Social constructionism

Social constructionism is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world that form the basis for shared assumptions about reality. The theory centers on the notion that meanings are developed in coordination with others rather than separately within each individual.[1]

Social constructionism questions what is defined by humans and society to be reality. Therefore, social constructs can be different based on the society and the events surrounding the time period in which they exist.[2] An example of a social construct is money or the concept of currency, as people in society have agreed to give it importance/ value.[2][3] Another example of a social construction is the concept of self/ self-identity. [4] Charles Cooley stated based on his Looking-Glass-Self theory: "I am not who you think I am; I am not who I think I am; I am who I think you think I am."[2] This demonstrates how people in society construct ideas or concepts that may not exist without the existence of people or language to validate those concepts.[2][5]

There are weak and strong social constructs.[3] Weak social constructs rely on brute facts (which are fundamental facts that are difficult to explain or understand, such as quarks) or institutional facts (which are formed from social conventions).[2][3] Strong social constructs rely on the human perspective and knowledge that does not just exist, but is rather constructed by society.[2]

Definition

A social construct or construction concerns the meaning, notion, or connotation placed on an object or event by a society, and adopted by the inhabitants of that society with respect to how they view or deal with the object or event.[6] In that respect, a social construct as an idea would be widely accepted as natural by the society.

A major focus of social constructionism is to uncover the ways in which individuals and groups participate in the construction of their perceived social reality. It involves looking at the ways social phenomena are developed, institutionalized, known, and made into tradition by humans.

Origins

In terms of background, social constructionism is rooted in "symbolic interactionism" and "phenomenology."[7][8] With Berger and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality published in 1966, this concept found its hold. More than four decades later, a sizable number of theory and research pledged to the basic tenet that people "make their social and cultural worlds at the same time these worlds make them."[8] It is a viewpoint that uproots social processes "simultaneously playful and serious, by which reality is both revealed and concealed, created and destroyed by our activities."[8] It provides a substitute to the "Western intellectual tradition" where the researcher "earnestly seeks certainty in a representation of reality by means of propositions."[8]

In social constructionist terms, "taken-for-granted realities" are cultivated from "interactions between and among social agents;" furthermore, reality is not some objective truth "waiting to be uncovered through positivist scientific inquiry."[8] Rather, there can be "multiple realities that compete for truth and legitimacy."[8] Social constructionism understands the "fundamental role of language and communication" and this understanding has "contributed to the linguistic turn" and more recently the "turn to discourse theory."[8][9] The majority of social constructionists abide by the belief that "language does not mirror reality; rather, it constitutes [creates] it."[8]

A broad definition of social constructionism has its supporters and critics in the organizational sciences.[8] A constructionist approach to various organizational and managerial phenomena appear to be more commonplace and on the rise.[8]

Andy Lock and Tomj Strong trace some of the fundamental tenets of social constructionism back to the work of the 18th-century Italian political philosopher, rhetorician, historian, and jurist Giambattista Vico.[10]

Berger and Luckmann give credit to Max Scheler as a large influence as he created the idea of Sociology of knowledge which influenced social construction theory.[11]

According to Lock and Strong, other influential thinkers whose work has affected the development of social constructionism are: Edmund Husserl, Alfred Schutz, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Martin Heidegger, Hans-Georg Gadamer, Paul Ricoeur, Jürgen Habermas, Emmanuel Levinas, Mikhail Bakhtin, Valentin Volosinov, Lev Vygotsky, George Herbert Mead, Ludwig Wittgenstein, Gregory Bateson, Harold Garfinkel, Erving Goffman, Anthony Giddens, Michel Foucault, Ken Gergen, Mary Gergen, Rom Harre, and John Shotter..[10]

Applications

Personal construct psychology

Since its appearance in the 1950s, personal construct psychology (PCP) has mainly developed as a constructivist theory of personality and a system of transforming individual meaning-making processes, largely in therapeutic contexts.[12][13][14][15][16][17] It was based around the notion of persons as scientists who form and test theories about their worlds. Therefore, it represented one of the first attempts to appreciate the constructive nature of experience and the meaning persons give to their experience.[18] Social constructionism (SC), on the other hand, mainly developed as a form of a critique,[19] aimed to transform the oppressing effects of the social meaning-making processes. Over the years, it has grown into a cluster of different approaches,[20] with no single SC position.[21] However, different approaches under the generic term of SC are loosely linked by some shared assumptions about language, knowledge, and reality.[22]

