Part One – Exercise 1.5 Construction and Reality

Reflecting on Searle’s observation at the beginning of this chapter, how would you explain the difference between the construction of social reality and the social construction of reality?

A question that turns my head. Feels like so semantically driven. To digest it, firstly I was wondering about the term ‘reality’ and how it is defined. Looking up in popular dictionaries:

Oxford DictionaryThe state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them.

Merriam-Webster: “the quality or state of being real” and “something that is neither derivative nor dependent but exists necessarily

=> From the two dictionary definitions I would conclude that ‘reality’ is something independent of human beings, thoughts, or imaginations. And that reality do exist without a human presence. Now searching for social culture theorists I would guess that they are seeing it a bit differently. The two main authors I am referring to and who established the territory are J.R. Searle (‘the construction of social reality’) and Berger and Luckman (‘the social construction of reality’).

Searle, J.R. (1996) defines ‘Realism’ in the sense of that “the world exists independently of our representations of it and every representation has an aspectual shape. Ontologically objective reality does not have a point of view.

=> This means talking about reality (a linguistic term) cannot be conceived without the notion of human beings and their presentation of it. Although there is a reality that does not need the human presence.

Berger, P.L., Luckmann, T. (1971) are defining “..‘reality’ as a quality appertaining to phenomena that we recognize as having a being independent of our own volition (we cannot ‘wish them away’), and … ‘knowledge’ as the certainty that phenomena are real and that they possess specific characteristics.

=> Berger and Luckman do see ‘reality’ rather as an accepted and shared phenomenological experience. The knowledge derived from here makes the ‘social construction of reality.’

My first thought was that there is not a big difference between ‘the construction of social reality’ and ‘the social construction of reality’. Next step was trying to split off the main two words ‘social reality’ and ‘social construction‘ makes it a bit clearer to me. Looking now into the details.

What are the key differences between reality and social reality?

Construction of Social Reality:

J.R. Searle argued that social reality is constructed by collective intentionality (agreement) through assignment of functions to entities, mostly a function of power. The function can be assigned on ‘brute facts’ or on already constructed ‘facts’. Where the assignment is based on human institutions and constitutive rules Searle speaks of ‘institutional facts’. (Searle, 1996) The social reality differs from the physical reality as the latter one is ontological objective and does exist without human presence. Searle argues rather from a distant view on things from an observer position.

Social construction of Reality:

The social construction of reality is based on the phenomenological sociology by Alfred Schuetz (1899 – 1959), an Austrian philosopher and social phenomenologist, who had a great influence on the nowadays more known work by P.L. Berger and T. Luckman. They are more concerned with the social construction of an intersubjective common-sense world. Constructed by the knowledge of everyday life, the subjective experience and meanings interpreted by individuals and the presentations of it to others. This is rather an inside and phenomenological perspective. (Berger, Luckmann, 1971) The everyday life differs from other realities e.g dreams. It is shared with others as a common-sense world in that we continuously interacting and communicating. At the threshold to other realities e.g theatre, art, religion the reality perception is transcended. One key aspect of everyday life reality is its temporal characteristic that guides one through and help to re-integrate back.

Both approaches (Searle and Berger,Luckman) agree in the construction resp. constitution of an institutional society based on agreed rules and interactions. Berger, Luckmann are founding their argumentation on the embedded knowledge and people’s conceptions and beliefs of what reality is (a constructed view).


Overall I find it quite hard to differentiate strongly between the two sentences. There does not seem to be a contraction between Searle’s and Berger/Luckman’s argumentation. The construction of a ‘social reality’ can be rather seen as a way of representation and distinguishing from a physical reality whereas the ‘social construction’ of reality embraces the common-sense and transcended reality shared by members of society.

The main point is to understand  ‘social reality’ as a sub-reality of multiple existing realities: e.g. biological or physical reality, social reality and individuals cognitive reality.  Social reality differs in as such as it is based on transcending social interactions of individuals in a phenomenological approach. The social construction means a constructed understanding of the world as the base for shared agreements and assumptions about reality. Each individual is born into a constructed society that is perceived as an objective reality.

For me it becomes more interesting where the everyday and common-sense reality is been transcended to other realities as represented by dreams, art or religion.



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