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Social constructionism: what it is, fundamental ideas and authors

Social constructionism: what it is, fundamental ideas and authors

April 28, 2024

Social constructionism, or socioconstructionism, is a theoretical perspective that arises in the mid-twentieth century as a result of the epistemological and methodological crisis that the social sciences have gone through.

It considers that the language is not a simple reflection of the reality, but that is the producer of the same, with which, it goes from the idea of ​​representation that dominated the science, to the one of discursive action.

The latter allows questioning the set of "truths" through which we had related to the world, as well as creating 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 . Then we will go through some background and definitions of social constructionism, as well as the impact it has had on social psychology.


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Social constructionism: a theoretical-practical alternative

Since the 1960s, and in the framework of the crisis of modern thought, the epistemological foundations of the social sciences have gone through some important 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 the mental contents, with which the same mind contains exact representations of the external world (from " reality").

In the same context arises a critique of the absolute truths and research methods by means of which it was believed to access such truths. A) Yes, The application of positivist methodology in the social sciences is questioned in an important way and the omission of the sociohistorical processes that frame them.


That is, in the face of 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 before which socioconstructionism puts an important distance is the disqualification of methodologies other than hypothetico-deductive and positivist. From there, social constructionism questions the predominance of experimental model , where it is assumed that knowledge is acquired based on the control that an "external" experimenter has on the situation studied, which in turn implies the existence of variables that are stable and controllable.


Likewise, a reaction to the apparent timelessness that had characterized the traditional way of doing science is established. This is because such 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 a theory itself but "a metatheoretical attempt to construct an alternative to the hegemony of empiricism in epistemology; of behaviorism and cognitivism in theory and experimentalism in methodology; the trilogy that underlies the core of the intelligibility of modern psychology "(page 32).

In sum, 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 happens through human activity, without any ontological status. From habituate to these practices, the same human activity is institutionalized and gives form to a society. By this same, the daily life that had been rejected by the traditional social sciences, acquires special importance for the socioconstruccionismo.

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

Likewise, the socio-constructionist current allowed to question the use of the hypothetico-deductive method in the social sciences, which in the beginning had been systematized for the natural sciences; and that he had moved as 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 can not resort to the methods of study of the natural sciences.

Likewise, the socio-constructionist current allowed to question the use of the hypothetico-deductive method in the social sciences, which at the beginning it had been systematized for the natural sciences ; and that he had moved as the model for psychology.

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

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3. Knowledge and action as two phenomena that go together

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

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

Social constructionism is a perspective that continuously questions the truths that we have taken for granted , questioning how we have learned to look at ourselves and the world.

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

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

To think of the human being outside of the qualities that are supposedly universally shared thanks to the "paradigm of the average man", but to consider the social context in which the explanations emerge and the places that are assigned to each one.

Key authors and background

Although social constructionism is a heterogeneous perspective where different authors could fit and 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.

In the framework of this reformulation of the social sciences, Berger and Luckmann had already published the book The social construction of reality in 1968, work that influenced Gergen's work in an important way, which is also considered key to the development of socioconstructionism.

These last authors propose that reality is "a quality characteristic of 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 we can know it in an absolute way.

Among the theoretical background of social constructionism are 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 linked to authors such as Latour and Woolgar, Feyerabend, Kuhn, Laudan, Moscovici, Hermans.

Some criticisms of socioconstructionism

Among other things, socioconstructionism has been criticized by the tendency towards the 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 built by language, what is the place of the material and what are its possibilities action in the meaning of the world. In the same sense he has been criticized an excessive relativism that sometimes can make it difficult to assume or defend claims.

Finally, after several decades of having emerged this theoretical perspective, 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 for current debates are the Theory of the Actor Network, Performativity, or some materialist and feminist positions.

Bibliographic references:

  • Gosende, E. (2001). Between social constructionism and realism, trapped with no way out? Subjectivity and Cognitive processes, 1 (1): 104-107.
  • Iñiguez, L. (2005) New debates, new ideas and new practices in the social psychology of the 'post-constructionist' era. Athenea Digital, 8: 1-7.
  • Sandoval, J. (2004). Representation, discursivity and situated action: Critical introduction to the social psychology of knowledge. Chile: University of Valparaíso.

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