Creative Education
2012. Vol.3, No.2, 171-178
Published Online April 2012 in SciRes (
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 171
Epistemological and Pedagogical Concerns of
Constructionism: Relating to the
Educational Practices
Arbind K. Jha
RBS College of Education, Rewari, India
Received February 20th, 2012; revised March 17th, 2012; accepted March 30th, 2012
Today’s world may be defined as the world of constructs and all constructs can be categorised into either
Mental or Social. Social constructs are creative urge and constructs of Constructionists. Constructionists,
focus on knowledge as power, believing that “cultural specifications” exert a real influence on people’s
lives and takes a stand on the subjugating effect of discourses. In the case of education, perhaps the piv-
otal concept is that of knowledge itself. Constructionists assert that knowledge is not only constructed by
an individual’s interaction with his/her own world (or experiences) but also co-created by his/her interac-
tion with other individuals within a specific social community. This implies that both cognitive and social
processes are involved in knowledge construction and expansion through the process of reflecting on and
sharing their own experiences and others’ experiences or ideas as well. Constructionism is also a theory
about the pedagogical value of active learning, in a practice that includes a teaching model of mediation
as opposed to instruction. Given the socio-historical nature of knowledge, social constructionist curricular
practices therefore centre on the collective construction and transmission of meaning, learning and
knowledge in recognition that they are shaped by the historic conventions of culture and language. The
primary educational challenge of the present century is to replace the traditional focus on the individual
student with concerted investments in relational process. It emphasizes on from isolated to relational ra-
tionality and from dead curricula to cultural curricula where there is no walls of the classroom as an arti-
ficial barrier between educational and cultural processes. This paper studied the Constructionism theory
and attempted to interrogate and develop the theoretical and practical propositions of how the epistemo-
logical and pedagogical concerns of Constructionism relate to the concepts and practices of education in
contemporary world and more specifically how the implementation of Constructionist perspective will
bring about desirable changes.
Keywords: Constructionism; Constructionist Epistemology; Constructionist Pedagogy; Relational
Today’s world may be defined as the world of constructs and
all constructs can be categorized into either Mental or Social.
Social constructs are creative urge and constructs of Construc-
tionists. Social constructionists support a view which merges
the person and their boundaries for one cannot be easily sepa-
rated from the boundaries of the other. All aspects of a person,
consciousness, mind and the self are seen as social through and
through. Therefore, it makes no sense for one to ask the ques-
tion what is determined from the inside and what is determined
from the outside. What we take to be the world importantly
depends on how we approach it, and how we approach to it
depends on the social relationships of which we are a part
(Gergen, 2008). Social constructionists do not say, “There is
nothing”, or “There is no reality”. The important point is that
whenever people define reality they are speaking from a par-
ticular standpoint. To be sure, something happens, but in de-
scribing it you will inevitably rely on some tradition of sense
making (Gergen, 2008). For the constructionist, it is not that,
“There is nothing”, but “Nothing for us”. In other words, it is
from our relationships with others that the world becomes filled
with what we take to be real.
To be sure, one may trace the intellectual roots of construc-
tionism to Vico, Nitzsche, Dewey and Wittgenstein among
others (Gergen, 2011). But, the term Constructionism was
popularized by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann (1966)
through a book called “The Social Construction of Reality”.
Undoubtedly, in today’s times, Kenneth J. Gergen is one of the
leading exponents of social constructionism.
Constructionists view and suggest that every phenomenon,
including the “natural” world, as well as the social world, is
given meaning through human conversation and cultural proc-
ess, or is “constructed”. Phenomena are not “discovered” and
then described, as positivists would suggest. Established com-
munities of practice operate to legitimate and disseminate con-
structions, or to offer formal resistance to dominant construc-
tions. Gergen challenges especially individualist cognitive con-
structivists who suggest that the world acquires meaning as it is
filtered through internal, personal cognitive schemata, which
are open to developmental process. Rather, the “schemata”, or
constructions, giving meaning to acts, are “developed” and held
socially (historically and culturally) in texts, traditions and
practices, and one of these constructions is the “personal”.
Constructionist Epistemology
The work on sociological theory (Berger & Luckmann, 1966)
and the discussion on the sociology of science (Knorr-Cetina,
Latour, & Woolgar, 1989) have been influential in shaping the
constructionist epistemology. Constructionists, focus on knowl-
edge as power, believing that “cultural specifications” exert a
real influence on people’s lives and takes a stand on the subju-
gating effect of discourses. In the case of education, perhaps the
pivotal concept is that of knowledge itself. And thus the ques-
tion of epistemology comes into the picture automatically.
Constructionists assert that knowledge is not only constructed
by an individual’s interaction with his/her own world (or ex-
periences) but also co-created by his/her interaction with other
individuals within a specific social community. This implies
that both cognitive and social processes are involved in knowl-
edge construction and expansion through the process of re-
flecting on and sharing their own experiences and others’ ex-
periences or ideas as well.
