Everything is relative in social psychology(TM). Discuss.

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‘Everything is relative in social psychology’.  Discuss.

This essay explores the claim that everything is relative in social psychology.  The claim derives from an ontological position which states that we can never know the true nature of the world, that all we have is accounts of what this is, and that, at least epistemologically, these accounts are all theoretically equal.  The essay begins by outlining the differing dialetics for different arguments about what exists and about what we know.  This argument over what is real will be developed in 3 areas; the experimentalism position of no-nonsense realism, the social constructivism of relativism and the new realism which relies on the arguments of the transcendental and pragmatic.  The essay then argues that really, social psychology is best viewed as realist and relativist, depending on the aspect of behaviour, by looking at the social interaction of groups.  This then brings us neatly onto the implications of research methods that social psychology adopts, the identities, social issues and the evidence derived from.  In exploring these issues, the essay endorses the concept of a reality that can be uncovered is obviously central to all scientific inquiry and that advocates of science have argued that the more every field of science advances, the closer it gets to uncovering and understanding the reality that underlies the phenomena they are investigating.

Relativism refers to the belief that there is simply no single way of deciding what is real.  Conversely realism is the unquestioning faith in the reality one perceives. So what do we mean when we talk about everything is relative?  If we take the opinion of Gergen he rejects the idea that any knowledge can represent some fundamental or finite understanding of reality.  In his view, perspectives in psychology should be seen as entries in the discursive practices of the world (Gergen 1991,pp.103) optimal forms of discourse needing to be evaluated juxtaposed to other discourses such as: literature, politics or the views of the people in society.  Brewster Smith sees post modern stance of the natural sciences have achieved and although he accepts the effect of meaning and values one must not lose sight sight of the role of science in our search for what is real, with emphasis on empiricism.

One factor that affects how people know and what people know as discussed, is perception.  Take the current crisis in Lebanon this will be perceived far differently in Beirut, than in Telaviv.  Two people involved in a domestic dispute may have differing opinions on what precipitated the argument initially.  In these cases we begin to doubt that there is any one universal reality underlying the different descriptors, or we may come back to think that if there is a reality then the best we can do is develop an approximate version of its nature.  (Wetherell and Still, 1996,pp.99)

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So let’s us firstly explore the social constructionist biggest challenge; realism there are no underlying standards and some realities are preferable.  Rogers says that we experience a world with ourselves at the centre and react according to how we perceive, through a series of tested hypothesis that give us security.  One thing he does argue is “whether he thinks we can have access to an independently existing reality in the right conditions or whether all we have is reality as it appears to us”. (Wetherell and Still, 1996 pp.101).  Hume 1771-1776 reinforces this point by saying that all we know ...

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