how different the view is to that of the current Integral models such as those of Wilber and Beck.
"It is necessary that everything internal in higher [mental functions] was external, that is, for others it was what it now is for oneself. Any higher mental function necessarily goes through an external stage in its development because it is initially a social function. When we speak of a process, "external" means "social". Any higher function was first external because it was social at some point before becoming an internal, truly mental function." (Vygotsky cited in Wertsch 1985, p.62)
Notice here that Vygotsky says that "external means social". The exterior for Vygotsky is not the sensori-motor realm of rocks and flatland systems it is the developmental territory that is the rich and deep source of all interior consciousness. This is why the tools of those exteriors were so important to Vygotsky. The Vygotskian understanding of the cultural artefact is vastly different to that of Wilber's. For Vygotsky developmental transformation comes about through the enabling mediation of psychological tolls or artefacts such as language, number and writing systems. These "tools" are essential elements in the development of consciousness.
"In growing up within linguistically structures and sustained relationships the child begins to perceive the world not only through its eyes but also through its speech. And later it is not just seeing but acting that is informed by words." (Vygotsky 1978, p.32)
While the central fact of the Wilberian version of Integral Psychology is the human experience for Vygotsky it is the communicative mediational event. As Vygotsky says, "The central fact of our psychology is the fact of mediation", (Vygotsky 1982 p. 166). Wilber looks at a stone axe and sees the material result of interior human consciousness. A Vygotskian looks at a stone axe and sees something that can change human cultural identity.
I want to stress again that I do not see Wilber's approach and that of Vygotsky to be in opposition to each other. I see them as complementary. Wilber has not yet understood the mediational and developmental nature of the exteriors as Vygotsky has really shown them to be. With the development of the AQAL framework Wilber has created a structure within Integral Theory that can accommodate Vygotskian concepts, but he is yet to fully utilise the Vygotskian perspective because of his reliance on the Western developmental schools of Piaget, Loevinger, etc. and the Eastern developmental schools of Vedanta and Buddhism. Both the Piagetian and the Vedantic schools share an assumption that development occurs individually and within the interior before it appears anywhere else. Vygotsky has shown us that this is simply not a full explanation of the facts. Vygotsky fully recognises the existence and role of the interiors in transformation but he also points to something much larger than that view. This new cultural-historical perspective is also not simple behaviourism. Vygotsky was not a behaviourist. As I mentioned previously his initial interests were all very much to do with the interiors and with consciousness.
In 1925 Vygotsky wrote a seminal paper on the study of consciousness. He stressed in that article that the need to avoid on the one hand "vulgar behaviourism" and on the other "the subjectivistic understanding of mental phenomena as internal states that are accessible only through introspection". Vygotsky argued strongly that it was possible to study consciousness through the "objectifying observable organisation of behaviour". He also regarded consciousness as organised on a hierarchical basis in which (Vygotsky cited in Wertsch 1985, p.189),
"components of consciousness at one level of description become sub-component of more inclusive components at the next higher level".
He believed that the study of each of these components must be carried out within the context of the overall structure and that they could not be scientifically examined outside of this larger hierarchical context. This had implications for his ideas on method. Vygotsky had the strong opinion that psychology must adopt units of analysis that retain the basic properties of the whole. This is why he focused on the mediating activity as the major focus for research method. It is in the mediated activity that we see external social-cultural, behavioural and environmental factors integrated with internal mental, psychological and cognitive factors. Integral Theory has not yet understood or dealt adequately with this concept of mediation and the vital role it plays in development.
Vygotskian concepts that can be utilized within Integral theory
I have briefly mentioned that the concept of mediation could add considerably to the Integral Theory view of development. I'll mention a few ways in which this central concept and a few others might do that.
1. The primacy of cultural mediation: Vygotsky via Hegel and Marx asserts that there is an intimate connection between the human habitats and the defining qualities of human psychological processes. Social environments are suffused with the achievements of prior generations in powerful forms. Vygotsky brought together the cultural means with the idea that people mediate their actions and those of all following generations through artefacts. This is the real source of development for Vygotsky. As Cole notes,
"the very dynamics of change at the ontogenetic level depend upon a relational, context-as-mutually constitutive conception of context. Even when writing about cultural-historical variation, it is the emergent consequences of incorporating more advanced cultural tools into social practice that give rise to change." (Cole, 2003)
Integral Theory has a lot to learn from this perspective. The Vygotskian view opens up a greater focus on how the quadratic nature of development is seen in both individual consciousness as well as collective cultural mediation.
