The Social Construction of Reality - Part I


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This is a presentation on the book The Social Construction of Reality by Berger & Luckmann.

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The Social Construction of Reality - Part I

  1. 1. The Social Construction of Reality A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge
  2. 2. Introduction: The Problem of the Sociology of Knowledge P. 1 ―The basic contentions of the argument of this  book are implicit in its title and subtitle, namely, that reality is socially constructed and that the sociology of knowledge must analyze the processes in which this occurs.‖ Reality = ―a quality appertaining to phenomena that  we recognize as having a being independent of our own volition (we cannot ―wish them away‖)‖ Knowledge = ―the certainty that phenomena are real  and that they possess specific characteristics‖
  3. 3. Reality Is reality something we normally question?  It’s usually taken for granted until there is a problem with  it. Sociologists cannot take reality for granted. Why?  The realities of people in different cultures are different.  Is this true?  Does this mean that reality is ―relative‖?  What does that mean?  The sociology of knowledge has to examine  whatever passes as knowledge in a society…
  4. 4. Government Bans Traditional Healers to Try to Save the Lives of Albinos Tanzania’s government officially banned traditional healers last week in an attempt to stop the killing of albinos for medicine. But local news services reported that healers were openly defying the ban. Many are registered with the government and belong to their own medical association, which opposes the ban, saying its members treat 30 percent of the Tanzanian population. Prime Minister Mizengo Pinda announced Friday that the government was immediately revoking all licenses. ―These witch doctors are big liars,‖ he said at a public rally, the newspaper The Citizen reported. ―They are fanning albino killings.‖ At least 40 albinos have been murdered in Tanzania since mid-2007, many of them hacked to death in front What is their reality? of their families, and their legs, breasts, genitals and other parts carried off. In one case, an albino child 9 months old was taken from its mother and killed. High prices are paid for potions made from albinos because of rumors that they will make the user rich, and fishermen weave albino hair into their nets for luck. More than 90 Tanzanians have been charged with killing albinos or trading in their body parts; 4 were police officers. Bizarre rumors about albinos — including the belief that they fade away instead of dying — are common all over Africa, but it is not clear why the surge in killings began two years ago or why it is concentrated in Tanzania. To fight prejudice, Mr. Pinda has nominated an albino woman for Parliament and has adopted an albino child.
  5. 5. Roots of Sociology of Knowledge Marx, Nietzche, the historicist  Marx – ―man’s consciousness is determined by his social  being‖ Ideology – ―ideas serving as weapons for social interests‖  False consciousness – ―thought that is alienated from the real  social being of the thinker‖ What would be the context of these ideas in Marxist  thought?
  6. 6. The Problem of Epistemology P. 13 ―To include epistemological questions  concerning the validity of sociological knowledge in the sociology of knowledge is somewhat like trying to push a bus in which one is riding.‖ P. 13 ―How can I be sure, say, of my sociological  analysis of American middle-class mores in view of the fact that the categories I use for this analysis are conditioned by historically relative forms of thought, that I myself and everything I think is determined by my genes and by my ingrown hostility to my fellowmen, and that, to cap it all, I am myself a member of the American middle class?‖
  7. 7. Theory How is understanding the social construction of reality  theory? P. 14 ―We consider the sociology of knowledge to be part  of the empirical discipline of sociology. Our purpose here is, of course, a theoretical one. But our theorizing refers to the empirical discipline in its concrete problems, not to the philosophical investigation of the foundations of the empirical discipline. Our enterprise is one of sociological theory, not of the methodology of sociology.‖ What do they mean?  P. 15 ―Put differently, only a few are concerned with the  theoretical interpretation of the world, but everybody lives in a world of some sort.‖
  8. 8. Knowledge P. 15 ―The theoretical formulations of reality, whether  they be scientific or philosophical or even mythological, do not exhaust what is quot;realquot; for the members of a society. Since this is so, the sociology of knowledge must first of all concern itself with what people quot;knowquot; as quot;realityquot; in their everyday, non- or pre-theoretical lives. In other words, commonsense quot;knowledgequot; rather than quot;ideasquot; must be the central focus for the sociology of knowledge. It is precisely this quot;knowledgequot; that constitutes the fabric of meanings without which no society could exist.‖ What is ―commonsense‖ knowledge vs. ―theoretical‖  knowledge?
