Sunday, July 03, 2005


And I think that a much better epistemology or theory of knowledge comes from this icon, a wonderful icon that has influenced me for at least ten years, and this icon says, instead of “I think therefore I am” but rather “We participate and therefore we are”.
We come into existence, we come into being through participation with others. Others could be mostly other people, participation with the world. In fact if any of you are trained in or know about psychoanalysis, it has a lot to do with object relation theory, in terms of how does identity get formed and so on and so forth. It is in participation with others that we come into a sense of self.
What this suggests is that understanding is basically socially constructed with others. And so a different notion of knowledge or of the system that you would use, as we talked about earlier, is: knowledge is something that we can actually internalize and integrate it into our conceptual framework. It can be highly personal to us, once we have found a way to integrate it into us, into our own conceptual framework. That often happens in the process of discussing something with somebody.
In fact, I happen to be one who believes that an awful lot of learning, even on campus, happens outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, you get information. Outside the classroom, you start to socially construct your own understanding. And of course, what this has to do with lifelong learning or virtually everything, most of what we know in this room today, we have actually learned with and from others. In terms of how do we talk things through, how do we work together in problem solving, and so on and so forth.
And in fact, you know, in terms of the whole notion of narrative, it has to do with the whole notion of the issue being socially constructed through being engaged. And so this whole notion of engagement, through participation, it turns out also to be critical. It puts quite a different spin on Piaget’s theory, the constructivist theory of knowledge.
What we are really saying here is that we are constructing knowledge all the time, in conversation, through narrative. We are personalizing it that way, we are constructing it, for ourselves. This is a very powerful metaphor.

Architect’s studios

Let me give you a couple of examples of what this actually leads to. Here is an example of an architect’s studio. I spend a good share of my life in architect’s studios, because my wife is an architect whose handwriting and sketches you see before you. What I find so interesting about an architect’s studio, especially those at schools, although it continues afterwards as well, is that you basically think about the crafting of the social setting, where deep learning is happening, something very interesting is happening in this studio, and that is, the work in progress is always made public. I know of no other field where the work in progress is consistently rendered public. This means that you are always looking over each other’s shoulder. You are always kind of copying each other, always learning how to critique each other. And when the master comes in to comment on something, you have understood the thinking of this particular object, this particular design of somebody else, how that came to be, and you have learnt a lot by eavesdropping, by linking and lurking, so to speak, on the periphery. This is one of the ways that apprenticeship learning actually happens.

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