What is meant by Social Construction?
Although some will use the phrase "Social Construction" as a trendy sort of catch-phrase, these words are widely used in the social sciences, particularly psychology and more so, in sociology.
If you're interested in viewing a glossary that McGraw Hill has made available online:
McGraw-Hill on line sociology glossary
By "Social Construction," the artifacts and constructive thoughts, concepts and practices are meant. Actually, constructed thoughts, concepts and practices are often called the artifacts within a particular society's fabric/system.
Things socially constructed are not always inherently present in a society - they are developed by the people within a society and then, in most cases, held together by power and authority, by collective means - by collective agreement or apathy, sometimes by both agreement of the powerful or majority and apathy or silence of minority.
Hence - not all social constructions are "right" and "good," but are, instead, the things that "the majority" or "the authorities" deem necessary or present in society.
Some Social Constructions
Certain social constructions might surprise you if you've never thought about society in scientific or sociological terms before.
These are things that are either not inherently natural within society or things that are present but whose shape is formed via social constructions:
- Government (not inherent)
- Organized Religions (not inherent)
- Marriage (not inherent)
- Religion in general (inherent/belief systems but shaped by social construction, social agreement and apathy)
- Family (inherent but shaped by social construction, social agreement and apathy)
- Education (inherent but shaped by social construction, social agreement and apathy)
- Gender (inherent but shaped by soc' constructs, agreements and apathy)
- Race (inherent but shaped by soc' constructs, agreements and apathy)
- Power (inherent but shaped by soc' constructs, agreements and apathy)
- Sexuality (inherent but shaped by soc' constructs, agreements and apathy)
- Deviance (inherent but shaped by soc' constructs, agreements and apathy)
- Technology (inherent but shaped by soc' constructs, agreements and apathy)
- Femininity and Masculinity (inherent but shaped by constructs, etc)
- Patriotism and Nationalism are both socially constructed, too.
Just to name a few...
My Pet Peeve Constructs
I have 3 top pet peeve or 3 related, grouped constructs that are very disturbing to me. It bothers me that people don't seem to be aware that these are social constructs - built on concepts, and are NOT inherent in the way they're so often explained by authorities.
Family/Marriage: These are actually both TWO HUGE AND SEPARATE social constructions. I am listing them together because that is what people in current times generally do. Most of society believes in these constructions and believes they are inseparable. This may be true to a certain extent but family apart from marriage and marriage apart from family are two entirely HUGE topics, units, concept sets, etc.
Our current "most wanted" construct is the Nuclear Family: Heterosexual male Dad, heterosexual female Mom, child/children. In the perfect nuclear family, the Dad and Mom are legally married, so family is instantly attached to another social construction.
Our current "most wanted" construct of marriage is that of monogamous, heterosexual, long-term pairing and laws are created in most of the developed world which heavily penalize adults for not adhering to this most wanted construct of marriage.
Gender: I should have listed "sexuality" with this because, as with family-marriage, society often pairs - no - FUSES the concepts of gender and sexuality together. Gender is NOT entirely inherent. Individuals, yes, are born with particular body parts, but that is where much of natural gender ends...most else we relate to gender is social construction. Little boys are groomed and talked to in certain ways. Little girls, same. We begin while the children are infants. Little girl babies are talked to more softly, bounced on fewer knees, etc. Little boy babies are lightly tossed more than girls, are talked to "gruffly" and teased in certain ways, are bounced on knees. Little girl babies are cuddled upright, face to face more while little boy babies are carried baby-back to Dad-front...and part of this involves the respective gender of the parent, that parent's concept of his or her own gender.
ie: Dad is supposed to be masculine. Many dads are uncomfortable holding their little boys face-to-face for long periods of time... it indicates or suggests intimacy, possible femininity and other things while Dad is supposed to be projecting masculine power, control of emotions, etc.
* NOTE: I am generalizing here - NOT ALL DADS are worried about femininity/masculinity issues while holding infants (in fact, things are "coming along" in this regard as our social constructs are changing with concepts involving "dad persona," gender roles, etc). I am mentioning the things above and will let them stand because I have personally witnessed such behavior between New Dads and their infants. I have some family members who fit the descriptions and scenarios above. Many in my family have completely bought in to the societal prescriptive of everything mentioned here.
To wrap up the text on "gender," what I've meant to show is that boys aren't inherently rough and tumble and girls aren't inherently gentle and affectionate - question what you've heard about what little girls and what little boys are...and if you can trace back on parental behaviors, you'll see that in most instances, parental behavior toward even babies helps "condition" the societal concept of "the perfect, active, rough'n'tumble boy child" and "the perfect, ladylike, gentle girl child."
Femininity/Maculinity: these are social constructs that influence everyone no matter what a person's sexuality, sexual preference, gender, etc. Our society tells us or has decided what feminine is, how it looks in the home, in society, in a marriage, etc. Same for masculinity. In classifying such aspects of peoples' carriage and identity in the world, society (that means US - all of us) seems to have placed femininity and masculinity on opposite ends and given us no spectrum view on the matter. There are feminine males and masculine females but these aren't represented well in the polar-opposite model and in our polar-opposite concepts in our brains.
What about those born with unique physiology...penis and breasts? female organs with a male organ also? Hermaphrodites?
In the near past, these individuals were mutilated and usually a male was surgically created anytime that was possible because males have higher perceived value in patriarch-based societies...
Not ALL societies mutilated their hermaphrodite children and in such societies, hermaphrodites weren't made to be a big deal. Their brains aren't different than one-sex peoples' brains, their capacity for interacting in community is no different, either. Certainly, hermaphrodite should be viewed as a minor descriptor for someone who is neither all male in physiology nor all female.
(one of my step-sisters is a hermaphrodite. the only draw back to her hermaphroditism is the abuse, ridicule and emotional attacks she has had to endure. the only negatives have been to HER and never upon society or community. she has at least two university degrees and is still working on other degrees and edu. because of emotional and other abuses, my stepsister has choosen, thus far, to never pair up in a romantic relationship. I am heartbroken by this decision of hers because she deserves to be with a supportive partner... hence, my pet peeve for gender classifications of and actions against minorities by authorities and a frightened majority who are constantly connoting gender with sex and relationships).