Social reality

Social reality[1] 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.[2] 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.[3] Radical constructivism would cautiously describe social reality as the product of uniformities among observers (whether or not including the current observer themselves).[4]

Schütz, Durkheim, and Spencer

The problem of social reality has been treated exhaustively by philosophers in the phenomenological tradition, particularly Alfred Schütz, who used the term "social world" to designate this distinct level of reality. Within the social world, Schütz distinguished between social reality that could be experienced directly (umwelt) and a social reality beyond the immediate horizon, which could yet be experienced if sought out.[5] In his wake, ethnomethodology explored further the unarticulated structure of our everyday competence and ability with social reality.[6]

Previously, the subject had been addressed in sociology as well as other disciplines. For example, Émile Durkheim stressed the distinct nature of "the social kingdom. Here more than anywhere else the idea is the reality".[7] Herbert Spencer had coined the term super-organic to distinguish the social level of reality above the biological and psychological.[8]


John Searle has used the theory of speech acts to explore the nature of social/institutional reality, so as to describe such aspects of social reality which he instances under the rubrics of "marriage, property, hiring, firing, war, revolutions, cocktail parties, governments, meetings, unions, parliaments, corporations, laws, restaurants, vacations, lawyers, professors, doctors, medieval knights, and taxes, for example".[9]

Searle argued that such institutional realities interact with each other in what he called "systematic relationships (e.g., governments, marriages, corporations, universities, armies, churches)"[10] to create a multi-layered social reality.

For Searle, language was the key to the formation of social reality because "language is precisely designed to be a self-identifying category of institutional facts"; i.e., a system of publicly and widely accepted symbols which "persist through time independently of the urges and inclinations of the participants."[11]


There is a debate in social theory about whether social reality exists independently of people's involvement with it, or whether (as in social constructionism) it is only created by the human process of ongoing interaction.[12]

Peter L. Berger argued for a new concern with the basic process of the social construction of reality.[13] Berger stated that the social construction of reality was a process made up of three steps: externalization, objectivation and internalization. In similar fashion, post-Sartrians like R. D. Laing stress that, "once certain fundamental structures of experience are shared, they come to be experienced as objective entities...they take on the force and character of partial autonomous realities, with their own way of life".[14] Yet at the same time, Laing insisted that such a socially real grouping "can be nothing else than the multiplicity of the points of view and actions of its members...even where, through the interiorization of this multiplicity as synthesized by each, this synthesized multiplicity becomes ubiquitous in space and enduring in time".[15]

The existence of a social reality independent of individuals or the ecology would seem at odds with the views of perceptual psychology, including those of J. J. Gibson, and those of most ecological economics theories.

Scholars such as John Searle argue on the one hand that "a socially constructed reality presupposes a reality independent of all social constructions".[16] At the same time, he accepts that social realities are humanly created, and that "the secret to understanding the continued existence of institutional facts is simply that the individuals directly involved and a sufficient number of members of the relevant communities must continue to recognize and accept the existence of such facts".[17]

Socialisation and the Capital Other

Freud saw a child's induction into social reality as consolidated with the passing of the Oedipus complex and the internalisation of the parents: "the same figures who continue to operate in the super-ego as the agency we know as conscience...also belong to the real external world. It is from there that they were drawn; their power, behind which lie hidden all the influences of the past and of tradition, was one of the most strongly-felt manifestations of reality".[18]

Lacan clarified the point by stressing that this was "a highly significant moment in the transfer of powers from the subject to the Other, what I call the Capital Other...the field of the Other – which, strictly speaking, is the Oedipus complex".[19] Lacan considered that "the Oedipus complex...superimposes the kingdom of culture on that of nature",[20] bringing the child into the Symbolic Order.