For Vygotsky and cultural-historical theorists more generally, the social world does have primacy over the individual in a very special sense. Society is the bearer of the cultural heritage without which the development of mind is impossible. (Cole & Wertsch, 1999)
Take the topic of spiritual development for example. Mediation has always played a central role in spirituality and in spiritual communities. The Jesus icon of the Eastern and Russian Orthodox churches is a classic example of a process of cultural mediation. The icon has embedded within its meaning-making facility centuries of cultural depth and developmental power that can be utilised in the process of focused meditation. In a very real way all paths, techniques and "tools" of spiritual growth are mediators of cultural meaning-making that create within the practitioner intimations of the sacred. This is one reason why all spiritual paths hold their cultural inheritance in such great esteem and respect (and all too often to a pathological extent).
2. Mediation, activity and consciousness: Mediation is a active process. It is a process that includes behaviour, consciousness, the physical and social environment and the action that is done. When a new cultural tool, or artefact, is introduced into this active process all aspects of the system are inevitable transformed. In this view mediational means such as language and technical tools do not simply facilitate forms of action that would otherwise occur. They are transformers of holistic activity including the actor and their consciousness. As an integralist I would say that cultural artefacts and tools mediate development in all quadrants. This is a crucial aspect of all the cultural-historical accounts of development. As Vygotsky says that,
"by being included in the process of behaviour, the psychological tool alters the entire flow and structure of mental functions." (Vygotsky 1981, p137)
Tools such as language have this power to determine the structure of the new developmental activity because they change the whole process by which learning and behaviour reinforce each other. The Piagetian view, in contrast, sees language as the expression of internal conceptual structures of cognition. Olson (1995, p.97) puts it like this,
[For Piaget] learning to read was seen as an exercise in the use of existing cognitive resources rather than the creation of new resources for thinking.
The Vygotskian view of reading is that the behaviour itself opens the individual up to social processes that draw it into a social world of depth and meaning. The behaviour and the mediating tool of the written word create the developmental potential of the individual. Integral Theory has not yet come to terms with this perspective of the developmental process. The cultural mediation of transformative development has enormous implications for how an Integral analysis of any developmental event, whether that be political or personal, private or public. The following is a very basic developmental grid that shows the point at which mediational processes become critical for human transformation.
Table 1: Where social mediation kicks in for Vygotsky
Lower functions - reflexes, instincts, survival behaviours
genetically and biologically inherited
mediated by genetic biological givens
physical and biological connectedness
Higher human functions communication, cultural activities
mediated by social situations and meanings
communicative and meaning-related connectedness
3. Dialectical learning process: Vygotsky viewed cognitive developments as a result of a dialectical process. Learning occurs through shared problem solving experiences with significant others. There is a mentoring or apprenticeship interaction whereby doing/knowing is transferred from on to the other in an intensely social communicative process. It is the internalisation of this dialogical process that creates interior structures. This view can add immensely to Integral theory understanding of the development of levels in each of the various quadrants in such areas as spirituality, social membership and worldviews.
4. Scaffolding: This is the idea that learning and development do not occur in isolation from supportive mediating systems, and that, in fact, scaffolding is the environmental structures that draws out the learning potential of the individual. The three essential elements of scaffolding are the use of mediators, language and shared activity. Once again, all these social activities have the potential to add to the current rather individualist and interiorist leanings of Wilber's present statement of Integral Theory. The notion of scaffolding will have much to add to any Integral model of education, learning, health education and other social programmes build on, or sharing, the AQAL model. In the education field there are several models that draw heavily on the Vygotskian scaffolding concept - mediated learning (Feuerstein), classroom scaffolding (Wood), assisted performance (Tharp & Gallimore) and reciprocal teaching (Brown & Campione). The question is can Integral Theory accommodate and expand on these innovative models without exploring its own capacity to include the social mediation models of Vygotsky and the other activity theorists.
