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Levi-Strauss, Bricolage and eLearning 2.0

February 18th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

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Some time ago I read the transcript of a speech by John Seely Brown on Learning, Working and Playing in the digital Age. In the speech Seely Brown talked about how young people used the web as bricolage.

I have cited this in quite a few papers. Jenny Hughes was reviewing one of the papers for me and objected to my citing the idea of bricolage to Seely Brown. Bricolage, she said, was a key idea in Levi- Strauss’s thinking amongst. I had fogotten about this but Jenny had not. She gave me a copy of a book called “Introducing Levi Strauus and Structural Anthropology” by Boris Wiseman and Judy Groves. It is a great book and it has pictures and cartoons – I love these easy introduction books. And indeed there is a section on bricolage:

“To describe the functioning of the logic of the concrete – the essence of a pensee sauvage – Levi-Strauss usesd an unusual analogy. The logic of the concrete he says is the mental equivalent of bricolage – intellectual D.I.Y.

Levi-Strauss’s notion of briclolage has many different applications for all of those from anthropologists to literary critics and philosophers, who have recognised themselves in his portrait of the bricoleur and drawn their own lessons from it.

Levi-Strauss contrasts the work of the bricoleur to that of the engineer, and uses this opposition to characterise the two modes of understanding which underlie, repsoectively, primitive science and modern science.

At the same time, he also applies his concept of bricolage to myth, thus opening up the whole question of its specific reference to an understanding of the processes of artistic creation.

This is how the bricoleur works.

Unlike the engineer who creates specialised tools and materials for each new project that he embarks upon, the bricoleur work with materials that are always second hand.

In as much as he must make do with whatever is at hand, an element of chance always enters into the work of the bricoleur.

Levi Strauss draws two analogies with myth. First, considered in its genesis, myth, like bricolage, is an assembly of disparate elements: it creates structures (i.e. narratives) out of events.

Second, myths are always constructed out of the disarticulated elements of the social discourses of the past. In this too they resemble bricolage.

The bricoleur is in possession of a stock of objects (a “treasure”). These possess “meaning” in as much as they are bound together by a set of possible relationships, one of which is concretized by the bricoleur’s choice”.

I have been increasingly interested in unearthing alternative design principles to that of instructional design. It seems to me Levi-Strauss has written the definitive guide to using Web 2.0 and learning. I have an aspiration – to be a true bricoleur.

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One Response to “Levi-Strauss, Bricolage and eLearning 2.0”

  1. I have that same aspiration. That is one reason why I’m so attracted to the emerging Web 2.0 applications and OER. I’ve been falsely accused of focusing too much on the tools, when it’s actually the potential for learning that inspires me most. Even before Web 2.0, the best teachers have always been the bricoleurs, those not satisfied with the set curricula, those who prefer to build a course from scratch. They scavenge for this and that, build on old ideas, refine stumbled-upon lesson plans, reintroduce and renew obscure resources, and search for the optimal experience that makes it all real for the learner. With Web 2.0, every new tool is a potential building block. The more blocks we have, the more interesting and diverse the structure. My goal as a practiced bricoleur is to help my students better assess, navigate, and sift through the bricolage so they don’t overlook the pearls while becoming buried in the scrap. The students are apprentices of sorts who will ultimately take the bricolage and build something unique and beautiful that is beyond my wildest imagination.

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