Re: scientific status of PCP, & New 'language/action' paradigm

Gary Blanchard (
Mon, 24 Jun 1996 15:12:43 -0700

Dear Bob-

Thanks for your post. I propose to respond in two ways, with your
approval. First, by observing the admonition attributed to Socrates:

"The beginning of wisdom is the definition of terms."

Here are some key terms I keep in mind, as I operate from my brand of
Constructivism. I believe the definitions have broad consensual support,
but I will check with you below before I assume that.

I. LEARNING: The ability to produce new action, recurrently.

Synonym: Ability to adapt, survive, grow, engage in self-directed

II. LEARNING TO LEARN: Becoming sufficiently aware of oneself, one's way
of being, including blindnesses, positions and practices,
that one can begin to learn whenever one wishes to, or
sees the possibility of doing so.

Synonym: Teachable, open to life, strives for grounding not certainty


1. BLINDNESS: To not know, and not know that you do not know.
a) Result: one often becomes a 'bull in a china shop,'
doing unwitting but real damage to oneself and
others, and missing possibilities to learn
[while your life continues to be used up].

2. ARROGANCE: When you don't know, but act like you do.

b) Result: at a minimum, such a person (the pretender)
acts in an offensive and disrespectful way toward
people who do actually know, and others. This
tends to distance the pretender from others,
resulting in Ps isolation and loss of learning.


A. That being the case, absolute statements are never appropriate
except when prefaced / supported by the evidence one has for
them. Unsupported absolute statements are evidence of one's
blindness to this practice, or of their demand [sometimes
coercive]to be believed.

1. It is often our personal political or philosophical
position ('remembered' linguistic formulation) that a
speaker is speaking (i.e., prejudice), rather than the
'facts' of the matter.

2. Precedent to every speaking or action we undertake is
a private conversation we have with ourself, however
briefly or automatically. In that conversation we form
an intention, which our public conversation or action is
intended to help us realize.

a. Hence the only way to 'know' what someone
'means' or consciously 'intends' is to get then
to tell us;otherwise we cannot find it out with
certainty, and even then we may be getting
misled, intentionally or not.

Well, there it is, Bob. Please review the above terms and
definitions, and see if you can agree that they are basically sound.

Following that, I would be glad to illustrate my paradigm of
Constructivism by going through your post, below, and show you how I
would interpret what you have said.

If you would rather not, then of course I won't.

But thanks for writing, and for the reference for me to check out.
Anyone in his right mind knows that innovations are never all-purpose or
unilaterally-good: consider the case of radium.

Oh yes, what courses do you teach? To whom? How old are you? I'm 57.

Sincerely, Gary
>Robert Parks wrote:
> Gary,
> I'm glad you found a definition of "paradigm" that referred to Kuhn. There
> is an interesting phenomenon in the use of the term that I should mention
> to you. BECAUSE the term refers to basic beliefs about the world, people
> who are promoting their own beliefs against a skeptical audience sometimes
> use the term "paradigm" in order to indicate that their beliefs are
> significantly different than others... so much different that there may be
> difficulty in interpretation and understanding - just as the Catholic
> Church had difficulty understanding and accepting Gallileo's theory about a
> geocentric world.
> You appear to believe that your beliefs ("paradigm"?) are significantly
> different than those you are communicating with on this list. In one of my
> letters I tried to explain to you that this is not true, at least in my
> case. I have read some of Maturana and Varela, all of Winogrand and Flores,
> and some of the "Language/Action" literature dealing with computer
> supported work environments. I am sympathetic to a considerable part of the
> thrust of these works. The notion that we live through language coincides
> with one half of the fundamental distinction I make in my "Language and
> Politics" class between language as medium and language as tool.
> There are, however, problems with the literature you have chosen to elevate
> to the status of a paradigm. The problem is that it is NOT paradigmatically
> different from other literature exploring similar areas. Wendy Crebbin, for
> example, has mentiond a feminist literature, and works on language by
> Fairclough (one of which I use in my class) that explore a similar
> perspective, claiming that many of our views are shaped within a language
> that is imbued with the power relations of a patriarchal society. (All of
> the authors you have mentioned are men... could it be that....hmm...
> sorry.. thats an unfair approach, since I too haven't mentioned any female
> authors... ) And I have mentioned (I think) works of Habermas on
> "communicative action" and others in the "critical theory" tradition. These
> are differences that may or may not produce the kind of problems that can
> occupy a fruitful scientific progression, a paradigm.
> In any case, I would appreciate it if you would read an article by Lucy
> Suchman, in the Journal called "Computer Supported Cooperative Work". The
> article is titled "Do Categories Have Politics: The Language/Action
> Perspective Reconsidered". In this article, Suchman makes a good case that
> since Searle's speech act theory is based on a theory of meaning which is
> rooted in the speaker's "intention", when an organization identifies and
> facilitates a specific set of intentional communicative acts that are
> possible through its cooperative work software, it is in fact restricting
> the natural openness, rootedness and creative flow of communication. This
> "intention accounting" can then be seen as part of a social control process
> by which organizations narrow the creative range of their employees and
> enforce a limited and imposed set of communicative actions.
> This view seems to me quite plausible and interesting. Yet as I read it, I
> thought that one response by Winograd and Flores might be to take advantage
> of the approach of PCP - and allow the user to impose her/his own
> communicative constructs on the software. This IS roughly what Gaines and
> Shaw do in their use of RepGrid to construct expert systems, and have also
> explored use of these software tools in cooperative work.
> One last point. I'm not sure if you intend to remain on this list. I'm not
> sure how active I will be either. But I would in any case ask that you get
> into a LEARNING mode. In that case, I and others will be able to learn much
> more from you. If you present your views (or Winograd/Flores or
> Maturana/Varela) as plausible tentative and open for discussion, then
> others can learn from them. They learn from the process of fitting what you
> propose with what they hold to be most fruitful beliefs and approaches to
> research. In the best scenario, everyone learns.
> Best regards,
> Bob