A Post-constructivist Perspective

by Wolff-Michael Roth (Author)
©2014 Textbook XII, 232 Pages


Curriculum*-in-the-Making theorizes about the living curriculum as an event that is in the making, for the enacted curriculum is something finished, which, only as an object, can be compared to another object. A living curriculum, understood as an event*-in-the-making, leads to a very different appreciation of just what is happening in a classroom. Events* are understood to be in the making so we cannot know the precise nature of what we witness until after completion has been achieved. This book uses lesson fragments to develop a post-constructivist perspective on curriculum that is grounded in a phenomenological approach concerned with understanding the never-ending movement of life. This leads to radically different forms of understanding of curriculum issues such as the subject, ethics, the role of passibility and passivity, the nature of the response, and the learning paradox.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Contents
  • Preface
  • Epigraph
  • Chapter 1. The Ground of the Image
  • The Origin of the Cause–Effect Figure
  • Presence and the Presence of the Present
  • Change and the Cause–Effect Figure
  • The Bodily Origin of the Cause–Effect Figure of Reasoning
  • Plans and Action Schemes
  • Critiques of the Constructivist Fallacy
  • Toward a Post-Constructivist Perspective
  • Difficulties of Re/Writing the Living Curriculum
  • Chapter 2. Event*-in-the-Making
  • Event*-in-the-Making and (Al)ready-Made Event
  • The Living Curriculum as Event*-in-the-Making
  • The Invocation
  • The Response
  • Responsive (Responsible) Responding
  • Rethinking the Living Curriculum as Event*-in-the-Making
  • Of Causes and Effects – Critique of the Metaphysical Approach
  • Thinking the Event*-in-the-Making
  • The Abyss in the Unity of the Event*-in-the-Making
  • Chapter 3. World*-in-the-Making
  • The Problematic of Intentional Learning
  • Learning Something New: An Experiment
  • Learning and Intentionality
  • The Work of Seeing and the World as Independent Galilean Object
  • Object*-in-the-Making → Object* → Object
  • Phenomenalization: Object*-in-the-Making
  • The Cultural Dimension of the Object*-in-the-Making
  • World*-in-the-Making
  • Chapter 4. Understanding*-in-the-Making
  • Fragments from an Episode of Algebra Learning in Fourth Grade
  • The Unseen and Unforseeable Understanding: Incomprehension and Negative Affect
  • Spreading of Affect
  • Arrivage of Understanding
  • Coming up Against the Unseen and Thus Unforeseen
  • Saturated Phenomena and the Excess of Intuition Over Intention
  • How Does a New Order Arise?
  • Chapter 5. Subject*-in-the-Making
  • Pathos and the Advenant
  • The Subject*-in-the-Making
  • Interloqué
  • Patient
  • L’Adonné, the Gifted
  • Witness
  • Re/Thinking the Subject
  • Chapter 6. Relation*-in-the-Making
  • Problematizing the Zone of Proximal Development
  • Symmetry in the Zone of Proximal Development
  • The Lesson Fragment
  • A “Socio-Cultural” Gloss
  • A Second, Symmetric Return
  • Eternal Return of the Same
  • The Zone of Proximal Development as Relation*-in-the-Making
  • Chapter 7. From Response-ability to Responsibility
  • The Problematic
  • The Ethics of Praxis Is the Praxis of Ethics
  • Saying Is Summoning and Questioning
  • Saying Is Responding, Evaluating, Exposure
  • Saying Is Affecting
  • From a Metaphysical Conception of Ethics and Its Critique …
  • … to a Post-constructivist Conception of Ethics
  • Proposition Is Exposition Is Exposure
  • Affect and Affectation: Exasperation and Frustration
  • Answerability
  • The Saying (le Dire) as Paradigm for a Post-Constructivist Ethics
  • Chapter 8. The Planned, Living, and Enacted Curriculum
  • Plans, Instructions, and Situated Action
  • Case 1: Following Instructions in Science Laboratories
  • Finding Relevance in Practical Action
  • Students’ Fundamental Dilemma
  • Case 2: Unexpected Turns of the Living Curriculum
  • Of Accounts: Curriculum as Inner-Worldly Fact
  • Chapter 9. Researching the Living Curriculum as Event*-in-the-Making
  • Common Reduction of Conversations and Speculations about Mind
  • Getting at the Eventness of Events*-in-the-Making
  • Subject*-in-the Making
  • Objects*-in-the-Making
  • Living versus Lived Curriculum
  • Appendix A
  • Appendix B
  • References
  • Index
  • Series index


