The idea that the reality is socially constructed is supported with many concepts discussed by Berger and Luckmann in their work The Social Construction of Reality. Berger and Luckmann’s view is based on the analysis of the notions of knowledge and recipe knowledge along with the reciprocal roles, on the concepts and constructs, language as the necessary aspect of the objectification, the processes and phenomena of institutionalisation, habitualisation, socialisation, internalisation, and externalisation.
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According to Berger and Luckmann, reality is socially constructed because it is formed with references to the social knowledge and developed concepts which are distributed because of the people’s interactions. Thus, people operate the common concepts in which the definite knowledge is reflected (Calhoun et al. 2002). People form their reality with references to the commonsense, customs, and habits.
The common ideas, values, processes, and notions are habitualised and then institutionalised, making the base for the people’s reality which becomes socially constructed. Thus, Berger and Luckmann state that “all human activity is subject to habitualisation. Any action that is repeated frequently becomes cast into a pattern” (Berger & Luckmann 1967, p. 53). As a result, the habitualised actions and processes are institutionalised within the society as the definite constructs.
To understand the specifics of Berger and Luckmann’s view according to the socially constructed reality along with determining its strengths and weaknesses, it is necessary to evaluate the relevance of using such notions as objectification, internalisation, externalisation, habitualisation, institutionalisation, socialisation, and ‘recipe knowledge’ as important ones to explain the idea of the reality which is presented by Berger and Luckmann as socially constructed.
Many researchers and sociologists support Berger and Luckmann’s view that reality is socially constructed according to the idea’s general implications, but provide a lot of additional research in relation to the concepts used by Berger and Luckmann in their discussion and details (Remmling 1973).
Thus, Strauss concentrates on the idea that Berger and Luckmann’s view in relation to the social construction of reality should be discussed as “a supra-individual endeavour” (Strauss 2009, p. 229). This opinion can be considered as relevant because of the large context within which Berger and Luckmann discuss the individual in relation to the society and objective reality.
In spite of the fact Berger and Luckmann intend to support their position in relation to the social construction and socially constructed reality with a lot of theoretical argumentation, many researchers concentrate on the points which are not included in the discussion of the socially constructed reality.
Thus, Turner pays attention to the fact that Berger and Luckmann are inclined to avoid claims “to have identified the directional principle or the end point of change, or to have identified some circumstance or realm in which reality was not “socially constructed” (Turner 1991, p. 22). That is why, there are a lot of aspects regarding the social theory and social constructionism which can be discussed with references to Berger and Luckmann’s view.
However, Turner’s approach to discussing Berger and Luckmann’s view of the socially constructed reality can be considered as rather objective because the researcher focuses on all the aspects of Berger and Luckmann’s work and determine the strengths and weaknesses of the theory.
As it was mentioned, the theory of social constructionism is based on the correlation of the notions of subjectivity, objectivity and objectification, internalisation, and externalisation. It is important to concentrate on the meaning of objectification for constructing the people’s reality.
Objectification is necessary to share the knowledge and to construct the reality round the people. Objectification is usually the result of people’s discussing the objects with the help of definite signs and symbols. In this case, the role of language is significant. However, the process of objectification does not provide people with the vision of the objective reality because it is not the “part of the ‘nature of things’”, and the objective reality can exist and develop as the “product of human activity” (Berger & Luckmann 1967, p. 52).
It is also important to pay attention to the fact that the reality of definite social groups can be discussed as different because of the particular features of their perceiving the world objects and sharing the knowledge about them. The concepts and constructs about the reality depend on the language and symbols used to distribute the definite knowledge within the group.
Thus, Berger and Luckmann accentuate that the common knowledge shared by the definite social group forms the social reality and refer to the role of the language in the process as the means for objectification. According to Berger and Luckmann, “an understanding of language is thus essential for any understanding of the reality of everyday life” (Berger & Luckmann 1967, p. 37).
Furthermore, this understanding is associated with developing the socially recognised concepts and constructs. From this point, it is necessary to refer to the idea of constructs. Embree agrees with Berger and Luckmann’s vision that constructs and concepts are reflected in the words which are used by people to define this or that object according to their perception of the object and the further habitualisation of this vision of the object by the public.
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Thus, constructs become recognisable for the public because they reproduce the people’s common vision of definite object (Embree 2009). This idea can be discussed as the supportive one to analyse the reality in relation to the social construction proposed by Berger and Luckmann.
Berger and Luckmann’s main idea is presented in the statement that the everyday reality is socially constructed because it is based on the everyday social interactions with the help of which people can share their knowledge, visions of values, customs, and concepts. Wallace does not argue this notion in the work, but provides the discussion of the theory accentuating its major ideas and aspects.
The reality is constructed when the process of institutionalisation of the practice and knowledge is based on habitualisation and objectification. Wallace states that “the creation of a new institution occurs in the moment of externalisation; once externalised, it is objectified, and once objectified, it acts back on the individual as an internalised entity” (Wallace 1988, p. 33).
