Dialogue: Integral Theory into Integral Action: Part 10

Mark Edwards and Russ Volckmann

Mark Edwards

Russ VolckmannMark closed the last installment of this dialogue with something of an extraordinary burst of light in the integral heavens—Table 9.2: Integral Lenses and Theories of Radical Change Leadership. This extraordinary presentation summarizes twenty-four theoretical lenses and our understanding of leaders. Please be sure to review Table 9.2 before continuing in Part 10.

Russ: Mark, you’ve done it again. Allow me to stand in awe for a millisecond or two…

Or forge ahead and let the devil take the hindmost!

Okay. That the Table (9.2) is awesome in its scope and detail should be patently obvious to anyone. And yet, it addresses ways of understanding the functions of leaders from a variety of perspectives or, I should say, through various lenses. You call these “Integral Lenses” and I take that to mean that an integral approach would in some way include all of these lenses. Consequently, formulating a way of seeing the relationships among these is a wonderful contribution to not only this dialogue, but the integration of our understanding of leader roles.

We could take any leadership occurrence, that is, any event or time limited series of events in which an individual performs a leader role and examine to what extent we can describe how these functions are performed (or not) using the lenses you list. Without going into the list of twenty-four, for the moment, let’s consider the categories you have offered of integral lenses:

  • Holarchical lenses
  • Bipolar lenses
  • Cyclical lenses
  • Standpoint lenses
  • Relational lenses
  • Multimorphic lenses

On first blush, these categories are useful for looking at the same leader phenomena with different perspectives that will yield different insights. Before I explore these any further, would you please tell me how you have chosen these categories and what differentiates them. Only the leader and not the phenomenon of leadership, unless…

Mark: These lenses come from my PhD research, which develops an integral metatheory for organisational transformation. Table 9.2 is really derived from the core explanatory lenses, which theorists have used to develop their theories of transformation. The lenses were identified through analysing the extant literature on transformation. I collected my “data” (the different theories, models and frameworks proposed for explaining and describing organisational transformation) and analysed that data according to a new method that I developed and ended up with the 24 lenses.

To my knowledge this is the first time anyone has built a metatheory based on a scientific research method that includes the usual (meta)theory building steps of domain specification, definition, sampling procedure, analytical method, identification of (meta)theoretical elements, identification of relationships between elements, building of (meta)theory and evaluation of (meta)theory. What this does is lend scientific support to the notion of metatheoretical research as an evidenced-based discipline that should take its place along side other scientific disciplines. Metatheory is not just what one scholar might make up from reading a whole bunch of stuff (see Edwards, forthcoming). It can be a scientific process that, like all other sciences develops through the development and testing of its propositions and which can be challenged and defended according to the standard procedures of evidential argument, methodological assessment, rational critique and commonly acknowledged evaluative criteria.

Among other things, what makes my approach an integral one is that I use AQAL metatheory as the major conceptual resource in guiding my metatheory building. Although my research was really focused on constructing integral metatheory, I could also offer an evaluation of AQAL as one of my objectives. All research needs to be able to be critical of its core assumptions and conceptual resources. Consequently, I am able to critique AQAL in the light of my findings and provide some solid research based answers to questions about the metatheoretical adequacy of AQAL including:

Question: Does AQAL currently employ adequate metatheory building methods.

Short answer: No. AQAL is based on traditional scholarship (reading, thinking and writing) not scientific metatheory building methods (domains, definition, research design, sampling, analytical techniques, discussing and evaluating results, critical peer-based validation, etc).

Question: Is AQAL adequately defined?

Short answer: No. Several of its most important lenses are not even formally included within its definitive elements. For example, perspectives are not included within the five AQAL elements of quadrants, levels, lines, states and types.

Question: Are AQAL lenses found in the literature?

Short answer: Yes. All AQAL lenses are present in the literature on organisational transformation in some form.

Question: Are lens combinations similar to those used in AQAL found in the literature?

Short answer: Yes. For example, similar quadrant-based models are found in authors such as Burrell and Morgan (1979) and Ritzer (2001).

Question: Are lens relationships similar to those used in AQAL found in the literature? Short answer: Yes, but not always.

