Provocations of an Epistemology

Constructivist Foundations 6 (1):40-50 (2010)


Context: The debate around and about constructivism in German-language communication studies. Problem: The reception of constructivism in German-language communication studies exhibits all the features of an instructive lesson: it makes clear how an academic field reacts, and how it can react, to the introduction of specific theories. Moreover, this case highlights the persistent virulent fundamental 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. Method: By reconstructing the debate as precisely as possible it is mapped onto the fundamental problems of the conception of constructivist theory. Results: It is demonstrated that the depicted reservations and accusations can essentially be mapped onto three fundamental problems of constructivist theory development. 1. The problem of practice-relevance. The central question is how the relationship between (constructivist) epistemology and everyday practice ought to be spelled out in concrete terms, because this very relationship is the source of many worries (“Constructivism undermines the journalistic ideal of objectivity,” etc.). 2. The problem of self-contradiction. It is essentially represented by the question of how one ought to present and promote a relativist epistemology – without at the same time, explicitly or implicitly, introducing absolute claims of validity that contradict one’s own initial premises. 3. The problem of terminological imprecision and referential confusion: concepts and terms such as “truth,” “reality” and “objective knowledge” are used in many different ways. It is not always clear whether an author wants to refer to an absolute reality or whether he or she is talking about a concept that is admittedly created within given frontiers of knowledge

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