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The Genetic Epistemologist

Fall 1995

Vol. XXIII, No. 4 1995

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Go to: The GE Home Page | JPS Home Page

Table of Contents

Make your reservations for the
26th Annual Symposium in Philadelphia
Conceptual Development: A Piagetian Legacy
June 6-8, 1996

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JPS on the World Wide Web

Chris Lalonde
The University of British Columbia

The Jean Piaget Society now has a site on the World Wide Web. What does this mean? And what can one do with it?

The Web The World Wide Web ("the web") is simply a collection of documents-literally millions of them-stored on computers connected to the Internet. These documents can contain anything that can be stored in digital form: text, graphics, sound, video, animation, etc. They can also contain "hypertext links" to other web documents. These links allow readers to move from one document to another without worrying about the process of disconnecting from one computer and connecting to another. Together, the documents and their links form a world-wide "web" of information.

To access the web, you will need a computer that is connected to the Internet and software (usually called a web browser) that can read web documents and follow hypertext links. There are two basic choices: graphical browsers and text-based browsers. Each has its strengths and weaknesses. Graphical browsers (e.g., Netscape Navigator, NCSA Mosaic) are clearly the software of choice because they can display all of the information stored in any web document-text, pictures, sound, etc. But to take advantage of all of that information (especially pictures and sound files which can be huge) you'll need a relatively fast connection to the Internet, and a relatively powerful computer. How fast is "relatively fast" you ask? That depends (he wrote vaguely). If you are using a modem to dial-in to the Internet, then a 14.4 Kbps modem/connection is the minimum speed unless you really enjoy thumb twiddling. If you have a direct connection to the Internet from your desktop computer (many universities offer this) then speed isn't an issue and you are the envy of many. How powerful a computer you'll need also depends: browsers and their "helper" programs tend to place greater demands on your system memory (RAM) than on your processor, but mileage varies so dramatically that I won't try to recommend any minimum set-up. Even with the most powerful computer and fastest connection, there will still be plenty of opportunity to use bad language while trying to get a graphical browser installed and properly configured.

Text-based browsers (e.g., lynx), as the name implies, are limited to presenting just the text portions of web pages. They still allow you to follow links to other pages, but ignore anything that isn't text. These browsers have two advantages: they are fast, and they typically don't live on your computer so you don't have to install or maintain them. Despite their difficulties, I'd still recommend a graphical browser since text-based browsers, though fast, are ugly (why just read the script, when you can see the movie?).

Because of the variability in computer systems and Internet connections, I can't offer you any useful advice about how to get connected except this: kidnap your local computer expert.

The JPS Site

The JPS web site was created to store information about the society and its activities. To date, I've created over 50 documents that together comprise the JPS site. There are links within the site from one page to another as well as links to external sites. If you have access to the web, you can reach the JPS homepage at: http://www.piaget.org

If you don't have access to the web, the line above is called a Universal Resource Locator (or URL) and represents the exact address of the introductory page (or homepage) of the JPS web site. Among the things to be seen on our web site are:

What I'd like to see in the future

Now that the basic structure is set, here's a short list of things I'd like to add to the site over the next few months.

The site is beginning to see some steady traffic with well over a thousand visits in the last 2 months and many visitors have left helpful comments. As more JPS members gain access to the web I hope to expand the site with the help of your feedback. If you have comments about the site or items to add, please contact me.

Bonus for on-line readers: Tips and Tricks to getting better mileage from your web browser

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Modernism and Post-Modernism: A Comment

Wolfe Mays
Manchester Metropolitan University

I have read Michael Chandler's essay on Post- Modernism (Genetic Epistemologist 23, #1) with considerable interest and sympathy, but I would nevertheless like to raise the following question: how far are post-modernist criticisms of Piaget justified? Although there are many definitions of modernism and post-modernism, on the surface it would appear that Piaget is an out-and-out modernist. As Chandler points out, Piaget believes in development, directionality, structuration, and many other quintessentially modernist ideas. However, there is another side to Piaget's thought, a side that is often overlooked, namely what might be termed Piaget's pragmatist underpinnings-and these underpinnings are not so obviously modernist.

I think that this can best be brought out by looking at the statement Chandler quotes from Rorty (p.7) "What ties together Dewey and Foucault and presumably other post-modernist thinkers is their 'sense that there is nothing deep down inside us except what we have put there ourselves, no criterion that we have not created in the course of creating a practice, no standard of rationality, that is not an appeal to such a criterion, no rigorous argumentation that is not obedience to our own conventions.'"

Piaget's constructionism shares some of these features of post-modernism as sketched out by Rorty. Piaget sometimes gives the impression that there is nothing inside us except what we have put their ourselves, i.e., what we have assimilated from our surroundings. Even Rorty's phrasing seems to echo some of Piaget's thinking: No criterion that we have not created from our own practical activities. But I do not think Piaget's position is quite as simple as this.