Social constructionism can be described as part of the on-going
movement against realism in that it attempts to “replace the
objectivist ideal with a broad tradition of ongoing criticism in
which all predictions of the human mind are concerned”
(Hoffman, 1990). It is the claim and viewpoint that the content
of our consciousness, and the mode of relating we have to other,
is taught by our culture and society, all the metaphysical quan-
tities we take for granted are learned from others around us
(Owen, 1992). Hoffman (1991) states that all knowledge evolves
in the space between people, in the realm of the “common
world” or the “common dance”. Only through the on-going
conversation with intimates does the individual develop a sense
of identity on an inner voice. Anderson and Goolishian (1988)
have stated that from the social constructionist perspective there
are no “real” external entities that can be accurately mapped or
apprehended knowledge and systems are inherently dependent
upon communities of shared intelligibility and vice versa. They
are therefore, governed to a large degree by normative rules
that historically and culturally situated. Gergen (1999) claims
that in numerous instances, the criteria, which are invoked to
identify “behaviours”, “events” or “entities” are largely cir-
cumscribed by culture, history and social context. Therefore, a
social constructionist perspective, as opposed to a constructivist
perspective, locates meaning in an understanding of how ideas
and attitudes are developed over time within a social and com-
munity context. Constructionists have asserted that knowledge
is not only constructed by an individual’s interaction with his/
her own world (or experiences) but also co-created by his/her
interaction with other individuals within a specific social com-
munity. This implies that both cognitive and social processes
are involved in individuals’ knowledge expansion through the
process of reflecting on and sharing their own experiences and
others’ experiences or ideas.
Key Features of Constructionist Epistemology
Knowledge and truth are created not discovered by mind
(Schwandt, 2003). From the perspective of constructivism,
knowledge is the product of cognitive processes which result
from an individual’s interaction with his/her world. For in-
stance, Kelly’s (1955) personal construct theory is one of the
examples of such cognitive constructivism. Accordingly, there
exist multiple realities since the same social phenomenon is
interpreted (or understood) by individuals differently from one
another (Lincoln & Guba, 1985). Nevertheless, it is further
pointed out that the constructivist perspective focuses exclu-
sively on the meaning-making activity of the individual mind
but has a lack of consideration to the collective generation of
meaning as shaped by the conventions of language and other
social processes (Schwandt, 2003). Those social processes in-
clude communication, negotiation, conflict and rhetoric where
individuals express their perspectives and views members of
specific with communities (Garfinkel, 2003; Gergen, 1985;
2003). That is to say, knowledge can be transmitted through
individuals’ interaction with each other in a social context.
Accordingly, knowledge, viewed by social constructionists, is
the product of not only individual cognitive processes but also
social processes. Therefore, knowledge is intersubjective within
a variety of particular communities. The notion of intersubjec-
tivity denotes the importance of shared language and under-
standing throughout knowledge transmission within the specific
social contexts.
Centrality of Meaning: The constructionist stand, according
to Spink (2004), was structured around the following basic
principles: 1) no object can exist independent from the process
of producing meaning; therefore, subject and object are social
constructions that include human forms of objectification and
subjectification; 2) the deference of this stance means accepting
that an oscillatory movement occurs that shifts the origin of
knowledge to the external world one minute and to the internal
the next. In other words, there is a disparity between the inter-
nal-subjective-mind and external-objective-world; 3) on this
point, discursive formation cannot be approached as an entity
that is separate from the social and the practical; language is not
limited to the denotative function of objects, situations or states;
on the contrary, it has a performance function in discursive
formation that must be considered, within this perspective, as a
social practice in itself, with its own characteristics and practi-
cal consequences; 4) constructionism cannot necessarily be
considered a synonym of relativism, but rather an invitation to
examine and understand conventions and rules as something
that is socially situated and subject to reconstruction. This ap-
proach seeks to contribute towards demystifying scientific
practice, becoming a more political perspective for decon-
structing the differences and forms of oppression (physical or
symbolic) that permeate social and organizational life; 5) by
considering knowledge of reality as something socially con-
structed, it is a natural assumption that the methods produce,
before anything else, versions of the world which, depending
on the context of their production, their socio-historical mo-
ment, may have greater or less persuasive power; 6) finally, by
understanding knowledge to be a social construction that is
structured in the interface of short-term, mid-term and long-
term socio-historical contexts, social constructionism seeks to
understand the meanings attributed to experiences that are de-
rived from contexts marked by different temporalities.
To gain access to the meanings produced and the constructed
significances, the notion of discursive practices of the subjects
is resorted to. According to Gergen (1985), this is language in
action. A dynamic and plural language marked by different
voices, speech genres and interpretative content or repertoires,
which are defined as reference structures employed by people
in the construction of the meanings of reality (Spink, 2004).
