Communication and Social Constructionism

Posted: November 17, 2010 in Analysis, Communication
Tags: , , , , ,

The lectures in our COMM 304 class on Social Constructionism can be viewed as one that is presented in the simplest term that it could be, without the inconvience and discomfort of going through the theoretical rigor. Our professor Dr. J. R. Lacson shares his insights as he synthesizes the various perspectives cast on this epistemology. What we, his students, do is pick up from all those things he shares and what the members share. What I sense is that as we learn social constructionism as he enjoins the class members to be self-reflexive of our individual realities in constructing social realities from the thoughts and experiences that we can share to others.

One aim of integrating the knowledge of social constructionism in the study of communication arises from the fact that communication is a process of meaning-making. While social constructionism aims to to determine how people construct knowledge and meaning about the realities in life, by social interaction, communication comes in, for the very fibre that keeps that social interaction is an eco-communication system. Thus, embracing social constructionism considers an ecological view of communication.  So the model to understand social constructionism in communication is one that is non-linear.

The discussion is set in a mood where we are not really into asserting or arguing on what is true, for whatever that would mean, and for argument’s sake. Our aim in the class is to solicit various points of view, to holistically understand things using various lenses. But when we deal with social realities or social constructions, obtaining those constructs is not much easy as the natural science takes objects in this world for examination. Constructs are from within the mind. They might be seating there in one corner of the human mind, but it powerfully drives human behavior, decisions, attitudes and actions. These constructs are what people sense about their world. Herminia Alfonso argues that they are not like flowers or daisies to picked from somewhere and then examined in microscope. Futher she posits, that constructs are shared, and as how they are constructed the social researcher is part of that construction.

As communication researchers, our position in obtaining those constructs from the participants or informants, is to obtain them as much as natural as we can, without coercion or manipulation. No, we can not be so objective as a positivist, because our participation is right there from the beginning and througout the process of completing the investigation. This is the complexity of communication. An axiom in communication says that it is complex. Meaning, our thoughts or what we communicate are products of several generations and several people even those that are not there while we are communicating.

Many qualitative researches turn to the principles and knowledge of social constructionism. But, it is not a specific theory. Rather it is  a field in itself, an existing body of knowledge that builds upon several theories. Social constructionism, will have to deal with constructivism, phenomenology, semiotics, hermeneutics, symbolic interactionism, and dramaturgy. All of which is contextualized in historical and cultural contexts. These are more specific theoretical and empirical works on social constructionism. Applying social constructionism in understanding communication realities and phenomenon is a multi-disciplinary task.

Communication is the means in which we socially construct the world and everything that is in the world, and this construction is influenced by time, place, existing knowledge, people and their relationships, and many other psychological, cultural, social, historical elements. Thus, social constructionism considers the operations of psychodyamic theories, social categories theory, social support theory, and cultural norms theory.

Although the view that “the world we live in is a construction and so is everything in it” makes sense, it can be construed as sweeping generalization. However, it remains significant in explaining so many things, at least in the context of knowledge work and meaning making. I find it useful in trying to understand what is abstract, in attempting to give explanations to events even though it is limited by the temporality of the phenomenon. Social constructionism has valuable contributions to the communication episteme, to understand how people construct and share meanings.

Many of the daunting philosophical questions in life or the simple yet difficult to answer questions in our lived experiences can glean light from social constructionism. Emory Griffin, a communication scholar, tells of the various definitions of communication, counting more than 120 meanings. Where are these meanings coming from, but from individual and social constructions. The bottom line here is that social constructionism and the communication of those contructs is an essential exercise in the language game of theory building – a mental calistenics to contribute to the existing body of knowledge. Those who participate in this exercise are so scarce.

  1. Bea says:

    I was super curious as to how the class was going to be conducted and how the different theories sharing the same scope are going to be delineated. There are differences: social constructionism to social construction of reality to construction of social reality etc…If there’s one thing I learned from Armi and her mentor, Herminia Alfonso, it’s that despite looking similar, they aren’t to be confused with one another. Scary, isn’t it? That was why I wanted to go deeper into social construction and the spin-off models…

  2. ben says:

    is social constructivism different from social constructionism?

    • rod rivera says:

      Great question benj. In communication perspectives, constructivism as a theory explains the individual ability to communicate skillfully in social situation, that is people behave according to their perception of the situation, that their actions are driven by goals which they also construct. In other words, individuals are able to cognitively process information, and so construct meanings to it. Constructivism as a psychological concept deals with the individual capacity to think, interpret and create meaning. Social constructivism, by the term, adding the word social would refer to the ability of a social aggregate or population to process information, create meaning and respond according to their schemas. We do have group thinks, but I don’t know to what extent this applies to social aggregates. If it does this would be contextualized into cultural communication, since it is culture that has intense influence on people’s communicative behavior.

      Social constructionism emphasizes that people in interaction, construct and share meaning. This concept also finds basis on constructivism. But, in the process of social interaction, individual constructs are negotiated and even redefined. Many of the concepts we have about reality are socially constructed. Individual thoughts are shared, debated and passed on. If it finds rich ground in the minds of most people, it becomes accepted.

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