Social constructionism

Social constructionist:

The majority of social constructionists abide by the belief that “language does not mirror reality; rather, it constitutes [creates] it.” (Wiki)

Ian Hacking, having examined a wide range of books and articles with titles of the form “The social construction of X” or “Constructing X”, argues that when something is said to be “socially constructed”, this is shorthand for at least the following two claims:

(0) In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted; X appears to be inevitable.[9]:12
(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.[9]:6

Hacking adds that the following claims are also often, though not always, implied by the use of the phrase “social construction”:

(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.[9]:6

Consider a hypothetical claim that quarks are “socially constructed”. On one reading, this means that quarks themselves are not “inevitable” or “determined by the nature of things.” On another reading, this means that our idea (or conceptualization, or understanding) of quarks is not “inevitable” or “determined by the nature of things”.The distinction between “quarks themselves” and “our idea (or conceptualization, or understanding) of quarks” will undoubtedly trouble some with a philosophical bent. Hacking’s distinction is based on intuitive metaphysics, with a split between things out in the world, on one hand, and ideas thereof in our minds, on the other.


Hacking, Ian. The Social Construction of What? . Harvard University Press, 1999;