5. The Zone of Proximal Development. ZPD refers to the difference gap between what a child or person can achieve/learn in isolation and what they can achieve/learn in co-operation with more capable peers or in collaboration with a teacher/mentor. Integral Theory has much to gain from adopting this more socially contextualised view of learning. Too often Integral Theory simply considers the developmental process as the emergence of levels, lines, states etc. and does not consider the social circumstances that provoke that emergence. Consequently there is a lack of dynamic and fluidity in the ways growth is portrayed. What might the ZPD tell us,for example about the ways that spiritual transformation occurs within monastic communities or lay communities of dedicated students.
6. Social cognition learning model: This is a general term for the Vygotskian view of learning as developmental process, i.e. involving qualitative change in psychological functioning. This model asserts that social systems are the prime (not sole) determinant of individual development. This is a challenge to the current Integral Theory view which is heavily based on Piagetian principles. The social model has it that we live in a sea of culture. Through it we acquire much of the content of our thinking, that is, knowledge. The surrounding culture provides us with the processes or means of our thinking, what Vygotskians call the tools of intellectual adaptation. In short, according to the social cognition learning model, it is culture that creates transformations in our cognitive abilities. This view has the power to add considerable energy to the structuralist approach that integral theory currently employs in its theory building.
7. A new developmental methodology: The mediational picture that Vygotsky wants to paint of development requires a new methodology. This method focuses more on the dynamic involvement of person and social contexts rather than on the inside and outside of the developing entity. Too often the AQAL model reinforces a separation of interior consciousness and exterior behaviour rather than providing insights on how they relate and mutually co-create. The Vygotskian method looks more at minds/behaviours and social contexts in the process of dynamics engagement in the activity rather than as isolated agents. The wonderful writings and community work of Lois Holtzman provide evidence for how this Vygotskian view can support the communal application of developmental projects. Holzman makes the point that,
Vygotsky saw human growth as a cultural activity that people engage in together, rather than as the external manifestation of an individualized, internal process. For Vygotsky, development does not happen to usfrom the inside, from the outside, or from any combination of inside and outside. In both his research and theorizing, he attempted to articulate a new understanding of development tied to a new methodology for understanding human life as socially and actively created and lived. (Holzman, 2002)
Integral Theory needs to balance its current attention on personal and collective interiors and exteriors with a greater focus on the act and on communal engagement.
Vygotsky is not alone in pointing to the primacy of the exteriors in stimulating and supporting growth. The New Zealand philosopher Rom Harre has also been at the forefront in discussing the importance of action and social events to developmental processes.
Rom Harre and Personal Being
Like Vygotsky, Harre sees the source of individual and collective consciousness not in the evolving interior structures of image, symbols, concepts and theories but in the social systems of hierarchical activity and scaffolding that surround, support, encourage each and all to the degree that they can experience and participate. Harre's book "Personal Being" is a fascinating read for any integralist who is familiar with Wilber's "Sex Ecology Spirituality. It predates Wilber's first exposition of the AQAL model by 10 years and yet it proposes many of the same insights in terms of the basic dimension of personal and public identity. In this book Harre puts forward the thesis that personal being has a social origin. For Harre consciousness and the "intimate structures of our personal being" derive from social entities.
"Everything that appears to each us in the intimate structure of our personal being, I believe to have its source in a socially sustained and collectively imposed cluster of theories." (Harre, 1984, p.21)
In this Harre is following the lead of Vygotsky. He is wanting to promote the inherent and deeply developmental capacities of the exteriors and show how they can inculcate individual bodies and minds with consciousness, reflexivity and intention.
"each level of sophistication of public-collective activity in which a developing person joins is prepared for, not by a maturing natural endowment, but by the previous level of that interpersonal, public, and collective activity." (Harre, 1984, p.22)
For Harre personal identity is not a bootstrapping affair where the interior structures of the individual somehow create themselves out of self-regulatory processes. Personal identity is the direct result of the developmental nature of the social world.