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
Thus, language should be approached as a social practice that
produces references for the interpretation and attribution of
meanings for everyday life. With this reasoning, it may be
opined that the construction of meaning is a temporal perspec-
tive, in which the historical dimension establishes a dialogue
between new people and old meanings. To understand how they
occur in society, it becomes necessary to investigate the inter-
face between remaining and rupture by looking at time in three
ways: long time, characterized by cultural contents that form
discourse for a determined period; lived time, which may be
understood as the assigning of new meanings to historical con-
tent due to experienced socialization; and short time, which is
the time of a happening or the moment that enables people to
understand the production of meanings. This means breaking
away from the habitual in order to allow for the construction of
meanings attributed to the events of a given reality. Thus, in the
interconnection of these three times there is the concomitant
presence of the old and the new, remaining and rupture, delim-
iting how the production of meanings is processed and how
meanings circulate within the institution.
In this analytical process, people are seen as the builders of
social relationships, i.e., there is a recurrence of social relation-
ship games, symbolic exchanges, psychosocial constructions
that promote the production of meanings that can be understood
through discourse analysis. According to Corrêa and Carrieri
(2004), discourse is a way in which people express their view
of the world, their subjectivity, comprising a set of assumptions
that mark their conceptions and guide their actions. Therefore,
discourse should be viewed and analyzed as part of a network
of social relationships. It is a discursive production which in-
cludes not only systems of values, reasoning, justifications,
explanations, desirable and undesirable behaviour, but also the
interpretations, meanings constructed around the myths, stories
and other constructive elements of institutional reality and cul-
ture. According to Spink (2004), the understanding of meanings,
from a constructionist viewpoint, requires language to be taken
as a social practice and therefore as the product and producer of
people’s actions.
Reality is socially constructed: The basic contention of the
constructionist argument is that reality is socially constructed
by and between the persons who experience it (Gergen, 1999).
It is a consequence of the context in which the action occurs
and is shaped by the cultural, historical, political, and social
norms that operate within that context and time and that reality
can be different for each of us based on our unique understand-
ings of the world and our experience of it. Reality in this case is
completely subjective and need not be something that can be
shared by anyone else but at the same time it is independent of
the person living it. Social constructionism provides a different
perspective with which to view the world that allows the unique
differences of individuals to come into focus while at the same
time permitting the essential sameness that unites human beings
to be identified (Ashworth, 2003). This means that it is not
necessary for any of us to share the views of others but at the
same time none of us can change or alter our reality simply
because we might wish to. In this manner each individual real-
ity is true for the person because he or she experiences it but it
is independent of that person due to his or her inability to alter
it (Gergen, 1999).
Rejection of Exogenic and Endogenic Traditions of Knowl-
edge: We may distinguish between views of knowledge that are
primarily exogenic (or world cantered) in character as opposed
to those which are endogenic (or mind centered). The exogenic
tradition in educational thought can be traced to empiricist phi-
losophies of knowledge (from Locke to logical positivism),
while the endogenic tradition largely owes its intelligibility to
the rationalist tradition (from Descartes and Kant through Fodor
and the AI movement) (Gergen, 2001). Both orientations em-
brace a mind/world dualism in which the existence of an exter-
nal world (typically a material reality) is set against the exis-
tence of a psychological world (cognitive, subjective, and
symbolic). From the exogenic standpoint, however, knowledge
is achieved when the inner states of the individual reflect or
accurately represent (or serve as a mirror of) the existing states
of the external world. Exogenic thinkers often place a strong
emphasis on keen observation in the acquisition of knowledge,
and tend to view emotion and personal values as potential haz-
ards to the neutral or “evenly hovering attention” required for
accurate recording of the world as it is. The endogenic tradition
is similar to the exogenic in its dualist foundations, and its em-
phasis on value neutrality. Yet, whereas the endogenic tradition
treats careful observation of the world as the key to acquiring
knowledge, the endogenecist places the chief emphasis on the
powers of individual reason. In this sense the exogenic theorist
is likely to view the external or material world as a given, and
conjecture about how nature becomes accurately represented in
the mind, while the endogenic thinker is likely to view the
mental world as self-evident, and raise questions concerning the
way in which the mind operates so as to function adequately in
nature. Gergen (2001) has emphatically asserted that from
within these two perspectives, philosophers have never been
able to solve the fundamental question of epistemology—how
the mind comes into knowledge of a world external to it. Un-
able to resolve such problems, philosophers in the present cen-
tury have largely abandoned dualist metaphysics in favour of
the logical analysis of propositions. If we commence with a
distinction between what is outside and inside the mind of the
individual, we create an inherently intractable problem in de-
termining how the former is accurately represented in the latter.
Such debates have thus rendered both exogenic and en-
dogenic conceptions of knowledge vulnerable to the recent
developments in the field of epistemology. In the light of this
newly developed epistemology, knowledge is viewed as a by-
product not of individual minds but of communal relationships.
