Am I a Social Constructionist?

・2 min read

If this refers to the nature of concepts: Yes, I think concepts are socially constructed. But that’s part of niche construction, which is part of evolution, which is what just happens. Concepts are evolved tools.

So what I really do is probably different from “mainstream social constructionism”As exemplified by Berger & Luckmann (1966) or Latour & Woolgar (1979), amongst others.

: I take phenomena at face value (i.e. don’t reduce them to lower-level ones) and explain them in a maximally deflationary way.

If the label refers to the stronger view that the objects our concepts refer to are also constructed, so that we cannot reach outside of the confines of our language: I think that’s true as well, but again, this is part of a larger thing.

Our language is not special in that we mean to refer to things “out there” with it, in that it is supposed to reach beyond its boundaries. They same is true e.g. for perception, and perception also fails to do that: It can only ever refer to sensory signals, everything beyond that is a construction (to be more precise: a predictive model).See “Knowledge and Ideology in the Anthropocene” for an extended exposition of this idea.

Language, which is evolutionary late, only inherits this trait from other forms of cognition.

That our reality is constructed means what we are really referring to are our models of the world. What is special about our world being socially constructed is that we are constructing it in a collective enterprise, which means that our models are collective models.

As individuals, we only ever shape or grasp them partially. They are not the aggregation of our explicit, individual models, but models at a higher level or wider scope (groups, organisations, peoples, civilisations) that stay implicit for us and are implemented in our cultural technēHaslanger (2019)

, i.e. the social meanings we draw on when we organise social systems from groups to civilisations.See “Knowledge and Ideology in the Anthropocene” for an extended exposition of this idea.



I’m grateful to Glenda Eoyang for asking me the question in the title of this essay.