Get access

THE LIMIT OF THE DISCURSIVE: A Critique of the Radical Constructionist Approach to Family Experience


Wing-Chung Ho, Department of Applied Social Studies, 83 Tat Chee Avenue, City University of Hong Kong, Kowloon Tong, Kowloon, Hong Kong, China; e-mail:


To date, the postmodernist approach to family experience which considers the actor's use of discourse rather than external sociocultural forces as primordial in constituting domestic reality has become an intellectual stream which sociologists can hardly ignore. Using the Gubrium–Holstein model as an exemplar for a “more sophisticated” postmodernist approach to constructing family experience, this article attempts to outline a critique of radical constructionism which overemphasizes the discourse of actors as artfully producing reality as featured in the notions of “doing things with words” and “talking reality into being.” The critique is mainly based on the works of Schutz and Garfinkel, of which Gubrium and Holstein claim their own model share “abiding concern,” and is further supplemented by the work of Bourdieu. This article carries a commitment to rebuking the postmodernist emphasis on the discursive by highlighting that the prepredicative structure of the lifeworld—which is nondiscursive in nature—constitutes the primordial, albeit insufficient, basis of the nomos pertaining to experience as constituted.