Wednesday, July 03, 2013

Mark Edwards - Towards an Integral Meta-Studies: Describing and Transcending Boundaries in the Development of Big Picture Science


In the newest issue of The Integral Review (9:2; June 2013), integral scholar Mark Edwards offers an excellent article on efforts toward an integrally-based meta-studies model, particularly in the realm of "big picture science."
I propose a general schema, called integral meta-studies, that describes some of the characteristics of this meta-level science. Integral here refers to the long tradition of scientific and philosophic endeavours to develop integrative models and methods. Given the disastrous outcomes of some of the totalising theories of the nineteenth century, the subsequent focus on ideas of the middle-range is entirely understandable. But middle-range theory will not resolve global problems. A more reflexive and wider conceptual vision is required.
This article appears as part of the special issue on transdisciplinary studies (International Symposium: Research Across Boundaries, Part 1).

[Image at the top is from Edwards' article at Integral World, Where's the Method to Our Integral Madness? An Outline for an Integral Meta-Studies.


Towards an Integral Meta-Studies: Describing and Transcending Boundaries in the Development of Big Picture Science [1]


by Mark G. Edwards [2]


Abstract 


We are entering a period in human civilisation when we will either act globally to establish a sustainable and sustaining network of world societies or be enmired, for the foreseeable future, in a regressive cycle of ever-deepening global crises. We will need to develop global forms of big picture science that possess institutionalised capacities for carrying out meta-level research and practice. It will be global in that such research cannot be undertaken in isolation from practical global concerns and global social movements. In this paper I propose a general schema, called integral meta-studies, that describes some of the characteristics of this meta-level science. Integral here refers to the long tradition of scientific and philosophic endeavours to develop integrative models and methods. Given the disastrous outcomes of some of the totalising theories of the nineteenth century, the subsequent focus on ideas of the middle-range is entirely understandable. But middle-range theory will not resolve global problems. A more reflexive and wider conceptual vision is required. Global problems of the scale that we currently face require a response that can navigate through theoretical pluralism and not be swallowed up by it. In saying that, twenty-first-century metatheories will need to be different from the monistic, grand theories of the past. They will have to be integrative rather than totalising, pluralistic rather than monistic, based on science and not only on philosophy, methodical rather than idiosyncratic, find inspiration in theories, methods and interpretive frameworks from the edge more than from the centre and provide means for inventing new ways of understanding as much as new technologies. Integrative metastudies describes an open system, inquiry space or clearing that has a place for many forms of scientific inquiry and their respective theories, methods, techniques of analysis and interpretive frameworks.

1. The word “integral” is used here to refer to the long tradition of integrative big pictures as exemplified in the work of such figures as Thomas Aquinas, Georg Hegel, Michil Bakunin, Vladamir Solovyov, Pitrim Sorokin, Rudolph Steiner, Jean Gebser, Aurobindo Ghose, Jacques Maritain, Bill Torbert, Ken Wilber, Ervin László, Fred Dallmyr, Ronnie Lessem and Alexander Schieffer. 

2. Mark Edwards is Assistant professor at the Business School, University of Western Australia where he teaches in the areas of business ethics and organisational transformation. Mark’s PhD thesis (awarded with distinction) was published in a series on business ethics by Routledge/Taylor-Francis in August 2010 and was awarded book of the year by Integral Leadership of the year in 2011. The book focuses on the integration of knowledge as applied to the fields of organisational transformation and sustainability. Mark’s research has been published in several leading academic journals and covers a diverse range of topics including business ethics, management studies, systems research, futures studies, psychotherapy and spirituality, sustainability and organisational transformation. mark.edwards@uwa.edu.au 



Introduction 


We are entering a period in human civilisation when we will either act globally to establish a sustainable and sustaining network of world societies or be enmired, for the foreseeable future, in a regressive cycle of ever-deepening global crises. If we are to take the former pathway then we must, as a matter of some urgency, develop and institutionalise integrative and meta-level forms of scientific sense-making. This meta-level form of sense making will complement existing disciplines to establish a multi-layered understanding of science that will have the capacity to take a reflexive perspective on current scientific and philosophical theory building and testing. We will need to develop global forms of big picture science that possess institutionalised capacities for carrying out meta-level research. It will be global in that such research cannot be undertaken in isolation from practical global concerns and global social movements. In this paper I propose a general schema, called integral meta-studies, that describes some of the characteristics of this meta-level science. Integral here refers to the long tradition of scientific and philosophic endeavours to develop integrative models and methods. There are many precursors and formative examples that I draw on in developing the integral meta-studies framework and what I want to do here is present something an overview that can help to situate meta-level scientific and philosophical studies within the current landscape of knowledge quests. Integrative metatheorising is an ambitious project. It is based on the premise that the critical appreciation and integration of diverse theoretical and methodological perspectives offers a new way forward in the development of science. It seeks to find insights through the connection of knowledge rather than the specialisation of knowledge. It takes an appreciative rather than a depreciative view towards systems of knowledge, irrespective of their place within the mainstream or the periphery. The big pictures that emerge from this process stand in contrast to the goals of mainstream social science which are almost exclusively concerned with the building and testing of middle-range theory.

