Interactionism and Constructivism

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Interactionism and constructivism are two key theoretical frameworks that enrich our understanding of dynamics in political science.

Interactionism is a theory that focuses on the relationships between individuals to decipher political behaviour. It postulates that individuals are not simply the product of their environment or social structures but that they play an active role in shaping and transforming these structures through their interactions. In a political context, interactionism can help to analyse how politicians, bureaucrats and voters interact and how these interactions determine public policy and electoral outcomes.

On the other hand, constructivism focuses on how political actors use their ideas and beliefs to construct their social and political reality. According to this approach, political and social structures are not pre-established but rather are constructed by political actors through their speeches, ideas and actions. Constructivism, in the field of political science, explores how the beliefs and ideas of political actors shape political structures and public policies.

These two theoretical frameworks can be used together to understand politics better. For example, interactionism can be used to examine how political actors work together to develop policies, while constructivism can be used to analyse how the ideas and beliefs of these actors influence these policies.

Interactionist and Constructivist approaches[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Interactionism and constructivism are two essential theoretical frameworks that have emerged from distinct production contexts and shaped our understanding of social and political processes.

Interactionism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Interactionism, particularly symbolic interactionism, has its roots in the Chicago School of the early twentieth century. The rapid and massive changes that the city of Chicago underwent at that time provided the backdrop for the development of this theoretical approach.

Chicago went from a small town to a thriving metropolis in just a few decades, with a population that exploded due to immigration and internal migration. This has led to profound changes in the social and spatial structure of the city. Newcomers from different ethnic and cultural backgrounds have settled in distinct neighbourhoods, creating a mosaic of cultural communities in the city. Faced with these changes, the sociologists of the Chicago School sought to understand how individuals and groups interacted in these new urban environments. They began to develop interactionist theories that emphasised the role of social interactions in the formation of individual and collective identity, the construction of communities, and the creation of social order. Sociologists of the Chicago School, such as Robert E. Park, Ernest Burgess and Herbert Blumer, played a crucial role in the development of interactionism. They emphasised direct observation of social interactions and used innovative research methods, such as ethnographic study and participant observation, to study social interactions in the changing metropolis.

Interactionism was thus born out of an effort to understand the social and spatial transformations taking place in a rapidly changing metropolis. It continues to be a key theoretical approach in sociology and political science, helping to explain how social interactions shape individuals, groups and society as a whole.

The sociologists of the Chicago School were among the first to tackle these complex and interrelated challenges head-on. Their work highlighted the difficulties of social, professional and cultural integration faced by newcomers to the city. They observed how these challenges led to an ethnicisation of the city, with different ethnic groups settling in distinct neighbourhoods, creating a complex 'ethnic mosaic'. They also studied the emergence of social marginality, including crime and delinquency, in this changing urban context. The phenomena of marginality and social deviance, such as gangs and organised crime, were of major concern to these sociologists. They sought to understand why certain individuals and groups chose to engage in illegal activities and how these choices were shaped by their social and economic environment. The work of the Chicago School on social deviance has been particularly influential. Researchers such as Clifford R. Shaw and Henry D. McKay developed the theory of social disorganisation, which suggests that crime is primarily the result of the disintegration of traditional social institutions in deprived urban areas. This theory has profoundly influenced the way we understand crime and deviance today. The sociologists of the Chicago School were pioneers in the study of urban phenomena and the social problems associated with rapid urbanisation and industrialisation. Their interactionist approach paved the way for a more nuanced understanding of how individuals and groups interact with their social environment and how these interactions shape their experiences and behaviours.

Interactionism, as conceptualised by the Chicago School, places interaction at the heart of social experience. This approach emphasises the idea that individual behaviour is shaped by interactions and exchanges with others. In other words, individuals do not act in isolation, but are constantly engaged in a process of interaction with those around them. From this perspective, society is not simply a set of rigid structures that determine the behaviour of individuals, but a dynamic network of social interactions. Individuals are not simply passive recipients of social norms, but play an active role in creating and modifying these norms through their interactions. This means that to understand the behaviour of individuals, we need to examine the nature of the interactions in which they are engaged. For example, how do individuals interact in different contexts, such as family, work, school, etc.? How do these interactions influence their beliefs, attitudes and behaviours? And how do these interactions contribute to the creation and transformation of social structures? Furthermore, interactionism argues that all human relationships involve some form of exchange or interaction, whether verbal or non-verbal, formal or informal, positive or negative. As a result, interactionism offers a valuable framework for the study of social phenomena, ranging from everyday interactions between individuals to wider processes of social and political change.

Interactionism emphasises that an individual's behaviour is profoundly influenced by his or her interactions with others, and does not exist in isolation from its social context. This perspective highlights the fact that behaviour is never static or constant, but is always being transformed through social interactions. This is where interactionism differs from functionalist theory. Functionalism, by focusing on how different parts of society work together to maintain balance and harmony, tends to see individual behaviour as largely determined by the functional role they play in society. This perspective can sometimes be criticised for its lack of consideration for power dynamics, conflict and social change. Interactionism, on the other hand, emphasises the way in which individuals negotiate, interpret and contest their social roles through their interactions with others. It emphasises the complexity and dynamics of human behaviour, rather than its conformity to predetermined functional norms. Furthermore, interactionism sees society not as a fixed structure, but as a constantly evolving process shaped by human interactions. Interactionism thus offers a more nuanced and dynamic perspective on human behaviour and society. It highlights the active role played by individuals in creating and transforming their social reality, and the way in which behaviour is shaped by interactions and exchanges with others.

There are four principles of interaction:

  1. Interaction units: Interactionism recognises that interactions can occur between individuals (interpersonal interaction) or groups (group interaction). These units of interaction are the basic actors in society.
  2. Rules of interaction: Interactions are governed by rules, which may be explicit (such as laws or regulations) or implicit (such as unwritten social norms). These rules help to structure interactions and give meaning to behaviour.
  3. Ordered process: Interactionism sees social interactions as an ordered process. This means that interactions follow certain sequences and patterns, which can be analysed and understood. For example, interactionism has been used to study phenomena such as violence, by placing them in their specific interaction context.
  4. Exchange: Interactionism emphasises the idea that social interactions are fundamentally based on exchange. This can be an exchange of goods or services, but also of information, feelings, ideas and so on. This emphasises the reciprocal and mutually influential nature of social interactions.

