“A hierarchy is an arrangement of items (objects, names, values, categories, etc.) in which the items are represented as being “above,” “below,” or “at the same level as” one another.”
“Hierarchies are present within numerous systems, including organizations and classification schemes, they are used in artificial intelligence and in many other technological systems.”
“Hierarchies are present in all parts of society: In businesses, schools, families, etc. These relationships are often viewed as necessary. Entities that stand in hierarchical arrangements are animals, humans, plants, etc. However, feminists, Marxists, critical theorists and others analyse hierarchy in terms of the values and power that it arbitrarily assigns to one group over another.” (Wikipedia)
Many social structures such as organized religions tend to create hierarchical systems focusing on the pursuit of power, control, politics, money, possessions, and other worldly concerns.
Dominator hierarchies vs. functional hierarchies
The criticism related to hierarchical thinking has a strong basis in reality: Many social hierarchies are dominator hierarchies and can have strong pathological elements such as discrimination based upon gender, race, social status and so on, in which the fundamental value of a human being is ignored.
Dominator hierarchies are power- or authority- based and exclude a great number of people to higher levels, even those who are more competent.
The use of hierarchical structuring of individual psychological or collective social developmental levels, has within it the danger of being misused.
Dominator hierarchies are structured in such a way that the ultimate decision makers have no personal accountability and liability (and are repressive).
There are however a great number of functional hierarchies, which are means of growth to a greater self-actualisation for individual and collectively to transform social, cultural development to a higher level. And many structural systems even in nature, in biology are hierarchical.
The rejection of hierarchical structuring by post-modernists however is paradoxical: While dominator hierarchies are for a great part repressive in many ways and should be rejected, post-modernism itself includes human rights, feminism, ecological responsibility, anti-war, anti-racism and multi-culturalism, and so on. From a social, moral and logical point of view post-modernism is superior to modernism and represents a developmental stratification on a higher hierarchical level than modernism.
If there is a structure of stratifications within societal, psychological, moral, technological and cultural development, than to ignore this fundamental property of reality would be a great mistake.
Egalitarianism, based on the principle that all people are equal and deserve equal rights and opportunities, is of course of great value.
In a righteous society everyone should have healthcare, but not everyone has the talent or the technical ability to be a brain surgeon.
Furthermore people who are very talented in one field may not be so in another.
Dominator hierarchies :
Authority to Cooperation
Conditioning to Understanding
Stagnation to Growth and development
Conformity to Progression
Habitual to Innovation
Regression to Growth
Opinions to Fact-based
Tradition to Progression
Ignorant to Knowledgeable
Conformity to Creativity.
Authority to Capacity
What this means, of course, is that new forms of order must be evolved, to make social, moral and intellectual progress possible.
An understanding of individual and collective developmental lines and sequences is necessary if one wants to improve the development of these individual and collective processes.
Many of these processes obeys the logic of a successive unfolding; it can take a new decisive main step only when the previous main step has been sufficiently conquered.
For example, children go through stages of conceptual development as is recognised within educational systems.
The ability to understand complex information in children follows a developmental sequence which is hierarchical, and follows a sequential unfolding.
Generally it is clear that human beings go through stages of development.
Almost every system of organization applied to the world is arranged hierarchically.
Socioeconomic systems are stratified into a social hierarchy.
All the requisites of a well-rounded life can be organized using Maslow’s hierarchy of human needs.
Learning must often follow a hierarchical scheme.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia:
“Strategies for hierarchical clustering generally fall into two types:
Agglomerative: This is a “bottom up” approach: each observation starts in its own cluster, and pairs of clusters are merged as one moves up the hierarchy.
Divisive: This is a “top down” approach: all observations start in one cluster, and splits are performed recursively as one moves down the hierarchy.
There are emergent properties—functions that are not seen at the lower level (e.g., cognition is not a property of neurons but is of the brain
Level hierarchies are characterized by bi-directional causation Upward causation involves lower-level entities causing some property of a higher level entity;
Downward causation refers to the effect that the incorporation of entity x into a higher-level entity can have on x’s properties and interactions.
Organizational forms exist that are both alternative and complementary to hierarchy. Heterarchy is one such form:
A heterarchy is a system of organization where the elements of the organization are unranked (non-hierarchical) or where they possess the potential to be ranked a number of different ways. Definitions of the term vary among the disciplines: in social and information sciences, heterarchies are networks of elements in which each element shares the same “horizontal” position of power and authority, each playing a theoretically equal role.”
