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An independent forum for a critical discussion of the integral philosophy of Ken Wilber

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Dr. Alexander W. Astin (born May 30, 1932, Washington, D.C.) is the Allan M. Carter Professor Emeritus of Higher Education and Organizational Change, at the University of California, Los Angeles.He is Founding Director of the Higher Education Research Institute at UCLA. He has served as Director of Research for both the American Council on Education and the National Merit Scholarship Corporation. He is also the Founding Director of the Cooperative Institutional Research Program, an ongoing national study of some twelve million students, 250,000 faculty and staff, and 1,800 higher education institutions.

Comment on Corbett's
"Social Transformation"

Alexander Astin

Reply to: Joe Corbett, Social Transformation: Towards a More Just Kosmos.

I agree with the argument that Wilber's penchant for collapsing the four to three ignores important distinctions.

I really appreciated Joe Corbett's essay. Over the years we've been applying the AQAL formulation to education and health care in much the same way that he applies it to other fields and disciplines (if anyone would like references to some of this work just email me). For us AQAL has proved to be a very flexible and powerful heuristic.

I agree with the argument that Wilber's penchant for collapsing the four to three ignores important distinctions. However, my own concern has always been that his preoccupation with (and extraordinary expertise in) the upper left cause all three of the other quadrants to get short shrift.

The upper right, for example, gets portrayed primarily in anatomical terms (brain, neurons, body, etc), while the most important upper right events--INDIVIDUAL BEHAVIOR--get little attention. But the greatest neglect concerns the two lower quadrants, which to me are only vaguely articulated in most AQAL writing.

I've struggled mightily with trying to find a clear, direct way to characterize the lower left, and have finally settled on a narrow but powerful way of defining culture: "the shared beliefs of any collectivity of individuals," whether it be a family, community, club, race, occupation, nation, etc. All such collectivities operate on the basis of a shared belief system, which in turn exerts a powerful influence on the conduct of the individual members of that collectivity. (Beliefs concern what's true, what's good, what's important, and what's possible.)

However, like the upper left, these shared beliefs cannot be directly observed and are best assessed by talking to members of the collectivity in question. When we even bother to concern ourselves with the lower left, we typically try to assess the nature of culture from what occurs in the lower right, but that kind of indirect assessment can be subject to serious error.

Finally, the lower right is what most of us refer to when we talk about things like "policy" or "social change" or "transformation." but when we do this we usually ignore the lower left, at our peril. Any attempts to bring about social change are likely to founder if we fail to deal with the shared beliefs that underlie social policy, collective behavior and traditions, and social structures.

Alexander W. Astin
Allan M. Cartter Professor Emeritus &
Founding Director
Higher Education Research Institute
University of California, Los Angeles

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