Faculté des lettres et sciences humaines

Children as Investigators of Brunerian “Possible Worlds”. The Role of Narrative Scenarios in children’s Argumentative Thinking

Iannaccone, Antonio ; Perret-Clermont, Anne-Nelly ; Convertini, Josephine

In: Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science, 2019, vol. 53, no. 4, p. 679-693

Referring to the notion of “possible worlds”, the paper aims to investigate an intriguing aspect of children’s thinking: the function that play narrative scenarios in sharing with other partners (peers and adults) the child’s understanding of the physical and social reality. The idea of possible worlds to which this work relates, can be considered in some way as the legacy of Piaget’s... Plus

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    Summary
    Referring to the notion of “possible worlds”, the paper aims to investigate an intriguing aspect of children’s thinking: the function that play narrative scenarios in sharing with other partners (peers and adults) the child’s understanding of the physical and social reality. The idea of possible worlds to which this work relates, can be considered in some way as the legacy of Piaget’s pioneering research on symbolic thinking, currently referred in Harris’s perspective as “work of imagination”. Over the past few decades now, the notion of possible worlds has supported a new representation of the child’s thinking that is based on the idea that imagination allows children to explore alternative and multiple versions of reality. Among other things, imagination permits to the child to use sophisticated forms of causal reasoning and understanding of the rules of social life. By reconsidering a part of the literature on “possible worlds” and presenting two empirical observations, this paper wants to draw attention to the central role played by explorative thinking in child’s argumentative activities. Angelo, the three-year-old who is the protagonist of the episode reported, is a child like many: constantly relating to the social world, attentive to what is happening around him and, in particular, to the events in which he finds himself involved. Surprisingly equipped to position himself and act in the routines that he knows, but also capable of adopting effective strategies with respect to events that he cannot foresee and that are built constantly, and in a manner situated during interpersonal events. From a certain point of view, he acts in a competent way in the present, but thanks to previous experiences he seems equally ready to anticipate the activities that follow each other in the many scenarios of reality and fiction of which his daily experience is made up. In the example above, Angelo shows a precise interpretation of the situation (evidently based on previous experiences) and provides a solidly argued answer to his mother’s request. The reference to the socio-material context fully supports his argument with the use of a perceptive fact that is difficult to contest. As highlighted by the short sequence presented, the dialogue between Angelo and his mother undoubtedly takes on the characteristics of an argumentative activity. As in a court debate, the child/lawyer explores the relationships with the other participants, offering to the jury “material” evidence. This will allow him both to challenge his mother’s point of view and to defend his own authoritatively. To give an account of the variety of thinking strategies that Angelo exhibits and also to illustrate the exploratory function of argumentation in children, this paper will explore the idea that during social interaction each participant builds narrative versions of the world from his own point of view. As Bruner (2002) wrote, possible worlds offer the possibility of throwing new light on the “real” world. On a theoretical level, this rapid exchange in the family can be defined as an illustration of sophisticated thinking activities (partly argumentative) in a three-year-old child. In fact, only a few sequences of observation of the unstoppable activities of Angelo are sufficient, as they are of any other child in everyday life situations, to obtain a large number of useful elements to understand the active role of younger generations in challenging the rules of social worlds and in reproducing and creating new cultural forms during social interactions (Corsaro 1997). More specifically, this paper aims to showcase firstly how this way of acting in the physical and social reality emerges early in children’s development, especially in situations where they have to defend their point of view or try to convince someone to do something. Secondly, it wants to show that these early thinking strategies are displayed by children mainly as activities of exploration of narrative scenarios (possible worlds) that emerge during social interactions. In order to answer these central questions for the study of thinking in children, this paper will a) analyse the notion of “possible worlds” as Bruner refers to it, b) present two transcripts of social interactions that allow clear examples of the children’s thinking activity, and c) discuss studies that support the acceptance of early cognitive activity in children and the multipurpose and flexible nature of child’s learning capacities (Gopnik and Meltzoff 1998).