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52 of 55 people found the following review helpful
on August 16, 2009
Three and a Half Stars * * * 1/2

I had high hopes for this book. Both authors have impeccable credentials. Sean Esbjorn-Hargens has written some excellent articles introducing Wilber's multi-perspectival paradigm into mainstream academia. And Michael Zimmerman is an important environmental philosopher in his own right. Therefore, as someone who supports and contributes to the integral project, I was looking forward to reading this 800 page opus, which from the reviews seemed fascinating. I expected to find many perspectives here and many interdisciplinary thinkers and visionaries discussed, and their insights drawn upon. What I didn't expect to find, but perhaps should have expected, was such an unquestioning reliance on Wilberian theory alone. The two authors seem to have no presence of their own.

Even so, there are many good things about this work:

o For me the most valuable element in this book is the emphasise (as part of ist multi-perspectival methodology) on "interiors", that is, on the fact, always obvious to me but denied by mainstream science, that animals are not "objects" but have a rich inner life just as humans do. This then opens the way to many revolutionary insights involving inetrsubjectivity and cross-species communication. For its ground breaking contributions in this field alone, Integral Ecology is extremely important.

o And the multiperspectival approach to ecology is itself worth presentingm, and in this respect Integral Ecology constitutes the beginning of an important "paradigm shift" in science, moving away from an obsession with externals and objectivity only, to realization that objective reality and objective methodology is one of a number of perspectives. Within the context of pragmatic ecology, the multiperspectival theory means rejecting of limited approaches of development only, preservation only, and so on, while including the insights of each.

o One of the most intersting parts of the book is an all too short appendix which gives a brief listing of 200 different ecological perspectives, everything from Acoustic Ecology to Zoosemiotics. I would have preferred this section to have been several times longer then its 40-odd pages.

o As to be expected with the Integral community and the high standard they place on learning and on citations, the book is comprehensively and impressively researched, with 134 pages of footnotes as reference, very appealing to academic "geeks" like myself!

o I know this is rather trite, but I love the graphic showing the four aspects (quadrants) of the frog on the cover and the inside frontpiece.

o Finally, for anyone who is intersted in a synoptic overview of Wilber's increasingly elaborate and complex Integral Theory, but cannot be bothered reading the thousands of pages in print and online, this book can serve as an excellent primer, with clear text and useful diagrams.

But if I give this book four stars rather than the five it would certainly deserves from the above points, it is because of the following:

o as mentioned, an excessively uncritical tone as regards Mr Wilber himself. His name seems to appear on every second page, and you won't find a single challenge to even one of his ideas. This would be fine if this was a religious or hagiographic work, but it is an academic text. And even within the Wilber community itself those like Mark Edwards who, while sympathetic to Wilber, have positively critiqued his work, and suggested where his theory can be improved (and Wilber somewhere even praises Edwards' critiques). Michael Zimmerman has elsewhere (the Integral World website) provided a very readable synopsis of Edwards, so there is no reason that some of these critiques can't get at least a passing mention, considering how many pages are devoted to Wilber's ideas otherwise.

o Associated with the above is the fact that no one else but Wilber is considered in establishing the foundations for such an important field as integral ecology. The result is that integral ecology is reduced to nothing but a subset of Wilber's integral theory found in Integral Spirituality: A Startling New Role for Religion in the Modern and Postmodern World and many other books. But I could think of Vladimir Vernadsky (The Biosphere: Complete Annotated Edition), James Lovelock (Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth and other books) and Erich Jantsch (Self Organizing Universe: Scientific and Human Implications (Systems Science and World Order Library. Innovations in Systems Science)) as examples of interdisciplinary scientists, and Integral Yoga: Sri Aurobindo's Teaching & Method of Practice in philosophy and spirituality, and Oliver Reiser (Cosmic Humanism, sadly long out of print) in both science and philosophy.

o One thing I felt in reading this book is a certain cognitive disjunction. In some places it reads as a primer on Wilber's philosophy, in others as a textbook on Ecology. Both are equally referred to, but they are not integrated. It is like two totally unrelated books that somewhow became slpiced together.

