Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

Four Assumptive Worlds of Psychopathology I: Setting the Social Constructive Stage

Basis of Social Construction I: Content and Structure

To gain some sense of what is occurring in the social constructive act, I turn first to an even more basis foundation (linguistics) and specifically the distinction to be made between semantics and syntax. Put all too simply, semantics concerns the content being conveyed through use of language, whereas syntax refers to the structure of the language being used. I propose that the basis (in part) of social construction resides in both domains of language.

Semantics: Benjamin Whorf (2012) and his more widely accepted predecessor, Edward Sapir, were among the most controversial (and at times influential) proponents of a constructivist perspective regarding the role played by the content of language—a perspective often broadly identified as symbolic interactionism. The so-called Whorfian Hypothesis concerns the influence of words on our thoughts and subsequently our decisions and actions. On the one hand, there is a version of this hypothesis that is often called the Weak Whorfian Hypothesis. This version is based on the strong correlation found between words and priorities: we finely articulate that about which we care. There are many semantically defined distinctions to be made in domains where we have much invested—while there are few distinctions drawn in areas of less social value. The classic example offered by Whorf is the many different words used among the Inuit (Eskimo) when identifying and describing what most of us would call “snow.” In recent years, we can point similarly to the many words used by ski and snowboard enthusiasts for the “snow” in which they operate. Those of us with minimal interest in “snow” use just the one word, while the Inuit, skiers and snow boarders use many different words, because they are living and navigating (at least part of their life) in this “snowy” world.

I would offer the example of differentiations made by the Ancient Greeks in the domain of what we, in contemporary life, would call “love.” Most of us use the single word, “love,” whereas the Greeks identified four different kinds of committed engagements: eros, philia, storge and agape. The Whorfians would suggest that Ancient Greeks might have placed greater value on the domain of “love” than is the case with those of us who place greater value on and attend much more diligently to other matters. A similar case could be made for the Inuit, skiers and snowboarders. The critical point to be made here is that this version of the Whorfian hypothesis is called “weak” because correlations do not imply causation – only mutual alignment.


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William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 50 books, and president of a psychology institute. Dr. Bergquist consults on and writes about personal, group, organizational and societal transitions and transformations. His published work ranges from the personal transitions of men and women in their 50s and the struggles of men and women in recovering from strokes to the experiences of freedom among the men and women of Eastern Europe following the collapse of the Soviet Union. In recent years, Bergquist has focused on the processes of organizational coaching. He is coauthor with Agnes Mura of coachbook, co-founder of the International Journal of Coaching in Organizations and co-founder of the International Consortium for Coaching in Organizations.

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