"Personal being arises only by transformation in the social inheritance of individuals." (Harre, 1984, p.23)
Harre argues that individual consciousness is the result of social learning processes as much as innate potentialities. Here Harre's idea of appropriation fills the same developmental function as Vygotsky's mediation theory.
We learn to conceive of ourselves as personal beings by the appropriation of the concept of social being from our public-collective activities for the purposes of organising our experience as the mental life of a self-conscious agent. (Harre, 1984, p.108)
For both Harre and Vygotsky, language development is really the crucial territory to be explained in human development. Both of them saw language as moving from the exterior to the interior and that the ego-centric speech of the infant is a stepping stone in that exterior-to-interior progression. The genetic, organic and biological necessities must be present, of course, but they are not sufficient for the development of language, mature thought and stable self-identity (as the studies of feral and isolated children have shown). In this sense cognitive development comes out of the social world of language and gesture and not out of the self-generated emergence of cognitive structures. Social realms draw out the intention and the meaning through the basic processes of social learning.
Here is a simple example of this. A baby moves its arm and says "Ug". The mother deliberately interprets this as the indication of a want. "Oh so you want this toy do you? Here it is." The baby finds an item of play in its possession. This happens several times. The baby builds up a leaning string that connects gesture/grunt with getting hold of a desired object. This is generalised in other social situations. The learning string now starts to accumulate direct communicative meaning. Meaning through gesture/grunt gets internalised and forms the subjective locus of conscious intent. And so we have meaning and consciousness moving from the social exterior to the individual interior. This is why Harre says,
Learning is just the privatisation of features of public collective episodes of mutual engagement, and many individual cognitive processes are much what Plato and Vygotsky thought they were sotte voce speech inaudible self talk. The fact that talk displays cognitive properties is a collective not an individual fact. (Harre, 1984, p.137)
It is interesting to note that Harre proposes a model that corresponds almost exactly with Wilber's quadrants framework. His model includes an individual-collective-dimension, a public-private (interior-exterior) dimension and includes an active-passive (agency-communion) dimension. And yet armed with this very similar framework for relating interiors to exteriors and individuals to collectives Harre comes to almost the exact opposite view of the Right Hand quadrants as Wilber. Harre for example concludes that (1984, p. 137),
learning is just the privatisation of features of the public-collective [social quadrant] episodes of mutual engagement, and many individual collective processes are much what Plato and Vygotsky thought they were, sotto voce speech. The fact that talk displays cognitive properties is a collective not an individual fact.
So we have a model that is based on a four-quadrants understanding of personal reality and yet it sees the exterior quadrants as the source of development and not the interiors. Harre goes so far as to say that (1984, p. 23),
Personal being arises only by a transformation in the social inheritance of individuals.
Moreover, this "social inheritance" comes from exterior, public and collective domains that are qualitatively developmental in nature (1984, p.22).
each level of sophistication of public-collective activity in which a developing person joins is prepared for, not by a maturing natural endowment, but by the previous levels of that interpersonal, public and collective activity.
This is not a Piagetian view. This is a Vygotskian view. Out of this collective perspective on personal being Harre proposes social theories of personal consciousness, emotions, agency, morality and intentionality. These theories, which are representative of many other social theorists of development, are not represented within Integral theory as it is currently presented. As with Vygotsky, there are no references to any of Harre's works in any of Wilber's writings. The views of Rom Harre and other social philosophers is still to be integrated within the AQAL model and this will not happen until the exterior Right Hand behavioural and social quadrants are represented in a very different light.
In the early part of the 20th century Lev Vygotsky and his colleagues A. R. Luria and A. N. Leontiev formulated a completely new theoretical concept to address the problem of the dualistic nature of the consciousness-behaviour distinction. Vygotsky had previously identified this bifurcation as symptomatic of a deep crises in scientific study of human psychology. Vygotsky and his colleagues saw that the solution to this dualism lay in the concepts of artefact-mediated and object-oriented action (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 40). With this proposition activity theory was born. It should be noted from the start that this concept of activity is a social event and not simply an individual act in isolation from others. Even with very advanced forms of mental activity, Activity Theory has it that they are to be understood best as social activities rather than isolated aspects of individual minds.
