Constructionism v. constructivism - whats the difference???


Does anybody know? Im trying to get my head around it, but just cant...I definitely understand (social) constructionism...but whats the 'v' for?


When you find out, let me know;-)

I cannot for the life of me seem to get a clear explanation from anyone or any source!! :-s

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Olivia is a fountain of knowledge about all this stuff, I'm still not sure, but getting there on positivism!


Hi Zelda,

good question! I am not an expert in this field, far from it, yet have read a bit about constructivism, in the Handbook of Qualitative Research (Lincoln). Perhaps I can describe my interpretation of constructivism and you to describe constructionism?

I have interpreted things in this way, again based on Lincoln: There are a few major paradigms which influence how research should be done. According to the positivist paradigm everything that exists is based on certain laws, in other words is based on facts and is fixed. This can be researched by quantitative methods, comparing one fact with another and calculate whether there is a significant difference.

On the other hand the constructivist paradigm indicates that human beings try to make sense of the situation they are in, and therefore social phenomena are the result of human interpretation. As such people create certain social phenomena. This cannot be "measured" via quantitative research methods, and here is were the qualitative research has its place.

These more or less contrasting paradigms has major implications on the research approach. Typical for research based on a positivist view would be: looking for explanation, verifying hypotheses, objective, values excluded etc, while a constructivist approach would be: looking for understanding, individual reconstruction, authentic, values include etc.



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Quote From zelda:

Does anybody know? Im trying to get my head around it, but just cant...I definitely understand (social) constructionism...but whats the 'v' for?

According to Oxford Dictionary of Sociology, the term constructionism is used in sociology and constructivism in psychology. The terms are tightly linked.

According constructionism, the world around us is socially constructed rather than being objective. Constructivism is said to refer to our psychological (cognitive) processes and structures at individual level. In other words, how we perceive world as individuals.


It is likely a difference without any significance. Partly it may depend in what field you are reading--whether they use the "v" or not when talking about it. It is a "paradigm" which as has been indicated here, is the belief that social meaning/normative meaning/whatever meaning/ is constructed---that is built by the participants in a process, rather than as some sort of objective truth out there waiting to be found ( which is positivism). My own guess is that the v crops up in a sort of parallel to the word of positivism, with a v, but I am not aware from my own reading that you have any real differences between constructionist /constructivism/ist--different words in different fields, but relating to the same concepts...constructivism runs through many fields--international relations theory, political science, law, sociology, surely many more--sometimes also known as transactional, linked to interpretive...someone mentioned the Lincoln book, that has some great charts that help explain the ontology, epistimology and methodology of this paradigm. Hope that helps!


Hi there
I'm fairly new to this forum and haven't posted before but thought i would try to help here. I may have this wrong, but what I understand is:
Perhaps the 'v' is signalling some important differences between these two paradigms. Both constructivist and constructionist paradigms both move away from the positivist idea that the world is objectively knowable, and move towards the idea that there is no one true reality, but that 'reality' may be multiple. The difference lies in the idea that constructivist paradigm views reality as constructed by the individual (thus there is a large emphasis on phenomenology and the individual's cognitive processes, viewpoints etc), whilst the constructionist paradigm views reality as being constructed through interaction, through language. In constructionism, the idea of cognitive processes etc is itself a 'reality' constructed through interaction.
Hope that makes some sort of sense! x


Again, I think it depends on the field that you are in whether they use the v or not--but I don't think it makes a difference to the overall concepts---its all coming from the same paradigmatical view. International relations uses the v--and talks about state constructed meanings...a collective identity of the state interacting with other states creates meaning...etc... Grunded theory uses the V spelling as well when discussing the meaning that individuals create....I would say, use what is standard in your field...


Thankyou so much everyone! I actually think that, with all of your contributions, Im starting to make some headway...Im wondering if the difference, pondering on everyone's thoughts and some of the reading Ive attempted (but which generally confuses me!) is that both suggest the world is 'constructed' (rather than existing 'objectively' a la positivism), but that 'constructivism' assumes some 'bottom-line' realities ie that there exist cognitive processes and a conceptual framework which enables the individual to construct the world (hence its preponderance in psychology, which make more objective/scientific claims than I imagine sociology does). In contrast, 'constructionism' makes no such bottom-line claims, and indeed would suggest that the notion of 'cognitive processes' itself is a social construct...does that make any sense at all to anyone, or am I going slowly mad???


Hi Zelda
I like your summary - it makes sense to me.
Thanks for starting the thread. It's one of those questions that you sometimes think you're the only person who hasn't 'got' it!

I'll look up the Lincoln book too - thanks for the recommendation.


Thats exactly how I understood it...x


If you refer to Crotty (1998) it offers an idea of constructionism. However, he tried to explain methodology from epistemological dimension. He set out 3 epistemological perspectives; objectivism, subjectivism and constructionism.

He explained constructionism as 'not believing in the existence of objective truth out there' for us to discover, but meaning coming from our interaction with reality.

From these epistemological angles comes paradigms/theories such as positivism, interpretivism, critical inquiry, feminism, post modernism, etc as elements of the second level of the research schema. The thrid level is the methodology incorporating grounded theory, ethnography, action research, etc. And the fourth and final level being the methods such as sampling, questionnaires, case study, etc.

Importantly, he noted that the whole methodological schema is very fluid and has continued to evolve over time.


I wondered if you could explain the difference (if any) between constructionism and social constructionism. Thanks!


Constructionism is conformity: we must follow a set pattern of the society. Constructivism is creativity: we must relate things and create ideas and knowledge of our own.