Key points, implications and way forwards of social constructionism in relation to inclusive education



Key points, implications and way forwards of social constructionism in relation to inclusive education

Key Points:

Since the 1980s, the study of social sciences has seen an emergence of several different approaches, one of which is social constructionism. Social constructionism cannot be defined with one single description, it is rather a number of characteristics that create a ‘family resemblance.’ What they have in common is the following four key assumptions:[1]

-          Social constructionism insists that we take a critical stance toward taken-for-granted ways of understanding everything around us. It challenges the view that conventional knowledge is based upon objective, unbiased observation of the world. It goes against positivism and empiricism in which they believe that what exists is what we perceive to exist. Social constructionism is ever suspicious of the assumptions of how the world appears to be. It goes against the idea of dividing and categorising ideas (male vs female for instance) and reveals many grey areas.

-          Social Constructionism argues that the way in which we understand the world, categories and concepts we use are historically and culturally specific and relative. Everything we interpret depends on where and when in the world we live; what was seem as normal childhood in the past has changed nowadays. What we understand is not only relative to culture and history, but a product of it, thus knowledge is a cultural artefact, and thus our way of understanding isn’t in any way better or being nearer to the truth, than other ways.

-          Social constructionism believes that people construct the knowledge of the world and not the nature of the world. Our knowledge is fabricated from people’s daily interaction – language especially.

-          Social dealings can produce a variety of possible social constructions of events, which bring about a different kind of action from human beings.


Social constructionism is different from mainstream psychology. How?

-          Anti-essentialism. Mainstream thoughts believe that people are pre-existing, self-contained individuals who impact upon each other with social effects. This determines the person, Social Constructionism argues that there are no ‘essences’ that make people who they are but that people are products of social processes and not a pre-determined world/nature. They see essentialism as trapping people into restrictive identities.

-          Questioning Realism. Social constructionism denies that our knowledge is a direct perception of reality. They state that cultures and societies form their own reality. Thus, the notion of ‘truth’ becomes problematic. They do not believe in an objective fact.

-          Social Constructionism believes that all forms of knowledge is historically and culturally specific and cannot always be translated from one culture to another.

-          Social Constructionism argues that our ways of understanding the world does not come from an objective reality but from other people, past and present. We are born into an existing framework. We do not find a category that we fill is appropriate for us. Concepts and categories are acquired through the use of languages and reproduced everyday by everyone. Thus, language is not just a simple way of expressing ourselves. When people talk to each other they construct the world. Our language is a form of action.

-          Social constructionism relocates problems away from the pathologised essentialist sphere of mainstream psychology. If a child has a learning difficulty, social constructionist looks at the learning difficult as a construction that emerges through the child’s interaction rather than the child.

-          Social constructionism focuses more on the dynamics of social interaction. The emphasis is more on processes than structures. Knowledge is not seen as something that people have or not, but that they create and enact together.



Social constructionism accepts that there is an objective reality. It is concerned with how knowledge is constructed and understood. It has therefore an epistemological not an ontological perspective.[2] Criticisms and misunderstanding is most evident in debates and criticisms surrounding realism and relativism. The words of Kirk and Miller (1986) are relevant when they suggest that the search for a final, absolute truth be left to philosophers and theologians. Social constructionism places great emphasis on everyday interactions between people and how they use language to construct their reality. It regards the social practices people engage in as the focus of enquiry.

[1] Burr, V. (2015), Social Constructionism, 3rd Ed. New York: Routledge

[2] Andrews, T. (2012) What is Social Constructionism? Journal, [online] Volume 11 (1), pp39-46. Available at: [Accessed 23 Apr 2020]

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