Volume 4 · Number 2 · Pages 91–99

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Constructivism and the “Great Divides”

Marie Larochelle & Jacques Désautels

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Context: To speak of constructivism – and in particular of radical constructivism – in education is to place oneself on a field which, like any other academic field, is the scene of tensions, debates, and indeed battles. While such controversies are, predictably enough, fought out between the partisans of constructivism and those defending other theses, they are also fought out between the constructivists themselves, as a number of group works have brought out (e.g., Steffe & Gale 1995; SRED 2001). In other words, constructivists do not express their views in unison whenever there is a question on the development of knowledge (an individual or collective matter?), the underpinnings of knowledge (be they of a psychological, sociological or other type) or, as humorously noted by Quale (2007), that “sin” which is said to consist in the relativist mode of questioning or critique authorized by constructivism. Purpose: In this paper, we would like to contribute to this discussion and to this plurality of ways of embedding oneself in constructivism, in particular by bringing out (as was so acutely shown by Ernst von Glasersfeld 1987a, 1995, 2007) that while constructivism offers a basis on which to revisit the question of knowledge, its contributions nevertheless extend well beyond this single preoccupation. By reincorporating “the properties of the observer” into his or her discourse as well as the conditions, stakes and issues surrounding the utterance in question, in short, by reincorporating the question of power into the utterance-making, constructivism also provides a basis for revisiting the “Great Divides” – that is, the (unequal) relationships between the various forms of knowledge as well as the (unequal) modes of evidence and authority that accompany these relations. Method: Through an examination of three topics, that is the “racism” of intelligence, the Semmelweis affair, and the question of endogenous knowledge, we will attempt to explicate various insights afforded by constructivism. Conclusion: So doing, we will show that radical constructivism, in its recognition of the plurality of possible modes of description and explanation, contributes to a form of epistemological democracy.

Key words: epistemology, science education, discipline-based power, orthodoxy, relationships between knowledges


Larochelle M. & Désautels J. (2009) Constructivism and the “great divides”. Constructivist Foundations 4(2): 91–99. http://constructivist.info/4/2/091

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