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Systems integrity is an important concept in that it defines a system's capacity to function as an entirety

Systems integrity is an important concept in that it defines a system’s capacity to function as an entirety

Integration means the bringing together or connecting of things. It is the act of combining or adding parts to make a unified whole.1 As such it can be defined as the opposite from disintegration or differentiation, which means to “set apart.”2 The overall degree of integration to a system can be defined in terms of the integrity to the network of connections between its parts.
The systems paradigm looks at the world in terms of relationships and integration.3 Systems are integrated wholes whose properties cannot be reduced to those of smaller units. Instead of concentrating on basic building blocks or substances, the systems approach emphasizes the principles of organization; how the components are integrated into whole patterns of organization.
At a low level of connectivity what defines an entity is simply its set of elements. But as the degree of connectivity is turned up it is the connections between the parts that come to define the whole organization as a system. Thus what defines a system is the degree of connectivity, exchange, and interdependency between parts. When there are several components, this pattern of connections forms a network. At a low level of connectivity and integration, the system’s parts define the relations and the whole. But in integrated systems with a dense network of connections, this is inverted as the parts come to be shaped by the connections and the whole.


The degree of integration to the connections within a system is important because it defines how unified that system is. The connections within a system enable the flow of some resource through those connections; it is this flow of resources through the system that binds it into an interdependent whole. It is the movement of blood through the network of veins within the body that is a primary integrating factor to the whole system. Likewise, it is the flow of communications through a nation’s broadcast media that binds a modern nation state into a single, integrated socio-cultural unit. Social capital likewise can be understood as the number of connections within a community. A strong community is an integrated network of connections along which resources flow and which enables the community to experience itself and operate as an entirety.
Every new connection made within the system allows some resources to flow more efficiently, whether this is goods within a national transportation network, information to flow more freely around the world through telecommunication connections or resources within an ecosystem through the exchange between creatures. The more the connections, the greater the integration and the more the organization will form a unified system.


Integration is a primary factor in determining how effectively something will flow across a network and thus enable the whole system to experience the same process or phenomina

Integration is a primary factor in determining how effectively something will flow across a network, disintegration reduces this flow capacity and the ability for any overall process to take place

Disintegration may be understood as the opposite from integration as it defines the breaking up or removal of connections and a reduction in overall integration. As a system becomes disintegrated the relations are reduced, and parts become disconnected. No longer interdependent the system returns to a simple set of components without unity. From this perspective when looking at the difference between a functional community and a dysfunctional urban ghetto, we would note that there is some integration within the first social network that enables the flow of resources between members of the community, while the dysfunctional community would represent a disintegrated network that inhibits the flow of these resources and the overall functionality.
Although disintegration can appear as being solely dysfunctional it plays a major role in the development of a system, without disintegration there can not be reintegration. For example, on the level of the individual, this dynamic process of integration and disintegration is captured in psychology under the term positive disintegration. Unlike mainstream psychology, this theoretical framework views psychological tension and anxiety as necessary for growth. These disintegrative processes are therefore seen as positive, whereas people who fail to go through positive disintegration may remain for their entire lives in a state of “primary integration.”4


The connections within a system and its overall integration enable system-wide processes to take place. Through the connections, the parts to a system can become interrelated in performing some common function. For example, the human digestive system is a set of components that are integrated through a nexus of connections to perform one overall macro operation of processing inputted food into nutrients to be circulated. Or for example, when a business is operating as an integrated system, production processes can take place that span the entire organization. The system’s functionality may be reduced by some part not functioning properly or through lack of interoperability between the elements, leading to disintegration. Integration through connectivity then forms the foundations of the process of emergence. To achieve emergence within a system, the parts must be integrated so that a global process can take place through those connections. As another example of this, through globalization – which is the process of international integration5 – we are witnessing the rise of global processes, such as production and logistic processes that require the integration of economies and organizations across the world.


A biological system like a bird is able to act autonomously because of the integrity of connections between is constant parts enable systems level process to take place that are not immediately dependent on the environment

A biological system, like a bird, is able to act autonomously because of the integrity of connections between is constituent parts which enables systems-level processes to take place

Integrity is a defining factor to the autonomy of a system. As what defines a system is the pattern of connections between its parts, the greater the interconnections and interdependence between the elements within a system the more it can function as a coherent, integrated whole; defining its autonomy from its environment. This exchange between the parts enables processes to take place within the system that are autonomous – to some degree – from other systems and the environment.
Within an integrated community of people, there will be certain processes that take place making it a functional and autonomous society, with beliefs, social institutions and economic activity being interrelated to form a coherent society. 
Dependence may then be understood as the opposite of autonomy, and thus a lack of self-contained integration. Without appropriate connections between its parts, the system requires more connections to other entities within its environment to enable its functional processes to take place.


Integrity is a defining factor to autonomy. The word integrity evolved from the Latin adjective “integer,” meaning “whole” or “complete.”6 Integrity is the state of being integrated into a whole. An individual’s personal integrity, for example, is their capacity to define a set of moral rules and code that are coherent and to act in agreement with them. Integrity in this sense is generally understood as a personal choice to hold oneself to consistent moral and ethical standards.7 Integrity stands in opposition to hypocrisy. Where hypocrisy means a lack of integration between one’s stated values and actions.8 Hypocrisy implies that a party holds within themselves conflicting values and actions,9 and thus there is a lack of integration. When someone acts based on integrity they act according to some coherent set of rules, and this enables their autonomy from contingent events that are governed by a different set of rules. In this integrity of acting consistently under the same set of rules, the individual defines their autonomy and earns trust from others. With integrity others can trust that they will continue to operate under the same consistent set of rules in the future, in such a way others feel they know how they will act and can count on them to take actions based upon the rules.

Integration and disintegration

Integration and disintegration form a dynamic process through which a system develops to become part of larger systems and environments, as the integration to a system on one level must become, at least partially, disintegrated to promote integration on other levels. Integration represents a unique set of interrelations between a group of parts that defines them as in some way autonomous from other systems and their environment. But for a system to interoperate with other systems and form part of a more extensive system, some of the connections in the system will become compromised or redundant.
For example, as a traditional community becomes integrated into a modern nation state, some of the social, economic or cultural connections will be replaced by those forming with the larger society. Thus at the same time integrating the smaller subsystems into the larger organization of the parent society, but also working to disintegrate local connections within the community. This new set of links works then to reduce the integrity of the original system, in that they are governed by a different protocol and set of rules, as defined they the larger organization. Likewise, it works to reduce the original system’s autonomy in that it now becomes more dependent on the broader system, in some way.

Cite this article as: Joss Colchester, "Integration," in Complexity Academy, August 8, 2016,

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