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Social Construction of Reality

  A division exists within sociology between those who stress the externality and independence of social reality from individuals and those who emphasize that individuals participate fully in the construction of their own lives. Following Émile Durkheim, some argue that societies possess social realities of their own which cannot be reduced to the aggregate effect of individuals\' actions. According to this school of thought social phenomena have an objective existence outside of individual members of society and exert a force which shapes individual behaviour. It is assumed that it is possible objectively to measure such phenomena.

Sociologists on the other side of the theoretical divide stress the fact that social reality is actively constructed and reconstructed by individual actors. Sociologists working from within this perspective argue that social phenomena do not simply have an unproblematic objective existence, but have to be interpreted and given meanings by those who encounter them: they have to be socially constructed. From this perspective, all knowledge of the world is a human construction rather than a mirror of some independent reality. The ‘objective’ measurement of social phenomena is actually a social construction grounded on the subjective meanings given to a situation by those doing the measuring. DA

See also critical theory; discourse; ethnomethodology; individualism; phenomenological; sociology; positivism; social fact; sociology of knowledge; structure-agency debate; symbolic interactionism; understanding; values.Further reading T. Bottomore and , R. Nisbet (eds.), A History of Sociological Analysis; , P.S. Cohen, Modern Social Theory.



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