At the forefront, Pickering (1995) seeks “a real-time understanding of practice” (p. 3). The chapter puts forth a notion to consider both material agency and human agency to understand practice. He cites the Sociology of Scientific Knowledge (SSK) as an important but limited starting point. The SSK acknowledges both material and human agency, but only by referring to material agency in terms of human agency. Instead, he argues for a performative view of science in which “the performances–the doings–of human and material agency come to the fore” (p.21) and are intertwined. As well, they are intertwined temporally. Pickering positions the performative idiom as being in the post-humanist space where human and non-human actors are entangled.

Holland, Lachicotte, Skinner, and Cain (1998) describe figured worlds as the worlds that humans construct and move in and out of: “a socially and culturally constructed realm of interpretation in which particular characters and actors are recognized, significance is assigned to certain acts, and particular outcomes are valued over others” (p. 52). They discuss how contexts place traits and values on objects that defines how people interact with them and each other. “Figured worlds are manifest in people’s activities and practices; the idioms of the world realize selves and others in the familiar narratives and everyday performances that constantiate relative positions of influence and prestige. Figured worlds provide the contexts of meaning and action in which social positions and social relationships are named and conducted” (p. 60). Moreover, figured worlds and the artifacts within them shape people’s identities. The authors also note the paradox of people trying to break free from one world by adopting the cultural forms and parameters of another world with its own set of limitations and constraints.
Kirschner and van Merriënboer (2013) discuss three pervasive myths of learning: digital natives, learning styles, and self-educators. They blame people’s inherent nature to base their beliefs and convictions on second-hand, often anecdotal, information rather than on rigorous empirical evidence. The idea that people who grew up around digital technologies, namely the internet, are somehow technology experts is fundamentally flawed. As they point out, research shows most people of this generation only have surface-level understanding of browsing the Internet, using social media and emailing, within little understanding of complex computing. The authors also dismantle the notion that digital natives can multi-task—something that is cognitively impossible—effectively. Multi-tasking is in actuality, task-switching, which was found to have negative affects on learning. Learning styles is perhaps one of the most contested ideas of recent times. Point blank, there is no empirical evidence to support it. Central to their argument is that learners self-reported style of learning is unreliable and often learners prefer learning approaches that are not the most effective. As well, the fact that there are several hundred reported styles shows how problematic the approach is and makes attempts at catering teaching to those styles pragmatically impossible. Lastly, the claim that instructors are unnecessary for students to learn and students can just learn from the internet fails to show merit. The authors acknowledge the plethora of information available online, but stress that learners seldom know how to interpret or appraise that information. As well, they note learners are not always able to self-regulate their learning adequately for sustained deeper learning.

In reading Pickering’s work, I found parallels with Wertsch (1998) in that both refer to an inseparable relationship between human agents and material or mediational agents. Specifically, they both describe how each type of agent affects the other and they must co-exist. Holland et al., (1998) describe humans as moving in and out of figured worlds constructed by cultural and social contexts. As I understand their meaning, Holland et al., acknowledge the influence of figured worlds on shaping identity, but unlike Pickering, humans are at the center. Common across all of them is the idea of humans as perpetually entangled in worlds, mediational means, and non-human actors. Together, these ideas also say something about the myths of learning discussed by Kirschner and van Merriënboer (2013). In Holland et al.’s terms, people move into figured worlds that recognize particular characters and actors that support each of the myths.

Holland, D., Lachicotte Jr., W., Skinner, D., & Cain, C. (1998). Identity and agency in cultural worlds. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 49-65

Kirschner, P. A., & van Merriënboer, J. J. G. (2013). Do Learners Really Know Best? Urban Legends in Education. Educational Psychologist, 48(3), 169–183.

Pickering, A. (1995). The mangle of practice: Time, agency, and science. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press.

Wertsch, J. V. (1998). Mind as Action. Mind as Action. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. doi:10.1093/acprof:oso/9780195117530.001.0001

~This post is part of a weekly reflection requirement for a graduate level introductory course of the historical and philosophical foundations of the Learning Sciences. As such, it may seem a bit out of place without the context of the in-class discussions, but I’m including it here for posterity. The general premise is to create a brief summary of each reading and include a reflection about them.~