IV. Core Features of Social Constructionism
As precursors to social constructionist thought, the ideas discussed in the preceding sections formed into a theoretical perspective that some consider transcendent as a perspective across disciplines, in particular of sociology, psychology, psychotherapy, and feminism. Ten core elements have been identified as being more or less shared by scholars who take a social constructionist perspective (Henry, 2007):
- Because of the way it is negotiated and created, “truth” about the social world or social categories in it, such as crime, should be challenged and seen as “truth claims” rather than as having any real or concrete status. Concepts such as what the real crime rate is, trends in crime, and who commits crime and why are claims about the truth rather than facts about reality.
- Collective claims by groups about understanding social phenomena in the same ways, such as common views about what counts as crime or justice, should not be seen as evidence of an underlying reality; for example, if terrorism is a crime, then why do many nations think that U.S. foreign policy displays elements of terrorism? Does that mean that U.S. foreign policy is criminal?
- The use of labels to classify social phenomena such as murder, theft, robbery, and rape need not reflect an underlying reality, even though the outcomes of these actions can be harmful to the victims; rape may be more an act of violence than a sex act, and food poisoning caused by systemically unhygienic restaurants may be more an act of robbery than a street mugging is.
- What counts as reality—say, of crime, harm, and consequences—may be different across time, space, and cultures. Some examples include smoking, cocaine distribution, and environmental pollution over time and in different cultures.
- Because of the process involved in its production, neither experts nor nonexperts have a privileged claim to reveal the truth about social phenomena such as crime; for example, the identification of a suicide or homicide depends on circumstantial evidence that coroners may know less well than relatives.
- All knowledge is the result of social processes that are based on interaction and shared subjective meaning attached to a situation that are negotiated by the participants. These participants include, for example, robbers and their victims, as well as criminologists and their students.
- Meaning is produced in an ongoing fashion and gains significance from the people who are attributing qualities to acts and events, as well as from the occasions when it is produced, performed, or acted toward. For example, occasional drug users may become “junkies” not through their use of drugs alone but by the way that others act toward them, label them, and limit them from normal behavior.
- People who produce knowledge, such as criminologists, government statisticians, and professional practitioners, are no less subject to critique, and their claims are no more privileged than those of others.
- Knowledge production about social phenomena such as crime is a political process, shaped by concentrated interests that are seeking a social or political outcome; consider, for example, claims for example that abortion is murder, homosexuality is a sin, and consumer fraud is a simply a sharp business practice.
- Knowledge and meaning about social phenomena such as crime are not fixed but multiple, variable, and changeable through reconstructing the language and symbolic process and by altering the discursive methods that accomplish it.