These principles provide a framework for understanding how individuals and groups interact with each other, how these interactions are structured and regulated, and how they contribute to social creation and change.

Constructivism[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Constructivism, which took off in the 1960s and 1970s, is a school of thought that has had a profound influence on many fields, including sociology, philosophy, anthropology and linguistics. Constructivism is based on the idea that knowledge is not simply discovered, but is actively constructed by the individual or society. Jean Piaget, a famous Swiss psychologist, is a key figure in constructivism, although his work is generally classified in the field of developmental psychology. Piaget proposed that children actively construct their understanding of the world through their interaction with their environment. According to his theory, cognitive development occurs through a series of stages, with each stage representing a more complex and sophisticated level of understanding of the world. In the field of linguistics, Piaget saw language as a social and cognitive construct. According to him, children acquire language not simply by memorising words and rules, but by actively constructing their understanding of language through their interactions with others. This reflects the general approach of constructivism, which emphasises interaction and the active construction of knowledge.

The fundamental premise of constructivism is that knowledge is not a static set of facts waiting to be discovered, but is actively constructed by individuals and groups. This means that knowledge is not simply something we have, but something we do. Each new piece of information or experience is integrated into our existing knowledge base, modifying and developing our understanding of the world. From this perspective, reality is not an objective entity independent of us, but is constantly constructed and reconstructed through our interactions with the world and with others. This means that our knowledge of the world is always developing, always being 'constructed'. Constructivism also recognises that our knowledge of the world is always influenced by our social and cultural context. Our beliefs, values, experiences and interactions with others all play a role in how we construct our knowledge of the world. This is why constructivism is often associated with methodological approaches that focus on exploring people's perceptions, interpretations and experiences, such as case study, ethnography or narrative analysis. These methods aim to understand how individuals and groups construct their knowledge of the world and how this knowledge influences their behaviour and interactions.

Constructivism holds that our understanding of reality is socially constructed, rather than objectively observed. Reality, as we know it, is shaped by our knowledge systems, which are themselves influenced by social norms, values and practices. Reality is not perceived directly, but is interpreted through these social constructions. Therefore, according to constructivism, to truly understand reality, we need to understand the processes by which it is constructed. This means examining the knowledge systems - the sciences, norms, rules, ideologies, etc. - that shape our perception and understanding of reality. - that shape our perception and interpretation of the world. This implies a 'second-level' analysis: not only must we examine reality as it is constructed, but we must also examine the construction processes themselves. From this perspective, knowledge is never neutral or objective, but is always influenced by the social and cultural context in which it is produced. This underlines the fundamentally subjective nature of knowledge and reality. Constructivism has important implications for the way we approach research and practice in many fields, from sociology and politics to education and psychology. It reminds us that our perceptions and interpretations of the world are always shaped by our social and cultural context, and that reality is always a construct, never a given.

Constructivist theorists maintain that reality is constructed over time by a multitude of actors in a given society. It is a collective and complex process involving numerous interactions and negotiations between individuals and groups. Constructivism focuses on the analysis of social structures rather than individuals. It examines how social ideas, norms, values, beliefs and practices shape our understanding of reality. For example, in the field of politics, constructivists can analyse how political ideas and ideologies influence the formation of public policy. In addition, constructivists recognise that social constructions of reality have coercive power. In other words, they structure our thoughts and behaviour and make us conform to them. For example, social and cultural norms can make us feel obliged to act in a certain way, even if we don't personally agree with those norms. However, constructivism also recognises that social constructions of reality can be challenged and changed. Individuals and groups can resist social norms, challenge dominant ideas and propose new ways of understanding and interpreting the world. Constructivism therefore offers a dynamic and flexible perspective on social reality, emphasising both its stability and its potential for change.

Constructivism offers valuable tools for analysing and comparing the realities constructed in different contexts. Two important dimensions of constructivism are :

  • Comparison of constructed realities: Constructivism recognises that different societies may construct different realities. Therefore, a constructivist approach may involve comparing these different constructed realities. For example, how do norms and values differ between societies? How do these differences influence the behaviour and attitudes of individuals in these societies?
  • International relations: Constructivism has had a significant impact on the field of international relations. It offers a unique perspective on issues of power, conflict and cooperation between nations. According to constructivism, international relations are not only influenced by material factors such as military or economic power, but also by ideas, norms and identities. The constructed realities of each country, which are shaped by their specific political, economic, cultural and social systems, can come into conflict with each other, leading to international tensions and conflicts.

These two dimensions highlight the role of social construction in shaping our understanding of reality, and how this construction can vary considerably between different societies and international contexts.

Constructivism encourages the conceptualisation of space not as a fixed physical entity, but as a product of our social and cultural constructions. Space, from this perspective, is seen as a series of 'constructed realities' that are shaped and defined by the individuals and societies that inhabit them. This means that our understanding and experience of space is influenced by a multitude of factors, including our beliefs, values, social norms, political and economic systems, and interactions with others. For example, an urban space may be perceived differently by different groups, depending on their socio-economic status, ethnicity, age, gender, and so on. What's more, spaces themselves can be seen as influential players in the construction of our realities. They have the potential to shape our behaviour, attitudes and interactions in significant ways. For example, the layout of a city, the presence or absence of certain infrastructures, the layout of residential and commercial areas, etc., can all influence the way we experience and interpret our environments. In this way, constructivism offers a rich and nuanced perspective on how we understand and interact with space, emphasising its role in shaping our constructed realities.

Interactionists and Constructivists as critical alternatives to functionalist, structuralist and systemic theories[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Interactionist and constructivist theories offer critical alternatives to functionalist, structuralist and systemic theories in political science and sociology.

