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Psychology | Unfolding Social Constructionism

Unfolding Social Constructionism

Hibberd, Fiona J.

2005, XVIII, 207 p.

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This book examines social constructionism as a metatheory of psychology.  It does not consider constructionist accounts of psycho-social phenomena, but it does assess certain assumptions which are said to underpin those accounts, assumptions which are primarily semantic and epistemological.  The first part of the book explains why the charges of relativism and self-refutation leveled at social constructionism miss their target, and it considers a constructionist attempt to defend the metatheory by appropriating the concept of performative utterances.  The second part of the book challenges the generally accepted view that social constructionism is antithetical to positivist philosophy of science.  This is done via an examination of the doctrine of conventionalism, constitutive relations, dualism, Wittgenstein's meaning-as-use thesis, verificationism, operationism, linguistic phenomenalism, and Kant's limitations of human knowledge.  It is shown that, in certain respects, these topics unite social constructionism with its bête noire logical positivism, and that psychology's repeated endorsement of these ideas hinders the development of a rigorous psycho-social science.  The book ends with a brief, speculative section in which it is suggested that the skepticism and internalism of social constructionist metatheory is an unconscious strategy of survival against failure.


Fiona J. Hibberd is lecturer in the School of Psychology, University of Sydney.  She specializes in the history, theory and philosophy of psychology, and in theories of personality, and has published in theoretical journals in the social sciences.

Content Level » Research

Keywords » character - knowledge - personality - philosophy - psychology - social psychology

Related subjects » Personality & Social Psychology - Psychology

Table of contents 

1. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM AS A METATHEORY OF
    PSYCHOLOGICAL SCIENCE
     1.1. A POST-MODERNIST PROGRAM
     1.2. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM
     1.3. POTTER’S DISCOURSE ANALYSIS
     1.4. SHOTTER’S CONVERSATIONAL ANALYSIS
     1.5. GERGEN'S METATHEORY OF PSYCHOLOGICAL
            SCIENCE
     1.6. UNFOLDING THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN
            LANGUAGE AND REALITY
          1.6.1. Psychology’s theories are not derived from observation
                    (A1)
          1.6.2. Psychology’s theories do not depict, map, mirror,
                    contain, convey, picture, reflect, store or represent
                    reality (A2)
          1.6.3. Psychological phenomena are not discourse-
                    independent (A3)
          1.6.4. Summary
     1.7. GERGEN’S RATIONALE FOR PROPOSITIONS A1, A2
            AND A3
          1.7.1. A theory of meaning involving external reference is
                    implausible
          1.7.2. The meanings of psychology’s theoretical terms
                    areindeterminate
          1.7.3. Meaning is contextually dependent
          1.7.4. Meaning has social origins within situations
     1.8. CONCLUSION 

2. RELATIVISM AND SELF-REFUTATION
     2.1. INTRODUCTION
     2.2. AN ANALYSIS OF THE CHARGE OF RELATIVISM
     2.3. RELATIVISM DEFINED
     2.4. EPISTEMOLOGICAL RELATIVISM
          2.4.1. Epistemological relativism1
          2.4.2. Epistemological relativism2
     2.5. ONTOLOGICAL RELATIVISM
     2.6. CONCEPTUAL RELATIVISM
     2.7. SELF-REFUTATION
          2.7.1. The classical refutation of relativism
          2.7.2. Mackie’s analysis of self-refutation
          2.7.3. Ascribing self-refutation to social constructionism
     2.8. CONCLUSION 

3. NON-FACTUALISM
     3.1. INTRODUCTION
     3.2. RE-STATING GERGEN’S POSITION
     3.3. NON-FACTUALISM DEFINED
          3.3.1. The Fregean approach to assertoric and
                    non-assertoric discourse
          3.3.2. The non-factualist approach to assertoric and 
                    non-assertoric discourse
          3.3.3. Gergen’s universal generalisation
     3.4. AUSTIN’S CONSTATIVE-PERFORMATIVE
            DISTINCTION
          3.4.1. The explicit performative formula
          3.4.2. A theory of speech acts
     3.5. GERGEN’S ALTERNATIVE TO EXTERNAL
            REFERENCE AND TO THE RECEIVED
            VIEW OF ASSERTION
          3.5.1. The appropriation of Austin’s theory
          3.5.2.Gergen’s example of the performative function of words
     3.6. DO ALL SPEECH-ACTS EXPRESS STATES OF
            AFFAIRS?
     3.7. CONCLUSION 

