Abbott M. L. & Fouts J. T. (2003) Constructivist teaching and student achievement: The results of a school level classroom observation study in Washington. Technical Report #5. Washington School Research Center, Lynnwood WA. https://cepa.info/4658
This study built on a 2001–02 classroom observation study of Washington K-12 and technical schools that identified the extent of constructivist teaching activity. Results from classroom observations found that strong constructivist teaching was observable in 17 percent of the classroom lessons. The other 83 percent of the lessons observed may have contained some elements of constructivist teaching, but up to one-half had very little or no elements of constructivist teaching present. More constructivist teaching appeared to occur in alternative schools and integrated subject matter classes. There appeared to be no differences among elementary, middle/junior, and high schools in the degree to which constructivist practices were used. This study explored the relationship of this practice to student achievement, examining the percent of variance in student achievement accounted for by constructivist teaching beyond that contributed by low-income. Data came from the original observation study and from school-level standardized test scores of 4th, 7th, and 10th graders. Results found large correlations between study variables (a negative correlation between school-level family income and student achievement, large positive correlations between constructivist teaching and student achievement, and a negative correlation between constructivist teaching and school-level family income).
Alroe H. F. (2016) Three Levels of Semiosis: Three Kinds of Kinds. Cybernetics & Human Knowing 23(2): 23–38. https://cepa.info/3353
In philosophy, there is an as yet unresolved discussion on whether there are different kinds of kinds and what those kinds are. In particular, there is a distinction between indifferent kinds, which are unaffected by observation and representation, and interactive kinds, which respond to being studied in ways that alter the very kinds under study. This is in essence a discussion on ontologies and, I argue, more precisely about ontological levels. The discussion of kinds of kinds can be resolved by using a semiotic approach to ontological levels, building on the key semiotic concept of representation. There are three, and only three, levels of semiosis: nonor protosemiotic processes without representation, such as physical or causal processes, semiotic processes with representation, such as the processes of life and cognition, and second-order semiotic processes with representation of representation, such as self-awareness and self-reflexive communication. This leads to the distinction between not two, but three kinds of kinds: indifferent, adaptive and reflexive kinds, of which the last two hitherto have not been clearly distinguished.
Context: Society is faced with “wicked” problems of environmental sustainability, which are inherently multiperspectival, and there is a need for explicitly constructivist and perspectivist theories to address them. Problem: However, different constructivist theories construe the environment in different ways. The aim of this paper is to clarify the conceptions of environment in constructivist approaches, and thereby to assist the sciences of complex systems and complex environmental problems. Method: We describe the terms used for “the environment” in von Uexküll, Maturana & Varela, and Luhmann, and analyse how their conceptions of environment are connected to differences of perspective and observation. Results: We show the need to distinguish between inside and outside perspectives on the environment, and identify two very different and complementary logics of observation, the logic of distinction and the logic of representation, in the three constructivist theories. Implications: Luhmann’s theory of social systems can be a helpful perspective on the wicked environmental problems of society if we consider carefully the theory’s own blind spots: that it confines itself to systems of communication, and that it is based fully on the conception of observation as indication by means of distinction.
Context: This conceptual paper tries to tackle the advantages and the limitations that might arise from including second-order science into global climate change sciences, a research area that traditionally focuses on first-order approaches and that is currently attracting a lot of media and public attention. Problem: The high profile of climate change research seems to provoke a certain dilemma for scientists: despite the slowly increasing realization within the sciences that our knowledge is temporary, tentative, uncertain, and far from stable, the public expectations towards science and scientific knowledge are still the opposite: that scientific results should prove to be objective, reliable, and authoritative. As a way to handle the uncertainty, scientists tend to produce “varieties of scenarios” instead of clear statements, as well as reports that articulate different scientific opinions about the causes and dynamics of change (e.g., the IPCC. This might leave the impression of vague and indecisive results. As a result, esteem for the sciences seems to be decreasing within public perception. Method: This paper applies second-order observation to climate change research in particular and the sciences in general. Results: Within most sciences, it is still quite unusual to disclose and discuss the epistemological foundations of the respective research questions, methods and ways to interpret data, as research proceeds mainly from some version of realistic epistemological positions. A shift towards self-reflexive second-order science might offer possibilities for a return to a “less polarized” scientific and public debate on climate change because it points to knowledge that is in principle tentative, uncertain and fragmented as well as to the theory- and observation-dependence of scientific work. Implications: The paper addresses the differences between first-order and second-order science as well as some challenges of science in general, which second-order science might address and disclose. Constructivist content: Second-order science used as observation praxis (second-order observation) for this specific field of research.
Minimalism is a useful element in the constructivist arsenal against objectivism. By reducing actions and sensory feedback to a bare minimum, it becomes possible to obtain a complete description of the sensory-motor dynamics; and this in turn reveals that the object of perception does not pre-exist in itself, but is actually constituted during the process of observation. In this paper, this minimalist approach is deployed for the case of the recognition of “the Other.” It is shown that the perception of another intentional subject is based on properties that are intrinsic to the joint perceptual activity itself.
Open peer commentary on the target article “Who Conceives of Society?” by Ernst von Glasersfeld. Excerpt: The question I am most interested in is the question raised by von Glasersfeld as to whether Luhmann’s talk of “eigen-values” of society actually is, or is not, just a loose metaphor as von Glaserfeld maintains by emphasizing that in the society of human beings “the recursion of operations of observation or description is not governed by fixed rules, unlike the recursion of functions that produce mathematical eigenwerte” (§44, Fn. 4). Indeed, how are we to conceive of the possible eigen-values of society? And who are we to possibly be able to conceive of possible eigen-values?
