Scaffolding: Multiple angles


Thinking about developing a theory of scaffolding led me first to tease out many angles and, for each angle, a range of components or sub-angles (see table below).  Faced with zillions of permutations, I asked:

a)     Is there something that underlies or runs through such complexity?

b)    How can we avoid the trap of developing a theory of everything, in which scaffolding adds nothing special and we reinvent the wheel?

On a), I can envision varieties or degrees of entanglement positioned in relation to time duration on one axis and numbers of people involved on the other.  I could also envision theorizing of scaffolding being merely a variant of the longstanding tension between political-economics determined by structural dynamics (e.g., contradictions inherent in capitalism) and struggles for a better world.

On b), I can imagine people using the table to repeatedly take stock, individually and collectively, by asking themselves two linked questions: Would you like to move from your position on any of the angles to another position (e.g., from cultivating collaborators to relationship of indefinite duration) and, if so, what can you do to help build the conditions to make that move possible (i.e., to scaffold the shift and be scaffolded)?

Angle on scaffolding Spectrum or components within that angle
Structure vs.


Intentional or voluntarist

Facilitated by infrastructure

Determined by structural dynamics

Invisible hand

Costs vs. benefits Infrastructure (who pays?; who is positioned to benefit?)

“Externalities” (=costs displaced to others—in place & in time)

Intended duration Indefinite (=it’s our livelihood & way of life)

Until the resource runs out and the extractor moves on (a not so desirable angle)

For a campaign, which might grow into a movement

Support in an institution (e.g., family, workplace)

Facilitated community planning leading to multiple projects under an umbrella

Policy experiments with adaptive assessment

Support in an agreed-on “container” (e.g., support group, dialogue process group, supportive listening dyad)

Cultivating collaborators (e.g., in CPR workshops)

Transmission of information (lecture, publication)



Local (but always subject to knowledge & resources offered or withheld by translocal agents)

Translocal offer-ers or withhold-ers of knowledge & resources to the local (but always operating in some local setting of their own)

Transversal engagement (in ways to be developed)


Vector Contingent (heterogeneous construction from diverse, practical considerations)

Rules/themes/principles of participation

Guiding ethic (e.g., support others to do the best work they can in the circumstances)

Telos (either drawing us towards it or something to assess our path in relation to)

Unevenness Jostling among the six points of the 3D mandala

Solidarities among a local group susceptible to some of the group being coopted by translocal

Motivation/curiosity re: heterogeneous complexities “love and rage!  neediness for connection; a sense of humor; a lust to somehow stay with the trouble without despair; joy; just plain curiosity”
Sense of agency Operate from one’s personality type (e.g., Fromm, Grid-group, Myers-Briggs) or location on personality axes

Operate with awareness of one’s personality as not universal

Operate with awareness of personality of others

Facilitation allows individuals of “all personality types [to move] toward a participatory democracy behavior”

Mature personality (no longer bound by personality type)

Levels 1. Someone starts with a final structure in mind and provides the workers (or students) a safe scaffolding they use to complete the structure (or for students to come to understand the ideas and be proficient in the practices)

2. Someone starts with a structure already in place and provides a secure scaffolding (base) for the workers (students, mentee, “coach-ee”) to renovate (innovate, re-narrate) so as to modify that structure (in education: “private universes,” Taking Yourself Seriously).

3. Someone (or someones) has (have) a synergistic cooperative or collaborative situation in mind—drawn from past experience and current understanding—and provides scaffolding to more than one group of workers (potential cooperators) to lead them towards a place where, if and when the groups meet, their interaction creates more than the sum of the parts. That is, like two sides of a bridge joining in a stable arch, the resulting situation is something no group could provide for itself (e.g., “strategic participatory planning”)

4. Like in tissue engineering, someone provides a matrix or scaffold and seeds it with “cells” that then grow in interaction with the matrix— perhaps dissolving the matrix—and eventually in interaction with other groups of cells to form a situation—the “tissue”=a dynamic structure that can insert itself (or be inserted) into in a larger context or dynamic structure—the “body”—to generate possibilities not present in the matrix/cells/groups of cells/ larger context that the new structure is inserted into.

5. Like the maintenance of our bones, a dynamic structure has components that are constantly replenished with new components—maintaining its integrity as a structure, but adapting to changes in its contexts (like new stresses strengthening bones) and in turn, generating possibilities (innovations/renovations), not seen or experienced before.



About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

One Response to Scaffolding: Multiple angles

  1. Pingback: On necessity, subjectively felt | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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