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Social Constructionism in Qualitative Research

Paper Type: Free Essay Subject: Data Analysis
Wordcount: 2320 words Published: 8th Feb 2020

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  1. Introduction: Why did you pick this particular theory/philosophical paradigm?

Social constructionist research focuses on how knowledge develops as a social construction (Savin-Baden & Major, 2013).  Prior to beginning this course, I was unfamiliar with many of the theories that underpin qualitative research.  I have had a lot of exposure to constructivism, but, other than that, most of these theories were new to me.  Because I am rather well-versed in constructivism, I didn’t want to research this topic.  I wanted to choose something that was new to me, but I still wanted to research something that I found interesting.  Likewise, I wanted to research something that I felt connected to and something that could benefit me later in my career.  Therefore, I chose social constructionism. 

I am licensed to teach in many areas, but my passion lies in English Language Arts (ELA).  The construction of knowledge is heavily influenced by language.  “The way a person thinks, the very categories and concepts that provide a framework of meaning for them, are provided by the language that they use” (Burr, 2003, p. 8).  It’s quite interesting to think about the ways in which knowledge is influenced by language, especially when you consider all the many different languages that exist in the world.  I think it would be quite interesting to investigate how different languages influence the construction of knowledge.

 There are also variations within each language based on geographic region, culture, and background.  There are many factors that can influence language acquisition and, therefore, knowledge.  It would be interesting to investigate how these factors and other experiences affect a person’s development and motivation to succeed. 

  1. Give an overview of your theory/philosophical paradigm, including underlying philosophies, key players, development, how it is used in your discipline, and a critique of the theory/philosophical paradigm.

Social constructionism emerged from the ideas of Austrian-American and German

sociologists during the mid-1900s as a philosophy that examines how knowledge is created through social interactions (Savin-Baden & Major, 2013).  Social constructionism was influenced by several different people at different times and different places (Galbin, 2014).  Social constructionists acknowledge the influence of philosophers such as Immanuel Kant and Karl Marx (Galbin, 2014).  Social constructionism as we see it now cannot be traced to a single source (Burr, 2003).  Influence can be seen from North American, British, and continental writers going back more than thirty years.  Berger and Luckmann are considered to be major influences in its development (Andrews, 2012). 

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 Social constructionism focuses on relationships and examines the individual’s role in the construction of their own realities.  Although social constructionists do acknowledge the influence of genetics, they focus on the influences of socialization at both the individual and group level (Galbin, 2004).  Social constructionism is made up of four main features.  First, it encourages us take a critical stance toward taken-for-granted assumptions about the world around us.  Second, it states that our construction of knowledge and understanding is specific to both history and culture.  Third, the knowledge we create is sustained through our daily interactions with others.  Finally, social constructionism explains that social action and constructed knowledge go hand in hand. 

 “Social constructionism involves challenging most of our common-sense knowledge of ourselves and the world we live in” (Galbin, 2014, p. 83).  Burr highlights the fact that social constructionism encourages us to be cautious of how we perceive the world (2003).  The things we know about the world are based in large part on our social influences and observations.  The categories we have created are due to our language and socialization.  For example, we have divided human beings into two categories: men and women.  “Social constructionism bids us to seriously question whether the categories ‘man’ and ‘woman’ are simply a reflection of naturally occurring distinct types of human being” (Burr, 2003, p. 3).  With all of the debate surrounding this concept of gender identity, we are forced to reexamine these categories we have created.

 “Social constructionists uphold the belief that the way we understand the world is a product of a historical process of interaction and negotiation between groups of people” (Galbin, 2014, p. 83).  The categories and concepts that we use to define the world around us are specific to when and where we live (Burr, 2003).  The fashion and trends that we recognize vary according to our geographic location.  They also vary, however, according to what period in time we live in.  What was considered “in style” in the 1920’s is drastically different from what we consider in style today.  Likewise, the way we view the world and the people within it has changed dramatically.  Children, who were once seen simply as smaller adults, are now more often seen as innocents in need of adult protection (Burr, 2003).  Consider also the way that we view men and women.  At one point in time, these categories were relatively easily defined.  Now, however, defining one’s gender is not as simple as examining their anatomy.  The ways that we understand the world change based on where we live and at what point in time we are living. 

 “It is through the daily interactions between people in the course of social life that our versions of knowledge become fabricated” (Burr, 2013, p. 4).  Knowledge is created through our everyday interactions.  It is through socialization that we grow and learn as individuals.  Knowledge is created without us even realizing it.  Through our normal, everyday experiences, we are creating new knowledge.  What we understand and accept also comes from our social experiences.  What we understand is influenced by the understanding of others around us.  Our truths, therefore, may not be actual truths but instead what is socially accepted by the people around us.