Interactionism, with its focus on microsocial interactions and how they shape the behaviour of individuals and the functioning of society, offers a direct critique of functionalism. Functionalism tends to view society as an organised system in which each part has a specific function to perform for the good of the whole. Interactionism, on the other hand, emphasises the role of individuals and their interactions in structuring society. Constructivism, on the other hand, offers a critique of structuralist and systemic approaches. Structuralism tends to see society as a structured set of relationships that determine the behaviour of individuals. Constructivism, on the other hand, emphasises the role of individuals and groups in constructing their social reality, including the social structures themselves. Similarly, constructivism is opposed to systemism, which sees society as a system of interconnected elements that interact with each other. Constructivism, on the other hand, focuses more on the analysis of specific cases and on the way in which social realities are constructed and change over time.

These two approaches - interactionism and constructivism - thus offer a more dynamic and flexible view of society, emphasising the active role played by individuals in shaping their social reality.

Interactionist theory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The origins: the Chicago School[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Major socio-demographic and economic changes took place in Chicago at the beginning of the 20th century. The city rapidly transformed itself into a metropolis, largely as a result of rapid industrialisation and mass immigration from Europe and the rural southern United States. The mass arrival of these new residents, in search of jobs in the booming industry, led to rapid expansion of the city. However, it also exacerbated racial and ethnic tensions, created precarious living conditions and led to a rise in crime. New immigrants often settled in ethnically homogenous neighbourhoods, sometimes called 'ghettos', where living conditions were often difficult. Racial and ethnic segregation often led to tensions, which sometimes degenerated into violence and race riots. At the same time, the lack of economic opportunities and education for many young people contributed to an increase in juvenile delinquency. Similarly, poverty and despair have led some people to turn to prostitution as a means of subsistence. All these factors created a tense social climate and posed many challenges for the city authorities and sociologists of the time, who sought to understand and resolve these problems. It was against this backdrop that the Chicago School of Sociology developed, adopting an interactionist approach to the study of these social phenomena.

In the early twentieth century, the Chicago School of Sociology revolutionised the field of sociology by shifting the focus from structural factors and repressive responses to deviant behaviour to a more nuanced analysis of social interactions and the dynamics of marginality. Focusing on the marginalised and uprooted communities of the growing metropolis that was Chicago, the sociologists of the Chicago School sought to understand the motivations, rationalities and social interactions underlying deviant behaviour. They adopted an empirical approach, based on direct observation and field research, which was a novelty in the field of sociology at the time. These researchers highlighted the role of social interactions in the creation of deviant behaviour, demonstrating that such behaviour is not simply the result of individual factors, but is also shaped by social conditions and interactions within the community. This paved the way for a deeper and more nuanced understanding of social deviance and laid the foundations for the interactionist approach in sociology.

Based on the interactionist approach, the Chicago School of Sociology highlighted several major themes in its research:

  1. Racial and ethnic minorities: The study of minority groups made it possible to understand the processes of assimilation, discrimination and segregation, as well as the impact of these processes on social structure and intergroup dynamics.
  2. The marginal man: This concept, introduced by Robert E. Park, describes individuals who live on the border between two cultures or social groups and who find it difficult to integrate fully into one or the other. This marginality can lead to feelings of alienation, confusion and conflict.
  3. The city: Chicago's transformation into a fast-moving metropolis has been a privileged field of study for understanding the social, economic and political processes that take place in urban areas.
  4. Deviance: Chicago School sociologists were among the first to study deviance not as an isolated act, but as a social process, influenced by interactions and community dynamics.
  5. Crime and delinquency: Focusing on high-crime neighbourhoods in Chicago, these researchers sought to understand the underlying causes of crime and delinquency, emphasising social and environmental factors rather than individual dispositions.

These themes contributed greatly to the understanding of social dynamics in urban environments and influenced much subsequent research in sociology and political science.

The Chicago School of Sociology's work on minorities revealed that these groups often develop robust systems of interaction in response to challenges in the social environment. These systems, which include shared norms, values and practices, serve as both defence and protection mechanisms against external forces, including discrimination and exclusion. For example, in contexts of immigration or marginalisation, members of minorities may band together and create supportive communities to cope with adversity. These communities may be organised around certain common characteristics, such as race, ethnicity, language, religion or social class. As well as providing social and emotional support, these systems of interaction can also facilitate the adaptation and integration of individuals into the wider society. They can help community members navigate the challenges of everyday life, access valuable resources and maintain their cultural identities. In this way, the work of the Chicago School of Sociology has demonstrated that systems of interaction within minorities are not only manifestations of solidarity and resilience, but also essential elements in understanding the dynamics of social and political relations in urban contexts.

Key words in interactionism include :

  • Socialisation: This process refers to the way in which individuals learn and internalise the norms, values and behaviours of their society. This occurs throughout life and shapes the way people interact with others and understand their place in society.
  • Symbolic interactionism: This perspective emphasises the creation of social meanings through interactions. Individuals are not simply passive in the face of society, but play an active role in creating their social reality through their interpretation of symbols and signs.
  • Participatory observation: This research method involves the researcher actively engaging with the community or group they are studying. This allows the researcher to understand the experiences and perspectives of the participants from the inside.
  • Social Darwinism: This theory applies Darwin's principles of natural selection to society, suggesting that individuals or groups who are best able to adapt succeed while others fail.
  • Functionalism: This theory sees society as a complex system in which all the parts work together to ensure stability and harmony. Each part has a specific function which contributes to the overall functioning of society.
  • Ethnomethodology: This approach focuses on the methods people use in their daily lives to understand and navigate their social world.
  • Urban ecology: This perspective examines how the spatial and physical characteristics of a city influence the social interactions and behaviours of individuals.
  • Disorganisation: This concept refers to a breakdown or degradation of social order, often caused by rapid change or conflict. This can lead to a reduction in the influence of collective norms and values on individuals.

Erwin Goffman (1922-1982): staging everyday life[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Erwin Goffman.

Erving Goffman was a renowned sociologist who made a significant contribution to the sociology of interaction. Born in 1922 and died in 1982, he is best known for his work on the "staging of everyday life" and the theory of "social drama". In "The Staging of Everyday Life", Goffman uses the metaphor of theatre to describe how individuals present themselves to themselves and to others in everyday life. He talks about the "face" (the image of oneself that one presents to others), the "roles" (the behaviours expected according to social expectations) and the "stage" (the context in which the interaction takes place). According to Goffman, individuals are constantly 'playing' roles and adapting their behaviour according to the situation and the expectations of others. He suggests that we are all actors on the 'stage' of everyday life, playing different roles and manipulating our 'performances' to manage the impressions we make on others. In the context of his work on psychiatric hospitals, Goffman studied how individuals navigate these institutions and how interactions and behaviours are shaped by the institutional context. His work revealed how institutions can exert social control over individuals and how individuals resist or adapt to these constraints. This work has made a significant contribution to our understanding of how social interactions are structured and how individuals manage their identity and social performance.

