Sunday, September 02, 2007

Jon May: Social Constructionism

Social constructionism is most easily defined as the recognition that understandings of the world are determined by the social context within which those understandings are constructed, rather than by any innate quality within the object of enquiry itself. One obvious application of such ideas is to discussions of identity. For example, once it is recognized that ideas of femininity and masculinity vary over time and space it becomes clear that gender is constructed rather then pre-given. Very similar arguments can be made about race, sexuality, age, or disability; or about conceptual categories that frame other identities: ‘deviance’ and ‘crime,’ or ‘home’ and ‘homelessness,’ for example. To say that something is constructed is not to say it isn’t ‘real,’ of course. On the contrary, such constructions shape social action in important ways as people act in accordance to their understandings of the world. As Susan Ruddick has shown {MB—in the book Young and Homeless in Hollywood: Mapping Social Identities (1996)}, the ways in which the problem of homelessness are constructed, for example, has real and important effects on the ways in which homeless people are treated. Though its roots can be traced back considerably further, social constructionism first came to prominence in the social sciences in the 1960s through the work of Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann. In The Social Construction of Reality (1966) they argued that “social knowledge becomes real and takes on causative powers when people start believing it, and allow it to enter in to their everyday … routines” (Barnes, 2000: 748). … Judith Butler focuses not on institutions {MB—like the religion, media, state, academy…} but social practices: showing how ideas of gender are reproduced through the constant repetition of various embodied performances that both help shape, and are shaped by, understandings as to how a ‘masculine’ or ‘feminine’ body should move, sit, talk, dress, and so on. (24)

May, Jon. “The View From the Streets: Geographies of Homelessness in the British Newspaper Press.” Cultural Geography in Practice. Ed. Alison Blunt, et al. Oxford UP, 2003: 23-36.

No comments: