Warning: These 3 posts are very nerdy. There is a reason behind my madness … but just be forewarned.

Yesterday I admitted to social construction being my philosophical orientation within my chosen field of Practical Theology (PT). A constructivist view is important in (at least) two ways:

  1. It is an admission that we are all subjects of a constructed reality who are both actors and those who are acted upon within a larger structure of expectations, attitudes and behaviors that we have a) inherited b) been formed by and c) reinforced by our actions and participation.
  2. It is an acknowledgement that no one is a object to be studied nor are we objective – but that we are all subject who are acted upon and who act in accordance to our position within the given structures and our possibilities given our location within that greater culture.

Admittedly, this is not an easy position to take. It is a commitment. One must commit to exploring the world this way philosophically, experientially and intellectually.Boy at Cockflight_3

Here are 3 ways that this commitment plays out: 

Two weeks ago on Homebrewed released another installment of Mimetic theory (an early blog is here – another pod is to come this Fall). Girard and those who follow his line of reasoning say that we humans, even as babies, learn what to desire my mimicking (thus mimetic) those who care for us. We learn even what to desire (like what foods) by imitating them. Think of this as the outer edge of the ‘learned behavior’ line of reasoning.

Social Construction says that we are not individuals first. There is no access to a  pre-social self. We are formed, groomed and socialized into our families, tribes, societies and cultures and the we occupy and possess within that larger structure a place as subject. This subjective position means that we are actors – but not before we are acted upon. We are not objective in our perspective nor are we simply objects of study. We are subjects who have been subjected.

If you have read the above 2 paragraphs you will see why I put up such a stink this Summer about my approach not being ‘liberal’. I do not believe in the autonomous, selective nor the pre-institutional self. I am a social constructivist who believes that we are socialized, groomed and conditioned from day 1.  (more on this tomorrow)

This next section in admittedly technical but I think that is a fascinating snapshot of a larger landscape. 

I read an amazing article by Lynn Schofield Clark about the incremental difference between Critical Theory and Constructivism as it relates to qualitative research (which is what PT does). Critical Theory is something that I am very interested in employing in my research and that is why Clark’s clarification about how it impacts research is so important.

Both ‘critical’ and ‘constructivist’ approaches desire to “confront injustices in society”. They also both recognize the limitations of people’s opportunities and imaginations for changing unjust social systems due to due the inherent constraints of being a subject within that very system.

Both approaches have an Achilles’ heel. Critical theory has to try and get away from it’s Marxist origin which can overly reductive and materially deterministic. Constructivism (which is more humanistic) can be limited by attempting to validate its findings with claims inherited from the natural sciences. Critical researches are not concerned with seeking validation from the sciences because they are working more on the meta-theoretical.

While both approaches share a large amount of overlap, one glaring concern about Critical researches is:

 its tendency toward elitism. With its proponents’ commitment to the idea that research can bring about a better and more equitable world, critics charge that critical theorists tend to assume that they are not only more capable of analyzing a situation than most; they are better equipped to offer a proscriptive plan of action…

Further, critics charge that critical theorists can be unwilling to listen to the experiences of those most adversely effected by current policies and the status quo, as they tend to focus their analyses on persons and institutions in positions of power and authority. This, critics note, causes critical theorists to be out of touch with the very persons they purport to be most interested in helping.

This concern has given me pause to consider my approach.

The last thing I wanted to pass on is a great line from the Clark article about validity:

The research is valid to the extent that the analysis provides insight into the systems of oppression and domination that limit human freedoms, and on a secondary level, in its usefulness in countering such systems.

Tomorrow I want to talk about “when good isn’t enough” and why my post-colonial concern propels me beyond the liberal label.