Emerald Group Publishing Limited
Copyright © 2011, Emerald Group Publishing Limited
The Creation of Reality: A Constructivist Epistemology of Journalism and Journalism Education
Article Type: Book review From: Kybernetes, Volume 40, Issue 7/8
Bernhard Pöerksen,Imprint Academic,Exeter,2011,Price: contact imprint-academic.com,257 pp. (softback). i-vii,ISBN: 9 781845 40 2099
Keywords: Cybernetics education, Journalism, Systems
This book was written by a cybernetician who has published extensively in the cybernetics community and after the author had collaborated for some years with Heinz von Foerster and with the neurobiologist Humberto Maturana. Dr Pöerksen writes that both these leading figures are particularly well known in Germany as the leading proponents of constructivism. The book was originally written in German and first published by Universitatsverlag Konstanz in 2006. The English translation is by Alison Rosemary Koeck and Wolfram Karl Koeck.
The author has penned a preliminary note which is followed by a clearly written introduction to the text. Having taught media studies at the University of Tübingen the text is well organised and has a structure based on a simple form of (A)-(C):
(A) considers foundations;
(B) educational objectives; and
(C) ways of learning
Each section has subtitles with (A) considering “premises and postulates” whilst (B) highlights “deepening critical awareness of science”, “deepening critical awareness of language”, “deepening awareness of media-epistemology”, and finally “deepening ethical awareness”. (C) is concerned with “deepening awareness of autonomy” and “the reality of the study of journalism”.At the end of (C), the author provides a useful summary in the form of theses, dealing with each chapter in turn. The book has also an excellent updated bibliography which provides not only background reading to the text itself, but also a basis for further examination of what the author understands by constructivision, particularly, when he believes that:
Constructivism has been traded as a new paradigm by its advocates, and criticized by its opponents as legitimating deceit and lies, as justifying a trendy post-modern “Anything goes”.
In writing to this journal Dr Pöerksen sets out his reasons for producing this book. This is in itself very illuminating, and indeed we would wish more authors would do the same. He explains that:
I treat the reception of constructivism in German-language communication studies as an instructive lesson: in my view it makes clear how an academic field reacts, and how it can react, to the introduction of specific theories. Moreover, I try to show that this case highlights the persistent conflict between realist and relativist epistemologies in conjunction with a matching catalogue of accusations raised – whether rightly or wrongly – towards all those representatives of communication studies that have adopted a constructivist approach making use of constructivist arguments.
He has introduced, what he describes as variant of constructivism which he calls “discursive constructivism”, to demonstrate its irritating potential as fully as possible, and to bridge the threatening abyss of self-contradiction and dogmatic self-entrenchment. He says that:
This form of constructivism is essentially presented as an epoch-specific, potentially most stimulating kind of scepticism, and devoid of any obligation or pressure for commitment. It is definitely not intended to be a new paradigm, a school of thought that promises the exact certification of the levels of knowledge attained, nor finally as a kind of meta-dogmatism that is used to terrorise others dogmatically on the grounds of their epistemological errors. In brief: I try to offer varieties of observation, not absolute truths. My thesis is that our understanding of journalism and, in particular, the education and training of journalists, could profit substantially from constructivist insights. These insights instigate, my claim is, an original kind of scepticism; they provide the underpinnings of a modern type of didactics oriented by the autonomy of learners; and they supply the sustaining arguments for a radical ethic of responsibility in journalism.
Readers of Dr Pöerksen’s book are also invited to contact him and no doubt many readers of this journal will take up his offer. There is no doubt about the challenge on offer, or indeed, about my recommendation to read this book which has much to offer to the thinking systemist, cybernetician or management scientist.
D.M. HuttonNorbert Wiener Institute, Menai Bridge, UK, Book Reviews and Reports Section