Social Constructionism`In recent years the trickle of social constructionist writing and research `Vivien Burr has followed up her earlier book introducing social. Vivien Burr, An Introduction to Social Constructionism. Article (PDF Available) · March with 3, Reads. DOI: /jffp Cite this publication. PDF | The social constructionism perspective says that we never know what universal true or false is, what is psychological life (Burr, , p.

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attempting to make sense of the social world, social constructionists view Burr ( ) acknowledges the major influence of Berger and Luckmann () in. ned direkt. Köp Social Constructionism av Vivien Burr på PDF- böcker lämpar sig inte för läsning på små skärmar, t ex mobiler. Introduction to Social Constructionism is a readable and critical account of social ByVivien Burr DownloadPDF MB Read online.

Knowledge is therefore seen not as something that a person has or doesn't have, but as something that people do together. Where did social constructionism come from?

These in turn are rooted in philosophical developments that began two to three hundred years ago.

Postmodernism as an intellectual movement has its centre of gravity not in the social sciences but in art and architecture, literature and cultural studies. It represents a questioning of and rejection of the fundamental assumptions of modernism, the intellectual movement which preceded it and exists alongside it, generating much argument and debate.

In many ways it embodies the assumptions underlying intellectual and artistic life that have been around since the time of the Enlightenment, which dates from about the mid-eighteenth century. The Enlightenment project was to search for truth, to understand the true nature of reality, through the application of reason and rationality. This is in sharp contrast to the mediaeval period, in which the church was the sole arbiter of truth, and in which it was not the responsibility of individual human beings to discover the truth about life or to make decisions about the nature of morality.

Science, as the antidote to the dogma of the mediaeval period, was born in the Enlightenment period. He argued that all matters should be subject to publicity and debate. The individual person, rather than God and the church, became the focus for issues of truth and morality.

The Modern movement in the artistic world took up its own search for truth.

This generated much debate and argument about, What is social constructionism? In each case the hidden structure or rule is seen as the deeper reality underlying the surface features of the world, so that the truth about the world could be revealed by analysing these underlying structures.

They offered a way of understanding the entire social world in terms of one all-embracing principle; for example, for Marx it was class relations. And therefore recommendations for social change were based upon this principle, in this case revolution by the working class.

But the Enlightenment also had its critics in the counterEnlightenment movement. The philosopher Nietzsche claimed that it had in fact turned science, reason and progress into its own dogmas. He took the more nihilistic view that history and human life are not progressing, that there is no grand purpose, grand narrative or meaning to be discerned from history.

We see the beginnings of postmodernism here.

Postmodernism is a rejection of both the idea that there can be an ultimate truth and of structuralism, the idea that the world as we see it is the result of hidden structures. In art and literature it is seen in the denial that some artistic or literary forms are necessarily better than others, so that Pop art claimed a status for itself and the objects it represented equal to that of, say, the works of Leonardo da Vinci or Michelangelo.

Postmodernism rejects the idea that the world can be understood in terms of grand theories or metanarratives, and emphasises instead the co-existence of a multiplicity and variety of situationdependent ways of life.

This is sometimes referred to as pluralism. It argues that we in the west are now living in a postmodern world, a world that can no longer be understood by appeal to one overarching system of knowledge, for example a religion. Developments in technology, in media and mass communications means that we are now living in a condition where there are available to us many different kinds of knowledge.

Postmodernism thus rejects the notion that social change is a matter of discovering and changing the underlying structures of social life through the application of a grand theory or metanarrative. Sociological influences Despite their differences, Kant, Nietzsche and Marx held in common the view that knowledge is at least in part a product of human thought rather than grounded in an external reality.

A number of sociologists took up this theme in the early twentieth century in the form of the sociology of knowledge. This was concerned with how sociocultural forces construct knowledge and with the kind of knowledge they construct, and was initially focused on concepts such as ideology and false consciousness.

But a major and more recent contribution having its roots in the sociology of knowledge is Berger and Luckmann's book The Social Construction of Reality. This book draws on the sub- What is social constructionism?

Fundamental to symbolic interactionism is the view that as people we construct our own and each other's identities through our everyday encounters with each other in social interaction. In line with this way of thinking, the sociological sub-discipline of ethnomethodology, which grew up in North America in the s and s, tried to understand the processes by which ordinary people construct social life and make sense of it to themselves and each other. Berger and Luckmann's anti-essentialist account of social life argues that human beings together create and then sustain all social phenomena through social practices.

