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The social construction of consciousness. Part 2: individual selves, self-awareness, and reflectivity

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From a sociological and social psychological perspective, this paper outlines and develops a theoretical framework with which to define and analyse consciousness, emphasizing the role of language, collective representations, conceptions of self, and self-reflectivity in human conscious phenomena. The paper focuses on the social origins of conscious phenomena, on collective as well as individual levels. Part 1 of the paper (Burns and Engdahl, 1998a) dealt with collective consciousness. This second part analyses individual consciousness as arising in the context of a person experiencing herself as an object of collective representation and collective reflection and discourse. Individual consciousness is the outcome of processes of collective naming, classifying, monitoring, judging, reflecting on, and conducting discussions and discourses about, the individual herself. A participant learns in the collective context (in line with George Herbert Mead's earlier formulations) a naming and classification of herself (self-description and identity), of her judgments, actions, and predispositions. In acquiring a language and conceptual framework for this mode of activity -- along with experience and skills in reflective discussion -- she develops a capability of inner reflection and inner dialogue about self, which are characteristic features of individual consciousness. The analysis goes on to distinguish multiple modes of individual awareness and consciousness, distinguishing awareness from consciousness proper, and also identifying pre- and sub-conscious levels. This points up the complexity of the human mind, in part its elaboration through processes of social interaction and construction.

Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: 1: Uppsala Theory Circle, Department of Sociology, PO Box 821, University of Uppsala, SE-751 08 Uppsala, SWEDEN., Email: 2: Email:

Publication date: 1998-01-01

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