Learn more about Jerome Bruner
Bruner's ideas are based on categorization. "To perceive is to categorize, to conceptualize is to categorize, to learn is to form categories, to make decisions is to categorize." Bruner maintains people interpret the world in terms of its similarities and differences. Like Bloom's Taxonomy, Bruner suggests a system of coding in which people form a hierarchical arrangement of related categories. Each successively higher level of categories becomes more specific, echoing Benjamin Bloom's understanding of knowledge acquisition as well as the related idea of instructional scaffolding.
He has also suggested that there are two primary modes of thought: the narrative mode and the paradigmatic mode. In narrative thinking, the mind engages in sequential, action-oriented, detail-driven thought. In paradigmatic thinking, the mind transcends particularities to achieve systematic, categorical cognition. In the former case, thinking takes the form of stories and "gripping drama." In the latter, thinking is structured as propositions linked by logical operators.
In his research on the development of children (1966), Bruner proposed three modes of representation: enactive representation (action-based), iconic representation (image-based), and symbolic representation (language-based). Rather than neatly delineated stages, the modes of representation are integrated and only loosely sequential as they "translate" into each other. Symbolic representation remains the ultimate mode, for it "is clearly the most mysterious of the three." Bruner's theory suggests it is efficacious when faced with new material to follow a progression from enactive to iconic to symbolic representation; this holds true even for adult learners. A true instructional designer, Bruner's work also suggests that a learner even of a very young age is capable of learning any material so long as the instruction is organized appropriately, in sharp contrast to the beliefs of Piaget and other stage theorists.
 The Narrative Construction of Reality
In 1991, Bruner published an article in Critical Inquiry entitled "The Narrative Construction of Reality." In this article, he argued that the mind structures its sense of reality through mediation through "cultural products, like language and other symbolic systems" (3). He specifically focuses on the idea of narrative as one of these cultural products. He defines narrative in terms of ten things:
- Narrative diachronicity: The notion that narratives take place over some sense of time.
- Particularity: The idea that narratives deal with particular events, although some events may be left vague and general.
- Intentional state entailment: The concept that characters within a narrative have "beliefs, desires, theories, values, and so on" (7).
- Hermeneutic composability: The theory that narratives are that which can be interpreted in terms of their role as a selected series of events that constitute a "story." See also Hermeneutics
- Canonicity and breach: The claim that stories are about something unusual happening that "breaches" the canonical (i.e. normal) state.
- Referentiality: The principle that a story in some way references reality, although not in a direct way that offers verisimilitude.
- Genericness: The flipside to particularity, this is the characteristic of narrative whereby the story can be classified as a genre.
- Normativeness: The observation that narrative in some way supposes a claim about how one ought to act. This follows from canonicity and breach.
- Context sensitivity and negotiability: Related to hermeneutic composability, this is the characteristic whereby narrative requires a negotiated role between author or text and reader, including the assigning of a context to the narrative, and ideas like suspension of disbelief.
- Narrative accrual: Finally, the idea that stories are cumulative, that is, that new stories follow from older ones.
Bruner observes that these ten characteristics at once describe narrative and the reality constructed and posited by narrative, which in turn teaches us about the nature of reality as constructed by the human mind via narrative.
- A Study of Thinking (1956)
- The Process of Education (1960)
- Toward a Theory of Instruction (1966)
- Studies in Cognitive Growth (1966)
- Processes of Cognitive Growth: Infancy (1968)
- Beyond the Information Given (1973)
- Children's Talk: Learning to Use Language (1983)
- Actual Minds, Possible Worlds (1986)
- Acts of Meaning (1990)
- The Culture of Education (1996)
- Bruner, J. S. & Goodman, C. C. (1947). Value and need as organizing factors in perception. Journal of Abnormal Social Psychology, 42, 33-44. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology archive.
- Bruner, J. S. & Postman, L. (1947). Tension and tension-release as organizing factors in perception. Journal of Personality, 15, 300-308.
- Bruner, J. S. & Postman, L. (1949). On the perception of incongruity: A paradigm. Journal of Personality, 18, 206-223. Available online at the Classics in the History of Psychology archive.
- Wood, D., Bruner, J., & Ross, G. (1976). The role of tutoring in problem solving. Journal of child psychology and psychiatry, 17, 89-100. (Addresses the concept of instructional scaffolding.)
- "The Narrative Construction of Reality" (1991). Critical Inquiry, 18:1, 1-21.de:Jerome Bruner