Legitimizing Integral Theory in Academia: Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Integral Theory Through Its Application in Research

Legitimizing Integral Theory in Academia: Demonstrating the Effectiveness of Integral Theory Through Its Application in Research

Veronika Bohac Clarke (University of Calgary, Canada)
Copyright: © 2019 |Pages: 19
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5873-6.ch003


This chapter is based on the analysis of experiences of graduate students and professors using Integral Theory (IT) as transdisciplinary research framework, at a Western Canadian mainstream university. The traditional disciplinary orthodoxies, which had presented a formidable challenge to the acceptance of IT in mainstream academia, are briefly described. For example, not having a single disciplinary home, Integral academics do not fit into the traditional roles and their associated benefits. This applies both to professors and to graduate students. Integral students must continue to defend their research and professors must defend Integral teaching. Nevertheless, research is strengthened by an Integral worldview and a more complex understanding of the world. The chapter concludes with a specific discussion of how IT is employed to investigate multiple contexts of complex problems.
Chapter Preview


This chapter stems from my experience of supervising, to successful completion, 17 doctoral theses (both EdD and PhD) based on Integral Theory. As such, I am writing this chapter for potential researchers, particularly those, who may be situated in mainstream academia, and who are considering using Integral Theory in their research design and/or analysis. The description of Integral Theory and, specifically AQAL, which is offered in this chapter, could therefore be more accurately considered as an interpretation from a researcher, for researchers “doing Integral on the ground.” Unlike the many highly theoretical analyses and critiques of AQAL that are available in Integral publications, this chapter takes a very practical, applied approach to conducting Integral research within the disciplinary confines of mainstream academia.

Background: Challenges to the Use of Integral Theory in the Traditional Academic Disciplinary Context

A brief account of the current context of mainstream universities is provided to explain the cautious and conservative reception of Integral Theory as a legitimate research framework.

Driven by neoliberal algorithmic governmentality, Western universities currently find themselves locked into public competition with each other. Big data, targets and research funding are some of the key elements in this academic race. In response, universities have been sacrificing creativity for efficiency, curiosity for strategy, and streamlining their research agendas toward a few research goals with strategically high probability of gaining research funding. In this climate, working with currently acclaimed research methodologies is strategically more conducive to winning the race, than trying out new strategies that have little or no track record.

While this chapter is based on experiences from one university, where Integral research has been given some opportunity to grow in one Faculty, I have had conversations with colleagues from numerous other Canadian universities to check my perceptions, and similar views were noted with respect to the importance of strategically positioned research and strong track record. Furthermore, having graduated 17 doctoral students whose thesis research was based on Integral Theory, I had 17 opportunities to witness the deep reservations that external examiners - scholars from top Canadian universities - expressed about transdisciplinary research and Integral Methodological Pluralism, particularly at the doctoral student level.

Specifically, I have observed two sources of resistance to the use of Integral Theory, and they appear to be related to the nature of the graduate programs themselves. At the doctoral level, the resistance of supervisors and examiners centers around traditional definitions of disciplines, ontologies and epistemologies. A doctoral student is generally expected to choose one discipline/ontology/epistemology and base their thesis research on it. Ontological pluralism is still mistrusted by traditional academics. Methodological pluralism is discouraged on the basis that it is difficult for one student to carry out, and even more difficult to defend.

At the master’s level, particularly in the course based programs with capstone research projects, there is a learned tendency to follow templates and to follow closely the generally accepted dogma reproduced in research textbooks. The idea of trying out, or even trying to understand, a new research approach that is not covered in the traditional textbooks, tends to be seen as threatening and therefore is generally resisted by the students.

Beyond the graduate students’ program-related challenges, there are also challenges to both professors and students in terms of their suitability or eligibility for research funding, which is still defined by disciplinary boundaries. Since they have no disciplinary home, they have a questionable academic identity within the organization, which often puts them at a disadvantage for research funding. This has direct implication for track record: no track record – no funding; no funding-no track record.

Key Terms in this Chapter

Metatheory: AQAL serves as an organizing framework for ontologies, epistemologies, and methodologies. Since these are also the foundational points of departure for theorists, AQAL is also a coherent framework for organizing theories.

Action Research: Often carried out by teacher researchers, Action Research is an exploration of interventions in the school context, with the ultimate aim of improving student learning. This exploration usually occurs in cycles, with the teacher researcher reflecting on what has occurred during each cycle.

Conceptual Framework: This term is used differently by different researchers; therefore, each researcher has to define how they use it in their work. I use the conceptual framework to mean a map underlying all the elements of the research design, including the problem, the research questions, and the methodologies that will be used to answer the questions. As such, AQAL, as an organizing framework or map for the research design , would be the conceptual framework for the research project.

Ontological Pluralism: The four quadrants of AQAL represent the four basic world views, or ontologies. The ontologies are Subjective (inside+singular), Objective (outside+singular), Intersubjective (inside+plural), and Interobjective (outside+plural). These world views are the ontologies that define the perspective taker’s truth and reality. Thus, from the Subjective perspective or ontology, the truth is in the eye of the beholder, while from the Objective perspective or ontology, the truth is what is observable and measurable by scientific methods, regardless of whether the subjective observer sees it or not. From the Intersubjective perspective or ontology, the truth is what we (you and I, the group, etc.) agree on, and this agreement modifies the group members’ individual subjective truths. From the Interobjective perspective, the truth is what greater systems do, generally independently of what individuals and groups believe, perceive or do. Ontological pluralism means not only that there are four perspectives/ontologies, rather than the currently accepted two, but that all four perspectives co-arise in the contexts of individuals and groups.

Theoretical Framework: This term is also used differently by different researchers; therefore, each researcher has to define how they use it in their work. I use theoretical framework as the theoretical model or theory that describes some aspect of the research problem. So this element deals with some aspect of the content (not design) of the investigation. It could influence the design, if it requires that particular kinds of questions need to be asked in a specific quadrant, but its major role in the analysis of the findings. A theoretical framework is associated with one particular quadrant ontology, so in IMP it is possible to employ four different theoretical frameworks in the analysis.

Integral Methodological Pluralism: In integral methodological pluralism (IMP), four research paradigms are identified, which are consistent with each of the four quadrant ontologies of AQAL. The research paradigms include epistemologies and methodologies. Wilber identified exemplar methodologies in each quadrant. Thus, the framework of IMP provides a coherent map that links the ontologies, epistemologies and methodologies within each quadrant.

Integral Theory (AQAL): The integral model or AQAL, as designed by Ken Wilber, is a conceptual framework built on two foundational elements – the quadrants and the levels. This backbone is then elaborated and unfolded through the inclusion of Lines, States and Types. The quadrants represent the intersection of fundamental perspectives through which people perceive the world: singular, plural, inside, and outside. The intersection produces the characteristic integral quadrant map or framework, consisting of the four fundamental world views or ontologies. The levels refer to the evolving levels of mental and psychological development over the lifetime of an individual or a group. Each ontological (quadrant) view can be enacted at whichever developmental level the viewers who occupy the quadrant have attained.

Complete Chapter List

Search this Book: