CEPA eprint 2944

Epistemological anarchy and the many forms of constructivism

Geelan D. R. (1997) Epistemological anarchy and the many forms of constructivism. Science & Education 6: 15–28. Available at http://cepa.info/2944
Table of Contents
Introduction
Six forms of constructivism
Personal constructivism: Kelly and Piaget
Radical constructivism: Glasersfeld
Social constructivism: Solomon
Social constructivism: Gergen
Critical constructivism: Taylor
Contextual constructivism: Cobern
A scheme to organise many forms of constructivism
Pluralism in constructivist perspectives
Theory creation and relativism
1. The Fundamental Relativism
2. Language and Perspective
3. Uncertainty Principle
4. Perspective and Object
5. Historicity
6. Understanding Theories
7. The Crucial Use
Reflexivity
Epistemological anarchy
Conclusion
References
Constructivism has become an important referent for research and practice in science education. A variety of more or less divergent forms of constructivism have devel­oped: discussion between these is occasionally heated. Six such forms are briefly described in order to provide an overview of the held of constructivist theory. A scheme for characterising constructivist writing on the basis of its relative emphasis on (a) personal versus social construction of knowledge and (b) objectivist versus relativist views of the nature of science is suggested. Issues of theory creation and reflexivity, central to constructivist practice, are discussed. It is suggested that debate about the “best” form of constructivism is counterpro­ductive. A more powerful approach to epistemology is that described by Feyerabend, the holding in dialectical tension of a variety of incompatible perspectives: “The following essay is written in the conviction that anarchism, while perhaps not the most attractive political philosophy, is certainly excellent medicine for epistemology, and for the philosophy of science” (Feyerabend 1975: 17, italics in original).
Introduction
When teachers first encounter constructivism, it is usually presented as a simple and superior alternative to transmissive epistemologies and teach­ing approaches, and as a relatively seamless whole. As further reading occurs, however, it becomes apparent that there are a number of different forms of constructivism: each form has its adherents and foes, and each emphasises something quite different about teaching and learning.
This discussion addresses six different forms of constructivism. While these certainly do not exhaust the possibilities of the field (Matthews, for example, (1994: 138) identifies a tradition, originating with Durkheim, which he describes as “sociological constructivism”), it is felt that they do offer a reasonable overview, and represent most of the common emphases within constructivist theory. The six perspectives are briefly described. A two dimensional model based on their relative emphases on (a) individual vs social learning and (b) objectivist vs relativist views of the nature of science is suggested as one way of organising the complexity of the field.
An attempt is then made to describe a coherent epistemological framework which takes into account the special emphases of each of the six forms. This framework owes much to Paul Feyerabend’s (1975) “anarchistic theory of knowledge.” The importance of a concern for re­flexivity (Steier 1991, 1995) in constructivist research and practice is also discussed.
In a 1993 editorial in the Journal of Research in Science Teaching (JRST), Ron Good discusses “the many forms of constructivism” (1993: 101). He notes that a graduate student with whom he was working had found the term “constructivism” modified by the addition of “contextual, dialectical, empirical, humanistic, information-processing, methodological, model ate, Piagetian, postepistemological, pragmatic, radical, rational, realist, social and socio-historical” (Good 1993: 1015). The reader can probably supply nearly as many more qualifiers, Good suggests. “With the many versions of constructivism currently in use, we should be aware that one person’s version is likely to differ from another person’s version. This awareness is the first step to more productive debate cm unpin taut, com­plex issues” (Good 1993: 1015). He also points out “…the impor­tance of trying hard to say clearly what we mean and to identify our biases up from” (Good 1993: 1015). The approach to constructivism outlined in this paper is intended to allow science teachers and researchers to Inure easily meet these demands for both clarity and tolerance.