Erving Goffman, although often associated with symbolic interactionism, has also contributed to constructivist theory. Constructivism focuses on how individuals and social groups construct and interpret reality through their interactions and representations.

Goffman argues that reality is shaped by the representations we make of it and by the representations we share with others. In his view, there are two aspects of reality:

  • Representations of reality: We form images, ideas and beliefs about reality based on our personal experiences and our interactions with others. These representations influence our understanding of the world and guide our behaviour.
  • The reality of representations: When representations of reality are shared and accepted by a group or society, they acquire real force and act on individuals and social interactions. In other words, collective representations become a social reality in themselves.

Thus, for Goffman, individuals actively participate in the construction of their social reality through their representations and their interactions. Individuals are not simply passive receivers of reality, but active players who shape and are shaped by their representations and their social experiences. This approach emphasises the dynamic and changing nature of social reality and stresses the importance of processes of interpretation and negotiation in the construction of reality.

The notion of 'social dramaturgy' is central to Erving Goffman's work. According to him, social life unfolds like a play, with actors (the individuals), a stage (the social environment) and an audience (the other people present). Each individual plays different roles, depending on the situation in which they find themselves and the social expectations associated with that situation. From this perspective, public space is seen as a 'stage' where individuals enact their social roles. Goffman distinguishes between the "front stage", where individuals conform to social norms and play a role intended to be seen by others, and the "back stage", where individuals can relax, be themselves and prepare for their performances on the front stage. For Goffman, 'self-presentation' is an essential component of social interaction. Individuals seek to control the impression they give to others by manipulating their appearance, body language and behaviour. For example, a person may dress in a certain way or behave in a certain way to give a specific impression, such as appearing competent or trustworthy. Thus, for Goffman, public space is a place where individuals play out their social roles, seek to control the impression they make on others, and constantly negotiate their identities and relationships with others through their interactions...

In his analysis of social life, Erving Goffman emphasises the forms of commitment that individuals make in their interactions. The three skills - cooperation, engagement and absorption - are essential to the way individuals behave and interact in different social situations. They are particularly relevant to Goffman's analysis of 'social dramaturgy', where social interactions are seen as theatrical performances.

  1. Cooperation: Goffman emphasises that social interactions require some form of cooperation between individuals. This involves a mutual respect for social norms and behavioural expectations. Cooperation is essential to maintain social order and facilitate smooth social interactions. For example, in a conversation, individuals must cooperate by taking their turn to speak and listening when it is the other's turn.
  2. Commitment: According to Goffman, commitment refers to the extent to which an individual is involved or engaged in a social interaction. Engagement can vary depending on the situation and the role the individual is playing. For example, a person may be very engaged in a serious conversation with a friend, but less engaged in an informal conversation with a stranger.
  3. Absorption: Goffman uses the term 'absorption' to refer to situations where an individual is completely engaged in an activity to the point of being 'absorbed' by it. In these situations, the individual may be so focused on the activity in hand that they are less aware of their social environment and less sensitive to social interactions.

These three skills are fundamental to how individuals navigate the social world, and are key components of Goffman's theory of social drama.

Erving Goffman's perspective on society as theatre implies that we are all actors and spectators in the public space. This perspective is often called 'social dramaturgy' and suggests that social life is a series of performances. In these performances, individuals play a certain role, and at the same time, they are also spectators of the performances of others. When we interact with others, we 'play a role' according to what we believe others expect of us. These expectations may be based on social norms, social roles, stereotypes and so on. And while we are playing our role, we are also observing and interpreting the performances of others. In other words, we are both actors shaping social interaction and spectators interpreting it. These interactions are strongly influenced by culture, as it is culture that provides the 'script' or general guidelines for our performances. For example, culture defines appropriate norms and values, gender roles, acceptable behaviour and so on. So, through our interactions in the public space, we participate in both the creation of social reality (as actors) and its interpretation (as spectators). And these processes are both shaped by the cultural context in which they take place.

According to Erving Goffman, language and the body are two crucial elements in social interaction. They are the main tools we use to "play" our role in social performance.

  1. Speech: Goffman emphasises the importance of verbal communication in social interaction. The way we speak, the words we choose, the tone we use, etc., are all elements of our performance. They help to express our identity, indicate our social status, show that we belong to a certain group, and so on. Speech is also an important way of interpreting the performance of others. By listening to others, we gather information about their role, status, identity, etc.
  2. The body: Goffman also stresses the importance of non-verbal communication in social interaction. Body movements, facial expressions, eye contact, etc., are key elements of our performance. They can convey a variety of information, such as our emotions, our attitudes, our comfort or discomfort in a situation, and so on. In addition, our physical appearance (clothing, hairstyle, etc.) can also play a role in how we are perceived by others.

So, in social interaction, we use both speech and the body to 'play' our role and to interpret the performance of others. These processes enable us to 'negotiate' our place in society and to understand the place of others.

Symbolic interactions[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Erving Goffman studied various forms of social behaviour, including avoidance strategies. Individuals may use these strategies to maintain their 'face' (an image of themselves presented to others) or to navigate potentially uncomfortable or embarrassing social situations.

According to Goffman, some of these avoidance strategies may include:

  • Physical avoidance: This can include things like changing paths to avoid bumping into someone or leaving a room when certain people enter.
  • Communication avoidance: Not replying to a message, ignoring someone in a conversation, or avoiding talking about certain topics can be forms of communication avoidance.
  • Gaze avoidance: Sometimes individuals may avoid direct eye contact with someone to avoid an interaction.
  • Distraction avoidance: People may pretend to be busy or distracted to avoid interaction.

These strategies are all used to manage how we are perceived by others, which is at the heart of Goffman's symbolic interactionism framework. However, it is important to note that these behaviours can also have negative consequences, such as hindering communication or creating misunderstandings.

