Purpose: Appreciating the relationship between Sylvio Ceccato and Ernst von Glasersfeld, both as people and in their work. Approach: historical and personal accounts, archeological approach to written evidence. Findings: Ceccato’s work is introduced to an English speaking audience, and the roots of Glasersfeld’s work in Ceccato’s is explored. Flaws in Ceccato’s approach are indicated, together with how Glasersfeld’s work overcomes these, specially in language and automatic translation, and what became Radical Constructivism. Conclusion: Glasersfeld willingly acknowledges Ceccato, who he still refers to as the Master. But Ceccato’s work is little known, specially in the English speaking world. The introduction, critique and delineation of extension and resolution of Ceccato’s ideas in Glasersfeld’s work is the intended value of the paper.
Context: The problems that are most in need of interdisciplinary collaboration are “wicked problems,” such as food crises, climate change mitigation, and sustainable development, with many relevant aspects, disagreement on what the problem is, and contradicting solutions. Such complex problems both require and challenge interdisciplinarity. Problem: The conventional methods of interdisciplinary research fall short in the case of wicked problems because they remain first-order science. Our aim is to present workable methods and research designs for doing second-order science in domains where there are many different scientific knowledges on any complex problem. Method: We synthesize and elaborate a framework for second-order science in interdisciplinary research based on a number of earlier publications, experiences from large interdisciplinary research projects, and a perspectivist theory of science. Results: The second-order polyocular framework for interdisciplinary research is characterized by five principles. Second-order science of interdisciplinary research must: 1. draw on the observations of first-order perspectives, 2. address a shared dynamical object, 3. establish a shared problem, 4. rely on first-order perspectives to see themselves as perspectives, and 5. be based on other rules than first-order research. Implications: The perspectivist insights of second-order science provide a new way of understanding interdisciplinary research that leads to new polyocular methods and research designs. It also points to more reflexive ways of dealing with scientific expertise in democratic processes. The main challenge is that this is a paradigmatic shift, which demands that the involved disciplines, at least to some degree, subscribe to a perspectivist view. Constructivist content: Our perspectivist approach to science is based on the second-order cybernetics and systems theories of von Foerster, Maruyama, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, coupled with embodied theories of cognition and semiotics as a general theory of meaning from von Uexküll and Peirce.
Excerpt: Education has failed to show steady progress because it has shifted back and forth among simplistic positions such as the associationist and rationalist philosophies. Modern cognitive psychology provides a basis for genuine progress by careful scientific analysis that identifies those aspects of theoretical positions that contribute to student learning and those that do not. Radical constructivism serves as the current exemplar of simplistic extremism, and certain of its devotees exhibit an antiscience bias that, should it prevail, would destroy any hope for progress in education.
Context: This conceptual paper tries to tackle the advantages and the limitations that might arise from including second-order science into global climate change sciences, a research area that traditionally focuses on first-order approaches and that is currently attracting a lot of media and public attention. Problem: The high profile of climate change research seems to provoke a certain dilemma for scientists: despite the slowly increasing realization within the sciences that our knowledge is temporary, tentative, uncertain, and far from stable, the public expectations towards science and scientific knowledge are still the opposite: that scientific results should prove to be objective, reliable, and authoritative. As a way to handle the uncertainty, scientists tend to produce “varieties of scenarios” instead of clear statements, as well as reports that articulate different scientific opinions about the causes and dynamics of change (e.g., the IPCC. This might leave the impression of vague and indecisive results. As a result, esteem for the sciences seems to be decreasing within public perception. Method: This paper applies second-order observation to climate change research in particular and the sciences in general. Results: Within most sciences, it is still quite unusual to disclose and discuss the epistemological foundations of the respective research questions, methods and ways to interpret data, as research proceeds mainly from some version of realistic epistemological positions. A shift towards self-reflexive second-order science might offer possibilities for a return to a “less polarized” scientific and public debate on climate change because it points to knowledge that is in principle tentative, uncertain and fragmented as well as to the theory- and observation-dependence of scientific work. Implications: The paper addresses the differences between first-order and second-order science as well as some challenges of science in general, which second-order science might address and disclose. Constructivist content: Second-order science used as observation praxis (second-order observation) for this specific field of research.
We propose a methodological framework for developing and communicating academic knowledge relevant for practice: the dialogical model. This model of engaged scholarship comprises five activities: specifying a research question, elaborating local knowledge, developing conceptual knowledge, communicating knowledge, and activating knowledge. The current article focuses on the early stage of research question design and presents the epistemological framework in which the model was initially developed. It also offers guidance on how to maintain academic value and practical relevance in tension throughout the research process. Examples illustrate how to construct research questions relevant both for academia and practice, and how to justify validity in pragmatic constructivism. This model can likewise be mobilized in other epistemological frameworks, particularly for knowledge generation purposes. It enriches the researchers’ methodological toolbox by adding a new procedural tool that provides valuable guidelines from the very start of research projects. Relevance: The first part of this article is dedicated to presenting and discussing what internal validity, external validity, and reliability mean specifically in pragmatic constructivism, which is another name for radical constructivism. This naming is consistent with the radical constructivist view of the relationship between knowledge and action, and has the advantage of being free from all the misinterpretations associated with the term “radical.”
