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Semiotics Glossary C

Constructivism , ( social ) constructionism
[Chandler]    A philosophical (specifically epistemological) stance (with diverse labels) on `what is real?' Constructivism can be seen as offering an alternative to the binarism involved in polarising the issue into the objectivism of naive realists versus the radical subjectivism of the idealists. In contrast to realists, constructivists argue that `reality' is not wholly external to and independent of how we conceptualize the world: our sign systems (language and other media) play a major part in `the social construction of reality'; realities cannot be separated from the sign systems in which they are experienced. Most constructivists argue that even in relation to `physical reality', realists underestimate the social processes of mediation involved: for instance, perception itself involves codes, and what count as objects, their properties and their relations vary from language to language (see Ontology). According to Heisenberg' s `uncertainty principle' in quantum mechanics, even physical objects can be affected by observational processes. Constructivists differ from extreme subjectivists in insisting that realities are not limitless and unique to (or definable by) the individual; rather, they are the product of social definitions and as such far from equal in status. Realities are contested, and textual representations are thus `sites of struggle'. Realists often criticize constructivism as extreme relativism-a position from which constructivists frequently distance themselves. Note that a constructivist stance does not necessarily entail a denial of the existence of physical reality.