"Social relations or relations of people genetically underlie all higher functions and their relations" (Vygotsky, 1981, p. 163).
Once again this activity model is based on developmental considerations. Vygotsky retains the qualitative nature of development in his new focus on activity as the explanatory unit of that development. The stages of development now relate to stages in socially mediated activity as opposed the inherent stages of cognition or consciousness. Table 2 attempts to give a flavour of this "activity" view of stages of development. The parallels with Wilber's spectrum of consciousness are clearly apparent. The difference is that there is no mention of cognitive structures or interior levels of individual consciousness in this explanatory framework. All of the levels and holarchies that are sketched out in this table can be seen to belong to the exterior quadrants under the AQAL model.
Table 2: Forms of cultural activity, modes of social knowing
and corresponding types of mediating tools.
The development of cultural activity
The development of behavioural modes of knowing (after Wells)
Corresponding types of mediating tools
Level 1: reflexive movement
natural tools with fixed application
Level 2: reflexive movement with environmental feedback
instinctive knowing with social feedback
natural tools applied with environmental constraints
Level 3: movement with social meaning
instrumental knowing knowing what to do, survival behaviour
material tools and instrumental tool use
Level 4: gesture as social signal
procedural knowing knowing how to, communicative behaviour
representational signs and their social function
Level 5: activity as cultural communication
substantive knowing- organising what to do, planning behaviour
imaginative structures and the culture of meanings
Level 6: activity as transformative cultural event
aesthetic knowing knowing for its own sake, educational behaviour
narrative structures and the culture of transformative meaning
Level 7: activity as transformative cultural methodology
theoretical knowing knowing how to know, scientific & transformational behaviour
cultural structures and knowledge quests
Activity theory is a attempt at a "unifying theoretical perspective" on human behaviour. It is not a predictive model but rather a general conceptual system that provides insight into methods for studying social activity. It starts with the premise that the best explanation of human behaviour comes not from the isolation of some individualistic aspect of human action such as consciousness, emotion or cognition. Nor does it come from environmental contingencies. Activity Theory points to the engaged endeavour itself as the source of a full explaining human behaviour. Instead of looking for explanations inside or outside the doer or the doer's surrounds, Activity Theory looks at the holistic and hierarchical nature of the doing that engages both the subject and the object.
Hierarchy plays a key role in the formulation of Activity Theory. In Activity Theory the unit of analysis is the hierarchically-ordered activity. This order comes via the arrangement of subordinate operations (very much like subordinate holons). The activity can be for any purpose from survival up to cultural communication. There is the hierarchical structure of objects that orient the activity, e.g. from simple physical objects, to emotional goals, to abstract personal goals or culturally defined collective objectives. Finally there are hierarchies of cultural tools from physical tools to abstract and cultural tools such as language.
The main activity theorist who built on and expanded the Vygotskian ideas was Aleksej Nikolaevich Leontiev (thanks to Dr. Oleg Kripkov for informing me of Leontiev's correct name). Although they emphasise an aspect of human development that Wilber has not fully acknowledged, I believe that Leontiev's views are highly compatible with an AQAL approach to explaining the genesis and development of human identity in both its interior-consciousness and exterior behaviour. Here are some quotes that give a taste of his theoretical orientation towards development and how it might be studied through a focus on the "activity". This first two quote shows that the activity theorists were not behaviourists in the reductive sense of Watson and Skinner, rather "activity" is a unit of analysis that includes inner and outer.
although a scientific psychology must never lose sight of man's inner world, the study of this inner world cannot be divorced from a study of his activity (Leontiev, 1977, p.18)
society produces human activity. This is not to say, of course, that the activity of the individual merely copies and personifies the relationships of society and its culture. There are some very complex cross-links which rule out any strict reduction of one to the other (Leontiev, 1977, p.3)
As the following quotes indicates, activity for Leontiev and the Activity theorists might even be said to be manifestation of consciousness.