Symbolic interactionism offers an interesting perspective for understanding politics. In politics, interactions between individuals, groups, political parties, institutions and even nations play a crucial role in how decisions are made and policies are implemented.

Here are some of the key points of interactionism in politics:

  • Negotiation and debate: Politics is often a matter of negotiation and debate between different parties with varying interests. Interactionism helps us to understand how these processes take place and how individuals and groups use symbols and shared meanings to influence these negotiations.
  • Identity construction: Politics is also a process by which identities are constructed and contested. For example, an individual's political identity may be shaped by their interactions with others in their social and political environment.
  • Influence and power: Interactionism can help to understand how power is exercised and negotiated in political interactions. For example, how individuals or groups use language, symbols and rituals to influence others and gain power.
  • Social change: Interactionism offers a perspective on how social change can occur through everyday interactions. For example, how social movements use interactions to mobilise support, disseminate ideas and bring about changes in social and political norms.

Symbolic interactionism therefore reminds us that politics is not just a matter of institutional structures and formal processes, but also of social interactions, shared meanings and everyday negotiations.

Erving Goffman identified several situations that can disrupt ritual social interaction. Here is a more detailed explanation of these three situations:

  • Offence and reparation: In this situation, a person may commit an offence, or a violation of the norms of interaction, which may cause a feeling of shame or discomfort in the offended person. However, there is usually a possibility of reparation, where the person who committed the offence can apologise or make amends to restore the social order.
  • Desecration: Here, a person deliberately refuses to follow the norms of interaction. This can happen when a person openly questions or criticises established social norms. This intentional violation of norms can cause major disruption to social interactions.
  • Abnormality: In this case, a person is unable to follow the norms of interaction because of certain conditions or circumstances beyond their control. This can happen, for example, if a person suffers from a mental illness or a physical disability that prevents them from participating in social interactions in the usual way.

Any of these situations can disrupt the social order and cause embarrassment or discomfort to the other participants in the interaction. However, Goffman argues that these disruptions can also be opportunities to examine and challenge established social norms.

Constructivist theory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

The origins: the epistemology of Alfred Schütz (1899 - 1959)[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Alfred Schütz.

Alfred Schütz was an Austrian sociologist and philosopher who made a major contribution to the development of social phenomenology, an approach that seeks to understand how individuals make sense of their social world. Schütz believes that our understanding of the world is structured by our direct experience of it. In other words, we construct our reality on the basis of our own perspective and personal experiences. He argues that individuals interact with the world on the basis of their subjective interpretations and understandings of it. For Schütz, reality is a socially constructed phenomenon. Each individual has a unique and subjective conception of reality, based on his or her personal experiences, interactions with others and interpretations of these experiences and interactions. This perspective is often referred to as 'social constructionism'. Following Schütz, Goffman also explored how individuals construct and interpret their social reality, focusing in particular on how individuals present and manage themselves in different social situations. From this perspective, an 'object of thought' can be understood as something that is constructed by individuals through their interaction and interpretation of the world. For example, social norms, gender roles and cultural identities can all be seen as socially constructed 'objects of thought'.

In the social sciences, and more generally in research, the construction of the object of study is a crucial stage that requires rigorous conceptualisation and operationalisation. This means that the researcher must define precisely what they are trying to study (conceptualisation) and determine how they are going to measure or observe this phenomenon (operationalisation). Constructing the object of study generally involves taking a general concept or idea and transforming it into something specific, measurable and observable. For example, a researcher interested in studying 'quality of life' will need to define precisely what they mean by this notion (for example, by including factors such as health, economic well-being, social relationships, etc.) and determine how they are going to measure each of these factors. It is also important to note that the construction of the object of study is often influenced by the researcher's theoretical framework, i.e. the set of theories and concepts they use to understand their subject. Different researchers may therefore construct and interpret the object of study in different ways, depending on their theoretical perspective. Finally, it is essential to understand that constructing the object of study is a fundamental stage in scientific research, which helps to guarantee the validity and reliability of the research. Without a clear and precise definition of the object of study, it would be very difficult, if not impossible, to conduct rigorous research and produce reliable results.

Alfred Schütz proposed a phenomenological approach to sociology, meaning that he was interested in the way in which individuals perceive and interpret the world around them. In his view, our understanding of the world is always a second-degree construct, based on our personal and subjective interpretations of reality. According to Schütz, the sociologist's task is to understand these subjective constructions of reality, and not to seek to discover some 'objective reality'. To do this, it is necessary to develop research tools and methods that enable the perceptions and interpretations of individuals to be explored and understood. This means that rather than simply observing the behaviour of individuals, the researcher must strive to understand the meaning that individuals give to their behaviour and experience. This may involve qualitative research methods, such as in-depth interviews or participant observation, which enable detailed data to be collected on people's experiences and perceptions. In this sense, Schütz's approach can be seen as a critique of more traditional approaches to sociology, which seek to explain social behaviour in terms of objective laws or structures. On the contrary, Schütz argues that social behaviour can only be understood by taking into account the perspective of the social actors themselves.

The constructivist approach, represented by thinkers such as Schütz and Goffman, emphasises the importance of understanding social realities as they are perceived and constructed by individuals themselves. This perspective emphasises the active role played by individuals in creating and transforming their social world. In this context, sociological research is not just about observing and describing social reality. It is also about understanding how this reality is constructed, how it is experienced and how it is interpreted by individuals. This approach requires epistemological reflection on the research methods used and the assumptions on which they are based. It also involves recognising that our own understanding as researchers is also a construct, shaped by our own experiences, our own perspectives and our own cultural and historical context. So the aim is not to arrive at an objective or universal 'truth', but rather to understand the multiple realities that are constructed and experienced by individuals in different social contexts.

John Searle's philosophy of language[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

John Searle in 2005.

