Communicative constructivism is a new approach in sociological, communication and media science research and theory formation (Keller & Knoblauch & Reichertz 2012, Knoblauch/Schnettler 2004, Knoblauch 2013, 2017, Christmann 2016, Couldry & Hepp 2016, Reichertz 2017). It shares many foundations, ideas and concepts with social constructivism (Berger/Luckmann 1970), however other aspects are new and result in part from a critical examination of social constructivism (Knoblauch 1995, Keller 2005, Reichertz 2009) and more recent discourse and practice theoretical approaches. As a theoretical direction, communicative constructivism sees itself as a continuation of the sociology of knowledge. With respect to this, it methodologically and methodically continues the hermeneutic sociology of knowledge (Soeffner 2004, Hitzler & Reichertz & Schröer 1999). Communicative constructivism is then neither a completely new programme nor an independent paradigm, but what is above all new is the reweighting of central concepts such as communicative action, discourse, body and practice.
In a far reaching reorientation, communicative constructivism changes the focus from language and knowledge as the basis of social construction, to communicative action as the primary operation in the social construction of reality. This conversion from language and knowledge to communicative action (already theorized by Thomas Luckmann – Luckmann 2002) is not only a small shift in accent, but a fundamental change in social constructivism.
For explanation: Speaking, i.e. the situational use of language, especially in Luckmann’s works, is the central instrument of the production of the social. In language, the knowledge of a society is materialized and institutionalized and by exchanging this linguistically bound knowledge in speaking to one another, the speakers affirm themselves of their reality. Ultimately, from Berger’s and Luckmann’s sociological view, language is above all a store of knowledge and by speaking together (communicative action) the respective actors recall and activate this store of knowledge and compare their store of knowledge with the knowledge of others. This clearly underestimates the importance of communicative action – mainly due to the fact, that the term of communicative action has been, and still is, insufficiently defined not only in Germany.
There is another concept of communication with a similarly long line of tradition that has emerged largely in North America. It places less emphasis on the message and speaking itself, but much more on the effect and the action of speech and thus the importance of communication for the identity of the communicators. Communication in the sense of this tradition can be both conscious and planned as well as unconscious, habitualized and unplanned sign-mediated action. It is symbolic interaction – from concrete people, for concrete people, in specific situations and social contexts and with specific intentions. Communication can use linguistic signs, but does not have to, and can take place without language, because language is only a tool of communication.
Communicative action is therefore not (any longer) the means by which two monads with shuttered windows (Leibniz) try to describe the other – an attempt that must necessarily fail, since each monad remains trapped in its own world. Also, individualized and egocentric performances of consciousness need not be the starting point of communication, but rather the communicative actions of others and our communicative action with others.
In communicative constructivism, the change from ‘knowledge’ to ‘communication’ is fundamental and new. This conversion arises from the fact, that knowledge is not created by human beings in an isolated act of perception and understanding, but that both – the constitution of knowledge and its transmission – are necessarily bound to communication. Knowledge (in contrast to information) means to understand the meaning of what is known. Knowledge is therefore always a gained, communicatively created and communicatively consolidated experience of a particular community. I then not only know what something is, but also what it means to me, and therefore what I have to do in relation to it.
With the change from knowledge to communication, or more precisely with the change in focus from linguistically bound knowledge to the construction of knowledge by means of communicative action, there is not a small shift in emphasis within social constructivism, but a substantial change. For it is no longer knowledge, its materializations, classifications and systems that are at the center of research, but rather situated communicative action as a means and site for actualizing and negotiating knowledge.
Communicative action, and this is another major change in understanding, is always social action with effect as its aim – therefore, a specific set of power relations always exists within this communication (Reichertz 2009). Much is still unclear about this conception of power within communication. However, to shift the focus of communication theory from ‘knowledge’ to ‘power’ does not imply simply extending the existing sociological and communication theories on communicative action by a chapter, i.e. to write a few supplementary pages on power within communication. The introduction of this concept means that the entire process of human communication must be reconsidered against the background of a new understanding of effect and power structures in communication.
This working group aims to stimulate and produce joint publications, for example smaller articles for journals and periodicals, as well as joint book projects with the aim of furthering the theoretical and methodological development of communicative constructivism. Initial publications are: Reichertz & Tuma 2017, Reichertz & Bettmann 2018. In addition, cross disciplinary conferences and workshops will be held on a regular basis with the aim of exploring how fruitfully communicative constructivism can be applied and developed.
- Berger, Peter L. / Luckmann, Thomas (1970): Die gesellschaftliche Konstruktion von Wirklichkeit. Frankfurt am Main: Fischer.
- Christmann, Gabriela (Hrsg.) (2016): Zur kommunikativen Konstruktion von Räumen. Wiesbaden: Springer.
- Couldry, Nick / Hepp, Andreas (2016): The Mediated Construction of Reality. Cambridge: Polity Press.
- Hitzler, Ronald / Reichertz, Jo / Schröer, Norbert (Hrsg.) (1999): Hermeneutische Wissenssoziologie. Standpunkte zur Theorie der Interpretation. Konstanz: UVK.
- Keller, Reiner (2005): Wissenssoziologische Diskursanalyse. Wiesbaden: VS-Verlag.
- Keller, Reiner / Knoblauch, Hubert / Reichertz, Jo (Hrsg.) (2012): Kommunikativer Konstruktivsmus. Wiesbaden: Springer.
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- Knoblauch, Hubert (2013): Communicative constructivism and mediatization. in: Communication Theory, 23(3) S. 297-315.
- Knoblauch, Hubert (2017): Die Kommunikative Konstruktion der Wirklichkeit. Wiesbaden: Springer VS.
- Knoblauch, Hubert/Schnettler, Bernt (2004): Vom sinnhaften Aufbau zur kommunikativen Konstruktion. In: Gabriel, Michael (Hrsg.): Paradigmen der akteurszentrierten Soziologie. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag. S. 121-138.
- Luckmann, Thomas (2002): Wissen und Gesellschaft. Konstanz: UVK.
- Reichertz, Jo (2009): Kommunikationsmacht. Was ist Kommunikation und was vermag sie? Und weshalb vermag sie das? Wiesbaden: VS Verlag.
- Reichertz, Jo (2017): Die Bedeutung des kommunikativen Handelns und der Medien im Kommunikativen Konstruktivismus. In: Themenheft der Zeitschrift Medien & Kommunikationswissenschaft. Baden-Baden: Nomos. S. 252-274.
- Reichertz, Jo & René Tuma (Hrsg.) (2017): Der Kommunikative Konstruktivismus bei der Arbeit. Weinheim: Juventa.
- Reichertz, Jo & Richard Bettmann (Hrsg.) (2018): Braucht die Mediatisierungsforschung den Kommunikativen Konstruktivismus? Wiesbaden: VS Springer.
- Soeffner, Hans-Georg (2004): Auslegung des Alltags – Der Alltag der Auslegung. Konstanz: UVK.