o A poor understanding of hard science seems to be a problem with much of the Wilberian movement, which comes instead from a postmodern philosophical, transpersonal psychological, and Eastern spiritual perspective. Take Darwinian evolution. As it is well known that Wilber prefers Intelligent Design (see his A Brief History of Everything p.20 (2nd edition, Shambhala, 2000), and also Frank Visser's Integral World website), I was curious to see how Esbjorn-Hargens and Zimmerman would handle this touchy (for Wilberians) subject. Sure enough, Darwinian science gets a curt and dismissive coverage, e.g. "No one has any idea how such an enormously complex code [as DNA] could have arisen by chance encounters of amino acids. So daunting is the task of explaining DNA that the world-famous defender of atheism, Antony Flew, recently became a theist who now believes in the existence of a God..." (p.79) Now, mind you, the authors (like Wilber himself) are not denying the development of life itself, only the scientific explanation of how life evolves. Again, were this a religious or philosophical book there would be no problem. But for me at least the value of the book is diminished because of this. Integral Ecology has to include many things, and among those things is real science.

o Finally (and this is admittedly a small thing, but is I believe symptomatic of problems with this work as a whole, and of the whole Integral initiative established by Wilber), I found it rather surprising that on the top of the inside front flap there is a recommendation by Wilber "This is the finest book on ecology bar none". Well, he would recommend it, because it is so uncritically about his ideas! But one wonders at the culture of narcissism of the Integral Institute, that it is considered necessary to have the master recommend a book about himself.

In the end, what can I say about this book? Would I recommend it?

Yes I would, because despite its flaws (which reflect in microcosm the flaws of the Wilber Integral community as a whole), it still does constitute an important and groundbreaking work. If you are a fan of Wilber, it serves as a masterful if uncritical application of his ideas to the field of ecology. If you are interested in different approaches to ecology, I would also recommend it, as it does make a very good case for the value of multiple but equally valid perspectives, if you are not bothered by the excessive overburden of Wilber theory. Certainly it serves as a useful reference in either field.

But at the same time, a truely comprehensive Integral Ecology will have to wait until there is a wider synthesis of many different insights. It cannot be limited to just the theories of one man alone.
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5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on July 16, 2013
I am about halfway through this book and had never been exposed to Wilber's integral theory, but have long taken a multi-perspective approach to acquiring reliable knowledge, particularly in the way presented by Stephan Harding at Schumacher College.

This book would get 5 stars if it were titled, "Integral Ecology: Applying Ken Wilber's Theory to an Ecological Worldview." I have searched the book and cannot find a single critique of Wilber even though he is referred to as an authority on every page. I find the approach very useful and in many ways eye-opening. But the lack of multiple-perspectives when it comes to Wilber feels disingenuous. I know then Hargens has written elsewhere about the need for many approaches to integral ecology. But that makes the fact that the uniform emphasis on Wilber is unmentioned in the title feel even more disingenuous. Moreover, it makes the work academic unreliable and invalid unless Hargen and Zimmerman or someone else undertakes the effort to go through this book and add in a critical lens on Wilber.

