Social Constructionism 101

I use social construction quite a bit when talking about issues. I found the need to explain the background behind the word social constructionism, and what it means.

Im sure everyone at some time have thought “Is this real?” But the important question is, “What makes something real?” Most of the time the things we experience in this world are constructs. We have opinions about everything, and we experience the world through that lens.

Social constructionism is a theory that knowledge and many aspects of the world around us are not real in and of themselves. They only exist because we give them reality through social agreement. Things like Nations, books, and money don’t exist in the absence of human society. Nations are groups of people who happen to share a language or history. Books are a bunch of scribbles. And money is just pieces paper and metal that only have value because we assign them. The concept of the self, can be considered a social construct as well. Our identity is created by interactions, and our reactions to the expectations to society.

There are two threads of social constructionism: the weak and the strong. The weak proposes that social constructs are dependent on brute facts, which are the most basic and fundamental and don’t rely on any other facts. Brute facts are kind of difficult to understand because it is so strange to think about something that cant be explained by something else.

Take example in the computer screen that you are looking at: the screen works because of changing voltages and bits metal which can be explained by movements of sub-atomic particles which are made from quarks so on and so forth (Thank you Google *wink wink*). None of those are brute facts. The brute fact is what explains quarks, or what explains the explanation of quarks. Those brute facts are separate from institutional facts – which are created social conventions and do rely on other facts. For example money depends on paper that we have given value.

Strong social constructionism on the other hand states that “the whole of reality is dependent on language and social habits – that all knowledge is a social construct, and there are no brute facts.” So it would say that we created the idea of quarks, and everything that we use to explain it. There are no facts that just exist.

The main criticism to social constructionism is that it does not consider the affect of the national phenomenon on social society. And at least for strong social constructionism it even has difficulty explaining those phenomenon because they don’t depend on human speech or action. Strong social constructionism only explains reality through the thoughts of humans not by using fundamental brute facts.

For example: We as society view people who are taller as having more confidence. We as employers go to the extreme of hiring someone who is equally as qualified but taller than another candidate. They should be equal right? Wrong, we have socially constructed the idea that taller people are more successful and do better work than shorter people – even though it is not necessarily true. This is social constructionism.

Enjoy, and much love;

Ty

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