On Social Constructs

In 1998 the International Sociological Association listed The Social Construction of Reality (1966, Berger, Luckmann) as the fifth most important sociological book of the 20th century. This paragraph constitutes a citation and source and additional reference for you to use.

Social constructionism, or the social construction of reality, is a theory of knowledge in sociology and communication theory that examines the development of jointly constructed understandings of the world.

It assumes that understanding, significance, and meaning are developed not separately within the individual, but in coordination with other human beings.

The elements most important to the theory are:

  • the assumption that human beings rationalize their experience by creating a model of the social world and how it functions
  • that language is the most essential system through which humans construct reality.

It involves looking at the ways social phenomena are created, institutionalized, known, and made into tradition by humans.

The social construction of reality is an ongoing, dynamic process that is (and must be) reproduced by people acting on their interpretations and their knowledge of it.

Because social constructs as facets of reality and objects of knowledge are not “given” by nature, they must be constantly maintained and re-affirmed in order to persist. This process also introduces the possibility of change: what “justice” is and what it means shifts from one generation to the next.

Social constructs are the by-products of countless human choices, rather than laws related to human judgment. Social constructionism is typically positioned in opposition to essentialism, which sees phenomena in terms of inherent, transhistorical essences independent of human judgment.

The intellectual foundations of social constructionism span phenomenology, hermeneutics, poststructuralism, symbolic interactionism, and social psychology.

When something is said to be “socially constructed”, this is shorthand for at least the following two claims:

  • In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted; X appears to be inevitable, factual, and the “only truth”.
  • X need not have existed, or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable

Consider a hypothetical claim that Physiological Sex is “socially constructed”.

To some, unfamiliar with the nature of social construction and prone to thinking that such means these things are “not real”, this means that Physiological Sex is not “inevitable” or “determined by the nature of things.”

On another reading, from a familiarity with and based in the idea of social construction from an informed viewpoint, this means that our idea (or conceptualization, or understanding) of Physiological Sex is not “inevitable” or “determined by the nature of things”.

The distinction between “Physiological Sex” and “our idea (or conceptualization, or understanding) of Physical Sex“ will undoubtedly trouble some who have a hard time understanding the difference between our ability to understand something and classify, discuss, and use it, and the existence of something such as it.

One way of explaining it is to point out that Social Constructionism, and the use of it, is incredibly meta, in the netspeak of the present.

This means there is a split between things out in the world, on one hand, and ideas thereof in our minds, on the other. This difference is important, as it provides us with a useful way to analyze claims about “social construction”, and thus, in turn, a useful way of examining the way that we engage with the reality around us.

One shortcut a lot of people use in explaining this is the statement : Reality is social constructed.

What that means is not that “we create reality”, but rather that the way we communicate to each other, the way we think about, the way we function within, and the methods by which we act in relation to reality are all based in our (imperfect) way of defining it.

In practical, every day terms, the recognition that Physilogical Sex is a social construct means that we recognize that the way we have set it up (with Male, Female, and then aberrations and “mistakes” and “errors”) is not the only way to set such up.

When we argue that physiological sex is based in Chromosomes, for example, we are doing so because we were taught that it was XY and XX that determined this, and that XXX and XXY and XYY are “broken” and “aberrant”, even though they exist and occur with regular, predictable, consistent, constant levels of appearance.

Aberrations do not show up consistently. Those people exist, and they often pass on the alleles and epigenetics that we think of as the source for such.

But our way of looking at them, of classifying and setting them up and arguing them, is based on what is, in the end, a collective decision to accept something that is “good enough”, even though it isn’t accurate, truthful, or the only way possible to classify such systems.

We have, just as an example, five different ways of classifying Physiological Sex that are often used at different levels and in different ways.  Why five?  Why do we need five, if the goal of doing so is to create a fixed, true, accurate, single way of describing physiological sex that applies to all people and to the rest of the natural world?

Why do we sometimes use genitals, and other times use clothing or behavior? Why do we say genes and also say chromosomes?

All knowledge, including the most basic, taken-for-granted common knowledge of everyday reality, is derived from and maintained by social interactions.

