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).