Or more generally we might say that all meaningful proposi-
tions about the real and the good have their origins in rela-
The Social Construction of Knowledge: The social construc-
tion of knowledge states that knowledge is a byproduct not of
individual minds but of communal relationships. Or more gen-
erally we might say that all meaningful propositions about the
real and the good have their origins in relationships. This is to
bring into sharp focus the site of knowledge generation: the
ongoing process of coordinating action among persons. Know-
ledge of the world and self finds its origins in human relation-
ships. What we take to be true as opposed to false, objective as
opposed to subjective, scientific as opposed to mythological,
rational as opposed to irrational, moral as opposed to immoral
is brought into being through historically and culturally situated
social processes. Within the constructionist dialogues we find
that it is not the individual mind in which knowledge, reason,
emotion and morality reside, but in relationships.
The Centrality of Language: From a social constructionist
perspective, language is more than just a way of connecting
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people. People exist in language. Consequently the focus is not
on the individual person but rather on the social interaction, in
which language is generated, sustained and abandoned (Gergen,
1991). Berger and Luckman (1991), state that people socially
construct reality by their use of agreed and shared meaning
communicated through language. Thus, our beliefs about the
world are social inventions. Vygotsky argued that when chil-
dren internalize dialogues experienced within particular social
practices, the words carry with them the social and cultural
trappings of the contexts within which they have been experi-
enced. The cultural meanings shape the ways language contrib-
ute to cognitive processes, and how children use it as a tool to
help them solve tasks on other occasions.
Contextualization of Knowledge: On a relational account,
knowledge and action are woven into the contexts in which
they are generated and used. This means that knowledge and
action are bound up in relations—relations with others, with
one’s own and others’ socially-derived and embodied disposi-
tions and with culturally organized aspects of settings, includ-
ing artefacts and normative ways of using them. Shifting from
an individualist to a relational view of education focuses edu-
cators on facilitating individuals’ participation in systems that
include both people and artefacts. Instead of simply augmenting
the individual’s knowledge and reasoning, we facilitate suc-
cessful participation with others in various activities. This
means that individuals develop relational habits and learn to
participate in shared practices, relating with others around an
issue and jointly combining resources to address it. A relational
account of education also recognizes that people and resources
move across contexts, as people learn to deploy resources (in-
cluding tools, dispositions and ways of relating with others) to
solve problems in new contexts. This differs from the tradi-
tional view of “learning transfer”, in which individuals learn
when they use allegedly stable sets of decontextualized knowl-
edge and skills in new contexts (Lave, 1988).
Constructionist Pedagogy
Epistemological Bases for Constructionist Pedagogy
In opposition to constructivists, who, while acknowledging
the social dimension of knowledge, ultimately turn inwards, to
“epistemological considerations that focus exclusively on the
meaning-making activity of the individual mind” (Crotty, 1998),
social constructionists unequivocally turn their attention out-
ward “to the world of intersubjectively shared, social construc-
tions of meaning and knowledge” (Schwandt, 1998). Social
constructionism holds that all knowledge, and all meaningful
reality, “is contingent upon human practices, being constructed
in and out of interaction between human beings and their world,
and developed and transmitted within an essentially social con-
text” (Crotty, 1998). From this epistemological perspective,
humans are born into “discourse” communities in which his-
torically specific cultural and linguistic “systems of intelligibil-
ity” prevail. It through such a specific discursive positionings
that humans engage with their world (Gee, 1996). Therefore, in
social constructionism, one’s vocabulary of meanings, know-
ledges, and interpretations is not viewed as the expression of an
individual’s internal cognitive processes, nor as purporting to
be a representation of an external reality, but as a tool “for co-
ordinating our behaviour with those of others”. Moreover,
unlike constructivism, social constructionism fosters a critical
Constructionist Pedagogy
Gergen’s (2001) chapter “Social Construction and Peda-
gogical Practice”, written with Stanton Wortham, offers a social
constructionist alternative to contemporary pedagogy that chal-
lenges both “endogenic”, or mind-centered, and “exogenic”, or
world-centered views. Advocates of mind-centered views stress
the importance of nature over nurture, where advocates of
world-centered views stress the importance of the environment
over what is inborn. However, as Gergen points out, both es-
pouse the same dualist epistemology, of subject-object opposi-
tion. Knowledge is neither “in” the person, nor “in” nature to be
experienced, but is produced or constructed through social rela-
tions, dialogue and social practices, themselves embedded in
changing (unstable) historical and cultural traditions. Further,
they are problematic in that both positions are blatantly ideo-
logical. He points out that if education is a preparation for par-
ticipation in democracy, then discipline-driven learning con-
founds such preparation.
Social constructionism recognises that “all claims to knowl-
edge grow from culturally and historically situated traditions”.
