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Integrative Failure

Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue

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Part C of Towards Transformative Conferencing and Dialogue: Collection of papers and notes, problems and possibilities on the new frontier of high-risk gatherings concerning social development (1991).


Although integrative skills may be successfully applied to a situation, their elusive nature can be partially defined by the ways in which such skills may fail or be used to conceal abuse.

1. Reduction in variety

A simple way to ease the integrative problem is to reduce the diversity of elements present in the situation using an argument for standardization and against any "hodge podge" mixture of elements. This of course eliminates some minority interests. In the extreme case of destructive or "meltdown" synthesis, all variety is eliminated.

2. Reduction in quantity

By eliminating a significant number of the elements, the problem may also be eased. The argument that can be used is that they are well-represented by the variety of elements that remain and that any "proliferation" of elements is disorderly. In practice this results in the absorption of some elements by others, such as in the case of minority groups.

3. Simplification

: Subtleties and nuances, possibly defended by specific minority groups, may be ignored. Interconnecting webs of relations can be ignored.

4. Tokenism

Emphasis may be placed on the image or desirability of synthesis in order to conceal inability to achieve any steps towards it.

5. Temporary synthesis

In a dynamic situation it may be possible to achieve some measure of integration in the short-term by ignoring factors temporarily absent or only emerging over longer time cycles.

6. Coloured synthesis

A significant degree of synthesis may be achieved, but from a particular viewpoint or in terms of a particular mode, approach or strategy. The narrowness of such a synthesis, coloured by the perspective of those who achieve it, may be difficult to communicate within the framework established by that synthesis.

7. Enforced synthesis

In some instances, as with a dynamic set of minority interests, a form of integration may be imposed by constraining the dynamics (although without reducing the number or variety of the elements).

8. Dogmatic synthesis

An impression of synthesis may be achieved by stating frequently and forcefully that it has been achieved and thus eroding expectation that a greater degree of synthesis is possible.

9. Laissez faire synthesis

By reinterpreting the nature of synthesis or integration, it may be deemed to exist under any circumstances as the pattern of interaction amongst the elements. No intervention is required, although if undertaken it would merely add to the pattern of interaction.

10. Agglomerative synthesis

Appropriate integration may be assumed to have been achieved simply by ensuring the juxtaposition of the various elements or viewpoints. This corresponds to the use of the prefix "multi" (eg in multidisciplinary). In books reflecting such a multidisciplinary synthesis, it is the binding which provides the synthesis, given the absence of any relationship between the constituent disciplinary chapters.

11. Comparative or cross-referential synthesis

Integration may be assumed to have been achieved by recording comparisons between the perspectives or elements. This often corresponds to the use of the prefix "cross" (eg in cross-cultural).

12. Cross-impact synthesis

Integration may be assumed to have been achieved by taking into account the constraints and feedback loops emerging from other disciplinary perspectives. This may correspond to use of the prefix "inter-" (eg in interdisciplinary). Note however that it is only with the emergence of a new level of order that a synthesis breakthrough may be said to have occurred (this may correspond to the use of the prefix "trans-" as in trans-disciplinary).

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