Re: [xmca] Re: the Strange Situation

From: Martin Packer <packer who-is-at>
Date: Thu Oct 30 2008 - 13:10:25 PDT

Mike, do you have the reference for Papert & Terkel?

On 10/30/08 12:26 PM, "Mike Cole" <> wrote:

> I agree with you Martin that it is important realize that terms are used
> with somewhat different meanings in different academic discourses. Papert
> and
> Terkel have an article, apropos of computers as media of instruction, of
> constructivism "versus" constructivism that so far as I can tell does not
> make
> contact with the work you refer to at all.
> Dewey is back!! Wow.
> mike
> On Thu, Oct 30, 2008 at 8:22 AM, Martin Packer <> wrote:
>> Eric,
>> The labels vary. Yes, Gergen calls his approach constructionism. Anyone who
>> wants to explore the debate over Gergen's approach in particular could do
>> worse than look at the two issues of Theory & Psychology on this topic in
>> 2001 and 2003. There, Nigel Edley draws a distinction similar to the one
>> I've made, saying that:
>> ³social constructionism is not best understood as a unitary paradigm and
>> that one very important difference is betweenŠ [what Edwards (1997) calls]
>> its ontological and epistemic forms. I argue that an appreciation of this
>> distinction not only exhausts many of the disputes that currently divide
>> the
>> constructionist community, but also takes away from the apparent radicalism
>> of much of this work² (Edley, 2001, p. 433)
>> But Edley, having made this important distinction, makes a mistake, in my
>> view, by arguing *against* the ontological kind of constructionism. In his
>> view Gergen's social constructionism is not as controversial as it seems,
>> because it avoids ontological claims. I agree with him the Gergen's
>> constructionism is not controversial, because it merely claims that
>> knowledge is constructed. This is clearly the case. But what Gergen
>> apparently fails to appreciate is that to construct a representation of
>> reality is not to construct reality. Human reality, too, is constructed,
>> but
>> in practice, not by making representations (either mental, as for Kant,
>> Husserl, Piaget, and others, or linguistic, as for Gergen and others).
>> And in the second issue of T&P Ian Burkitt examines the various ontologial
>> positions within constructionism. He points out the problems and
>> contradictions in Gergen's efforts to be "ontologically mute" and argues
>> for
>> "a more fundamental ontology," drawing in part from Merleau-Ponty's
>> emphasis
>> on human embodiment in the world:
>> ³Gergen is right to say that as soon as we attempt to articulate what there
>> is we enter the world of discourse, history and culture, but it is a shame
>> that he feels this renders constructionism ontologically muteŠ. The
>> relationship between language and the sensible, then, is a constant
>> dialectic with no ending because language can never capture the mute world
>> of the sensibleŠ. Here we find the crux of the structuration between
>> perception and articulation, the sensible structure and the structure of
>> language. In eradicating the sensible and perceptual element of this
>> dialectic, constructionists present to us only the constant interchange of
>> language without the silent source of the dialogue; the attempt to
>> articulate the perceptual faith, the desire to say what there is² (Burkitt,
>> 2003, p. 331)
>> This notion of a "dialectic... between language and the sensible" in which
>> human knowledge is not distinct from reality but part of it takes us back
>> to
>> Vygotsky's exploration of thinking, perceiving, and speaking.
>> Martin
>> Burkitt, I. (2003). Psychology in the field of being: Merleau-Ponty,
>> ontology and social constructionism. Theory & Psychology, 13(3), 319-338.
>> Edley, N. (2001). Unravelling social constructionism. Theory & Psychology,
>> 11(3), 433-441.
>> On 10/30/08 9:53 AM, "" <>
>> wrote:
>>> Martin:
>>> I believe you are referring to constructionism. Constructivism is
>> Latour's
>>> theory of scientific communities.
>>> eric
>>> Martin Packer
>>> <> To: "eXtended Mind,
>>> Culture, Activity" <>
>>> Sent by: cc:
>>> xmca-bounces@web Subject: Re: [xmca] Re:
>> the
>>> Strange Situation
>>> 10/29/2008 03:33
>>> PM
>>> Please respond
>>> to "eXtended
>>> Mind, Culture,
>>> Activity"
>>> Dewey,
>>> I was sketching with broad strokes, and obviously a lot of detail could
>> be
>>> added, and nuance.
>>> But I stand by my main point, that there have been two kinds of
>>> constructivism. The first considers the construction of knowledge. It is
>> an
>>> epistemological construction: it maintains that we construct
>>> "representations" of reality, mental or linguistic. When we examine the
>>> ontological assumptions of this kind of constructivism they are generally
