Have you ever heard of the phrase a social construction? Maybe? Well, I hadn’t heard of it until I went back to school in my early 30’s. I was in a class on gender, and the professor said something like, gender is socially constructed.
At first, I was like, wait, what? I had no idea what the professor was talking about. Nope, not at all. As the professor continued to explain the concept, I almost fell out of my chair. Seriously. I was so baffled, confused, and interested, all at the same time.
I grew up in a family where ideas like social constructs were unavailable. Not a judgment, just reality. And, it’s okay. There are many, many families across this country that don’t have access to these kinds of ideas, and knowledge. Part of my passion and mission. Dissemination. Here we go.
Let’s define social constructionism.
“Social constructionism is a general term sometimes applied to theories that emphasize the socially created nature of social life. Of course, in one sense all sociologists would argue this, so the term can easily become devoid of meaning. More specifically, however, the emphasis on social constructionism is usually traced back at least to the work of William Isaac Thomas and the Chicago sociologists, as well as the phenomenological sociologists and philosophers such as Alfred Schutz. Such approaches emphasize the idea that society is actively and creatively produced by human beings. They portray the world as made or invented—rather than merely given or taken for granted. Social worlds are interpretive nets woven by individuals and groups.“Oxford Reference
Alright, so the basic idea is that all of life, all if it, is socially constructed. Meaning, simply, that all that we know is created again and again by people. These creations are then shared between and within groups. Shared meaning is derived from these created social constructs, or concepts. What concepts you ask?
Tree. Sun. Love. Life. Health.
All things we see and know. They are all socially constructed. Sometimes groups share and agree on their meaning across cultures, sometimes there are variations specific to particular cultures or geographies.
Why does it matter?
Because if everything we see and know is socially constructed, then all that we argue about, disagree about, and sometimes fight about is based upon ideas and ideals that are created. Created by people.
Understanding that the world is socially constructed is very important.
Important to individuals and how they internalize and understand their place in the world; and, it is also important to how groups understand their relation to each other.
When we know that everything is socially constructed, we have freedom from ideas and concepts, because we know they are not naturally occurring.
You may say, well, love is love and I know what that is, and how it feels to be in love. Yes. And, I am saying that love, even though you feel it, and know it, is still a concept. It is a concept associated with a particular way of being and feeling.
And, guess what? Naturally occurring, or biological concepts, are also social constructions. Tree. Yep. Biological, right? Yet, a tree is still a concept. Believe me. There was a time when a tree was not called a tree. A tree is a concept.
Alright, let’s look at 7 reasons why understanding social constructions is important.
- Gives us freedom from concepts.
- Creates access to new knowledge and power.
- Provides us a new perspective on how the world occurs.
- Empowers us to understand why we internalize concepts as real, even when they are not.
- Helps us understand each other on a deeper level.
- Assists groups in understanding each other; either how they relate, or how they differ.
- Creates an important distinction about language. How we use it, and how it affects how we see and experience ourselves, each other, and the world.
How can you use this information?
Question everything. Important. Here is a quote about questioning that I love.
“We awaken by asking the right questions. We awaken when we see knowledge being spread that goes against our own personal experiences. We awaken when we see popular opinion being wrong but accepted as being right, and what is right being pushed as being wrong. We awaken by seeking answers in corners that are not popular. And we awaken by turning on the light inside when everything outside feels dark.” -Suzy KassemAwaken the Greatness Within
You can find quote after quote online about asking questions. Really. Asking questions is that important. Questioning that which others take for granted as real, or right, or wrong, gives you an immediate advantage. How?
Because most people won’t ask. They believe in what they see, hear, feel, and think they know. Why? It’s easier. More comfortable. Not a judgment. It’s okay not to question.
However, when we ask our questions, and actively participate in the contexts we are living in, we get back much more. Much, much more.
My invitation to you is to ask questions. You know, the ones that you’ve been holding onto for years. You know they’re there. And, it’s okay. It’s even okay to hold onto them, if you want to. However, it is way more fun to ask them. Way more. 🙂
Alright, that concludes the first part of the social construction series. Next time? Funny you should ask. I’ve already come up with it.
The social construction of knowledge. Will be fun.
Until then, question.