Everything requires change and rebirth. Everything is shown in a moment of unfinalized transition.…And in fact polyphony itself, as the event of interaction between autonomous and internally unfinalized consciousnesses, demands a different artistic conception of time and space; to use Dostoevsky’s own expression, a “non-Euclidean” conception. (Bakhtin, 1984, pp. 167, 176)

In education, the practice of writing curriculum plans that are subsequently to be realized in the classroom continues to be everyday common practice around the world. Evaluators of pre-service and in-service teachers alike assess the difference between the curriculum as planned (planned curriculum) and what actually happened in the classroom (enacted curriculum). This, however, does not take into account the gulf between plans and situated actions, a gulf for which there is no remedy even when someone enacts his/her own plans. More importantly, this approach does not theorize the curriculum as living, for the “enacted curriculum” is something finished, which, only as object, can be compared to another object. But a living curriculum, understood as an event*-in-the-making – where the asterisk marks that the participants do not know what they witness (e.g., a successful lesson, teacher learning, an altercation or a relation that leads to learning, etc.) – leads to a very different appreciation of just what is happening in a classroom. ← vii | viii →

In this book, I use concrete lesson fragments and other materials to develop a post-constructivist perspective on curriculum that is grounded in a phenomenological approach concerned with understanding the never-ending movement of life. This post-constructivist position developed here counters the constructivist fallacy, which assumes that things are objectively present, represented, rather than handy and invisible. Aesthetic activity and theoretical cognition, which think of the world as thematically present in human activity, are “powerless to take possession of that moment of Being which is constituted by the transitiveness and open event-ness of Being” (Bakhtin, 1993, p. 1). Theoretical cognition, as aesthetic activity, is unable “to apprehend the actual event-ness of the once-occurrent event, for its images or configurations are objectified…they are placed outside actual once-occurrent becoming” (p. 1). In this book I develop a perspective that takes us back into the unfolding event*, which we can only witness in participation but not grasp in a theoretical manner.

What comes to the foreground in Bakhtin’s philosophy of the act is the absolutely new, that which has never been, and which cannot be repeated – it is the event-ness of the event, pure flow of life. This life can be understood with and from the perspective of consciousness coming from participation (učastie, Ger. Teilnahme) and sympathy / commitment / interest / concern (učastie, Ger. Anteilnahme). That is, thinking (knowing and learning) characteristic of participation is committed rather than disinterested and emotionally uncommitted as it appears in constructivist approaches, where, at best, this dimension is a mediating factor external to the raw act of thinking itself. Bakhtin’s work is interesting because he specifically thematizes the emergent quality of the event generally and discourse specifically in terms of their dialogical and polyphonic structures, which allows us to understand each act in terms of the figure of the response (Shchyttsova, 2003). Responsivity leads us to response-ability and responsibility, and, therefore to ethics. This is the underlying thread from which this book is woven and arises.

Events* are understood as in the making so that we cannot know the precise nature of what we witness until after some completion has been achieved. Some gatherings become revolutionary social movements that uproot and change societies (May 1968, France); others become almost forgotten tidbits of history (Kent State shooting, 1970), and still others become uprisings squashed by brutal crackdowns by dictators and dictatorial states (e.g., Hungarian Uprising of 1956). While we witness, however, we do not know whether we ultimately understand the period as a revolution, as a tidbit of ← viii | ix → history, or a brutal crackdown. Similarly, looking at the curriculum through the lens of something in the making, we know the what is happening only when the happening has come to an end. This leads to radically different forms of understanding of curriculum issues such as the subject, ethics, the role of passibility and passivity, the nature of the response, and the learning paradox.

