Friday, October 09, 2009

Social Constructionism is BS
Cycling Edition

This is not a big deal. But let me say again: appeals to "social construction" never help clarify anything. "Social construction" is probably the most hopelessly confused concept widely employed in academia. The relevant category is false belief. We do not "construct" fear of cycling, we falsely come to believe that cycling is dangerous. (Actually, having been hit by a truck and knocked off the road myself, I have to point out that the belief is, in fact, not obviously false.) To insist on employing the "construction" locution in cases like this (innocuous though they may seem) is to employ an unnecessary and needlessly technical concept when a simple concept would suffice. Of course it sounds cooler and more abstruse and technical to use the "construction" jargon. I mean, note that the introductory blurb calls this unremarkable essay "brilliant"...which is less likely to happen if you just write "hey, some people think cycling is more dangerous than it really is." This is a trivial example, but it's bad to give this concept currency, since it causes great mischief in different context in which, for example, people try to peddle the "reality is socially constructed" nonsense. Best to dump this confused locution entirely.


Blogger Joshua said...

One could possibly argue that it's "constructed" in the sense that the false belief actually creates dangerous conditions for cyclists -- there's a theory that having fewer cyclists means that drivers don't learn how to share the road safely, which leads to more cycle-related accidents; however, that's rather obviously never how the term "social construction" is meant. Putting a moratorium on it for a few years and revisiting it later might help rejuvenate some of the potentially useful meanings of the term "construction". Same goes for "deconstruction", for that matter.

I've seen a lot of things called deconstructions that I would term simply critiques, but there could be potential use of the term "deconstruction" for a specific category of critique, which I believe is how the term originated in the first place.

1:43 PM  
Blogger Winston Smith said...

Well, I disagree FWIW. One thing such "constructionists" do when facing refutation is to fall back on exactly this kind of example--self-fulfilling prophesies. However, we already have a term for that phenomenon, to wit 'self-fulfilling prophesy.' Furthermore, not all of the phenomena they want to call "socially constructed" are, in fact, self-fulfilling prophesies. In the case at hand, for example, you seem to be bending over backwards to be charitable to the author: I don't see any hint that that's what he intends to say. I think it's important, especially in cases like this, not to be *too* charitable.

2:22 PM  

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