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What is the Concept of Social Constructionism?

Parul Solanki Jan 22, 2019
What we view as real in this world is actually a social construct or rather an invention of a particular culture or society. Its existence relies solely on the agreement between people. This is the concept of social constructionism.
"Nothing is real."
― John Lennon, Beatles
How hard is it to grasp an irrational theory that states, the reality you live in isn't real? Social constructionism believes that we view many aspects of everyday life as an objective reality. The reality that we perceive is a consequence of institutional practices and collective social agreements and understood through conventions.

Explaining the Concept of Social Constructionism

We may not know it but social constructions are part of our everyday lives. The meanings, notions, or connotations that we assign to objects or events are often socially constructed entities and exist because of certain sets of conventional rules.
In football, how do we know the rules and organization of the game? The social conventions and our agreement with it have provided the game with the meaning. If an alien were to watch the same game without knowing the social conventions. Would the alien understand this as a form of sport or just assume that these were some crazy men running around?
Natural phenomena like sex or race which we take for granted are actually the result of our culture or decisions. The social phenomena of race and gender are created, institutionalized, and made into traditions. It is people's conception of reality which becomes a social construct later on. Social Constructivism focuses on individual learning in a group.

Understanding Social Constructs

Common social constructs or artifacts include money, culture, language, and nations. Money or rather currency is a good example. While a five-dollar bill may buy you a cheap meal in one country, when you go to some other country which does not share the "mutual understanding" that the bill equates to a cheap meal, they would refuse to trade.
The key point is the mutual understanding between the participants of the trade. Similarly, social construction is a mutually accepted idea that is created due to our social interactions.

Types of Social Constructionism

Although there are many different theories and beliefs associated with social constructionism, it is generally categorized as weak social constructionism and strong social constructionism.
Weak Social Constructionism: These are ideas which are assigned certain values based on the collective agreement. As Steven Pinker says, "some social constructions exist only because people tacitly agree to act as if they exist. Examples include money, tenure, citizenship, decorations for bravery, and the presidency of the United States."
Strong Social Constructionism: It says everything that is real is actually a social construct. How we make sense of that reality by means of social practices or language that makes it a strong social construct is what matters. So, when we say that it is a river and not just lots of water, it is human consensus that differentiates a river from a sea.

Examples of Social Constructionism

Social Constructionism and Gender

Gender is a pervasive social construct. The doctor checks the baby's genitals to confirm if the baby is a boy or girl to teach the child of the respective gender what they are supposed to wear, how to behave, what activities to engage in, and what work they should pursue, everything is decided by socially appropriate beliefs.
These beliefs mark categorical distinctions based on the gender. So, when a mother chooses baby blue for her baby boy or pink for a girl, it is because it is what everyone does, or rather, it is a societal norm. Each gender should dress in the socially accepted way. These differences in gender extend to adulthood as well.
While men are stereotyped as "strong, macho, and powerful", women are assumed to be "caring, nurturing, and loving". This is how society expects women and men to behave. So, if a woman does not want to nurture and raise a family, instead, opts for a powerful role in society, she is considered "less feminine" and is made sure she does not influence others.

Social Constructionism and Race

Race is an important social construct. Although it may seem real and omnipresent to everyone, there is no way to biologically categorize different sections of people. In all senses, race is politically and socially constructed. The social construction of race is also known as social formation.
The authors of the book Racial Formation in the United States, define the term as "Race is a concept which signifies and symbolizes social conflicts and interests by referring to different types of human bodies." Based on appearance, people are classified and identified. There are often stereotypes and standards that follow this association.
The concept of Social Constructionism helps us understand how habitual practices and acknowledged truths are constructed. This powerful concept has prompted a range of research across social sciences and humanities.
It has had its share of criticisms, as critics argue that the concept fails to highlight the importance of biological influences on behavior or culture. Despite this, the concept of social constructionism remains important as it exposes the idea of standards and stereotypes that we follow, just because we are told to or are supposed to do so.