B. Contextual Constructionists
In contrast, some scholars, such as Spector and Kitsuse (1977/1987) and Best (1993), take what is called a “contextual,” “minimalist,” “moderate,” or “weak” view of social constructionism, believing that some underlying reality exists and that not everything is a social construction. They believe that by selecting from, interpreting, and classifying this underlying reality, humans build social constructions that have different appearances depending on the social and cultural context. Contextual constructionists accuse radical constructionists of relativism and nihilism (Best, 1989) and, according to Best (1993), the radicals misunderstand the task of analysis, which is to locate social constructions in real cultural–structural contexts; to avoid being exclusively reflexive; and to focus on the substance of issues, evaluating false claims, and even creating new claims. However, they also acknowledge that any underlying qualities that exist do not define an event, person, or action; instead, drawing on the symbolic interactionist tradition, they argue that humans do this through a social process of definition, based on what is relevant to their purposes, shaped by their past biographical positioning, in particular by social and cultural matrices. From these social contexts humans come to agree that some categorizations are more valid than others. In other words, constructions are meaningful only when they are placed in a particular social and situational context, one that specifies the criteria of definition, relevance, and classification. As a result, the concern of contextual constructionists is to understand social problems such as crime and deviance:
How they are generated, sustained, taken seriously, and acted upon; and how certain claims of seriousness are advanced by specific agents and reacted to, or ignored, by different audiences. Their argument is that by themselves [italics added], conditions do not constitute social problems; what makes them social problems is how they are defined and reacted to by various segments of society. (Goode, 1997, pp. 60–61)
In contextual constructionists’ opinion, to make changes for the better, people need to examine the generation and sustenance of social phenomena such as crime, describing how these phenomena are defined, defended, and reacted to. Those who take the contextual position are able to make judgments about which approach is better able to discern the nature of the construction process, how far it distorts any underlying reality, the extent of the discrepancies between objective reality and subjective experience, how realities can appear to exist and be sustained, and how changes may be made in the process to produce less harmful constructions.
Although this difference between radical and contextual constructionists is important insofar as it allows contextualists to use empirical evidence to support their claims that others are making fallacious claims (thus privileging their method of claims-making), commentators have argued that there is neither one constructionism nor many, but a cluster of core themes (as identified earlier) engaged in differently depending on the authors’ aims and intent. In other words, social constructionism is itself seen as a politically framed claims-making process.