A usual way of thinking about the relationship between PCP and SC is treating them as two separate entities that are similar in some aspects, but also very different in others. This way of conceptualizing this relationship is a logical result of the circumstantial differences of their emergence. In subsequent analyses these differences between PCP and SC were framed around several points of tension, formulated as binary oppositions: personal/social; individualist/relational; agency/structure; constructivist/constructionist.[23][24][25][26][27][28] Although some of the most important issues in contemporary psychology are elaborated in these contributions, the polarized positioning also sustained the idea of a separation between PCP and SC, paving the way for only limited opportunities for dialogue between them.[29][30]

Reframing the relationship between PCP and SC may be of use in both the PCP and the SC communities. On one hand, it extends and enriches SC theory and points to benefits of applying the PCP “toolkit” in constructionist therapy and research. On the other hand, the reframing contributes to PCP theory and points to new ways of addressing social construction in therapeutic conversations.[30]

Educational psychology

Like social constructionism, social constructivism states that people work together to construct artifacts. While social constructionism focuses on the artifacts that are created through the social interactions of a group, social constructivism focuses on an individual's learning that takes place because of his or her interactions in a group.

Social constructivism has been studied by many educational psychologists, who are concerned with its implications for teaching and learning. For more on the psychological dimensions of social constructivism, see the work of Ernst von Glasersfeld and A. Sullivan Palincsar.[31]

Systemic therapy

Systemic therapy is a form of psychotherapy which seeks to address people as people in relationship, dealing with the interactions of groups and their interactional patterns and dynamics.

Communication studies

A bibliographic review of social constructionism as used within communication studies was published in 2016. It features a good overview of resources from that disciplinary perspective.[32]

Teleology of social construction

The concepts of weak and strong as applied to opposing philosophical positions, "isms", inform a teleology – the goal-oriented, meaningful or "final end" of an interpretation of reality. "Isms" are not personal opinions, but the extreme, modal, formulations that actual persons, individuals, can then consider, and take a position between. There are opposing philosophical positions concerning the feasibility of co-creating a common, shared, social reality, called weak and strong.

John R. Searle does not elucidate the terms strong and weak in his book The Construction of Social Reality,[33] but he clearly uses them in his Chinese room argument, where he debates the feasibility of creating a computing machine with a sharable understanding of reality, and he adds "We are precisely such machines." Strong artificial intelligence (Strong AI) is the bet that computer programmers will somehow eventually achieve a computing machine with a mind of its own, and that it will eventually be more powerful than a human mind. Weak AI bets they won't.

David Deutsch in his book The Fabric of Reality uses a form of strong Turing principle to share Frank Tipler's view of the final state of the universe as an omnipotent (but not omniscient), Omega point, computer. But this computer is a society of creative thinkers, or people (albeit posthuman transhuman persons), having debates in order to generate information, in the never-ending attempt to attain omniscience of this physics—its evolutionary forms, its computational abilities, and the methods of its epistemology—having an eternity to do so. (p. 356)

Because both the Chinese room argument and the construction of social reality deal with Searle and his debates, and because they both use weak and strong to denote a philosophical position, and because both debate the programmability of "the other", it is worth noting the correspondence that "strong AI" is strong social constructionism, and "weak AI" is weak social constructivism.

Strong social constructivism says "none are able to communicate either a full reality or an accurate ontology, therefore my position must impose, by a sort of divine right, my observer-relative epistemology", whereas weak social constructivism says "none are able to know a full reality, therefore we must cooperate, informing and conveying an objective ontology as best we can."[34]

Weak teleology

Weak social constructionism sees the underlying, objective, "brute fact" elements of the class of languages and functional assignments of human, metaphysical, reality. Brute facts are all facts that are not institutional facts (e.g., metaphysical, social agreement). The skeptic portrays the weak aspect of social constructivism, and wants to spend effort debating the institutional realities.

Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker[35] writes that "some categories really are social constructions: they exist only because people tacitly agree to act as if they exist. Examples include money, tenure, citizenship, decorations for bravery, and the presidency of the United States."

