Hacking—The Social Construction of What?

The Social Construction of What?

by Ian Hacking

[Hacking, Ian. The social construction of what?. Harvard university press, 1999.]


constructionist (categories are socially created) v. essentialist (categories are proof of/ derived from an essence of the members of the category)

“Social constructionists about X tend to hold that:

  • (1) X need not have existed, or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable.
  • Very often they go further, and urge that:
  • (2) X is quite bad as it is.
  • (3) We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically transformed” (16).

This is predicated on the thought that:

  • “(0) In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted; X appears to be inevitable” (22).

What is constructed:

  • objects – things that are in the world (practices, experiences, people, social classes, etc.)
  • ideas – beliefs, theories, concepts (groupings, classifications, justifications, systems, etc.)
  • “elevator words” – facts. reality, knowledge, truth: things that simply are, and explain the world (called elevator words because they work at a different, higher level than other things).

human kinds – we label human behavior and/or situations in a way that labels the people themselves—makes them kinds of humans (child television viewer, woman refugee, abuse victim, anorexic, etc.).This creates ontological categories—new ways of being human.

Interactive kinds – human kinds are interactive kinds because they interact with other of that same kind and become aware of their kind, changing the way they experience it. This causes looping effects. Quarks, however, are not interactive, because they are not self-aware. This is Hacking’s designation between concepts of the social sciences (interactive) and natural sciences (not).

looping effects of human kinds – “kinds of people, can become aware that they are classified as such. They can make tacit or even explicit choices, adapt or adopt ways of living so as to fit or get away from the very classification that may be applied to them. These very choices, adaptations or adoptions have consequences for the very group, for the kind of people that is invoked. The result may be particularly strong interactions. What was known about people of a kind may become false because people of that kind have changed in virtue of what they believe about themselves. I have called this phenomenon the looping effect of human kinds” (44).

Annotation Summary for: Hacking – The Social Construction of What?

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Talk of social construction has become common coin, valuable for political activists and familiar to anyone who comes across current debates about race, gender, culture, or science. Why?”

Page 12, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “For one thing, the idea of social construction has been wonderfullyliberating. It reminds us, say, that motherhood and its meanings are notfixed and inevitable, the consequence of child-bearing and rearing. Theyare the product of historical events, social forces, and ideology.”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “For all their power to liberate, those very words, ‘‘social construction,’’ can work like cancerous cells.”

Page 13, Underline (Red): Content: “Alan Sokal’s”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “RELATIVISM”

Page 13, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Sokal epitomized what are now called the ‘‘science wars.’’”

Page 14, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “One person argues that scientific results, even in fundamental physics, are social constructs. An opponent, angered, protests that the results are usually discoveries about our world that hold independently of society.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Social construction work is critical of the status quo. Social construc- tionists about X tend to hold that: (1) X need not have existed, or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable. Very often they go further, and urge that: (2) X is quite bad as it is. (3) We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically transformed.”

Page 16, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “A thesis of type (1) is the starting point: the existence or character of X”

Page 17, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “is not determined by the nature of things. X is not inevitable. X was brought into existence or shaped by social events, forces, history, all of which could well have been different.”

Page 17, Underline (Red): Content: “Simone de Beauvoir’s”

Page 17, Underline (Red): Content: “The Second Sex,”

Page 18, Underline (Red): Content: “Judith Butler”

Page 19, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “What is said to be constructed, if someone speaks of the social construc- tion of gender? Individuals as gendered, the category of gender, bodies, souls, concepts, coding, subjectivity, the list runs on.”

Page 20, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Ideas (as we ordinarily use the word) are usually out there in public. They can be proposed, criticized, entertained, rejected. Ideas do not exist in a vacuum. They inhabit a social setting. Let us call that the matrix within which an idea, a concept or kind, is formed.”

Page 21, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Notice how important it is to answer the question ‘‘The social con-struction of what?’’ For in this example X does not refer directly to in-dividual women refugees. No, the X refers first of all to the womanrefugee as a kind of person, the classification itself, and the matrixwithin which the classification works. In consequence of being so clas-sified, individual women and their experiences of themselves arechanged by being so classified.”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Notice howthesis (1)—Xneed not have existed—sets the stage for social construction talk about X. If everybody knows that X is the contingent upshot of social arrangements, there is no point in saying that it is so- cially constructed. People begin to argue that X is socially constructed precisely when they find that: (0) In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted; X appears to be inevitable.”

Page 22, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Statement (0) is not an assumption or presupposition about X. It statesa precondition for a social constructionist thesis about X. Without (0)there is no inclination (aside from bandwagon jumping) to talk aboutthe social construction of X.”