Question: Does AQAL include more lenses than any other metatheory?

Short answer: Yes, but there are several other metatheories that have similar numbers of lenses, although, these other approaches see themselves operating within a more defined domain of practice, for example, Torbert’s Developmental Action Inquiry.

Question: Does AQAL possess all the lenses that were observed in the literature?

Short answer: No. It’s missing social mediation, learning, evolutionary selection, governance holarchy, transition process and some standpoint lenses.

Question: Does AQAL adequately describe the set of lens relationships?

Short answer: No. In particular relationships involving the individual-collective lens and the natural perspectives lens are inadequately treated in AQAL.

Question: Can AQAL be gainfully applied to the topic of organisational transformation and sustainability?

Short answer: Yes, AQAL can contribute immensely to such fields but there are also important shortcomings. My research indicates that AQAL provides a much more integrative framework for the critical appreciation of the plurality of theories in this area than almost any other approach (I would say the same of Torbert’s DAI). There are, however, several shortcomings to AQAL metatheory that need to be addressed (these are identified and briefly discussed in my PhD work).

As for the categories of integral lenses, those were developed during the system building phase of the research. It’s a core part of metatheory building to look at the relationships between the conceptual components that make up the metatheory. In looking at the 24 lenses and building up their relationships from the literature and from AQAL I could see that there were common conflations and mix-ups that were appearing across many different streams of literature. There were patterns of errors being made that appeared to come about because of the morphologies of the lenses, i.e., conceptual shape. For example, some lenses are defined by complementary or opposing poles like interior-exterior. Others have multiple layers like the developmental holarchy.

Over and over again I saw that the developmental holarchy was being reduced to a two-stage bipolar lens—where we are now and were we want to go. I called these the “status quo” stage and the “goal” stage. So the spectrum of development was being reduced to a bipolar lens that had just two major stages. These stages are then often identified with a real bipolar lens such as interior-exterior (usually in the form of culture-structure) resulting in a truncated vision of development that I call “ping-pong transformation”. Organisations were ping-ponging between cultural and structural forms of renewal and never actually transforming beyond their dominant identity structure. Ping-pong transformation results from conceptually misreading the true form of the developmental lens. The reductionist form of the lens is then matched with a valid bipolar lens to guide the change process. The result is the kind of change fatigue and eternal bouncing between cultural renewal and systems restructuring that is one of the special purgatories of organisational life. It’s an unmitigated disaster. The “blender of change” as Badham and Gerrety call it (2003).

So, from these sorts of analyses I saw that the shape of a lens was critical to its conceptual appropriation within a theory. And I saw that the lenses could subsequently be categorised in terms of their basic morphologies. Interestingly, each of the morphological categories is loosely associated with particular types of questions about change. Holarchical lenses are useful for explaining the structural questions of “what” changes, bipolar lenses for the causal questions of “why” change occurs, cyclical lenses for the process questions of “how” it occurs, relational lenses for the contextual questions of “when” it occurs, standpoint lenses for the personal questions regarding “who” is involved in the change. The multimorphic category contains lenses that can be expressed in a variety of forms and can answer several of questions regarding change and transformation.

Any way, I believe that I have hit on something of real importance. There are whole categories of metaconceptual fallacies and errors resulting from conflations and reductionisms within and between lenses that are currently completely unexplored. And the thing is that they are currently in plague proportions running across all forms of theory development in the human and social sciences and philosophy. I see this type of analysis of giving birth to a new field within metatheoretical studies, which I call epistemological metamorphology. It’s a mouthful but it literally means the study of the shape of lenses and the influence of those morphologies on how we know about something. Wilber has explicated a particular type of metamorphological error, which he calls the Pre/Trans fallacy (PTF), and I think that this is one of his greatest contributions to the worlds of ideas. The PTF is one example of the more general form of lens conflation that I described above. And there are many other types of PTF error that are described and represented and how they are used in conjunction with metamorphological conflations between, for example, holarchical and cyclical lenses and between standpoint and bipolar lenses.

