Volume 6 · Number 2 · Pages 248–253

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The Science Wars Go Local: The Reception of Radical Constructivism in Quebec

Marie Larochelle & Jacques Désautels

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Context: Ernst von Glasersfeld’s constructivist epistemology has been a source of intellectual inspiration for several Quebec researchers, particularly in the field of science and mathematics education. Problem: However, what is less well known is the influence that his work had on the direction taken by educational reform in Quebec in the early 2000s as well as the criticisms that his work has given rise to – some of which present a family resemblance to the science wars that swept over the US and France during the 1990s. Results: We begin by outlining the constructivist orientation of Quebec’s educational reform. We then draw a parallel between the above-mentioned science wars and the critics who denounced the constructivist foundations of the reform. In both cases, the bone of contention concerns the usual interpretation of relativism, with the criticisms that we refer to tending to oppose relativism with realism or rationalism. Now, by definition, relativism stands in opposition to absolutism and not to realism, unless the latter manifests itself in an absolutist form (which is the case of some of the critiques). Implications: The fear generated by relativism is by no means new. However, it seems that more than an epistemological controversy is at stake in the current depreciation of positions that, like that of radical constructivism, question the possibility of a “view from nowhere” – that is, aperspectival objectivity – and the resultant knowledge. In the sphere of education, at least in Quebec, there may well be an ideological issue of control over education that is involved.

Key words: educational reform, relativism, science wars


Larochelle M. & Désautels J. (2011) The Science Wars Go Local: The Reception of Radical Constructivism in Quebec. Constructivist Foundations 6(2): 248–253. Available at http://constructivist.info/6/2/248.larochelle

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