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

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

This leads up to a final essay in which a more detailed analysis is offered regarding the most recent assumptive world: the framing of psychopathology as “mental illness.” In this sixth essay, with the invaluable assistance of my graduate students and fellow faculty members, I link the fourth assumption to the highly influential role being played in contemporary times by the DSM-V Manual. In providing this historical analysis, I think it is appropriate, first, to identify the nature and purpose of assumptions we make about our world and rely, in part, on wisdom regarding pervasive societal assumptions offered more than 50 years ago by Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann.

Social Construction of Reality

Before turning specifically to the observations made by Berger and Luckmann, I provide a broader analysis of what is often identified as the framework for a general notion about knowledge (epistemology). On the one hand, we have what is called an Objectivist Perspective on epistemology: there is a real world that we can accurately perceive and assess over time. By contrast, there is a Constructivist Perspective regarding knowledge: we don’t know what the real world looks like (weak constructivism) or even if there is a real world (strong constructivism). While the objectivist perspective has dominated Western culture (and particularly Western science) for many centuries, the constructivist perspective has begun to hold sway—particularly in what is often referred to as a postmodern frame of reference in both the sciences and humanities (Bergquist, 1993).

Two social scientists, Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann, led the way in this emphasis on constructivism by identifying the “social constructions of reality.” (Berger and Luckmann, 1967). They proposed that social systems are particularly effective (and important) in the creation and reinforcement of specific constructions in any society. Considerable reinforcement of this social constructivist framework has come from other social scientists and observers since Berger and Luckmann first offered their thesis in 1966. (cf. Searle, 1997)

Recently, we find expanded support for the constructivist perspective  in the field of economics from those who have championed the inter-disciplinary initiative called behavioral economics. Kahneman, Tversky and Thaler have received two Nobel Prizes in recognition of their success in taking on the task of documenting how specific heuristics (what Berger and Luchmann might call social constructions) influence daily decision making as well as the formulation of public policy and commercial marketing. The behavioral economists offer a particularly important question regarding social construction regarding our topic (the nature and classification of psychopathology): who is sitting at the table? Who influences social constructions and what is the agenda being held by and inserted into the conversations by these highly influential participants? It is in the establishment of criteria for judgement and, even more fundamentally, the topic(s) to be addressed that powerful social constructions are formed and reinforced.


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About the Author

William Bergquist

William BergquistWilliam Bergquist, Ph.D. An international coach and consultant, professor in the fields of psychology, management and public administration, author of more than 45 books, and president of a graduate school of psychology. 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. His graduate school (The Professional School of Psychology: offers Master and Doctoral degrees in both clinical and organizational psychology to mature, accomplished adults.

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