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10 July 2011

Social Construction and Reality

We have to get past the idea that things that are socially constructed are somehow not real.  I encountered it again today in something I was reading.  "X is socially constructed"  or "X are social constructs" as if to say they are only or just social constructs - as if to say X is not real.  But social constructs are real - that's what makes them so powerful.  Race, Class, Gender - these are all social constructs, but it is because they are socially constructed that they have tremendous effects on the lives of people who live in a particular society.

In fact, the only thing that saying something is socially constructed does is to indicate that it could have been (or could be) constructed differently - that it is historically and politically contingent.  This is a first step (though maybe not a necessary step) towards creating the possibility for change, but it is not the change itself.  Social constructions are powerful, deeply embedded structures, and change takes time and work.  We've spent the last 30 years showing how socially constructed everything is - that was the easy part - now it's time to get to work on making change.

2 comments:

btmc said...

So it sounds like we need to change the language? Like rather than calling a thing socially constructed we could call it socially malleable? or some other, sexier term to denote a thing's re-creatability.
I suppose construct's antonym would be destruct, which sets up a dichotomy of creation and destruction, giving our role as dreamers and persons interested in a better future a destructive bent.
Of course this is the rambling of an uneducated dreamer, I'm sure there are miles of language debate here that I'm ignorant of.

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