Info Notes

If you have short informative notes (definitions, descriptions, special cases, exceptions, or perhaps scripts from your previous literature reviews)  that are relevant to our discussions, you can post them here.

6 thoughts on “Info Notes

  1. About Social Constructionism
    (From Deconstructing a Tacit Wall – a working paper by Ozge Dilaver & Nigel Gilbert)

    Social constructionism (or constructivism) is one of the meta-theories that emerged from the postmodern critique of positivist science. In methodological debates, positivism was criticised on the grounds that the so-called standards of good science are only matters of rhetorical persuasion and social convention (Kincaid, 2000). Three premises have been influential in the development of this critique. The first is from the sociology of science; empirical studies on how scientists experiment and theorise concluded that science is not practised with any universal set of methods and results were open to different interpretations (Kuhn, 1996 [1962]; Latour and Woolgar, 1979; Gilbert and Mulkay, 1984; Downes, 2003). The second comes from Piaget (1937) who studied the cognitive processes of children and concluded that foundational knowledge is neither pre-natal nor purely gained by experience. Instead, it is the result of complex interactions between the organism and its environment, an individual’s biological adaptation to the external world (von Glasersfeld, 1995; Gopnik, 2003; Sjoberg, 2007). The third is parallel to the second; it stresses the role of social interactions during the construction of knowledge. The pioneering works of Vygotsky (1986 [1934]) have been influential in the development of this idea (Wertsch, 1985; Gergen, 1999).

    Social constructionism conceptualises knowledge as a product of social relationships and scientific knowledge, like any other type of knowledge, is regarded as a social construct (Berger and Luckmann, 1966; Williams and Edge 1996; Dusek 2006). It is important to note that there are different interpretations of social constructionism. According to Burr (1995), these interpretations are so diverse that it is difficult to find something common to all of them, although there are a number of properties each of which is shared by different subsets of authors. There is, therefore, a family resemblance between different interpretations. Some aspects of this resemblance are: a critical stance towards the idea that knowledge is produced by objective and unbiased observation of the world; the belief that knowledge is fabricated through daily interactions between people; the argument for the historical and cultural specificity of concepts and categories; and the understanding that different constructions of knowledge may lead to different actions (Burr, 1995).

    The critical stance of constructionism towards claims for objectivity and determinism is connected to another type of critique: one that scrutinises social institutions, the role of constructed realities in maintaining these institutions and their joint implications for equality and power (Popkewitz, 1990). Social constructionist researchers recognised the role of legitimated knowledge in both maintaining and changing existing social structures. Studying social realities of the ‘social other’ (Fawcett and Hearn, 2004), those who are suppressed by the dominant social power, and producing rich descriptions of everyday lives instead of detached hypotheses (Pakulski, 2009), or grand theories have thus become important for challenging taken-for-granted rules and orthodoxies (see, for example, Oakley, 1999; Backett-Milburn, 1999). Hacking (1999) points out that while referring to social construction of a phenomenon, researchers effectively argue that the phenomenon is not an inevitable consequence of natural facts, and often, they also imply that we would be better off if these constructions did not exist at all. (His criticism to social constructionism is that often researchers do not clarify which parts of a socially constructed phenomenon are and are not inevitable.) Not regarding established social structures and institutions as natural, rational, or inevitable enabled researchers to discover alternative ways in which social reality can be constructed, implying reality, or a particular version of it, is not destiny (Backett-Milburn 1999). For example, the expression ‘social construction of motherhood’ implies that the way motherhood is currently understood is not an inevitable consequence of the nature of our existence. This line of reasoning can be liberating (Hacking, 1999) from what Kant (1784) calls self-enforced patronage through a collective updating of shared understandings.

  2. Pingback: Info Note on Social Constructionism | Constructed Complexities

  3. from my WordPress blog, Orgcomplexity
    Michele Battle-Fisher
    Unpublished manuscript
    Michele Battle-Fisher

    According to Anthony Giddens (1979), human agency must include an acting subject that deals with action linearly. Sound simple, huh? In this duality of structure, on the most basic level people make up society but are inherently constrained by it (Giddens, 1979). Social interaction is strongly linked this unavoidable embeddedness of the individual within a (social) system (Giddens, 1979). But in Giddens’ writing, I find his musings around power most interesting.

    Giddens would argue that sociology had lacked a theory of action. I enjoyed Giddens’ acceptance that the dialectic of control is a two-way street, though the magnitude of the lesser power would certainly dwarf those in “control” (Giddens, 1979). Power and centrality in networks brings to light unintended consequences of social action of the “powerful”, not personal culpability, per se. Giddens (1979) wrote that a person wields power could have acted otherwise. In social networks, degree is a measure of possible opportunities due to his or her favored position. Even if an influential node has the highest Bonacich centrality or has been blessed with higher number of connections, there is still human agency (outside of coercion). Did that node have to take advantage of that position of prestige?

    I would venture that daily history becomes recapitulated by those in control of my historical barometer. That barometer may be puppetered in part by our network. I live life, later to splice episodes of that life that are later deemed relevant to a “history”. Each history is a snapshot from my sociographs, typifying my connections and relationships. I have a memory, some that remain more salient and true than others. My history is not purely textbook history. Someone else adds me to the book of saints if they see fit. I am not alone, not without alters that “alter” and co-create my history. But I also co-create theirs…I would need to intentionally speak louder and endearing into the history’s good graces. It is a life where I have lived within a connected network of influences, each acted upon as their own little co-existing ego networks. Networks are nested within networks. We have networks with boundaries set up specific personal and societal purposes: my church folk from my hometown on the Ohio, my high school graduating class, and even my present census track. How else could we answer this social issue than by social network analysis? Moreover, I must voice and respect the power and constraints endemic of being a citizen of my overlapping and changing networks.

    Giddens’ notion of agency was not new in my opinion. I give Giddens credit for amalgamating society cohesively as agency and power, whereby given credence to some lesser-approached theorists that came before. Giddens was rebutting against dominant theories of his time. As a result, we must take care in social network theory and analysis to not ignore the social, human nature of the nodes we map. The pendulum in “social” theory had swung such that actors (and any sense of agency) were reduced to roles and functions in a system (as node in a social network graph). Giddens was fighting this unapologetically. Social networks celebrate the structure and agency in both application and ontology. Both are instrumental if we as complexity thinkers let them be. Mr. Giddens, we are not on opposing teams.


    Giddens, A. (1979). Central problems in social theory: Action, structure, and contradiction in social analysis. Los Angeles, CA: University of California Press.

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