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Social construct

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

A social construct is any category or thing that is made real by convention or collective agreement.[1][2] Socially constructed realities are contrasted with natural kinds, which exist independently of human behavior or beliefs.[1][2]

Simple examples of social constructs are the meaning of words and the value of paper money.[3] Other examples, such as race, were formerly considered controversial but are now accepted by the consensus of scientists to be socially constructed rather than naturally determined.[4][5][6] Still other possible examples, such as the concepts that make up scientific theories, remain the subject of ongoing philosophical debate.[7][8]

Relationship with objectivity[edit]

During the 20th century, philosopher John Searle and sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann argued that some socially constructed realities—such as property ownership, citizenship, and marital status—should be considered forms of objective fact, and posited the existence of such socially constructed objective facts as a philosophical or methodological problem to be explored.[2][9]

Others, such as György Lukács, Theodor Adorno and Max Horkheimer built upon the ideas of Friedrich Nietzsche and Karl Marx to argue that a fallacy of reification is responsible for the practice of treating socially constructed facts as though they were natural—a phenomenon Lukács referred to as "phantom objectivity".[10][11][12]

More recently, biological anthropologists and public health experts have determined that, while race is a social construct, the persistence of racism has objectively demonstrable negative consequences for the health and well-being of marginalized groups.[5][13][14]


  1. ^ a b "Social Constructionism". encyclopedia.com. Retrieved 25 October 2023.
  2. ^ a b c Searle, John (2010). The Construction of Social Reality. Free Press. pp. 3–8.
  3. ^ Elder-Vass, Dave (2012). The Reality of Social Construction. Cambridge University Press. pp. 5, 10. ISBN 9781107024373.
  4. ^ "Race". National Human Genome Research Institute. Race is a social construct used to group people. Race was constructed as a hierarchal human-grouping system, generating racial classifications to identify, distinguish and marginalize some groups across nations, regions and the world. Race divides human populations into groups often based on physical appearance, social factors and cultural backgrounds.
  5. ^ a b "AABA Statement on Race & Racism". American Association of Biological Anthropologists. 2019. Race does not provide an accurate representation of human biological variation. It was never accurate in the past, and it remains inaccurate when referencing contemporary human populations. Humans are not divided biologically into distinct continental types or racial genetic clusters. Instead, the Western concept of race must be understood as a classification system that emerged from, and in support of, European colonialism, oppression, and discrimination. It thus does not have its roots in biological reality, but in policies of discrimination. Because of that, over the last five centuries, race has become a social reality that structures societies and how we experience the world. In this regard, race is real, as is racism, and both have real biological consequences.
  6. ^ Using Population Descriptors in Genetics and Genomics Research: A New Framework for an Evolving Field (Consensus Study Report). National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine. 2023. In humans, race is a socially constructed designation, a misleading and harmful surrogate for population genetic differences, and has a long history of being incorrectly identified as the major genetic reason for phenotypic differences between groups.
  7. ^ Stephen L., Goldman (2022). Science Wars: The Battle Over Knowledge and Reality. Oxford University Press. pp. 239ff. ISBN 9780197518625.
  8. ^ Mallon, Ron (11 January 2019). "Naturalistic Approaches to Social Construction". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  9. ^ Berger, Peter L.; Luckmann, Thomas (2011) [1966]. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. Open Road Media. ISBN 9781453215463. Society does indeed possess objective facticity. And society is indeed built up by activity that expresses subjective meaning. ... How is it possible that subjective meanings become objective facticities? ... This inquiry, we maintain, is the task of the sociology of knowledge.
  10. ^ Epstein, Brian (21 March 2018). "Social Ontology". Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
  11. ^ György, Lukács (1967) [1923]. Reification and the Consciousness of the Proletariat. Merlin Press.
  12. ^ Horkheimer, Max; Adorno, Theodore (2002) [1944]. Dialectic of Enlightenment. Stanford University Press. p. 163. ISBN 9780804736336.
  13. ^ Gannon, Megan (5 February 2016). "Race Is a Social Construct, Scientists Argue". Scientific American. Today, the mainstream belief among scientists is that race is a social construct without biological meaning. ... 'While we argue phasing out racial terminology in the biological sciences, we also acknowledge that using race as a political or social category to study racism, although filled with lots of challenges, remains necessary given our need to understand how structural inequities and discrimination produce health disparities between groups,' [Michael] Yudell [professor of public health at Drexel University] said.
  14. ^ "Tackling structural racism and ethnicity-based discrimination in health". World Health Organization. Across the globe, Indigenous Peoples as well as people of African descent, Roma and other ethnic minorities experience stigma, racism and racial discrimination. This situation often increases their exposure and vulnerability to risk factors and reduces their access to quality health services. The result is that these populations often experience poorer health outcomes. This has been evidenced and exacerbated during the COVID-19 pandemic, in which some of the starkest inequities have emerged among populations experiencing racial discrimination.