Page 22, Underline (Red): Content: “John Searle”

Page 24, Underline (Red): Content: “Heidegger Karl Jaspers,”

Page 26, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Often social construc-tion theses are advanced against a stronger background. They are usedto undermine the idea that X is essential, even that X has an ‘‘essence.’’ If a person’s race is an essential ele- ment of a person’s being, then race is not inevitable only in the present state of affairs. It is inevitable, period, so long as there are human beings with anything like our evolutionary history on the face of the earth.”

Page 26, Underline (Red): Content: “Lawrence Hirschfeld”

Page 26, Note (Orange): Constructionist v essentialist

Page 27, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “As a philosopher I am, in respect of essences, an heir of John Locke and John Stuart Mill, skeptical of the very idea of essence. For our purposes, essentialismis merely the strongest version of inevitability.”

Page 27, Underline (Red): Content: “John Locke John Stuart Mill,”

Page 29, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Here are names for six grades ofconstructionism”

Page 29, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Historical Ironic Reformist Unmasking Rebellious Revolutionary”

Page 29, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “historical. Someone presents a history of X and argues that X has been constructed in the course of social processes. Far from being inevitable, X is the contingent upshot of historical events.”

Page 29, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “historical.”

Page 29, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “ironic”

Page 29, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “ironic”

Page 29, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “X, which we thought to be an inevitable part of the world or of our conceptual architecture, could have been quite different. We are nevertheless stuck”

Page 30, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “with it, it forms part of our way of thinking which will evolve, perhaps, in its own way, but about which we can do nothing much right now.”

Page 30, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “This is reformist construc- tionism. Athird grade of commitment takes (2) seriously: X is quite bad as it is. Agreed, we have no idea at present how to live our lives without X, but having seen that X was not inevi- table, in the present state of things, we can at least modify some aspects of X, in order to make X less of a bad thing.”

Page 30, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “reformist”

Page 30, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “unmasking which does not seek to refute ideas but to undermine them by exposing the function they serve.”

Page 30, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “unmasking”

Page 30, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Aconstructionist who actively maintains (1), (2),and (3) about X will be called rebellious about X.”

Page 30, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “An activist who moves beyond the world of ideas and tries to change the world in respect of X is revolutionary.”

Page 30, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “rebellious revolutionary.”

Page 31, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Three distinguishable types of things are said to be socially constructed. ‘‘objects’’ ‘‘ideas’’ a group of words that arise by what Quine calls semantic ascent: truth, facts, reality. I call them elevator words”

Page 31, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Objects. Items in the following disparate list are ‘‘in the world’’ in a commonsensical, not fancy, meaning of that phrase.”

Page 31, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Objects.”

Page 32, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Ideas. I mean ideas, conceptions, concepts, beliefs, attitudes to, theories.”

Page 32, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Ideas.”

Page 32, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Elevator words. Among the items said by some to be constructed are facts, truth, reality, and knowledge. The words are used to say something about the world, or about what we say or think about the”

Page 32, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “Elevator words.”

Page 33, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “world.13 They are at a higher level. ”

Page 36, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “the child viewer of televi- sion, is a construct. Although children have watched television since the advent of the box, there is (it is claimed) no definite class of children who are ‘‘child viewers of television’’ until ‘‘the child viewer of televi- sion’’ becomes thought of as a social problem. The child viewer, steeped in visions of violence, primed for the role of consumer, idled away from healthy sport and education, becomes an object of research. Putting it crudely, what is socially constructed, in this case, is an idea, the idea of the child viewer.”

Page 36, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “‘‘the child viewer’’ becomes a species of person.”

Page 36, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “We have presupposition (0): The child viewer seems like an inevitable categorization in our day and age. The constructionist argues (1): Not at all. Children who watch television need never have beenconceptualized”

Page 37, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “as a distinct kind of human being. What seems like a sensible classifi- cation to use when thinking about the activities of children, has, it may be argued, been foisted upon us, in part because of certain moralizing interests. Hence there is also a strong implication of (2), that this cate- gory is not an especially good one. Perhaps also a suggestion of (3), that we would be better off without it.”

Page 37, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Talk about the child viewer is not exactly false, but it uses an inapt idea.”

Page 37, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “It presupposes that there is a coherent object, the child viewer of television.”

Page 37, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Once we have the phrase, the label, we get the notion that there is a definite kind of person, the child viewer, a species. This kind of person becomes reified.”

Page 37, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “kind”

Page 42, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The ‘‘woman refugee’’ (as a kind of classification) can be called an interactive kind because it interacts with things of that kind, namely people, including individual women refugees, who can become aware of how they are classified and modify their behavior accordingly.”

