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May 5, 2011 / compassioninpolitics

14 Criticisms of the Social Construction of Reality (The Postmodern Versions)

Thinking about the Social Construction of Reality
I spent several years researching social constructivism…especially as it relates to post-modern philosophy (both as a college debater and later as a college debate coach–this was one of the core issues discussed in those research intensive & high paced debates).

Unforuntately, to my knowledge, not much has been done to wed these interesting observations (ie social constructivism) to something tangible. (To be fair, Foucault only advocated criticism, not rejection) in philosophical journals. Or rather, what has been done has been more ideological (hyper theoretical and actually beyond the left)–rather than attempting some middle ground (not surprisingly I’m a moderate–who is increasingly dejected with politics–but thats another discussion entirely). Unfortunately the middle ground (all be it ideological) is desperately needed when dealing with such theoretical–if only as a check or feedback loop, but also for it to make any sense.

Social constructivism has its place in education and politics, but when it becomes a fundamentalism which excludes other viewpoints and worldviews it runs into serious, serious trouble (ie when too much postmodern thought excludes rational thought, science, and values which have historical value like freedom from violence).

Four possible philosophical considerations regarding Social Construction:
1. Seb points to one problem above. Reality does actually occur outside of our perception. For instance, African’s die every minute–but we don’t have immediate experience of that. It doesn’t deny that those deaths occur.
2. Mathematics seems to transcend this phenomena. 2 + 2 = 4
3. Laws of the universe seem to transcend this phenomena.
4. That the “map doesn’t fit the terroritory” doesn’t deny that the territory exists as a reality.

Eight Answers to the Misapplications of “Language Constructs Reality” and Language is Indeterminate (or X is indeterminate):
1. The Charlie Sheen Defense: Charlie Sheens language or any dictator’s language constructs reality? Really?
2. Love, family, relationship, and responsibility aren’t entirely empty
signifiers. They point to something else–there is some common
agreement as to what they are. Ultimately, a rose by any other name is still the same.
3. More fundamentalists versions result in too much emphasis on text and interpretation (because thats where the argument & discussion can occur) vs. the real at the core. (ie “Let them eat text.”)
4. Tree falling in the forest doesn’t make a sound. Thats kind of absurd. Especially, if you’re a bird who lives in the tree or you are tree. Its limited in its explanatory power. (similar to the African example)
5. Feminists like McKinnon take issue with textual focus because it ignores problems like rape and functionally rolls back the clock on reform (I don’t remember the Law Review article at the moment).
6. Labels, can serve a purpose even as they are limited.
7. Group meaning is the basis of communication, exchange, and relationship. Individual meaning is thus one piece of a larger puzzle of meaning and truth.
8. The Rules of Baseball. Certainly perception plays a big role in Baseball–but certain fundamentals of skill come into play. The farm team from Alaska is probably never going to beat the Yankees. The strike zone is the strike zone (within limits). Despite tons of calls in given game–there are generally never more than 2 or 3 which are questioned.
9. Bad memes. This memes conceived because it pats the ego & lets people off the hook (when confronted with an ethical transgression is easy to refer to childish “You don’t know me–you don’t know me at all.” A line from Vanilla Ice, actually, and echoed in utter absurdity of the South Park character Cartman.
10. Intuition. Everything in our being would revolt against the alternative–what this really means when applied across human relations.

Again, overdetermining the role of social constructivism in daily life is dangerous. Its the same logic that allows ego and maniacs to destroy and eliminate villages at will. If there is no ultimate reality outside of our own reality–they that is the natural result. The alternative is navel gazing & infinite reflection in the fact of historical and verifiable problems with the human condition like environment, poverty, disease, and land mine which blow little kids up when they think they are toys. Social constructivism only makes sense when its wedded to a “realistic” and humble (which seeks feedback loops) which respects the humanity of others.

Other Definitions:……

Side notes:
1. I hope I didn’t conflate any arguments. Obviously there is some cross-over between the two groups of answers.
2. Admittedly probably some strawperson type argument–but I’m doing the best I can in the limited space of Quora. And certainly point to other arguments which can be developed with more depth.
3. There are some issues of individual perception vs. group perception which can be difficult to sort out. As humans we tend to frame these as either/or vs. both and.


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