Volume 2 · Number 2-3 · Pages 41–49

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Radical Constructivism: A Scientific Research Program

Leslie P. Steffe

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Purpose: In the paper, I discuss how Ernst Glasersfeld worked as a scientist on the project, Interdisciplinary Research on Number (IRON), and explain how his scientific activity fueled his development of radical constructivism. I also present IRON as a progressive research program in radical constructivism and suggest the essential components of such programs. Findings: The basic problem of Glasersfeld’s radical constructivism is to explore the operations by means of which we assemble our experiential reality. Conceptual analysis is Glasersfeld’s way of doing science and he used it in IRON to analyze the units that young children create and count in the activity of counting. In his work in IRON, Glasersfeld first conducted a first-order conceptual analysis of his own operations that produce units and number, and then participated in a second-order analysis of the language and actions of children and inferred the mental operations that they use to produce units and number. Further, Glasersfeld used Piaget’s concept of equilibration in the context of scheme theory in a second-order analysis of children’s construction of number sequences and of more advanced ways and means of operating in the traffic of numbers. Research Implications: The scientific method of first- and second-order conceptual analysis transcends our work in IRON and it is applicable in any radical constructivist research program whose problem is to explore the operations by means of which we construct our conceptions. Because of the difficulties involved with introspection, conducting second-order conceptual analyses is essential in exploring these operations and it involves analyzing the language and actions of the observed. But conceptual analysis is only a part of the research process because the researchers are by necessity already involved in creating occasions of observation. The “experimenter” and the “analyst” can be the same person or they can be different people. Either case involves intensive and sustained interdisciplinary thinking and ways of working if the research program is to be maintained over a substantial period of time as a progressive research program.

Key words: scientific research program, attentional model, conceptual analysis, radical constructivism


Steffe L. P. (2007) Radical constructivism: A scientific research program. Constructivist Foundations 2(2-3): 41–49. http://constructivist.info/2/2-3/041

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