Social Constructionism: What It Is, Fundamental Ideas And Authors

social constructionism

Social constructionism, or socioconstructionism, is a theoretical perspective that emerged in the middle of the 20th century as a consequence of the epistemological and methodological crisis that the social sciences have gone through.

He considers that language is not a simple reflection of reality, but rather is its producer, thereby moving from the idea of ​​representation that dominated science to that of discursive action.

The latter allows us to question the set of “truths” through which we had related to the world, as well as create new theories and methods of knowledge.

In addition to being considered as a theoretical perspective, socioconstructionism It is defined as a theoretical movement in which different works and proposals are grouped Below we will take a look at some background and definitions of social constructionism, as well as the repercussions it has had on social psychology.

Social constructionism: a theoretical-practical alternative

Since the 1960s, and within the framework of the crisis of modern thought, the epistemological foundations of the social sciences They have gone through some major changes.

Among other things, these changes arise as a criticism of the representation model of science, where language is understood as an instrument that faithfully reflects mental contents, with which the same mind contains exact representations of the external world (of “ reality”).

In the same context, a criticism arises of absolute truths and the research methods through which it was believed to access said truths. So, The application of positivist methodology in the social sciences is seriously questioned and the omission of the sociohistorical processes that frame them.

That is to say, given the tendency of traditional scientific thought to present itself as an absolute reflection of the reality it studied; Social constructionism says that reality does not exist independently of our actions, but that we produce it through language (understood as a practice).

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Reactions to traditional science

One of the approaches that had marked the social sciences, and from which socio-constructionism places an important distance, is the disqualification of methodologies other than hypothetico-deductive and positivist ones. From there, social constructionism questions the predominance of the experimental model where it is assumed that knowledge is acquired based on the control that an “external” experimenter has over the situation studied, which in turn supposes the existence of variables that are stable and controllable.

Likewise, a reaction is established against the apparent timelessness that had characterized the traditional way of doing science. This is so because this timelessness has had as a consequence that historical facts are understood as anecdotal and therefore, not scientists.

Finally, he questioned the supposed truths about human beings, which have been taken for granted through the implementation of the methodologies used in the natural sciences.

A psychosociological project and its repercussions for psychology

In relation to what we explained above, authors such as Sandoval (2010) consider that socioconstructionism is not properly a theory but “a metatheoretical attempt to build an alternative to the hegemony of empiricism in epistemology; of behaviorism and cognitivism in theory and experimentalism in methodology; the trilogy that founds the core of the intelligibility of modern psychology” (p. 32).

In summary, four principles that define socioconstructionism and that impact modern psychology are:

1. Anti-essentialism: the primacy of social processes and discursive practices

The practices that make up a reality are maintained thanks to the establishment of a social order, what occurs through human activity, without any ontological status. By becoming accustomed to these practices, human activity itself becomes institutionalized and shapes a society. For this reason, everyday life that had been dismissed by traditional social sciences becomes especially important for socioconstructionism.

At a methodological level, socioconstructionism considers the unpredictability of human behavior and social reality as something that is built in everyday life and from a reciprocity between society and person, with which psychology must place the cases it studies or attends to in contexts. determined social In this same sense, People are the product of specific social processes

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Likewise, the socioconstructionist current allowed us to question the use of the hypothetico-deductive method in the social sciences, which had initially been systematized for the natural sciences; and that had become the model for psychology.

2. Relativism: the historical and cultural specificity of knowledge

This theory defends that the knowledge obtained by the social sciences is fundamentally historical, and because it is highly variable, it cannot resort to the study methods of the natural sciences.

Likewise, the socioconstructionist current allowed us to question the use of the hypothetico-deductive method in the social sciences, which Initially it had been systematized for the natural sciences ; and that had become the model for psychology.

In this same sense, what we know as “reality” does not exist separately from knowledge or the descriptions we produce about it.

3. Knowledge and action as two phenomena that go together

Social constructionism aims to explain how knowledge and social reality are constructed from activity (the discursive capacity) of the subjects. Highlights the reflective quality of the researcher. That is, it highlights the constructive power of language within the framework of social relations.

From there, socioconstructionism aims to develop alternative perspectives to the individual approach to knowledge (that is, to the idea that everything that is known, is known individually), allowing us to analyze the importance of shared knowledge in the production of knowledge. a particular reality.

Social constructionism is a perspective that continually questions the truths we have taken for granted calling into question how we have learned to look at ourselves and the world.

4. A critical stance, that is, pays attention to the effects of language in terms of power

The consideration that there is no neutrality in the production of knowledge, which recognizes the active role of people as constructors of their own reality, including the researcher himself, and The psychologist is a facilitator of social change

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Thinking about the human being outside of the qualities that are supposed to be universally shared thanks to the “paradigm of the average man”, but rather considering the social context in which the explanations emerge and the places that are assigned to each person.

Key authors and background

Although social constructionism is a heterogeneous perspective where different authors could and could not fit, Kenneth Gergen is considered one of the greatest exponents especially from your article Social psychology as history (Social psychology as history) published in 1973.

Within the framework of this reformulation of the social sciences, Berger and Luckmann had already published the book The social construction of reality in 1968, a work that significantly influenced Gergen’s work, which is why it is also considered key to the development of socio-constructionism.

These latter authors propose that reality is “a quality inherent to phenomena that we recognize as independent of our own volition” and knowledge “the certainty that phenomena are real and have specific characteristics.” That is to say, They question the belief that reality is a thing that exists independently of our actions society being an external entity that shapes us, and that we can know absolutely.

The theoretical background of social constructionism includes poststructuralism, discourse analysis, the Frankfurt School, the sociology of knowledge, and critical social psychology. Broadly speaking, these are theories that reflect on the interdependence between knowledge and social reality.

Likewise, social constructionism has been related to authors such as Latour and Woolgar, Feyerabend, Kuhn, Laudan, Moscovici, Hermans.

Some criticisms of socioconstructionism

Among other things, socioconstructionism has been criticized for the tendency towards discursive radicalization of a good part of his theories

Broadly speaking, these critics say that social constructionism can be immobilizing, because if everything that exists is constructed by language, what is the place of the material and what are its possibilities of action in the meaning of the world. In the same sense he has been criticized excessive relativism which can sometimes make it difficult to assume or defend demanding positions.

Finally, after several decades of this theoretical perspective emerging, constructionism has had to adapt to new forms of social organization. For example, some proposals that have been inspired by constructionism but have added important elements to current debates are Actor Network Theory, Performativity, or some materialist and feminist positions.