The same issue of JRST [30(9)] contains Catherine Fosnot’s (1993) critique of Michael O’Loughlin’s (1992) paper “Rethinking Science Edu­cation: Beyond Piagetian Constructivism Toward a Sociocultural Model of Teaching and Learning,” and O’Loughlin’s (1993) reply. This sometimes rancorous debate hinges on the adherence of the two principals to particu­lar forms of constructivism. Fosnot defends something which she calls “cognitive developmental constructivism.” O’Loughlin calls “Piagetian constructivism” and I would describe as “personal constructivism.” O’Loughlin champions an approach which he calls “sociocultural construc­tivism’“, Fosnot calls “social constructivism,” and I would call “contextual constructivism.” Two points arise out of this debate.
First, I believe it is more powerful for educators, academics and all those interested in constructivism Lo attempt to find common ground and to cooperate, rather than to engage in this type of discord. Constructivists, with their awareness of the uncertainty of scientific knowledge, ought to be very aware of the status of theories as tentative and open to discussion, and ought to be prepared to look at the merits of a different emphasis. There is not, and should not be, ‘One True Way’ in constructivism – a variety of perspectives is both more flexible and more powerful. This position relates strongly to Feyerabend’s (1975) “epistemological anarchy’’, and is further developed below.
Second, as the variety of names for each of the writer’s perspectives suggests, it is often difficult to “…say clearly what we mean and to state our biases up front” (Good 1993: 1015). In the attempt to distinguish their perspectives hum those of others, and to describe their particular emphases, constructivist writers have tended to multiply terms and techni­cal language. While the original intent was no doubt to improve clarity, this has led to a situation where the field of constructivism appears very complex to the neophyte, with a huge variety of terns used to describe perspectives which may he very similar in practice.
Six forms of constructivism
Six forms of constructivism were chosen from the literature. I hoped to be able to characterise these in such a way that it would be possible to categorise and understand new papers in the field as falling within, or close to, one of these forms, or as bridging two or more, The six forms, with a brief description of each, are found below.
Personal constructivism: Kelly and Piaget
Kelly’s (195) “Psychology of Personal Constructs” emphasises the idea that individuals construct knowledge for themselves through construing the repetition of events, and that knowledge is individual and adaptive rather than objective. Piaget’s (1972) “accommodation and assimilation” stresses the adaptive nature of cognition and the individual’s construction of models of the world. The position of personal constructivists can per­haps be summarised through von Glasersfeld’s (1993) ‘trivial’ constructiv­ism principle: “knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognising subject”: Personal constructivists accept the ontological reality of the external world, but suggest that human minds do not have direct access to it – our individual “construct systems” (Kelly 1955) intervene. They locate knowledge within the cognising individual. Conceptual change pedagogy (Pines & West 1986; Driver & Easley 1978; Driver & Oldham 1986) lies within the personal constructivist paradigm.
Radical constructivism: Glasersfeld
Ernst von Glasersfeld (1989, 1993) describes his image of constructivism using two principles:
Principal A. The ‘Trivial’ Constructivism Principle: “knowledge is not passively received but actively built up by the cognising subject.”Principal B. The ‘Radical’ Constructivism Principle: “the function of cognition k adaptive and serves the organisation of the experiential world, not the discovery of ontological reality’. (Adapted from Ernest 1993.)
That is to say, radical constructivists maintain that:
A. Knowledge is not transferred directly from the environment or other persons into the learner, but has to be actively constructed within the individual mind.B. All knowledge is constructed for the purpose of enhancing survival through making experience meaningful: none of it tells us anything certain about ‘the world’.
Social constructivism: Solomon
Joan Solomon’s (1987) balanced review of constructivist literature suggests that in the early years of constructivism (approximately 1978-86), re­searchers concentrated on the individual construction of knowledge to the exclusion of social factors, and that this emphasis led to inconsistent and limited results While she continues to believe that ideas are held by individuals, she emphasises the social effects of the desire. for consensus and peer approval in modifying the scientific ideas held. Solomon suggests that these effects are perhaps the single most important factor in both science learning and attitudes to science. She also describes two “domains of knowledge”: socially acquired life-world knowledge and symbolic school knowledge. She suggests that these domains are stored separately in the mind, and that a key difficulty is in finding ways to bring them together to work on problems: Her work has led to increased awareness of the social nature of science learning, and has acted as a base for other developments such as contextual constructivism and social constructionism.