Page 42, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “interactive kind”

Page 42, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Quarks in contrast do not form an interactive kind; the idea of the quark does not interact with quarks.”

Page 42, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “I shall now pose two separate groups of questions: (1) those in- volving contingency, metaphysics, and stability; and (2) issues that are biological but still of the interactive kind.”

Page 43, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Scientists think that the stability is the consequence of compelling evidence. Constructionists think that stability results fromfactors external to the overt content of the science.”

Page 43, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “internal versus ex- ternal explanations of stability.”

Page 44, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “kinds of people, can become aware that they are classified as such. They can make tacit or even explicit choices, adapt or adopt ways of living so as to fit or get away from the very classification that may be applied to them. These very choices, adaptations or adoptions have consequences for the very group, for the kind of people that is invoked. The result may be particu- larly strong interactions. What was known about people of a kind may become false because people of that kind have changed in virtue of what they believe about themselves. I have called this phenomenon the loop- ing effect of human kinds (Hacking 1995).”

Page 44, Highlight (Yellow): Content: “the loop- ing effect of human kinds”

Page 45, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The metaphor of social construction once had excellent shock value, but now it has become tired.”

Page 46, Highlight (Cyan): Content: ” Two things are readily forgotten. One is that a great many social construction discussions are embedded in the conception of a social problem that began, forAmerican professors, perhaps a century ago. It led in due course to thejournal Social Problems, and a gifted set of sociologists centered in Chi-cago. The trouble is that social construction has become a part of thevery discourse that it presents itself as trying to undo.2 Secondly, it is astonishingly easy to lose the whole picture while fo-cusing on a single pixel. ”

Page 46, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Some constructionists wish to declare a kind of ownership over the context in which a social problememerged, with the viewthat the outrages of times gone by are the same outrages which determine the present.”

Page 46, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “PROCESS AND PRODUCT”

Page 46, Underline (Red): Content: “Lewis White Beck”

Page 47, Underline (Red): Content: “Pickering Danziger”

Page 47, Underline (Red): Content: “Latour and Woolgar”

Page 47, Underline (Red): Content: “The Edinburgh school,”

Page 47, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Construction stories are histories, but to insist on only that angle isto miss the point. Constructionists about X usually hold that X neednot have existed, or need not be at all like it is. Some urge that Xis quitebad, as it is, and even that we would be much better if Xwere done awaywith, or at least radically transformed. X, the product, is the focus ofattention, although, as I have explained, it is usually not X, the thing,teenage pregnancy, but the idea of X, the idea of teenage pregnancy, andthe matrices in which the idea has life.”

Page 48, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Process and product are both part of arguments about construction. The constructionist argues that the product is not inevitable by showing how it came into being (historical process), and noting the purely con- tingent historical determinants of that process.”

Page 48, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Constructionists state that various items from thenatural sciences are social constructs. Many scientists deny that. Theywill admit that there is a (social) history of the discovery of the iteminquestion That does not matter.”

Page 48, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The history of its discovery makes no jot of differ- ence to what it is, was, and always will be.”

Page 48, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Disability”

Page 49, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “IS ‘‘SOCIAL’’ REDUNDANT?”

Page 50, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “KANT’S HOUSE”

Page 51, Underline (Red): Content: “Haraway Knorr-Cetina, Bijker.”

Page 51, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Kant was the great pioneer of construction.”

Page 51, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “even if his very own work signaled the end of the Enlightenment. Kant was truly radical in his day, but he still worked within the realmof reason,”

Page 51, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Bertrand Russell’s Logical Constructions”

Page 52, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Logical Positivism”

Page 52, Underline (Red): Content: “Thomas Kuhn”

Page 53, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Construct Validity in Empirical Psychology”

Page 54, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Nelson Goodman’s Constructionalist Orientation”

Page 55, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Constructivismin Mathematics”

Page 56, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Moral Theory”

Page 57, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Different names for different construct-isms”

Page 59, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “BUILDING, OR ASSEMBLING FROMPARTS”

Page 60, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “The Psychological Subject”

Page 63, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “UNMASKING”

Page 63, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Karl Mannheim stated the four factors that cre- ated a need for the sociology of knowledge: (1) the self-relativization of thought and knowledge, (2) the appearance of a new form of relativization introduced by the ‘‘unmasking’’ turn of mind, (3) the emergence of a newsystemof reference, that of the social sphere, in respect of which thought could be conceived to be relative, and (4) the aspiration to make this relativization total, relating not only thought or idea, but a whole systemof ideas, to an underlying social reality. (Mannheim1925/1952, 144)”