  9. 9. Other Precedent P. 18 ―We can best describe the path along which we set out by reference to  two of the most famous and most influential quot;marching ordersquot; for sociology. One was given by Durkheim in The Rules of Sociological Method, the other by Weber in Wirtschaft and Gesellschaft. Durkheim tells us: quot;The first and most fundamental rule is: Consider social facts as things.‖ And Weber observes: quot;Both for sociology in the present sense, and for history, the object of cognition is the subjective meaning-complex of action.― These two statements are not contradictory. Society does indeed possess objective facticity. And society is indeed built up by activity that expresses subjective meaning. And, incidentally, Durkheim knew the latter, just as Weber knew the former. It is precisely the dual character of society in terms of objective facticity and subjective meaning that makes its quot;reality sui generis,‖ [of its own kind] to use another key term of Durkheim's.‖ What do they mean?  P. 18 ―The central question for sociological theory can then be put as follows:  How is it possible that subjective meanings become objective facticities? Or, in terms appropriate to the afore-mentioned theoretical positions: How is it possible that human activity should produce a world of things?‖ The main question of the book… 
  10. 10. I: The Foundations of Knowledge in Everyday Life
  11. 11. 1. The Reality of Everyday Life P. 19 ―Everyday life presents itself as a reality  interpreted by men and subjectively meaningful to them as a coherent world. As sociologists we take this reality as the object of our analyses.‖ Unpack this reality… Why does this make sense? What do you have to know for this to make sense?
  12. 12. Unpack these realities…
  13. 13. Everyday Reality P. 19 ―The world of everyday life is not only taken for  granted as reality by the ordinary members of society in the subjectively meaningful conduct of their lives. It is a world that originates in their thoughts and actions, and is maintained as real by these.‖ Reality is constructed in our thoughts and actions and is  maintained by them?
  14. 14. Consciousness P. 20 ―Consciousness is always intentional; it always  intends or is directed toward objects. We can never apprehend some putative substratum of consciousness as such, only consciousness of something or other.‖ Is this true? Can you only be ―conscious of…‖?  P. 21 ―My consciousness, then, is capable of moving  through different spheres of reality… I am conscious of the world as consisting of multiple realities.‖ Are you conscious of multiple realities?  Examples? 
  15. 15. Reality Par Excellence P. 21 ―Among the multiple realities there is one that  presents itself as the reality par excellence. This is the reality of everyday life. Its privileged position entitles it to the designation of paramount reality.‖ Why?  P. 21 ―I apprehend the reality of everyday life as an  ordered reality. Its phenomena are prearranged in patterns that seem to be independent of my apprehension of them and that impose themselves upon the latter. The reality of everyday life appears already objectified, that is, constituted by an order of objects that have been designated as objects before my appearance on the scene. The language used in everyday life continuously provides me with the necessary objectifications and posits the order within which these make sense and within which everyday life has meaning for me.‖
  16. 16. Everyday Reality P. 22 The reality of everyday life is organized around  the ―here‖ of my body and the ―now‖ of my present. This ―here and now‖ is the focus of my attention to the reality of everyday life. What is ―here and now‖ presented to me in everyday life is the realissimum of my consciousness.‖ P. 22 ―Typically, my interest in the far zones is less  intense and certainly less urgent. I am intensely interested in the cluster of objects involved in my daily occupation.‖ So, what is your cluster of objects that are the center of  your focus?
