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Laudatio uitgesproken door prof. dr. J.-P. De Waele

FACULTEIT VOOR PSYCHOLOGIE EN OPVOEDKUNDE

Laudatio van Prof. Dr. J.S. Bruner,
door Prof. Dr. J.-P. De Waele,
Decaan van de Faculteit

To review Professor J.S. Bruner's contribution to the fields of Psychology and Pedagogy is a task which – I must confess – I feel utterly unable to fulfill. There is however one major reason I would like to invoke as an excuse. Few scientists are like Prof. J.S. Bruner so intimately identified with the development of modern Psychology that an enumeration of his outstanding achievements would amount to an attempt at summarizing the most significant trends that have shaped our discipline during the last quarter of a century. Besides it could easily be demonstrated that the contents of Prof. J.S. Bruner's published work would, if appropriately ordered, quite suffice to compose an advanced treatise of modern Psychology.

I must therefore limit myself to a very incomplete sketch of the import of our eminent colleague's work as we understand it within our young university from the viewpoint of a Faculty who is still struggling to make Psychology and Pedagogy acquire the status of recognized scientific disciplines.

Quite generally stated, it can be confidently asserted that Professor J.S. Bruner's theoretical and empirical contributions to Psychology and Pedagogy constitute an example which should inspire us in our efforts to build a science of Psychology freed from its paralyzing identity crises.

In the field of methodology we have learnt from Prof. J.S. Bruner's investigations to consider experimental analysis, clinical explorations and observational procedures not as mutually exclusive but as alternative methods, the use of which depends essentially on the requirements of the concrete problem solving situation confronting the scientist. In each of his studies he has demonstrated how vitally important it is for Psychologists to ignore the dictates of narrow-minded philosophies of sciences and to subordinate their techniques to the specific features of their subject-matter.

The domains in which Prof. J.S. Bruner has conducted his innovative investigations are so diverse that they apparently defy any condensed formulation of their general import. Yet, the study of functional and motivational determinants of perception which gave rise to the “new-look” movement, the broadening of the field of perception to the phenomena of person and social perception, the unravelling of the complex processes mediating between personality organization and ideological attitudes, the analysis of strategies adopted in concept formation, the application of the developmental approach to the study of cognitive structures, the linking of the developmental psychology of cognition to pedagogical theory, the analysis of the relationship between socio-economic living conditions and childhood, all share a common concern with human behavior conceived of as a goal-seeking coming to terms with a meaningful, rule-governed social environment by means of the acquisition and cultivation of hierarchically organized skilled actions.

This underlying guiding model which has already proved its scientific fertility in Prof. J.S. Bruner's work, also possesses and exceptional integrative value for all the disciplines addressed to human conduct. Indeed in its gradual elaboration we are witnessing the emergence of a productive synthesis between the cultural and the natural sciences through the mediation of those symbolic systems the construction and communication of which also makes of Psychology what Prof. J.S. Bruner has termed “a science of the artificial”. Another major consequence of this general orientation lies in the fact that it harmonizes the relationships between Psychology and Pedagogy as two complementary aspects of one single endeavor in which Pedagogy as a “policy science” and Psychology as a basic scientific discipline continuously reinforce each other's progresses.

It also reinstates the fundamental anthropological meaning of Pedagogy which can no more be conceived as some minor applied science. As Prof. J.S. Bruner has recently formulated it: “Perhaps it was the burden of having to transmit so much that has finally led our species, uniquely among species, deliberately to teach its young with the aim of achieving long-run effects. For in Man, the adult enters the life of the growing child in a manner and to a degree different from any other species. Pedagogy then is not an isolated feature, but a universal of the species – surely as widely distributed as the incest taboo.”

These truly liberating perspectives show the unmistakable earmarks of an undogmatic and free mind of the kind which this University attempts to foster according to its fundamental Principles. Apart from the deep sympathy resulting from the convergence between Prof. J.S. Bruner's outstanding contribution to Psychological and Pedagogical Science and the modest endeavours of our young Faculty, we also have some very special reasons to consider Prof. Bruner as having somehow been predestined to become a member of our University.

Years ago, as a student he became involved in what he himself describes as “a headstrong, if lonely, confrontation with the University, involving compulsory chapel services that I had refused on principle to attend. It was a very adolescent and very unhappy incident. I was summarily suspended from the University. Mc Dougall somehow persuaded the Dean to reinstate me and promised that I would work in his laboratory during the chapel hour. It was the start of my career as a psychologist.”

If we were ever to forget how utterly incompatible all forms of dogmatism are with the critical premisses and implications of scientific Psychology and Pedagogy, this conflict in Prof. Bruner's life and its productive solution which made of him the Psychologist we gratefully honour today, should remind us that Psychology and Pedagogy can progress only by the creative efforts of free men.