Unfolding Social Constructionism (History and Philosophy of Psychology)

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Social constructionism as a metatheory of psychological science Fiona J. Abstract The central aim of social constructionist metatheory has been to provide a viable alternative to the positivist-empiricist philosophy of science which had long been supposed to ground the pursuit of psychological knowledge. This aim is in keeping with those in philosophy who have rejected "First Philosophy" or traditional epistemology e. Here, a traditional understanding of epistemology and the philosophy of science as a priori disciplines has been abandoned in favour of naturalized epistemology, that is, in favour of epistemology as just another scientific discipline.

Chung Ed. History and Philosophy of Psychology. As Weiner , ch 9 put it, pragmatism championed. There are some pragmatists that would disagree with some or most of these general tenets. The following explores the approach of key figures before showing how the ideas were developed in mainly American sociology in the first third of the 19th century and merged with interactionism and interpretive approaches.

The beginnings of pragmatism in the United States.

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There are different views on the roots of pragmatism, some suggesting it can be seen as a strand from ancient Greek philosophy and others that it started in America in the s. John Fiske and Francis Ellington Abbot also attended on occasion. It met, in all probability during the period —2, although no definitive dates are available. Despite their being European versions of pragmatism, the philosophical movement is usually seen as being founded in America by Charles Sanders Peirce and William James in the early s and later taken up and transformed by John Dewey.

Peirce developed the principles of pragmatic theory and James was the key figure in promoting the widespread influence of pragmatism during the s and early s. Dewey developed the instrumentalist aspects of the doctrine. Mead to this triumvirate as a major influence.

Social construction and difference: A Deleuzian critique

Bridgman , Horace M. Pragmatism was less well-established in Europe.

Richard Rorty most closely reflected the American approach by arguing that theories are ultimately justified by their instrumentality, or the extent to which they enable people to attain their aims. Joas, , p. For a long time, another major deficit was the lack of adequate attention paid to the link between pragmatism and similar currents of thought in the German, French, and Anglo-Saxon intellectual worlds. This lack has been remedied in a brilliant manner by a young American historian, James Kloppenberg. This convergence occurs, on the one hand, at the level of philosophy; here Kloppenberg elaborates the features American pragmatists, British neo-Hegelians, German hermeneuticians , and French neorationalists have in common, while remaining sensitive to the differences between them.

This confluence also took place at another level, for there was a convergence between the philosophical innovations of this period and the political search for a path that transcended dogmatic liberalism and revolutionary socialism. These ideas, moderate, meliorist, democratic, and sensitive to the possibility that no perfect reconciliation of liberty and equality can be attained, are the consequences of pragmatism for politics. The dominance of pragmatism and the renaissance of pragmatism Pragmatism dominated American philosophy from the s to the s and re-emerged to some degree at the turn of the century.

The renaissance of pragmatism in American philosophy has admittedly been restricted to traditional core areas of philosophy. By contrast, only rarely are links established to political philosophy and social philosophy. And, aside from Richard Bernstein, there is an even greater distance from discussions of sociological theory. Charles Peirce — Charles Sanders Peirce is recognised as the founder of pragmatism. However he published little and was barely recognized during his lifetime.

Wiley , p. After his death his major essays were edited by M. Cohen in Chance, Love, and Logic Peirce asserted that [Chauncey] Wright, James and I were men of science, rather scrutinizing the doctrines of the metaphysicians on their scientific side than regarding them as very momentous spiritually. Pierce has also been acknowledged as the first American experimental psychologist and he contributed to psychology, philology, the history and philosophy of science and mathematics, phenomenology, and logic. He also had an interest in science and made significant contributions to a variety of fields including chemistry, physics, astronomy, meteorology, engineering.

Peirce was also the originator of the modern form of semiotics and Wiley , p. Peirce notes the impact of his interest in science on the development of his thought. Pierce Collected Papers vol 1 p. Pierce was influenced by Kant and Scottish common-sense philosophy. Peirce sought to begin theoretical inquiry with empirically verified and common experiences rather than Cartesian absolute certainty. Peirce regarded logic as the beginning of all philosophical study, Peirce felt that the meaning of an idea was to be found in an examination of the consequences to which the idea would lead.

This principle, labelled pragmatism, was published in in Popular Science Monthly and later employed, with acknowledgment, by his friend William James.

According to Wiley, Pierce felt that thought would be self-corrective over time and that, in the long run, the general opinion, particularly that of the scientists, would be a true one. This means he was, to some extent, a social constructionist. James thought, for example, that he had constructed the truth of the idea of God and that of free will. But Peirce thought this version of constructionism was wrong. Wiley, p.

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  • Wiley , pp. He maintained that Peirce also created the modern theory of the dialogical self, which explained the symbolic character of human beings and proved foundational for social psychology:. But Mead never acknowledged any debt to, or even much of an acquaintance with, Peirce. Yet Peirce invented the modern theory of the dialogical self, and Mead produced a variation of the same theory slightly later. Moreover, Mead was closely acquainted with William James and John Dewey, both in their writings and in personal, face-to-face relations.

    Both of these scholars were familiar with Peirce—James throughout his life and Dewey by the early 20th century. Still, Mead did originate several important ideas that were his alone. Peirce had created an overall, umbrella idea of the sign, and this became the core of his semiotics. Mead, in contrast, wanted to understand the abstract or general symbol as such, which was only one of the kind in which Peirce was interested. Mead contrasted the non-significant symbol of the animals with the significant one of humans. He made this contrast both in a phylogenetic context, to explain the evolutionary birth of meaning, and in an ontogenetic context, to explain the birth of meaning in each infant.

    He thought that reflexivity was the key to meaning for humans. When communicating with others, these humans could reflect on their utterance and respond to it internally as others would respond to it externally. This theory, here perhaps stated over-tersely, is not without problems, and Mead stated it somewhat differently on different occasions, but still it is one of the most powerful theories of meaning in existence.

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    Nevertheless, there are so many parallels and affinities between Peirce and Mead that I think there must have been an influence, even if it was indirect and diffuse. Mead had subscribed to the Nation magazine, which had regular book reviews by Peirce. And he also subscribed to the Journal of Philosophy, which had a memorial issue on Peirce, including a paper by Dewey, two years after Peirce had died.

    Wiley, , pp. In addition to social construction, Peirce had other interesting ideas about meaning.

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    For him the interpretive process, which was a continuing ingredient of meaning, eventually coalesced to some extent into a bundle of habits. In other words the meaning of an object was how we responded to the object. The meaning of God, for example, would be our habits of reverence, prayer, ethical commitment, and so on. This fits his famous pragmatic definition of meaning as consequences, or rather our conception of consequences.


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    This definition sounded to some like a logical positivist definition of meaning in terms of observable and measurable sensory consequences. Truth is defined, for Peirce, as the ultimate outcome of inquiry by a usually scientific community of investigators. In addition our conception could entail socially constructionist elements.

    An empiricist or logical positivistic interpretation of the pragmatic maxim would be guilty of the intuitionist fallacy. For Weber, cultural, as opposed to physical, facts required a special methodology. Since these cultural facts were constructed and given meaning by humans, they could be understood only by capturing the intended meaning.


    These facts were primarily about meanings, just as physical facts were primarily about physical stuff. And this meaning could only be understood by a process of insight or Verstehen, during which we discover and reproduce the meaning in our consciousness.

    Bibliographic Information

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    Allergy, 66 4 : International Journal of Human Rights 15 8 : ISSN Journal of Health Psychology, , 16 3 , pp. ISSN print Bowling, A. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 65 3 : Claremont, A. Bhatti, M. Farrimond, H. Joffe, H.