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Evaluate the contribution of the social perspective to our understanding of language and meaning and the psychology of sex and gender

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DSE212: TMA06 [DSE212: TMA06] Question Evaluate the contribution of the social perspective to our understanding of language and meaning and the psychology of sex and gender. Essay Different psychological perspectives lead to different theories providing diverse insights into the same issue i.e. language and meaning. They focus their enquiry in different ways and consequently have dissimilar objects of knowledge. Each perspective asks different questions, use different methods and data and produce therefore different theories. These perspectives can be complementary, conflicting and/or coexisting, whereby each perspective and theory provides a variety of ways of applying their findings to everyday psychological problems. By focusing on the social psychological perspective, this essay will initially evaluate how this perspective contributes to a greater understanding in the formation, acquisition and use of language and how this understanding co-exists with, and may be complimented by or is in contrast to, other perspectives and how this fits in with the understanding of sex and gender. Social psychological perspectives emphasise the importance of investigating cognition by studying how meaning is created through participation and cultural practices and through language. The evolvement, acquisition and application of language used by humans, to express meaning and pursue goals, have been a topic of study amongst the various perspectives in psychology most notably evolutionary, cognitive and social perspectives.


The three perspectives therefore provide complimentary understandings of language based on their individual analysis being evolution, individual processing or social construction. Parker (1992, as cited in: Cooper & Kay, 2007, p. 105) describe discourse as a set of symbolic meanings created through the use of language to construct an event or object in a particular way. This is evident in the claim by social psychologists that individuals construct the world as consisting of two basic types of people - men and women. This is partially achieved through social identity processes as theorised in the Social Identity Theory (SIT) of Tajfel (1919-82, as cited in Phoenix & Thomas, 2007, p. 62) whereby individuals devise descriptions which derive from the social group they see themselves belonging to (i.e. male or female). Individuals, according to SIT, then tend to maximise perceived similarities to others in the same group (ingroup) whilst minimising it with those outside the group (outgroup) e.g. the notion of "opposite sex" (Hollway, Cooper, Johnston and Stevens, 2007, p. 151). Gender is consequently one of the most important and powerful social categories by which individuals define themselves. Bem (1981 as cited in: Hollway et al, 2007, p. 153) proposed in the Gender Schema Theory (GST)


underline, from a social constructionist point of view, the notion that the sexual behaviour of men and women is filtered through their own individual cultural lenses. Psychoanalytical psychologists (e.g. Benjamin, 1990, 1995, 1998 as cited in: Hollway et al, 2007, p.164) argue that these external influences (e.g. identities are constructed through discourse and discursive practices) are over emphasised by social constructionists and therefore does not explain the agency and capacity for resistance and change by individuals. Each of these perspectives provides a valuable point of view but none is able to give a complete explanation of the findings of the study with each perspective concentrating on its own theoretical ground when analysing the findings of a study. In conclusion, it is clear that different perspectives in psychology lead to different explanations of one or more psychological issues. These perspectives can co-exist in some ways such as the fact that social constructionists and psychoanalysts both base their interpretations on meaning. Social constructionists provide a comprehensive account in formulating an understanding of language and gendered differences with a strong focus on the extraction of meaning of behaviour. Although this perspective goes a long way in understanding these, and other, psychological aspects, they do not answer all aspects such as the evolution and individual understanding of language. Findings of other perspectives such as biological, evolutionary and cognitive psychology assist in providing an explanation of those items social constructionists cannot account for.

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