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Being Diverse Within Different Family Semantics

Valeria Ugazio

European Institute of Systemic-relational Therapy Milan and University of Bergamo(Italy) 

It is within our family and other groups we belong to, dominated by different configurations of meaning which approach diversity in different ways, where we discover being different and living our diversity.  The conversations construct and deconstruct a variety of forms of discrimination, as well as inclusion, both within the family and other social groups.  Meaning is a crucial variable in the processes of discrimination, a difference that makes a difference.  Even though the conversation within each family or social group is organized, according to social constructionist approaches to meaning (Procter, 1996,2016; Ugazio, 1998, 2013) by a unique plot of semantic polarities, some configuration of meanings fed by the same emotional polarities (family semantics) are frequent in western cultures. This is the case of the semantic of freedom, goodness, power and belonging (Ugazio, 1998, 2013). They dominate the conversation within families where phobic (freedom), obsessive-compulsive (goodness), eating (power) and mood disorders (belonging) develop. Discovered through my clinical practice, the existence of these semantics in many families and their link with some specific disorders is now confirmed by a substantial amount of research (Castiglioni et al. 2013, 2014; Faccio et al. 2012, 2014; Ugazio, et al.2015; Ugazio & Fellin, 2016). Fed by the emotional polarity fear and courage, the semantic of freedom creates a world where “freedom/dependency” and “exploration/ attachment” dominate the conversation and a moral order in which freedom and exploration are seen as values. In the semantic of goodness the main semantic polarities are “good/bad”, “alive/dead”. They create a moral order in which life is on the side of evil. The goodness that characterizes this semantic is in fact based on abstinence. Good people refrain here from doing evil, give up their desires, sacrifice themselves rather than be generous and welcoming to others. Bad people will instead selfishly indulge in their pleasures and assert themselves, even to the detriment of others, but at the same time they immerse themselves powerfully in life.   Boasting and   shame feed the semantic of power where someone wins while others loose. In addition to “winner-loser”, “strong-willed/ yielding” plays a central role here. In this semantic, you win because you are strong-willed, determined, able to pursue your goals, whereas you may lose because you give up, you are unable to assert yourself. The main polarities of the semantic of belonging are: “inclusion/exclusion”, “honour/disgrace”. This semantic creates a moral order in which the highest goal is to be included in the family, in the lineage, in the community, whereas being excluded is a disgrace and an irreparable harm to  your dignity. The hypothesis I will put forward is that each of these semantics present specific constraints and resources in dealing with diversity.  The first results of an ongoing study (Ugazio, Gargano, in  preparation)  on the coming out young gay men  supporting this hypothesis will be presented and illustrated with some clinical vignettes. 


Valeria Ugazio, Ph.D, is director of the European Institute of Systemic-relational Therapies (EIST) ( in Milano and professor of clinical psychology at the University of Bergamo, Italy. Introduced to the family therapy field by Mara Selvini Palazzoli, her first mentor, she participated in what was to become the Milan Approach from the beginning and taught at the Centro Milanese di Terapia Familiare, directed by Luigi Boscolo and Gianfranco Cecchin, until she founded the European Institute of Systemic-relational Therapies in 1999. The inspiring idea which has guided her scientific pathway until now has been to develop a systemic interpretation of subjectivity based on the process of construction of meaning within the family. The semantic polarities theory set out completely in Semantic  Polarities in the Families. Permitted and Forbidden Stories (2013, New York: Routledge) realizes the first fundamental step towards this objective. She is currently interested in developing systemic therapeutic approaches coherent with the semantic polarities perspective and specific for individuals and families facing phobic, obsessive-compulsive, eating disorders and depression. 

From Lecturing to Lurking: A Constructionist Educator’s Guide to Online Learning

François Desjardins

Current popular education systems remain largely focused on discipline-based curriculum where content acquisition is equated with “learning”.  Yet, the main problem the world is faced with is simply that this is no longer sustainable or relevant. While solving this remains a tremendous practical problem for nations, my interest has been to simply see what is possible in a small, but I think, important segment of the education continuum, graduate studies in education, and more specifically, when this is done online. 

From quickly realizing that going online without rethinking the pedagogical relationship solved nothing, this reality not only made one thing quite obvious: lecturing does not work, in person or online, but it allowed me a glimpse into why, and how to solve it. I could see and measure accurately how many students were participating actively, how much time I was “talking” and how many were actually listening etc. The results were… let’s say, interesting. Sharing this with other professors around the world, and looking at numerous reports for drop-out rates for online courses quickly confirmed the obvious: we needed to completely rethink the learner - educator relationship as well as the roles each must adopt for actual learning to occur. Successful individuals in this growing information economy must become autonomous learners, and we therefore must help them to achieve this. We must develop strategies that will move from forcing them to depend on the “teacher” to approaches that will allow them to successfully depend on themselves.

The major obstacles to this change are unquestioned tradition of lecturing, content delivery, and unquestioned idea of knowledge as a transferable or deliverable content. There is also the perceived cost of changing the system and of course, the fear of the unknown and the new.

Having said all this, we also have tremendous opportunities and knowledge we can call upon to address this with surprising success.  From Piaget’s idea of constructivism and Von Glassersfeld’s Radical Constructivism, to Papert’s Constructionism, we have a very solid theoretical understanding of what knowledge and learning are. This has also been further elaborated and refined in the field of computer sciences and artificial intelligence.  From these theories, we, in education, needed actual practical ideas on how to approach solving the problem, and this is where I first came in contact with Kelly’s work on personal constructs and the simple and powerful idea of Triadic Elicitation - a way to make the learner “discover” specific things about their world without “teaching”.  A few experiments with this concept in math education and I was convinced that the educator’s real role is not in lecturing but in lurking around the learner’s activities - after these have been designed of course. The learners must be allowed to construct the content on their own. The educator can only create the learning environment … without the content!

This simple idea initially proved difficult, but after designing entire online programs based on the concept that the educator’s role is to lurk around the learner community’s activities, and when everyone eventually overcome the fear of change, inevitable success happened. 

In this keynote, we will look at some of the specific strategies that were tested and adopted to achieve the lowest drop-out rates for online courses and the highest satisfaction level of students that, when surveyed, actually answered that the most they learned was from themselves, and NOT the professor!


François Desjardins, Ph.D. has been the Director of the French teacher education program at the Faculty of Education of the University of Ottawa, Associate Dean at the Faculty of Education of the University of Ontario Institute of Technology (UOIT), Graduate Program director as well as founding Director of the EILAB at the same institution until he retired in 2015.

Apart from two decades of experience teaching in a variety of computer-mediated-communication modes of distance education in Canada, he was also a guest professor in an international online distance Master’s program (MARDIF) based in France, and an occasional guest speaker at various institutions across North America and Europe.

Since the mid 90’s, with funding from SSHRC, CFI, ORF and other agencies, his research interests have led him to develop an epistemological framework of General Technology Competency and Use ( and apply it to map learners’ and teachers’ technology competency profiles as they function in the digital world.  As this work continued he also worked on a variety of projects focused on online learning involving the use of mobile technology, open content and social networks for learning.  In addition, with a recurring interest in problem-based learning approaches applied to online distance education, Dr. Desjardins continued to explore the formal nature of PBL from a theoretical perspective.

Although officially retired to spend more time with his family ... and his canoe, he is still consulting on a variety of online learning initiatives.

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