Sunday, September 07, 2008

Essential Tensions

Educational solutions often seem cyclical in nature. Chances are you aren’t imagining things if you think today’s focus on problem based learning looks a lot like the 50’s focus on lab work. A simple way to view this dynamic is in terms of essential tensions.

Essential tension basically means there isn’t a single absolute solution to a problem. Instead there is a dynamical balance that needs to be maintained. A shift to one side of a spectrum needs to be counterbalanced by increased focus on the spandreled roots of what was removed. One of the ideas of essential tension is that freedom lies in the balancing of forces rather than the removal of problems.

Here is a small selection of references I think touch on this idea:
From a religious perspective
-J Bonner Ritchie  on essential tensions between individuals and organizations

From the perspective of organizational evolution
-Willis, R. (2004). A complexity and Darwinian approach to management with failure avoidance as the key tool. In Complexity theory and the management of networks: Proceedings of the workshop on organizational networks as distributed systems of knowledge (P. Andriani & G. Passiante Eds.). Imperial College Press: London. pp. 74-88

From the perspective of knowledge construction
-Impossible knowledge - Haig-Brown, C. (2003). Creating spaces: testimonio, impossible knowledge, and academe. Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(3), 415-433.

-Difficult knowledge  - Pitt, A. & , Britzman, D. (2003). Speculations on qualities of difficult knowledge in teaching and learning: an experiment in psychoanalytic research. Qualitative Studies in Education, 16(6), 755-776.

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