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


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


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.  In researching language and the development of subsequent theories, language itself is used as a medium to investigate language. This methodological reflexivity is the source of conflict between social and cognitive perspectives on language when trying to determine to what extent, if any, the necessity of responding in language predetermines what is said. Social psychologists, more specifically discourse psychologists (i.e. Parker, 1992, as cited in: Cooper & Kay, 2007, p. 105), claims that in using language individuals do so in a social and historic context, with an audience and for a purpose.  Individuals therefore will make assumptions about the knowledge, understanding and requirements of their interlocutors in an experimental setting which is a primary method used by cognitive psychologists to study the separate cognitive and underlying thought processes language represents in communication with others or dialog with the self.

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The social constructionist perspective, on the other hand, uses evidence from actual language used in day-to-day communication and therefore appears to have more ecological validity. With the use of discourse analysis, they manage to describe how individuals organise their talk and use particular strategies such as the creation of subject positions or constructions of the world, to achieve particular ends. Wieder (1974 as cited in: Cooper & Kay, 2007, pp. 104-105) illustrated the use of language to determine behaviour amongst newly released prisoners living in a hostel by employing a method called ethnomethodology (the study of how people do things) ...

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