Values informing practices are contingent: “circumscribed and
negotiable”. Disciplines should not be monologues to be mas-
tered, but resources for particular conditions of living. By situ-
ating knowledge, a shift from monologue to dialogue (from
hierarchy to heterarchy) is invited, as is deliberation, or reflex-
ive consideration, of the subject matter. Disciplines invite the
expression of one voice and form of life possibly at the expense
of others, negating democracy. Gergen calls rather for a “poly-
vocality”. In crossing discipline boundaries, he suggests a
postmodern research technique: students would be “free to
roam across whatever domains are necessary in terms of their
goals—ransacking, borrowing, extricating, annexing, combin-
ing, reformulating and amalgamating in any way necessary for
the most effective outcome”. This is usually referred to, draw-
ing from artistic tradition, as a method of bricolage, where the
researcher is the bricoleur.
Constructionism is also a theory about the pedagogical value
of active learning, in a practice that includes a teaching model
of mediation as opposed to instruction. Also, the practice of
active learning helps criticability among the students and con-
sequently knowledge sharing and expansion take place. In addi-
tion, the practice of action learning inspires new ways of think-
ing and behaving and also brings about an active attitude and
confidence since it is defined the process [of action learning]
helps us to take an active stance towards life and helps to
overcome the tendency (merely) to think, feel and be passive
towards the pressures of live (McGill & Beaty, 1995).
Gergen has asserted time and agian that there are no policies
or pedagogies that cannot be understood through the lens of
social constructionism. He has suggested us at least five do-
main of particular relevance for the constructionist pedagogy.
The five domains are:
1) From Hierarchy to Heterarchy: Gergen (2001) says that
consistent with traditional views of knowledge as cumulative
(exogenic) and universal (endogenic), educational institutions
are built around a “nutritionist” model (Gergen, 2001). The
model is essentially hierarchical (Experts-who design the cur-
riculum; Administrators-who select among these units and The
Teacher-as instruments to dispense the knowledge) with the
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
ultimate authority residing in the communities of knowledge-
production itself. Students are expected merely to consume the
knowledge. Theoretically, all the stake holders widely criticise
it but practically they engage with it willingly or unwillingly
and the model is thriving well till date in almost all parts of the
world. The constructionist finds the hierarchical model wanting
in its tendency to suppress the contextual and pragmatic condi-
tions that give authoritative language its significance. From the
constructionist standpoint, “knowledgeable propositions” gain
their meaning within particular contexts of usage, and function
as means of coordinating action within these contexts (Gergen,
2001). Educators extract bodies of discourse (and a limited
number of instantiations) from the professional disciplines, and
pass these extractions on to those beneath them in the hierarchy.
The pragmatic function of these discourses within the commu-
nities themselves is lost. The discourses lose their significance,
and students are often left with a promissory note that somehow
their studies are useful and important.
Further, because the authoritative discourses are treated as
sacrosanct—the products of “our best minds”—they tend to
travel the hierarchy in monologic fashion. That is, they do not
move from communities of administrators, to teachers, to stu-
dents as invitations to conversational supplementation. The
recipients may clarify, order, and package, but the authoritative
discourses remain, insofar as possible, intact. The recipient of a
monologue—as in the case of authoritative knowledge—is de-
nied a voice of his/her own. The endpoint to be achieved by
monologic education is a student who has fully absorbed that
which has been presented—or in effect, becomes a simulacra of
the authority. Whatever talents, insights, or specialized educa-
tion the individual possesses is denied entry into the conversa-
tion. And with the denial of voice comes an obliteration of
identity and an invitation to lethargy. It is in this vein it has
been described how academics and governments impose cur-
ricula and methods on schools that largely silence the teacher.
The hierarchical model “deskills” the student and discour-
ages creativity and innovation among students. Gergen has
raised a question, “Given the inherent problems of authority
based knowledge, what alternatives are suggested from a con-
structionist standpoint?” and has argued that the present analy-
sis first calls for a desacralizing of professional knowledge.
Rather than presuming that the traditional knowledge makers
provide “the best” or “last” word, let us realize that all claims to
knowledge grow from culturally and historically situated tradi-
tions. Thus, rather than monologues to be mastered, we might
think of the disciplines as offering resources that may or may
not be valuable depending on a particular condition of life. For
present purposes, Gergen reiterates, however, situating know-
ledge in this way invites a shift from monologue to dialogue
and from hierarchy to heterarchy.
2) Beyond Disciplines of Knowledge: In recent time, there
has been a concerted attempt to delineate fields of knowledge—
physics, chemistry, mathematics, civics and the like. Curricula
of study are typically arranged so that students are exposed at
least minimally to a variety of the separate fields, and ulti-
mately acquire in-depth knowledge of at least one of them.
However, from the constructionist standpoint, delineations in
knowledge are useful primarily for those within a particular
domain of study. They enable communities of knowledge mak-
ers to generate achievements in the terms of their traditions.
