Social Construction

Social Construction on the Edge – John Shotter (Paperback)


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This is a book for practitioners, for people who, like crafts-persons or sports-people, must continually shape or fashion their conduct both within the immediate allowances or opportunities for action afforded them by their circumstances, whilst at the same time, aiming at an overall goal of ‘bettering’ those circumstances, and their performances within them, in some way.

The overall approach taken in this collection of essays is ‘on the edge’ of social constructionism in that rather than emphasizing a “linguistic” or an “interpretative” turn – it emphasizes the spontaneous, expressive-responsiveness of our living bodies as providing the ‘background glue’ that holds us together in all our relationships, both with all the other people around us and with all the events also occurring in our surroundings. It thus emphasizes how our living, embedding in this previously unnoticed background, and the ways in which events in it both ‘call out’ expressive-responses from us, whilst leading us to ‘resist’ others, exerts much more of an influence on our actions than previous versions of social constructionism seem to allow.

This turn -a “corporeal” turn – clearly contrasts with those approaches which, in many spheres of life now, assume that the only proper way to conduct a practice is by the conscious application of rationally agreed models, protocols, principles, or rules in guiding our conduct. This shift, from inquiries and practices deliberately modeled on the experimental methods of the physical sciences to those of a more everyday, situated form of inquiry, is a shift of massive proportions – and nothing is gained by minimizing it.

Overall, as the title indicates, this collection of essays explores a special kind of thinking that can occur when we allow the ‘otherness’ of the others and othernesses around us to enter us and to make us other (to change us in our way of being in the world) – it is a kind of thinking that I have come to call ‘withness’ (dialogical)-thinking, to contrast it with the ‘aboutness’ (monological)-thinking that we have become very used to in our academic and intellectual lives in the West.

While aboutness-thinking works in terms of pictures and perspectives, in terms of frameworks and positions, static mental states, repetitions and regularities, bodies of systematically connected knowledge, withness-thinking is quite different. It is concerned with movements, with unique, once-occurrent events unfolding in time that do not give rise at all to anything picturable, but only to shaped and vectored feelings – to the kind of immediately ‘sensed’, action guiding, practical understandings that are needed if one is to understand how to ‘go on’ with the unique individuals or unique circumstances one confronts everyday as a practitioner.

John Shotter is Emeritus Professor of Communication in the University of New Hampshire. and the author of Images of Man in Psychological Research (Methuen, 1975), Human Action and Its Psychological Investigation (with Alan Gault, Routledge, 1977) Social Accountability and Selfhood (Blackwell, 1984), Cultural Politics of Everyday Life: Social Constructionism, Rhetoric, and Knowing of the Third Kind (Open University, 1993), Conversational Realities and the Construction of Life through Language (Sage, 1993), and of Getting It Withness-Thinking and the Dialogical… in Practice (Hampton Press, in press). He is an honorary associate of the Taos Institute.


Introduction: The Dynamic Background: Its Chiasmic Structure

Part One: The Practices of a ‘Social Poetics’
1. Sense on the Boundaries: On Moving Between Philosophy and Psychotherapy
2. ’Living Moments’ in Dialogical Exchanges
3. Social Construction as Social Poetics: Oliver Sacks and the Case of Dr. P

Part Two: The Chiasmic-Dialogical Structure of our ‘Inner Lives’
4. Life Inside Dialogically Structured Mentalities: Bakhtin’s and Voloshinov’s Account of Our Mental Activities as Out in the World Between Us
5. In the Moment of Speaking: We Cannot Simply be Ourselves Part Three: The Influence of Other’s ‘Voices’ Within Ourselves
6. On Being ‘Moved’ by the Embodied ‘Voice’ of an Other
7. Acknowledging Unique Others: Ethics, “Expressive Realism,” and Social Constructionism

Part Four: Dialogical Dynamics in Speaking and Writing: Withness-Thinking
8. Dialogical Dynamics: Inside the Moment of Speaking
9. Writing from within “Living Moments”
Epilogue: The Search for a Poised Resourcefulness Within the Midst of Complexity

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