Human Behavior in the Social Environment: Social Constructionism L. Daughtery, Ph.D., LICSW
Objectives • Articulate some of the basic principles of social constructionism • Understand application of social constructionism concepts to social work practice
General Questions • What is the nature of man? • What is the nature of the self? • What is the nature of society? • What is the relationship of self to society? • What is the nature of reality? • What is the nature of the study of man? • What is the nature of knowledge?
Clinical Social Work Practice • Strengths perspective • Social constructionism • Constructivism • Narrative • Postmodern practice
Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda • An interconnection between consciousness, cognitive process, the individual and larger social and cultural structures at the individual and small group levels
Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda • People are interpretive beings who give meaning to their experiences and lives. These meanings are not neutral and have real effects on their lived experience. • The sociocultural context plays a large role in shaping our common, everyday assumptions and behaviors. • People have the capacity to shape their own lives. • The helping situation is client-centered and involves “growth” or the alleviation of “problems”
Question? • What is social constructionism?
Sociology • Sociological theory is neither unified nor a completed project • The topics and approaches of sociology are broadly traceable to the work of three major, late-nineteenth century figures, Karl Marx, Max Weber, and Emile Durkheim, only the last two of which regarded themselves as sociologists, and only Durkheim exclusively so. Waters, M. (1994). Modern Sociological Theory
Social Constructionism • Simmel and Weber • Human behavior is different from the behavior of natural objects • Human beings are always agents in the active construction of social reality—the way they act depends on the way in which they understand or give meaning to their behavior • The job of sociological observers is to interpret the meanings established by the participants
Social Constructionism • Schutz read Weber from the perspective of the philosophical tradition of phenomenology
Phenomenology Husserl--We mistakenly came to believe the world of mathematical objectified nature is the nature of reality. We should seek to understand the general structures of meaning of our Lebenswelt and how they are constituted. In order to do this we must bracket or suspend our customary preconceptions about the world so we can discover the structure of a phenomenon.
Phenomenology • Phenomenology says the self as a conscious subject is worthy of study as are the practical methods such as language that we use to identify or display our “self.” • Husserl thought we would discover that the Lebenswelt and humanity itself is a “self-objectification” of a “transcendental subjectivity.”
Phenomenology of Everyday Life • Phenomenological sociology concentrates on the ways in which actors interpret the social world by turning sense-data into typifications or mental pictures.
Phenomenology of Everyday Life Schutz --- The real issue is the realm or area in which behavior takes place. He identified four : umwelt our physiological and physical surroundings; mitwelt the social world of other people; folgewelt the future and vorwelt the past. Although he believed the social construction of reality takes place within the umwelt, the mind could not be studied scientifically because people are unpredictable thus his work focuses on the mitwelt because he believed that scientific study of general types of subjective experience would help us understand the general processes that people use in dealing with the world.
Phenomenology of Everyday Life • His major work rejects the transcendental conclusion of Husserl. • Social life is based on the idea that one’s experiences are not identical with those of others in everyday face to face interactions but we do as humans participate in each other’s consciousness in such a way that there is a synchrony of two interior streams of consciousness.
Phenomenology of Everyday Life • Observe facts and events within social reality • Construct typifications • Develop and coordinate to these patterns modes of ideal human actors or agents • Ascribe to this fictitious consciousness a set of typical motivations, purposes and goals …such a model yields types or puppets interacting with others in patterns
Psychology • Phenomenology helped articulate how people organize their self interpretations, feel their emotions, create their fantasies, use reason and logic and generate their actions. It provided a base for : • transactional analysis, • existential psychology, • Gestalt psychology, • Rogerian client centered therapy.
Phenomenology of Everyday Life • Ethnomethodoloy by Harold Garfinkle. • Ethnomethodologists, who believe that research and theorizing are to be done in conjunction, analyze commonplace everyday activities in social settings. Unique to this approach are the techniques of experimentation that disrupt the normal flow of events. These are called “breaching experiments” and they are used to illustrate the fragility of social reality. • Social Constructionism by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman
Social Constructionism • Berger and Luckman wanted to extend phenomenology and integrate the individual and societal levels • The Social Construction of Reality: A treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge (1967)was an attempt to integrate Schutz’s work with Mead, Marx, and Durkheim.
