The social construction of consciousness. Part 1: collective consciousness and its socio-cultural foundations

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Abstract:

This paper outlines, from a sociological and social psychological perspective, a theoretical framework with which to define and analyse consciousness, emphasizing the importance of language, collective representations, conceptions of self, and self-reflectivity in understanding human consciousness. It argues that the shape and feel of consciousness is heavily social, and this is no less true of our experience of collective consciousness than it is of our experience of individual consciousness. The paper is divided into two parts. Part One argues that the problem of consciousness can be approached fruitfully by beginning with human group and collective phenomena: community, language, language-based communication, institutional and cultural arrangements, collective representations, self-conceptions, and self-referentiality. A collective is understood as a group or population of individuals (or collective agents as members) that possesses or develops collective representations of itself: its values and goals, its structure and modes of operating, its strategies, developments, strengths and weaknesses, etc. Collective reflectivity emerges as a function of an organization or group producing and making use of collective representations of the self (‘we’, our group, community, organization, nation) in its discussions, critical reflections, and planning. A collective monitors its activities, achievements and failures, and reflects on itself as a defined and on-going collective being. In this perspective, human consciousness is understood as a type of reflective activity: observing, monitoring, judging and re-orienting and re-organizing self; considering what characterizes the self, what self perceives, judges, could do, should do (or should not do). The reflectivity is encoded in language and developed in conversations about collective (as well as individual) selves. Part Two of the paper applies the framework to analysing the individual experience of consciousness, self-representation, self-reference, self-reflectivity and self-development.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Uppsala Theory Circle, Department of Sociology, PO Box 821, University of Uppsala, SE-751 08 Uppsala, SWEDEN. Email: tom.burns@soc.uu.se 2: Email: engdahl@kvac.uu.se

Publication date: January 1, 1998

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