Paradigms, Rhetoric and Social Construction

       Paradigms have been present from the beginning of time. It has distinguished us as a people, brought us together and kept us divided. A precise definition of paradigm is a set of ideas and assumptions that determine the reality of a group or creates values in a community (Mckenzie, 2011). Kuhn (1961) explores this theory by looking at the history of science, which he categorizes into normal and revolutionary science. Normal science, Kuhn (1961) says “is performed by a community of scientists whose members share certain assumptions about what they are doing and what the world is like. They share what is referred to as a paradigm.”
With the emergence of revolutionary science came paradigm conflict and paradigm shifts. Bonnycastle (2007) says that “each paradigm has advantages, and one of the main advantages of the old paradigm is that most people understand and accept it.” With the arrival of revolutionary science came paradigm conflict which involved two parties that did not agree on what the facts are. Another possible outcome of two paradigms clashing is that they can be blended and accepted. According to Bonnycastle (2007), each paradigm is based on “facts”, but since the paradigm itself determines what counts as a fact, the “facts” supporting each paradigm is different. This posed a problem since there was no higher power to decide and it was who had the better argument. Life is much easier if the truth is easily accessible to us, then many doubts can be eliminated and decision making would be easier. We can also use the truth to gain power over other people to our advantage.

       This is where rhetoric is very useful. It is believed by Bonnycastle (2007) that someone who refused to acknowledge the existence of paradigms, did so because they wanted to know the “absolute truth”, in other words absolute truth cannot be established; anything we know is relative to a paradigm therefore knowledge cannot be absolute. However, Mckenzie (2011) opposed to this belief by stating that though different paradigms have their own facts, “absolute paradigms” would have their “absolute truths”. I gave it more thought and it started to make more sense to me. Another of Bonnycastle’s (2007) theory was that we are more likely to argue with people we share a paradigm with. As this may be true, Kuhn (1996) making reference to scientists, says that they can agree in their identification of a paradigm without agreeing or even attempting to produce a full interpretation or rationalization of it.

       As with Bonnycastle, Kuhn(1996) also made reference to normal science and said that “it can be determined through direct inspection of paradigm but does not depend upon the formulation of rules and assumptions”. In other words paradigms can stand strong on their own.
I’ve learnt that it’s okay for different groups of people to have their own paradigms as long as those groups show some level of respect for one another, and I say it like that because we have free will and freedom of speech, therefore compromise is critical between the parties in determining what is acceptable and what’s not. Without compromise, a lot of unnecessary wars may occur.

“A paradigm is acceptable as long as there’s supporting “facts”.”

       There is a distinct relationship among paradigms, social construction and rhetoric. Most of our beliefs and values come from ideas that have been made by man and can be changed by man to maintain the status quo, hence making them socially constructed. We all are considered social constructionists in that we make arguments with intentions of making changes to accommodate our agenda. When ideas are accepted, they begin to have consequences in the world. (Hacking,1999).

With the close relation between social construction and paradigms an important question one might ask is does social construction create paradigms or do paradigms create social constructions? (Mckenzie, 2011) What do you think?

Definition : Rhetoric is the ability to ascertain and analyze, in any given context, the available means of persuasion. In other words, how humans use language to persuade people to think like we think, change their minds, or to enlist their aid and recognize the uses.(The Rhetorical Tradition—Bizzel,Herzberg).


Mckenzie, C. (Spring 2011). “Rhetoric Lecture”.

Kuhn, T. (1962/1996). “The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions” 3rd Ed. University Of Chicago. Pp 43-51

Bonnycastle, S. (2007) “Paradigms, Paradigm Change, and Interpretation”. In Search Of Authority, 3rd Ed. Toronto : Broadview, P. pp 71-82

Hacking, I. (1999). Excerpt from “The Social Construction Of What”. Lingua Franca, pp 65-72.


Paradigms, Paradigm Change and Interpretation

       Paradigm for me is knowledge from events that have been translated into beliefs of different groups which they live by. They can be shifted or altered over a period of time and be passed down for generations. Many groups may share similar paradigms but the facts behind them may also be different. Overall I think paradigms give a different perspective of looking at things in life and can make a significant change in one’s life.

       Kuhn describes paradigm as theories accumulated from a group of scientists who individually shared how they perceived the world. He uses two theories, heliocentric; which states that the sun was the center of the universe and geocentric; which stated that the earth was the center of the universe to illustrate differences in paradigms. The geocentric theory was directly related to the Catholic Church. They believed that god created the universe for humans and therefore we had to be the focal point. They church felt obligated to maintain this theory since biblical scriptures coincided with it and they had to keep strength in people’s faith. The heliocentric theory was related to science and technology. The paradigm conflict came about when the telescope was invented which shifted paradigms from normal science to revolutionary science. People started to rise up and did things they would have never done. In the heliocentric paradigm the issue of what was” wrong” and “right”, “facts” and “truths” came about. There was no higher power to decide, it was basically who had the better argument and how many people were willing to convert, whereas in the geocentric paradigm everyone didn’t necessarily agree but accepted it.

       There have been so many paradigm conflicts with respect to paradigms such as education, culture, politics & religion, which have influenced communities worldwide since the beginning of time. From those experiences, people from different parts of the world developed their paradigms which in turn formed their “absolute truths”. It’ll be foolish to make assumptions and proclaim something as “truth” about events that happened 100 years before you were even born. Many paradigms have been passed down for decades and respect should be shown to all of them.

       My awareness on the existence of paradigm differences would undoubtedly alter conversations with various people. But as a scientist it’s always been instilled in me to be open-minded and objective, so it’s nothing new. Nevertheless, I would approach unbiased, cautious and with a “cool” demeanor. For there to be a significant or any little change in how the awareness of paradigms would impact my conversation with someone, firstly, there are some things I would have to improve on. One is being more patient (a virtue I haven’t mastered yet), and not interrupt every 10 seconds. Another, by being more attentive, though it may not be a topic of my interest or one that I even care about, but at least nod occasionally. I would try my best to refrain from derogatory statements and be mindful that many factors influence our paradigms, for example which part of the world we come from.

Kuhn, T. (1962/1996). “The Structure Of Scientific Revolutions” 3rd Ed. University Of Chicago. Pp 43-51