Social Constructionism

Having used the sociological and psychological theory of social constructionism for a couple of times in our project, I finally came to summarise some key definitions and key terms linked to this theory. To simply put, social constructionists think that there is no absolute reality or truth, as subjective perceptions are all ‘constructed’ by external ‘reality’. Namely when we say people especially millennials have been ‘socially constructed’ by the use and spread of social media, and not to mention the news, ideas and opinions on social media. (Clara has done case studies on Facebook and Emojis.) Such influence is powerful yet ‘invisible’ and a gradual process which is convincingly a part of Anglo-American cultural (platform) imperialism.

“Social media feeds the society with a constructed reality instead of depicting it.”

SOCIAL MEDIA: How Reality is Constructed

  • Definition of Social Constructionism

“An approach to social psychology that seeks to study the ways in which people and groups create and institutionalize social phenomena by constructing their perceived reality. Socially constructed reality is interpreted as a continuous, dynamic process, with reality emerging from people’s interpretations.”

— Oxford Index,

Key terms

“cognitive construction”
“symbolic universe”
“subjective reflection”
“social objectivation”

“One may and typically does live natively with a symbolic universe.”

— p. 104, Berger, Peter L., & Luckmann, Thomas (1966), The Social Construction of Reality, Anchor Books

  • Brainwashing

Furthermore the term brainwashing is directly linked to this idea, as it means how politicians control peoples opinions by making things up. It is also interesting to consider the shift from tv and newspaper brainwashing to social media brainwashing – older generations were more socially constructed by tv and newspaper but again, millennials are more exposed to social media brainwashing.

‘The term “brainwashing” comes from the time of the Korean War, when Americans speculated about the thought reform regime in communist China, and later the techniques used on the American POWs in Korea who went on to criticize the war, and even in a few cases to renounce the US and refuse to come home after the war was over. It’s such an evocative term that it caught on almost immediately as a way to describe someone’s views as rote, robotic, or even unthinkable.

We see a lot more of this rhetoric in the new millennium, with the advent of openly partisan cable news networks, and now with the phenomenon of social media “bubbles” where users often see largely the views of those who agree with them ideologically.’

We’re all a bit ‘brainwashed’ about politics


Arguably imperialism normally is tied with negative implications and in fact much of our research has been focusing on those that come with the growth and expansion of technology and social media. However it is worth noting that technology and social media of 21st century that have been mainly developed by American companies have made contributions in easing our daily life and advancing our society. Where to draw the fine line between those benefits and Anglo-American cultural imperialism, neo-colonisation and ‘brainwashing’ comes down to individual cases but in any case a difficult question. It can be argued that in most cases innovations in technology and social media have not been designed to promote cultural imperialism, but many of them have been or can be manipulated to serve for different interests, especially in terms of politics (in our case, Anglo-American politics domestically and abroad – consider Facebook and Russian fake news during 2016 US election, and the latest news on Facebook and the Cambridge Analytical Data Scandal.

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