Within that order, Lacanians consider that "institutions, as signifying practices, are much more extensive structures than romantic notions allow and they thus implicate us in ways which narrower definitions cannot recognize...exceed any intersubjective intention or effect".[21] In similar fashion, Searle asserts that "institutional power – massive, pervasive, and typically invisible – permeates every nook and cranny of our social lives...the invisible structure of social reality".[22]

Measuring trust

If one accepts the validity of the idea of social reality, scientifically, it must be amenable to measurement, something which has been explored particularly in relation to trust. "Trust is...part of a community's social capital, as Francis Fukuyama argues, and has deep historical and cultural roots".[23]

Theories of the measurement of trust in the sociological community are usually called theories of social capital, to emphasize the connection to economics, and the ability to measure outputs in the same feeling.


One aspect of social reality is the principle of the "big lie", which states that an outrageous untruth is easier to convince people of than a less outrageous truth. Many examples from politics and theology (e.g., the claim that the Roman Emperor was in fact a "god") demonstrate that this principle was known by effective propagandists from early times, and continues to be applied to this day. The propaganda model of Noam Chomsky and Edward S. Herman supports the "big lie" thesis with more specifics.

See also


  1. ^ Berger, Peter (1967). The Sacred Canopy: Elements of a Sociological Theory of Religion. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, Inc. pp. 3–28.
  2. ^ MacKinnon, N. J., Heise, D. R. (2010). Social reality and human subjectivity. Palgrave. pp. 219–234.CS1 maint: Multiple names: authors list (link)
  3. ^ Ireke Bockting, Character and Personality in the Novels of William Faulkner (1995) p. 25
  4. ^ Niklas Luhmann, Theories of Distinction (2002) p. 136
  5. ^ George Walsh, "Introduction", Alfred Schütz, The Phenomenology of the Social World (1997)p. xxvii
  6. ^ John O'Neill, Sociology as a Skin Trade (London 1972) p. 217
  7. ^ Quoted in T. van der Eyden, Public Management of Society (2003) p. 487
  8. ^ Herbert Spencer, The Principles of Sociology, Vol. 1, Part 1. "The Data of Sociology"(1876)
  9. ^ John R. Searle, The Construction of Social Reality (Penguin 1996) p. 79
  10. ^ Searle, p. 97
  11. ^ Searle, p. 73 and p. 78
  12. ^ Antony Giddens, Sociology (2006) p. 152
  13. ^ John O'Neill, Sociology as a Skin Trade (London 1972) p. 168
  14. ^ R. D. Laing, The Politics of Experience (Penguin 1984) p. 65
  15. ^ Laing, p. 81
  16. ^ Searle, p. 190
  17. ^ Searle, p. 190 and p. 117
  18. ^ Sigmund Freud, On Metapsychology (PFL 11) p. 422
  19. ^ Jacques Lacan, The Four Fundamental Concepts of Psycho-Analysis (Penguin 1994) p. 129 and p. 205
  20. ^ Jacques Lacan, Écrits: A Selection (1997) p. 66
  21. ^ Joan Copjec, in Jacques Lacan, Television (London 1990) p. 51-2
  22. ^ Searle, p. 94 and p. 4
  23. ^ Will Hutton, The State to Come (London 1997) p. 31

Further reading

  • Alfred Schutz, The Problem of Social Reality (1973)
  • Berger, P. L. and Luckmann, T. 1966 . The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge, New York: Penguin Books

External links

Alfred Schütz

Alfred Schutz (; born Alfred Schütz, German: [ʃʏts]; 1899–1959) was an Austrian philosopher and social phenomenologist whose work bridged sociological and phenomenological traditions. Schutz is gradually being recognized as one of the twentieth century's leading philosophers of social science. He related Edmund Husserl's work to the social sciences, and influenced Max Weber's legacy of philosophical foundations for sociology and economics through Schutz's major work, Phenomenology of the Social World.