In Solomon’s more recent paper “The Rise and Fall of Constructivism” (1994) she describes constructivism as a valuable epistemological re-de­scription. She suggests that it has (a) been unable to prescribe better ways of learning in existing body of knowledge, such as science, and (b) had such “over-blown expectations” placed upon it that it could never, and should never have been expected to, fulfil them. For these reasons, Solo­mon suggests, the constructivist program is now in a gradual decline. Her suggested solution to this situation is very similar to that described in this paper: the contextual, eclectic use of a variety of incommensurable perspectives on teaching and learning, including, but not limited to the many forms of constructivism: “…no single perspective is ever likely 10 provide a final description of science education” (Solomon 1994: 17)
Social constructivism: Gergen
Kenneth Gergen (1995), a prominent figure within social psychology. takes a more extreme ‘social’ position. In his exciting essay “From con­struction in context to reconstruction in education,” Gergen suggests that knowledge does not arise or reside within cognising individuals (endogen­esis) or within the natural world (exogenesis), but within societies – that the consensus processes of language-use and meaning-making are social in character, and that these processes constitute all of knowledge. He suggests that:
Meaning in language is achieved through social interdependence.Meaning in language is context dependent.Language primarily serves communal functions (Gergen 1995).
Gergen further suggests that the most potent metaphor for understand­ing knowledge and language is that of “dialogue,” and suggests four “significant departures” from traditional educational practice. These are: (1) the diffusion of authority, (2) the vitalization of relationship, (3) the generation of meaning in practice and (4) the multiplication of voice (Gergen 1995).
Critical constructivism: Taylor
“Critical constructivism” (Taylor 1994b Taylor & Campbell-Williams 1993) is a synthesis of the constructivist interest in the interaction of students’ prior ‘knowledge with new knowledge with two strands of Jürgen Habermas’ (1972, 1978) philosophy: “knowledge and human interests” and “communicative action.” Specifically, it suggests that the processes of teaching and learning are socially constructed, and that certain socially developed “repressive myths,” such as “cold reason” and “hard control’’, can lead to the failure of constructivist reforms in classrooms. This per­spective suggests that constructivism can most hilly fulfil its potential through social reconstruction, and that emancipatory interests must over­come the existing technical/rational status quo if this is to occur. Taylor suggests that teachers should he encouraged to work in collaborative groups to reform the social structures of their school communities.
Contextual constructivism: Cobern
Cobern (1993) takes Solomon’s (1987) point about social influences on learning, but goes on to note that social interactions do not form all of the context of human cognition:, culture is a central force in the develop­ment and organisation of student ideas. The ethnographic concept of “world view” means that in order for learning to take place, the relation­ship between the culture of science and the culture of the learner must he explored and understood. The effects of cultural differences will be seen most dramatically in cross-cultural contexts (Cobern (1993) cites several African studies of Western style science reaching), but will also be of interest with learners from minority cultural groups within Western countries, and indeed with all learners as popular culture and scientific culture move apart.
A scheme to organise many forms of constructivism
As one approach to improving my personal understanding of the many forms of constructivism (the approach may have value for other new­comers too), f attempted to characterise various constructivist papers by their position within a set of Cartesian coordinates as shown in Figure 1. I chose to work with particular papers rather than with authors because particular writers can change their perspectives over time. indeed, it is to be hoped that they will grow in this way. A publication is one statement of a person’s views at a particular point in his or her development and understanding: those writers such as Driver (1978, 1986) and Tobin (1990, 1993) who have been. working with constructivism as a referent for many years exhibit changes of focus with increased knowledge and experience. I also chose to use particular papers rather than the names of particular movements or “camps” ‘within constructivism” since as has been shown earlier, these names are often not clearly defined, and may have consider­able degrees of overlap (and omission). I would not wish to make the assignments of particular papers quantitative along the two axes: the qualitative question – into which quadrant does a particular perspective fit most closely?” is quite difficult enough!