To give another example, one which I have alluded to previously in our conversations, the governance holarchy is often fallaciously reduced to the bipolar form of top-down management, i.e. the top-bottom bipole. This bipole is then matched with the valid agency-communion bipole with the result that transformation is then equated with radical agency emanating from the top of the organisation. This is why we have the ludicrous situation of head-hunting for CEOs who wreak havoc through an organisation and cause untold emotional damage and then get paid outrageous salaries and benefits when we know that most such CEO-led transformations will fail.

As you can see, I am wary of CEO-led explanations of transformation. And this is one reason why: they are almost invariably associated with reductionist conceptualisation of governance holarchies. Such theories feed into this strange phenomenon of “revolving door” CEOs who are headhunted, paid exorbitant amounts, and come and go with very little evidence that they actually produce anything useful for an organisation (Glover & van Zwanenberg, 2003; Greiner, Cummings & Bhambri, 2003). My thoughts on this are that we hold a distorted version of the governance lens in that it is reduced to the top-down and bottom-up bipolar dualism (when in fact its a self-regulating holarchy with leader-followers at ever level). This reductive dualism assumes that change comes about through top-down (CEO) led transformation. When the old CEO has done his dash then we look for a new one. This type of ping-pong approach to change is very difficult to stop once it entrenched within the upper echelons of the power and political elites. It reinforces itself beyond any rational capacity for evaluation. Hence, we get exorbitant levels of remuneration being paid out irrespective of performance. In metatheoretical terms, we get locked into large-scale morphological pathologies that reinforce the movement between two poles of a non-developmental dimension (new ‘transformative’ CEO and old ‘has been/translational’ CEO). It’s serious stuff and it’s contributing to the dire situation we find ourselves in globally.

I think the level of organisational leadership in both corporate and government sectors is quite poor at the moment. There are some shining exceptions (as your ILR regularly shows) but generally speaking I think leadership structures are failing us at the global level. We are caught in the paradox of having a very limited understanding of how to structure leadership (which, if we’re lucky, takes the form of a top-down benevolent command and control coercion in the corporate world that is driven by profit motive and legal compliance) while at the same expecting so much from our “leaders”. An understanding of the holarchical nature of the governance lens is, for me, crucial for seeing how we can untangle these dilemmas.

By the way, you might ask why can I generalise about these lenses and apply them so confidently to a topic like leadership when I actually uncovered them in the field of organisational transformation. The answer is that there seems to be a fractal relationship between lenses and their presence in different spheres of human activity and social reality. By this I mean that whether we look at the theories within a relatively small domain like, say, operations management or information systems or language development or political power, we tend to find the same lenses that are uncovered when we take a big-picture look at the really big integral scale of whole disciplines like politics, or social sciences or philosophy. There is a replication of the same lenses at various scales of order. You sent me a paper by Sara Ross recently that describes exactly this phenomenon. She says that “social entities evidence the scaling properties of self-similarity” (Ross, 2008) In his book The Chaos of DisciplinesAndrew Delano Abbott argues that “self-similarity is an important general form of all social structure” (Abbott, 2001, p. xvi—Thanks to Markus Molz for bringing Abbott’s work to my attention). So I think that these lenses can be found all the way through all the scales of social structures. It’s therefore quite reasonable to generalize from one field to another and from one scale of application to another. As yet though, this is merely a conjecture and needs a lot further support to be regarded as a solid finding. In fact, I regard these questions of self-similarity, fractality and para/isomorphism to be topics that epistemological metamorphology can have much input into. It’s all there waiting to be explored. And it’s not only the details that need to be added here. The whole field of this type of metatheoretical research has yet to be described.

There are many other aspects to this study of metamorphology that I regard as crucial to the development of integral metatheory. Perhaps we could explore them further but before I do—am I getting off the track with all this? Are we still on the same page here, Russ? I don’t want to launch off into my rather abstract interests at the risk of leaving the world of real concerns behind.

Russ: Your discussion so far weaves the two together very, very well. What strikes me initially is that you have offered a set of perspectives that are useful for understanding, well, anything! From the perspective of leadership, I think it would be useful to consider Table 9.2 as it directly relates to leadership and then see where that takes us. The chart is quite extraordinary and offers a way of including many approaches to the practice, study and understanding of leaders.