In a similar vein, Stanley Fish[36] has suggested that baseball's "balls and strikes" are social constructions.[37]:29–31

Both Fish and Pinker agree that the sorts of objects indicated here can be described as part of what John Searle calls "social reality."[38]:22 In particular, they are, in Searle's terms, ontologically subjective but epistemologically objective.[33]:63 "Social facts" are temporally, ontologically, and logically dependent on "brute facts." For example, "money" in the form of its raw materials (rag, pulp, ink) as constituted socially for barter (for example by a banking system) is a social fact of "money" by virtue of (i) collectively willing and intending (ii) to impose some particular function (purpose for which), (iii) by constitutive rules atop the "brute facts." "Social facts have the remarkable feature of having no analogue among physical brute facts" (34). The existence of language is itself constitutive of the social fact (37), which natural or brute facts do not require. Natural or "brute" facts exist independently of language; thus a "mountain" is a mountain in every language and in no language; it simply is what it is.[33]:29, et seq

Searle illustrates the evolution of social facts from brute facts by the constitutive rule: X counts as Y in C. "The Y terms has to assign a new status that the object does not already have just in virtue of satisfying the Y term; and there has to be collective agreement, or at least acceptance, both in the imposition of that status on the stuff referred to by the X term and about the function that goes with that status. Furthermore, because the physical features brute facts specified by the X term are insufficient by themselves to guarantee the fulfillment of the assigned function specified by the Y term, the new status and its attendant functions have to be the sort of things that can be constituted by collective agreement or acceptance."[33]:44

It is true or false that language is not a "brute fact," that it is an institutional fact, a human convention, a metaphysical reality (that happens to be physically uttered), but Searle points out that there are language-independent thoughts "noninstitutional, primitive, biological inclinations and cognitions not requiring any linguistic devices," and that there are many "brute facts" amongst both humans and animals that are truths that should not be altered in the social constructs because language does not truly constitute them, despite the attempt to institute them for any group's gain: money and property are language dependent, but desires (thirst, hunger) and emotions (fear, rage) are not.[33]:62 (In Meditations on First Philosophy Rene Descartes describes the difference between imagination as a sort of vision, or image, and intellect as conceptualizing things by symbolic manipulation.) Therefore, there is doubt that society or a computer can be completely programmed by language and images, (because there is a programmable, emotive effect of images that derives from the language of judgment towards images).

Finally, against the strong theory and for the weak theory, Searle insists, "it could not be the case, as some have maintained, that all facts are institutional [i.e., social] facts, that there are no brute facts, because the structure of institutional facts reveals that they are logically dependent on brute facts. To suppose that all facts are institutional [i.e., social] would produce an infinite regress or circularity in the account of institutional facts. In order that some facts are institutional, there must be other facts that are brute [i.e., physical, biological, natural]. This is the consequence of the logical structure of institutional facts.".[33]:56

Ian Hacking, Canadian philosopher of science, insists, "the notion that everything is socially constructed has been going the rounds. John Searle [1995] argues vehemently (and in my opinion cogently) against universal constructionism."[39]:24 "Universal social constructionism is descended from the doctrine that I once named linguistic idealism and attributed, only half in jest, to Richard Nixon [Hacking, 1975, p. 182]. Linguistic idealism is the doctrine that only what is talked about exists, nothing has reality until it is spoken of, or written about. This extravagant notion is descended from Berkeley's idea-ism, which we call idealism: the doctrine that all that exists is mental."[39]:24 "They are a part of what John Searle [1995] calls social reality. His book is titled the Construction of Social Reality, and as I explained elsewhere [Hacking, 1996], that is not a social construction book at all."[39]:12

Hacking observes, "the label 'social constructionism' is more code than description"[39]:15 of every Leftist, Marxist, Freudian, and Feminist PostModernist to call into question every moral, sex, gender, power, and deviant claim as just another essentialist claim—including the claim that members of the male and female sex are inherently different, rather than historically and socially constructed. Hacking observes that his 1995 simplistic dismissal of the concept actually revealed to many readers the outrageous implications of the theorists: Is child abuse a real evil, or a social construct, asked Hacking? His dismissive attitude, "gave some readers a way to see that there need be no clash between construction and reality,"[39]:29 inasmuch as "the metaphor of social construction once had excellent shock value, but now it has become tired."[39]:35

Informally, they require human practices to sustain their existence, but they have an effect that is (basically) universally agreed upon. The disagreement lies in whether this category should be called "socially constructed."[40] argues that it should not. Furthermore, it is not clear that authors who write "social construction" analyses ever mean "social construction" in Pinker's sense.[41] If they never do, then Pinker (probably among others) has misunderstood the point of a social constructionist argument.

To understand how weak social constructionism can conclude that metaphysics (a human affair) is not the entire "reality," see the arguments against the study of metaphysics. This inability to accurately share the full reality, even given time for a rational conversation, is similarly proclaimed by weak artificial intelligence.

