Thoughts, writing & snippets

Marguerite Koole, PhD

Micro vs. Macro Social Constructionism

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Here in North America, many people talk about constructivism and constructionism, but mostly from the Piaget vs. Papert perspective (also note their focus on child development). (Oh, some excellent links here: The Nature of Constructionist Learning, MIT.) In Europe, constructionism seems to focus on dialogue and relationship. The following comes from my notes mostly on Vivan Burr’s book:

Burr, V. (2003). Social constructionism (Vol. 2). New York, NY: Routledge.URL:


All forms of social constructionism see language as “performative and constructive” (p. 176).

For both critical realists and constructivists, I believe (as per the European take on it), they both see dialogue as leading to the arrival at a common Truth (leading towards an Essentialist viewpoint of some underlying, foundational reality). But, constructionists would hold that there is no ultimate Truth; rather, everyone has their own perspective on truth. Although individuals can construct ideas together, no two people will hold the exact same view on it.

From Gergen’s book (see my previous posts):

“. . . the constructivist movement, which has been centrally concerned with the way in which the world is constructed or construed by individual minds. The central message here is that our actions are based not on the way the world is, but on the meaning it has for this individual” (Gergen, 2009, p. 26).

“Although resonant with constructionist views, constructivists tend to place meaning within the mind of the individual, while social constructionists locate the origin of meaning in relationships” (Gergen, 2009, p. 26).

From my discussions with [unnamed professor]: Constructionism suggests that there are multiple valid views, but there is no ultimate truth/reality. Our understandings are shaped by language—which is an imperfect vehicle for expression. The problem with language is in the inability to accurately transmit meaning. This explains the close relationship constructionism has with “dialogue”. Derrida and Leotard (post-modernists) propose that all human concepts are relative; we can never really understand how another human being thinks, experiences, etc.

All that said, there are also different flavours of constructionism. Burr outlines the following:

Macro Social Constructionism

Foucauldian & Critical Discourse Analysis (p. 150)

  • “Discourses produce all features of being a person” (pp. 179-180)
  • Concerned with power relations and social positioning
  • Production of subjectivity
  • Power and ideology is important (p. 156)
  • Leans towards social determinism
  • Criticism: neglects the speaker


Interpretive repertoires

  • The difference between discourses and interpretive repertoires is scale (p. 169).

Micro Social Constructionism

Discursive Psychology

  • The “person is the user of discursive devices” (p. 179)
  • Discursive psychologists study the devices themselves and their effects
  • Privileges agency of the person (p. 183)
  • Concerned with argument and rhetorical devices
  • Analysis of talk in interaction
  • Interviews are a key way of gathering data
  • Less concerned with power
  • Criticism: only considers the text


Conversation Analysis (p. 151)

  • Smaller scale than discursive psychology
  • Gather data through observation of naturally-occurring interactions
  • Attempt to detect regularities and patterns in language use
  • Talk achieves effects
  • Less concerned with power

Micro and macro social constructionism need not compete with each other, but may be complementary (p. 175). All forms of social constructionism see language as “performative and constructive” (p. 176).



Gergen, K. J. (2009). An Invitation to Social Construction (p. 200). Los Angeles, CA: Sage Publications. Retrieved from

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