Social Constructivism

Published 04 Jan 2017


Social constructivism can be regarded as both a sociological and at the same time, a psychological theory. It is one of the theories of knowledge. It attempts to describe how social phenomena develop in certain social contexts. In order to further elucidate this, it is pertinent to define what a social construct is. A social construct is a concept that seems to be natural and vivid to those who chose to accept it. However, in the real sense of it, it is an invention of a particular culture or society. Social constructivism emphasizes the ways by which meanings and understandings grow out of social interactions.

Social constructivism is based on assumptions about REALITY: that it is constructed through human activity and that it is non-existent prior to social invention. KNOWLEGE: that it is a human product, socially constructed and that inpiduals create meanings through interactions with others and the environment. LEARNING: That it is a social process, and that meaningful learning takes place when inpiduals are engaged in social activities. with these assumptions, it was believed that young children developed their thinking abilities by interacting with adults.

Children Social constructs are generally accepted to be by-products of numerous human choices as opposed to the laws resulting from pine will (0r nature).

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In general, social constructionism is at odds with essentialism. Essentialism identifies specific phenomena in terms of transhistorical essences that are independent of the conscious beings which specify the categorical structure of reality.

Social constructionism basically focuses on the uncovering of the ways by which inpiduals and groups take part in creating assumed social reality. Social constructivism entails examining the ways by which social phenomena are brought forth, institutionalised and finally made to tradition by people. This is seen as s process in flux, changing from time to time. Reality, in this sense, is produced by people when they act on their interpretations of it.

“Constructionism” was made prominent in the United States by Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann’s 1966 in the book: “The Social Construction of Reality”. Berger and Luckmann (1966) argued that all knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common sense knowledge of everyday reality, is derived from and ultimately maintained by social interactions. As people interact with one another, they do so with the understanding that their respective perceptions of reality are similar. They act upon this understanding and therefore their common knowledge of reality becomes reinforced. Since this common sense knowledge depends on people, human typifications, significations. Institutions come to be presented as part of an objective reality.It is in this sense that it can be said that reality is socially constructed.

Marvin Carlson is one of the few researchers to work on the theory initially. He believed that people’s lives “are structured according to repeated socially sanctioned modes of behaviour” and this “raises the possibility that all human activity could potentially be considered as performance.” This is the deviant way in which people act in public society to conform. In sociology of knowledge, what seems real to members of a social class arises from the position of the class, such as the capitalist or working classes, especially with respect to the economic fundamentals which affect the particular social class. According to the theories advanced by Karl Mannheim, who formulated the classic theories of sociology of knowledge, intellectuals occupy a special position which is to some extent free of the intellectual blinders imposed by the social position of other classes.


The history of social constructivism dates back to the 16tn century when Giambattista Vico published a treatise on the construction of knowledge in the year 1710. This treatise brought to limelight (rather than invented) the idea that knowledge can be constructed by the knower. Vico’s concepts death mostly with the relationship between truth, knowledge and the origins of language. It also touched on the desire of the human mind to create knowledge (Lo 1996). It is through his work that we take the term ‘constructivist’. His slogan, according to von Glasersfeld, was, “The human mind can only know what the human mind has made.

Vico is credited with coining the term ‘constructivist,’ Piaget is seen as the original constructivist. His theory of knowledge, published in 1954, portrayed the child as a ‘lone scientist’ creating his or her own sense of the world. Piaget felt that biological development is a process that goes through organization and adaptation to the environment. This same thing happens in the case of cognitive development. Piaget visualised that this occurred in a social context. He maintained his focus on the inpidual learner.

Vico and Piaget, in their time were not known as constructivists. They however, through their extensive work, initiated study into the theories of knowing and creating realities. The study of their work gave rise to different theories of constructivism. Constructivism can be pided and sub-pided into a number of related categories of the main principles.

Radical constructivism, whole theme constructivism, social-cognitive constructivism, idea-based social constructivism – all arise from the original concepts of constructivist theories which they propounded, yet varied in the approach to defining how the knower constructs his or her knowledge.

A primary pision of the constructivist theory comes between the view of the knower as an inpidual – interacting within social structures, but creating his or her own view of reality independent of others, and the knower gaining his or her view of reality through a socially-mediated process. Where the earliest proponents of constructivism concerned themselves with the inpidual, later philosophers saw knowledge construction as part of, and arising from, social interactions. Dewey and, later, Vygotsky, recognized that the construction of knowledge was rooted in a group context (Oxford 1997).

American philosopher and educator, John Dewey is often classified as constructivist. His beliefs about education and ways of knowing included the premise that knowing is not done by an outside spectator but is instead constructed by a participant, with society providing a reference point or theory for making sense of the experience. Dewey exposited on the notion that all knowledge is constructed by the knower, by including the idea that there is a relationship between the inpidual, the community, and the world mediated by socially constructed ideas. This brand of constructivism is sometimes referred to as social constructivism. Unlike those philosophers before them, social constructivists believe that knowledge construction takes place, and is enhanced, by social interaction.

Another proponent of the Social Constructivist ideology was Jean Piaget. Piaget was the pioneer of the constructivist approach to cognition in the 20th century. Piaget created a theory of cognition and developed an approach to epistemology. Because of his work with children, in studying the development of their knowledge, much of Piaget’s work has been categorized, mistakenly, according to von Glasersfeld, as child psychology rather than philosophy.

Another scholar that contributed to the field of constructivism is Lev Vygotsky. He was prolific writer in Russia. His works were suppressed and are only recently became available for translation and distribution.

Von Glasersfeld calls Vygotsky the “founding father of Social Constructivism”. Vygotsky perceived that thought evolved from both the experiences and maturation process of an inpidual. Significantly, he also believed that constructs have social origins and that they are learned through interaction with others. Vygotsky’s views perge from Piaget’s in this respect. While both of them would agree that learning occurs in the activities and experiences of the learner, Vygotsky emphasises on the interaction within social groups. He put much of his efforts into studying the relationship of speech and communication with learning in a social context. In Mind and Society, he writes, “children solve practical tasks with the help of their speech, as well as their eyes and hands”

Social Constructivism today is often mistaken by educators as an approach to teaching and learning, rather than a philosophy on how knowledge is created or obtained. Obviously, this has a great impact on the teaching and learning process. Constructivism has been adopted as a “learning and teaching” philosophy insofar as its central themes deal with the concept of how students know and learn. There is still a lot of ongoing research on Social constructivism. The concept will continue to take shape as more and more researchers delve into the subject in a view to creating a generally acceptable concept. Also, it will continue to receive attention as people find more practical uses for the concept.


  • Troelstra A.S. History of constructivism in the 20th century.
  • Bella J. T (2008). Social Constructivism: A History. Microsoft Encarta. Microsoft Corporation.
  • Podosky I. T (1968). Essays on Constructivism. PowerHouse Publishing Co. Ltd pp 68 – 72.
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