The social construction of language in a changing world
Social constructionism considers reality as stemming from and maintained within social human interaction (Berger & Luckmann, 1966; Heikkinen, 2014, p.55).
In this regard, language epitomizes such reality in that “meaning is not discovered but constructed” (Crotty, 1998, p.92). We indeed need to engage in social interaction to create both individual and shared meanings, which indubitably vary depending on both idiosyncratic (internal) and common institutionalised (external) constructions we have been braced in, and their dynamic interaction within a particular setting (situation). All this eventually contributes in the (re-)construction of meaning to actors partaking (or not) in the situation, at a given time, in a certain place, with subsequent effects in future communication as well.
Further, we could tend to infer that there exists a myriad of realities in our world (Berger and Luckmann, 1966) since every single situation may be perceived as unique, thus turning language into an active participant in the lead of change, which it facilitates. Such statement confers power to both language and its conveyer (speaker or writer). And language comes in many forms: acoustic (e.g. oral, instrumental), visual (e.g. written, body language, emoticons), visual-manual (e.g. sign language), tactile (e.g. braille, love-making), and even silence can be considered as a form of communication since it conveys some sort of information to others, who could try to decipher it.
However, if language may become an extremely powerful tool as we could notice throughout history in speeches elocuted by recognised leaders – e.g. Martin Luther King, J.F. Kennedy, Poutine, Hitler, or more recently the former monk Jay Shetty, on a mission to “make wisdom go viral” – who have all succeeded in using it to inspire and gather people around the causes and purposes that they embodied, it remains a mere instrument in a highly complex world where rapid change has become the common arena.
Hence, today language per se can only inspire to adopt a particular mindset, one that builds on resilience, namely the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster).
In fact, those leaders could effectively resort to language to drive major changes in their own times owing to this the creation and infusion of leadership with the masses of individuals, who have decided to believe and follow them in the behavioural and practical shifts they have operated in their life at a time of uncertainty, fear and/or discontentment, often resulting in radical societal changes for the better, or not.
Today’s VUCA context resonates with these historical turning points in that it is ingrained in volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity, perhaps even more than ever before with the rise of technological breakthroughs from which has emerged the revolutionising digital economy.
In overly-connected places, the importance and impact of language may have reached another level due to the possibility to instantly share discourses through the web and thousands of applications accessible from all types of smart devices. Then, the construction of meaning on the web on platforms, such as social medias, is not anymore bound to a specific situation but rather a borderless, ubiquitous and (more or less) inclusive phenomenon from which may arise substantial frictions, misconceptions and misunderstandings among participant actors, all empowered.
This may be the reason why we all bear the responsibility to question not only the “real world”, but also its relation to what is retrievable online, in a similar manner than the one adopted by social constructionist researchers in their approach of the world. For as far as we are involved in the process of change in simultaneous groups and communities, our responsibility in the participative creation of meaning(s) increases, therefore calling for care and accuracy in the use and resort to any form of discourse.
Do you believe whatever you might find online? How do you conduct research? What are the criteria that you use to assess the credibility, validity and accuracy of the information found? Do others' reviews, comments and/or recommendations influence you in your belief of what is true?
More importantly, what reality do you live in and how do you shape it in the daily (both on your own and with others, in your personal and professional life)?
Your words, punctuation, posture, intonation, diction, pace, volume, silences, and so on, all matter given a certain situation.
Your voice can have significant power, raise it accordingly.
Your words are your instruments, pick them carefully, adapt them harmoniously, and abandon them gracefully.
Berger, P., & Luckmann, T. (1966). The social construction of reality. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.
Crotty, M. (1998). The Foundations of Social Research: Meaning and Perspective in the Research Process. London: Sage Publications Ltd.
Elkington, R., Steege, M. van der, Glick-Smith, J., & Breen, J. M. (2017). Visionary Leadership in a Turbulent World : Thriving in the New VUCA Context (Vol. First edition). Bingley, UK: Emerald Publishing Limited.
Heikkinen, A. (2014). Discursive constructions of climate change engagement in business organisations.
Resilience. (n.d.) In Merriam-Webster. Retrieved from https://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/resilience.