Integral ecology

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Integral ecology is an emerging field that applies Ken Wilber's integral theory to environmental studies and ecological research. The field has been pioneered since the late 1990s by integral theorist Sean Esbjörn-Hargens and environmental philosopher Michael Zimmerman. Integral ecology integrates over 80 schools of ecology and 70 schools of environmental thought. It integrates these approaches by recognizing that environmental phenomena are the result of an observer using a particular method of observation to observe some aspect of nature. This postmetaphysical formula is summarized as Who (the observer) x How (method of observation) x What (that which is observed). Integral ecology uses a framework of eight ecological worldviews (e.g.,eco-manager, eco-holist, eco-radical, eco-sage), eight ecological modes of research (e.g., phenomenology, ethnomethodology, empiricism, systems theory), and four terrains (i.e., experience, behaviors, cultures, and systems). See table below for an overview of a few of the schools of ecology that integral ecology weaves together:

Terrain of Experiences Terrain of Cultures Terrain of Behaviors Terrain of Systems
Feminist Ecology Ethno-Ecology Chemical Ecology Paleo-Ecology
Psychoanalytic Ecology Linguistic Ecology Cognitive Ecology Historical Ecology
Deep Ecology Process Ecology Behavioral Ecology Political Ecology
Ecopsychology Information Ecology Mathematical Ecology Industrial Ecology
Romantic Ecology Spiritual Ecology Acoustic Ecology Social Ecology

Integral ecology is defined as the mixed methods study of the subjective and objective aspects of organisms in relationship to their intersubjective and interobjective environments. As a result integral ecology doesn’t require a new definition of ecology as much as it provides an integral interpretation of the standard definition of ecology, where organisms and their environments are recognized as having interiority. Integral ecology also examines developmental stages in both nature and humankind, including how nature shows up to people operating from differing worldviews.

Key integrative figures drawn on in integral ecology include: Thomas Berry, Edgar Morin, Aldo Leopold, and Stan Salthe.



  • Zimmerman, M. (1994). Contesting Earth’s Future: Radical Ecology and Postmodernity. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Zimmerman, M. (1996). “A Transpersonal Diagnosis of the Ecological Crisis.” ReVision: A Journal of Consciousness and Transformation 18, no. 4: 38-48.
  • Zimmerman, M. (2000). “Possible Political Problems of Earth-Based Religiosity.” In Beneath the Surface: Critical Essays in the Philosophy of Deep Ecology, edited by E. Katz, A. Light, and D. Rothenberg, 169-94. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.
  • Zimmerman, M. (2001). “Ken Wilber's Critique of Ecological Spirituality.” In Deep Ecology and World Religions, edited by D. Barnhill and R. Gottlieb, 243-69. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.
  • Hargens, S. (2002). “Integral development: Taking the Middle Path Towards Gross National Happiness,” in Journal of Bhutan Studies Vol 6. Summer pp. 24-87.
  • Zimmerman, M. (2004). “Humanity’s Relation to Gaia: Part of the Whole, or Member of the Community?” The Trumpeter 20 no. 1
  • Zimmerman, M. (2005). “Integral Ecology: A Perspectival, Developmental, and Coordinating Approach to Environmental Problems.” World Futures: The Journal of General Evolution 61, nos. 1-2: 50-62.
  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (2005). “Integral Ecology: The What, Who, and How of Environmental Phenomena,” in World Futures Vol 61, No. 1-2. pp. 5-49.
  • Hochachka, G. (2005). Developing Sustainability, Developing the Self. Victoria, BC: POLIS Project on Ecological Governance.
  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (2006). “Integral Research: A multi-method approach to investigating phenomena,” in Constructivism and the Human Sciences 11 (1-2) pp 79-107.
  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (2006). “Integral Ecology: A Postmetaphysical Approach to Environmental Phenomena,” in AQAL: Journal of Integral Theory and Practice Vol 1, No. 1.
  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S., & Wilber, K. (2006). Towards a comprehensive integration of science and religion: A post-metaphysical approach, in The Oxford Handbook of Science and Religion. Oxford: Oxford University Press pp 523 – 546.
  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S. & Zimmerman, M. E. (2008). “Integral Ecological Research: Using IMP to Examine Animals and Sustainability” in AQAL: Journal of Integral Theory and Practice Vol 3, No. 1.
  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S. & Zimmerman, M. E. (2008). “Integral Ecology” Callicott, J. B. & Frodeman, R. (Eds.) Encyclopedia of Environmental Ethics and Philosophy. New York: Macmillan Library Reference.

Special Issues[edit]

  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S. (Ed.) (2005). Integral Ecology special issue of World Futures Vol 61, No. 1-2. 163 pages.


  • Esbjörn-Hargens, S. & Zimmerman, M. E. Integral Ecology: Uniting Multiple Perspectives on the Natural World (Random House/Integral Books, 2008)

External links[edit]

  • [1] Integral Ecology Blog
  • [2] Michael Zimmerman's homepage
  • [3] Sean Esbjörn-Hargens website