When people interact, they do so with the understanding that their respective perceptions of reality are related, and as they act upon this understanding their common knowledge of reality becomes reinforced.

Since this common knowledge is negotiated by people, human typifications, significations and institutions come to be presented as part of an objective reality, particularly for future generations who were not involved in the original process of negotiation.

For example, as parents negotiate rules for their children to follow, those rules confront the children as externally produced “givens” that they cannot change.

Because these things are socially constructed, however, they can be changed.

Social constructions have changed, consistently, throughout human awareness and history.  Part of the reason we use so many different ways of describing physiological sex is due to those changes in the social construction of physiological sex.

When someone references a social construction, they are applying a fundamentally existential, very much post modern, structural analysis that does not just apply to the one thing they happen to be discussing, but to the whole of reality.

This is why when one says that gender is a social construct, one cannot say that sex is not such and remain intellectually honest. It is like saying that genes only apply to people, and not to apes (in more ways than one).

A lot of people get caught up in the notion that social constructs only apply to ideas, to “things which are not real”, but the problem is that social constructs always apply to things which are real — they may not be tangible, but tangibility does not make something less “real”.

A person exists, but existence is intangible; does that means existence is not real?

Now, the point of my saying that sex is a social construct is to demonstrate several things.  One, that those who argue that gender is a social construct do so without understanding what it is they are talking about — they are usually stating their ignorance and incompetence, and if you are going to give them any credence, then wouldn’t you expect them to know what they are talking about?

Another is based in a different aspect of understanding what social constructs are.  In this case, it is important to note than in human history, no social construct has ever been completely done away with.  THey have changed, they have evolved, they have been shifted in importance and value, but never has a social construct been obliterated.

They cannot be because to do so is to obliterate — or Abolish — an aspect of reality itself.

Which is hubris on the part of human beings, lol.

Since often the people who argue that gender is a social construct with me do so in order to support their goal of Gender Abolition, it is a way of subtly letting them know that they are engaged in a pipe dream that is derived from their own ignorance and incompetence, driven by their hubris.

I do it, then, as a way of laughing at them because to me they are acting like a five year old arguing about where butterflies go when it rains.

You asked me to explain this in more detail, so I have, liberally copying from several different sources in the process.

When one gains knowledge, the application of that knowledge must be across the full range of what that person understands.

Trans people challenge EVERYTHING about our understanding of fundamental aspects of our ciscentric, heterosexist world.

If Family is the basic building block of a society, then what is the basic building block of family?

The answer is the system of how we handle the elements around the act of procreation. Sex, gender, courtship, kinship, and bonding.

Because trans people were never considered, never thought of, never included in the creation of the social constructs around those things, their existence highlights and demonstrates flaws in those systems in the same way that homosexuality, bisexuality, and asexuality do.

To fix them, to make them less flawed, we have to change those social constructs to more effectively reflect not only the existence of trans people, but also the awareness we have in the modern world that hamper and limit our ability to effectively promote the ideas of human and civil rights for all people.

Here are examples of things that are social constructs, and most people do not understand what a social construct is, so they do not understand that all of these things are social constructs. Because stating thse are challenges their understanding of the world, they will reveal their ignorance about social constructs by challenging these things, and will talk about “good” and “tangible” and so forth.

  • Gender
  • Patriarchy
  • Money
  • Sex
  • Work
  • Life
  • Government
  • Feminism
  • Liberty
  • Childhood
  • Liberty
  • Marxism
  • Socialism
  • Capitalism
  • Fascism
  • Man
  • Woman
  • Male
  • Female
  • Race
  • Poverty
  • Law
  • Religion
  • Hope
  • Justice
  • Hate
  • Love

The act of identifying one of these things as a social construct means understanding that the rest of them are as well.

Most people do not understand what social constructs are.

Read that again. Of the 7 billion people soon to stand on this earth, the vast, overwhelming majority do not know what they are.

They also do not understand that to argue using social constructs means you cannot argue any form of essentialism, and remain honest.

Nor do they understand why that is so.