 The way that we understand things influences the type of social action that is considered acceptable.  Our constructions of the world around us determine what is acceptable for people to do.  Our understanding of the world also has implications for how people are expected or allowed to treat others (Burr, 2003).  Burr offers the example of drunkenness (2003).  There was a time when the drunk people were seen as solely responsible for their unruly behavior (Burr, 2003).  Now, however, we recognize alcoholism as an addiction, an illness (Burr, 2003).  The blame has been removed from the individual and is now placed on the illness of addiction (Burr, 2003).  Where once we would punish drunken behavior as a crime, we now seek medical and psychological treatment for these individuals (Burr, 2003).

 “One thing that seems to unite different forms of social constructionism is their role in forming a radical critique of mainstream psychology” (Burr, 2003, p. 20).  However, this also could be a critique of social constructionism.  To some extent, social constructionism needs mainstream psychology.  The goal of social constructionism is to “subvert the more damaging or oppressive aspects of mainstream psychology” (Burr, 2003, p. 20).  Without mainstream psychology, would there even be a need for social constructionism?

  1. How does your selected theory/philosophical paradigm shape your potential research project? (How does this theory guide research questions, methodology, methods, and desired uses of research projects?)

My research project will be to investigate the influence of parent involvement on student

motivation.  Social constructionism is based on the idea that knowledge is created through our daily interactions with other people.  The effects of parent involvement on students have been questioned for some time now.  Being from a rural, low-income area, I have often wondered how the influence of parental involvement in school activities affects student behavior and performance.  Studies have shown that lack of parent involvement is typically due to lack of time or resources.  This is usually due to working odd hours, living in poverty, or lack of employment.  All of these things affect not only their involvement in school activities, but also their involvement at home.  When a child’s parents are not home, they do not have the opportunities to construct knowledge that other children have. 

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Social constructionism also highlights the important of language in the construction of knowledge.  Often, parents who are living in poverty experienced difficulties in school themselves.  Therefore, even if they are spending time with their children at home, their children are unable to construct the same knowledge as many of their peers.  If their parents do not have adequate language development, the children are missing out on language acquisition.

For some parents living in poverty, they are unable to afford a car or other transportation.  Therefore, the only socialization their child receives is at home or once they begin school at age five.  Once these students begin school, they are already significantly behind their peers. 

The parents’ lack of involvement in school activities is hindering not only their child’s construction of knowledge, but also their own.  Getting involved in school activities is a social interaction for both students and parents.  Everyone involved is constructing knowledge through these interactions. 

  1. Locate 1 exemplar article that uses your theory/philosophical paradigm and provide a concise analysis of how the researchers used that particular theory/philosophical paradigm in their study. (Please do not merely summarize the articles). This article should be an empirical article that utilizes the theory that you have chosen. It should not be an article that merely explains your theory.

This research study was based on the foundational work of Kessler and McKenna

regarding the relationship between gender attribution and genital attribution.  The authors replicated their original study with the addition of eye tracking.  They took the stimuli from the original study and developed digital replications of these stimuli.  They used non-gender specific faces with the addition of certain gender cues.  These cues were hair (long v. short), hips (wide v. narrow), chest (breasts v. flat), body hair (body hair v. none), and genitals (penis v. vulva).  Eye movements were recorded while looking at the stimuli.  With regard to gender attribution, almost all participants attributed gender according to the depicted genital.  “When the depicted genital did not reflect the common association of the rest of the presented gender cures, the attributions were more often in line with the penis than with the vulva” (Wenzlaff, 2018, p. 11).  Based on Kessler and McKenna’s study, “This is indicative of higher cognitive effort and more difficulty ignoring the penis as opposed to the vulva.  We interpret this finding in context of the persistent male dominance as well as the socio-cultural understanding of the vulva as concealed and therefore seemingly absent organ” (Wenzlaff, 2018, p. 1). 

This study investigates the social construction of gender.  The findings are consistent

with the title of this article, “If there’s a penis, it’s most likely a man” (Wenzlaff, 2018).  Because of social constructions, people are more likely to identify a person according to the presence or absence of a penis.  Even when a stimulus has all female features, the presence of a penis caused participants to identify the stimulus as a man.  Even though the original study was done forty years ago, we still saw similar results.  This is because of how knowledge is constructed.  Although our views of gender are changing, we still see someone with a penis as a man.  There’s no reason that we identify gender in these ways other than that our knowledge has been constructed to tell us that. 


  • Andrews, T. (2012). What is Social Constructionism? Grounded Theory Review, 11(1), 39-46.
  • Burr, V. (2003). What is social constructionism? Social Constructionism (pp. 1-27). New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Galbin, A. (2014). An Introduction to Social Constructionism. Social Research Reports, 26, 82-92.
  • Savin-Baden, M. & Howell Major, C. (2013). Qualitative Research: The essential guide to theory and practice. New York, NY: Routledge.
  • Wenzlaff, F., Briken, P., & Dekker, A. (2018). If there’s a penis, it’s most likely a man: Investigating the social construction of gender using eye tracking. PLoS ONE, 13(3), 1-17.


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