A heterarchy may be parallel to a hierarchy, subsumed to a hierarchy, or it may contain hierarchies; the two kinds of structure are not mutually exclusive. In fact, each level in a hierarchical system is composed of a potentially heterarchical group which contains its constituent elements.
In a group of related items, heterarchy is a state wherein any pair of items is likely to be related in two or more differing ways. Whereas hierarchies sort groups into progressively smaller categories and subcategories, heterarchies divide and unite groups variously, according to multiple concerns that emerge or recede from view according to perspective. Crucially, no one way of dividing a heterarchical system can ever be a totalizing or all-encompassing view of the system, each division is clearly partial, and in many cases, a partial division leads us, as perceivers, to a feeling of contradiction that invites a new way of dividing things. (But of course the next view is just as partial and temporary.) Heterarchy is a name for this state of affairs, and a description of a heterarchy usually requires ambivalent thought… a willingness to ambulate freely between unrelated perspectives.
An example of the potential effectiveness of heterarchy would be the rapid growth of the heterarchical Wikipedia project
In an organizational context the value of heterarchy derives from the way in which it permits the legitimate valuation of multiple skills, types of knowledge or working styles without privileging one over the other.
The term heterarchy is used in conjunction with the concepts of holons and holarchy to describe individual systems at each level of a holarchy.
Many hierarchies are also holarchies
A holarchy, in the terminology of Arthur Koestler, is a connection between holons, where a holon is both a part and a whole. The term was coined in Koestler’s 1967 book The Ghost in the Machine.
Holarchy is commonly referred to as a form of hierarchy; however, hierarchy, by its definition, has both an absolute top and bottom. But this is not logically possible in a holon, as it is both a whole and a part. The “hierarchical relationship” between holons at different levels can just as meaningfully be described with terms like “in and out”, as they can with “up and down” or “left and right”; perhaps more generally, one can say that holons at one level are “made up of, or make up” the holons or parts of another level. This can be demonstrated in the holarchic relationship (subatomic particles ↔ atoms ↔ molecules ↔ macromolecules ↔ organelles ↔ cells ↔ tissues ↔ organs ↔ organisms ↔ communities ↔ societies) where each holon is a “level” of organization, and all are ultimately descriptive of the same set (e.g., a particular collection of matter). The top can be a bottom, a bottom can be a top, and, like a fractal, the patterns evident at one level can be similar to those at another.
Hierarchies and Holarchies
Although there is a tendency in Postmaterialist, Pluralistic, New Age and Wilberian-Integral philosophy to say hierarchy bad, holarchy good, in fact both polarities are authentic aspects of reality, and hence both should be considered equally, without moral judgments.
The following table is based on material in an essay by Andrew Smith, How History Repeats Itself. Most of these are variations on the same theme
Form of relationship Hierarchy Holarchy
Structure Hierarchy is frequently shaped like a pyramid, with the number of individual members progressively decreasing at higher stages. The higher, the more inclusive. In holarchy, higher stages contain lower stages, so are necessarily larger.
Interaction/Control Control from the top down. In institutional hierarchies, individuals at higher stages may command or control the behavior of individuals at lower levels. Bidirectional interactions. In natural holarchies, lower holons and higher holons influence each other.
Relationship Linear chain of command. Hierarchical relationships can generally be traced from higher individuals to lower individuals in a sequential order. Networks. Holarchies can exhibit complex relationships. In nature, all networks are formed by the interactions of holons of some kind, and most networks are in turn holarchically combined into higher forms of life.
Role Fixed Roles. Individuals in institutional hierarchies are defined by particular functions they fulfill in the organization. Multiple states. Many natural holarchies feature different kinds of interactions among members.
Power-influence Power rankings. Individuals within a hierarchy can be distinguished according to how much influence they have. Those at one stage are ranked higher than those at a lower stage. Egalitarian. In most natural holarchies, most individual members are equal or nearly equal in their functions and properties. In some holarchies, a few members are better connected to other members, and these better connections may result in enhanced properties.
Because the purpose of the part is to serve the whole and the higher members or powers of a whole are parts of the whole, the higher members as well as the lower members of a society or social unit have obligations to serve the whole. Thus the higher-ranked members of a society or social unit have a special obligation to develop the good character and intelligence needed to serve the whole properly. And so the lower members normally–at least in theory–benefit from the special activities of the higher.”