As I read the chart, you have identified twenty-four ways to talk about the roles of leaders: catalysts, healers, inquirers, change agents, archetypes and so on. Yet there is one exception. For example in “1. Developmental holarchy” you do describe a role—leader, but you are also describing a type of status, developmental or stage status. I wonder why you have treated this separately. Also, why not leader as developer of self and others…? This would be similar to transformational and translational agent or student and teacher. By implication, then, do you see these as overlapping categories in any way?

By focusing on role I immediately want to use the model of the individual holon to begin to ask what would be required for further clarification. In talking about role aren’t we focused primarily on upper and lower right, the agentic and communal behaviours? This does not tell us about the internal, the upper left. What would be the roles of beliefs, values, worldviews, intentions, etc.? Regarding lower left, what would be the nature of the leader’s comprehension of culture and, lower right, engagement with systems? Are any of these questions even worth raising in this approach? Let’s bring back Figure 8.2:

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You have suggested that we might link the perspectives that you outline with this figure. I am trying to wrap my mind around this challenge. It seems to me that all of your descriptions in 9.2 (with the exception noted) relate to the quadrants you label “AA.” Each of the perspectives on the role of the leader could be related to how the leader understands (or sees) his behavior, how those engaged with the leader sees his role and how an objective third-party would see his role.

On the other hand, each role description is describing a relationship to 2nd person “AA” at one or more of the levels. Some specifically focus on a level. For example, relational exchange opens consideration of virtually all levels. Also, there are implications for engagement with culture and with systems, for as you point out there is a need to move past the ping-pong transformation process that leads us to rack and ruin! Let me see if I can focus this a bit.

The lenses and levels of analysis offer a comprehensive set of tools for analysing any leadership situation. The integral lenses provide a set of perspectives through which to understand the role of the leader. We can develop that understanding through a combination of first, second and third person perspectives through the use of phenomenology, structuralism and behavioural analyses, for example. At this point, this is all about the leader as individual.

We have yet to address the questions for 1st, 2nd and 3rd person understanding of the leader’s relationship to culture and systems on multiple levels. These are important aspects of understanding leader ship since we are no longer concerned only with an individual, but we are also concerned with the context and its role, the culture and the systems, including the leader’s relationship to them on multiple levels and across a span of time.

At this point, Mark, you should have sufficient clues as to whether or not I am tracking with you and, hopefully, what I am reaching for.

Now let’s shift a bit, just to make this both more complicated and more useful at the same time. You indicate that social mediation, learning, evolutionary selection, governance holarchy, transition process and some standpoint lenses are missing from AQAL. I think Wilber would argue that the lenses (and perhaps the others) are there, but for the sake of simplicity, perhaps, they are subsumed, e.g. 2nd and 3rd person. In our dialogue we have danced with a fifteen-cell matrix and now this wonderful application of perspective to seeing leading (not leadership, necessarily). To engage leadership we would also have to elaborate the relationship between individual and collective holon. For the latter, I think Wilber’s discussion in the Excerpts from Kosmos 2 is helpful in that I think he more clearly articulates the differences between individual and collective holons. We can talk about that.

I propose that when we are ready that we put together a bit of a different kind of map. For example, let’s take a familiar leadership situation, real or fictional, and map a path to comprehending that leadership through the lenses, the perspectives, the individual-collective holons relationship and other variables, such as stages and types as well as the use of social mediation, learning, evolutionary selection, governance holarchy and transition processes. We could begin by describing the leadership situation and then take it step by step through the path of analysis.

Mark: Russ you bring up some complex issues, which mean that I might have to dive again into the heady waters of metatheorising (but there is some very rich territory there, as you are well aware). Table 9.2 sets out the results of an application of 24 metatheoretical lenses to the topic of leadership. There may be more; there may be fewer lenses than those that have been identified in this table, but at least we have something to work from with this compendium. These lenses relate to interiors and exteriors, to individuals, groups and larger collectives, to developmental levels, to the capacities for agency and communion, and so on. Of course, all of these lenses can be reduced into each other. That is the nature of a metatheoretical lens. For example, all of these lenses can be categorised according to those that relate to interiors and those that relate to exteriors. In this case, one would simply be reducing all aspects of leadership to the interior-exterior lens. Similarly, the same reductionist process could be performed using the AQAL quadrants. You could categorise each of these lenses into some quadrant and therefore proclaim the precedence of AQAL quadrants over any of these lenses. If you did this, looked at all lenses in terms of one or two lenses, and then categorise them according to those privileged dimensions, you would be performing a kind of metatheoretical reductionism. But you would not be honouring the contribution of each of these lenses nor would you be doing your metatheoretical research with any level of reflexivity or critical self evaluation. When we build up our metatheoretical lenses we do so according to some pre-existing meta-perspective and when we no longer rigorously question that meta-perspective (through an appropriate methodology) we are no longer being scientific. This highlights the need for an understanding of the domain specificity of integral metatheory.