John Searle is a renowned American philosopher who has worked extensively on the philosophy of language and mind. In 'The Construction of Social Reality' (1995), Searle explores how our conceptions of reality are shaped by our social beliefs and practices. He distinguishes between brute facts, which exist independently of human intervention (e.g. gravity), and institutional facts, which exist only because of our belief in them (e.g. the idea of money as a medium of exchange). Searle argues that many of our social realities - such as governments, marriages, money and property - are constructed through linguistic processes. For example, when we say 'This is money', we are helping to create the social reality that the paper or metal we are holding has some value. Similarly, when we say "We are married", we create a new social reality with specific rights, obligations and expectations. Searle's perspective on constructivism is therefore closely linked to the way in which language helps to construct our social reality.

John Searle sees language as fundamental to our construction of social reality. In his view, language is not just a means of communicating information, but also a tool for creating and modifying our social reality. In his work, he focuses on what he calls 'speech acts', which are the different ways in which we use language to carry out actions in the social world. For example, when we make a promise, we use language to create a social obligation. When we name something, we use language to give an object or a person an identity. When we formulate laws or rules, we use language to establish norms of behaviour. Searle's view of language is therefore very close to that of Piaget, who also saw language as a construct essential to our understanding and interaction with the world.

John Searle has been a major contributor to the philosophy of language, a sub-discipline of philosophy concerned with concepts related to language and its use. In his view, language plays a crucial role in the construction of our social reality. He argues that when we use language, we perform what he calls 'speech acts'. A speech act is not just the act of saying something, but also the act of doing something with those words. For example, by saying "I promise to do the dishes", we are not only communicating information, but we are also committing ourselves to an action (making a promise). According to Searle, these speech acts have the power to create social realities. For example, when the mayor of a town says "I declare this fair open", he is not only describing a situation, he is also creating a new reality: the fair is now officially open. It is through this process that language contributes to the construction of our social reality. In other words, Searle sees language not just as a means of describing the world, but also as a means of changing it. This is why he says that "speech is a form of action".

The study of etymology, which is the origin and history of words, can provide a great deal of valuable information about how we use language to conceive and construct our reality. Every word has a history, and this history is often linked to the way we understand the world. For example, the word 'understand' comes from the Latin 'comprehendere', which means 'to grasp together'. This suggests that to understand something, we need to be able to grasp all its aspects at once, to put them together into a coherent whole. So by studying the etymology of words, we can better understand how we use language to make sense of the world around us. This can help us to think more critically about how we use language, to spot hidden assumptions in our discourse, and to develop new ways of thinking and talking about the world. However, it is also important to note that etymology is not always a reliable guide to the current meaning of a word. The meanings of words change over time, and sometimes the original meaning of a word can be very different from its current usage. Therefore, although etymology can offer interesting insights, it must be used with caution as a tool for linguistic analysis.

Language plays an essential role in the way we conceive and construct our social reality. It is not only a tool for communication, but also a means by which we make sense of the world around us. Here are some of the ways in which language contributes to the construction of social reality:

  • Categorisation and conceptualisation: Language helps us to divide the world into comprehensible categories and concepts. For example, the words we use to describe colours, emotions or social relationships help us to structure our experience of the world.
  • Creating and transmitting culture: Language is the main vehicle for culture. It allows us to share our ideas, beliefs and values, and to pass on our culture from generation to generation.
  • Negotiation and meaning-making: Through language we can discuss, debate and negotiate the meaning of events, ideas and experiences. This is particularly important in situations of social change or conflict.
  • Creating and maintaining social relationships: Language enables us to create and maintain social relationships. For example, we use language to express affection, respect or hostility towards others.
  • Defining and constructing identity: Language plays an important role in how we define our identity and our place in society. For example, the way we speak and the words we use can reflect our ethnic origin, our social class, our gender, and so on.

Language is a powerful tool that shapes our understanding of the world and our interaction with it. It contributes to the construction of our social reality in complex and multifaceted ways.

Peter Berger and Thomas Luckman: "the social construction of reality"[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, in their influential book "The Social Construction of Reality" (1966), developed a theory of knowledge in sociology that explains how social realities are created, institutionalised and made meaningful to individuals within a society. For them, reality is both an objective and subjective phenomenon, constructed through human interaction and language.

  • Social construction of reality: For Berger and Luckmann, reality is not a fixed and unchanging external entity, but rather a constantly evolving phenomenon that is constructed and reshaped by human interaction. Individuals, through their actions and interactions, create a social reality which, although subjective, is perceived as objective and "real".
  • Role of language: Language is essential to this process of social construction of reality. It provides the framework within which individuals interpret, describe and give meaning to their experience of the world. By exchanging symbols and meanings through language, individuals jointly construct a shared reality.
  • Institutionalization and social roles: Repeated patterns of interaction become institutionalized, i.e. they are transformed into stable and predictable social structures, such as the family, education, government, etc. These institutions, in turn, influence the way people interact with each other. These institutions, in turn, influence the behaviour of individuals by assigning them specific roles.
  • Subjective and objective reality: Although reality is socially constructed, it is experienced by individuals as an objective reality beyond their control. This is what Berger and Luckmann call "reification" - the process by which socially constructed reality is perceived as an objective and unalterable reality.

Berger and Luckmann's perspective highlights the central role of social interaction and language in the construction of our perceived reality. The social sciences, in their view, should therefore focus on understanding these processes of social construction of reality.

Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann, in their book 'The Social Construction of Reality', explain that reality is constantly created and modified by social interactions. They highlight three key concepts in this process:

  • Language as the foundation of knowledge of everyday life: Language is not only a tool for communication, but also a means by which individuals make sense of their world. It is through language that we name, categorise and interpret our experience of the world. Language therefore plays a crucial role in the construction of our social reality.
  • Society as an objective reality: Although society is socially constructed, it is perceived by individuals as an objective reality beyond their control. Social institutions, norms and rules are seen as entities that exist outside the individual and exert an influence and control over his or her behaviour. This objectification of social reality contributes to the stability and continuity of society.
  • Society as a subjective reality: Berger and Luckmann also maintain that social reality is a subjective reality. In other words, individuals make sense of their world through their own perspectives and experiences. This involves identification with the other, where we learn to see the world through the eyes of others. It is this process of internalisation that enables us to understand and conform to social expectations and norms.

Berger and Luckmann demonstrate that reality is a social construct, shaped by language and social interaction, and perceived as an objective entity that exerts an influence on the individual. At the same time, reality is a subjective experience, influenced by our identification with and empathy for others.

