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Short description: Philosophical concept

Fragmentalism is a view that holds that the world consists of individual and independent objects.[1] The term contends that the world is indeed composed of separable parts, and that it is chiefly knowable through the study of these component parts, rather than through wholes. It therefore stands opposed to holistic interpretations of phenomena.

"The Fragmentalists carved the universe up into smaller and smaller pieces until they reached such a fine level of subdivision that they could no longer observe the pieces directly." (Stewart & Cohen, p.198) "As the tale of the Fragmentalists demonstrates, reductionist science usually looks for a mathematical equation, formula, or process that describes general features of the universe." (Stewart & Cohen, p.200)

Fragmentalism has also been defined as the notion that knowledge is a growing collection of substantiated facts or "nuggets of truth."[2] Anti-realists use the term fragmentalism in arguments that the world does not exist of separable entities, instead consisting of wholes. For example, advocates of this position declare that:

The linear deterministic approach to nature and technology promoted a fragmented perception of reality, and a loss of the ability to foresee, to adequately evaluate, in all their complexity, global crises in ecology, civilization and education.[3]

This term is usually applied to reductionist modes of thought, frequently with the related pejorative term of scientism. This usage is popular amongst some ecological activists:

There is a need now to move away from scientism and the ideology of cause-and-effect determinism toward a radical empiricism, such as William James proposed, as an epistemology of science.[4]

These perspectives are not new and in the early twentieth century, William James noted that rationalist science emphasized what he termed fragmentation and disconnection.[5] Such anti-realist rhetoric also underpins many criticisms of the scientific method:

The scientific method only acknowledges monophasic consciousness. The method is a specialized system that focuses on studying small and distinctive parts in isolation, which results in fragmented knowledge.[5]

An alternative usage of this term is in cognitive psychology. Here, George Kelly developed "constructive alternativism" as a form of personal construct psychology, this provided an alternative to what he saw as "accumulative fragmentalism". In this theory, knowledge is seen as the construction of successful mental models of the exterior world, rather than the accumulation of independent "nuggets of truth".[6]

The term also has ancillary uses in education,[7] in design theory,[8] and environmentalism,[9] as well as in healthcare[10] and business management.[11][12]

The term has been used in politics,[13] in anthropology,[14] in international development[15] and in ecological economics.[16] The term has also been used in Cultural Studies[17] and in history[18]


  1. Kukla A (1996). "Antirealist Explanations of the Success of Science". Philosophy of Science 63 (1): S298–S305. doi:10.1086/289964. 
  2. Pope ML (1982). "Personal construction of formal knowledge". Interchange 13 (4): 3–14. doi:10.1007/BF01191417. 
  3. Anatoly P. Liferov, Global Education as a Trend Reflecting the Problems of Today and Meeting the Requirements of Tomorrow
  4. Yunkaporta on Kakkib and Oneness, Tyson Yunkaporta, Friday, January 05, 2007
  5. 5.0 5.1 Tara W. Lumpkin, Perceptual Diversity: Is Polyphasic Consciousness Necessary for Global Survival? December 28, 2006,
  6. Pope ML and Watts M (1988). "Constructivist Goggles: Implications for Process in Teaching and Learning Physics". Eur. J. Phys. 9 (2): 101–109. doi:10.1088/0143-0807/9/2/004. Bibcode1988EJPh....9..101P. 
  7. Gur-Ze'ev, Ilan, Toward a New Critical Language in Education, in Gur-Ze'ev, Ilan, (Ed.), Critical Theory and Critical Pedagogy Today: Toward a New Critical Language in Education, Haifa: University of Haifa Press, 2005
  8. "Salih Salbacak, Starting Design Education: Basic Design Course," Designtrain 2008, Amsterdam, Netherlands, June 05–07, 2008". 
  9. Valerie Green, An Exploration of School Gardening and Its Relationship to Holistic Education, unpublished MSc thesis, University of Guelph, 2004
  10. Subarn Panvisavas, Poverty and Malaria: A Study in a Thai-Myanmar Border Area, Southeast Asian J Trop Med Public Health, 2001 Sep;32(3):608-14
  11. Harrison, R.T. & Leitch, C.M. (1996). Discipline Emergence in Entrepreneurship: Accumulative Fragmentalism or Paradigmatic Science? Entrepreneurship, Innovation, & Change, 5(2), pp.65-83
  12. Lowell W. Busenitz, G. Page West III, Dean Shepherd, Teresa Nelson, Gaylen N. Chandler & Andrew Zacharakis, Entrepreneurship Research in Emergence: Past Trends and Future Directions, Joumal of Management 2003 29(3) 285-308
  13. Rajesh Kochhar, Is globalisation encouraging flat-earth mentality? Architecture of an Inclusive Society, proceedings of Eighth Indira Gandhi conference, 20-21 November 2001, New Delhi: Mudrit Publishers, pp.362-370)
  14. Hussain Fahim & Katherine Helmer, Indigenous Anthropology in Non-Western Countries: a Further Elaboration, Current Anthropology, 21.5, Oct 1980, pp.644-662
  15. UNCTAD, UNCTAD: A Brief Historical Overview, 2006, pp.2-3
  16. Kirkpatrick Sale, Dwellers in the Land: the Bioregional Vision, University of Georgia Press, 2000, pp.153-4
  17. Jeff Lewis, Cultural Studies: the Basics, Sage Publications, 2008, p.106
  18. Sugata Bose & Ayesha Jayal, Modern South Asia: History, Culture, Political Economy, Routledge, 2004, p.164 & p.220

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See also