I had reason to recently provide a colleague with a primer on Social Constructionism. Diving into a stack of papers and rooting through the web, it brought back memories. Good ones too: I’m not a doctrinaire anything let alone a social constructionist, yet it is, viewed philosophically, a very respectable meta-methodology in my book, and, besides, its thinkers often display an ingratiating amount of chutzpah. The gloss categorization of social constructionism is well-known: it’s the distinctively American chapter of post-modernism.
For me, the image of a hovercraft springs up. Social constructionists zip around held above the surface by a column of downrushing air.
I’m of two minds when I try to locate social constructionism somewhere in my own personal catalogue of prejudices. From one cherished perspective, I favor the interplay of process, the phenomenographic, eros/logos, and intersubjectivity, which any mediation of knowledge requires. yes, it’s a mash-up for me!
Yet, I can contest my own perspective too, and do so from another cherished perspective, and do so even if I also cherish the impossibility of a foundational and idealistic and final meta-theory of knowledge. So: I would submit, among many possible submissions: certain knowings transcend their having been originally mediated socially; and, darnit, what knowledge is and means is essential, as is how it is valued and what the valuation is and is good for.
But, both submissions are merely biases. I’m mostly in alignment with all the currents posed to contest the possibility of a magical metaphysics, a metaphysics purported to be foundational and resident in a world behind the world. Furthermore, the same bias and personal antipathy goes against hyper-rationalism, and, what I like to call, the positivist master morality and, per force, its cocky post-metaphysics, (even if its origins are found in ancient unitary dreams!)
As for its critique of scientific foundationalism, it’s my opinion that scientific reasoning is clearly socially mediated, but that causal reasons can also be qualified and justified as being objective in scientific terms and for purposes constrained by those “knowledge-able” terms; where they are secured as certain or tentative truth claims. I think perspectivism requires variant domains. Other perspectives: naive realism is in the mix but isn’t the bowl; the percept exactly matches, again, within limits, and, as sign, is mediated. Except…(see note below).
I spend no time worrying about solipsism, nihilism, and ridiculous (read: false,) dichotomizations, such as the one that holds if there is no preeminent value, there can be no value whatsoever. Of course it helps nobody has proved anything to be preeminently valued, even by negation, and this goes for some doctrinaire social constructionists. !
Social constructionism allows and admits (for lack of a better term,) folk disciplinarity. Interdisciplinarity is better than transdisciplinarity. At its best, it does not at the very end of its researches suspiciously and ironically toss overboard the very discernment and knowledge it has mediated and derived, as-it-were. I’m old fashioned at least in hoping that the “ends” matter. Sometimes a reader may get the impression from SC’s meta-theoretical rationalizing social constructionism wants to be the end-all by ending all. I cut it slack right there and recall the hovering.
Doing the primer took me back to work by Kenneth Gergen. Dr. Gergen has generously made available much of his short work. I highly recommend, for starters:
The Place of the Psyche in a Constructed World
Qualitative Inquiry: Tensions and Transformations
The Self: Colonization in Psychology and Society
“…have finally found myself compelled to give up the logic, fairly, squarely, and irrevocably. It has an imperishable use in human life, but that use is not to make us theoretically acquainted with the essential nature of reality. Reality, life, expedience, concreteness, immediacy, use what words you will, exceeds our logic, overflows and surrounds it.” -William James; A Pluralistic Universe