They see three fundamental processes as responsible for this: externalisation, objectivation and internalisation. We could say that social constructionism itself has now achieved the status of an object.

In writing this book and ostensibly describing it I am contributing to its objectivation in the world. And in the future, students who read this and other books about social constructionism will tend to think of it as an area of knowledge that has been discovered rather than as an effect of social processes. In addition, he argues that there is no point in looking for once-and-for-all descriptions of people or society, since the only abiding feature of social life is that it is continually changing.

Social psychology thus becomes a form of historical undertaking, since all we can 14 Social constructionism ever do is to try to understand and account for how the world appears to be at the present time. In this paper can be seen the beginnings of Gergen's later work on social psychology, history and narrative. Social psychology as a discipline can be said to have emerged from the attempts by psychologists to provide the US and British governments during the Second World War with knowledge that could be used for propaganda and the manipulation of people.

Social psychology as a discipline therefore emerged as an empiricist, laboratory-based science that had habitually served, and was paid for by, those in positions of power, both in government and in industry. Social psychologists in the s and early s were becoming increasingly worried by the way that the discipline implicitly promoted the values of dominant groups.

A number of books were published, each in their own way trying to redress the balance, by proposing alternatives to positivist science and focusing upon the accounts of ordinary people and by challenging the oppressive and ideological uses of psychology e.

Brown, ; Armistead, They therefore opposed the positivist, experimentalist tradition in social psychology and saw people as skilled social practitioners who are able to monitor and comment upon their own activity.

What is social constructionism? Its cultural backdrop is postmodernism, but it has its own intellectual roots in earlier sociological writing and in the concerns of the crisis in social psychology.

What kinds of psychology can be called social constructionist?

Nevertheless, for the purposes of this chapter some broad-brush characterisations are necessary. In the following account I have chosen terms which some may feel are misleading, but I have tried to explain, where appropriate, the reasons for my choice. Some writers and researchers have focused upon this critical approach, and there is now a considerable literature that has come to be termed critical psychology Fox and Prilleltensky, ; Sloan, ; Stainton Rogers et al.

Critical psychology looks at how the individual is located within society in relation to difference, inequality and power and has provided alternative readings of a range of psychological phenomena, such as mental illness, intelligence, personality theory, aggression and sexuality.

An Introduction to Social Constructionism

However, although some critical psychologists build their critique upon social constructionist principles, others have arrived at critical psychology through other theoretical routes and may draw more upon ideology, Marxism or various forms of feminism. So that although much critical psychology can be said to be social constructionist in spirit, some critical psychologists would not necessarily refer to themselves as social constructionists. Critical social psychologists may also adopt a political stance, but for some the political agenda is less explicit and they are critical in the sense of raising awareness of the assumptions underlying the theory and practice of social psychology.

Since there is no reason to make a distinction between the terms here, I shall refer to all such work as critical psychology. Discursive psychology The focus on social interaction and language as a form of social action that are characteristic features of social constructionism have been placed centre-stage by a number of theorists and researchers.

Discursive psychology has been self-adopted as the preferred term to describe the work of a number of researchers whose work is now widely known, and I have therefore chosen to use this generic title here. Discursive psychology also shares the radically antiessentialist view of the person of social constructionism, and in particular it denies that language is a representation of, or route to, internal mental states or cognitions such as attitudes, beliefs, emotions and memories e.

Potter says:. I am certainly not trying to answer ontological questions about what sort of things exist.

The focus is upon the way people construct descriptions as factual, and how others What is social constructionism? This does not require an answer to the philosophical question of what factuality is. It is therefore primarily concerned with the performative functions of language as outlined above. Discursive psychologists have applied this understanding of the constructive, performative use of language to a number of psychological phenomena, thereby challenging the mainstream understanding of these.

The action orientation of discursive psychology therefore transforms traditional psychology's concern with the nature of phenomena such as memory and emotion into a concern with how these are performed by people.

Thus memory, emotion and other psychological phenomena become things we do rather than things we have.

