Lecture 21 – Social Construction of the Self [27/03/2013]
All our thinking is for how to survive in the world and deal with other people. In addition to the social
world around us we also think about social construction in relation to the self. Observing ourselves is
not as easy as it looks. Even chimpanzees awareness of existence seems to have something to do
with social feedback/interaction. Moreover, social interactions we take the vision of others and
generalized others in the idea of who we are. This altogether constructs an idea about our self.
Culture also plays a role in this construction.
Culture: Eastern & Western views of self
Who am I?
American students vs. Japanese students
o American: Personal (e.g., traits, values, hair colour) 59% vs. 19%
o Japanese: Social (e.g., roles, collective, where they fit in with other people) 9% vs.
Thus, the defining sense of who we are is what you think about yourself in your head and this
is different for different cultures. The idea about self is depending on the values etc. of the
cultural world that you’re raised in.
Self-narratives in their social context
We tell stories all the time: about our life, what defines us, what we did last weekend etc.
Our sense of identity is to some extent like a character in a story
What information is relevant? How does the story develop?
Reflected back to us by others; given socially shared reality When we portray some
aspects of our life to others this person(s) subsequently reflects on this. Ultimately we come
to a shared reality of who we are. The other person validates our (life)story and accepts it.
What are the frame-works we use when we tell these self-narratives that guide the thoughts about
ourselves and create a sense of self? For example, stories like ‘Cinderella’, ‘Rocky’, ‘The ugly
Let’s think about the influence of culture, i.e. the larger meanings (internet etc.) that float around, as
a framework within which we construct a sense self. To do this, we can look cross-culturally (bi-
Gergen (1990): Historical trends within our culture three frameworks that have emerged and
defines people’s understanding of life at different times through history.
1. Romantic period (roughly the 1800’s)
Assumption of the deep interior (i.e., character, soul, integrity, passions, values)
A person within this framework feels deeply and reacts powerful and has powerful