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.“
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 constructionsis 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 Kassem
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.
Ever thought about the power of language? Yes, no? I hadn’t until about three years ago. Why? Well, as I’ve mentioned in many of my posts, about three years ago I began to develop myself, really develop.
And, when you work on yourself, from the inside out, which is the only real way, you begin to understand the power that we, you, hold within you. It is a vast power, and language is a part of that power.
Before we begin to look at the power of language, let’s start with a definition.
NOUN 1. The method of human communication, either spoken or written, consisting of the use of words in a structured and conventional way.
Alright, pretty straightforward, right? Do you read anything in there about the power of language? No, me either. However, it’s there, believe me. Let’s take a look then at 4 reasons why language is so powerful.
1. Language is what we use to create meaning
As I’ve written about in other posts, human beings are meaning-makers. We continuously construct narratives, or stories, about life. We take in information, a stimulus, and we convert that information into a patterned story about how we perceive ourselves. Then we respond.
We respond from the space of the story. From the beliefs we hold about who we are. Can you see the power in that. Pretty powerful.
For instance, if we believe we are limited, because someone told us that when we were little, we will respond from a space of limit. Without thinking about it. Important.
In this example, it’s not as if we are consciously thinking about these limitations. These limitations live in the stories we tell ourselves, and others about who we are. They operate independently. Aware of them or not, they are there. Powerful.
Imagine deciding to not do something because someone told us not to do that thing when we were little. If we really sit inside of this concept, it may fill us with sadness.
Know, however, that at the end of this article we will discuss how to get in touch with the stories we have. Why? Because when we are aware of them, even though we don’t know all of them, we can choose a different response. We can create new stories.
2. Language is what we use to communicate
Though verbal and written communication are not the only ways we communicate with each other, they are two of the primary ways we do so. We take that which we know to be “true,” drawn from the stories we have about ourselves, and use it to construct language to communicate with people.
Further, when we communicate with people, and they do or say something to confirm the story we have about ourselves, that story becomes more codified.
These stories, then, have been “confirmed” over years and years of inner-dialogue, and are also “proven” by those we interact with. Complex. And simple.
For instance, if I believe that I am limited, and act that way, then those around me, after time, will stop asking me to do things that stretch me, or make me uncomfortable.
Not because they don’t want me to stretch and grow, rather because I always say no. I confirm for them my own self-perceived limitation. And, in return, they confirm that limitation in my mind by not asking me to stretch and grow.
Thomas Cooley wrote about this concept over 100 years ago.
“The looking-glass self describes the process wherein individuals base their sense of self on how they believe others view them. Using social interaction as a type of “mirror,” people use the judgments they receive from others to measure their own worth, values, and behavior”
And, then sociologist Erving Goffman took Cooley’s work further.
“The term ‘symbolic interactionism’ refers, of course, to the peculiar and distinctive character of interaction as it takes place between human beings. The peculiarity consists in the fact that human beings interpret or ‘define’ each other’s actions instead of merely reacting to each other’s actions. Their ‘response’ is not made directly to the actions of one another but instead based on the meaning which they attach to such actions. Thus, human interaction is mediated by the use of symbols, by interpretation, or by ascertaining the meaning of one another’s actions.” (Blumer, p. 180, in Paul Gingrich)
Therefore, how we think is how we act, believe, and perceive. And, those around us do the same. Have you ever had an interaction with someone that didn’t know you, and they interacted with you in a way that didn’t fit the story you have of yourself? Yes? What did you do?
Did you align with your own story about the person you believe yourself to be? Or, did you act in a different way? Most of the time, people will continue to behave as they have, which is consistent with the actions, beliefs, and perceptions they have of who they are.
Reason? Because to act, believe, and perceive otherwise is incongruent with their perceived identity. And, all of it, the actions we take, and the beliefs and perceptions we have first of all live in language. That is powerful.
3. Language is what we use to make sense of the world
When you look out your window, what do you see? A tree? A bush? The sun or moon? Whatever you see, and the words you use to describe the world all live in language. All of it.
Think about the word sun. Where did that come from? Well, let’s take a quick look.
“Old English sunne, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch zon and German Sonne, from an Indo-European root shared by Greek hēlios and Latin sol .”
And, even cursory searches of the internet will show that the roots of the word sun cross cultures.
“This is ultimately related to the word for “sun” in other branches of the Indo-European language family, though in most cases a nominative stem with an l is found, rather than the genitive stem in n, as for example in Latin sōl, Greek ἥλιος hēlios, Welsh haul and Russian солнце solntse (pronounced sontse), as well as (with *l > r) Sanskrit स्वर svár and Persian خور xvar. Indeed, the l-stem survived in Proto-Germanic as well, as *sōwelan, which gave rise to Gothic sauil (alongside sunnō) and Old Norse prosaic sól (alongside poetic sunna), and through it the words for “sun” in the modern Scandinavian languages: Swedish and Danish solen, Icelandic sólin, etc.”
Yet, is the sun, the sun? Or is it a star? Same with a tree. Is a tree, a tree? Or, is it something else. The point? That the language we use to describe the world becomes just that. The world we see. The world we know.
When we see a tree, we don’t question the fact that at some point a tree was not called a tree. Nor was the sun called the sun. They were called something else, or nothing at all.
The relationship we have with the language we use to describe the world we see and perceive as our reality, is therefore extremely important, and powerful. It must be.
4. Language is what we use to create our reality
Yep. Truth. Language is what we use to create meaning, to communicate, to understand the world, and to create our reality. In another post, I wrote something like, there are 7 billion different realities on this planet. Truth. How’s that?
Because we all understand our reality as we understand it. Yes, based on the stories we are told about who we are, the stories we then create to fit these stories, and the conformations we get from those around us that codify our notions of the stories we know to be true about who we are.
And, that is creating our reality. One thought, belief, and perception at a time.
However, because language, and our interpretation of it, is so powerful, we can also use language to create a different reality, with different stories, beliefs, and perceptions. Yep, we can.
As with most things, first you need to be aware of the power of language. Check. Then, it is about learning to notice when you are creating a reality that consistently fits the story of who you think you are. If that is what you want for your reality. Awesome. Done. If not?
Once you are aware, and notice how you consistently continue to create a response to a stimulus that is in alignment with, let us say, limitation, you can begin to choose a different response.
A response that aligns with the reality you now want to create. A reality without limits. Powerful.
Phew, that was a lot. More than I expected in this one post. Yet, because language is so powerful, there is a lot more to write about. A lot more.
Yet we will leave that to a future post.
Language is powerful. We can use language to confirm all the things we think about ourselves, given to us by someone else, and continuously confirmed by ourselves and everyone around us. OR.
We can use language to disrupt that which we believe we know about ourselves, and use the power of language to create a whole new reality for ourselves. And, guess what?
Everytime someone chooses disruption over the status quo, everyone benefits. All of humanity does.