Some psychologists taking a discursive approach have gone beyond analysing the accounting practices of interactants to an examination of how these may be intimately related to the power of ideologies in contemporary society, for example sexism Edley and Wetherell, and nationalism Billig, Deconstructionism and Foucauldian discourse analysis Discursive psychology, which emphasises the constructive work that people do in building accounts of events, can be contrasted with deconstructionism.

Deconstructionism emphasises the constructive power of language as a system of signs rather than the constructive work of the individual person. It is concerned with how the human subject becomes constructed through the structures of language and through ideology.

Readers create texts as they interpret and interact with them. The meaning of a text is always indeterminate, open-ended and interactional. Deconstruction is the critical analysis of texts. The varieties of approaches that share this broad concern really don't appear under a generic title in the literature that you may encounter. Our representations entail particular kinds of power relations.

For example, as a society we think of people who hear voices as mentally ill and refer them to psychiatrists and psychologists who then have power over many aspects of their lives. Our ways of talking about and representing the world through written texts, pictures and images all constitute the discourses through which we experience the world.

Deconstructionism is therefore an axiomatic example of social constructionism, since it is the structures of our socially shared language that are seen as producing phenomena at both the social and personal levels. Examples of the critical use of deconstruction include Parker et al. I shall use the term social constructionism, rather than constructivism, throughout this book. Constructivism is sometimes used to refer to Piagetian theory and to a particular kind of perceptual theory, but in the current context readers may encounter it in the form of perspectives that, in one form or another, see the person as actively engaged in the creation of their own phenomenal world.

The contrast being made by such approaches is usually with the view that things and events have an essential nature or meaning that then impacts upon the person in some predictable manner, and that perception is ideally a matter of internalising a truthful representation of the world.

Constructivist psychologies, by contrast, argue that each person perceives the world differently and actively creates their own meanings from events. A similar position is espoused by Kelly in his personal construct psychology PCP. We perceive the world in terms of these constructs and our actions, although never predictable, can be understood in the light of our construal of the world. The power of Kelly's constructivist position is that we have the capacity to change our own constructions of the world and thereby to create new possibilities for our own action.

Likewise, narrative psychology Gergen and Gergen, , ; Sarbin, ; Crossley, argues that we tell each other and ourselves stories that powerfully shape our possibilities. However, given the obvious points of agreement between constructivism and social constructionism, some writers have tried to bring them together in a synthesis. Botella, ; Burr and Butt, Critique As Danziger points out, one thing that seems to unite different forms of social constructionism is their role in forming a radical critique of mainstream psychology.

For some e. Parker, ; Parker et al. Social constructionist theory and research has been taken up in a variety of ways by those wishing to challenge oppressive and discriminatory practices, for example in the areas of gender and sexuality, disability and race. Danziger What is social constructionism? The most prominent representatives of micro and macro social constructionism may be said to be discursive psychology and Foucauldian discourse analysis respectively.

Micro social constructionism This sees social construction taking place within everyday discourse between people in interaction. It includes those who refer to themselves as discourse psychologists. Gergen focuses upon the constructive force of interaction, stressing the relational embeddedness of individual thought and action Gergen, , Some of these writers currently work together at the University of Loughborough.

Macro social constructionism Macro social constructionism acknowledges the constructive power of language but sees this as derived from, or at least related to, material or social structures, social relations and institutionalised practices.

The concept of power is therefore at the heart of this form of social constructionism, which includes the deconstructionist approach outlined above. Macro social constructionism has also been attractive to some writers interested in feminist analyses of power, for example Hollway , , Kitzinger , , Burman e.

Burman, and Ussher Since their focus is on issues of power, macro social constructionists are especially interested in analysing various forms of social inequality, such as gender, race and ethnicity, disability and mental health, with a view to challenging these through research and practice.

Macro and micro versions of social constructionism should not be seen as mutually exclusive.

There is no reason in principle why they should not be brought together in a synthesis of micro and macro approaches. Realism asserts that an external world exists What is social constructionism? Representations include perceptions, thoughts, language and material images such as pictures. Relativism, by contrast, argues that, even if such a reality exists, it is inaccessible to us.

Relativists therefore cannot prefer one account to another on the basis of its veridicality. Although the tenets of social constructionism appear to lead automatically to a relativist position, some, usually critical, social constructionists have resisted this and have maintained some concept of a reality existing outside of discourse and texts e. Cromby and Nightingale, ; Willig, a.

