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Social constructions
Social constructions can be construed simply as the mechanisms that sustain the possibility of constructionist reality. In the literature of the critical social sciences, notably feminist research, however, theorists look at social constructions as constructions that have far-ranging practical outcomes. Significant in their view, is the fact that constructions of social categories often determine life chances. Citing categories such as gender, race, class, and ethnicity especially, researchers emphasize that in every society, these are social constructions rather than descriptions of "essences". The point is that there is no purchase on construing any group as irrevocably characterized by particular qualities. This type of analysis has implications both political and theoretical in connection with how groups are regarded or "rated" in society as a whole. Given the recognition that categories are no more (and no less) than social constructions, it is incumbent on those who assess behavior and judge accomplishments of individuals clustered in a socially defined category to assume that factors in the social context – political maneuvering, economic circumstances, prejudice and discrimination – are likely to have affected outcomes and to have shaped traits that may mistakenly be construed as innate.
On the theoretical level, the construal of categories as social constructions constitutes a validation of elements in both versions of social constructionism. In accordance with the stronger version, social categories are the community generated and maintained linguistic entities that determine define reality through discourse. Therefore, they are subject to discursive review in shifting social situations. In accordance with the weaker version, social categories are the product of adaptations to physical reality that are constructed by dominant groups and therefore can and, in many cases, should be reconstructed in order to enable a more egalitarian construal of social groups that suffer deprivation.
Although Kelly does not deal with the political issues involved in the concern with social constructions, the theory of Personal Construct Psychology provides a basis for examining them as stereotypical constructs. The principal of constructive alternativism provides for the possibility of finding constructs to replace those that are socially injurious. Moreover, as shown by Warren (1998) as well as Willutzki and Duda (1996), Personal Construct Theory can be construed as providing methods for promoting egalitarianism not only in the meeting of the psychotherapist and the client, but also in the meetings of social groups. Awareness of the pervasiveness of social constructions and of their effects are of the utmost importance.


  • Warren, B. (1998) Philosophical dimensions of personal construct psychology. London: Routledge.
  • Willutzki, U. & Duda, L. (1996) The social construction of powerfulness and powerlessness. In: D. Kalekin-Fishman & B. Walker (eds.) The construction of group realities: Culture, society, and personal construct theory. Malabar, FL: Krieger, pp. 341-361.

Devorah Kalekin-Fishman

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004