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Jack J. Bauer and Michael S. Perciful

Subject Psychology

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405161251.2009.x


Constructivism in psychology refers to the idea that people construct, rather than absorb, knowledge. Constructivism is primarily an epistemology – that is, a perspective on what knowledge is, what knowledge does, and how knowledge develops. As such, constructivism has profound implications for the study of psychology. Constructivism embodies a range of epistemological perspectives but can be viewed generally as follows: All meaning emerges only as people construct knowledge in specific contexts. Knowledge of something does not emanate from the thing itself with a prepackaged (a priori) meaning already intact, as in the notion of a radio station broadcasting the same sounds to everyone. The con-structivist view is that people interpret things and events to the degrees and in ways afforded by the interpretive abilities of people and their (notably social) contexts at particular times. As such, constructivism maintains that all knowledge is relative to people and their contexts. Thus constructivism opposes essentialism, which is the notion that things, people, ideas, etc. have essential and meaningful qualities that transcend the relativity of context-limited interpretations. The proposition that all meanings are constructed can lead to the conclusion that nothing truly exists. However, many if not most constructivists stop short of making claims about ontology (that is, on the ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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