Departmental Papers (ASC)

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Journal Article

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Constructivist Foundations





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This essay contends that radical constructivism makes a mistake by focusing on cognition at the expense of where cognitive phenomena surface: in the interactive use of language. By contrast, it advocates a radically social constructivism grounded in the conversational nature of being human. It also urges to abandon the celebration of observation, inherited from the enlightenment’s preoccupation with description, in favor of participation, the recognition that speaking and writing are acts of continuously reconstructing reality, only partly conceivable by participants yet interactively realized.

It distinguishes between conversation as observed and conversation as articulated by its participants. It postulates accountability as a chief conversational move through which conversations can regain their natural flow when disturbed and construct inherently ethical realities for their participants. Unwillingness to repair problematic conversations amounts to acquiescence to constraints that are typical of discourses and the construction of institutional realities. It suggests that the ultimate institutionalization consists of replacing institutional artifacts by computational ones, which was the aim of early cybernetics. Computational artifacts have no agency and cannot be held accountable for what they do.

This essay proposes a continuum of possible discourses between authentic conversation and computation. It concludes by calling for drawing finer distinctions within that continuum and expresses the hope for not closing off the possibility of returning to authentic conversation where humans realize their being human, not institutional actors or machines.


Constrictivism, Language, Conversation, Discourse, Institutions, Cybernetics, Computation



Date Posted: 24 August 2009