From a political science perspective, power is a central element in the social construction of reality. Power is the ability to influence the behaviour of other individuals or groups of individuals, by establishing rules, norms and structures that shape and direct social behaviour.

Power can manifest itself in various ways in a society:

  • Institutional power: This is the authority and control exercised by social institutions, such as government, legal organisations, educational institutions, religious organisations, etc. These institutions establish norms and rules that guide the behaviour of individuals.
  • Social power: This is the influence exerted by social groups on individuals. This can include peer pressure, the influence of the media, the weight of cultural traditions, etc.
  • Individual power: This is a person's ability to influence others, whether through charisma, knowledge, expertise, wealth, social status, etc.

Social reality is therefore partly a construction of power. Individuals are subject to the rules and norms established by those with power, and they also participate in this construction by accepting, negotiating or resisting these rules and norms. By understanding how power shapes social reality, we can better understand the dynamics of society and how social change can occur. The ability to make individuals adhere to a constructed social reality is an essential dimension of power. Social institutions exercise control over individuals by establishing and enforcing the norms and rules that define social reality. If an individual questions or violates these norms and rules, he or she may be subject to various forms of punishment, ranging from social disapproval to more severe legal sanctions. In extreme cases, such as that of Galileo, those who challenge the established order may even be threatened with death or other forms of extreme violence. The case of Galileo is an example of how power can be used to impose a certain conception of reality. Galileo was condemned by the Catholic Church for supporting heliocentrism, a theory that contradicted the geocentric view of the world accepted at the time. However, it is important to note that socially constructed reality is not immutable and can be modified or challenged over time. For example, despite Galileo's condemnation, his theory of heliocentrism was eventually accepted as scientific truth. This also illustrates that power is not always absolutely decisive: it can be challenged and transformed, and social realities can evolve through this process of contestation and change.

According to Berger and Luckmann, social reality is constructed on a daily basis through processes of institutionalisation and legitimisation.

Institutionalisation is the process by which certain actions and behaviours become repeated and predictable, forming patterns that shape social reality. These institutionalised patterns of behaviour are internalised by individuals and become habits that structure their daily actions. For example, getting up early to go to work, obeying the rules of the road or conforming to standards of politeness in social interactions are all examples of institutionalised behaviour.

The process of legitimisation, on the other hand, is the mechanism by which these institutionalised behaviours are validated and supported by society. They are justified and supported by shared beliefs, values, norms and rules. For example, respect for the law is legitimised by the belief that it is necessary to maintain order and stability in society.

These two processes work together to create and maintain social reality. Institutionalisation establishes behaviours and expectations, while legitimation provides justification and support for these behaviours and expectations. It is through these processes that social reality is constructed and maintained on a day-to-day basis.

The process of institutionalisation is an essential aspect of any society. It involves formalising and codifying behaviour and interactions between individuals in order to create a stable and predictable social order. This can be done through laws, rules, social norms, traditions and other forms of social structure. Habituation (the adoption of behaviour through habit or routine) and division of labour (the specialisation of roles and responsibilities) are two key mechanisms of institutionalisation. Transmission is also a crucial aspect of this process. Institutionalised values, norms and behaviours are passed on from one generation to the next, ensuring the continuity and stability of the social order. The process of legitimisation involves justifying and validating these institutionalised behaviours. Traditions, language and shared beliefs play a key role in this process, as they provide the moral, social and cultural justification for institutionalised behaviour. These two processes, institutionalisation and legitimation, are intrinsically linked and work together to create and maintain social reality. In other words, they help to construct the 'social world' as we know it.

The legitimation process is crucial in any society. It is linked to the maintenance of social order and stability by conferring validity and acceptability on established norms, rules, institutions and behaviours. It is a key stage in the consolidation and acceptance of the constructed social reality. Symbols play a major role in this process. Symbols - be they cultural, religious, political or other - serve to communicate values, ideals and beliefs that reinforce the constructed social reality. For example, in the context of government and power, symbols such as flags, national anthems, monuments, emblems and official rituals help to legitimise authority and promote a certain vision of society. The process of legitimisation can also be seen as a mechanism of social control. It helps to establish and maintain norms and expected behaviours, and to set limits on what is considered acceptable in a given society. It can also help to prevent or manage conflict by building consensus around what is considered fair and right.

The legitimation process aims to ensure collective acceptance of the social reality that has been constructed. This process involves mechanisms by which norms, values, beliefs and institutions are validated and made credible in the eyes of members of society. When legitimation is successful, the constructed social reality is widely accepted as 'natural' or 'inevitable', rather than a product of social construction. It is important to note that legitimation is a dynamic process. Constructed social realities can be challenged, modified or even completely dismantled as a result of social, cultural, economic or political change. New social realities can then be constructed and legitimised. In this sense, legitimation is an essential component of social stability and change. It can both maintain the existing social order and facilitate its evolution.

Constructivism in international relations theory[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

Constructivism in international relations argues that norms, ideas, identities and interactions are central to the structuring of the international system. It does not see states and other international actors as being motivated solely by material considerations such as military security or economic wealth, but also by ideas, values, cultures and social norms. For constructivists, the international system is not simply a battleground for power and wealth. It is also a field of social construction, where international actors shape each other through their interactions. For example, international norms on human rights, the environment or trade can influence the behaviour of states and other international actors. Constructivists also argue that international relations are constantly evolving. The norms, ideas and identities of international actors can change over time, and these changes can in turn reshape the international system. For example, the emergence of international norms on climate change has helped to transform the priorities and policies of many states and international organisations. Constructivism thus offers a dynamic and constantly evolving perspective on international relations. It emphasises the processes of social construction and the importance of ideas, values and norms in structuring the international system.

In an interactionist field, as in the field of international relations, strategies are constantly moving and evolving in response to changes in the social, political and economic context. Understanding these dynamics is crucial to correctly interpreting actors' behaviour and predicting future strategic movements or changes. Strategies can change in response to a variety of factors, including changes in perceptions of national interests, developments in the international context, internal transformations of actors (e.g. changes in leadership or politics), and interactions between actors themselves. For example, a country may choose to modify its international relations strategy in response to a change in leadership in another country, a change in the international political climate, or internal developments such as economic or social changes. Furthermore, symbolic interactionism, which is a constructivist approach, suggests that strategies are influenced by interactions between actors. Actors interpret and react to the actions of others, which can lead to changes in their own strategies. Consequently, the analysis of interactions between actors can provide valuable information on strategic dynamics in international relations.