Budapest school

The Budapest school, or documentarism, was a Hungarian film movement that flourished from roughly 1972 to 1984. The movement originated from Béla Balázs Studios, a small-budget filmmaking community that aimed to unite the young avant-garde and underground filmmakers of Hungary and give them an opportunity to make experimental works without state censorship. The Balázs studio gave birth to two main movements in the early 1970s: an experimental, avant-garde group (led by individuals like Gábor Bódy), and the documentarist group, whose main goal was the portrayal of absolute social-reality on screen. This movement was called "Budapest school" by an Italian film critic on a European film festival. Soon they adopted this name.

The main founders and leaders of the group were István Dárday, Györgyi Szalai, Judit Ember and Pál Schiffer. Many young and sometimes amateur artists were invited to the group by fellow filmmakers, especially Béla Tarr, who made his debut film at the age of 22 with financing from the Béla Balázs Studios.

Films of the movement were generally (but not always) shot with amateur equipment, mostly hand-held cameras, and usually by two or more cameras at the same time. Non-professional actors, who most of the time socially resembled their characters, were cast. These films also avoided pre-written scripts, with only a basic scenario and certain plot elements pre-written, and the cast members' reactions improvised on the set. Most films were shot in a very short period of time with a very limited budget or no budget at all. Their central themes were mostly the lives of working class and poor people in urban Hungary and their struggle to have a decent existence. The main goal of the movement was to show absolute reality on screen instead of the false escapism shown by commercial and mainstream films.

The Budapest school movement closely resembled cinema verité. The first full-length film made in this manner was Jutalomutazás ("The Prize Trip") (1975) by István Dárday and Györgyi Szalai. The best-known example of the movement is "Családi tűzfészek" ("Family Nest") (1979) by Béla Tarr.

Chalkhill Estate

Chalkhill Estate is located in the Wembley Park area of northwest London. It was one of three large council estates built in the London Borough of Brent, along with Stonebridge and South Kilburn. The design was based on that of Park Hill in Sheffield.

Cognitive bias

A cognitive bias is a systematic pattern of deviation from norm or rationality in judgment. Individuals create their own "subjective social reality" from their perception of the input. An individual's construction of social reality, not the objective input, may dictate their behaviour in the social world. Thus, cognitive biases may sometimes lead to perceptual distortion, inaccurate judgment, illogical interpretation, or what is broadly called irrationality.Some cognitive biases are presumably adaptive. Cognitive biases may lead to more effective actions in a given context. Furthermore, allowing cognitive biases enable faster decisions which can be desirable when timeliness is more valuable than accuracy, as illustrated in heuristics. Other cognitive biases are a "by-product" of human processing limitations, resulting from a lack of appropriate mental mechanisms (bounded rationality), or simply from a limited capacity for information processing.A continually evolving list of cognitive biases has been identified over the last six decades of research on human judgment and decision-making in cognitive science, social psychology, and behavioral economics. Kahneman and Tversky (1996) argue that cognitive biases have efficient practical implications for areas including clinical judgment, entrepreneurship, finance, and management.

Cognitive bias in animals

Cognitive bias in animals is a pattern of deviation in judgment, whereby inferences about other animals and situations may be affected by irrelevant information or emotional states. It is sometimes said that animals create their own "subjective social reality" from their perception of the input. In humans, for example, an optimistic or pessimistic bias might affect one's answer to the question "Is the glass half empty or half full?"

To explore cognitive bias, one might train an animal to expect that a positive event follows one stimulus and that a negative event follows another stimulus. For example, on many trials, if the animal presses lever A after a 20 Hz tone it gets a highly desired food, but a press on lever B after a 10 Hz tone yields bland food. The animal is then offered both levers after an intermediate test stimulus, e.g. a 15 Hz tone. The hypothesis is that the animal's "mood" will bias the choice of levers after the test stimulus; if positive, it will tend to choose lever A, if negative it will tend to choose lever B. The hypothesis is tested by manipulating factors that might affect mood – for example, the type of housing the animal is kept in.Cognitive biases have been shown in a wide range of species including rats, dogs, rhesus macaques, sheep, chicks, starlings and honeybees.