Such a diagram might look like this:
Figure 1: A scheme to organise the many forms of constructivism.
The general trend in the historical development of constructivism (Cobern (1993) gives a good overview) has been from lower left to upper right of this diagram, however this should not be seen as suggesting a hierarchy of value; or even of maturity. Personal. social, critical and contextual constructivism each arose as the result of both a complex interplay of factors in the history of philosophy and educational theory, and the work of strong individual theorists. This pattern of evolution could easily have occurred differently. For example, had Vygotsky’s work become available at the time of writing, his social/linguistic emphasis may have predated the popularity of Piaget’s personal/cognitive emphasis.
It may be useful to briefly describe why each of the above papers has been assigned to its particular quadrant. No constructivist perspectives are entirely objectivist, those on the left side of the above diagram arc simply those who problematise the nature of scientific ‘truth’ and the existence of a knower-independent reality least. Similarly, the authors of papers in the lower two quadrants have often explicitly recognised social teaming, but their focus has been on individual cognition. To take each quadrant in turn (clockwise from the upper left):
Social-Objectivist: Solomon, Tobin and Vygotsky would all reject the tag ‘objectivist” for their epistemological and ontological perspectives, however, because their focus is on the social interactions which occur in classrooms, they tend not to problematise scientific knowledge, but to treat it as a consensual social construct into which students are to be socialised. To put it another way, science, while not seen as necessarily descriptive of ontological reality, is still seen as monolithic., with stu­dents being brought to science, rather than the reverse.Social-Relativist: Through placing scientific knowledge more firmly in the social realm, these perspectives also relativise it. Gergen makes the point explicitly when he insists that knowledge does not arise within cognising individuals (endogenesis) or within the ‘real world’ (exogenesis), but rather that it is created in societies or discourse communities. O’Loughlin claims that the ‘Piagetian’ constructivist per­spective “ignores the subjectivity of the learner and the socially and Historically situated nature of knowing; it denies the collaborative and social nature of meaning making; and it privileges only one form of knowledge, namely, the technical rational” (1992: 791). He places his own perspective in direct opposition to this, and I believe each of the other authors assigned to this quadrant would identify their perspectives similarly. (See also the discussions of Taylor, Gergen, Cobern and Steier’s perspectives elsewhere in this paper.)Personal-Relativist: A central plank of Glasersfeld’s ‘radical constructi­vism,” which he refers to as the “radical constructi­vism principle,” is a relativist view of science. While both papers cited mention social interaction, Glasersfeld’s perspective, like Kelly’s, suggests that indivi­duals can only interact socially with their own construction of ‘others’. This places individual cognition in a central position, leading to the assignment of Glasersfeld to this quadrant. Bettencourt is essentially working within Glasersfeld’s theoretical program, although he chooses some different language.Personal-Objectivist: Many of the ‘constructivist’ teaching programs, such as Driver’s work at Leeds, and much of the ‘conceptual change’ literature all within the personal-objectivist ambit, Because they are more. centrally concerned with science education than with epistemol­ogy, these perspectives tend to take scientific knowledge as given, and attempt to find constructivist approaches for teaching. The concentration on conceptual development places the focus on the learning of individual students, but social groups arc considered very important to the learning process. This paradigm owes, and acknowledges, a debt to Piaget, who was concerned entirely with individual cognitive development. Fosnot (1993) defends ‘Piagetian constructivism’.
While I believe this diagrammatic approach does offer an interesting way of understanding some of the diversity of constructivist perspectives, it does not tend to foster the pluralist, relativist perspective toward ‘forms of constructivism’ which I believe is most powerful.