  17. 17. Intersubjectivity P. 23 ―The reality of everyday life further presents itself to me as an  intersubjective world, a world that I share with others. This intersubjectivity sharply differentiates everyday life from other realities of which I am conscious. I am alone in the world of my dreams, but I know that the world of everyday life is as real to others as it is to myself. Indeed, I cannot exist in everyday life without continually interacting and communicating with others.‖ How do we know others share our reality?  P. 23 ―I know that my natural attitude to this world corresponds to the  natural attitude of others, that they also comprehend the objectifications by which this world is ordered, that they also organize this world around the quot;here and nowquot; of their being in it and have projects for working in it. I also know, of course, that the others have a perspective on this common world that is not identical with mine. My quot;herequot; is their quot;there.quot; My quot;nowquot; does not fully overlap with theirs.‖ What’s the implication?  That spot on your shirt… Yeah, no one is going to notice it because they are  focused on their own spot. We tend to self-centered.
  18. 18. Symbolic Interactionism P. 23 ―Most importantly, I know that there is an  ongoing correspondence between my meanings and their meanings in this world, that we share a common sense about its reality.‖ How do we know what other peoples’ realities are?  How do we know what other people want?  Have you ever said, ―That’s not what I mean‖? 
  19. 19. Problems with Reality P. 24 ―As long as the routines of everyday life continue  without interruption they are apprehended as unproblematic. But even the unproblematic sector of everyday reality is so only until further notice, that is, until its continuity is interrupted by the appearance of a problem. When this happens, the reality of everyday life seeks to integrate the problematic sector into what is already unproblematic.‖
  20. 20. Insanity What does it mean for someone to go ―insane‖?  They no longer are participating in the reality of the rest of  us. What’s the problem with this? 
  21. 21. Alternative Realities What about other realities that are acceptable  alternatives to everyday life? Movies  Theater  Holidays  Rituals  Religion  These have boundaries; they are marked off from everyday life so we know that they are only temporary realities.
  22. 22. 2. Social Interaction in Everyday Life P. 28 ―The most important experience of others takes  place in the face-to-face situation, which is the prototypical case of social interaction. All other cases are derivatives of it. In the face-to-face situation the other is appresented to me in a vivid present shared by both of us. I know that in the same vivid present I am appresented to him.‖ Why is this so important?  This is our chance to understand someone utilizing all of the  possible cues P. 29 ―This means that, in the face-to-face situation, the  other’s subjectivity is available to me through a maximum of symptoms… In the face-to-face situation the other is fully real.‖
  23. 23. Typificatory Schemes P. 30 ―All the same, both  misinterpretation and ―hypocrisy‖ are more difficult to sustain in face-to- face interaction than in less ―close‖ forms of social relations. On the other hand, I apprehend the other by means of typificatory schemes even in the face-to-face situation, although these schemes are more ―vulnerable‖ to his interference than in ―remoter‖ forms of interaction.‖ What we believe about someone  before we interact with them can actually lead to them behaving in How do you expect Santa to ways that accord with our existing behave? belief.
  24. 24. Proximity of Typifications P. 33 ―The social reality of everyday life is thus apprehended in a  continuum of typifications, which are progressively anonymous as they are removed from the quot;here and nowquot; of the face-to-face situation. At one pole of the continuum are those others with whom I frequently and intensively interact in face-to-face situations—my quot;inner circle,quot; as it were. At the other pole are highly anonymous abstractions, which by their very nature can never be available in face-to-face interaction. Social structure is the sum total of these typifications and of the recurrent patterns of interaction established by means of them. As such, social structure is an essential element of the reality of everyday life.‖ Does anyone stand out?
  25. 25. 3. Language and Knowledge in Everyday Life P. 34 ―Human expressivity is capable of  objectivation, that is, it manifests itself in products of human activity that are available both to their producers and to other men as elements of a common world. Such objectivations serve as more or less enduring indices of the subjective processes of their producers, allowing their availability to extend beyond the face-to-face situation in which they can be directly apprehended.‖ Does a red octagon have any inherent meaning? What gives it meaning?
