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Social Construction

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California State University, Dominguez Hills
University of Wisconsin, Parkside
Created: June 11, 2004
Latest Update: June 11, 2004

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On Thursday, June 11, 2004 we received the following email:


Dear Ms. Curran,
Being a psychiatrist, a humanist, and a social constructor of reality (SCR), I accessed your website. But being an old, out-of date codger, I am puzzled by finding articles which may be taken as examples of such social construction, but the absence of references to more general formulations of the status of the current concept of SCR.

I am in the process of writing a paper about certain co-constructed statements that occur in psychotherapy. I would like to know what are the latest takes on this SCR theory. Can you refer me to perhaps one or two of the top current authors? Is the Berger and Luckmann book still the last word on this?

Many thanks --

On Thursday, June 11, 2004 jeanne responded and records here for those of you on collaborative writing teams with us:

Gee, I sure hope Berger and Luckman aren't the last word. They wrote in my youth. The reason my site puzzles you is that I teach students in an urban commuter college, who did not have our background in liberal education. I try to summarize and discuss theory, methods and praxis with them so that many go on to serious study either in the discipline, or as life learning. I'm retired. I only teach in the Fall semester. And my department has lifted all limits on my classes. I'll probably have more than 240 students next semester for my 69th birthday. We don't have the heart to turn them away. Doesn't leave me much time to pursue the leading edge of social constructivism, or to summarize and write my lectures for later reference. The only file I could locate that actually dealt with this issue was one on functional illiteracy, I suspect that one went up because it is so needed where we are.

That doesn't mean I don't try to get to leading edge theory. I'm currently at work on several essays for the site and professional meetings on explaining social constructivism, which I see as related to therapy, as a means of life time learning legitimized by, but not contained in, the university. You're welcome to my notes as I go. I'll send you links until the site finishes its reorganization, since I'm just now cleaning up all the indices and fixing old links. Many of my thirty years of teaching at this state university were consumed in the field, which includes South Central L.A. AND Palos Verdes, perhaps the single best-known suburb for living beyond one's income. Thirty years ago, at USC, I concluded that I wanted to teach, not practice, therapy, because I consider teaching a form of therapy which simply puts the tools for understanding and growth in the patient's hands. I've followed that same belief through to taking my teaching beyond the university, which I find hopelessly corrupted by useless training and loss of focus on critical thinking (the university corrupted, that is, not my teaching).

With that hasty background, let me share some of my sources, which should answer your question:

Virtual Faculty - Site of scholars sharing a sense of social constructivism. Kenneth Gergen , should be a good source on social constructivism. Lois Shawver , is a therapist, and was the one who drew me into the group. I would consider this a good start for what you're looking for. The group doesn't work well for me because most of them are younger and seeking publishers and career opportunities that I don't need any longer. So I have participated a lot less directly, choosing to take my own experiment in this area in the direction I described to you above.

Not many people are yet more concerned about learning as therapy in raising the consciousness of our local communities to enable governance discourse. Everyone still seems to think that "schools" will work. Not in their present form, they won't. I did like the idea of virtual faculty until it turned into real life certification for traditional pursuits. I think they got caught in some circular reasoning there, but then, isn't that want constitutive theory and constructivism is all about - that the social structure in which we find ourselves impinges on our production and our production in turn on the social structure? But I think if you follow through with the people in that group you'll find some of the best research and application in that field.

Other theorists on whom I base much of my work are Bakhtin, and answerability, Maria Pia Lara , on illocutionary discourse, Habermas , on the importance of the system of law to governance discourse and legitimacy and social justice. Those files won't be complete either, but I'm trying to spend most of the summer to make them more complete and accessible to my students and to people like you, who may find that the disciplines have tended to grow past the grasp of those of us who still have concrete concerns. My university just set up a listserv for me, and I'll be glad to alert you when information goes up, if you're interested.

You might find that you'd like Hacking's Social Construction of What. The whole world is finally turning to constructivism. Publisher: Harvard University Press; (May 1, 1999) ISBN: 067481200X . I also thoroughly appreciate Jonathan Lear's Open Minded , and other approaches to what Lear calls "knowingness" .

You might also want to consider Freire , and Jerome S. Bruner on learning theory, if you are interested in linking those disciplines to therapy. I can give you more details and links on these two, or on bell hooks, or Cornell West, if their approach interests you.

I hope this helps. I sent a cc to my colleagues, who write with me, since we do write and teach about this stuff all the time, and I don't want to tell you something that I forget to share later with them. An old therapy precaution, yes?

love and peace to all,


Site Copyright: Jeanne Curran and Susan R. Takata and Individual Authors, June 2004.
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