How to Design a Constructive, Enabling Institution

  • Michelle MaieseEmail author
  • Robert Hanna


By means of what we call reverse social engineering, one starts out with a vision of human life that actually satisfies true human needs and then, from the bottom-up, designs social institutions whose structure and dynamics promote the satisfaction of such needs. We propose that the best way to design a constructive, enabling institution is to reverse engineer it from the concept of enactive-transformative learning. Building on the work of Jack Mezirow and other transformative learning theorists, we argue that enactivism and the essential embodiment thesis jointly offer a new way to conceptualize the intended effects of such learning. From a phenomenological perspective, personal transformation can be understood as affective reframing; and from a neurobiological perspective, the development of new mental habits can be understood as the reconfiguration of highly integrated patterns of bodily engagement and response. This framework allows us to see enactive-transformative learning as a deep form of cognitive-affective change, one which alters students’ essentially embodied existential orientation. Moreover, an examination of transformative learning provides us with a general model for how to scaffold imaginative problem-solving, collective wisdom, and the development of flexible mental habits. Examples of strategies that afford affective reframing and emancipatory self-transformation include learning-centered pedagogy, activist pedagogy, and expressive arts.


Reverse social engineering Transformative learning Enactivism Essential embodiment Neurobiology Collective wisdom Pedagogy Expressive arts 


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Copyright information

© The Author(s) 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Emmanuel CollegeBostonUSA
  2. 2.Independent PhilosopherBoulderUSA

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