Social construction

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A social construction or social construct is any phenomenon "invented" or "constructed" by participants in a particular culture or society, existing because people agree to behave as if it exists or follow certain conventional rules. One example of a social construct is social status. Another example of social construction is the use of money, which is worth anything only because society has agreed to treat it as valuable.

Social constructionism is a school of thought which deals with detecting and analyzing social constructions.


[edit] Definition

Emile Durkheim first theorised about social construction in his anthropological work on collective behavior, but did not coin the term. The first book with "social construction" in its title was Peter L. Berger and Thomas Luckmann's The Social Construction of Reality, first published in 1966. Since then, the term found its way into the mainstream of the social sciences.

The idea of Berger and Luckmann's Social Construction of Reality was that actors interacting together form, over time, typifications or mental representations of each other's actions, and that these typifications eventually become habitualized into reciprocal roles played by the actors in relation to each other. When these reciprocal roles become routinized, the typified reciprocal interactions are said to be institutionalized. In the process of this institutionalization, meaning is embedded and institutionalized into individuals and society - knowledge and people's conception of (and therefore belief regarding) what reality 'is' becomes embedded into the institutional fabric and structure of society, and social reality is therefore said to be socially constructed. For further discussion of key concepts related to social construction, see social constructionism and deconstruction.

[edit] Social constructs and language

Pinker (2002, p. 202) writes that "some categories really are social constructions: they exist only because people tacitly agree to act as if they exist". He goes on to say, however: "But, that does not mean that all conceptual categories are socially constructed" (italics his). Both Hacking and Pinker agree that the sorts of objects indicated here can be described as part of what John Searle calls "social reality". In particular, they are, in Searle's terms, ontologically subjective but epistemologically objective. Informally, they require human practices to sustain their existence, but they have an effect that is (basically) universally agreed upon. The disagreement lies in whether this category should be called "socially constructed". Hacking (1997) argues that it should not.

[edit] Social constructs and gender

One of the main theses of gender theory is that genders and gender roles are mere social constructs, and that there is nothing natural about being a man or a woman, a heterosexual or a homosexual, or even a transsexual, because, according to the theory, genders are mere social appearances and built-in ideas, not unlike men's clothes or women's clothes.

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