Given the disastrous outcomes of some of the totalising theories of the nineteenth century, the subsequent focus on ideas of the middle-range is entirely understandable. But middle-range theory will not resolve global problems. A more reflexive and wider conceptual vision is required. Global problems of the scale that we currently face require a response that can navigate through theoretical pluralism and not be swallowed up by it. In saying that, twenty-first-century metatheories will need to be different from the monistic, grand theories of the past. They will have to be integrative rather than totalising, pluralistic rather than monistic, based on science and not only on philosophy, methodical rather than idiosyncratic, find inspiration in theories, methods and interpretive frameworks from the edge more than from the centre and provide means for inventing new ways of understanding as much as new technologies. Integrative metastudies describes an open system of knowledge acquisition that has a place for many forms of scientific inquiry and their respective theories, methods, techniques of analysis and interpretive frameworks. We have, in fact, been developing these meta-level capacities and models for a very long time and the time is now ripe for a more overt description and institutionalisation of these perspectives and practices.


The Challenge of Pluralism


The great proliferation in empirical studies that occurred through the 1970s and 1980s brought with it the rise of meta-data-analysis. The sheer outpouring of empirical information, particularly in the health and medical sciences, required a scientific response that could somehow make sense and form some overarching big picture of the mass of data pouring out of journals and scientific laboratories. Gene Glass was one of the pioneers of these early approaches to the integration of empirical findings and he proposed the term meta-analysis to describe the “analysis of a large collection of analysis results from individual studies for the purposes of integrating the findings” (Glass, 1976, p. 3). Glass described the emergence of meta-analysis as follows (1977, pp. 351–352):
By the late 1960s, the research literature had swollen to gigantic proportions. Although scholars continued to integrate studies narratively, it was becoming clear that chronologically arranged verbal descriptions of research failed to portray the accumulated knowledge. Reviewers began to make crude classifications and measurements of the conditions and results of studies. Typically, studies were classified in contingency tables by type and by whether outcomes reached statistical significance. Integrating the research literature of the 1970s demands more sophisticated techniques of measurement and statistical analysis. The accumulated findings of dozens or even hundreds of studies should be regarded as complex data points, no more comprehensible without the full use of statistical analysis than hundreds of data points in a single study could be so casually understood. Contemporary research reviewing ought to be undertaken in a style more technical and statistical than narrative and rhetorical. Toward this end, I have suggested a name to make the needed approach distinctive; I referred to this approach as the meta-analysis of research. 
Precisely this situation exists today, for not only research data but, for the multitudinous varieties of theory, methods and interpretive systems that are employed to make scientific sense of the complex worlds we inhabit today. And we need corresponding meta-level schools of scientific research in each of these realms. Indeed, we can see many different forms of these meta-level studies emerging today across all kinds of scholarly outputs. On the theory side we see the emergence of meta-level theoretical frameworks, multiparadigm studies and overarching conceptual models in many social sciences. In the study of scientific research methods we see the development of meta-methods and the associated approaches of mixed and multi-methodologies and with the variety of new epistemological orientations we see the rise of meta-level and general hermeneutics. Together, these overarching forms of analysis constitute a meta-level science and they formalise a way of developing knowledge that has been part of the human story of meaning-making for a very long time. What makes these meta-level disciplines different is that now we can build and test these big pictures from a scientific perspective.

These meta-level studies form a new layer of global research in that they emerge out of the pluralism of diverse views of reality that are present across different cultures, different political and geographical regions different social histories. Where modernistic forms integrative science have attempted to develop unified grand theories and the single big Theory of Everything, the new integrative meta-level approach recognises the postmodern turns towards interpretive, methodological and theoretical diversity. The goal then is not for a unified grand monism but an open space for pursuing scientific big picture inquiry in which multiple perspectives can be appreciatively and critically considered. Hence, this new meta-level inquiry offers a scientific response to one of the central questions of the 21st century - how are we to develop global conversations around, what Raiman Panikkar call, “the pluralisms of truth” (Panikkar, 1990, p. 16).
... truth is pluralistic because reality itself is pluralistic, not being an objectifiable entity. We subjects are also part of it. We are not only spectators of the Real, we are also co-actors and even co-authors of it. This is precisely our human dignity. 
During the twentieth-century we saw a procession of big pictures come and go with some useful insights and advances but also with often disastrous results. In the domains of politics, economics, education, commerce and trade and organisation and management we have seen a litany of big scientific ideas come and then drift off into marginality. While each of them had their partial truths and valid points, overall, when championed as complete and universal schemes of salvation, big pictures have not had a good track record. From Marxism to monetarism, from rational choice theory to marketism, from globalism to the promises of hyper-technologies - all of these big pictures have their respective insights and have resulted in great advances in understanding but they have also resulted in ideologies of various kinds that are fundamentally degrading the environmental, social, economic and intellectual resources of the planet. The human predilection for creating big pictures will continue and will grow even more as we enter further into the age globalisation. Given this, how can we develop and validate our metatheories via a more conscious form of doing science? How can we build a deep science which is integrative, pluralistic, reflexive, and appreciative of contending views rather than specialist, monistic, objectifying and aimed at finding the one true theory or method? Before looking at this I should first discuss a little more about what I mean by science and social science. I argue that meta-studies, or big picture science, will play an important role in the development of planetary culture in the coming decades and so it might be useful to describe in further detail how I view scientific activity and its role in contemporary society.
Read the whole article.
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