Pluralism in constructivist perspectives
Each of the perspectives described above has a significant focus to add to our understanding of constructivism. Peter Taylor has described constructi­vism as an n-sided polyhedron whose faces represent forms of construc­tivism. Some are neighbouring and compatible; others are opposite and in tension (but remain part of the whole!)” (Taylor, 1994a).
This is a useful metaphor. The dialectical tension between widely differing emphases such as those of Fosnot (1993) and O’Loughlin (1992, 1993) can he a great source of creativity and productivity if it is not allowed to deteriorate into antagonism and confrontation. More similar perspectives can also add much to one another.
To use another metaphor: if we wished to draw a representation of a complex three-dimensional object, it would be folly to look at it from only one point. Those perspectives in close proximity to one another add detail and richness to the picture, while those on the opposite side of the object offer whole new vistas! An object cannot be said to be ‘known’ until all (or at least a representative chosen sample of ) the possible viewing points have been utilised. Educational problems are much more complex and multi-faceted than any physical object – a variety of related and comple­mentary perspectives is essential to deep understanding.
The metaphor should not he taken for the reality, however: constructiv­ism is not something outside ourselves, which can he looked at ‘objec­tively’. Steier (1991, 1995) makes the point that constructivism is itself construed, and that we are integrally involved in its ongoing invention. Steier’s arguments are discussed in a later section.
Theory creation and relativism
It is interesting to note that some of the less critical adherents of construc­tivism speak as though constructivism were itself certain knowledge. Con­structivism is represented as ‘The Truth’ on epistemological and edu­cational questions, replacing the ‘outmoded’ and ‘inadequate’ transmissive perspective. This is not the approach of all constructivists. Tobin refers to constructivism as a “referent” for thinking about teaching and learning, and Taylor has said: “I regard it as a ‘theory’ and a ‘metaphor’” (Taylor. 1994a). Glasersfeld (1990) explicitly states “Constructivism, as far as I am concerned, is one possible way of thinking. It is a model and models, no matter how useful they might prove, must never be claimed to be ‘true’.” It is valuable, therefore, to recall that theories such as constructivism ought, from a constructivist perspective, to he regarded as useful in particular contexts, rather than universally true. Bauersfeld emphasises this important point: “In the end, it is the life in … classrooms which processes and provides the evaluation of theories education” (1988: 42).
I would like to suggest that the preceding argument for the usefulness and viability of all forms of constructivism may be extended to include other epistemological perspectives as well. Transmissive views on teaching and learning are wide-spread, persistent and influential. This would not be so if such views did not have some epistemological and common sense appeal. While constructivism provides a more powerful referent in many contexts, to completely abandon all other approaches is to accept a danger­ous narrowing of perspective – to create an area from which we cannot look at our metaphorical ‘object.’
This is Solomon’s (1994) point: constructivism, this new saw in the scient..e educator’s toolbox, is being used not only for sawing; but for hammering and planing and measuring. The reflective selection of appro­priate theories and perspectives for appropriate tasks, the right tool for the job, is a more powerful approach.
Bauersfeld’s (1988) discussion of “theory” is instructive in this context. He reflects on seven consequences of constructivism for the activities of creating and evaluating theories. Some of these will be evident in what has already been said, while others need further discussion.
1. The Fundamental Relativism
Theories may be seen as models which do not map reality, but which
“serve their predictive purpose through the designing of relevant elements and relations; that is, through selection. and neglect. To arrive at certain selections requires a perspective, a standpoint … If one accepts this fundamental relativism … then he [sic] will question the objectivity of judging a theory with the means or under the perspective of a competing theory” (Bauersfeld 1988: 40).
This suggests that, even within constructivist theory, each discrete perspective must be understood and evaluated on its own terms, not those of some other perspective. This in turn renders debate about which is the ‘correct’ perspective nonsensi­cal.