Gergen (2001) has pinpointed by saying that while education in
these traditions has much to be said for it, educational processes
circumscribed by disciplinarity are deeply problematic. If edu-
cation is about enhancing the quality and efficacy of public
deliberation and action, there is much to be said for curricula
released from the demands of disciplinarity. From a construc-
tionist perspective, disciplinary forms of life may be invited on
holiday. Issues of practical public (or private) concern may set
the agendas for education; the disciplines may supply relevant
resources. As students confront major issues of the times, they
would not be constrained by the few tools of a constricted sub-
ject matter. Rather, they would be free to roam across whatever
domains are necessary in terms of their goals in any way nec-
essary for the most effective outcome. The aim should be to
shift emphasis away from mere regurgitation of accumulated
facts (favoured by the “mind as slate orientation”), and to gear
assessment to the means by which students utilize and combine
multiple skills in newly challenging contexts, and communicate
their conclusions to others. Thus, students may work individu-
ally or in groups to solve complex, multi-step problems, collect
data, analyze, integrate, interpret, and report their results to real
audiences. As the educators see it, such tasks allow students to
“construct meaning and structure investigations” for particular
audiences. The teaching emphasis thus shifts from preparing
students for mere repetition of the regimented and standardized
discourses, to developing skills for confronting complex and
ever-changing circumstances outside the educational sphere
(Gergan, 2001).
3) Toward Meaning in Practice: It is commonly agreed
agenda that the education functions to produce learned or
knowledgeable individuals, who either by dint of what they
know and/or their rational abilities, are equipped for effective
action in whatever situations life has to offer. It is also for the
masterly and storage of knowledge which may be used in sub-
sequent life. For the constructionist pedagogues, the challenge
for the educational process, is not that of storing facts, theories
and rational heuristics in individual minds. Rather, it is to aid in
generating contexts in which the value and meaning of the con-
stituent dialogues may be most fully realized, conditions under
which dialogues may be linked to the ongoing practical pursuits
of persons, communities, or nations (Gergan, 2001). In effect,
the constructionist would favour a substantial reduction in the
canonized curriculum in which students are required to take
courses either because they are prerequisites for other courses,
or necessary preparations for life. Rather, the constructionist
would favour practices in which students work together with
teachers and others to decide on issues of importance, and the
kinds of activities that might best allow significant engagement.
4) Toward Reflexive Deliberation: Gergen (2001) has un-
derlined a need, consistent with the preceding emphasis, on
moving from authoritative monologue to dialogue in the educa-
tional setting where means are required for opening the au-
thoritative languages to reflexive deliberation. That is, the au-
thoritative discourses must be opened to evaluation from alter-
native standpoints, including both authoritative and informal.
By exposing any professional discourse to the concerns of its
peers—for example, by considering biological texts in terms of
its dominant metaphors (literature), or literary texts in terms of
implicit political ideals—we gain perspective on the strengths
and weaknesses of the work in question, and add dimension to
subsequent dialogues.
For most of those concerned with curriculum effects, a strong
emphasis has been placed on pedagogy of critique. Through the
means of pedagogy of critique marginalized groups acquire
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 175
confidence in their own positions. From the relational stand-
point, critique must be supplemented by modes of appreciative
inquiry. The point of reflexive deliberation is not to widen the
chasm between cultural enclaves, but to enrich the forms of
cultural life through processes of inter-interpolation. The de-
velopment of new forms of relatedness is urgently required. In
addition to pedagogies of appreciation and critique, then, it is
essential to develop modes of creative interchange, practices
that will enable creative amalgams to replace conflict and hos-
5) Toward Generative Relationships: Traditional views of
knowledge as “within individual minds” favours a distinct divi-
sion between the teacher and student. The teacher “knows”, and
students are thrust into the position of objects to be operated on
and minds to be filled with contents or rationalities. From the
constructionist standpoint, the individual is not the possessor of
contents or rationalities, but rather, participates in them. Know-
ledgeable and rational statements are not external expressions
of the internal mind, but are relational achievements. What
stands as reason, memory, motivation, intention and the like are
the result of coordinated action and negotiation within a com-
munity (Myerson, 1994). For the constructionist educator, the
primary challenge is that of contributing to generative relation-
ships - relationships from which the student emerges with ex-
panded potentials for effective relating. The student’s role shifts
from that of object to be operated on to a subject within rela-
tionships. Most important, however, is the question of how the
focus on relationship may enrich pedagogical process. Rather
than a subject matter or child centered classroom, how would
educational processes be constituted if relationships were pri-
As we shift from the individual to the relationship as the cen-
tre of focus, we can again appreciate the work of social con-
structivists on processes of teacher assisted learning, semiotic
apprenticeship, and relations in the zone of proximal develop-
ment are salutary. All locate the site of learning within the rela-
tional matrix. However, perhaps the most visible outcome of
constructionist thinking thus far is the emergence of collabora-
tive or cooperative learning. As Brufee (1993) puts it, collabo-
rative learning is a process in which the ongoing exchange
among students serves as the primary educational function. One
learns through engaging, incorporating, and critically exploring
with others. Ideally, through social interchange skills in articu-
lation and responding are developed, and new possibilities of
world construction are opened. Learning becomes a “shift in
our language-constituted relations with others”. Collaborative
inquiry may be viewed as but a beginning of exploration into
the enormous potential of relationship centered education.