Dispositif is a term used by the French intellectual Michel Foucault, generally to refer to the various institutional, physical, and administrative mechanisms and knowledge structures which enhance and maintain the exercise of power within the social body.


Documentality is the theory of documents that underlies the ontology of social reality put forward by the Italian philosopher Maurizio Ferraris (see Ferraris 2007, 2008, 2009a and 2009b). The theory gives to documents a central position within the sphere of social objects, conceived as distinct from physical and ideal objects. Ferraris argues that social objects are "social acts that have been inscribed on some kind of support", be it a paper document, a magnetic support, or even memory in people's heads (e.g. in the case of the promises we make every day). Thus the constitutive rule of social objects is that Object = Inscribed Act. Therefore, documents as inscriptions possessing social relevance and value embody the essential and prototypical features of any social object, and it is on this basis that it is possible to develop an ontology capable of classifying documents and their selective storage, beginning with the grand divide between strong documents (inscriptions of acts), which make up social objects in the full sense, and weak documents (recordings of facts), which are secondary derivatives and of lesser importance. This theory is inspired, on the one hand, by the reflection on the centrality of writing developed by Jacques Derrida (1967, 1972) and, on the other hand, by the theory of social acts devised by Adolf Reinach (1913) and the theory of linguistic acts by John L. Austin (1962).


Ghinnawas (literally "little songs") are short, two line emotional lyric poems written by the Bedouins of Egypt, in a fashion similar to haikus, but similar in content to the American blues. Ghinnawas typically talk of deep, personal feelings and are often an outlet for personal emotions which might not be otherwise expressible in Bedouin society. Ghinnawas may also be sung. Lila Abu Lughod - the Arab American anthropologist, who studied the Awlad Ali Bedouins in Northern Egypt in the late 1970s, and collected over 450 ghinnawas, has published the most comprehensive work on ghinnawas to date.Ghinnawa is a form of folk poetry, in the sense that anyone in Awlad Ali society could author a ghinnawa. In a broader context, ghinnawas may be looked upon as non-standard discourse which are a means of coping with social reality, similar to other discourse forms in the Arab world like the Hikaya folktales of Tunisia, or the Gussa allegories of the Bedouin of the Sinai.

Herbert Blumer

Herbert George Blumer (March 7, 1900 – April 13, 1987) was an American sociologist whose main scholarly interests were symbolic interactionism and methods of social research. Believing that individuals create social reality through collective and individual action, he was an avid interpreter and proponent of George Herbert Mead’s social psychology, which he labelled 'symbolic interactionism'. Blumer elaborated and developed this line of thought in a series of articles, many of which were brought together in the book Symbolic Interactionism. An ongoing theme throughout his work, he argued that the creation of social reality is a continuous process. Blumer was also a vociferous critic of positivistic methodological ideas in sociology.


In sociology, interactionism is a theoretical perspective that derives social processes (such as conflict, cooperation, identity formation) from human interaction. It is the study of how individuals shape society and are shaped by society through meaning that arises in interactions. Interactionist theory has grown in the latter half of the twentieth century and has become one of the dominant sociological perspectives in the world today. George Herbert Mead, as an advocate of pragmatism and the subjectivity of social reality, is considered a leader in the development of interactionism. Herbert Blumer expanded on Mead's work and coined the term "symbolic interactionism".

Italian Anarchist Federation

The Italian Anarchist Federation (Italian: Federazione Anarchica Italiana) is an Italian anarchist federation of autonomous anarchist groups all over Italy. The Italian Anarchist Federation was founded in 1945 in Carrara. It adopted an "Associative Pact" and the "Anarchist Program" of Errico Malatesta. It decided to publish the weekly Umanità Nova, retaking the name of the journal published by Errico Malatesta.