Social Constructionism • Human beings are born into a pre-existing society and through socialization and shared cultural patterns of behavior they keep doing what they have learned to do. • Behaviors that are constantly repeated become patterns or habits. Habitualizations lead to institutionalization. • Institutions have some control over human behavior. • Socialization also plays a role in our internalization of institutional norms for conduct and it is through this process that socially acquired ways of doing things develop what seems to be an existence of its own. • Once our subjective reality is created by internalization, we then reify the external world and legitimize it by ascribing validity to it and come to perceive it as though it were separate from the human process that created it.
Post-modernism • Michel Foucault , French philosopher, social scientist, and historian wrote human science and professional expertise have become mechanisms of social control.
Post-modernism • All beliefs are relative ..there is no universal, transhistorical self, only local selves, no universal theory about self, only local theories. • Because the self is a process, it is never static and we consciously create, re-create, and give our self meaning through accounts, descriptions, assumptions and common-sense knowledge. • The individualism that 20th century science has presumed is false because it pictures a DECONTEXTUALIZED masterful self confronting an objectified world that it seeks to represent and manipulate.
Social Constructionism in the Post-modern era • Rorty & Gergen • The terms in which the world is understood are social artifacts, products of historically situated interchanges between people. • There is no truth through method and no correct procedure. Social constructionism itself offers no alternative truth criteria. • Social constructionism helps us get past the traditional subject/ object dualism. This means that social and psychological inquiry is derived of any notion of experience as a touchstone of objectivity. So-called reports or descriptions of one’s experience are really just “linguistic constructions guided and shaped by historically contingent conventions of discourse.”
Social Work Discipline • Ontology • Epistemology • Methodology
Knowledge • Ontology is the study of what there is. Many classical philosophical problems are problems in ontology, like the question whether or not there is a God, or the problem of the existence of universals. • Epistemology is the branch of philosophy that studies the nature of knowledge, in particular its foundations, scope, and validity. • Methodology is understood as the methods or organizing principles underlying philosophy, a particular art, science, or other area of study
Egon Guba, The Paradigm Dialog, 1990. • Positivist • Post-positivist • Critical Theory • Constructivist –realities are multiple, constructed; knower and known are interactive; inquiry is value-bound; all entities are in a state of mutual simultaneous shaping, so it is impossible to distinguish causes from effects. • See Robbins, Chatterjee & Canda, p. 326.
More Philosophy • Hermeneutic thought begins by re-thinking ontology. • Hermeneutics is the study of understanding.
Hermeneutics • Philosophical hermeneutics describes the human phenomenon of interpretation itself. It is about the most fundamental conditions of man's being in the world. • Humans are self-interpreting beings and the meanings they work out in the business of living makes them what they are. • Our own life stories only make sense against the backdrop of possible story lines opened by our historical culture. Instead of thinking of the self as an object, hermeneutic thought conceives human existence as a happening or becoming.
Narrative Therapy • Freedman & Combs, 1996 • Am I asking for descriptions of more than one reality? • Am I listening so as to understand how this person’s experiential reality has been socially constructed? • Whose language is being privileged here? • What are there stories that support this person’s problems? Are there dominant stories that are oppressing or limiting this person’s life? • Am I focusing on meaning instead of on “facts”? • Am I evaluating this person or am I inviting her/him to evaluate a wide range of things (e.g. how therapy is going)?
Narrative Therapy • Freedman & Combs, 1996 • Am I situating my opinions in my personal experience? Am I being transparent about my context, my values, and my intentions so that this person can evaluate the effects of my biases? • Am I getting caught up in pathologizing or normative thinking? Are we collaboratively defining problems based on what is problematic in this person’s experience? Am I staying away from ‘expert” hypotheses or theories?
Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda Strengths of social constructionism • Consistent with social work values • Give preeminence to the client’s experience and self-determination • Highest respect to the dignity and worth of the individual and their plight in the world • Support the strengths perspective
Robbins, Chatterjee, & Canda Weakness of social constructionism • Pays little attention to the biological basis for behavior • Phenomenology and social constructionism can also be criticized for ignoring or discounting psychological structures and processes. • Phenomenology, social constructionism and hermeneutics have more to offer regarding spirituality • Primarily emphasize the social and relational basis of behavior rather than larger social forces • Does not promote social change or social justice