Wittgenstein and Social Constructionism: Methods of “Social Poetics” or “Knots in our Thinking”?

  • Gavin B. Sullivan


Given the increasing value placed on reflexive and discursive investigations in psychology by social constructionists, this paper examines the ongoing debate about the relevance of Wittgenstein’s later philosophy to the practices of psychology. Shotter, for example, argues that Wittgenstein provides psychologists with “methods of social poetics”. While the position adopted here is sympathetic to the view that a conceptual-discursive examination of the detail of our cultural and linguistic practices provides a valuable, shared and non-theoretical resource for potential multidisciplinary investigation, it is debatable whether Wittgenstein would countenance the “insertion” of his philosophical methods into the practices of psychology. Wittgenstein’s aim was to disentangle psychologist’s conceptual problems rather than present the discipline with radically new methods for the discipline which, as Shotter suggests, reject a central role for the “way of theory”. Therefore, it is by engaging with Wittgenstein’s philosophy to work through doubts about the conceptual adequacy of particular theories and the meaning of such phrases as “a Wittgensteinian practice in psychology” that we can begin to remove “knots in our thinking” about the enduring relevance of Wittgenstein’s philosophical method to critical psychological investigations.


Social Constructionist Conceptual Problem Language Game Philosophical Investigation Linguistic Practice 
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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media New York 2001

Authors and Affiliations

  • Gavin B. Sullivan
    • 1
  1. 1.University of Western SydneyAustralia

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