The pragmatic element in Piaget's position manifests itself in his account of the development of logical thought. He starts with concrete manipulative activities carried out by the child, activities that are later internalised into more formal propositional operations. He also assumes that social factors enter in as a result of children having to communicate their thoughts to others. This approach resembles Dewey's "learning by doing," Bergson's "homo faber," and even Heideggers' "ready-to-hand." In this way Piaget tries to show how logical structures develop from concrete practical activities rather than being given in an a priori fashion a la Chomsky. Nevertheless, another aspect of Piaget's thought must not be overlooked.

Piaget also assumes that a good deal of skillful activity is laid down on an unconscious level. This is to be seen, for example, in his account of how one may successfully perform a practical task without being able to explain it in conscious terms (cf. La prise de conscience and RŽussir et comprendre) [see also Polanyi's Personal Knowledge -- ed.]

So, although Piaget might be termed a modernist in view of his belief in the efficacy of reason and the scientific method, yet underlying his account of cognitive structures are such non-rational factors as irreversibility, affectivity, etc., from which ultimately our more formal thought derives. The whole concept of a prise de conscience is brought in to show how structures initially occurring on an unconscious habitual level become consciously realized when we are forced to take note of them. [Here again the parallel to Dewey is striking-ed.] Piaget's emphasis on practical activities as a basis for cognition distinguishes his position from Kantianism in most of its forms. However, practical activities appear, in turn, to depend on primitive cognitive and affective elements, raising the issue of a further level of development or evolution of mental structures.

Doubtless these points I have made are familiar. What I have called Piaget's pragmatism, his emphasis on action as central to the development of thought, is well known. I would not wish to claim that Piaget is a post-modernist, but merely that one cannot establish sharp boundaries between modernism and post-modernism, especially when dealing with such a complex thinker as Piaget. If I were to make use of examples from Piaget's earlier, more religious, writings, the lines of demarcation would be come even more blurred.

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Minutes of the 25th Annual Fall Meeting of the JPS Board of Directors

Saturday, October 7, 1995

The Inn at The University of Illinois, Chicago

Present:Michael Chandler (President and Chair), Terrance Brown (Past-President), William Gray (Treasurer), Peter Pufall (Secretary), David Bearison, Harry Beilin, Susan Gelman, Robert Selman, Marvin Berkowitz, James Brynes, Patricia Miller, Gil Noam, Elliot Turiel, Susan Goldin-Meadow, Melanie Killen, Lynn Liben, Larry Nucci, Willis Overton (Honary Board Member and Chair of Local Arrangements '96), Ellin Scholnick (Series Editor), and Katherine Nelson (Plenary Program Committee).
Absent:Ina Uzgiris, David Moshman, Ed Reed (Editor, Genetic Epistemologist), Kurt Fischer (Archives)

Welcome to new Board Members: Michael Chandler, the Chair, opened the meeting at 10:00 AM by welcoming the new Board Members (Melanie Killen, Lynn Liben, David Moshman, Susan Goldin-Meadow, Larry Nucci, and Ed Reed) on behalf of the Board.

Old Business

The minutes of the June 1995 minutes were approved. Michael Chandler announced that Judy Newman has agreed to co-chair Local Arrangements for the 26th Symposium to be held June 6-8, 1995 in Philadelphia.

New Business

President's Report

Ina Uzgiris has resigned, unfortunately for reasons of health. Change in Vice President. During the summer the President received Bill Damon's letter of resignation as Vice President. Peter Pufall was elected electronically later in the summer to serve as Vice President.

New Standing Committees. The new Standing Committees will take over some of the responsibility of developing and recommending policy and practices to the President, Board and Society. Moreover, by broadening representation in these committees governance should not remain the exclusive province of the board but would become more inclusive as non-board members will serve on these committees. The slate of board members for each committee was accepted; non-members will be added to the committees in the near future.

William Gray, Treasurer of the Society, moved the establishment of a Disbursement Fund which would provide each officers and chairs of committees reimbursement of up to $200 dollars annually. Some asked whether the Society could afford these extra expenses, Gray said that it could, and that the proposed budget to be discussed later anticipates the fund's approval. Several noted that some universities and colleges are willing and able to assume the expenses to be met by these funds. While approving this motion, the Board urged committee chairs and officers to approach their department chairs or deans seeking financial support.

Past President's Report

Terrance Brown reported on the Centennial Conference celebrating Piaget's birth to be held in Geneva in Fall of 1996. The Growing Mind is the theme of the conference. While the final program has not be determined, several submissions by groups associated with the Jean Piaget Society are very likely to part of the conference. (Among those are Irv Sigel: Representation; Elliot Turiel: Culture, Evolution, and Development; and Michael Chandler: Psychopathology)

The Vice President's Report

Peter Pufall reported that due to the unusual circumstances of his becoming Vice President, for this year only, the functions of this office would be carried out by himself and two others, Henry Markovitz and Bill Damon. Pufall will oversee all of the functions.