Aspects of chapter 2 appeared in Curriculum Inquiry (Roth, 2013c). The text of chapter 3 is based on a presentation following the conferral of an honorary doctorate on the author (University of Ioannina, Greece) and on one of the author’s four John Dewey Lectures organized by the Centre de Recherche sur l’Éducation, Apprentissage, et Développement (CREAD) and the Institut universitaire pour la formation des maîtres (IUFM, Université Rennes 2). A version was published in Éducation et Didactique. Fragments of chapter 6 had a very different life in an editorial published by Mind, Culture, and Activity (Roth & Radford, 2010). Chapter 7 was developed from materials first published in Pedagogies: An International Journal (Roth, 2013d). In chapter 8, I draw on the modified description of a classroom event that originally appeared in Learning and Instruction.

Throughout this book, I draw on non-English original works or on their translations into a language than English that in the opinion of experts on the topic are better and do more justice than the ones available in English. For example, the English translations of Bakhtin’s work do not do a good job of recovering the author’s reading of the French linguist Ferdinand de Saussure, who is the subject of critique in Marxism and the Philosophy of Language (e.g., Roth, 2013a). The French translation, however, does, in most situations, precisely that (as per the Russian original Vološinov, 1930). The Russian text “Avtor i geroi v esteticheskoi deyatel’nosti” (in Bakhtin, 1979) is much more faithfully rendered in the French “L’auteur et le héros” (in Bakhtine, 1984), in content and form, than in the English “Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity” (in Bakhtin, 1990). English translations frequently render Vygotsky’s and Leont’ev’s Russian adjective obščestvennij by means of “social,” when in fact the correct adjective would be “societal.” From the perspective of their Marxist critiques, it is important to retain societal aspect rather than making it unpolitical in choosing social. German translations maintain the distinctions made between the two adjectives. Thus Denken und Sprechen (Vygotskij, 2002) is considered – see, e.g., the introduction to the German version, which also acknowledges the Italian version as more accurately rendering Vygotsky in a Western language – a better translation than Thought and Language (Vygotsky, 1986). Unless otherwise indicated, all translations are mine. ← ix | x →

The names of authors are spelled differently in different languages. Within the text, I use the most common English spelling, for foreign names are often spelled differently within the same language (e.g., Leont’ev and Leontyev in English, Leontjew in German; Vygotsky in English but Wygotski and Vygotskij in German; Bakhtin in English, Bachtin in German, and Bakhtine in French). However, in references to a particular text, the spelling as per the byline is used.

Victoria, BC
November 2013

← x | xi →



Against determinism and teleology…“Mechanical necessity” is not a fact: We have interpretively imputed this to events. We have interpreted the formulable nature of events interpreted as a consequence of a necessity that reigns over events.…Only because we have interpretively imputed subjects, “agents,” into things the impression is created that all events are the consequence of a force/constraint that a subject exerts – who exerts? Again an “agent.” Cause and effect – a dangerous concept when we think of some thing that causes and some thing affected by it.

Regarding invention generally speaking, which nevertheless is the starting point of activity, our intelligence does not arrive at capturing it in its gushing forth, that is, in its indivisibility, in its genius, that is, in its creativity. Explaining it always consists of resolving it – the unforeseeable and new – into known and old elements arranged in a new order. Intelligence does not admit total novelty any more than it does admit radical becoming. It is here, too, that it lets escape an essential aspect of life, as if it were not made to think such an object.
[…] We would see that intelligence, so skillful in manipulating the inert, displays its clumsiness as soon as it touches the living. Whether it concerns dealing with the life of the body or that of the mind, it proceeds with the rigor, the rigidity, and the brutality of an instrument that was not destined for such a use. …We could easily discover its origin in our obstinacy to treat the living like the inert and to think all reality, as fluid as it is, in the form of a solid definitely at halt. We are only at ease in the discontinuous, in the immobile, in the dead. Intelligence is characterized by a natural incomprehension of life. (Bergson, 1907/1908, p. 178–179, original emphasis)
← xii | 1 →

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XII, 232
ISBN (Hardcover)
ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2013 (December)
classroom lesson life ethics learning paradox
New York, Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 246 pp., num. ill.

Biographical notes

Wolff-Michael Roth (Author)

Wolff-Michael Roth is Lansdowne Professor of Applied Cognitive Science in the Faculty of Education at the University of Victoria. He conducts interdisciplinary studies of knowing and learning across the life span, often focusing on language in science and mathematics classrooms.


Title: Curriculum*-in-the-Making
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