The main thing is not to indicate the active, controlling role of consciousness. The main problem lies in understanding consciousness as a subjective product, as a manifestation in different form of the essentially social relations that are materialised by man's activity in the objective world. Activity is by no means simply the expresser and vehicle of the mental image objectivised in its product. (Leontiev, 1977, p.7)
At the same time the phenomena of consciousness constitute a real element in the motion of activity. This is what makes them essential, that is to say, the conscious image performs the function of ideal measure, which is materialised in activity. (Leontiev, 1977, p.8)
The following quotes clearly shows how the activity model recognises the reality of consciousness and unites consciousness with behaviour. As such it might be seen as a wholistic method of analysis that cuts across the traditional inside outside delineations between psyche and world.
it is external activity that unlocks the circle of internal mental processes, that opens it up to the objective world. (Leontiev, 1977, p.4)
The subject-activity-object transitions form a kind of circular movement, so it may seem unimportant which of its elements or moments is taken as the initial one. But this is by no means movement in a closed circle. The circle opens, and opens specifically in sensuous practical activity itself. Entering into direct contact with objective reality and submitting to it, activity is modified and enriched; and it is in this enriched form that it is crystallised in the product. (Leontiev, 1977, p.7)
Activity Theory presents a fundamental challenge to any developmental model that assumes that interior or individual agency creates development or that personal and social transformation is not dependent on cultural mediation. The following two quotes from Leontiev are a challenge to the way integral theory currently represents developmental processes.
individual consciousness as a specifically human form of the subjective reflection of objective reality may be understood only as the product of those relations and mediacies that arise in the course of the establishment and development of society (Leontiev, 1977, p.8)
consciousness owes its origin to the identification in the course of labour of actions whose cognitive results are abstracted from the living whole of human activity and idealised in the form of linguistic meanings. As they are communicated they become part of the consciousness of individuals. (Leontiev, 1977, p.14)
The Activity Theory of Leontiev, Vygotsky, Engelstrom, Cole and others presents both a challenge and an opportunity for Integral Theory to reformulate some of its central tenets. The constructivism of Piaget needs to be balanced by the mediational view of activity of the activity theorists and their colleagues. Such a rebalancing will empower the AQAL model with a more incisive capacity to critique the current dominance of interiorist and individualist assumptions that abound in developmental studies within the psychological, sociological, community and international fields.
Integrating the AQAL Holon and Activity Theory- A first approximation.
The idea of a cycle of "subject-activity-object transitions" is a component of Activity Theory. I think that it is this model that might invigorate the AQAL-holon framework of integral Theory. The following is a very rough approximation of how the two model might work together.
In the figure below (Figure 1) we have the basic triad of the Activity System. In this triad the person, group or social entity acts towards achieving some goal. The means by which this goal is perceived, worked towards and attained are the mediating tools of the culture (remembering that tools means physical, psychological, informational, or knowledge-based artefact).
This basic activity model can be greatly expanded to include the community, the rules governing the activity, hierarchies of actions, divisions of labour and multiple duplications of systems. One simple way of combining the basic activity triad with Integral theory is to simply include the holonic dimensions of the activity elements (Figure 2).
This means that there will be interiors and exteriors and agentic and individual (agentic) and communal aspects of each of the activity elements. These quadratic aspects will of course be expressed in the levels, lines, states, types, and dynamics characteristics of the AQAL-holon framework. I will leave a further discussion and elaboration of this model for another essay. At this time I am only wanting to show how the activity model can add considerably to understanding the AQAL-holon in situ, when it is actually in a social context and when it meets or uses other holons.
The forgoing has been an overview of the tradition of Cultural-Historical and Activity Theory (CHAT) approaches to human transformation. These ideas were initially developed and researched in Russia, Finland, and Scandinavia but they very close theoretical links with another tradition of social theorists that came to prominence in America. This is the tradition of Charles Cooley, George Herbert Mead and Herbert Blumer. These are the American social behaviourists and they amazingly present a very similar picture of development and social analysis to that of the CHAT theorists. The following points out some of these connections.
Again, I stress that these views are very different to those of Wilber and they focus on mechanisms of development other than those Wilber's presents in his books. My reason for going into these distinctions is to try to show how Wilber's views of the exteriors is not compatible with many important schools of development. Wilber has not explored or integrated many of the profound insights of these schools into his AQAL framework.
References to follow at the end of Part 3
© Mark Edwards, 2004