The Social Construction Series Part 7: The Social Construction of Difference

Questioning The Concepts We Hold And The Habits We Have As An Act Of Social Resistance

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Have you ever thought about the word difference? And, maybe also considered, how that one word connotes a ton of power through the use of language? Hm.

Alright, well, whether you’ve ever considered that question or not, we are going to consider it, together, here. Ready? Good, let’s go.

Let’s define, as we always do, our key term. Here we go.

difference

noun /ˈdɪfrəns/ /ˈdɪfrəns/

[countable, uncountable] the way in which two people or things are not like each other; the way in which somebody/something has changed

Oxford Learner’s Dictionaries

Now, let’s reset quickly a social construction, shall we? Here we go.

social construct

noun /ˌsəʊʃl ˈkɒnstrʌkt/

A concept or perception of something based on the collective views developed and maintained within a society or social group; a social phenomenon or convention originating within and cultivated by society or a particular social group, as opposed to existing inherently or naturally.

Lexico

Here’s what we’ve got thus far.

Difference, then, is a concept or perception based on the collective views of a society or social group, which does not exist naturally.

Right, so difference does not occur naturally. However, the word difference is used constantly. Really. Think about how often you say that word. Now, think about how often you hear that word utilized. Often, I’m sure.

Yet, according to social constructionism difference is all created in language. All of it. Meaning that difference is only as real as long as we continue to create it as real. Think about that for a minute.

Difference is only as real as long as we continue to create it as real.

Phew, that’s pretty powerful. Why? Well, before we get to that question, there are two new aspects to social constructionism to introduce here. Ready? Good. Here we go.

The first? Yep.

Photo by Keagan Henman on Unsplash

Habitualization

Habitualization describes how “any action that is repeated frequently becomes cast into a pattern, which can then be … performed again in the future in the same manner and with the same economical effort” (Berger and Luckmann 1966). Not only do we construct our own society but we also accept it as it is because others have created it before us. Society is, in fact, “habit.”

OER Services

And?

Institutionalization

For example, your school exists as a school and not just as a building because you and others agree that it is a school. If your school is older than you are, it was created by the agreement of others before you. In a sense, it exists by consensus, both prior and current. This is an example of the process of institutionalization, the act of implanting a convention or norm into society. Bear in mind that the institution, while socially constructed, is still quite real.

OER Services

Now, why are habitualization and institutionalization important to the discussion of difference? Good question.

Because, essentially, society is in a pattern of continuously creating difference, which has thus become institutionalized and generally accepted as fact.

Even though difference is not a naturally occurring phenomenon or fact. Difference is still real in accord with the consequences that stem from such socially constructed differences.

Yep, that last part, that these social constructions are real in their consequences is another sociological theory. Here you go.

Thomas Theorem

Another way of looking at this concept is through W.I. Thomas’s notable Thomas theorem which states, “If [people] define situations as real, they are real in their consequences” (Thomas and Thomas 1928). That is, people’s behavior can be determined by their subjective construction of reality rather than by objective reality. For example, a teenager who is repeatedly given a label—overachiever, player, bum—might live up to the term even though it initially wasn’t a part of [their] character.

OER Services
Photo by Helena Hertz on Unsplash

Now, what happens when you take a concept such as difference, defined as separate and not the same, and you habitulize and institutionalize that concept? You get the Thomas Theorem. Meaning?

That now you have a socially constructed concept, difference, and have created a reality that continuously creates difference each and every day. Yep. And, who does this you ask?

Well, everyone does. Remember, based on the definition, a social construct is a concept that is agreed upon in a society.

There is, of course, a spectrum here. Meaning, that some people are aware of how difference operates, and some are not. The former people may have noble intentions, and might not.

And, the latter, well, they are in habitualization without awareness. And, that happens too. It’s not a judgment, or justification, it just occurs that way.

And, what does this mean to individuals? Right, another good question. Here we go.

Self-fulfilling Prophecy

Like Berger and Luckmann in their description of habitualization, Thomas states that our moral codes and social norms are created by “successive definitions of the situation.” This concept is defined by sociologist Robert K. Merton as a self-fulfilling prophecy. Merton explains that with a self-fulfilling prophecy, even a false idea can become true if it is acted upon. 

OER Services

Now you have a society that has habituzlied and institutionalized difference, and when people internalize that social construct as truth, which is common, they act on that difference. Why?

Because that is what they are told, and that is what they are shown.

Right. That is just so. However, before our short analysis is complete, we must introduce one more important concept. Here we go.

