The Social Already Inhabits the
Epistemic: A Discussion of Driver;
Wood, Cobb, & Yackel;
and von Glasersfeld
Philip Lewin Clarkson University
The contributions made by Driver (chap. 21); Wood, Cobb, and Yackel (chap. 22); and von Glasersfeld (chap. 20) are exemplary in at least two senses. On the one hand, they illustrate how constructivism underlies educational practice and research. On the other hand, they evince fundamental tensions in our understanding of what is meant by the phrase "knowledge is constructed." In this discussion, I wish to illuminate these tensions for what they reveal about how the epistemic activity of the individual knower is situated with respect to the social process. Epistemic construction is seldom, if ever, entirely intrapersonal. It relies on prior cultural structuring, both in terms of specific content knowledge that is used as a basis for further construction, and in terms of what we might call epistemic styles (such as ways of construing, knowing what is important or worth noticing, understanding the informal and deductive logic at work, making plausible inferences in any given situation, etc.). My main point is that the coherence of constructivism as an epistemology and a basis for pedagogy depends on being able to overcome what sometimes is (but need not be) an individualistic bias in how it is conceptualized. We must be able to elucidate how what may appear to be a private process of epistemic construction is in fact necessarily permeated by a cultural process. This cultural process must be taken into account in both our theorizing and our practice lest we unwittingly reproduce in the classroom precisely those behaviors that we seek to obviate.