Sociology | Psychology |… Toward a Science of Phenomena

  • Wolff-Michael Roth
Part of the Cultural Studies of Science Education book series (CSSE, volume 2)


During the late 1980s, having done (neo-) Piagetian and information processing research before, I found radical constructivism and its individualist approach to theorize knowing and learning very fruitful. Soon thereafter, however, when analyzing classroom videotapes featuring students working together on problems, the limits of an individualist approach to thinking and learning became to be apparent to me. In 1992, I published what probably was the first science education paper on the social construction of knowledge in science classrooms (Roth and Roychoudhury 1992). Despite other work on the social construction of knowledge, however, science education remained in the grip of theories that focus on the individual (mind) as the unit of analysis. Even those scholars who used discourse analysis, cultural studies, and Bakhtin’s dialogism as frameworks for understanding events in science classrooms continued to make attributions to individuals and therefore subordinated the new approaches to psychological (constructivist) ways of thinking about knowing.

Following an invitation by Ken Tobin, Yew Jin Lee, SungWon Hwang and I published a piece in which we show how conceptions are the result of complex processes that could not without many presuppositions attributed to individuals, though the current canon in science education does in fact make such attributions (Roth et al. 2008). I also published a review article, in which I show how one arrives at very different attributions for the origin of conceptions and conceptual change if one were to take a discursive psychological perspective (Roth 2008). Both of my articles took a cultural perspective as their starting point, asking at their outset questions that go something like “What does it take to develop a science of misconceptions given a starting point where there is no (psychological, sociological) science?” Yet, rather than leading to the rethinking of traditional positions, the two pieces caused some stomach upsets among those who have invested their lives’ work in the development of conceptual change. It was Ken Tobin’s idea to make the question of a reunification of sociological and psychological perspectives the focus of the Second Springer Forum held in New York at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. The participants were invited to think about how to organize a reunification of the two very different approaches to knowing and learning in science.


Science Education Conceptual Change Blind Spot African American Student Science Education Research 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science + Business Media B.V. 2010

Authors and Affiliations

  • Wolff-Michael Roth
    • 1
  1. 1.University of VictoriaVictoriaCanada

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