Integral Review

A Transdisciplinary and Transcultural Journal For New Thought, Research, and Praxis

The Status and Relevance of Phenomenology for Integral Research: Or Why Phenomenology is More and Different than an “Upper Left” or “Zone #1” Affair

Wendelin M. Küpers

Abstract: The specific treatment that Ken Wilber gives phenomenology in his model of integral theory requires a critical investigation. According to Wilber’s model, different methodologies are situated in distinct quadrants or “domains of knowing,” namely the subjective, objective, intersubjective and interobjective domains, labeled by their position in the model’s matrix illustration, upper left, upper right, lower left, lower right. In this model, phenomenology is isolated in the UL quadrant, and even more specifically as the inside perspective of this subjective domain. What this means is that, according to Wilber’s classification, phenomenology is an exclusive, rather than inclusive, approach that limits its field of inquiry and therefore its range of knowing also to an inside exploration of the subjective.

In contrast to this positioning, a critical reflection on the current status and usage of phenomenology in integral theory is provided. The goal of this undertaking is to show that phenomenology–particularly in its more advanced forms–is more and different than something to put merely into “upper left” quadrant or to understand only as a “Zone 1” affair suggested in the conventional integral model.

In the first part the paper outlines an introductory understanding and examines classical (Husserlian) phenomenology as well as illustrates some of its limitations. Based on various critiques and further developments of phenomenology, the status and usage of phenomenology in integral (AQAL) theory is discussed critically. Particularly, this concerns the ordering of phenomenology into a separate realm or zone, the status of consciousness, including the debate related to its structure and states, and inter-subjective dimensions as well as the relation to contemplation and meditation.In a second part the paper introduces the more advanced phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty that overcomes the limitations of the previous versions of phenomenology. Advanced phenomenology entails a strong proto-integral potential and as such contributes to compensating for some of the weaknesses and limitations of integral theory.

Furthermore, a third part proposes that such advanced phenomenology provides the foundations for an “adequate phenomenology” in integral research. Based on the specific ontological, epistemological, and methodological considerations, this final part and the conclusion outline some perspectives on what is called integral “pheno-practice.” The explicated criticism and the proposed pheno-practical approach might enrich integral research, improve its theory building and empirical testing by offering perspectives of a more inclusive, coherent and relevant nexus of ideas and possibilities for integrative theory and practice.

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