Social constructionism

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The stance that language and all other aspects of human interaction have been socially constructed and is a continuous process of being socially constructed, and to various extents reproduced or reconstructed, through human thought and interaction. Categories are arbitrary, concepts exists in a historical and cultural context, knowledge is a social process intertwined with social action.

Social constructionism, as defined by Burr, can be summed up in four major points: First of all, it takes a critical stance toward “taken-for-granted knowledge”, the ways in which we understand the world and even ourselves. Our categories do not necessarily refer to any real divisions, and are always questionable.

Second, it sees understanding of categories and concepts, and thus of the world and of all the other people that each of us share this world with, as existing in a historical and cultural context. It changes over time and between different social milieus.

Third, that knowledge is sustained by social processes. Our understanding of ourselves, each other and the world is something that we humans construct between us. The ways we see things, our perception of truth, are based engaging each other in social processes and interactions.

Fourth, that knowledge and social action are intertwined. How people treat each other depends on how they understand each other, and how they react to a behavior depends on how they conceptualize this behavior.

The human mind uses concepts to understand phenomena, and it uses terms (words, or combinations of words) to refer to concepts. A discourse on a subject is thus twice removed from the subject itself: First the step between the term and the concept that the word refers to, then the step between the concept and the phenomena that the concept refers to. A definition of a concept is not in itself true or false: It is always true by definition, and the question is instead to what extent this definition that is being used is or isn't a good and reasonable definition. Truth is something that societies have to work to produce10 - language is socially constructed as well as a constructive force.

To conceptualize a phenomenon is to understand it by assigning a concept to the phenomenon... or rather to [the phenomenon, as you understand it]. To refer to this concept, a word or phrase is needed. If the dictionary already contain a suitable word, this potential problem is automatically solved by using the dictionary definition (also known as “lexical definition”). If the word has many different uses as well, a precising definition may be needed. If no suitable word exist yet, the options are to either use a stipulative definition (either to create a new word, or to assign a new meaning to word that already exist) or to settle for using a longer phrase to refer to the concept. What concepts and conceptualizations our language gives us access to we have access to greatly influence how we think and language is permanently in a process of growing through constant development and change. Note that the same neologism can be both an invention and a discovery at the same time: Inventing the word for the concept, while discovering the phenomenon pinpointed by the concept.