How Compatible Are Radical Constructivism, Sociocultural Approaches, and Social Constructivism?
Jere Confrey Cornell University
The basic question that is raised by the chapters by Wertsch and Toma (chap. 10) and Bauersfeld (chap. 9) is, "How compatible are the theories of radical constructivism, sociocultural approaches, and social constructivism?" The authors imply that the three theoretical positions can be made compatible, but, to my knowledge, an explicit discussion of whether and how this might be accomplished has yet to be offered. In this chapter, I question whether, as indicated by Wertsch ( 1985b), the Vygotskian program can be simply modified to accommodate a Piagetian perspective. Then, drawing on the classroom examples provided by Bauersfeld, and Wertsch and Toma, I suggest that an integrated theory is desirable, but difficult to achieve. I discuss some points of contact and conflict between the theories, and then offer a set of assumptions for an integrating theory.
Some social constructivists have criticized radical constructivism for being completely individualistic, for being "the epistemological adventures of Robinson Crusoe" ( Davydov, 1990, p. 300). This portrayal is not treated because it ignores the considerable literature in radical constructivism in which the construction of mathematics is described as a cultural artifact ( Confrey, 1991a; Steffe, 1988a; von Glasersfeld, 1992b), in which the teaching experiment is discussed as creating a model of a child ( Cobb & Steffe, 1983; Confrey, 1991c), and in which teaching is portrayed as social negotiation ( Cobb, Wood, & Yackel, 1991; Confrey, 1990; Maher & Davis, 1990; Noddings, 1990; Smith & Confrey, 1992; Steffe, 1990). The social aspects of Piaget's works are well documented ( Tudge & Rogoff,