social construction of reality
social construction of realitya formulation employed within some areas of sociology to emphasize the way in which social institutions and social life generally is socially produced rather than naturally given or determined.
At one level the claim is almost trivial, since our knowledge about ourselves, and about the social as well as the natural world, is mediated by CULTURE, and so is necessarily 'social’ in origin. A specific emphasis on the social construction of reality is often made, however, to offset Durkheimian (see DURKHEIM) notions of society as a pregiven reality, consisting of constraining social facts (see SOCIAL FACTS AS THINGS) to which individuals are subject. The 'social constructionist’view, originating with THOMAS and members of the CHICAGO SCHOOL, was to emphasize instead the way in which the social world was continually reinvented (produced) by individuals, rather than as something which simply confronted them.
In reality, any simple DUALISM of individual selves (see SELF) and society is unsustainable. Society cannot exist without acting selves; in turn, the self is a product of society (see MEAD, COOLEY, STRUCTURE AND AGENCY, STRUCTURATION THEORY). Berger and Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality (1697) – the text which first systematically introduced the concept of'social construction’ into sociology – is an early exploration of these themes. Since then the conception of 'social construction’ has become much more widespread, e.g. in the study of DEVIANCE, especially LABELLING THEORY.
Some of the most wide-ranging debates and developments in terms of a social constructionist perspective have come when issues of ONTOLOGY are raised. This is especially the case where social reality might appear determined by the nature of physical realities such as bodies, diseases, or the natural world. Challenges to such assumptions have been forthcoming from theorists such as FOUCAULT for whom the BODY itself is seen as a product of particular discursive practices rather than biology (see SOCIOLOGY OF THE BODY); diseases can be reconceptualized as shifting modes of social response rather than an organic disruption (White, 1991; Bury, 1986; Nicolson and McLaughlin, 1987); and scientific knowledge can be analysed as the result of negotiations about the meaning of phenomena (see SOCIOLOGY OF SCIENCE) in which the rules about theoretical consistency, experimental adequacy and dissemination of information are flexibly interpreted according to a varying agenda of interests (see Mulkay, 1979).