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Excerpt: The question I am most interested in is the question raised by von Glasersfeld as to whether Luhmann’s talk of “eigen-values” of society actually is, or is not, just a loose metaphor as von Glaserfeld maintains by emphasizing that in the society of human beings “the recursion of operations of observation or description is not governed by fixed rules, unlike the recursion of functions that produce mathematical eigenwerte” (§44, Fn. 4). Indeed, how are we to conceive of the possible eigen-values of society? And who are we to possibly be able to conceive of possible eigen-values?
Open peer commentary on the target article “From Objects to Processes: A Proposal to Rewrite Radical Constructivism” by Siegfried J. Schmidt. Upshot: Schmidt’s “philosophical argumentation” in favor of an action orientation for communication rewrites constructivism in terms of process. Though in support of his proposal, a philosophical argumentation about process works best for illuminating the writer’s own process and orienting readers to his own argument. I propose that arguments about the communication of social actors should make visible the social processes about which they argue.
Radical constructivism grows out of the belief that knowledge is constructed and legitimated by individuals as they make sense of their experiences in particular contexts and drawing on their own histories. Extending this understanding of learning and ways of knowing to girls as they work in the terrain of science, we argue that honoring student experience as the starting place for science instruction fundamentally alters the nature of science, the purpose of teaching and learning science, and the focus of relationships in science class. The implications for this position are extensive: they suggest that the dynamic relationships between language and cultural background of students and teachers alter the ways in which science education historically has enacted discipline, curriculum and pedagogy. We argue that this is particularly important to understand, for science and science education have historically operated within the masculine domain and working with girls in science in ways that respect their (gendered and cultural) construction of knowledge and their experiences, fundamentally alters the enterprise of science – an idea contradictory to most visions of the purposes of education and current reform efforts in science education, even the most liberal.
This paper aims at shedding light on what students can “construct” when they learn science and how this construction process may be supported. Constructivism is a pluralist theory of science education. As a consequence, I support, there are several points of view concerning this construction process. Firstly, I stress that constructivism is rooted in two fields, psychology of cognitive development and epistemology, which leads to two ways of describing the construction process: either as a process of enrichment and/or reorganization of the cognitive structures at the mental level, or as a process of building or development of models or theories at the symbolic level. Secondly, I argue that the usual distinction between “personal constructivism” (PC) and “social constructivism” (SC) originates in a difference of model of reference: the one of PC is Piaget’s description of “spontaneous” concepts, assumed to be constructed by students on their own when interacting with their material environment, the one of SC is Vygotsky’s description of scientific concepts, assumed to be introduced by the teacher by means of verbal communication. Thirdly, I support the idea that, within SC, there are in fact two trends: one, in line with Piaget’s work, demonstrates how cooperation among students affects the development of each individual’s cognitive structures; the other, in line with Vygotsky’s work, claims that students can understand and master new models only if they are introduced to the scientific culture by their teacher. Fourthly, I draw attention to the process of “problem construction” identified by some French authors. Finally, I advocate for an integrated approach in science education, taking into account all the facets of science learning and teaching mentioned above and emphasizing their differences as well as their interrelations. Some suggestions intended to improve the efficiency of science teaching are made.
Context: During the 1980s, Ernst von Glasersfeld’s reflections nourished various studies conducted by a community of mathematics education researchers at CIRADE, Quebec, Canada. Problem: What are his influence on and contributions to the center’s rich climate of development? We discuss the fecundity of von Glasersfeld’s ideas for the CIRADE researchers’ community, specifically in didactique des mathématiques. Furthermore, we take a prospective view and address some challenges that new, post-CIRADE mathematics education researchers are confronted with that are related to interpretations of and reactions to constructivism by the surrounding community. Results: Von Glasersfeld’s contribution still continues today, with a new generation of researchers in mathematics education that have inherited views and ideas related to constructivism. For the post-CIRADE research community, the concepts and epistemology that von Glasersfeld put forward still need to be developed further, in particular concepts such as subjectivity, viability, the circular interpretative effect, representations, the nature of knowing, errors, and reality. Implications: Radical constructivism’s offspring resides within the concepts and epistemology put forth, and that continue to be put forth, through a large number of new and different generations of theories, thereby perpetuating von Glasersfeld’s legacy.