Social Constructionism, Identity and the Concept of Deviance

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Social constructionism, identity, and the concept of deviance are closely interconnected. According to social constructionist theory (SCT), our understanding of the world is constructed through daily social interactions. SCT also proposes that individuals actively construct their identities using social tools, with language being the primary means. This theory views identity as both conditional and self-motivated, and it is closely linked to one’s culture.

The social constructionist theory (SCT) perceives personal and social identity as the same, unlike other theories that see them as separate. SCT suggests that our identity functions as a social instrument that helps us navigate life successfully (Hewitt, 2007). The main goal of this essay is to improve readers’ understanding of identity formation within the framework of SCT and offer insights into deviance.

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Language is a powerful tool in human society, facilitating communication and the exchange of perspectives (Hewitt, 2007). It also constructs concepts like identity through social interaction.

According to Ann Phoenix, our identities are constructed through social relationships and roles when someone takes the Twenty Statements Test in an attempt to gain a deeper understanding of themselves. Kenneth Gergen also provided an example of how identity is constructed, sharing a personal account of how his own identity was shaped by social relationships. He described his central identity as being connected to a pen, but recognized that he could also gain significant social status as a published academic through the influence of his parents.

According to Mapping Psychology (2002), he viewed this as something he purposely created in his life rather than a natural progression, thus constructing his own identity. Constructing identity also relates to deviance, as symbolic interactionists use the labeling theory to explain deviant behavior. This theory argues that actions are considered deviant only when society labels them as such, with meaning derived from labels, symbols, actions, and reactions of individuals towards one another.

According to Hewitt (2007), when individuals conform to what is considered normal behavior, they tend to view behaviors that deviate from social norms as deviant. As a result, they label those individuals as deviant. This concept of deviance aligns with the Social Constructionist Theory (SCT) because individuals who are labeled as deviant have somehow constructed a deviant identity that justifies such a label.

According to Hewitt (2007), both our autobiographical narratives and our cultural models of self-narration play a role in shaping our identity. Our personal experiences, connections with others, and the specific time and place all impact how we tell our stories. This perspective recognizes that identities are not static but rather changeable and adaptable in various situations. This differs from the beliefs held by proponents of the psychosocial school of thought.

According to Hewitt (2007), the dominance of language in this theory highlights the influence of meanings on the construction of our identities. Language selection is influenced by the available discourses in a given society. Research, such as that conducted by Mapping Psychology (2002), has shown that individuals may provide different responses to the Twenty Statement Test depending on whether their society is considered collectivist or individualist.

In collectivist societies such as China, an individual’s identity is determined by their relationships and social status. Conversely, the United States is an individualist society where individuals give importance to their own identities within the society (Hewitt, 2007). People with physical disabilities aim to modify the language employed to portray them, as it significantly impacts their self-perception (Mapping Psychology, 2002).

The impact of historical times and culture on social tools for constructing identity is significant, making it essential to comprehend the development of identity. This can be observed by examining the historical and cultural contexts in which various theories of identity have been formulated, including psychoanalytic theory, social cognition theory, learning theory, and psychosocial identity theory. Erickson’s psychosocial identity theory, for example, was shaped by his own challenging teenage period.

Being raised by his mother and stepfather, he developed theories focusing on identity crisis and the significance of adolescence within the historical context (Mapping Psychology, 2002). SCT is advantageous as it is not confined to the ideas of a single author, thus avoiding any restrictions imposed by historical or cultural constraints. Instead, it encompasses all socially produced ideas (Mapping Psychology, 2002). Consequently, this theory does not differentiate between personal and social identities. In its attempt to comprehend the concept of identity, this theory provides a valuable interpretation of its purpose.

SCT suggests that our constructed identities serve as social tools that shape our behavior, as opposed to psychosocial theory which views identity as an achievement (Hewitt, 2007). According to an account titled “life as a disabled child” (Mapping Psychology, 2002), identity is utilized as a resource when the child states, “Can we go early Miss, because we’re disabled” (Mapping Psychology, 2002). This account also demonstrates the fluidity and variation in identity from one situation to another, as the child remarks, “…we’re not always disabled” (Mapping Psychology, 2002), leading to a change in setting for wheelchair basketball.

This passage highlights the concept of identities being provisional and fluid, emphasizing the importance of recognizing diversity and differences in understanding identity. The Social Constructionist Theory (SCT) can shed light on how various identities can emerge in response to a shared experience. For instance, the situated identity plays a role in shaping specific sensitivities towards certain events. Additionally, social and personal identities also influence our reactions to others and their roles in a given situation, ultimately leading to the formation of new situated identities (Hewitt, 2007).

The example of President Barack Obama illustrates the varying reactions to his liberal Democratic views, depending on how the public identifies with him. This is particularly evident among a percentage of the black population who find themselves torn between supporting the first black president and standing up for their own conservative values. Ultimately, their decision is influenced by whether their identity as conservative Republicans outweighs their identity as black. This exemplifies the social constructionist theory, which suggests that individuals construct their beliefs about the groups they identify with. It also highlights that no specific identity can be seen as dominant, as single identities are shaped by their association with others (Hewitt, 2007).

Individuals with physical disabilities frequently do not consider themselves as members of a cohesive disabled community. This is due to the fact that each person experiences their disability in a distinct manner, regardless of having the same type of disability. The concept of social constructionism aids in comprehending how our identity is shaped by societal interactions. Language additionally plays a significant role in determining the significance we attribute to various aspects of life, including our own perception of self.

Understanding the meaning of language is heavily impacted by an individual’s historical and cultural background, influencing its interpretation. It is crucial to acknowledge that the concept of inherent identity is fundamentally wrong as language, a result of human creation, defines what is deemed natural.

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Social Constructionism, Identity and the Concept of Deviance. (2018, May 11). Retrieved from

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