Externalization, Objectivation, and Internalization – Berger & Luckmann

Berger, Peter L., Thomas Luckmann, and Texas Tech University. Institute for Studies in Pragmaticism. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Anchor Book. New York: Doubleday, 1967.

“Society is a human product. Society is an objective reality. Man is a social product” (61).

Berger and Luckman argue that one must understand both the objective and subjective aspects of reality. To do so, one should view society in terms of an “ongoing dialectical process composed of the three moments of externalization, objectivation, and internalization” (129).

The authors present the idea that there is an institutional world. “Institutionalization occurs whenever there is a reciprocal typification of habitualized actions by types of actors. Put differently, any such typification is an institution” (54). Therefore, the institution is formed by the society. For example, a society puts forth a set of rules, often including individuals to enforce those rules. By members of that group following the rules, they are performing shared, habitual actions that create the institution. An institution must be created over a period of time with the individuals all performing or supporting these actions; it cannot be created instantly. In this way, a new member comes to the group and realizes the existent institution, whereas the founding members did not have an institution prior to their establishment of it; rather, they had a set of rules that they all formed together and then subjectively bought into, thus forming the objective institution.

Given that an institutionalized world is already established, it is experienced as an objective reality. It is “there,” external to the individual regardless of any acknowledgement or argument to the contrary. “He cannot wish it away” (60). One externalizes this institutionalized world and cannot understand it through introspection; he or she must go out and actively learn anything about it that he or she desires to know.

This is the process through which the externalized products of human action are objectivated or attain the character of objectivity. The objectivity of the externalized world is a humanly produced, constructed objectivity. “The institutional world is objectivated human activity, and so is every single institution. In other words, despite the objectivity that marks the social world in human experience, it does not thereby acquire an ontological status apart from the human activity that produced it” (60-61).

This situation creates a paradox in that humans create a world that they later experience as something other than human-made. However, this relationship–between the creators and users of the institution and the product (the institution, itself)–remains an ongoing one. “The product acts back on the producer. Externalization and objectivation are moments in a continuing dialectical process” (61).

This is the third moment, “by which the objectivated social world is retrojected into consciousness in the course of socialization)” (61). Essentially, this is the point at which the individual, having experienced the objectivated event(s) within the institutionalized social world, immediately interprets it and finds personal meaning.

[T]he immediate apprehension or interpretation of an objective event as expressing meaning, that is, as a manifestation of another’s subjective process which thereby becomes subjectively meaningful to myself” (61).

Application to the OVC in the AOC
For the purposes of my study, the setting of the Online Video Conversation (OVC) within the asynchronous online classroom (AOC) is the institution, the external realty that a student encounters. It is “there,” external to him or her, as a fact and element of the class. He or she must take action to understand what it is, how to use it, and how to interact with and within it.

The objectivation process largely occurs within the first week of class. The students learn of the institutionalized social world (the OVC), the rules involved with it, and the expectations about how and why to use it, and then become followers of the institution. While I may be the original producer of the OVC, the students, in participating and interacting within it, become producers, thus internalizing this world. Therefore, by communicating in the OVC, students come to understand the institution, but more so, they come to understand the objectivated events of others participating in the process. In this way, they form subjective meaning based on another student’s subjective meaning (a student presenting his or her thoughts within a video).

While an individual may never be able to fully understand another’s externalized emotion and meaning, it is possible to achieve an understanding level that is at the very least, adequate. If one sees and hears an individual laughing within a video, it may not always be possible to glean the cause or even the type of laughter (sarcasm, self- or event-introspection, humor in a statement or event, personal memory, etc.), but one can interpret that the individual within the video is experiencing some level and element of amusement. This ability to glean some subjective meaning of another individual’s emotion is really only possible within a FtF setting or one that simulates those multimodal aspects of it. The ability is perhaps not exclusive to FtF communication and the like, but it is greatly curtailed in non-audio-visual communication. If individuals are communicating textually, it might never be known that a person was laughing. Even over purely audio communication, the laughter may be audible, but the meaning behind it may be unknown or even misconstrued.

The larger worth of this discussion for the purposes of my study is the “moment” of internalization. Look for a future post on this topic in which I will delve much deeper into the internalization process.

2 Responses to “Externalization, Objectivation, and Internalization – Berger & Luckmann”

  1. Comment From “Truth” in Analogue « Cat in a Tree on April 7th, 2012 at 12:25 am

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  2. Comment From Narratives, Society, and the Self: the Case of Bill Cooper – Conspiracy Theory Digest on June 6th, 2016 at 10:56 pm

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