Publication 5539

Gergen K. (2011) The social construction of self. In: Gallagher S. (ed.) The Oxford handbook of the self. Oxford University Press, Oxford: 633–653. Fulltext at
Excerpt: In treating the social construction of self it is first necessary to identify the boundaries of the domain. At the outset, there is the matter of the self. History has prepared us to speak of the self in many different ways, and some of these are more central to constructionist concerns than others. My particular concern in the present chapter will be with a family of uses that generally refer to a psychological or mental world within the individual The members of this family are many and varied. We variously speak of persons as possessing mental concepts of themselves, and it is often said that these concepts are saturated with value, that they may be defective or dysfunctional, that they figure importantly in the individual’s rational calculus, and that they ultimately supply resources for the exercise of personal agency. And too, many simply identify the process of conscious choice as equivalent to the individual self. Such assumptions are deeply embedded in Western culture, and provide the under-girding rationale for practices of jurisprudence, childrearing, education, counseling, and psychotherapy, among others. Further, such assumptions furnish the basis for myriad research studies in psychology and sociology. Individual self-esteem, for example, has been one of the most intensively studied topics in psychology. Indeed, the Western traditions of democracy and capitalism are both wedded to conceptions of the individual self as alluded to above. || With this particular focus on self in place, I shift attention to the matter of social construction. In this case, it is important to outline some of the major assumptions that play themselves out in contemporary constructionist scholarship. The ground is then prepared for treating issues in the social construction of the self Here I will begin with a discussion of the ungrounded character of mental accounts in general. Following this, I will discuss major lines of inquiry into the social construction of self, along with its socio-political implications. Finally, I will introduce an alternative to traditional conceptions of self, one that emerges distinctly from social constructionist theory.

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