Social constructionism argues that the concepts and categories we use to think and communicate with are socially constructed rather than ‘natural’ features of the world. These concepts and categories are historically and culturally specifric, making our ‘knowledge’ of the world relative rather than absolute and rendering the idea of ‘truth’ problematic. Furthermore, the creation and reproduction of what we think of as ‘knowledge’ is intimately tied to power relations; people in some sections of society have more power than others to decide what counts as legitimate knowledge, and some ways of speaking (or ‘discourses’) frame experience and identities in ways that can be oppressive. Social constructionists have therefore been critical, of mainstream psychology and social psychology, which have arguably contributed to oppressive regimes of knowledge while professing to be value-free and apolitical. Social constructionism has also challenged the individualism of the mainstream discipline, arguing that human behaviour and experience cannot be properly appreciated when divorced from its social context. This critical focus of social constructionism means that its research agenda is concerned with how language is used to build accounts and representations of people and events, and the implications of these. Although not all social constructionist research is concerned with issues of power and ideology, the challenge that the approach presents to the mainstream disclpline characterises it as a form of ‘critical social psychology’.

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