History and development

Berger and Luckmann

Constructionism became prominent in the U.S. with Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann's 1966 book, The Social Construction of Reality. Berger and Luckmann argue that all knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common sense knowledge of everyday reality, is derived from and maintained by social interactions. When people interact, they do so with the understanding that their respective perceptions of reality are related, and as they act upon this understanding their common knowledge of reality becomes reinforced. Since this common sense knowledge is negotiated by people, human typifications, significations and institutions come to be presented as part of an objective reality, particularly for future generations who were not involved in the original process of negotiation. For example, as parents negotiate rules for their children to follow, those rules confront the children as externally produced "givens" that they cannot change. Berger and Luckmann's social constructionism has its roots in phenomenology. It links to Heidegger and Edmund Husserl through the teaching of Alfred Schutz, who was also Berger's PhD adviser.

Narrative turn

During the 1970s and 1980s, social constructionist theory underwent a transformation as constructionist sociologists engaged with the work of Michel Foucault and others as a narrative turn in the social sciences was worked out in practice. This particularly affected the emergent sociology of science and the growing field of science and technology studies. In particular, Karin Knorr-Cetina, Bruno Latour, Barry Barnes, Steve Woolgar, and others used social constructionism to relate what science has typically characterized as objective facts to the processes of social construction, with the goal of showing that human subjectivity imposes itself on those facts we take to be objective, not solely the other way around. A particularly provocative title in this line of thought is Andrew Pickering's Constructing Quarks: A Sociological History of Particle Physics. At the same time, Social Constructionism shaped studies of technology – the Sofield, especially on the Social construction of technology, or SCOT, and authors as Wiebe Bijker, Trevor Pinch, Maarten van Wesel, etc.[42][43] Despite its common perception as objective, mathematics is not immune to social constructionist accounts. Sociologists such as Sal Restivo and Randall Collins, mathematicians including Reuben Hersh and Philip J. Davis, and philosophers including Paul Ernest have published social constructionist treatments of mathematics.

Postmodernism

Social constructionism can be seen as a source of the postmodern movement, and has been influential in the field of cultural studies. Some have gone so far as to attribute the rise of cultural studies (the cultural turn) to social constructionism. Within the social constructionist strand of postmodernism, the concept of socially constructed reality stresses the ongoing mass-building of worldviews by individuals in dialectical interaction with society at a time. The numerous realities so formed comprise, according to this view, the imagined worlds of human social existence and activity, gradually crystallized by habit into institutions propped up by language conventions, given ongoing legitimacy by mythology, religion and philosophy, maintained by therapies and socialization, and subjectively internalized by upbringing and education to become part of the identity of social citizens.

In the book The Reality of Social Construction, the British sociologist Dave Elder-Vass places the development of social constructionism as one outcome of the legacy of postmodernism. He writes "Perhaps the most widespread and influential product of this process [coming to terms with the legacy of postmodernism] is social constructionism, which has been booming [within the domain of social theory] since the 1980s."[44]

Criticisms

Social constructionism falls toward the nurture end of the spectrum of the larger nature and nurture debate. Consequently, critics have argued that it generally ignores the contribution made by physical and biological sciences. It particularly denies the influences of biology on behaviour and culture, or suggests that they are unimportant to achieve an understanding of human behaviour.[45] The view of most psychologists and social scientists is that behaviour is a complex outcome of both biological and cultural influences.[46][47] Other disciplines, such as evolutionary psychology, behaviour genetics, behavioural neuroscience, epigenetics, etc., take a nature–nurture interactionism approach to understand behaviour or cultural phenomena.

In 1996, to illustrate what he believed to be the intellectual weaknesses of social constructionism and postmodernism, physics professor Alan Sokal submitted an article to the academic journal Social Text deliberately written to be incomprehensible but including phrases and jargon typical of the articles published by the journal. The submission, which was published, was an experiment to see if the journal would "publish an article liberally salted with nonsense if (a) it sounded good and (b) it flattered the editors' ideological preconceptions."[48] The Postmodernism Generator is a computer program that is designed to produce similarly incomprehensible text.[49] In 1999, Sokal, with coauthor Jean Bricmont published the book Fashionable Nonsense, which criticized postmodernism and social constructionism.

Philosopher Paul Boghossian has also written against social constructionism. He follows Ian Hacking's argument that many adopt social constructionism because of its potentially liberating stance: if things are the way that they are only because of our social conventions, as opposed to being so naturally, then it should be possible to change them into how we would rather have them be. He then states that social constructionists argue that we should refrain from making absolute judgements about what is true and instead state that something is true in the light of this or that theory. Countering this, he states:

But it is hard to see how we might coherently follow this advice. Given that the propositions which make up epistemic systems are just very general propositions about what absolutely justifies what, it makes no sense to insist that we abandon making absolute particular judgements about what justifies what while allowing us to accept absolute general judgements about what justifies what. But in effect this is what the epistemic relativist is recommending.[50]

Later in the same work, Boghossian severely constrains the requirements of relativism. He states that instead of believing that any world view is just as true as any other (cultural relativism), we should believe that:

If we were to encounter an actual, coherent, fundamental, genuine alternative to our epistemic system, C2, whose track record was impressive enough to make us doubt the correctness of our own system, C1, we would not be able to justify C1 over C2 even by our own lights.

