Social constructionism, a type of structuralism, is the basic approach to theorizing the world based on how we make meaning of the world, rather than what's actually "out there." It holds that humans can have no access to reality, beyond the systems of representation that they build up to describe and make sense of that reality. This doesn't mean that there is no reality out there, however -- just that we can't make sense of it, except in terms of the systems of representation (i.e., our conceptual maps of meaning) we create (culturally) to help us gain meaning from what's around us.
E.g., when we see a chair, we do see an object which is actually out there in the real world. BUT, the only way we can understand what the chair is (what it does, why it's there, etc.) is through the systems of representation that we have built up, that places the "chair" within a certain ordered strcuture of meaning in the world. Without the cultural system of meaning, we simply have no way of understanding that "thing", what it's supposed to do in the world, how we're supposed to relate to it, and so on.
Social constructionism is a broad approach that also encompasses semiotics. It is opposed to the humanist (or phenomenal) approach to epistemology that holds that we as humans can and do have some access of the real world that is independent of systems of representation. Thus, Stuart Hall is a particularly well-known follower of this approach (by contrast, Raymond Williams, with whom Hall is often closely associated, takes more of a humanist approach, since Williams still believes it's possible for people to have access, through culture, to a reality that is somewhat independent of systems of representation and power).
Most social constructionists, often showing their theoretical origins in marxism, link these systems of representation with power struggles in society, i.e., some groups in society, more powerful than others, are able to successfully -- if only temporarily -- impose a dominant system or systems of representation on the "masses". In this way these groups are able to maintain ideological control over the population. However, this control is never complete, and cannot be sustained indeifinitely. Opportunities exist for opposition to these dominant systems. (Gramsci posited much the same thing, in relation to his ideas on hegemony). All the same, some social constructionists -- Althusser comes to mind -- are less optimistic about the possibilities of opposition.
Social constructionism and the media
Viewed through this prism of social constructionism, media actively select and construct the frames of reference (arguably, set the agenda of framing) that are made available for the audience to interpret and construct on their own terms (Scheufele, 1999). Audience members therefore select what Neuman et al. (1992) refer to as a "version of reality built from personal experience, interaction with peers, and interpreted selections from the mass media (p. 120). The application of framing to the present study is taken up in more detail in chapter 3.
Social construction of reality = social construction of meaning
2. In this the media are influenced by their own agenda as well as govt/policy agendas and public agendas.
3. the process tends to follow predictable and patterned paths, based on media norms and values at various levels (from individual up to cultural).
4. These constructions of reality:
- operate all around us in our symbolic environment affect both "factual" (e.g., news, public affairs) and fictional (sit-coms, movies, etc.) representations of culture, society.
- influence what meanings we give to information, symbols, were presented with.
- direct "people in audiences [to] construct for themselves their own view of social reality and their place in it, in interaction with the symbolic constructions offered by the media" (McQuail, 1994, p. 331).
5. The process is inherently (implicitly or explicitly) ideological, i.e., it involves versions of reality that are constructed by powerful groups in society (sometimes in contest with each other).