From Dead-Curriculum to Cultural and
Given the socio-historical nature of knowledge, social con-
structionist curricular practices therefore centre around the
collective construction and transmission of meaning and know-
ledge in recognition that they are shaped by the historic con-
ventions of culture and language.
In the individualist tradition there was a distinct division
between the roles of the teacher and that of the student, the
former was to provide the best information and insight avail-
able and the latter’s job was to master it. Student failure was
typically attributed to the student’s deficient capabilities, atti-
tude, or motivation. In recent decades we have increasingly
come to understand that effective student performance is a col-
laborative achievement. The central fulcrum of collaboration is,
of course, between the teacher and the student. Here increasing
numbers are drawn to Lev Vygotsky’s view that there is noth-
ing in mind that is not first of all in culture, and to the signifi-
cance of a close, sensitive and action centred relationship be-
tween teacher and student.
In the individualist tradition, student performance is evalu-
ated against the standards of a fixed curriculum or dead cur-
riculum. The logic and content of the curriculum—established
prior to the student’s presence—dictates what counts as “mas-
tery”. With increased sensitivity to relational context, we begin
to see the limits of a self-contained, disciplinary based curricu-
lum. Increasingly we see the walls of the classroom as an artifi-
cial barrier between educational and cultural process. “Active
learning” and “Situated learning” have become essential in
thinning the artificial barrier and cultural processes. It is in this
vein that we may appreciate the innovative efforts of the many
teachers who create links between the class and cultural context.
For example, “authentic assessment” practices—in which stu-
dents work together to solve complex problems in the outside
environment and communicate their results to audiences other
than the teacher—are slowly gaining momentum.
Piaget’s constructivism offers a window into what children
are interested in, and able to achieve, at different stages of their
development. The theory describes how children’s ways of
doing and thinking evolve over time, and under which circum-
stance children are more likely to let go of—or hold onto—
their currently held views. Piaget suggests that children have
very good reasons not to abandon their worldviews just because
someone else, be it an expert, tells them they’re wrong. Con-
structionism, in contrast, focuses more on the art of learning, or
“learning to learn”, and on the significance of making things in
learning. It is interested in how learners engage in a conversa-
tion with [their own or other people’s] artefacts, and how these
conversations boost self-directed learning, and ultimately fa-
cilitate the construction of new knowledge. It stresses the im-
portance of tools, media, and context in human development.
Integrating both perspectives illuminates the processes by
which individuals come to make sense of their experience,
gradually optimizing their interactions with the world. They
(Piaget, Papert, Dewey, Freynet, Freire, & others) remind us
that learning, especially today, is much less about acquiring
information or submitting to other people’s ideas or values,
than it is about putting one’s own words to the world, or finding
one’s own voice, and exchanging our ideas with others. Cur-
ricular practices still tacitly draw on empirical cognitive psy-
chology firmly entrenched in foundationalist assumptions. Cur-
ricular practices geared to the equal and collective realisation of
self-development and self-determination, especially in the con-
text of the massification and internationalisation of education,
need to be open to the cultural milieus, social languages, and
literacy practices of all “discourse” communities. This calls for
curricular justice, a counter-hegemonic approach that recog-
nises and responds to the relationships between curricular prac-
tice, culture, power and politics. A social constructionist cur-
ricular paradigm offers a useful way of forward. It promotes the
identification of asymmetrical power arrangements in curricular
practices, and is epistemologically better placed to support the
learning by students who comprise multiple, classed, ethnicised,
gendered and geographically located subjectivities, discursively
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
embedded in complex and contradictory everyday learning
environments in powerful institutions (Eijkman, 2003).