Thus, the reality is socially constructed not only because of the dependence on the shared common knowledge as a result of the social interactions but also because of the fact the knowledge is developed with references to some processes such as habitualisation and objectification. Then, the knowledge becomes institutionalised, and it forms the reality which can be discussed as socially constructed.
In their work, Berger and Luckmann also pay much attention to the discussion of the process of the person’s socialisation as the important factor to become the part of the society and, as a result, to operate within the objective reality.
According to Berger and Luckmann, an individual becomes the member of society after becoming familiar with the definite language to share the knowledge, and the successful socialisation is the “establishment of a high degree of symmetry between objective and subjective reality” (Berger & Luckmann 1967, p. 163).
The socially constructed reality discussed by Berger and Luckmann is rather objective because it is based on the socially adopted concepts, customs, and ideas (Holstein & Gubrium 2008). Operating the notions of the social construction and constructed reality, Berger and Luckmann refer to the idea that the “social world is a human product” which is later reflected in Tulloch’s discussion (Tulloch 1976, p. 198).
Tulloch provides some points to support the opinion that the constructed reality actually depends on the correlation of externalisation, objectification, and internalisation as it was claimed by Berger and Luckmann (Tulloch 1976). That is why, it is possible to state that Berger and Luckmann have many arguments to support their vision of the reality and explain it with references to the theoretical background and everyday practice as it is presented in the researchers’ work.
To assess the deepness of Berger and Luckmann’s discussion and theory, it is important to focus on the concept of the ‘recipe knowledge’. In their book, Berger and Luckmann develop the concept of the ‘recipe knowledge’ basically, paying more attention to this concept as associated with the process of rationalising the life of people and constructing their everyday reality.
On the contrary, Shaffer states that it is necessary to develop the idea of the ‘recipe knowledge’ with determining the basic types of it. It is possible to determine ‘simple recipes’ and ‘standardised recipes’ which differ according to situations in which they are used. From this point, ‘standardised recipes’ are more effective to make the human life more rationalised. Shaffer states that “recipes are the principal tool for accomplishing the rationalization of any area of human endeavour” (Shaffer 2010, p. 58).
In his research, Shaffer goes far beyond Berger and Luckmann’s vision of the ‘recipe knowledge’ and state that recipe knowledge refers to “the attempt to transfer practical abilities or “knowhow” from a skilled or knowledgeable performer to a novice by offering step-by-step directions in terms that are familiar to the novice and by utilizing behaviors already within the repertoire of the novice” (Shaffer 2010, p. 56).
Moreover, Berger and Luckmann focus on the fact that reality is socially constructed using the notion of ‘recipe knowledge’ directly to support their idea.
The researchers stress, “since everyday life is dominated by the pragmatic motive, recipe knowledge, that is, knowledge limited to pragmatic competence in routine performance, occupies a prominent place in the social stock of knowledge” (Berger & Luckmann 1967, p. 42). The recipe knowledge contributes to the development of the people’s reciprocal roles and social constructs to form the everyday reality of the definite group of people.
Berger and Luckmann claim that recipe knowledge “serves as a channelling, controlling force in itself, and indispensable ingredient of the institutionalisation of this area of conduct” (Berger & Luckmann 1967, p. 66). As a result, recipe knowledge is the necessary part of the reality as formed with references to the social construction along with such processes as objectification and institutionalisation.
Berger, P & Luckmann, T 1967, The social construction of reality: a treatise in the sociology of knowledge, Doubleday, USA.
Calhoun, C, Gerteis, J, Moody, J, Pfaff, S, & Virk, I 2002, Contemporary sociological theory, Blackwell Publishing, Oxford.
Embree, L 2009, “Phenomenology and social constructionism: constructs for political identity”, Journal of Phenomenological Psychology, vol. 40 no. 2, pp. 127-139.
Holstein, J & Gubrium, J 2008, Handbook of constructionist research, Guilford Press, USA.
Remmling, G 1973, Towards the sociology of knowledge: origin and development of a sociological thought style, Taylor & Francis, USA.
Shaffer, L 2010, “Beyond Berger and Luckmann’s concept of ‘Recipe Knowledge’: simple versus standardized recipes”, Sociological Viewpoints, vol. 9 no. 1, pp. 55-63.
Strauss, D 2009, “The (social) construction of the world – at the crossroads of Christianity and Humanism”, South African Journal of Philosophy, vol. 28 no. 2, pp. 222-233.
Tulloch, J 1976, “Sociology of knowledge and the sociology of literature”, Journal of Sociology, vol. 27 no. 2, pp. 197-210.
Turner, S 1991, “Social constructionism and social theory”, Sociological Theory, vol. 9 no. 1, pp. 22-33.
Wallace, L 1988, “Catholic women and the creation of a new social reality”, Gender and Society, vol. 2 no. 1, pp. 24-38.