Page 64, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Serial Killers”

Page 66, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Refuting”

Page 68, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “HUMAN AFFAIRS”

Page 69, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “THE NATURAL SCIENCES”

Page 170, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “Looping Effects”

Page 170, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “‘‘Labeling the child a sex victim, or assuming a symptomcomplex may have self-fulfilling potential’’ That wouldbe an instance of the looping and feedback effect of the evolving kind,child abuse. C. K. Li (”

Page 170, Highlight (Cyan): Content: “more research generates more experts generates more cases generatesmore research . . . ”

Page 249, Underline (Red): Content: “Austin, John Langshaw. 1961. Philosophical Papers. Oxford: Clarendon Press. 1962. Sense and Sensibilia. Oxford: Clarendon Press.”

Page 251, Underline (Red): Content: “Butler, Judith. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminismand the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.”

Page 252, Underline (Red): Content: “Comaroff, Jean. 1994. Aristotle re-membered. In Questions of Evidence: Proof, Prac-tice, and Persuasion across the Disciplines, ed. James Chandler, Arnold I. David-son, and Harry Harootunian. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1994. ”

Page 252, Underline (Red): Content: “Daston, Lorraine. 1992. Objectivity and the escape fromperspective. Social Studiesof Science 22: 567–618. Daston, Lorraine, and Peter Galison. 1992. The image of objectivity. Representa- tions 40: 81–128. ”

Page 252, Underline (Red): Content: “de Beauvoir, Simone. 1953. The Second Sex, trans. H. M. Parshley. New York: Knopf.”

Page 253, Underline (Red): Content: “Douglas, Mary. 1986. How Institutions Think. Syracuse: Syracuse University Press.”

Page 254, Underline (Red): Content: “Galison, Peter. 1987. How Experiments End. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1990. Aufbau/Bauhaus: Logical positivismand architectural modernism. Critical Inquiry 16: 709–752. 1995. Context and constraint. In Scientific Practice: Theories and Stories of Doing Physics, ed. Jed. Z. Buchwald. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. 1997. Image and Logic: A Material Culture of Microphysics. Chicago: Uni- versity of Chicago Press.”

Page 255, Underline (Red): Content: “Goffman, Erving. 1963. Stigma: Notes on the Management of Spoiled Identity, En- glewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.”

Page 255, Underline (Red): Content: “Gould, Stephen Jay. 1977. Ever Since Darwin: Reflections in Natural History. New York: W. W. Norton.”

Page 257, Underline (Red): Content: “Haraway, Donna. 1985/1991. A cyborg manifesto: Science, technology and socialist- feminismin the late twentieth century. In Haraway (1991). 1989. Primate Visions: Gender, Race and Nature in the World of Modern Science. London: Verso. 1991. Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature. New York: Routledge. 1997. Modest Witness Second Millenium.FemaleMan!Meets OncoMouseTM: Feminismand Techno- science. New York: Routledge.”

Page 259, Underline (Red): Content: “Lakoff, George. 1986. Women, Fire and Dangerous Things: What Categories Reveal about the Mind. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.”

Page 259, Underline (Red): Content: “Latour, Bruno. 1987. Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1988. The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press. Latour, Bruno, and Steve Woolgar. 1979. Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts. Beverly Hills: Sage. 1986. Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. (2d ed. of Latour and Woolgar 1979). Princeton: Princeton University Press. (2d ed. of Latour and Woolgar 1979).”

Page 260, Underline (Red): Content: “Mannheim, Karl. 1925/1952. Das Problemeiner Soziologie des Wissens. Trans. in Mannheim, Essays on the Sociology of Knowledge. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.”

Page 261, Underline (Red): Content: “Nietzsche, Friedrich. 1874/1983. On the uses and disadvantages of history for life. In Untimely Meditations, trans. R. J. Hollingdale. Cambridge: Cambridge Uni- versity Press, 59–123.”

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Page 263, Underline (Red): Content: “Schaffer, Simon. 1993. Letter. Public Understanding of Science 2: 264–265.”

Page 263, Underline (Red): Content: “Searle, J. R. 1995. The Construction of Social Reality. New York: The Free Press.”

Page 264, Underline (Red): Content: “Shapin, Steven. 1994. A Social History of Truth. Chicago: The University of Chi- cago Press. 1996. The Scientific Revolution. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.”

Page 264, Underline (Red): Content: “Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. 1985. Leviathan and the Air Pump: Hobbes, Boyle and the Experimental Life. Princeton: Princeton University Press.”

Page 266, Underline (Red): Content: “Woolgar, Steve, ed. 1988. Knowledge and Reflexivity. London: Sage.”

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