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Constraints and philosophy

Higher Orders of Inter-sectoral Consensus (Part #8)

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It is important to be clear on the proposed method of work, the resources available, and the nature of the window of opportunity.

Given the short time available, many corners must be cut in order to determine the feasibility of the initiative and to converge on a fruitful outcome. This is not a high resource exercise, although adequate resources are available for certain stages of the process.

In exploring the formal constraints and opportunities of such an inter-sectoral gathering, there is a parallel challenge of reconciling the theoretical contributions, and ensuring mutual constraints amongst them. From a theoretical point of view this is essentially an "inter-paradigmatic" problem, for which no single theory is adequate. The concrete opportunity must also be used to severely constrain the theoretical niceties which it might otherwise be interesting to explore.

It is important to stress the challenging parallel between the sectoral issues of sustainable development and the dynamics in the conceptual realm between disciplines committed to (sustainable) conceptual development. In a real sense unless those capable of articulating formal insights can apply them to constrain their own excesses (notably relating to territoriality, dominance, and the abuse of meeting resources), then such excesses at the conceptual level (by the most eminent) will continue to reinforce similar excesses at the inter-sectoral substantive level. Progress towards sustainable development will continue to be undermined.

This project is presumptuous to the extent that it explores integrative possibilities marked by failure in the past. Integration of incommensurable perspectives has not proven feasible. This "expedition" may prove "successful" precisely because it does not aspire to seamless integration. Rather it attempts the paradoxical task of providing a framework for discontinuity using insights from incommensurable disciplines whose insights need to be held in juxtaposition. Furthermore, success may be assured by avoiding the arrogant ambition of final theoretical closure and completion that precludes the kind of sustainable conceptual development which the future naturally demands.

This project can usefully be envisaged in a "fail-safe" mode, namely that whatever is accomplished will provide useful insights for the future, even if it proves impracticable to bring it to fruition within the Rio deadlines. The problem of inter-sectoral collaboration and tension will not go away. It does raise major theoretical as well as practical issues.

A minimum achievement would be to formulate the problem in terms which attract the continuing interest of disciplines for which it constitutes a meaningful challenge. Identification of catalytic imagery to facilitate comprehension of a new order of possibilities could constitute another by-product (see Annex 8, which has already been widely circulated). Articulation of elements of a "solution" in the specifications of an accessible computer programme, in order to facilitate the structuring of "consensus" documents of a higher order, might constitute another form of achievement (see Annex 9).

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