Woolgar and Pawluch[51] argue that constructionists tend to 'ontological gerrymander' social conditions in and out of their analysis. Following this point, Thibodeaux[52] argued that constructionism can both separate and combine a subject and their effective environment. To resolve this he argued that objective conditions should be used when analyzing how perspectives are motivated.

Social constructionism has been criticized by psychologists such as University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson and evolutionary psychologists, including Steven Pinker in his book The Blank Slate.[53] John Tooby and Leda Cosmides used the term "standard social science model" to refer to social-science philosophies that they argue fail to take into account the evolved properties of the brain.[54]

See also

References

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Further reading

Books

  • Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, The Social Construction of Reality : A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (Anchor, 1967; ISBN 0-385-05898-5).
  • Joel Best, Images of Issues: Typifying Contemporary Social Problems, New York: Gruyter, 1989
  • Ian Hacking, The Social Construction of What? Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1999; ISBN 0-674-81200-X
  • John Searle, The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press, 1995; ISBN 0-02-928045-1 .
  • Charles Arthur Willard, Liberalism and the Problem of Knowledge: A New Rhetoric for Modern Democracy Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996; ISBN 0-226-89845-8.
  • Vivien Burr. Social Constructionism, 2nd ed. Routledge 2003.
  • Wilson, D. S. (2005), "Evolutionary Social Constructivism". In J. Gottshcall and D. S. Wilson, (Eds.), The Literary Animal: Evolution and the Nature of Narrative. Evanston, IL, Northwestern University Press; ISBN 0-8101-2286-3. Full text
  • Sal Restivo and Jennifer Croissant, "Social Constructionism in Science and Technology Studies" (Handbook of Constructionist Research, ed. J.A. Holstein & J.F. Gubrium) Guilford, NY 2008, 213–229; ISBN 978-1-59385-305-1
  • Ellul, Jacques. Propaganda: The Formation of Men's Attitudes. Trans. Konrad Kellen & Jean Lerner. New York: Knopf, 1965. New York: Random House/ Vintage 1973
  • Paul Ernest, (1998), Social Constructivism as a Philosophy of Mathematics; Albany, New York: State University of New York Press
  • Kenneth Gergen, (2015, 3d edition, first 1999), An Invitation to Social Construction. Los Angeles: Sage.
  • Glasersfeld, Ernst von (1995), Radical Constructivism: A Way of Knowing and Learning. London: RoutledgeFalmer.
  • Hibberd, Fiona J. (2005), Unfolding Social Constructionism. New York: Springer. ISBN 0-387-22974-4
  • André Kukla (2000), Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science, London: Routledge, ISBN 0-415-23419-0, ISBN 978-0-415-23419-1
  • Poerksen, Bernhard (2004), The Certainty of Uncertainty: Dialogues Introducing Constructivism. Exeter: Imprint-Academic.
  • Schmidt, Siegfried J. (2007), Histories and Discourses: Rewriting Constructivism. Exeter: Imprint-Academic.
  • Sheila McNamee and Kenneth Gergen (1999). Relational Responsibility: Resources for Sustainable Dialogue. Thousand Oaks, California: Sage, Inc. ISBN 0-7619-1094-8.
  • Sheila McNamee and Kenneth Gergen (Eds.) (1992). Therapy as Social Construction. London: Sage ISBN 0-8039-8303-4.
  • Lowenthal, P., & Muth, R. (2008). Constructivism. In E. F. Provenzo, Jr. (Ed.), Encyclopedia of the social and cultural foundations of education (pp. 177–179). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
  • Paul Boghossian (2006). Fear of Knowledge: Against Relativism and Constructivism. Oxford University Press. Online review: http://ndpr.nd.edu/news/25184/?id=8364
  • Darin Weinberg. 2014. Contemporary Social Constructionism: Key Themes. Philadelphia, PA: Temple University Press

Articles

  • Kitsuse JI, Spector M. "Toward a sociology of social problems: Social conditions, value-judgements, and social problems", Social Problems, 20(4) 407-19, 1973
  • Mallon, Ron, "Naturalistic Approaches to Social Construction", The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, Edward N. Zalta (ed.).
  • Metzner, Andreas (1998), "Constructions of Environmental Issues in Scientific and Public Discourse", in: Mueller, F.; Leupelt, M. (Eds.): Eco Targets, Goal Functions and Orientors. Berlin, Heidelberg, New York (Springer Publishers) 1998, pp. 171–192
  • Drost, Alexander. "Borders. A Narrative Turn – Reflections on Concepts, Practices and their Communication", in: Olivier Mentz and Tracey McKay (eds.), Unity in Diversity. European Perspectives on Borders and Memories, Berlin 2017, pp. 14-33.

