Wittgenstein, Reflexivity and the Social Construction of Reality

Gavin Sullivan


Social constructionism is one of the main ways in which the influence of
Wittgenstein’s later philosophy is felt in psychology. This framework for a
range of disparate conceptual and empirical activities encourages reflexivity
about the linguistic and social construction of reality. However, critics have
suggested that social constructionism’s reflexivity leads to self-referential
inconsistency. Hibberd (2005) also claims that some social constructionists who
have been inspired by Wittgenstein’s philosophy actually endorse a form of
conventionalism compatible with early logical positivism. This paper examines
three central themes. First, whether social constructionism in psychology can
indeed be described as Wittgensteinian and metatheoretical without
misrepresentation and confusion. Second, how social constructionists and their
critics in psychology could engage properly with Wittgenstein’s work (e.g., on
mathematics and psychology) in order to be self-critical about the relationship
between language, mind and the world. Third, do analyses demonstrate a need for
a sociohistorical investigation because “it is not sufficient to show or
even to demonstrate that a problem is a false problem in order to have done
with it” (Bourdieu, 2004, p. 7).


philosophy; 20th century philosophy; Wittgenstein Ludwig; reflexivity; social constructivism; realism; theoretical psychology; philosophical psychology

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