Cultures of Rationality: Integral Politics in a Nonpolar World

project team members
The clickable list provides information on the team members, their research interests, and the fields involved.


Education systems, social media, business logistics, international diplomacy, and even global tourism are overlapping zones of encounter where people with very different value-systems and structures of consciousness try to do business with each other. Their sometimes competing objectives lead to conflict and misunderstanding when these differences are not properly identified, as they frequently are not within the ideologies of ‘diversity’ that currently hold sway among the university educated intelligentsia. Although the problem is sometimes addressed by calls for more “intellectual diversity” in education systems, we contend that it won’t be adequately addressed by encouraging, for example, conservatives and liberals to occupy the same educational and professional spaces, unless there are better models for understanding why they tend to talk past each other.

To this end we propose to bring two theoretical models into conversation. The first is Richard N Haass’s ‘non-polarity’ theory as introduced in a 2008 essay in Foreign Affairs. It proposes that in the era of globalization, the advent of new non-state actors with financial and opinion-making powers equivalent to those of nation-states has inaugurated a non-polar world where it is difficult to locate the direct lines of tension making up the world order. The second model is ‘integral theory’ as elaborated by Jean Gebser, Clare Graves, Ken Wilber and others. Integral theory is a developmental model that has identified a series of ‘structures of consciousness’ that dictate how individuals and societies experience the world. It differs from social constructivist theories currently popular in academe by recognizing that individuals can be more or less evolved than their communities, and that they can be forced to speak the values-language of a particular structure of consciousness from a personal position that is at odds with it. This allows one to develop ‘skillful means’ for dealing with individuals in politically fraught situations where interpreting their actions in terms of superficial cultural knowledge might be counterproductive.

Integral theory also allows us to recognise that in different communities where different structures of consciousness are dominant, rational decision-making looks very different. Therefore we have coined the term ‘cultures of rationality’ to describe professional, ethnic, national and other communities that have distinct assumptions and values that are often poorly understood by themselves or by the people they are in political communication with. Developing a complex vocabulary for describing these distinctions is imperative in a global scene where the terminology of left and right, or conservative and liberal, or secular and religious, is too blunt an instrument to cope with the shifting political landscape.

Our team comprises Ph.Ds in literature, physics, international relations and anthropology.

Integral theory is largely unknown within these fields. We believe it provides some of the needed concepts and vocabulary, and that by bringing it into conversation with our own academic fields we can contribute to a variety of interdisciplinary conversations across the humanities and sciences.