Volume 11 · Number 1 · Pages 1–7

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Exploring Alternatives to the Traditional Conference Format: Introduction to the Special Issue on Composing Conferences

Ben Sweeting & Michael Hohl

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Context: The design of academic conferences, in which settings ideas are shared and created, is, we suggest, of more than passing interest in constructivism, where epistemology is considered in terms of knowing rather than knowledge. Problem: The passivity and predominantly one-way structure of the typical paper presentation format of academic conferences has a number of serious limitations from a constructivist perspective. These limits are both practical and epistemological. While alternative formats abound, there is nevertheless increasing pressure reinforcing this format due to delegates’ funding typically being linked to reading a paper. Method: In this special issue, authors reflect on conferences that they have organised and participated in that have used alternative formats, such as conversational structures or other constructivist inspired approaches, in whole or in part. We review and contextualize their contributions, understanding them in terms of their connections to constructivism and to each other. Results: While this issue is of relevance across disciplinary boundaries, contributions focus on two fields: that of cybernetics/systems, and that of design. We identify the way that conference organization is of particular importance to these fields, being in self-reflexive relationship to them: the environment of a design conference is something that we design; while a conference regarding systems or cybernetics is itself an instance of the sorts of process with which these fields are concerned. Implications: Building on this self-reflexivity and, also, the close connection of design and cybernetics/systems to constructivism, we suggest that conference organization is an area in which constructivism may itself be understood in terms of practice (and so knowing) rather than theory (and so knowledge. This in turn helps connect ideas in constructivism with pragmatic fields, such as knowledge management, and recent discussions in this journal regarding second-order science. Constructivist content: As a setting for the creation of new ideas, the design of conferences is of importance where we understand epistemology in constructivist terms as a process of knowing. Moreover, the particular fields drawn on - design and cybernetics/systems - have close connections to constructivism, as can be seen, for instance, in the work of Ranulph Glanville, on which we draw here.

Key words: Conference, knowing, design, cybernetics, systems, tacit knowledge, reflection, double-loop learning, feedback, knowledge management, communication, second-order science, second-order cybernetics


Sweeting B. & Hohl M. (2015) Exploring alternatives to the traditional conference format: Introduction to the special issue on composing conferences. Constructivist Foundations 11(1): 1–7. http://constructivist.info/11/1/001

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