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Social Constructivism, Ideology & the Politics of Representation

by Ethan Tussey

by Jeff Share for IN MEDIA RES

An important distinction between media literacy and critical media literacy lies in the difference between a sociological and psychological perspective. For many educators, media literacy has wonderful elements to make their teaching more relevant, engaging and somewhat critical. Yet few teachers take advantage of the pedagogical potential to question and challenge representations that contribute to stereotypes and injustice.

Through a sociocultural lens, social constructivism is not a cognitive process done collaboratively and ideologies are not simply different ideas. At the heart of social constructivism is the understanding that all knowledge and information has been and continues to be created by human beings. While this may seem simple on the surface, its roots run deep when we consider the implications. If every idea and all information has been created by people with their own biases and motivations, then nothing can be neutral or objective. The politics of representation help us move beyond the myth of objectivity to understand that all information is connected to power. When people reject or don’t understand the social construction of knowledge, they often assume that information can be objective, that people can be neutral and that there is one truth. These assumptions make them more likely to follow and support hegemonic ideologies and less likely to recognize their own power to challenge unjust systems and ideologies like patriarchy, whiteness, and heteronormativity that have become “normalized” parts of their lives.

Moving beyond the notion of objectivity and a single truth does not have to lead to valueless relativism; instead it can offer an opportunity for a far more critical exploration of social injustices such as racism, sexism, classism, homophobia, etc. I chose this video clip because of its clever use of humor and irony to expose ideologies of whiteness and class. Critical media literacy should help students explore the ways media reinforce stereotypes or challenge them. Critical media literacy is not about vilifying media; it is about recognizing and challenging dominant ideologies that are often made to seem “natural” or “normal” in the media. Students should be taught how to analyze all media texts and popular culture, and should be encouraged to create media that “denaturalize” the social construction of dominant ideologies and provide alternative representations of their world.

The Job

Clip from the short film The JOb

from The Job (2007)
Creator: Jonathan Browning
Distributor: Screaming Frog Productions
Posted by Ethan Tussey