In Chapter four of her book, Social Constructionism, Vivian Burr discusses the Foucauldian concept of discourse. The author infers that we are created through knowledge. It is often argued that the knowledge we encounter (our experiences) defines who we are. If this is the position, would it not be in order to infer that those who controlled our experiences earlier on in life had enormous power?
Burr argues that discourse hinges on information or conversation. In the case of a child within a family, the knowledge that he/she possesses relies on a few individuals. The child’s identity is thus created by these few people. All that such a child gets to know is what those around him/her communicate.
Discourse encompasses knowledge and power. The power of discourse is due to the causal manner in which we accept the reality facing us. In addition, people in power decide what we discuss and who we are. Institutions such as schools, churches and the government teach what society has com e to regard as the ‘right’ way.
In light of this, Foucault contends that people are able to internalise these ‘right’ ways as ‘truths’ and as a result, they do not question them. Foucault referred to these ‘truths’ as discourses. In addition, Foucault further opined that individual who were in a position to manipulate such discourses also possessed power. To him, there is a thin line between power and knowledge.
Discourse also helps to create morality, truth, and meaning. Burr further contends we view the world in a certain way largely due to discourse. The frequent repeating of certain acts makes them to become conventional. Consequently, people begin to take them for granted.
This also applies to the relations that we share with others. As such, we empower certain ways of doing things and in the process, give power to some things so that alternative ways of doing things appear nonsensical. By examining Foucault’s idea of ‘disciplinary power’, Burr argues that our individual monitoring processes controls who we are.
For example, in the past, the American discourse was largely dominated by the notion of individualism. Consequently, those who were seen to oppose the idea of individualism (‘communists’) were regarded as evil people.
As such, the idea of discourse in the educational setting will in the end perpetuate “normative” and “good” morals. Once such values have been stressed, individuals who have not embraced such values are implicitly marginalized.
In Chapter eight of the book, Burr examines the issues of value-freedom and objectivity with respect to the social constructionist setting. The conventional research paradigm of science permits a researcher to view scientific procedures with objectivity and in the process, lay claim to the truthfulness of their research findings.
On the other hand, the social constructionist setting is only part of the discourse through which a given vision, human life and version can be constructed. Perhaps that is why scientists are seen to criticize the works of others and at the same time, defend their work.
To a social constructionist, objectivity is sometimes seen as impossibility. This is because all of us have to face the world from diverse perspectives. At the same time, our hypotheses, theories as well as any questions that we might ask regarding the world stems from the assumptions ingrained in our viewpoints. In a research, the individual assumptions of a researcher shows how and what questions to ask.
At the same time, facts lack impartiality because somebody must have asked a question in the first place to warrant the construction of such facts. In addition, the assumptions that we hold about the world also elicits such facts. For instance, although there is a lot of literature available on the issue of sex differences, however, it says very little about the existing psychological variations between the genders.