Inside the FAI a tendency grouped as (GAAP - Anarchist Groups of Proletarian Action) led by Pier Carlo Masini was founded which "proposed a Libertarian Party with an anarchist theory and practice adapted to the new economic, political and social reality of post-war Italy, with an internationalist outlook and effective presence in the workplaces...The GAAP allied themselves with a similar development within the French Anarchist movement, the Federation Communiste Libertaire, whose leading light was Georges Fontenis."In the IX Congress of the Italian Anarchist Federation in Carrara, 1965 a group decided to split off from this organization and creates the Gruppi di Iniziativa Anarchica which was mostly composed of individualist anarchists who disagreed with important aspects of the "Associative Pact" and was critical of anarcho-syndicalism. The GIA published the bi-weekly L'Internazionale. Another group split off from the Anarchist Federation and regrouped as Gruppi Anarchici Federati. The GAF later starts publishing Interrogations and A Rivista Anarchica.

In 1968 in Carrara the International of Anarchist Federations was founded during an international Anarchist conference by the three existing European federations of France, the Italian FAI and the Iberian Anarchist Federation as well as the Bulgarian federation in French exile.

In the early seventies a platformist tendency emerged within the Italian Anarchist Federation which argued for more strategic coherence and social insertion in the workers movement while rejecting the synthesist "Associative Pact" of Malatesta which the FAI adhered to. These groups started organizing themselves outside the FAI in organizations such as O.R.A. from Liguria which organized a Congress attended by 250 delegates of groups from 60 locations. In 1986, the Congress of ORA/UCAT adopted the name Federation of Anarchist Communists.

In December 2010, several news sources erroneously reported that the FAI had claimed responsibility for a series of mail bombs delivered to foreign embassies in Rome. Other media outlets attributed the bombs to another group, the insurrectionist Informal Anarchist Federation.

John Searle

John Rogers Searle (; born 31 July 1932) is an American philosopher. He was Willis S. and Marion Slusser Professor Emeritus of the Philosophy of Mind and Language and Professor of the Graduate School at the University of California, Berkeley. Widely noted for his contributions to the philosophy of language, philosophy of mind, and social philosophy, he began teaching at UC Berkeley in 1959.

As an undergraduate at the University of Wisconsin–Madison, Searle was secretary of "Students against Joseph McCarthy". He received all his university degrees, BA, MA, and DPhil, from the University of Oxford, where he held his first faculty positions. Later, at UC Berkeley, he became the first tenured professor to join the 1964–1965 Free Speech Movement. In the late 1980s, Searle challenged the restrictions of Berkeley's 1980 rent stabilization ordinance. Following what came to be known as the California Supreme Court's "Searle Decision" of 1990, Berkeley changed its rent control policy, leading to large rent increases between 1991 and 1994.

In 2000 Searle received the Jean Nicod Prize; in 2004, the National Humanities Medal; and in 2006, the Mind & Brain Prize. Searle's early work on speech acts, influenced by J. L. Austin and Ludwig Wittgenstein, helped establish his reputation. His notable concepts include the "Chinese room" argument against "strong" artificial intelligence. In June 2019 Searle was stripped of his emeritus status at the University of California, Berkeley, having violated the university’s sexual harassment policies.

Material culture

Material culture is the aspect of social reality grounded in the objects and architecture that surround people. It includes the usage, consumption, creation, and trade of objects as well as the behaviors, norms, and rituals that the objects create or take part in. Some scholars also include other intangible phenomena that include sound, smell and events, while some even consider language and media as part of it. The term is most commonly used in archaeological and anthropological studies, to define material or artifacts as they are understood in relation to specific cultural and historic contexts, communities, and belief systems. Material cultural can be described as any object that humans use to survive, define social relationships, represent facets of identity, or benefit peoples' state of mind, social, or economic standing.The scholarly analysis of material culture, which can include both human made and natural or altered objects, is called material culture studies. It is an interdisciplinary field and methodology that tells of the relationships between people and their things: the making, history, preservation, and interpretation of objects. It draws on both theory and practice from the social sciences and humanities such as art history, archaeology, anthropology, history, historic preservation, folklore, archival science, literary criticism and museum studies, among others.

