Practices of education must necessarily proceed on the basis of assumptive networks, that is, preliminary beliefs about the nature of human beings, their capacities, and their relationship with the world and each other. In the case of education, the pivotal concept is that of knowledge. How do we define or conceptualize knowledge, such that educational processes are demanded or desirable, or that certain educational practices are to be favored over others? It is clear that disparate concepts of knowledge lend themselves to differing views of the educational process. If we believed, along with certain romanticists, that “the heart has its reason,” we might replace books and lectures with intense encounters of both interpersonal and spiritual variety. Should we believe, along with the Ilongot of Northern Luzon, that knowledge is to be gained in the throes of anger or in the hunting of heads, then formal training in schools might be replaced by battle experience. Beliefs about knowledge, then, inform, justify, and sustain our practices of education.
Gergen K. (2008) Who Conceives of Mind? Von Glasersfeld’s Turn to Society. Constructivist Foundations 3(2): 99–100. https://constructivist.info/3/2/099
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. First paragraph: I have long admired Ernst von Glasersfeld’s attempt to render rationally viable a radical constructivist epistemology. And, I have long wished to see him turn his attention more fully to issues of social interchange. The present offering moves cogently in this direction, and this is all to the good. However, immersed in the dialogues on social construction as I am, the offering also poses an array of particular problems, both intellectual and practical. I offer the following in the service of pressing forward the dialogues on knowledge, self and the social world.
Gergen K. (2011) The social construction of self. In: Gallagher S. (ed.) The Oxford handbook of the self. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 633–653. https://cepa.info/5539
Excerpt: In treating the social construction of self it is first necessary to identify the boundaries of the domain. At the outset, there is the matter of the self. History has prepared us to speak of the self in many different ways, and some of these are more central to constructionist concerns than others. My particular concern in the present chapter will be with a family of uses that generally refer to a psychological or mental world within the individual The members of this family are many and varied. We variously speak of persons as possessing mental concepts of themselves, and it is often said that these concepts are saturated with value, that they may be defective or dysfunctional, that they figure importantly in the individual’s rational calculus, and that they ultimately supply resources for the exercise of personal agency. And too, many simply identify the process of conscious choice as equivalent to the individual self. Such assumptions are deeply embedded in Western culture, and provide the under-girding rationale for practices of jurisprudence, childrearing, education, counseling, and psychotherapy, among others. Further, such assumptions furnish the basis for myriad research studies in psychology and sociology. Individual self-esteem, for example, has been one of the most intensively studied topics in psychology. Indeed, the Western traditions of democracy and capitalism are both wedded to conceptions of the individual self as alluded to above. || With this particular focus on self in place, I shift attention to the matter of social construction. In this case, it is important to outline some of the major assumptions that play themselves out in contemporary constructionist scholarship. The ground is then prepared for treating issues in the social construction of the self Here I will begin with a discussion of the ungrounded character of mental accounts in general. Following this, I will discuss major lines of inquiry into the social construction of self, along with its socio-political implications. Finally, I will introduce an alternative to traditional conceptions of self, one that emerges distinctly from social constructionist theory.
Gergen K. (2014) Social constructionism. In: Teo T. (ed.) Encyclopedia of critical psychology. Springer, New York: 1772–1776. https://cepa.info/7082
Excerpt: Social construction is typically defined as an account of knowledge in which all assertions about what is the case are traced to negotiated agreements among people. Knowledge on this account is not driven by empirical fact, but what counts as fact depends on assumptions, logics, practices, and values specific to culturally and historically situated communities. Thus, observations support or disconfirm a theory, only if one accepts the a priori assumptions underlying the theory and methods of research. Social constructionism is often conflated with the term constructivism, although major contributors to constructivism frequently place the locus of knowledge within the mind of the individual person, while constructionists trace the origins of knowledgeable assertions within the social sphere.
Social constructionism views discourse about the world not as a reflection or map of the world but as an artifact of communal interchange. Both as an orientation to knowledge and to the character of psychological constructs, constructionism forms a significant challenge to conventional understandings. Although the roots of constructionist thought may be traced to long-standing debates between empiricist and rationalist schools of thought, constructionism attempts to move beyond the dualism to which both of these traditions are committed and to place knowledge within the process of social interchange. Although the role of psychological explanation is rendered problematic, a fully developed constructionism could furnish a means for understanding the process of science and invites the development of alternative criteria for the evaluation of psychological inquiry.
Gergen K. J. (1995) From construction in context to reconstruction in education. In: Steffe L. P. & Gale J. (eds.) Constructivism in education. Lawrence Erlbaum, Hillsdale NJ: 17–39.
Excerpt: Are we to dismantle the scientific apparatus, declaring all attempts at ‘objective’, ‘authoritative’ knowledge to be fatuous? Are we to conclude that because we are each locked into our subjectivities we cannot even be certain that there is a ‘world out there’, or that we are truly communicating with other persons? Is there nothing left but to reflect on our own subjectivities, and then to reflect upon the reflection in an infinitude of self-reflexive iterations? These are all dolorous conclusions, indeed, and one would scarcely wish to pursue lines of thought for which these are the inevitable consequences. However, the consequences of obliterating the subject-object dichotomy largely depend on how we understand or interpret the problem. It is our view that if a social constructionist view is taken toward the issues, none of the above conclusions need follow. On the contrary, new vistas of research are opened for exploration.