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Bricolage, as a name representing the functional lability of cognitive structures, with its focus on the interaction of pre-existing tools and available materials, helps to explain the power of the particular in determining the course of development. Here is a profound convergence, permitting a unification of points of view through which the form of evolution of species, the rise of civilization, and the pattern of development of the individual mind can be seen as the parallel results of the same sorts of historically determinate processes.

Bricolage and Cognitive Structures

What are the practical advantages of discussing human activity as bricolage in contrast to goal driven planning? The first advantage is that it is more natural, a more fit description of everyday activity than planning is. The second is that it is more nearly compatible with a view of the mind as a process controlled by contention of multiple objectives for resources than is planning, which seems to call for a single center of decision or a chain of decisions in a pre-ordered form. The final and most important advantage permits a new vision of the process of learning. Bricolage can provide us with an image for the process of the mind under self-construction in these specific respects:
  1. if the resources of the individual's mind are viewed as being like the tools and materials of the bricoleur, one can appreciate immediately how they constrain our undertaking and accomplishing any activity.
  2. not only constraint comes from this set of limited resources; also comes productivity, the creation of new things -- perhaps not exactly suited to the situation but of genuine novelty.
  3. the mind, if seen as self-constructed through bricolage, presents a clear image of the uniqueness of every person:
    a. each will have developed his own history of conceptions and appreciations of situations through which to make sense of the world.
    b. each will have his personal "bag of tricks," knowledge and procedures useful in his past.
    c. each will have his own set of different, alternative objectives to take up as chance puts the means at his disposal.
If viewed as claims, such statements are not easy to prove. However, they provide a framework for investigating learning which could be valuable by NOT demeaning human nature through assuming it is more simple than we know to be the case. With such an intention, it is reasonable to ask if these ideas can be applied to a specimen of behavior -- one able to sustain extended analysis -- so that we may return with a richer and more precise application of how the development of objectives and learning create the self-constructed mind.

Implications for Method

The image of bricolage, when extended from a description of behavior to a characterization of typical human thought, suggests how to explore human behavior for evidence about mind. It gives hints of what to look for in the search for the psychologically real (concrete experiences and their sequelae). It emphasizes the importance of following an individual's selection of activities and the need for sensitivity to cultural pressions in tracing the development of mind on a Piagetian scale of development. Given that such observation has provided a fecund method to study the development of objectives, should it not be extensible for the exploration of such issues as how the fragmentary character of experience affects the mind and how significant learning happens in concrete situations? After this analysis of Robby's project, such questions generated The Intimate Study.

Publication notes:

  • Written in 1976. Unpublished..
  • Subsumed in Chapter 1, "The Development of Objectives," in Computer Experience and Cognitive Development, John Wiley, 1985.

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