Mental fact

Mental facts include such things as perceptions, feelings, and judgments. Mental facts are ultimately caused by physical facts, in that mental facts depend on physical and biological functions which are required for consciousness. The physical and biological processes which are necessary for consciousness enable conscious individuals to recognize physical and mental facts. Thus, mental facts are based on physical facts, and both physical and mental facts are required for the construction of social reality.According to John Searle, mental facts may be intentional or nonintentional, depending on whether or not they are directed at something.

Performative utterance

In the philosophy of language and speech acts theory, performative utterances are sentences which not only describe a given reality, but also change the social reality they are describing.

In his 1955 William James lecture series, which were later published under the title How to Do Things with Words, J. L. Austin argued against a positivist philosophical claim that the utterances always "describe" or "constate" something and are thus always true or false. After mentioning several examples of sentences which are not so used, and not truth-evaluable (among them nonsensical sentences, interrogatives, directives and "ethical" propositions), he introduces "performative" sentences or illocutionary act as another instance.

Recording consciousness

Bennett (1980, p. 114) describes the development of recording consciousness, the consequence of "a society which is literally wired for sound" in which, according to Middleton (1990, p. 88) "this consciousness defines the social reality of popular music." "Acoustic instruments and unamplified, 'pure'-tone singing can now not be heard except as contrasts to more recent kinds of sounds, just as live performances are inevitably 'checked' against memories of recordings," and "live performances have to try to approximate the sounds which inhabit this consciousness."

"Similarly, musicians learn to play, and learn specific songs, from records, and so 'recording consciousness' helps to explain the ubiquity of non-literate composition methods: 'sheet music is just for people who can't hear' (musician quoted in Bennett 1980, p. 139) The structure of this consciousness has been produced by various elements, among them experience of editing techniques, reverberation and echo, use of equalization to alter timbre, high decibel levels, both in general and in particular parts of the texture (notably, strong bass-lines), and the 'polyvocality' created by multi-mike or multi-channel recording. Mixing different 'earpoints' produces a 'way of hearing [that] is an acoustic expectation for anyone who listens to contemporary recordings. It cannot be achieved without the aid of electronic devices. It has never before existed on earth' (ibid, p. 119)." (Middleton 1990, p. 88)


Reflectivism is a broad umbrella label, used primarily in International Relations theory, for a range of theoretical approaches which oppose rational-choice accounts of social phenomena and, perhaps, positivism more generally. The label was popularised by Robert Keohane in his presidential address to the International Studies Association in 1988. The address was entitled "International Institutions: Two Approaches", and contrasted two broad approaches to the study of international institutions (and international phenomena more generally). One was "rationalism", the other what Keohane referred to as "reflectivism". Rationalists — including realists, neo-realists, liberals, neo-liberals, and scholars using game-theoretic or expected-utility models — are theorists who adopt the broad theoretical and ontological commitments of rational-choice theory.

The Symbolic

The Symbolic (or Symbolic Order) is a part of the psychoanalytic theory of Jacques Lacan, part of his attempt "to distinguish between those elementary registers whose grounding I later put forward in these terms: the symbolic, the imaginary, and the real—a distinction never previously made in psychoanalysis".

Tony Lawson

Tony Lawson is a British philosopher and economist. He is professor of economics and philosophy in the Faculty of Economics at the University of Cambridge. He is a co-editor of the Cambridge Journal of Economics, a former director of the University of Cambridge Centre for Gender Studies, and co-founder of the Cambridge Realist Workshop and the Cambridge Social Ontology Group. Lawson is noted for his contributions to heterodox economics and to philosophical issues in social theorising, most especially to social ontology.


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