The type of metatheory building that privileges some final set of lenses that cannot further be added to or revised in significant ways is not what I am about and I don’t think that process has much of a future anyway. One important element of a truly integral approach to metatheorising is that it must always be referring back to its “data”, that is, to the unit-level theories/models upon which it draws and from which it assembles its evidential base. When we find lenses or lens relationships that are present within unit-level theories that cannot be adequately accommodated within the larger metatheory, we then have an opportunity for revising, expanding and critically evaluating our metatheory.

We can always take the easy option of saying that every new perspective can be slotted in, in some way, into the pre-existing dimensions of the metatheory. For example, we might propose that the lens of social mediation is already part of Wilber’s AQAL model because it can be placed somewhere in the lower-right social quadrant. And this is a perfectly adequate categorisation according to the existing form of AQAL. The problem is that mediation theory at the unit level does not conform to either interior-exterior or individual collective lenses. Mediation is not essentially about interiors all exteriors, nor is it about the individual or the collective. We can test this by seeing if there are forms of mediation that would fit into any combination of interior-exterior and individual-collective lenses. If there are, then the mediation lens is independent of these dimensions. And that is precisely what we find in the literature. There are forms of mediation that can be easily categorised within or between existing AQAL quadrants.

When you ask why can’t we simply say that each of these new lenses is really buried there somewhere in existing the AQAL framework, you are actually saying can’t all lenses be reduced to some smaller set of lenses. And my answer is that you can do this. But when you do you are losing explanatory power in your metatheory. You are being reductionist. As an example, it is completely logical to say that all aspects of AQAL can be reduced to interiors and exteriors. This is like saying that all individuals have both interior and exterior domains and that all collectives at both interior and exterior demands. So individuality and collectiveity can be discussed in terms of interiors and exteriors. The same goes for the developmental holarchy lens. All levels can be located somewhere on the interior-exterior dimension. But it does not follow then that the individual-collective lens and the developmental holarchy lens are not required for a complete explanation of some event.

This is the same with the mediation lens. And, more importantly, when we analyse extant literature we find that the mediation lens has been proposed as a deliberate theoretical contrast to these other lenses. Vygotsky specifically developed his mediation lens as something that explained development in a totally different way to Piaget’s genetic epistemology (which relies so heavily on the interior-exterior distinction).

Similarly with the process lens, it can very reasonably be proposed that process theories can all be accommodated within Wilber’s AQAL quadrants. The quadrants can be used to categorise all different types of process theories. However, if the various types of process theories can be categorised according to AQAL quadrants this means that there is something about process that has not been captured by AQAL. I found that in the extant literature on organisational transformation, process theories can be used without any particular reference to interior-exterior or individual-collective or developmental or ecological holarchies or any of the other 24 lenses. I could not, in other words, explain process theories using any combination of the other lenses. In the same way mediation can not be explained, through the interaction of any of the other lenses. Each of the lenses provides some unique window into its subject matter.

So you are right to say that the new lenses I have identified from extant literature can be logically reduced to the existing AQAL lenses. But in doing so, we would lose the unique contributions of those lenses and our metatheory would suffer as a result. I hope this makes some sort of sense.

As for your suggestion of “describing the leadership situation and then take it step by step through the path of analysis” I think this would be a great idea and agree that we should set off on that path.

Russ: Before we do that, I would like to request a couple of clarifications. First, I did not see or get your response to the observation about “roles” in relation to Table 9.2 (ILR, March 2008). If you have any further comments on that, I would welcome them.