Social constructionism

One reason for this has been the problematic nature of morality and political action that ensues from a relativist position.

If all accounts of the world are equally valid, then we appear deprived of defensible grounds for our moral choices and political allegiances. Other reasons include the inadequacy of discursive accounts of the material body and embodied subjectivity e.

Those taking up a relativist stance as well as those adopting a more critical realist viewpoint have both made defensible arguments regarding the moral and political implications of these positions, and these will be examined in more detail in Chapter 5. Agency and determinism More or less mapping on to the distinction between micro and macro versions of social constructionism is the issue of personal agency. The emphasis upon the constructive work of individuals in interaction that is the focus of the micro approach implicitly affords us personal agency.

Accounts must be constructed to suit occasions and are crafted in such a way as to further the speaker's current agenda. The implication of this latter view is that individual persons, either alone or collectively, have no capacity to bring about change. However, it is 24 Social constructionism also true that neither form of constructionism allows the vision of personal agency seen in mainstream psychology, since both would deny that structures such as beliefs, values or attitudes exist as part of our intra-psychic make-up, forming the basis for our action.

Research methods All the forms of social constructionism outlined above take the constructive force of language as a principal assumption, and it is therefore the analysis of language and other symbolic forms that is at the heart of social constructionist research methods.

It would be a mistake to suggest that there are particular research methods that are intrinsically social constructionist; social constructionist research simply makes different assumptions about its aims and about the nature and status of the data collected.

However, the insistence of social constructionism upon the importance of the social meaning of accounts and discourses often leads logically to the use of qualitative methods as the research tools of choice. In practice this has often been the analysis of interview transcripts and written texts of other kinds. Confusingly, exactly what is meant by discourse analysis depends upon the particular theoretical and research orientation of the writer.

I will elaborate on some of these differences in Chapter 8. Chapter 3 deals with the claim that it is language that provides the framework for the kinds of thought that are possible for us, and with the performative role of language. I will explore the view that our descriptions and accounts of events have consequences in What is social constructionism?

I will look at the view of language within deconstruction before going on to take a closer look at discursive psychology's understanding of discourse. In Chapter 4, I look at the Foucauldian concept of discourse and the relationship between discourse, knowledge and power.

8 editions of this work

The heat in the debate between realism and relativism has largely been generated by concern over morality and politics. In the following two chapters, I address the problem of the psychological subject. I discuss the psychological subject as it appears in both micro and macro forms of social constructionism, including issues of identity, agency and change, and explore some of the conceptual tools that social constructionists have developed for the task of rewriting the psychological subject.

Chapter 8 looks at some of the research approaches developed and adopted in social constructionist research. Using brief examples of real research studies, I look at the aims and something of the method of analysis of four approaches: conversation analysis, discursive psychology, interpretative repertoires and Foucauldian discourse analysis.

This focuses upon the nature of subjectivity, the psychology of the person and the need for a concept of self, as well as the need to transcend the various dualisms that have haunted both mainstream psychology and social constructionism.

In this book I have done my best to explain the meaning of terms that I think may be new to readers coming from traditional social science, particularly psychological, backgrounds. To aid readers in their struggle for understanding, I have provided a brief glossary of common terms at the back of the book.

This chapter is therefore about convincing you that social constructionist ideas have something to offer. My aims are to challenge common-sense understandings of the person, to lay the way for an alternative, social constructionist, view and to draw attention to a number of central features of a social constructionist view of the person. Although this book will often be critical of some aspects of social constructionism, at this point it is important to see why it might be useful.

This is not because I believe that psychology is just common sense presented in complicated jargon. It is these assumptions that I want to expose in this chapter.

The framework itself has to change, and with it our understanding of every aspect of social and psychological life. Social constructionism The case for social constructionism 29 is often counter-intuitive; it is precisely that which we take for granted which is rendered problematic by this approach. But at the same time it allows us to highlight and address some of the areas where common-sense assumptions and traditional psychology do not give us satisfactory explanations.

So in making my case for social constructionism I have divided this chapter into three sections, each of which functions as a kind of case study. Each of these illustrates and makes a case for social constructionism and demonstrates its differences from traditional psychology in terms of the features that I outlined in Chapter 1.

