F. Theory and its Environments

Constraint and Objectivity in Ecological Integration

To pursue radical integration and to bring together disparate paradigms, it is necessary to determine how paradigms, theories, and theoretical practices themselves constrain integration, and how those constraints may be overcome.

Two sources of constraints inject bias into the Academy: 1) bias that originates in society at large; and 2) bias that operates within the intellectual community. These constraints (often in the form of hidden assumptions) act as filters and control gates that influence intellectual thought and exchange. Within the Academy there are three additional overlapping kinds of sociological constraints on integration: 1) scholasticism, `schools' of training, lineages that share approach, subject matter, publication outlets, and desired rewards; 2) methodological philosophy, including experimental vs. comparative, search for a single cause vs. evaluate spectra, hierarchical vs. single level, broad vs. specific methodologies; and 3) personality of individual researchers, with biases toward criticism vs. construction, quantification vs. qualitative analysis, creative expression vs. technical, practical vs. conceptual, and so on.

Different ontogenetic stages (explicitness), different currencies, and degree of difference between the objects being integrated all are potential constraints on the integration of concepts with phenomena, theory with theory, paradigm with paradigm, or hierarchical integration of any of these.

Investigative Objectivity and Changes in Paradigm

Objectivity has two immediate sources. One resides in the open-ended procedures that are applied to relating theoretical constructs to observable phenomena (Figure 4). Multifaceted methodological tools, including rules of evidence, deconstruction, and multiple working hypotheses, act as cross-checks, help to specify limits to knowledge, and contextualize biases. Such procedures encourage the individual to take a more distanced view, particularizing their accomplishments within evolutionary, historical, and cross-cultural perspectives. It may be recognized that no one's theory is able to explain certain sets of observable phenomena. On the other hand, when two or more theories are apparently accurate, coherent, and fruitful, it may be possible to combine them into a new paradigm. The second immediate source of objectivity resides in the diversity of the investigative community (Longino 1990). Reduction of bias is enhanced by the participation of investigators with different intellectual proclivities and cultural backgrounds. This is important, for example, in identifying previously understated, unstated, or unsuspected background assumptions. This kind of analysis may be critical for the open scrutiny of social biases, for recognizing the construction of power relations in dominant discourses, and for shifting paradigms in new and creative ways.

The next section of this essay represents an attempt to mobilize the kind of method-for-theory we have summarized above in the service of furthering integration and theory building in human ecology, particularly as it applies to human ecosystems.

You are here