Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Social Constructionism, Social Psychology, Social Behaviourism . . .

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Berger & Luckmann (1966)A few days ago, I finished reading (rather, finally finished!!) Berger and Luckmann’s Social Construction of Reality. They indicated in the introduction that they would not cite their precursors and references as per academic style. This is a pity as I find myself wishing to dig further into the background of social constructionism.

Berger and Luckmann do provide some clues regarding the underlying philosophies of their work. In the conclusion, they mention G. H. Mead: “. . . we would contend that the linkage we have been led to make here between the Sociology of Knowledge and the theoretical core of the thought of Mead and his school suggests an interesting possibility for what might be called a social psychology– that is, a psychology that derives its fundamental perspectives from a sociological understanding of the human condition.” (p. 186).

What I have found noteworthy as I dig more deeply into Burger and Luckmann’s work is that their version of social construction does not propose that the world is completely socially constructed, rather: “there are always elements of subjective reality that have not originated in socialization, such as the awareness of one’s own body prior to and apart from any socially learned apprehension of it.’ (p. 184). Oh, and they add, ”Subjective biography is not fully social. The individual apprehends himself as being both inside and outside society” (p. 134). The individual constantly strives to achieve a balance between his/her objective and subjective self (identity).

Mead (1934)Naturally, language is the primary source of socialization. And, this emphasis upon language, conversation in particular, was also salient in the work of Mead. So, I am now reading in order to understand more fully the background of social construction (as per the European/Scandinavian flavor–rather than the current North American focus on the work of Papert vs. Piaget). Mead’s (1934) Mind, Self, and Society from the Standpoint of a Social Behaviourist is very important.

In his introduction to the book, Charles w. Morris provides some evidence of a possible foundation for social construction: ”Mead’s endeavour is to show that the mind and the self are without residue social emergents; and that language, in the form of vocal gesture, provides the mechanism for their emergence”(p. xiv).

Coming from a behaviourist perspective–albeit a Social Behaviourist perspective–the linkage with the body and the physical world ekes through his (Mead’s) writing. At my current stage in the book it appears that he is already working towards a position that recognizes that symbols do not mean/signify the same thing to both hearer and listener—that an utterance may evoke a different emotional or physical reaction in the listener. By page 65, Mead is building an argument about the significance of the “vocal gesture.” (I am a little hazy about whether or not Mead was more a critical realist or could be classified as a pre-social constructionist.)

This is what has captivated my attention: “The vocal gesture, then, has an importance which no other gesture has. We cannot see ourselves when our face assumes a certain expression. If we hear ourselves speak we are more apt to pay attention. One hears himself when he is irritated using a tone that is of an irritable quality, and so catches himself. But in the facial expression of irritation the stimulus is not one that calls out an expression in the individual which it calls out in the other” (p. 65).

What is interesting is how hearing our own voices affects us. Take, for example, the scene in “The King’s Speech” (the movie) when the linguist places headphones (blaring loud music) upon Edward’s head, and asks Edward to read a passage. Instead of stuttering, Edward was able to recite the passage perfectly whilst unable to hear his own voice.

Can we use this information when considering human interaction in online environments? How do our online gestures affect us when we are aware of them? Can we hear ourselves online? Or, lacking the vocal gesture, does the text-based interaction impact us less? Or, just differently? And what of ambient presence and the longevity of the online footprint? Lots of questions . . .

(Note to self: I wrote this text by hand using a LiveScribe pen and notebook. Then, I converted my cursive to text using their MyScript tool. I think I needed to set the options to the text (only) format. It did include some arrows and boxes that I tend to draw in my notes—due to the use of the shape and freeform drawing settings mistakenly being toggled on. More testing needed.)



Berger, P. L., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality: A treatise in the sociology of knowledge (p. 219). Garden City, NY: Anchor Books (Random House, Inc.).

Mead, G. H. (1934). Mind, self & society: From the standpoint of a social behaviorist. (C. W. Morris, Ed.) (Vol. 13). Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.

One Response to “Social Constructionism, Social Psychology, Social Behaviourism . . .”

  1. says:

    It has been suggested to me that I clarify what I mean by “pre-social constructionist”. At the time that Mead was writing, there was no such thing as a social constructionist. My intent was to stress the significance of his work which appears (to me, anyways) to have contributed to the emergence of social-constructionist-type thinking. It was not intended to suggest that he was a social-constructionist not that there was such an entity that we could call a “pre-social constructionist”. (Applying such a label without appropriate consideration wouldn’t be the social consructionist way. 🙂 )

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