Insight about Vivien Burr’s description of social constructionism

Insight can be gained in seeing in the way Vivien Burr describes what it is social constructionist.

Vivien Burr’s description

Vivien Burr (1995), author of the book Social Constructionism, considers this way of thinking about it. Burr says “we might loosely think of social constructionist any approach which has at its foundation one or more of the following key assumptions” (Burr, 2003).

Without discussing the key assumptions, we can already see that Burr has provided a valuable insight. She used the phrase “any approach” to describe social constructionist (Burr, 2003).

Burr suggests we could loosely think that social constructionist as an approach. Perhaps you might wonder what is so insightful about that. Understanding can be found in thinking about what an approach is.

The summit -An Approach

I live 15 km from a mountain. There are many ways to approach the summit. I can approach from the north and enjoy northerly views and warm sunshine. I can approach from the south for a cool, steeper climb and ocean views. There are several other tracks – each a different approach, each with different advantages and disadvantages.

In a similar way, I can choose, as an approach, a social constructionist path which is different from other possible paths or approaches. The approach takes me nearer to the position I want to go while providing different views and routes along the way.

Why this is important

Burr’s description is important. It allows legitimate place for social constructionist perspectives, vistas or views, to be seen when the social constructionist stance is temporarily assumed.  There are many paths to the summit. Paths that can be changed en route.

The social constructionist approach can be used temporarily, or for the entire journey. It can be used for the purpose of seeing something from a position only available from that path or approach, then abandoned for another path or approach.


Implications for the marriage counsellor ‘s practice

Burr’s description legitimizes the view that social constructionist is not of necessity an all or nothing position. Burr allows others to view social constructionist in other ways, possibly including social constructionist as being viewed as ‘the truth’ about how things are. It seems it is also adopted as a relatively new, rapidly growing world religion, by others. This can be noticed by comparing what religion means to people and comparing it with how some people embrace social constructionist as as as a structured religious belief system. Though I do not share either of these two views, I do allow others to choose their beliefs, including the freedom of religion. 

One can be both a devote Christian, Hindu, Moslem or Jew and use the social constructionist approach in the marriage counsellor ‘s practice.

So from now on, I choose to refer to social constructionism as the social constructionist approach. This clearly defines it from being a core belief about truth. It keeps the social science approach in the tool box until needed to see things in a unique way. It prevents the quantum leap to engineering, mathematics or spiritual truth, where social construction-ism is clearly the wrong tool for the job.

As a building or roading engineer, you’d be constructing your building upon the air.

You need to find the right approach for that activity. Somehow we need to avoid a totalizing view of social constructionism. It is particularly not the narrative way where the narrative metaphor encourages us to pull the singular nature of totalising ideas into the binary, at least, and from there into a pluralist realm when many stories can stand side-by side, equally legitimate.

The narrative metaphor invites us to avoid a totalising stance in relation to social constructionist and social constructionism.

As a building or roading engineer, you’d be constructing your building upon the air. As a seeker of spiritual truth, you’d be doing the same thing if you use social constructionism as a tool to discover truth. The approach shares a perspective, a view, that cannot be seen by taking other approaches. This view is not a search for truth.  Truths are discovered using other tools.  In math and engineering, spirituality and geography, truth is discovered rather than created. It follows that to think that such truth can be constructed socially is faulty logic, however, social constructionism challenges our perceptions of such truths.

About The Author

Henk Ensing coaches couples in skills for joyful, lasting, relationships.

Skilled in role-plays, he coaches couples who want to restore their connection and make their love last. 

Henk applies daily use of the key relationship skills, with Jenny, the girl he married over 33 years ago. Henk offers Relationship Coaching via Zoom across New Zealand. He helps couples in conflict by empowering them with skills right from the first session.

Contact Details

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Burr, Vivien (2003), Social Constructionism, Second edition, Routledge, East Sussex, UK.