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Externalization, Objectivation, and Internalization – Berger & Luckmann

Posted by Time Barrow on July 13th, 2010
Categories: OVC, social theory
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”
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
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 eventintrospection, 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.