External links

Anthropological theories of value

Anthropological theories of value attempt to expand on the traditional theories of value used by economists or ethicists. They are often broader in scope than the theories of value of Adam Smith, David Ricardo, John Stuart Mill, Karl Marx, etc. usually including sociological, political, institutional, and historical perspectives (transdisciplinarity). Some have influenced feminist economics.

The basic premise is that economic activities can only be fully understood in the context of the society that creates them. The concept of "value" is a social construct, and as such is defined by the culture using the concept. Yet we can gain some insights into modern patterns of exchange, value, and wealth by examining previous societies. An anthropological approach to economic processes allows us to critically examine the cultural biases inherent in the principles of modern economics. Anthropological linguistics is a related field that looks at the terms we use to describe economic relations and the ecologies they are set within. Many anthropological economists (or economic anthropologists) are reacting against what they see as the portrayal of modern society as an economic machine that merely produces and consumes.

Marcel Mauss and Bronisław Malinowski for example wrote about objects that circulate in society without being consumed. Georges Bataille wrote about objects that are destroyed, but not consumed. Bruce Owens talks about objects of value that are neither circulating nor consumed (e.g. gold reserves, warehoused paintings, family heirlooms).

Consensus reality

Consensus reality is that which is generally agreed to be reality, based on a consensus view.

The appeal to consensus arises from the fact that humans do not fully understand or agree upon the nature of knowledge or ontology, often making it uncertain what is real, given the vast inconsistencies between individual subjectivities. We can, however, seek to obtain some form of consensus, with others, of what is real. We can use this consensus as a pragmatic guide, either on the assumption that it seems to approximate some kind of valid reality, or simply because it is more "practical" than perceived alternatives. Consensus reality therefore refers to the agreed-upon concepts of reality which people in the world, or a culture or group, believe are real (or treat as real), usually based upon their common experiences as they believe them to be; anyone who does not agree with these is sometimes stated to be "in effect... living in a different world."Throughout history this has also raised a social question as to the effects of a society in which all individuals do not agree upon the same reality.

Children have sometimes been described or viewed as "inexperience[d] with consensus reality," though are described as such with the expectation that their perspective will progressively form closer to the consensus reality of their society as they age.

Geographical segregation

Geographical segregation exists whenever the proportions of population rates of two or more populations are not homogenous throughout a defined space. Populations can be considered any plant or animal species, human genders, followers of a certain religion, people of different nationalities, ethnic groups, etc.

In social geography segregation of ethnic groups, social classes and genders is often measured by the calculation of indices such as the index of dissimilarity. Different dimensions of segregation (or its contrary) are recognised: exposure, evenness, clustering, concentration, centralisation, etc. More recent studies also highlight new local indices of segregation.

Imagined community

An imagined community is a concept developed by Benedict Anderson in his 1983 book Imagined Communities, to analyze nationalism. Anderson depicts a nation as a socially constructed community, imagined by the people who perceive themselves as part of that group.The media also creates imagined communities, through usually targeting a mass audience or generalizing and addressing citizens as the public. Another way that the media can create imagined communities is through the use of images. The media can perpetuate stereotypes through certain images and vernacular. By showing certain images, the audience will choose which image they relate to the most, furthering the relationship to that imagined community.

Invented tradition

The invention of tradition is a concept made prominent in the eponymous 1983 book edited by British Marxist intellectual E. J. Hobsbawm and T. O. Ranger. In the Introduction, Hobsbawm argues that many "traditions" which "appear or claim to be old are often quite recent in origin and sometimes invented." They distinguish the "invention" of traditions in this sense from "starting" or "initiating" a tradition which does not then claim to be old. The phenomenon is particularly clear in the modern development of the nation and of nationalism, creating a national identity promoting national unity, and legitimising certain institutions or cultural practices.

