06: Social construction of reality
Social reality is unlike any other because of its human constitution. It is not self-subsistent like natural reality. This leads to what Dahrendorf called the vexatious fact of society .
Firstly, the very existence and shape of any social order depends, in some way, on our human activities. But, equally, who we are, what we believe and what we do is also affected by the form of society in which we live. Thirdly, society is like nothing but itself – it is not a machine, an organism or a cybernetic system. At any given time, the form it takes depends upon human doings and their consequences. Finally, as conscious and creative beings we are capable of thinking and acting in such a way as to make our social environment fit for human habitation, or the opposite.
None of that tells us how we construct social reality and conflicting answers are given throughout the social sciences. Is social reality simply the sum of our individual activities? Is it a projection of the ideas that we negotiate together? Is the social order dominated by the prevailing technology? In short, what produces stable social reproduction or radical social change?
The following topics examine these issues.
1. Introducing some of the main approaches: Methodological Individualism; Social Constructivism; Critical Realism and Relational Sociology.
2. Are human beings as social agents fully formed by society through socialization or do we have distinct human properties and powers?
3. Where social constructivism appears legitimate (e.g. race and gender) and where it does not.
4. Why we cannot simply collect data and let the facts speak for themselves (empiricism) and why non-observables (such as the criminal s motives) are as important as observables (the crime).
5. Realism: examining the interplay between properties and powers of people and those of parts of society – roles, organizations, and institutions.
6. Post-modernism and trans-modernity: two theories about the future that is being made now.
Professor, Department of Sociology, University of Warwick, Coventry
|1964-1966Supervisor, University of Cambridge|
|1966-1973Lecturer in Sociology, University of Reading|
|1973-1979Reader in Sociology, University of Warwick|
Professor of Sociology, Department of Culture and Communication, College of Arts and Sciences, Drexel University, Philadelphia
|1983-1987Assistant Professor, Drexel University|
|1987-1997Associate Professor, Drexel University|
|since 1998Full Professor, Drexel University|
|1998-1999Academic Co-Director of Service Learning, Drexel University|