Social Constructionist Perspective

Social constructionists largely agree with cognitive constructivists in rejecting objectivist epistemologies that a real world exists and can be discovered by establishing a correspondence between the knower and the phenomenon to be known. Social construction-ists, however, differ with constructivists regarding the centrality accorded to individually constructed experiences. That is, constructions of people, things, or events in the world arise from negotiations between persons rather than within them. The implication of this sociocentric view is that individuals' constructions both derive from and contribute to the social and cultural contexts with which they are associated.

Given their attention to collective, rather than individual experience, language and linguistic processes occupy an even more central role for social con-structionists than for constructivists. This increased emphasis is also reflected in social constructionists' broader definitions of language to include all manner of semantic, semiotic, and symbolic methods of negotiating and disseminating meaning, rather than restricting it to the spoken or written word alone.

As a form of collective meaning making and coordinated social action, language can be used to create cultural tales that become repositories of socially constructed meanings from the past or from other societies or cultures. The availability of ready-made meanings that embody the local "truths" of one's place and time implies that cultural narratives may "author" people, rather than vice versa, in the sense that they constitute prefabricated and socially validated patterns to which individual identities are expected to conform. Thus, in this constructionist view, language and culture predate the experience of any particular individual, and provide the ineluctable scaffolding for constructing one's identity in relation to others.

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