This is great for a read on Wilderian ecology, but fell short as a full integration of an Integral Ecology into a wider audience and effort. I look forward to a work that includes a fuller history of integral approaches and applications, or at least one that devotes a section to naming and acknowledging that history before 800 pages dedicated to a single perspective on taking multiple perspectives.
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14 of 18 people found the following review helpful
on April 8, 2009
This was a very good book, and very readable if you have some familiarity with Ecology or with Wilber's theory; if you are lucky enough to be familiar with both this should be a walk in the park.
There is a great deal of material that the writers try to synthesize, so it is difficult to summarize the book adequately, but I'll try to give the bare bones version.
Ecological views consist of a WHO a WHAT and a HOW. The WHO is usually an individual or groups of individuals who are interested in the planet, the WHAT is the terrain they are interested in. The writers hold that perspectives are fundamental to all forms of knowledge, but like a good constructive postmodernist, they claim that a "good¨ perspective can lead to "real" knowledge. Thus a perspective a WHO takes (sometimes unreflectively) leads them to look at a specific dimension of the WHAT (a terrain) and ask HOW can I learn more about it? What are these terrains? Well theoretically they can me a huge amount but the writers focus on 4 major perspectives available to a WHO that have been explored historically. These are the I domain ("subjective realities of any being at all levels of its perception"), WE domain (inter-subjective realities of any being at all levels of its communion), IT ("objective realities at all levels of its organization"), ITS ("inter-objective realties of any being at all levels of its intersection").
Having just foreshadowed this point, all beings have depth and complexity. Depth can be mapped as levels of interior and cultural experience/meaning-communication respectively. Complexity shows up as emergent properties in the physical domain (physics, chemistry, biology to give most obvious example), and nested systems within systems in how objective properties relate to each other (most systems approaches are dealing with this). Interestingly the depth dimension in beings applies to both what we look at and who does the looking, i.e. the researcher/theorist and the "being" looked at. This view leads to the importance of the individual who is looking. Some time is spent at showing how interior depth is important in a person's ability to adequately engage certain approaches, since certain kinds of knowledge are only available by 1st person acquaintance. To really study the emotional lives of chimps, you probably shouldn't send someone with anti-personality disorder (or what use to be called a psychopath, sociopath); you want someone with a very developed sensitivity to the emotional domain in both its span (types of emotions) and depth (profundity/subtlety of emotions). The writers cover much more material in the levels of a Who that is simply too complex to summarize in this format, but hopefully the above gives you a sense for the direction they take.
A little summary so far from a diagram(p261) I domain (WHO: researcher, HOW: Comparative psychology, WHAT: Animal as psychologically structured organism), WE domain(WHO: researcher, HOW: long term field study, WHAT: animal as culturally regulated organism), IT domain(WHO: researcher, HOW: direct observation, WHAT: Animal as physical and behavioral organism), ITS (WHO: researcher, HOW Functional fit analysis, WHAT: Animal as system-bound organism).
These domains are then further subdivided into two each giving eight total. This is done because you can try to take an insider's or outsider's perspective relative to each domain. I'm just going to give examples: I domain divides into Zone 1(animal phenomenology/experience) and Zone 2(developmental Ethology, mental development of animals). The WE domain divides into Zone 3(Zoohermeneutics, animal interpretations), and Zone 4(Zooethnography, animal culture). The It domain divides into Zone 5(Cognitive Ethology, animal cognition, a field waiting for its own Pinker to popularize itselfº ) and Zone 6(Zoology, animal biology). The ITS domain divides into Zone 7(Biocybersemiotics, socio-communication) and Zone 8 (Socioecology (animal societies).
All this dividing and mapping is useful in getting a fuller, richer, and more accurate understanding of the environment and our relationship to it. Most theorists or researches tend to only include 1-3 of the eight possible views highlighted above and because they don't properly see the role of their Who and the HOW in enacting the WHAT they tend to take their WHAT as the only way to see it (reductionism) and their HOW as the only way to again knowledge about it (epistemological reductionism).
Also since they include depths of interiors in all beings they can and do talk about the spiritual implications of this view. There is much more detail to the theory then I was able to summarize. Also if you're left feeling this is too abstract to be applicable, blame me not the book. Half the book is concerned about what it means to apply/enact their perspective when dealing with ecological issues. It even includes three insightful case studies from three independent authors. There are numerous notes and citations to help the interested reader delve deeper into the topics mentioned. I appreciated the academic carefulness of the writers. They also classify around 200 ecological approaches within their eight domains. I hope integral books keeps coming out with such nice publications, and no I'm no academic, I'm just a curious dude.
Finally I think the book would appeal to two kinds of people: those who know a lot about ecology and are interested in bringing their knowledge into some sort of relatedness, and those who know Ken Wilber's integral theory and would like to see what it looks like when applied to a specific domain like ecology.
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6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
on March 31, 2009
It is hard to do justice to this extraordinary book. Its scope is enormous, scholarship meticulous, degree of synthesis rare, and its spirit both inclusive and generous.

The book applies Ken Wilber's integral framework (the most inclusive and integrative conceptual framework currently available) to the field of ecology. It thereby manages to incorporate ideas and perspectives from more than 200 approaches to ecology. It does this by incorporating the contributions of each approach, while also identifying the partiality of each, and then going beyond them all to offer an inclusive, multidisciplinary (or actually transdisciplinary), multiperspectival synthesis. The result is an extremely impressive yet readable text that offers a superb, uniquely encompassing and synthetic overview of ecology.
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1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
on July 6, 2009
Integral Ecology gives us the first of major application of Ken Wilber's integral model beyond his own writings. Not surprisingly its scope and depth are vast, and the scholarship upon which it rests detailed and exquisite. This amazing investigation will be required reading and an invaluable resource for future ecologists for many years to come.

Allan Combs, author of the forthcoming Consciousness Explained Better; The Radiance of Being; Changing Visions (with Ervin Laszlo), etc.
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