Social Constructionism in Social Work: Moral Relativism or Bulwark against the Fetish of Technique?
The concept of social constructionist draws significantly from the works of Berger and Luckmann, who consent that knowledge is mostly constructed socially to include the individual knowledge reality (Hibberd, 2005). With regard to the aspect of social work, its primary objective is to improve the capability and capacity of individuals to aIDress and cope up with the problems that individuals face in their daily routines. In aIDition, social care also aims at improving the environment in order to ensure that human demands are met effectively. From this viewpoint, it is arguably evident that the social care is somewhat a form of social change agent, which constitutes the fundamental mission of social care. Imposing change requires having an in depth understanding of the present social context (Shotter & Lannamann, 2002). With regard to the current times, scientific knowledge plays an integral role in having a comprehensive knowledge of the social context. Social care makes use of the theoretical frameworks and models in order to achieve its underlying objective (Stojnov & Butt, 2002). An integration of knowledge and theoretical frameworks helps social workers to accurately define the situation and devise appropriate methodologies for intervention. This implies that social work and practice significantly relies on theoretical models (Kukla, 2000). The main purpose of this paper is to assess Social Constructionism in social work. The paper outlines what is Social Constructionism in the area of social care. In aIDition, the paper discusses moral relativism and Social Constructionism in the social care context outlining the main scholars that criticize Social Constructionism for being morally fuzziness (Wilson, 2005).
Social Constructionism in the area of social care
The concept of Social Constructionism is based on the premise that reality is in most cases socially constructed. In aIDition, Social Constructionism lays much focus on language as play an important role in interpreting experiences of people (Witkin, 1999). The concept Social Constructionism consents that reality cannot be known, except for the interpretations that people attach to it. Discoveries on reality are reached by the establishment of hypothesis, after which they are tested (Poerksen, 2004). This denotes the significance of having a comprehensive understanding of the reality of people prior to social work practice. There are mainly two approaches that attempt to define what reality actually is. The first approach, called classical empiricism, consents that there is truth out there and does not depend on the individual (Hibberd, 2005). The second approach is Social Constructionism, which consents that reality can be defined by the individual beliefs, thoughts and perception. This approach makes a significant contribution towards the achievement of the goals and objectives of social work through laying much emphasis on the aspects of individualization, involvement, self-determination and human rights and social fairness. Social Constructionism and the practice of social care are of the viewpoint that participation is integral in making social change successful. This poses the need to assess the impacts that Social Constructionism has on the effective practice in the context of social care (Searle, 1995).
Gergen (1985) played an integral role in setting the momentum of the concept of Social Constructionism as evident in his elements of social psychology. Gergen further elaborated how individual acquisition of knowledge and ideas regarding reality mostly relies on the social processes compared to the individual processes. Due to the proposition that individual knowledge is mostly constructed socially, it is subject to variation across different periods of history and cultures that have different beliefs regarding nature and the concept of human development. Social construction of knowledge varies in a similar manner that cultures vary across diverse people. Social constructionists claim that meanings are determined by specific social setting that individuals find themselves in; as such, the practice of social work should aim at developing interventions that are tailored to specific groupings. The significance of Social Constructionism is noted by Payne (1997), who asserts that reality is an example of knowledge that plays an important role in determining human behavior. People usually arrive at an integrated perception of reality through knowledge sharing that takes place via the social processes. Human behavior is principally influenced by the social conventions that are subjective to the shared knowledge, which in turn results to the institutionalization of the social conventions and attach meanings to them (Grant, 2000). This means that social systems are usually defined by the individual understandings and the meanings that the society attaches to the social conventions.
Berger and Luckmann argued that all forms of knowledge are subject to social construction, which further extends to include knowledge regarding what is actually real. People are mostly born in a society that has already adopted culture and values and already established patterns of human behavior, this implies that the perceptions of reality are usually passed on from one generation to another suing social sanctions. Socializations play an important role in ensuring that the already existing human behavior are learned to become part of a persons viewpoint on the matter (Grant, 2000).
Basing on the above discussion of the basic concept of Social Constructionism, it is arguably evident there is a close relationship between Social Constructionism and goals of the social care. Social work relies on the questioning of the prevalent knowledge structures and having an understanding of how historical and cultural factors affect human behavior; this forms the basis of Social Constructionism. Witkin (1999) asserts that social work relies on having an understanding of the human needs basing on socio-economic ideologies and ethical factors. Witkin further argues that social work practice that is based on Social Constructionism is successful (Burr, 2003). This is mainly because both Social Constructionism and social work advocate for support and ways of expression for people. Limiting expression is not needed in the context of social care. According to the principles and practices of social work, people that lack the ability of expressing themselves and their respective human rights, and the marginal groups usually possess opinions that are helpful to the larger society. Therefore, social work can be viewed as a distinctive profession that has the capacity of changing the prevalent structures that are tied to the various forms of discrimination that are based on sex, race, gender and disability (Grant, 2000).
Another significance of Social Constructionism in the practice of social work is that it makes use of different theoretical models when having comprehensive understanding of the social state of affairs of the client. The use of different theoretical models implies that social workers can have different versions of realities; as such, it is important that social work professionals should take into consideration the possibility of assumptions and prejudices. The basic inference from this approach is that Social Constructionism facilitates the identification of problems facing the client, which can helpful when formulating the intervention strategy for helping the client. For instance, when undertaking social care to a juvenile offender, it is important to determine whether to use psychological or sociological theories (Gergen, 1985). The manner in which the problem is identified influences the kind of intervention strategies that social workers can deploy to help the juvenile offender. The practice of social work faces significant discussion as to whether it is a form of clinical practice with the main objective of administering individual treatment or basing on the historical factors that has the primary objective of reinforcing social reform within the society. It is arguably evident that goal of social care aIDress both the areas of contention, under the concept of Social Constructionism, this state of affairs is likely to be an outcome of the knowledge established by people who minimal knowledge regarding the aspect of social justice. Therefore, Social Constructionism advocates for the achievement of both social reform and the administration of individual treatment. Social care should be aimed at improving individual awareness of people regarding to the social variables that are affecting their present state of affairs. Therefore, social work should aim at eliminating the identified variables under the framework and guidelines of the concept of Social Constructionism (Deissler & Sheila, 2000).