2. Language and Perspective
“Theories depend on language … the.. descriptive system, the language of the theory, has a potentiality to mold and restrict thinking through force of habituation. … There is no plain transformation of one theory into another theory by translation of the language of one theory into the language of the other theory” (Bauersfeld 1988; p. 40).
Solomon (1994) extensively discusses this linguistic approach to understanding constructivism.
3. Uncertainty Principle
By analogy with Heisenberg’s Principle
“one cannot elaborate two in­compatible perspectives with arbitrary precision. Concentrated and syste­matic pursuit of one perspective forces other perspectives into blindness” (Bauersfeld 1988. p. 41).
As with each of the above ideas, this principle means that it is simply impossible to describe one perspective in terms of another. By alternating between (possibly incompatible) perspec­tives, however, I would suggest that it is possible to see into some of our “blind spots,” Social constructivists may be helped to look at individual cognition, personal constructivists at lie influence of culture, contextual constructivists at human interests.
4. Perspective and Object
“With the change of perspective, the descriptive system inevitably changes, and the object is no longer the ‘same’ object” (Bauersfeld 1988: 41).
It is on this point that the earlier analogy of looking at an object from many sides falls down. from a new theoretical perspec­tive, the object of study itself is transformed. There is no “God’s eye view” (Bauersfeld 1988, quoting Putnam, quoting (Glasersfeld) available to us from which it is possible to decide which is the “real” object, “Meaning and object change with the perspective; there is no adding of theories for greater accuracy’’ (Bauersfeld 1988: 41). This contention may appear to be damaging to the pluralist approach advo­cated in this paper, however I believe Bauersfeld is here using the term “accuracy” in an objectivist sense – more detailed information about a stableobject. What I am suggesting is that a variety of theoretical perspectives provides, not more “accuracy,” but greater predictive and explanatory power, richer understanding.
5. Historicity
“The search for universals and consistencies across historical periods … is bound to an actual perspective and can produce an answer for the present only, which may not hold tomorrow” (Bauersfeld 1988: 41)
6. Understanding Theories
“The construction of a metatheory capable of executing the critical comparison of competing theories will fail due to the impossibility of a uniting metaperspective and because of the (related) nonexistence, of a universal language” (Bauersfeld 1988: 42).
This point is a reiteration of one made earlier: there is no external. objective ‘high point’ from which all theories are laid out before us for evaluation and comparison A theory is always and only accessible from within. Theories may reflexively contain themselves, but they arc incapable of containing other theoretical perspectives.
7. The Crucial Use
“By no means must this theoretical relativism lead us into resignation or despair… In the end it is the life in mathematics classrooms which processes and provides the evaluation of theories in mathematics edu-cation” (Bauersfeld 1988: 42).
Bauersfeld suggests three ‘neglected tasks” for research in mathematics education:
clarification of theoretical perspectivesdevelopment of alternative perspectivesinvestigation of theories in practice.
The second of these is of great interest in the present discussion. Bauersfeld suggests that
“only competitive descriptions and contrasting issues have the power to produce challenge and to disquiet and break the customs of self-evident routines and explanations. There is no other way to distance oneself from habit and to allow for effective critical comparisons and reflexions” (Bauersfeld 1988: 42).
Reflexivity
Unlike chemical theories; which do not have to (except in a very abstract. way) account for the activities of a chemistry professor in creating chemical theories, epistemological theories; such as constructivism, must in a sense contain themselves. A theory of knowledge is itself known.
This is a vital point. Steier (1991, 1995) describes “naive” constructivists as those who describe the world of others’ constructions, but do so in a pseudo-objectivist sense, as though from “outside-. If constructivism is to mean anything, it must mean that the theorist is irrevocably involved in life, in social interaction, in learning – in the very things the theory purports to explain. This being so, there is no metatheoretical perspective, no ‘outside’ from which to understand the activities of teaching, learning and research. They must be understood from ‘inside’, through social relationships which define both the mode and content of our discourse.