Second, I love the expression “metatheoretical reductionism”. This seems to add to the richness of our perspectives, not just to “lower level” quadrant reductionism (or any of the others), but an important understanding at the highest levels.

Third, I did not understand this conclusion: “However, if process theories exist in each quadrant this means that there is something about process that has not been captured by AQAL.” Would you please explain that a bit more before we continue?


Mark: The wide range of leadership role categories that are described in table 9.2 are the result of the application of the 24 lenses to the topic of leadership. Leadership can be thought of, interpreted, imagined, described, fictionalised, measured, narrated or scientifically researched using any one of these 24 voices or any combination of them. It all depends on the research situation, on the background and interests of the research and on the demands of the research itself. Table 8.2 offers an example of this sort of combination of metatheoretical lenses. I see the main purpose of such research to be more the constructive than deconstructive critique of theory and metatheory as they exist within academia, government and social policy, and the application of theory within organisations, cultural traditions, and wherever systematic systems of thought have been used to direct sociocultural activity.

I take my lead in this from the remarkable philosopher Roy Bhasker (the founder of critical realism) who I regard as one of the most important integral thinkers and philosophers of any age. Bhaskar has the view that we live in a reality that is fundamentally distorted, a “demi-reality” as he calls it. That we take the basic modes of reality and recreate them in distorted forms, “master-slave relationships” that reproduce false ways of knowing and doing over realities that are essentially good, liberated, and full of love. He talks about the fundamental layering of “categories” of reality in the same way that I use this term of “metatheoretical lenses”. These categories are conceptually dependent in that they rely on particular forms of shaping reality (my metatheoretical lenses). Bhaskar says that (2002, p. 54),

…in the social world the way in which reality may be categorised may be false. Social reality is conceptually dependent; the categories in terms of which we understand social reality may be systematically false, illusory, or misleading, and that is the clue to the concept of ideology. Ideology is a categorically confused reality. It is real but it is false. This is a possibility and an actualised possibility in social reality. The true nature of social reality is there.

I understand that what Bhaskar is referring to here as “ideology” is exactly equivalent to my idea of distorted metatheoretical lens. What I am trying to do is to describe undistorted and clarified forms of these lenses so that we do not overlay the reality of, for example leadership roles, with distorted reproductions of pre-existing “systematically false, illusory, or misleading” ideologies about leadership. When we think of leadership as something that exists only at the top the organisation in the executive levels we are reproducing ideology. We are enacting a distorted form of the governance holarchy lens and reproducing forms of leadership in that distorted image. It is not simply that we interpret leadership from this distorted ideology but that we also recreate it over and over again in the organisations that we build, maintain and reproduce on a daily basis throughout the world. When we do this we create what Bhaskar calls demi-reality, and what the ancients called Maya or illusion. In the words of Bhaskar (2002, p. 55):

[Human agents] live their life …in terms of illusion, they live it in terms of what I call a ‘ demi-reality’, a half-like reality. The task of social science is to penetrate that demi-reality through to the underlying reality and situate the conditions of possibility of the removal of illusion, of systematically false being. [emphasis in the original]

This is precisely what I see as the purpose of a truly transformative social science and particularly of an integral metastudies approach to social science (for more on this see idea of an integral metastudies see my article in the forthcoming issue of “The Integral Journal of Integral Theory and Practice”). My agenda in untangling the web of distorted forms of these lenses is to assist in this clarifying task of seeing what is before us. To help us see what we encounter more clearly and to not instinctively overlay the beauty and fullness that is there before us with our own dark assumptions, superficialities and incomplete expectations. Of course I am as prone to these limitations in my metatheorising as anyone else is. This is precisely why I do social science and not something else for my work and this is why Bhaskar refers to “the task of social science” as finding the conditions for the possibility of the removal of illusion. How do we systematically study leadership from a position of true being? How can we see and create leadership more clearly and with more honesty? How can we reproduce it so that it more transparently reflects the love and care and openness to life that we each display when we have the courage to lead? The framework of 24 lenses that I describe in table 9.2 is my contribution to this clarifying process. They each offer a unique window into leadership and they can be combined to explore that reality with greater clarity than many other systems of thought.