The constructivist approach to international relations focuses on actors and their interpretation of situations. Constructivism insists that social realities, including international structures, are constructed through human interactions and shared beliefs. Here is how these levels manifest themselves in the context of international relations:

  • Role of actors: Actors in international relations are not only states, but also international organisations, NGOs and even individuals. Their interpretation of situations and their behaviour are influenced by a variety of factors, including their beliefs, values and ideologies, as well as their material interests. Indeed, actors have identities that influence their interests and actions. For example, a country that sees itself as a world leader in human rights will act differently from a country that does not share this identity.
  • Construction of social realities: In constructivism, international structures are seen as social constructions. This means that the norms, rules and institutions that make up the international order are the product of human interaction. They are not fixed and can be transformed by human action. For example, international human rights standards have evolved over time as a result of the actions and interactions of states, international organisations and civil society actors.
  • Field of interactions : Constructivism emphasises the role of interactions in shaping international structures and actors' behaviour. Actors interact with each other in various contexts, such as diplomatic negotiations, international forums and even conflicts. These interactions influence their understanding of the situation, their interests and their actions.

Constructivism offers a valuable framework for understanding the complex dynamics of international relations. It highlights the role of ideas, norms and interactions in shaping the international order and the behaviour of actors.

Constructivism offers an alternative perspective to more traditional approaches to international relations, such as realism, liberalism and functionalism. These approaches tend to focus on material structures and state interests as the main determinants of international behaviour. However, constructivism emphasises the importance of ideas, norms and identities in shaping international politics. It suggests that the interests and identities of states are shaped by their beliefs and their interactions with other actors. Thus, international behaviour is not simply the product of structural constraints or calculations of material interests, but is also influenced by social and ideological factors. Furthermore, constructivism challenges the idea that international politics can be understood in terms of rigid systems or functionalist models. Instead, it sees the international world as constantly evolving, shaped by dynamic processes of interaction and social construction. In this sense, constructivism offers a more nuanced and complex perspective on international politics, which takes into account the diversity of actors, ideas and processes that shape the world. This perspective is particularly useful for understanding contemporary challenges in international relations, such as multilateralism, human rights, climate change and global governance.

Constructivist theories challenge the idea that there are objective realities or fixed structures in international relations, such as the concept of anarchy. They argue that these concepts are in fact social constructs, shaped by our beliefs, norms and interactions. Anarchy, for example, is often presented in realist theories as a fundamental feature of the international system, where there is no central authority to impose rules or regulate the behaviour of states. However, constructivists challenge this idea and suggest that anarchy itself is a social construct. It is not an objective reality, but a perception or interpretation of reality that is shaped by our beliefs and interactions. Furthermore, constructivists argue that even in the absence of a central authority, there are international norms, rules and institutions that influence the behaviour of states. These norms and institutions are not simply the product of calculations of material interests, but are also shaped by processes of social construction. Constructivism thus offers a more nuanced and dynamic perspective on international relations, which takes into account the diversity of actors and processes that shape the world. It also offers tools for analysing and understanding complex phenomena such as conflict, cooperation, social change and the construction of international order.

Constructivism challenges the realist idea of anarchy as the natural state of the international system. For constructivists, anarchy is not a fixed or pre-social state, but a construct that emerges from interactions between international actors. In other words, anarchy is not a given, but a constructed reality. States are not simply immersed in an anarchic environment; they actively contribute to creating and maintaining this state through their interactions, norms and beliefs. Relations between states are not simply dictated by the desire for power or the fear of insecurity, but are also shaped by social, cultural and ideological factors. Moreover, constructivism recognises that states are not the only relevant actors in international relations. Other actors, such as international organisations, NGOs, social movements and even individuals, can also play an important role. Their influence is not limited to their material power, but can also be determined by their ability to shape the norms, ideas and beliefs that underpin the international system. From this perspective, the analysis of international relations cannot be limited to the study of power relations between states. It must also take into account the social and cultural processes that shape these relations and the structures in which they are embedded.

In the field of international relations, constructivist theories are appearing: they are going to think about the reality of structures and conflicts and also think about intersubjectivity, i.e. the fact that we are in representation and how certain countries can allow themselves to characterise another in the name of interpreting their own development.

Constructivism emphasises the importance of norms and ideas in structuring international relations. State sovereignty, for example, is a central principle of international order, but it is not an objective and immutable fact. Rather, it is a social construct based on the mutual recognition of states. In the constructivist framework, international norms, whether explicit (such as international treaties and agreements) or implicit (such as unwritten norms of behaviour), play a key role in determining the behaviour of states. These norms are not simply imposed from outside, but are internalised by states, which adopt them as part of their identity and interests. Moreover, constructivism recognises that these norms can change over time as a result of interactions between international actors. If a norm is not respected or accepted by a state, this can trigger reactions and negotiations that may ultimately lead to a change in the norm. In short, constructivism offers a dynamic and evolving perspective on international relations, highlighting the importance of social processes and interactions in the formation and transformation of the international order.

Constructivism in international relations places particular emphasis on the importance of actors' identities and interests, which are seen as constructed through social interaction rather than predetermined by human nature or economic structures, as other theories suggest. This implies that states (and other actors) are influenced by the norms and ideas that prevail in international society, and that their identities and interests may evolve over time in response to these influences. For example, a state may adopt certain standards of human rights or environmental policy because they are widely accepted in the international community, not because they are directly in its economic or security interests. Furthermore, constructivism recognises that actors have the capacity to act creatively and strategically to influence international norms and ideas. This can be done through diplomacy, persuasion, rhetoric and other forms of social communication. As a result, international relations are seen as a dynamic process of interaction and negotiation, rather than a zero-sum game determined by fixed and unalterable national interests.

Annexes[modifier | modifier le wikicode]

References[modifier | modifier le wikicode]