Committee Reports

Finance Committee

William Gray noted that the Treasurer's Report on our fiscal status is fundamentally contained in the regular update he provides over e-mail.

On behalf of the Finance Committee he submitted the 1996 budget. There was a discussion of whether or not to raise either the Society's dues or the Annual Conference registration fees, or both. This discussion focused on: 1) the financial health of the society; 2) the belief that the Symposium should pay for itself; 3) the need to consider ways of cutting costs independent of our financial health; 4) the need to consider ways of increasing income other than through dues and registration fees, e.g., Bill Overton suggested that we investigate the possibility of the continuing education credit be earned by attending the symposium; 5) the impact raising dues and fees would have on junior faculty and graduate students, both of whose membership we value and wish to encourage. In the end, the Board proposed and actively voted to raise dues $5.00 and registration $10.00 (14 ayes to 2 nays).

A motion to accept the budget amended in light implications of the changes in dues and fees was made and approved unanimously.

Publications Committee

Symposium Series: Ellin Scholnick, the Series Editor, reported that the contract with LEA on the matter of the Series volume was still being negotiated.

The Noam and Fischer as well as the Reed, Turiel, and Brown volumes are in production. All of the chapters of the Renninger and Amsel volume have been received and reviewed by the editors. The former two will have a 1996 copyright. Noam and Fischer will be the Series volume for 1995, and the Reed, Turiel, and Brown book will be the volume for 1996.

The Publication Committee will decide on the form of the Publisher Book Sale at the '96 Symposium.

Michael Chandler reported for Ed Reed on the GE. Reed is interested in book reviews, think pieces, article reviews or notices, and professional queries about publications and methodologies. There was some discussion about the purpose of the GE, and the Publications Committee will report on that at a subsequent meeting.

For the Translation Advisory Committee Terrance Brown submitted a report. His translation of Children's Journeys to Discovery is almost ready for copy editing and several other books are under consideration.

The Board applauded Chris Lalonde for his work setting up the JPS Web site [see Chris's article in this GE -- ed.] The Universal Resource Locator for the JPS home page on the web is: http://www.piaget.org

Nominations Committee

David Bearison as chair of the Nominations Committee pointed out that the first step in the process was to solicit nominations from the full membership. The committee then ranked them and selected the 10 candidates with the greatest votes. A discussion of the candidates and the Society's needs revealed three points of shared, but not unanimous, agreement. The Board wished to nominate individuals who represented the relation between culture and cognition or an application of developmental/constructivist approaches to knowledge. As well, if it could be worked out financially, there should be an international presence on the board. The first five candidates were moved and approved. Bearison proposed Cynthia Lightfoot to serve as Secretary. The Board approved unanimously. U. Mueller was nominated as the student member. The Board approved unanimously. Bill Overton nominated Harry Beilin as President-Elect. Harry thanked Bill, but said that he could not accept the nominations at this time for personal reasons.

Program Committee

Symposium '95. Melanie Killen reported that the volume, Piaget, Evolution, and Development, will be approximately 400 pages, and will consist of 12 chapters.

Symposium '96. For the Plenary Program Committee Ellin Scholnick reported that Barbel Inhelder will give the keynote address. Five of the nine speakers for the three panels have accepted (Models of Conceptual Development: R. Case; Origins: S. Oyama, A. Meltzoff; Sources: J. Voneche, G. Saxe). In addition, five invited symposia are in place (Applications: Irv Sigel; History of Piagetian Thought: T. Brown, L. Smith; Conceptual Representation: C. Raeff; and two panels organized by B. Wadsworth on behalf of ACT). Bill Overton, chair of Local Arrangements briefly described the site for Symposium '96, in Philadelphia. The Double Tree Motel is conveniently located with respect to historic Philadelphia and good restaurants. Management has been cooperative and the space is well suited to our purposes.

Symposium '97 and beyond: Michael Chandler reported that Wolfgang Edelstein is interested in a symposium focusing on the relation of application, theory, and basic research for 1997 or 1998. Elliot Turiel, on the behalf of the newly constituted Program Committee, suggested the theme of Culture and Cognition. It is seen as complementary to both the Evolutionary symposium of last year and the symposium on thinking in context held about three years ago. As well, it is timely given the growing interest among developmentalists in the relation between thought and culture. David Bearison, Robert Selman, and Gil Noam proposed one on the relation of clinical application to theory and research. This may be located in Boston. The Board again expressed its interest in each of these plenary and urged each group to continue to work on its idea, with an expectation it could take place as early as 1997.

Other Business

The Board decided that the meeting of the Executive Committee would be on January 27, 1996 in Philadelphia. The meeting was adjourned at 5:30 pm.

Respectfully submitted, Peter B. Pufall, Acting Secretary

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Last Update: 15 April 1999