The processes of social construction in talk
Hollander, J. A. & Gordon, H. R. (2006). The processes of social construction in talk. Symbolic Interaction, 29(2), 183-212.
Despite the fact that social construction (i.e. the notion that various institutions and human concepts are created through social interactions) has become popular in sociological literature, Hollander and Gordon point out that there is little discussion about how social construction actually occurs during verbal interactions. This article seeks to fill that gap in the literature. It does so by reviewing past works, both in sociology and in a field called “conversation analysis,” which dissects how people create and structure conversations, and then examining the tools used in order to create social meaning through conversations.
Data for the first segment of the study involved literature from a broad variety of disciplines, including: sociology, “psychology, women’s studies, social work, philosophy, linguistics, speech communication, geography, and cultural studies” (185). These works formed the backbone of the literature review used. Then, during the second part of the study, the authors relied on pre-existing data on “gendered vulnerability,” which included “verbatim transcripts of thirteen small (four- to eight-person) focus group conversations about violence, conducted between 1995 and 1997 in Seattle, Washington” in order to provide examples of the tools used in order to create social meanings during conversations (186). It is important to note that because these data were discussion transcripts, non-verbal communications were not analyzed in the meaning-making process (leaving that area open for future research). Hollander and Gordon’s main finding is a typology of the tools of verbal construction. They divide nine tools into three distinct categories: “building blocks” (i.e. the “basic units of construction”, which include “categorizing” and “symbolizing”), “linking devices” (i.e. units that bring the building blocks together, which include “explaining”, “storytelling”, and “forecasting”), and finishing devices (i.e. units that suggest how “hearers” should interpret meanings, which include “framing”, “evaluating”, “emoting”, and “rhetorical devices”) (187). Moreover, while this typology is to apply to everyday talk situations, Hollander and Gordon note that the talks studied are not merely individual in nature and may include structural and institutional influences, in the sense that they tend to reflect cultural norms for conversation. Additionally, they find three interactional processes that act during construction in conversations—“support” (e.g. agreement), “challenge” (e.g. offering an alternative interpretation), and “non-response” (e.g. not responding to a construction).
This work contributes to the sociology of mental health only loosely. It does so by working to identify the actual tools used in one particular form of social construction: verbal communication. It may help those studying sociology from a social constructionist perspective by offering readers a typology by which they can begin to identify the different tools used in social meaning making through verbal interactions. However, the authors point out that their own work in this area is fairly exploratory. As of the late 2000s, they recommended a series of research developments. First, they suggested that more work was needed in the further analysis on, and refinement of, the tools of social construction; second, that a better understanding of the role of the actual interactions during social construction would be helpful to those in the field (the authors supplemented their typology of the tools of construction by identifying “support,” “challenge” and “non-response” as actual interactions that happen during construction, but suspect that more such processes exist); and third, that a clearer idea of the links “between [individual] interaction and social structure [e.g. cultural effects, or power relationships between conversants]” would benefit the literature (206).