In the practice of social care, the current patterns are critically analyzed and new alternatives established with the goal of increasing the possibility of new interactions. The client and the social worker can create an atmosphere through which they both share knowledge in order for the social worker to ascertain the realities of the client. Basically, the role of the social worker is to gather social data relating to the client and their respective viewpoints regarding life. The main objective of using the Social Constructionism approach in the administration of social care services is to increase the viewpoints that the client can have an in depth understanding of life and the various factors that shape his attitudes and behavior and those of people around him/her. Under this approach, an opportunity is created for the social worker to rearrange the reality of the client as tool for reinforcing social change (Burr, 2003).
Social Constructionism is also based on an interactional approach due to the propositions that knowledge is usually present in the social interactions between people and that meanings are generated using the interactions of social processes. The practice of social work should exploit this concept of Social Constructionism to shape the meanings that the client attaches to the social conventions. Social Constructionism has also played an integral role in the development of social work practice that is mostly language-oriented (Stam, 2001). This is due to the premise that meanings are established using language. In aIDition, social construction also relies on the language and their respective meanings. Social care can be viewed as an example of a linguistic exercise, whereby the social worker should aim at helping their clients to build new social constructions that are related to their problems. It is arguably evident that Social Constructionism has made significant contributions in the practice of social care (Berger & T, 1966).
There are diverse criticisms that have been directed towards the concept of Social Constructionism. Social constructionists are of the opinion that social processes especially language, plays an important role in shaping individual experiences. This is due to the endorsement of historical and cultural change. This approach implies that there is a close relationship between knowledge and activity. Realists are the primary critiques of the concept of social Constructionism (Hacking, 1999). All realists are of the opinion that an external world is present and is not defined our individual representations. Realists claim that the concept of Social Constructionism is misleading when its proponents relate the concept to either metaphysics or a more general theory relating to knowledge. In the context of theory of knowledge, the concept of Social Constructionism is placed in the context of the troublesome history that has attempted to incorporate relativism in the concept of rationality. As in the case of metaphysics, the concept of Social Constructionism is perceived as an example of idealism that is impractical. The critics of social Constructionism doubt its efficiency. For example, Adelbert Jenkins does not agree with the concept of Social Constructionism because of its failure to differentiate content from processes. Jenkins is of the view that the content of the self varies fundamentally in the different cultures while the processes that are used in generating and maintaining the self are universal (Hacking, 1999).
Despite the diverse contributions of social Constructionism in social care, it has a number of disadvantages that questions its applicability and the rationality behind its use. A notable constraint associated with social Constructionism is that it is based on the world view, which is a limiting factor towards assessing the available sources of knowledge that are not socially created. Social Constructionism results to the creation of beliefs by the self without questioning the originality of such beliefs that are bound to impose different conclusions and causes implying that social Constructionism conceals the truth.
Another constraint of social Constructionism is due to its inconsistency basing on the fact that social forces vary, which are likely to result to different knowledge among different social systems that have dissimilar social forces. This is a notable attribute of moral relativism, which is mainly concerned with the variations in judgments in the various cultures and people. This poses the need to distinguish between Constructionism of things and facts and one that influenced beliefs. This results to epistemic, which implies that something is real basing on social forces that created it, and metaphysical claim, which bases on the viewpoint that the accurate clarification of why we have specific beliefs is mainly concerned with the role that belief played in influencing the individual social lives.
It is arguably evident that social Constructionism has made significant contribution in the practice of social care. This is mainly because it facilitates the establishment of an equal relationship between the social worker and his respective client, application of different theoretical models to come up with alternative constructions of the view of reality. Such an approach is effective in the development of a social work intervention program that is effective.
Berger, P. & T, L., 1966. The social construction of reality. New York: Doubleday.
Burr, V., 2003. Social Constructionism. London: Routledge.
Deissler, K. & Sheila, M., 2000. Philosophy in Therapy: The Social Poetics of Therapeutic Conversation. Heidelberg: Carl Auer Systeme Verlag.
Gergen, K., 1985. The social constructionist movement in modem psychology. American Psychologist, 40, pp.266-75.
Grant, C., 2000. Functions and Fictions of Communication. London: Oxford and Bern.
Hacking, I., 1999. The Social Construction of What?. Harvard: Harvard University Press.
Hibberd, F., 2005. Unfolding Social Constructionism. New York : Springer.
Kukla, A., 2000. Social Constructivism and the Philosophy of Science. London: Routledge.
Poerksen, B., 2004. The Certainty of Uncertainty: Dialogues Introducing Constructivism. New York: Imprint-Academic.
Searle, J., 1995. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: Free Press.
Shotter, J. & Lannamann, J., 2002. The situation of social constructionism: Its imprisonment within the ritual of theory-criticism-and-debate. Theory & Psycholog, 12, pp.577-609.
Stam, H., 2001. Introduction: Social constructionism and its critiques. Theory & Psychology, pp.291-96.
Stojnov, D. & Butt, T., 2002. The relational basis of personal construct psychology. In N. R & N. G, eds. Advances of personal construct theory: New directions and perspectives. Westport, CT: Praeger. pp.81-113.
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