Overqualification

Overqualification is the state of being skilled or educated beyond what is necessary for a job. There can often be high costs for companies associated with training employees. This could be a problem for professionals applying for a job where they significantly exceed the job requirements because potential employers may feel they are using the position as a stepping stone.

In some societies, overqualification has become increasingly common as the proportion of college graduates in a population grows faster than the proportion of jobs in an economy which actually require college-level skills.

Postmodern social construction of nature

The postmodern social construction of nature is a theorem or speculation of postmodernist continental philosophy that poses an alternative critique of previous mainstream, Promethean discourse about environmental sustainability and ecopolitics.

Purity and Danger

Purity and Danger: An Analysis of Concepts of Pollution and Taboo is a 1966 book by the anthropologist and cultural theorist Mary Douglas. It is her best known work. In 1991 the Times Literary Supplement listed it as one of the hundred most influential non-fiction books published since 1945. It has gone through numerous reprints and re-editions (1969, 1970, 1978, 1984, 1991, 2002). In 2003 a further edition was brought out as volume 2 in Mary Douglas: Collected Works (ISBN 0415291054).

Racial polarization

Racial polarization is the process whereby a population, the individuals of which have varying degrees of diversity in their ancestry, is divided into separate, and distinct (from each other) racial groups.

Real life

"Real life" is a phrase used originally in literature to distinguish between the real world and fictional or idealized worlds, and in acting to distinguish between performers and the characters they portray. More recently, it has become a popular term on the Internet to describe events, people, activities, and interactions occurring offline; or otherwise not primarily through the medium of the Internet. It is also used as a metaphor to distinguish life in a vocational setting as opposed to an academic one.

Sally Haslanger

Sally Haslanger () is an American philosopher and professor. She is the Ford Professor of Philosophy in the Department of Linguistics and Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. She held the 2015 Spinoza Chair of Philosophy at the University of Amsterdam.

Social construction of technology

Social construction of technology (also referred to as SCOT) is a theory within the field of science and technology studies. Advocates of SCOT—that is, social constructivists—argue that technology does not determine human action, but that rather, human action shapes technology. They also argue that the ways a technology is used cannot be understood without understanding how that technology is embedded in its social context. SCOT is a response to technological determinism and is sometimes known as technological constructivism.

SCOT draws on work done in the constructivist school of the sociology of scientific knowledge, and its subtopics include actor-network theory (a branch of the sociology of science and technology) and historical analysis of sociotechnical systems, such as the work of historian Thomas P. Hughes. Its empirical methods are an adaptation of the Empirical Programme of Relativism (EPOR), which outlines a method of analysis to demonstrate the ways in which scientific findings are socially constructed (see strong program). Leading adherents of SCOT include Wiebe Bijker and Trevor Pinch.

SCOT holds that those who seek to understand the reasons for acceptance or rejection of a technology should look to the social world. It is not enough, according to SCOT, to explain a technology's success by saying that it is "the best"—researchers must look at how the criteria of being "the best" is defined and what groups and stakeholders participate in defining it. In particular, they must ask who defines the technical criteria success is measured by, why technical criteria are defined this way, and who is included or excluded. Pinch and Bijker argue that technological determinism is a myth that results when one looks backwards and believes that the path taken to the present was the only possible path.

SCOT is not only a theory, but also a methodology: it formalizes the steps and principles to follow when one wants to analyze the causes of technological failures or successes.

Social constructivism

Social constructivism is a sociological theory of knowledge according to which human development is socially situated and knowledge is constructed through interaction with others.

Social occultation

Social occultation occurs when a particular set of cultural values and beliefs combine with the operation of personal and mass media communication functions leads to lacunae, or blind spots.

Intentional social occultation is the process of creating social invisibility while not completely denying the reality of a social circumstance, issue, or problem. Social occultation is a dynamic of social constructionism. For example, the recent abuses by the USA military at Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq were made highly visible and resulted in shock and outrage in the USA. In contrast, the daily practices of humiliation and abuse in some prison settings in the USA get almost no public attention.In various circumstances, certain social sub-groups and situations may have attention deflected away; this deflection may be institutionalized in media bias.

As a dynamic of political or social intolerance, when segregation is not possible or desirable, social occultation may be found in individual behaviors and in organizational policies. Outgroups have frequently sought visibility as a vehicle to address issues of concern. For example, in 2004-2005 the incidence of violence to transgender people in Washington DC was a case where members of the outgroup considered public attention to be lacking.

Incidental neglect of an issue differs from deliberate posturing (a subversive process) to systematically ignore (in whole or part) the issue as a matter of political or social preference.

