What are types in integral theory?
Paraphrased from Integrallife.com in an overview of integral theory, types are the variety of consistent styles that arise in the different aspects of our lives. They are stable and resilient patterns that can overlap and may even be incongruous. For example, Myers-Briggs personality types, masculine and feminine genders, and even astrological signs are different typologies that we can use to attempt to understand people.
A simplified way to think about types can be seen in human language. We organize our very existence by giving names to objects and concepts, allowing us to access and communicate layers of information by understanding a simple pattern – nouns, adjectives and verbs. Words are therefore types: the connection between the abstract and concrete, internal and external realms. However, types are not so much the definition of something as they are a framework for how we organize and communicate about the world by identifying patterns and shared characteristics. And in language, it is how we stitch the types together in functional relationships that creates meaning.
The productive edge: relationships between types
Each element in any permaculture design is essentially a type. Permaculture uses a mapping technique known as needs, products, behaviors and intrinsic characteristics to help flesh out what we know about the elements (types) in our designs. This exercise helps us discover the edges of our elements, revealing the potential relationships between them. Once we know this information, we can connect our elements to each other in a functional network. In other words, these relationships define the functions that a type can provide to the design.
For example, a group of trees which primarily function as a windbreak can also produce firewood, create microclimate and serve as wildlife habitat. These functions all are dependant on the connections to other elements in the design: a windbreak needs another element to protect, firewood needs someone to burn it, etc. In permaculture we want each element to serve multiple functions and have multiple connections to other elements. The more connections between the needs, products, behaviors, and characteristics of elements, the stronger and more resilient the design. Once we’ve made an initial connection, we need to continue to observe the elements to ensure the relationship is functioning through time.
While the details will be different from situation to situation, types give us a rough framework of patterns from which to stitch our design together. Ultimately, the possibilities of types that we could work with are not as important as how they connect and relate with one another.
People are the most complex element in the whole design.
By definition, permaculture is designing for people. Culturally, we have a habit of not considering people enough in the first place in all the things we do, let alone integrating them into any sort of permaculture design. We need to make an attempt to take into account all aspects the design, starting with creating an awareness of for whom and within what social contexts the design is occurring, and of the broad patterns that people create within and surrounding the design.
People are not as simple as a chicken or a windbreak, but have layers to their lives owing to the different life experience, roles and responsibilities they take on. In other words, just as in the definition from integrallife.com, people are a combination of many overlapping types, and the types can even be conflicting or contradictory. This greatly increases the complexity of the design.
Adding to the complexity, all of these types will change through time: a design for a bachelor would be completely different than one for a family, and in time, the bachelor could eventually have a family. Through time the design has to have the flexibility to change as both the landscape and the lives of the participants in the design change.
Connecting the Dots
Knowing what types of people are present, what types of lives they lead and what type of community surrounds them does give us some guidance as we create a design. But we need to keep in mind that with all the potential complexity that people bring to the table, actually creating a working, static design is very improbable. Instead, we need to create feedback loops that allow us to emergently understand and be more sensitive to the needs of a particular person, group of people, or place.
Permaculture tells us to carefully observe all the elements of our design, which includes the people involved. We must open our eyes to all the myriad things that that support us as humans, as well as see and change the things that don’t. We can increase our ability to do this by recognizing that designing for a place and a person are reflections of each other. Crafting an element for a space also requires room for that element in the person – and conversely, a design for a person requires the support of a place. At the end of the day, if the place does not support the person – or the other way around – it is not a permanent (permaculture) solution.
A permaculture design cannot exist apart from the rest of the world, and especially not from people. Not only does the physical world require constant exchange of materials and energy, but our mental and social selves need that exchange too. Our permaculture designs are supported by systems and structures not only within our human selves, but also in the outside world, and we need to be aware of and connect to those elements.
Perhaps striving for the perfect self-contained permaculture design is the opposite of what we need to do; it can only create a bubble that will ultimately stagnate and become irrelevant. People are a major agent for change, and the more connections we make to and through them creates more possibility for change. Therefore, people are the most important asset to any design. When we create as many connections within and outside our design as possible, we can become truly sustainable and create real change in the world.