Last updated:
May 29, 2003

[Narrative Psychology]

 Theoretical Foundations

 Philosophical Perspectives

Philosophy of Science, Critical Realism, Personalism,
Social Constructionism, Constructivism, & "Postmodern Thought"


Background  ||  Internet  ||  Bibliographical  ||  Theorists


Background Issues


What are the perspectives which philosophy brings to the study of narrative? In response to this question, this page details (1) those movements of thought in the later 20th century various labeled as social constructionism, constructivism, postmodernism (including structuralism and poststructuralism), late modernity, and so on as well as (2) less radical viewpoints including "critical realism," certain approaches to positivism and some forms of personalist philosophy. These latter positions reflect the diversity underlying narrative approaches which seek a comprehensive understanding of human experience in the light of storytelling. However, philosophical approaches by narrativists in psychology broadly reject as inadequate the objectivist, radical empiricist, or analytical philosophy represented by figures such as W.V. O. Quine.

Social Constructionism, Constructivism, and "Postmodern Thought"

The European and American worldview which grounded itself in the Enlightenment of the 17th and 18th centuries and the Industrial and Scientific Revolutions of the 19th century believed that human beings (1) could understand the world through objective, scientific knowledge which would reveal that world "as it really exists" and (2) that such knowledge would lead to a rationally-grounded future of abundance, justice, and universal peace. This was the age of "the modern".

Many scholars of the middle and late 20th century no longer believe in the two axioms of "modernity" noted above and argue that humanity cannot afford the illusions implicit in either belief. Hence, the origin of knowledge is held to be "socially constructed" since knowledge relies upon the socially-crafted tool of language. Similarly, universal goals -- scientific planning, abundance, justice, and peace -- are held suspect since they have so frequently been linked to the ideologies of "master theories" which brought so much death and destruction to 20th century life (under the guise of Fascism, Marxism, capitalism, etc.). Thus, the "postmodern" temper seeks to reject "meta-narratives" in favor of "micro- or local narratives" where the claims to "truth" are much more modest and less prone to abuse. Further, a preference for local narratives also offers the prospect that the stories and voices of those traditionally silent (the poor, women, persons of color or different sexual orientation) might receive a hearing.
"Social constructionism" and "postmodernism" question psychology's scientific and empirical methodologies, reject theories of human personhood which stress the self as autonomous, consistent, and logical, and scorn a mentality which believes it can treat human "mental illnesses" by use of "scientific" techniques.

The terms "constructivism" and "social constructionism" refer to two general strains within psychology. The term constructivism is used in two senses: the first and more general embraces the perspective that our understanding of reality is not a one-for-one representation of what is "out there" but the result of both individual and social processes, mediated by way of language, which alter, select, and transform our experience. In this sense, constructivism is an "umbrella" term which includes a broad spectrum of positions. The second and more restrictive sense of constructivism refers to the notion that individual persons or intelligent agents actively fashion or interpret their experience via various processes. Here the emphasis is on the personal and agentive aspects of experience as constructed. Social constructionism designates the understanding that human beings are born into a social world and from earliest moments live their lives inextricably bound to the social matrix, most especially by language, which serves as an a priori interpretative framework for experience. Thus, social life has a (preponderantly) determinant role in establishing not only what experience an individual will have, but in how that experince will be interpreted.

Theorists*Key Figures



When citing this document, you may wish to consider this form for the reference (derived from APA Style [5th ed.])

Hevern, V. W. (2003, May). Philosophical Perspectives. Narrative psychology: Internet and resource guide. Retrieved [enter date] from the Le Moyne College Web site:

     Narrative Psychology: Internet and Resource Guide
is copyright © 1996-2003 by Vincent W. Hevern, SJ, all rights reserved.

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