  26. 26. Signification P. 35 ―The reality of everyday life is not  only filled with objectivations; it is only possible because of them. I am constantly surrounded by objects that quot;proclaimquot; the subjective intentions of my fellowmen, although I may sometimes have difficulty being quite sure just what it is that a particular object is quot;proclaiming,quot; especially if it was produced by men whom I have not known well or at all in face-to-face situations… A special but crucially important case of objectivation is signification, that is, the human production of signs. A sign may be distinguished from other objectivations by its explicit intention to serve as an index of subjective meanings.‖ What are ―objectivations‖?  Realities or parts of reality externalized. 
  27. 27. Language P. 36 ―Language, which may be defined here as a  system of vocal signs, is the most important sign system of human society.‖ Why?  P. 37 ―The common objectivations of everyday life  are maintained primarily by linguistic signification. Everyday life is, above all, life with and by means of the language I share with my fellowman.‖ e.g., ―bicho‖ 
  28. 28. Language P. 38 ―As a sign system, language has the quality of  objectivity. I encounter language as a facticity external to myself and it is coercive in its effect on me. Language forces me into its patterns… I cannot use words invented by my three-year-old son if I want to communicate outside the family.‖ Is this true? Are we ―slaves‖ to language?  Why is this true? 
  29. 29. Culture P. 41 ―Within the semantic fields thus built up it is possible for  both biographical and historical experience to be objectified, retained and accumulated. The accumulation, of course, is selective, with the semantic fields determining what will be retained and what quot;forgottenquot; of the total experience of both the individual and the society. By virtue of this accumulation a social stock of knowledge is constituted, which is transmitted from generation to generation and which is available to the individual in everyday life. I live in the commonsense world of everyday life equipped with specific bodies of knowledge. What is more, I know that others share at least part of this knowledge, and they know that I know this. My interaction with others in everyday life is, therefore, constantly affected by our common participation in the available social stock of knowledge.‖ Without it, can you participate?  Broader implications?  As more knowledge accumulates, it takes longer to become an  expert Average time getting PhD today – 6 years; 40 years ago – 4 years 
  30. 30. Why culture? • P. 43 ―Mutatis mutandis [the Tire goes flat  necessary changes having been • Cell phone battery dies made], a large part of the social stock of knowledge consists of • Don’t know where a recipes for the mastery of routine restaurant is located problems. Typically, I have little • Someone next to you interest in going beyond this collapses pragmatically necessary • You need to drop a knowledge as long as the class problems can indeed be • Someone kidnaps you mastered thereby.‖ and drops you in the Time for a quiz. What do you do middle of the Sahara  Desert given the following problems: How do you know what to do?
  31. 31. Knowledge Validity P. 44 ―The validity of my knowledge of everyday life is taken  for granted by myself and by others until further notice, that is, until a problem arises that cannot be solved in terms of it. As long as my knowledge works satisfactorily, I am generally ready to suspend doubts about it. In certain attitudes detached from everyday reality—telling a joke, at the theater or in church, or engaging in philosophical speculation—I may perhaps doubt elements of it. But these doubts are quot;not to be taken seriously.quot; For instance, as a businessman I know that it pays to be inconsiderate of others. I may laugh at a joke in which this maxim leads to failure, I may be moved by an actor or a preacher extolling the virtues of consideration, and I may concede in a philosophical mood that all social relations should be governed by the Golden Rule. Having laughed, having been moved and having philosophized, I return to the quot;seriousquot; world of business, once more recognize the logic of its maxims, and act accordingly. Only when my maxims fail quot;to deliver the goodsquot; in the world to which they are intended to apply are they likely to become problematic to me quot;in earnest.―‖
  32. 32. Key to Being a Good Conversationalist P. 45 ―However, my relevance structures intersect  with the relevance structures of others at many points, as a result of which we have ―interesting‖ things to say to each other.‖ We are most interested in the things that are closest  to our center of attention; the things that matter to us most Thus, finding those intersections makes for  ―interesting‖ conversation. Example: Lawyer for the Marines at childbirth class 