Balsemão Pires E. (2011) A individuação da sociedade moderna (The individuation of modern society). Coimbra University Press, Coimbra. https://cepa.info/1139
The book uses the method and categories of systems theory (inspired by Niklas Luhmann) in a scrutiny of the evolution of the main semantic trends of modern society and its influence in the formation of the systemic boundaries of the social systems of society. The book is an investigation of the meaning of the functional differentiation according to its semantic symptoms and evolution. In order to reconstruct the semantic evolution of basic modern socio-economic categories the book is divided according to the three classic branches of the political philosophy of the classic tradition, the Aristotelian division also conserved in Hegel’s own distribution of the themes of his “Sittlichkeit” – family, civil society and the state. Thus, in “The Individuation of Modern Society” the author explores the classic notion of oikós and its opposition to the pólis, the evolution of the concept of utility in modern times and its importance to the formation of the modern political economy and the economic system as an autonomous functional system, the idea of “civil society,” its meaning in the Hegelian description of the social modernity, the fragmentation of XVIIIth century civil society according to the use of the term “Entzweiung” in the Hegelian philosophical vocabulary, and the formation of the concept of the nation as a self-referential condition of the political system. The book finishes with a discussion of Niklas Luhmann’s theory of functional differentiation and his concept of the political system. Relevance: The book applies second-order cybernetics to the analysis of the evolution of modern social systems, especially in the case of the formation of self-referential conditions for the observation and reproduction of the systems.
Balsemão Pires E. (2013) The epistemological meaning of Luhmann\s critique of classical ontology. Systema: Connecting Matter, Life, Culture and Technology 1(1): 5–20. https://cepa.info/1126
This paper is a discussion of the sustainability of a concept of “world” compatible with the “operative constructivism” and the operative conception of observation of systems theory of according to Niklas Luhmann. The paper scrutinizes the concepts of observation of H. von Foerster, H. Maturana, G. Günther and N. Luhmann, providing the general framework of “operative constructivism.” Particularly, the paper will focus on N. Luhmann’s understanding of the role of observation in the constitution of the self-reference of the social systems of the modern society. The case of the “systems of art” will be briefly inspected. What place shall we concede to the idea of an “objective” world, according to the systems theory? Are systems “objective”? According to N. Luhmann, for the description of systems only operations are “objective.” However, an operation is not an entity, which means that we need to depict a new kind of “objects,” very different from the ’thing-objectivity” of the ancient metaphysics and different from the Cartesian concept of “res.” What does objectivity mean according to systems theory? This question was at stake in the formulation of N. Luhmann’s Die Gesellschaft der Gesellschaft: Society is “weder Subjekt noch Objekt.” This paper attempts to address this formula. Relevance: The paper deals with the epistemological explanation of second-order observations in social systems according to Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory. It clarifies the world vision of the constructivism movement.
Balsemão Pires E. (2014) Systemic-internal and Theoretical Views on Second-Order Observations. Constructivist Foundations 10(1): 56–58. https://cepa.info/1162
Open peer commentary on the article “The Circular Conditions of Second-order Science Sporadically Illustrated with Agent-based Experiments at the Roots of Observation” by Manfred Füllsack. Upshot: I address Füllsack’s main conclusions in his article regarding the meaning of second-order observations. Especially envisaged are the epistemological and ontological difficulties raised by his scrutiny of the merging between systemic-internal conditions of second-order reflexivity and the thematic-theoretical accounts of selection, intentionality and purposiveness in evolutionary systems.
Barnes G. & Možina M. (2020) Metalogue: How to Understand Bateson? In Memoriam Graham Barnes (1936-2020). Constructivist Foundations 16(1): 101–107. https://cepa.info/6827
Context: For Graham Barnes, the starting point of his research was the observation that most psychotherapists are trained in a theory-centered style of practice, neglecting epistemological and hermeneutical aspects. The consequence is an absence of critical self-reflection about some basic assumptions of psychotherapy theories and clinical practices in the psychotherapy community. When using a particular theory, therapists forget that the theory is “using” them, as well, i.e., they are unaware of the effects the theory has on them and on their relationships with clients. As an alternative to this ignorance, Barnes developed the concept, research project and clinical application of what he called “second-order psychotherapy.” Problem: How can we encourage therapists to engage in systematic self-reflection on the influence of theory on the content and structure of their therapeutic conversations? Following Bateson’s epistemological guidelines, we give an example of how our conversation about understanding his ideas includes conversation about our understanding of the conversation about an understanding of his ideas. Method: Bateson created a new didactic form of dialogical presentation to facilitate the understanding of knowing, called a metalogue, in which the content and the structure of the conversation are intertwined in such a way that it becomes more transparent how the metalevel of relationships between the speakers influences the content and vice versa. Results: By presenting our dialogues as an exemplary metalogue, we propose that metalogues could be a valuable didactic way for promoting epistemological and constructivist teaching and learning, not only for psychotherapists, but for all professionals who need better understanding of their understanding. This second-order understanding opens the space for the inclusion of self-reflection on our relationship (and its evolution) and how our relationship has shaped our understanding. Implications: Our proposal is also meant as an encouragement for contemporary constructivist thinkers to continue to reflect on Bateson’s contribution to the foundation and evolution of constructivism.