In recent years we have seen a shift in curricular practices
from a cognitivist to a more “progressive” constructivist para-
digm that gives greater recognition to the social context of
learning and teaching. Even progressive curriculum modalities,
on both the right and left of the socio-political spectrum, such
as constructivism and critical pedagogies respectively, are still
not sufficiently equipped to enable the equal and collective
realisation of self-development and self-determination. Both, to
various degrees, ultimately fall back on an intra-individual
focus and respond inadequately to issues of power, the former
by ignoring it, and the latter by insufficiently responding to the
social dimension of power. Whilst progressive practices have
certainly made some innovative and constructive contributions
to curricular practices, they do not sufficiently consider discur-
sive outsiders, and may in fact exacerbate their educational
Social constructionism especially when integrated with criti-
cal theory, challenges and rejects the depoliticising curricular
practices based on individualist and foundationalist assump-
tions. It seems obvious that in terms of participative equity and
curricular practices, social constructionism, with its focus on
the contingent and social nature of knowledge is a more useful
perspective. Moving to its specific relevance for curricular
practice—constructionist pedagogy rejects as deeply flawed the
foundational notions of objectivity, the centrality of private
experience, and thus the ideology of the self-contained individ-
ual (Rorty, 1999a; Gergen, 1999). With meaning-making seen
as socially constructed by, for, and between, members of par-
ticular culturally and historically bound discourse communities,
learning as knowledge formation occurs primarily between
participants in social relationship, and constitutes a sociological
description of knowledge in which language is not only a pre-
condition for thought, it is also and inherently so, a form of
social action (Gee, 1997; Rorty, 1999b; Wenger, 1999). Be-
cause knowledge resides in discourse communities, educators
therefore need to recognise and validate the “really useful”
knowledges of diverse discourse communities, and act as fa-
cilitators of acculturation, and not as the gatekeepers to the
privileged, sacred, discourse of academia (Bernstein, 1980;
Brufee, 1999). From this perspective, learning is a much more
symmetrical social activity geared towards a collective and
critical acculturation into an academic discourse. Social con-
structionism invites educators to see diverse others as “people
like us” and to expand our sense of “we”. Social constructionist
curricular practices are premised on the invitation “to create a
more expansive sense of solidarity than we presently have”
(Rorty, 1999b) and respond more concretely to educational
disprivileging in our classrooms.
With learning located squarely in historical, socio-cultural,
and politically embedded social relations and trajectories, a
non-foundational epistemology provides a more useful under-
pinning for discursively inclusive curricular practices. From a
constructionist pedagogic perspective, acculturation is no longer
seen as an individual but as a collective task, a process that
inevitably engages learners collectively in discursive accultura-
tion. Accordingly, social constructionism calls for a fundamen-
tal re-orientation of curricular practice in higher education,
away from a psychologist focus on individual learning towards
a distinctly sociological approach to knowledge and learning.
Here, learning, as acculturation into academic and professional
discourses, is a collective process centered on critical immer-
sion in social practices and sustained conversations within and
between new, and heterogeneous, discourse communities. This
epistemological move privileges the social and thereby the
socially-based curricular practices that form a core strategy in
realising collective equality in educational engagement. More-
over, its critical approach means that acculturation is inherently
political and ideological that goes beyond mere socialisation or
functional practice (Lankshear, 2000). The appropriation of a
critical non-foundational epistemology therefore constitutes a
decisive theoretical breakthrough for curricular practices fo-
cused on systemic equity in educational engagement.
Social constructionist curricular practices pay particular at-
tention to the ways in which cultural constructions are created
and transformed, how belief and value systems are generated,
shared and modified, and therefore, how new modes of cur-
riculum, academic expression and disciplinary relations are
generated. On these grounds, the individualist, mind-cantered
and foundationalist rationale that underpins conventional, pro-
gressivist, and even many critical literacies curricular practices,
is epistemologically unconvincing and educationally problem-
atic. Social constructionism represents a leading edge approach
to curricular practice. It permits educators and students alike to
understand what is happening in themselves as minute points of
the intersections of biography and history within society. Social
constructionism holds the promise of achieving systemic equity
at the level of equal and collective educational engagement.
Characteristics of the Cultural and Relational Curriculum are
Individuals are woven into Context
Knowledge is produced in Relations
Knowledge is Contextualized
Heterogeneity of Knowledge Resources
From Monologue to Dialogue
From Isolated to Relational Rationality
Thus, we need to situate entire paradigm of process of teach-
ing, learning and assessment in the paradigm of Constructionist
Epistemology and Pedagogy. For this we need to address the
issues of education in general and issues of curriculum in par-
ticular in the context of “relationality” as proposed by none
other than Gergen himself.
Constructionist Epistemology and Pedagogy have been ex-
plained above as an alternative epistemology and pedagogy to
all the existing prevalent traditions in the field of education and
with the help of this we might generate and execute new vistas
in education. As we have seen that the constructionist episte-
mology and pedagogy unfold before us a new dimension re-
garding our understanding of knowing and knowledge in cul-
tural and relational context. This strongly supports the locally
embedded relational curricula; the defragmentation of rigid
disciplinary territories; the myopic and blurred lodgment of
discourses within various disciplines; obsolete practices of
educational dealings; collective construction of meaning; equal
and collective realization of self-development and self-deter-
mination; creating a more expansive sense of solidarity which
is the need of the our and a shift from individual centered edu-
cation to relational education. The educational dialogue is not
new to many contents and intents as highlighted above but it is
sure that the constructionist epistemology and pedagogy would
Copyright © 2012 SciRes. 177
Copyright © 2012 SciRes.
further generate interest for further dialogue among various
stock holders of education for a new dawn.
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