4. THE RECEIVED VIEW OF LOGICAL POSITIVISM AND ITS
    RELATIONSHIP TO SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM
     4.1. INTRODUCTION
     4.2. TERMINOLOGICAL INEXACTNESS: POSITIVISM,
            LOGICAL POSITIVISM AND LOGICAL EMPIRICISM
     4.3. THE FAILURE OF POSITIVISM AS A METATHEORY
            FOR PSYCHOLOGY
     4.4. THE RECEIVED VIEW
     4.5. CONCLUSION

 5. CONVENTIONALISM
     5.1. INTRODUCTION
     5.2. CONVENTIONALISM’S INTELLECTUAL ANCESTRY
          5.2.1. The context: Kant and J. S. Mill
          5.2.2. The emergence of conventionalism:
                    Hilbert’s investigation of Euclidean geometry
          5.2.3. Poincaré’s theory of the status of geometrical axioms
          5.2.4. Poincaré’s application of conventionalism to
                    scientific principles
          5.2.5. Concluding remarks
     5.3. THE CONVENTIONALISM OF THE LOGICAL
            POSITIVISTS
          5.3.1. Schlick
          5.3.2. Reichenbach
          5.3.3. Carnap
          5.3.4. Summary
     5.4. FROM LOGICAL POSITIVISM TO SOCIAL
            CONSTRUCTIONISM VIA KUHN’S ACCOUNT OF
            SCIENCE
     5.5. CONVENTIONALISM IN GERGEN’S METATHEORY
          5.5.1. Psychological theories as conventions
          5.5.2. Logic as conventions of discourse
     5.6. THE INCOHERENCE OF CONVENTIONALISM
          5.6.1. The condition of consistency rests on an empirical
                    claim
          5.6.2. Conventionalism and the fallacy of constitutive
                    relations
          5.6.3. Conventionalism involves dualism
          5.6.4. Linguistic conventions are no substitute for logic
     5.7. CONCLUSION

6. MEANING AS USE
     6.1. INTRODUCTION
     6.2. WITTGENSTEIN’S IDENTIFICATION OF
            MEANING WITH USE
     6.3. SCHLICK’S ADOPTION OF WITTGENSTEIN’S
            CRITERION
          6.3.1. The principle of verification: early position –
                    meaning is linked to states of affairs
          6.3.2. The principle of verification: middle position –
                    meaning is sometimes identified with use 
          6.3.3. The principle of verification: meaning is identified
                    with use
          6.3.4. The connection with operationism
          6.3.5. Concluding remarks
     6.4. THE CONSTRUCTIONISTS’ ADOPTION OF
            WITTGENSTEIN’S CRITERION 
          6.4.1. The contextual dependency of meaning 
          6.4.2. The similarities with Schlick’s appropriation
          6.4.3. Social constructionism and operationism
          6.4.4. Reconsideration of the received view
     6.5. CRITICAL COMMENTS
          6.5.1. The incomplete characterisation of meaning
          6.5.2. Wittgenstein’s examination of the concept ‘game’
          6.5.3. A disregard for the general
     6.6. CONCLUSION  

7. PHENOMENALISM AND ITS ANALOGUE
     7.1. INTRODUCTION
     7.2. THE PHENOMENAL ‘GIVEN’ IN LOGICAL POSITIVISM
     7.3. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM’S CONTINUATION OF
            ‘KNOWLEDGE AS MEDIATED’, AND THE LINK TO 
            KANT
          7.3.1. The worst argument in the world: social
                    constructionism’s ‘Gem’
     7.4. CONCLUSION  

8. CONCLUSIONS AND SPECULATIONS

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