Volume 4 · Number 3 · Pages 138–150
Conversation: Possibilities of its Repair and Descent into Discourse and Computation

Klaus Krippendorff

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Context: This essay contends that radical constructivism makes a mistake in focusing on cognition at the expense of where cognitive phenomena surface: in the interactive use of language. Goal: It grounds radically social constructivism by exploring the conversational nature of being human. It also urges abandoning the celebration of observation, inherited from the enlightenment’s preoccupation with description, in favor of participation, the recognition that speaking and writing are acts of continuously reconstructing reality, which is only partly conceivable yet is interacted with. Method: It distinguishes between conversation as observed and conversation as articulated by its participants. It postulates accountability as a chief conversational move through which conversations can regain their natural flow when disturbed and construct inherently ethical realities for their participants. Unwillingness to repair problematic conversations amounts to acquiescence to constraints that are typical of discourses and the construction of institutional realities. Implications: It suggests that the ultimate institutionalization consists of replacing institutional artifacts with computational ones, which was the aim of early cybernetics. Computational artifacts have no agency and cannot be held accountable for what they do. This essay proposes a continuum of possible discourses between authentic conversation and computation. It concludes by calling for the drawing of finer distinctions within that continuum and expresses the hope for not closing off the possibility of returning to authentic conversation where humans realize their being human – rather than institutional actors or machines.

Key words: language, institutions, conversation, computation, participation, cybernetics


Krippendorff K. (2009) Conversation: Possibilities of its repair and descent into discourse and computation. Constructivist Foundations 4(3): 138–150. http://constructivist.info/4/3/138

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