In the scene of human existence, there is a constant need of interaction among individuals. The interconnection of human beings with their society is so profound that society plays a vital role in the actions and perceptions of these individuals. To extrapolate and back these facts, concepts like collective reality have emerged. These ideas view reality as a product of collectivity of the societies. Collectivity is the state of being together as a collection. On sociological grounds, collectivity is the concept of humans existing as groups.
Collective reality, therefore, is the view of reality established by the individuals existing in social groups. This means that every reality around us is constructed by ourselves. The argument that lies behind collective reality is the extent of rationality’s relativity. Rationality and reality are direct results of each other. For example, if a person considers both the positive and negative result of any intended action, he is considered to be rational. This is because he cautiously considers reality around him. In other words, he is not being idealistic to dwell in the positive outcome of the result only.
Rationality is debated to have relativity which means that rationality is not constant and changes from time to time and from society to society. Finn Collin in his book ‘Social Reality’ proposes that difference of realities for different societies cannot be measured by any single standard of reality. The absence of such a neutral supra-cultural vantage points justifies the individual realities of individual collectivities (1997, p. 70). We know that there are a number of cultures and societies existing in the world. For each of these societies, there is a different notion of reality.
Because of this diversity, we cannot consider any one society as the standard of reality. The concept of collective reality asserts the presence of varying cognitive standards for different societies. Cognitive standards mean the levels of understanding and comprehension of reality. For instance, the demons exist as a manifestation of reality for the Haitian society. However, to an urban New Yorker society, there is no space of demons in the world of reality (Collin, 1997, p. 70). Up to this point we know that reality is not objective and varied from society to society.
As reality is a subjective phenomenon, it is often shaped by the patterns and cultures of society thereby making it specific for every different society. Therefore Berger and Luckmann reckon reality or truth to be a socially or culturally constructed phenomenon (Mellor, 2007, p. 1). For example, in a south Asian society the reality of a woman’s place is the household work. On the other hand, this reality is opposite for the women in west. To elucidate the idea, the case of human language can be observed. The human race is surrounded by a world of social realities.
Language is a trait which is particular to humans only and is considered as part of their social reality. This system also conveys the idea of collective reality through the feature of its arbitrariness. According to Saussure, a Finnish linguist, language is a system of signs. These signs contain signifier and signified. The signifier may be a sound or written expression whereas the signified is the concept. The relationship between these two parts is arbitrary as there is no specific reason why a ‘tree’ is called a ‘tree’. So is the case with all the other terms of language with an exception of rare words that imitate the sounds.
Also, these signs vary from language to language. Therefore, one linguistic group may use a sound for one concept whereas the other group uses the very sound for another concept (Alasuutari, 2004, p. 57). If reality and truth is a product of societies, then why are there individual identities? Individual identity is often used as an impetus against the concept of collective reality. Concepts like individualism stress the peculiarity of every human soul thereby questioning the validity of collectivity and the reality emerged through collectivity.
However, identities are to a large part constructed from the surrounding society. Establishment of an individual identity includes a process of identifying oneself with the particular attributes. These attributes often come from the social groups and people around. For instance, if I identify myself as a fan of rock star, then I am not confined to my own identity. As the rock star is a member of the society, by becoming his fan I would indirectly identify myself to the society. This means that my individual identity is not independent of society.
Also, the process of identity building is largely affected by the norms and accepted practices of the society (Alasuutari, 2004, 123). For instance, a teenager boy in many patriarchal societies would identify himself to be a fan of sports television programs or a liker of blue color than the girl associated choices in his society. Different philosophers have explored different dimensions of collectivity and social reality. In this stance, the findings of John Searle in his book ‘The Construction of Social Reality’ are focused on the classification of facts.
According to Searle, the world of reality has two types of facts namely: the brute facts and the social facts. The brute facts involve physical and mental facts that exist as independent embodiments of truth like mountains. However, the social facts are those which are dependent on the interpretations of human beings. These facts cover institutions like money, government, rituals, sports and property etc. Through these social facts, a social reality is constructed which is not standard or objective, but serves as a standard for the society that has burgeoned it.
Therefore, reality for every society differs as the social facts of every society vary (Rust, 2005, p. 1). The concept of collectivity, reality and social construction pertains to the Thomas theorem. Thomas theorem states that “It is not important whether or not the interpretation is correct–if men define situations as real, they are real in their consequences. This means that every interpretation of any object is true and real. For example, one person may interpret a group of fighters as terrorists whereas another person might interpret them as freedom fighters.
The reality of both interpretations cannot be challenged. Stated differently, the theorem is environed around the existence of alternative possibilities of truth around human beings. Thomas highlights the tendency of human beings to form certain beliefs and notions of truth and reality. For instance, a Muslim believes his god to be one whereas the Hindus believe in more than one god. Therefore the concept of monotheism and polytheism is an explanation of alternative possibilities of truth or reality.
This construction of reality is followed by a phase of uninterrupted adherence to their interpretations of truth. Considering the role of society in the construction of reality, there appears a tremendous scope for the sociologists interested in not only exploring the discussed dimensions but also providing a greater meaning to their profession. Sociologists as practitioners hold a responsibility of ameliorating the society by identifying and rectifying the problems existing in it. This identification and rectification process involves a better understanding of the society.
Knowing the cognitive standards and the collective reality of the individual society would enable sociologists to tackle with the perplexities facing their social groups. Sociologists are not only concerned with the removal of problems in the society but are equally aware of the need to develop the society. This development may take any field or shape but the people through whom this development is required would always exhibit a central position. Attitudes of societies towards development are greatly pertinent to their notions of reality.
Therefore, an understanding of social reality is of utmost importance to sociologists. One aim of sociological study is to provide an answer as to why the individuals exist in the shape of societies. Knowing the determination of reality as a direct consequence of societal behavior, the discussion above answers this quest of sociologists to a great deal. In short, it can be said that reality does not exist independent of the society. It is actually constructed by the groups of people. Therefore, for every given reality there is a collective reality.