Is culture a social construct

Social construction - Gender theory is a collective fallacy

Social construction theory is one of the most successful approaches of the last century. And one of the most momentous. Because there is hardly anything that is not suspected (or suspected) of being a social construction: illness, disability, authorship, quarks, homosexuality, reality itself.

The most popular and powerful area of ​​social constructivism, however, is gender. Keyword: gender theory. The assumes that genders are not natural species, but social constructions.

But let's leave the constant excitement of gender theory aside for now and dedicate ourselves to the theory behind it: One or the other philosopher has always suspected that the world around us is either not at all or completely different from what we perceive it. However, these skeptics (or anti-realists) always assumed that the cause of the faulty perception of the world lies in our senses, our reason or our thinking skills - we would speak of cognition today.

This cognitive constructivism is based on the cognitive performance of the individual. From this point of view, collective errors - for example that the world consists of individual things - are the product of faulty individual cognitive faculties.

The argument of social constructivism is different: It assumes that things or idiosyncrasies are socially constructed. That means: in or by means of the community. But here lies the first of many problems.

Culture as a conglomerate

First of all, communities are not subjects. You cannot agree, agree or construct anything. Only individuals can form conventions among themselves. But that is something completely different.

Individuals are born into convention. We call such a conglomerate culture. So the question is: what is culturally learned and what is not?

First of all, all purely cultural variables are culturally learned: norms, values, institutions, rules. Since we denote such things with nouns, we treat them linguistically as objects. That is misleading. There “are” no values. They are actually social constructions.

Things or properties remain in time and space. Theorists who claim that our reality is consistently constructed are called radical constructivists. Social constructivists are not necessarily radical constructivists. They only claim that there are objects or properties that we perceive as natural, even though they are actually purely cultural - such as diseases or gender.

No question about it: there are such social constructions, such as the sciences. The diagnoses of mental illnesses, for example, often turn out to be dependent on cultural contexts: Just think of neurasthenia at the beginning of the 20th century or ADHD today. Conversely, this does not mean that all mental illnesses are social constructions.

Fuzzy and clear-cut terminology

Social constructivists often make the mistake of inferring from “not clearly definable” to “socially constructed”. But that's not how language works. Many everyday terms are extremely fuzzy at the edges of their meaning. What is still a cup and what is already a cup can sometimes not be clearly decided. However, this does not change the fact that the expressions “mug” and “mug” can be used predominantly meaningfully and clearly.

In addition, not all terms are fuzzy. There are a number of things that have to be clearly identified due to their unique characteristics. A liquid, for example, whose molecules consist of two hydrogen atoms and one oxygen atom, is water. Clearly.

It is similar with gender. It may sound unromantic and reductionistic, but the terms “man” and “woman” refer to a specific combination of macromolecular complexes in the cell nuclei, the chromosomes. This means that people can be clearly assigned to one of the two sexes, and those who have a chromosomal abnormality can also be clearly identified. The expressions “man” and “carrier of XY chromosomes” have the same meaning, regardless of what clothes the man wears or he has surgery done with him.

Genders are just as little a social construction as the method of their determination, even if this has evolved over the history of science.

In short: some “things” are socially constructed, others are not. But how do you recognize the ideologically motivated use of social constructivism?

Typical unmasking gesture

Ideological constructivists are forced to expand their charge of constructivism. In order to show, for example, that gender is a social construction, one again has to expose science as a construction.

Typical of ideological constructivism is therefore its unmasking gesture. Like psychoanalysis, he differentiates between the superficial appearance and its deeper causes, which have to be unmasked. Those who contradict this only confirm the theory because they show how much they are caught up in ideological patterns.

If there is a scientific concept that is obviously socially constructed, then it is radical social constructivism itself. It is a pseudoscientific sleight of hand for the pursuit of (scientific) political interests. You shouldn't be impressed by it.