conflict & communication online, Vol. 4, No. 2, 2005
ISSN 1618-0747




Wilhelm Kempf
Social constructivism and its implications for critical media studies

While media critics maintain that war coverage has a strong bias toward promoting conflict escalation, their opponents claim that the concept of distorted reality cannot be upheld. What seems to be a media-political dispute results from an epistemological issue that tangles the very roots of cultural studies in general: the question of whether the social construction of reality implies the arbitrariness of opinions.
The present paper discusses this proposition from a constructivist point of view and shows that it is based on an inadequate and logically incorrect understanding of truth and reality, and on a lack of differentiation between facts and meanings, between truth and beliefs and between objective and subjective realities.
Defining a third path between cultural imperialism and a naïve understanding of cultural relativism, the paper finally discusses the methodological basis on which media criticism can build.



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On the author:
Wilhelm Kempf, since 1977 Professor for Psychological Methodology and Head of the Peace Research Group at the University of Konstanz, Germany. Special areas of interest: nonviolent conflict solutions, the construction of social reality by the mass media. Recent books: Konflikt und Gewalt (Münster: agenda, 2000); Los Medios y la Cultura de Paz (with Sonia Gutiérrez Villalobos, Berlin: regener, 2001); Journalism and the New World Order. Vol. II. Studying War and the Media (with Heikki Luostarinen, Göteborg: Nordicom, 2002); Constructive Conflict Coverage (edited by the Austrian Study Center for Peace and Conflict Resolution: Berlin: regener, 2003).

Address: Department of Psychology, University of Konstanz (, D-78457 Konstanz.