Although we possess a number of traits, we feel that these are brought together in a coherent way to form a whole, and that our personality is fairly stable. Although we may change somewhat over time, say from a child to adulthood, or as a result of a major life event, we think of our personality as mostly unchanging.

Much, though not all, of contemporary mainstream psychology, and the common-sense understanding that it has encouraged, takes for granted the idea that people have personality characteristics and that these are what make us feel and behave differently from each other. For example, we tend to think of our emotions as private events that are bound up with the kind of people we are. We think of anger as something we feel inside us, and which is manifested in the things we say and do.

These feelings or emotions are thought of as the internal, private experience of the individual, and are intimately connected to the type of person they are. Essentialism is a way of understanding the world that sees things, including human beings, as having their own particular essence or nature, something which can be said to belong to them 30 Social constructionism and which explains how they behave or what can be done with them.

Tables and desks are hard a property and therefore don't bend when you put a pile of books on them. In the same way, we think of the nature of the shy person being such that it is unsuited to the conditions of a noisy social gathering. For example, if we believe that the nature of the human species is essentially aggressive and self-interested, the best we can do is to ensure that society provides ways of restraining people and physically preventing them from behaving naturally.

The social constructionist case First of all, how can you be sure that you have a personality at all? You could let me look at your eyes, and you could show me your apartment. But can you show me your personality? Where is it? There is no objective evidence that you can appeal to which would demonstrate the existence of your personality.

What this amounts to is a kind of circular reasoning. For example, if we witness someone physically attacking another person, unless we have good reason to think otherwise perhaps that they were acting in self-defence, or that it was an accident we The case for social constructionism 31 are likely to infer that the attacker is an aggressive person.

This is a description of their personality. This is circular reasoning. We have observed the behaviour the attack and inferred from it that the attacker has an aggressive personality. One of the fundamental assumptions of the common-sense view of personality is that personality is stable across situations and over time.

However this does not stand up to scrutiny when we examine our own day-to-day experience. Praxis is an old Greek word that has been baptized in Marxist theory and used with much devotion by many postmodern scholars. Praxis is the idea of doing theory. The idea is that theory or an idea is perfected through human activity. Our theory flows out of our practice and our practice informs our theory.

So, human action is integral to social constructionism. It is part of the warp and woof. Postmodern researchers operating within a social constructionist framework will often engage in action research. What is considered a problem and who gets to make this determination is the real problem. Action research has been accompanied by another practice: activism.

Activism is direct, vigorous action by people in order to change the status quo. History is replete with groups rising up for a cause. However, modern activism has been exploding. It is being done on all sides of the political and religious spectrum.

More recently, we see corporations engaging in it. The idea of activism and active research is central to social constructionism. Both are a call to social action in an effort to socially construct a new reality.

Social constructionism (2nd edition)

Knowledge is socially constructed. Recall from the last post, they claim knowledge is constructed through human interaction.

Social constructivists are compelled to produce interaction through their philosophy of praxis. Since social constructionism is rooted in Marxism and Humanism [2] , the agenda is secular and serves the kingdom of man.

Often it is cloaked in the term social justice. Shalom means people living in right relationships with God, themselves, each other, and nature—and in taking delight in such relationships. One hardly knows which kingdom and on whose behalf he is laboring in.

Rather, the prince of darkness has his tentacles deep within postmodernism.It is the view that the origins and treatment of disease are to be understood through the application of concepts from physiology, anatomy and biochemistry Radley, Discursive psychologists have applied this understanding of the constructive, performative use of language to a number of psychological phenomena, thereby challenging the mainstream understanding of these.

However, there has been a move away from seeing drunkenness as a crime towards thinking of it as a sickness, a kind of addiction. In western societies, we have become concerned about changes in disease patterns, such as the increased incidence of heart disease and the spread of HIV and AIDS.

The social constructionist answer is that people construct it between them. Do you talk to your closest friend in the same way as your bank manager? Using a variety of examples from everyday experience and from existing research in areas such as personality, sexuality and health, it clearly explains the basic theoretical assumptions of social constructionism.

Postmodernism rejects the idea that the world can be understood in terms of grand theories or metanarratives, and emphasises instead the co-existence of a multiplicity and variety of situationdependent ways of life.