5.2 The social construction of reality
What do we mean when we say reality is socially constructed? We inhabit a social world. Many of the ‘facts’ of our lives which we take for granted are ‘facts’ only in so far as we hold common mental models about them: for example, common understandings of money, contracts, marriage, the rules of the road, democracy, to name just a few. To understand the nature of social influences on decision making we need to start from this idea that the environment within which we exist and the meanings which we attribute to that environment – even to a large extent the categories available to us to think about that environment – are socially constructed. When you enter a shop and buy a magazine the whole transaction relies on you and the seller having shared beliefs about the meaning of money and the nature of an exchange relationship. When you enter into a contract you have a set of expectations about the meaning of mutual contractual obligations and penalties for non-compliance. Finding those expectations are not shared can cause significant problems, as many Western businesses have found in China where different expectations prevail.