As to your second point regarding “metatheoretical reductionism”, I think that the development of undistorted forms of metatheoretical lenses is one of the great avenues for further research in the integral field. Metatheory is not only about identifying new lenses but it is also concerned with identifying undistorted relationships within and between lenses. So often the lenses we use are applied in reductionist forms. The ideological platforms of political parties are often built on these reductionisms and many of their social policies run aground on the rocky limitations that result from those ideological distortions. The classic example of this is perhaps in the policy approach that announces “the war on …”. Wars are the extreme behavioural outcomes of ideologies. We see this in “the war on drugs” which focuses on individual behaviour to the exclusion of social and structural issues. Conservative politics has placed the individual level of the ecological holarchy lens at the ideological centre of their world and elevated it to the position of primal causality for every social issue—individuals are the source of all good and all ill that takes place in society. Maoist communism takes the opposite end of the holarchy and elevates collectivism to the thrown of ultimate causality. From these distorted ideological positions they produce their disastrous social, environmental, economic and political policies. (And none of this has much to do with developmental level. The ecological holarchy lens is a completely different social discourse and fundamental category for understanding reality to that of the developmental holarchy.)

Anyway, to get back to the point about metatheoretical reductionism—it is not only the discovery of new lenses that is important for the development of metatheory but also untangling and making whole the relationships within and between these lenses (as I have perhaps clumsily tried to show in this example of the ecological holarchy lens).

As to your third point, in saying that, “if process theories exist in each quadrant this means that there is something about process that has not been captured by AQAL”, I mean simply that it is possible and actually quite common to find theorists and metatheorists viewing the whole of reality through a single metatheoretical lens and even through one particular facet of a reduced form of one single lens (see Figure 10.1a/b for graphic depictions of lenses and their facets – in this example the developmental and ecological holarchy lenses within a 5-facet presentation of the lenses). Everything they see gets swallowed up by this one lens. In this sense they are reducing all other lenses to the perspective of one lens. Let’s say, for example, that we are using the developmental holarchy lens and we reduce everything we see to this one question of levels. This is a form of metatheoretical reductionism. So if our lens includes the three levels of body, mind and soul and we find that the body has interior and exterior forms (felt embodiment and the physical body), that the mind has interior and exterior forms (thoughts and behaviours) and the soul has interior and exterior forms (intuitions and spontaneous action) we can still say (from our reductionism standpoint) that our developmental lens can account for all interiors and exteriors. So we say that there is no need for a new interior-exterior lens because the developmental lens can account for internal and exterior varieties of body, mind and soul. It’s all right there in the developmental levels. We delude ourselves into thinking that the developmental lens can account for all interior and exterior realities because we translate/reduce the insights they provide to something about levels. But if there are interior and exterior forms of every level this means, to me at least, that interiority-exteriority constitutes a new lens. Because interior and exterior forms are present within each facet of the developmental holarchy lens, they must constitute a new and separate dimension. This is why I say that if something is present in each facet of a lens or in each cell of metatheoretical matrix then it will probably constitute an independent lens in itself.

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We also see this reading of one lens in terms of another in the reductionisms that occur within a particular lens. For example, in the individual-collective lens, or as I prefer to call it (and represent it) the ecological holarchy lens, we see over and over again how individualist, collectivist or group-based understandings of some event are reduced into one another, are explained through one particular facet of this lens.

As a general rule, once we feel settled in our particular home paradigm (which consists of those lenses that we are trained in and/or accept as valid – either consciously or unconsciously), we tend to translate and reduce the insights of other lenses into those of our home paradigms. And it is the ongoing critical analysis of and self-examination of our own presumptions through rigorous methodologies that helps us to continue the process of metatheoretical refinement and integration.

So, one of the signs that we have fallen into this comfortable position of being happy with our home paradigm/metatheory is that we translate the insights of other lenses into the various facets of our accepted lenses. And, in the above example, I am saying that we can falsely justify not having an interior-exterior lens by saying that a developmental lens can account for all the perspectives provided by interiors or exteriors and so there is no need for the addition of another lens. Some colleagues have used the same arguments to me with regard to my insistence on the need for a mediation lens in integral metatheorising. They argue that there is no need for the addition of a mediation lens because all the insights of the sociogenetic view of development are already provided by existing AQAL lenses. I think their reasoning can be refuted by both logical and evidential arguments such as those I have pointed to here.