>>> dualist. The key sign is the claim that it is impossible to know the
>> world
>>> outside these representations, and so one must be "ontologically mute"
>> (as
>>> Gergen put it). Kant said this, as did Husserl, and von Glasersfeld.
>>> The other kind of constructivism starts from a non-dualistic ontology,
>> and
>>> considers the construction of objects and subjects. It tends to view
>> social
>>> relations or practices as prior to individuals. It tends to emphasize
>> non-
>>> or pre-representational forms of knowledge. And it tends to point out
>> that
>>> language is a form of action before it is a form of representation.
>>> Martin
>>> On 10/29/08 4:32 PM, "Dewey Dykstra" <> wrote:
>>>> On Oct 26, 2008, at 11:12 AM, Martin Packer wrote:
>>>>> Andy, David,
>>>>> I agree that Kant has to receive some credit. ...
>>>>> What this kind of constructivism is unable to do is answer the
>>>>> question that
>>>>> Kant tried, but failed, to answer: how can we have adequate
>>>>> knowledge and
>>>>> ethics? These constructivists (Piaget, Berger & Luckmann, Gergen)
>>>>> remain
>>>>> trapped in skepticism (about real objects and other minds) and
>>>>> relativism
>>>>> (about both truth and values). They focus on the individual outside of
>>>>> social relations, and they privilege theoretical reflection over
>>>>> practical
>>>>> activity. They privilege representation over practical know-how.
>>>>> ...
>>>> It appears from the paragraph above, the problem is that one is not
>>>> satisfied until one has some absolute basis for absolute ethical
>>>> stances, hence the word "trappped" when referring to skepticism and
>>>> relativism. This position privileges realism over skepticism without
>>>> ever answering the fundamental question of skepticism.
>>>> The distinction here is apparently between a realist stance with
>>>> respect to ethics and a non-realist stance. Someone who can never
>>>> step outside of the realist stance will never understand a position
>>>> taken in a non-realist paradigm and vice versa. Obviously, the
>>>> likes of Piaget, Gergen, etc. and other constructivists such as von
>>>> Glasersfeld, Maturana, Varela, von Foerster did/do not see themselves
>>>> as trapped, but in a sense as freed. Yet, if you read what they have
>>>> to say about things like ethics you will find reasoned, specific
>>>> positions taken with respect to ethics. With that freedom comes
>>>> responsibility--an ethical stance, it seems to me. Take for example:
>>>> Maturana, H. (1988) 'Reality: The search for objectivity or the quest
>>>> for a compelling argument', The Irish Journal of Psychology, 9(11):
>>>> 25-82.
>>>> It is repetition of false impressions to repeat the claim that Piaget
>>>> did not attend to social relations merely because his work in this
>>>> area was not translated into English until well after his death.
>>>> Better to actually carefully study what has been translated at this
>>>> point. I am also mystified why the claim is made that Gergen's focus
>>>> is on the individual outside of social relations. One might disagree
>>>> with another's operating explanatory model for a particular area, but
>>>> is this grounds for making the claim that the other's work had no
>>>> focus in the area?
>>>> Finally, it strikes me that the claim that these authors privilege
>>>> theoretical reflection and representation over practical activity and
>>>> know-how is unfounded if one makes a careful study of the work of
>>>> these authors. Practical is inextricably merged with reflection in
>>>> the construction of the world.
>>>> The choice, as Buddhists might put it, is not between essentialism
>>>> and nihilism. Instead there is another way. Essentialism and
>>>> nihilism are opposite poles of a single continuum, realism to
>>>> solipsism. These authors are talking about an entirely different
>>>> dimension, which includes neither essentialism nor nihilism, hence
>>>> not realism. The two continua, thought of as straight lines in
>>>> space, are neither parallel nor do they intersect. The Buddhist
>>>> answer is called the Middle Way, but it seems that the Middle Way is
>>>> not a point on the continuum between essentialism and nihilism. The
>>>> Middle Way is incommensurate with the continuum of essentialism to
>>>> nihilism, realism to solipsism. The version of non-realism espoused
>>>> in various ways by these authors is a non-realist stance with many
>>>> similarities to the Buddhist Middle Way. (For more about The Middle
>>>> Way, check out Jay Garfield's commentary in The Fundamental Wisdom of
>>>> the Middle Way: Nagarjuna's Mulamadhyamakakarika (1995, can be found
>>>> on Amazon)).
>>>> Dewey
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