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The nature of scientific conceptions: A discursive psychological perspective

Educational Research Review
Publication Date
DOI: 10.1016/j.edurev.2007.10.002
  • Conceptions
  • Conceptual Change
  • Discursive Psychology
  • Discourse Analysis
  • Situated Talk
  • Conversation Analysis
  • Education
  • Psychology


Abstract Over the past three decades, the literature in science education has accumulated a tremendous amount of research on students’ conceptions—one bibliography currently lists 7000 entries concerning students’ and teachers’ conceptions and science education. Yet despite all of this research and all the advances in the associated conceptual change theory, there is evidence that students’ conceptual talk remains virtually unchanged by instruction even under the best conditions. In this article, I describe and exemplify discursive psychology as a theoretical alternative, which ultimately allows me to understand the solid nature of student talk about scientific phenomena and why science instruction faces such challenges in bringing about conceptual change. To exemplify the presentation of the theory, I draw on videotaped interviews that covered ground similar to the one featured in A Private Universe. This theoretical alternative questions some of the fundamental presuppositions and assumptions made in the constructivist and conceptual change literature—including the locus of the misconceptions, the relation of individual and collective, and the situated and constitutive nature of the talk eliciting (mis-, alternative, pre-, naïve) conceptions. I conclude with some sobering suggestions and recommendations for the praxis of science teaching and the possibility to bring about scientists’ science for and in all students any time in the near future.

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