Photo by Ian Stauffer on Unsplash

Power

(noun) The ability of an individual, group, or institution to influence or exercise control over other people and achieve their goals despite possible opposition or resistance.

Sociology Dictionary

There we go. And, let’s have one more important quote here to assist in our discussion.

“Most (and probably all) societies exist with systems of social division and social stratification, through which entire categories of people are elevated above others, providing one segment of the population with a disproportionate amount of money, power and prestige” (Macionis and Plummer 2012:232).

Sociology Dictionary

Right. Why is power important? Yep. Here we go.

Because difference is not wielded within a vacuum. Nope. Difference is wielded though very distinct power structures, which continue to perpetuate that difference. Important.

Yet, what is really different? Not much in fact. Facts? Sure.

People are more similar to each other than they are different. Biologically, we are more homogenous than we are heterogeneous. That is the bottom line. Biologically we are very much alike. Almost identical, in fact.

What does this mean?

That all of the difference we ascribe to individuals and groups of people are created in language and acted out through socialization, creating habits that are continuously repeated, which are then institutionalized as factual, and affected to and by each and every one of us on some level.

Phew, that was a lot. Hm. Right, so where do we go from here?

Photo by Gayatri Malhotra on Unsplash

Awareness and Resistance

Yep, awareness and resistance. And? Well, awareness is first.

When we are aware of how these concepts function in language and are codified in social structures, we can choose to let them go and create a new way of thinking and acting. Truth. And?

It all starts with us disrupting our patterns and habits. Really. All of them. Questioning why we do the things we do, and then looking internally to find out if those habits or patterns make sense any more.

If they do? Okay, keep doing them. If they don’t? Let them go and create something new.

Every time we create a new pattern or habit, we are actively releasing the continuation of what was, or the status quo, and that? Well, that is an act of resistance. Social resistance, if you will. And?

Well, often people mistakenly believe that the only social resistance that leads to social change must happen on a grand scale right away. There was a time I thought this way. Really. And?

It’s just not so. Social change more often happens within small actions that lead to larger actions that then lead to large-scale social change.

Just take a look around the United States right now, and you will see a legacy of active social resistance in the streets right now. Yep.

And, that started with various individuals actively disrupting and then releasing an old pattern or habit, and creating a new one. Just like that. Beautiful to see, and even more beautiful to be a part of.

Now, I have more to say, however, this is a series, therefore we will get to continue our discussion of social constructionism in the near future. Until then?

Question

Question the concepts you hold and the habits you have and see if they still work for you. And, if not, release them, and create something new. That’s pretty much it, and that is powerful. You are powerful.

#awarenessandresistance, #concepts, #habits, #habitualization, #institutionalization, #power, #self-fulfillingprophecy, #socialconstruct, #socialconstruction, #socialconstructionism, #socialjustice, #sociallyconstructeddifference, #socialresistance, #takingaction, #thomastheorum

Motivation: Is it an inside or outside job?

This week I’ve been more present to motivation. What I mean is noticing awesome people in my contexts doing amazing things, and the motivation that comes from creating such possibilities. 

A good friend of mine once told me that motivation does not come from an outside source, that, in fact, motivation comes from doing things. Thinking about motivation this way creates the space for an understanding that motivation doesn’t just magically appear. Motivation comes from doing, simple.

Yet, as human beings, understanding what is a simple concept about motivation, is not always simple to put into practice. Why? Because humans create patterns (or habits) that are very hard to change. 

However, it is possible to change them. And, the first step to creating that change, is to understand that the motivation to do so will develop inside the actions you take to make these changes. Motivation does not live inside of thinking about the changes, only in the doing.

With so much change happening as a result of the COVID-19 health crisis, then, all of us are living outside of our typical patterns, or habits, and that is difficult for everyone. You are not alone in feeling this way. 

It seems to me then that motivation is an inside job. The motivation to take action in life, lives inside the action itself, which we create.

Sometimes humans also want to connect an action to a result. However, connecting actions to results sets us up for failure. When we believe that we are taking action for a result, we concentrate and expect the result to look or be a certain way. And, when the result is not that way, we typically say, I’ve lost my motivation.

Motivation is not lost. It is simply hiding inside the next action, so let go of your expectations on the result, and take that next action.

My invitation – continue to take those daily actions, which create new patterns, new motivations, and new possibilities.

Until next time…

#action, #change, #covid-19, #habits, #motivation, #patterns, #possibility, #result