Social reality

Social reality is distinct from biological reality or individual cognitive reality, representing as it does a phenomenological level created through social interaction and thereby transcending individual motives and actions. The product of human dialogue, social reality may be considered as consisting of the accepted social tenets of a community, involving thereby relatively stable laws and social representations. Radical constructivism would cautiously describe social reality as the product of uniformities among observers (whether or not including the current observer themselves).

Social shaping of technology

According to Robin A. Williams and David Edge (1996), "Central to social shaping of technology (SST) is the concept that there are choices (though not necessarily conscious choices) inherent in both the design of individual artifacts and systems, and in the direction or trajectory of innovation programs."

If technology does not emerge from the unfolding of a predetermined logic or a single determinant, then innovation is a 'garden of forking paths'. Different routes are available, potentially leading to different technological outcomes. Significantly, these choices could have differing implications for society and for particular social groups.

SST is one of the models of the technology: society relationship which emerged in the 1980s with MacKenzie and Wajcman's influential 1985 collection, alongside Pinch and Bijker's social construction of technology framework and Callon and Latour's actor-network theory. These have a common feature of criticism of the linear model of innovation and technological determinism. It differs from these notably in the attention it pays to the influence of the social and technological context of development which shapes innovation choices. SST is concerned to explore the material consequences of different technical choices, but criticizes technological determinism, which argues that technology follows its own developmental path, outside of human influences, and in turn, influences society. In this way, social shaping theorists conceive the relationship between technology and society as one of 'mutual shaping'.

Some versions of this theory state that technology affects society by affordances, constraints, preconditions, and unintended consequences (Baym, 2015). Affordance is the idea that technology makes specific tasks easier in our lives, while constraints make tasks harder to complete. The preconditions of technology are the skills and resources that are vital to using the technology to its fullest potential. Finally, the unintended consequences of technology are unanticipated effects and impact of technology. The cell phone is an example of social shaping of technology (Zulto 2009). The cell phone has evolved over the years to make our lives easier by providing people with handheld computers that can answer calls, answer emails, search for information, and complete numerous other tasks (Zulto, 2009). Yet it has constraints for those that are not technologically savvy, hindering many people in society who do not understand how to utilize these devices. There are preconditions, such as monthly bills and access to electricity. There are also many unintended consequences such as the unintended distraction they cause for many people.

Not only does technology affect society, but according to SST, society affects technology by way of economics, politics, and culture (Baym, 2015). For instance, cell phones have spread in poor countries due to cell phones being more affordable than a computer and internet service (economics), government regulations which have made it fairly easy for cell phone providers to build networks (politics), and the small size of cell phones which fit easily into many cultures’ need for mobile communication (culture).

Sociology of scientific knowledge

The sociology of scientific knowledge (SSK) is the study of science as a social activity, especially dealing with "the social conditions and effects of science, and with the social structures and processes of scientific activity." The sociology of scientific ignorance (SSI) is complementary to the sociology of scientific knowledge. For comparison, the sociology of knowledge studies the impact of human knowledge and the prevailing ideas on societies and relations between knowledge and the social context within which it arises.

Sociologists of scientific knowledge study the development of a scientific field and attempt to identify points of contingency or interpretative flexibility where ambiguities are present. Such variations may be linked to a variety of political, historical, cultural or economic factors. Crucially, the field does not set out to promote relativism or to attack the scientific project; the aim of the researcher is to explain why one interpretation rather than another succeeds due to external social and historical circumstances.

The field emerged in the late 1960s and early 1970s and at first was an almost exclusively British practice. Other early centers for the development of the field were in France, Germany, and the United States (notably at Cornell University). Major theorists include Barry Barnes, David Bloor, Sal Restivo, Randall Collins, Gaston Bachelard, Harry Collins, Paul Feyerabend, Steve Fuller, Martin Kusch, Bruno Latour, Mike Mulkay, Derek J. de Solla Price, Lucy Suchman and Anselm Strauss.

Thomas Luckmann

Thomas Luckmann (; October 14, 1927 – May 10, 2016) was an American-Austrian sociologist of German and Slovene origin who taught mainly in Germany. His contributions were central to studies in sociology of communication, sociology of knowledge, sociology of religion, and the philosophy of science.

Value judgment

A value judgment (or value judgement) is a judgment of the rightness or wrongness of something or someone, or of the usefulness of something or someone, based on a comparison or other relativity. As a generalization, a value judgment can refer to a judgment based upon a particular set of values or on a particular value system. A related meaning of value judgment is an expedient evaluation based upon limited information at hand, an evaluation undertaken because a decision must be made on short notice.

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