Finally, with regard to the issues of metatheoretical reductionism, I think that untangling the relationships within and between lenses is one of the great tasks of metatheoretical research. And there are a number of these sorts of patterns that indicate conflations, confusions and reductionisms within and between lenses. I really think that we have not yet begun to identify these patterns or indicators of errors and that we are only beginning to describe some of the techniques that are needed to provide clear pictures of the lenses we use to explain and understand what lies around us and within us.

Russ: That helps a lot, Mark. Thanks. A challenge before us, then, is to demonstrate how multiple lenses can reduce perception of demi-reality and increase perception of reality. In addition, we may want to consider the “fractal” potentiality of what we are explogin. Of course, this introduces all sorts of challenges. For example, what constitutes reality? I don’t intend an in depth exploration of that question, but it may be useful to suggest that it has something to do with the differentiation and integration of perceptions through multiple lenses. Each perception may be taken from a different position or stance in relation to the phenomenon observed. It is as though Figure 10.2 (below) could be replicated repeatedly with each replication representing a different lens. Then there would be the task of integration.

Alternative, we could add the lenses to Figure 10.2 so that each lens is shown to reduce perception of demi-reality and increase perception of reality of variable “layers” of the phenomenon being observed. In any case, I think of this not so much as achieving a goal of perceiving reality, but as an ongoing process since, in most cases, the phenomenon being observed is not static. Nor is the observer, nor the relationship between the two! We are not talking about the creation of static models or even consistent paradigms, but the both/and of discovery. Every achievement is only a moment. Then stuff happens!

As for your comments on process, allow me to get a little more basic. While Wilber talks about the quadrants (and their related holons) co-evolving, there is still some process dynamic between the quadrants and within the holons over time. Every time we get prescriptive or suggest paths to learning and development we are suggesting that there are such relationships. In addition, there is the relationship between the individual and collective holons. This seems to me to be critical to the study of leadership.

I can see how we can use the individual holon and related perspectives to explore a lot about the development and performance of leaders. Nevertheless, I would suggest that this is reductionist in that we also will be required, integrally, to address the development and performance of collectives. These stand in relation to each other. There are process dynamics all over the place. At the individual level, learning itself is such a process. So is communicating and decision-making and conflict management and a host of other aspects common to the study of leading. These also have parallels for collectives. Maybe what I am trying to grasp is how we can use the approaches we have been discussing to create the movie of leadership and leading, not just snapshots. This may require a different medium than the written word.

And here is where Bhaskar may be able to help us. Perhaps there is no escaping maya, demi-reality. But I do want to suggest that there are gradations of reality and of Maya, if you will. In Figure 10.2 I am suggesting that there is never, from a human perspective, total reality or total demi-reality. Rather there is some mix. My aspiration is for us to move the exploration of leading and leadership more to the left of this graphic depiction of possibilities. Our efforts would explore how we move what is perceived from right to left within the box of perception.

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Figure 10.2: The Relationship Between Reality and Maya

Where this takes me is back to my suggestion that we use what we have discussed so far to do a kind of case study of leadership. I would like to begin this by outlining some criteria for such a case study. The case we choose will:

  1. Provide an opportunity to avoid metatheoretical or any other kind of reductionism;
  2. Help us explore the potential for applying our discussion to clarifying aspects of leadership and leading;
  3. Engage the distinction between leader as individual holon and leadership as collective holon;
  4. Demonstrate the application and relevance of the lenses, beginning with the assumption that the twenty-four you have identified are relevant and holding the possibility that our discussion will lead to identifying additional lenses;
  5. Be of such a generic nature as to apply or be relevant as a model approach across cultures (if that is possible);
  6. Show how process is addressed in leading and in leadership; and
  7. Clarify where the challenges are for future efforts at exploring leading and leadership using metatheoretical foundations.

We can begin our next instalment with a clarification of these criteria and a description of the case…unless, of course, I have sparked something else for you that we need to address before we proceed.

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