Discussing constructionist research, Steier noted:
“This reflexivity is one that recognizes that the idea that ‘worlds are constructed’ applies to US as well. It is through OUR everyday interac­tions that our claims arc made and rendered intelligible. These interac­tions occur both in the held with those relevant others that I refer to as reciprocators (…forcing upon us a recognition of the mutualness of our relationships with those ordinarily referred to as ‘subjects’ or ‘informants’), and through the discourse practices of our professions. It is my claim that we need to make inquiry more reflexive by making ourselves more relationship-sensitive” (Steier 1995).
One important application of this recognition is its implications for interview-based qualitative research, a very common methodology. Steier notes that in such research we often try to identify who our “reciprocators” are if their responses are to be truly meaningful, however, it is necessary to know who the researcher ‘is’ from the perspective of the reciprocator; that is, to ask “to whom is the answer being given?” is the researcher seen as a friend, a colleague, a university academic; an ‘expert’, an attract‑ive person? And how will this interviewee respond to such a person? If interview data is to be meaningful, the ‘missing person’ – the interviewer – must be allowed to emerge from the shadows into the reporting of the research. Traditions and report conventions which remove the researcher from the picture are inappropriate remnants of objectivist attempts to remove human ‘bias’. Constructivists recognise that bias is inevitable, and that it is dealt with most effectively by identifying the researcher and trying to identify the biases, rather than by pretending the data just gathered itself.
Steier (1995) suggests that, if his “ecological constructionist” perspective and concerns with reflexivity are taken seriously, teaching; learning and research merge, to become collaborative social learning. A concern with reflexivity, applied to the many forms of constructivism, may lead to a similar conclusion – teaching, learning and research are all social pro­cesses, and it is neither possible nor particularly useful to try to determine where one ends and another begins.
Epistemological anarchy
Paul Feyerabend (1975) suggests that no single methodological framework is adequate for describing the multiplicity of complex ways in which scien­tific knowledge grows, Instead:
“A scientist who wishes to maximize the empirical content of the views he holds and who wants 10 understand them as clearly as he possibly can must therefore introduce other views; that is, he must adopt a pluralistic methodology. Knowledge so conceived is not a series of self-consistent theories that converges towards an ideal view; it is not a gradual approach to the truth. It is rather an ever increasing ocean of mutually incompatible (and perhaps even incommensurable) alternatives, each single theory, each fairy tale, each myth that is part of the collec­tion forcing the others into greater articulation and all of them contribu­ting, via this process of competition, to the. development of our con­sciousness” (Feyerabend 1975: 30, italics in original)
This view, applied to the multiplicity of theoretical frameworks existing within science education, implies that all perspectives have value, whether consistent with other views or not. As Bauersfeld (1988) has suggested, theories are not to be compared; combined or discarded, they are to be used, applied, argued, articulated. criticised. Opposing theories do not damage or supplant one another, in Feyerabend’s view: they are necessary to one another, since their dialectical interaction throws each theory into sharper focus, making it more useful and powerful.
I would suggest that the flexible, anarchic, context-sensitive use of a variety of selected epistemological perspectives (including transmissivism, each of the forms of constructivism described above, and as many other as our imagination can offer), is the most powerful theoretical ‘engine’ which can he used for the development of educational theory and practice. The se-arch for a single best approach is self-defeating: the most important effect of choosing any single perspective is that it blinds us to an enormous range of other valuable possibilities.
Conclusion
As has been described, constructivism is rich in alternative descriptions and perspectives. The six forms of constructivism described are representative of many different emphases within constructivist theory, at all points of the personal-social-objectivist-relativist compass.
If, rather than defending and supporting their own perspectives, constructivists were to actively seek out and apply competing ways of understanding, holding these in a dialectical tension, I believe that significant advances and developments in constructivist theory and practice would ensue.
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