Berger and Luckmann: the social construction of reality

The phenomenology of the social world is closer to sociology than to the Husserlian philosophy that inaugurated phenomenological thought. Berger and Luckmann are no exception. The authors affirm that daily life implies a world ordered through meanings shared by the community. His phenomenological proposal has as its main objective to restore the social constructions of reality. The core of The Social Construction of Reality is found in the statement that subjects create society and society becomes an objective reality that, in turn, creates subjects: "Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality, man is a social product" (BERGER; LUCKMANN, 1967/1993, p.61).

For Berger and Luckmann, subjectivity is understood as a phenomenon that reveals the universe of meanings collectively constructed from the interaction. The proposal has as its basic axis the concept of intersubjectivity, understood as the encounter, by the subject, with another consciousness that constitutes the world in its own perspective. Intersubjectivity is not reduced to face-to-face encounters but extends to all dimensions of social life. Hence, both Berger and Luckmann as well as Schütz abandon the conception of intersubjectivity in the sense of the flow of inner consciousness and understand it as a human living in a social and historical community.

His socio-phenomenological proposals imply the transition from the individual to the social, from the natural to the historical, and from the original to the everyday. In The social construction of reality (1967), the authors start from two basic theses: on the one hand, that reality is socially constructed; On the other hand, they consider that it is the task of the sociology of knowledge to analyze the processes through which reality is socially constructed. In this way, the reality is defined as a quality of the phenomena that we recognize as independent of our own volition; For its part, knowledge is conceived as the certainty that phenomena are real and that they have specific characteristics.

For the exposition of these two basic theses, the authors build a central argument: the processes of objectivation, carried out through the language used in daily social interaction, build society and turn it into objective reality, through the mechanisms of institutionalization and legitimation. The subjects internalize these processes of objectification through processes of primary and secondary socialization.

The reality of everyday life is organized around a here and a now; both dimensions constitute the reality of the subjects' consciousness. However, the reality is not exhausted in these two present phenomena, since it also encompasses phenomena that happened in the past. Hence, subjects can experience daily life in different degrees of proximity and distance, both in space and time.

Like Schütz, Berger and Luckmann conceive the reality of everyday life as an intersubjective reality, that is, shared with others; they consider "face-to-face" interaction to be the most important of social interaction experiences because all other interaction situations derive from it. Then the social reality of everyday life is apprehended in a continuum of typifications that become progressively anonymous, as they move away from the here and now, from the "face-to-face" interaction situation. At one extreme would be those others with whom a subject interacts intensely, permanently; at the other extreme, there would be some more abstract, anonymous ones, which may even be inaccessible "face to face".

In short, for the authors, social actors perceive that social reality is independent of their own apprehensions. The reality, therefore, appears already objectified, as something imposed on the subjects. For the objectification of reality, it is essential to take into account language, which in Berger and Luckmann stands as the basic means to provide subjects with the essential objectification and which provides the order within which the reality of everyday life acquires meaning. for the people.

The concept of the symbolic universe is central to Berger and Luckmann's proposal. The authors conceive of it as the matrix of all socially objectified and subjectively real meanings. The symbolic universe is built through social objectivations and provides the order for the subjective apprehension of the biographical experience; thus, it can be described as "putting everything in its place", because it orders the different phases of the biography. As a legitimator, the symbolic universe protects the institutional order and the individual biography; orders history and places collective events within a coherent unit that includes the past, the present, and the future; establishes a memory that is shared by all socialized individuals, as well as a common frame of reference for the projection of individual actions; and provides extensive integration of all isolated business processes.

Like Schütz, Berger and Luckmann conceive of interaction and intersubjectivity as interdependent situations. However, the contributions of the authors of The Social Construction of Reality add little to the work previously done by Schütz. Schütz's "we-relations" imply, according to Berger and Luckmann, an immediate exchange of meanings; in them, there is a lower degree of typification than in the case of "relationships-they", which involve other anonymous subjects. As "we-relations" are less determined by typifications, they may allow more room for negotiation between subjects.

Luckmann and the theory of Communication

Thomas Luckmann proposes a sociology of knowledge as the basis for a new social theory of human action. The questions that guided his proposal were the following:

How does society construct reality? How do they determine forms and models produced by society, the experience and daily action of each one? How do societies generate, disseminate and reproduce what they think they know, what they live in, and what they define as real? How is it possible that the historical and social order of things thus generated is presented to the actor as an order that can be experienced objectively and that produces meaning and identity? And finally: what effect do social constructions have on their builders? (KNOBLAUCH et al ., 2008, p.10-11).

For Luckmann, both knowledge and what we human beings define as reality are socially determined. According to the author, interactions are the foundation of the social and may have an intermittent character, but essentially they are permanent. They allow for guiding the interactions of the subjects with the others. "Order is the result of human activity and is only possible as long as human activity continues to produce" (GAYTAN, 2011, p.72).

In his analysis of language and communication, Luckmann focused on symbols and signs as components of the stock of knowledge. For the author, language is the primary means, both for the social construction of reality and for the mediation of socially constructed reality. Language "is the carrier of the stock of social knowledge, but it is also a system of action and therefore, it will be updated in concrete interaction situations and in contingent processes" (DREHER, 2012, p.97). In this way, language is a system of signs that serves to mediate reality.

Luckmann was interested not only in the epistemological and anthropological bases of Communication but also in the theoretical determination of the constitution of the genres of Communication and in the analysis of linguistic Communication. For him, Communication is a social action that uses signs in different ways and that, above all, is reciprocal. Communication is, then, a process of production and mediation of knowledge, in which the production and reproduction of social structures are crucial.