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SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION THEORY

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  1. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION THEORY Dr. M. C. Sengstock Professor of Sociology SOC 3300 • What Do We Mean by “Social Construction”? • How Does This Work? • What Are the Components of Social Construction?

  2. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION vs. ESSENTIALISM • Essentialism: • Belief That Human Behavior Is “Natural” • Everyone – Everywhere – Behaves the Same • Because It Is Part of “Human Nature” • Assumes Anyone Who is Different Is Abnormal! • Social Constructionism: • Recognizes the Way People Act Is Influenced By: SOCIETY – CULTURE – SOCIALIZATION

  3. CRITIQUE OF ESSENTIALISM • Social Order is NOT Part of the “Nature of Things” • It Is NOT Derived from the “Laws of Nature” (Berger & Luckmann, 1966: 52) • Evidence: Literally Thousands+ of Societies Over the Centuries of DIFFERENT Views of: Social Structure – Proper Behavior – Values

  4. EXAMPLES OF DIFFERENT SOCIETIES • Anthropology: Early English Anthropologists – Surprised Their Readers With the Variations • U.S. Ethnic Groups – Wide Variety of Cultures • English Settlers vs. Native Americans: • View of Nature: Dominance vs. Cooperation • Views of Sex & Gender: • U.S. View of Homosexuality vs. Ancient Greeks • Western Male Dominance (Patriarchy) vs. Many Early Matriarchal Societies

  5. HEGEMONIC BASIS OF SOCIAL NORMS • So Where Do Our Social Structure & Social Norms Come From? • HEGEMONY: • A Form of Dominance • One Group Has Power • Its Views Become Most Prevalent in Society • Eventually They Are Accepted as “CORRECT” • Others Are Wrong or Less Desirable • EX: English Founders’ Tradition Prevails in U.S.

  6. U.S. ENGLISH HEGEMONY – EXAMPLES • Our Law Is Almost Completely Based on English Common Law • Exceptions: French in Louisiana; German in Penna. • Dominance Over Nature Is Assumed to Be the Desired Norm • Vs. the “Cooperative” Native American Approach • Male Social Leadership Is Assumed: • John Adams to Abigail: “We Know Better Than to Repeal Our Male Privileges!”

  7. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISMAS AN ALTERNATIVE • What We See As “Real” or “Normal” Is the Result of Social Interaction & Rules Imposed by the Dominant Groups in Society • EX: Homosexuality Unacceptable (Not All Groups Believe This) • Women’s Place Is In the Home • Christianity Is the “Acceptable” Religion • Others (Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, etc.) Not Wanted (E.g., Anti-Muslim Laws in Some States)

  8. COMPONENTS OF SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM • What We See As “REAL” Is the Result of: • HUMAN INTERACTION • Who Is (& Has Been) in Control in Our Society • Who “Socialized” Us (e.g., Brought Us Up, Educated Us) • Who We Have Known in Our Lives (Met at Different Points in Time – Grade, High School, College

  9. CONSEQUENCES OFSOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM • Detroit-born –Different from Western Michigan • Michigan-Raised – Different from Iowa & Nebraska • Southern U.S. –Different from Northerners • EX: “There Aren’t Any Black people up here!” • “Gee! These People Think A Lot Like Me!” • Small Christian College: “Nobody Thinks Like That!” • Why Parents Devote So Much Effort to Selecting Their Children’s Colleges!

  10. HEGEMONY & THE SOCIAL STRATIFICATION SYSTEM • Stratification System – a Specific Society’s Established Structure of Inequality • Impact of Hegemony on Stratification System: • The Power Group Who Developed It Consider It “Natural & Appropriate” • They Believe It is Justified for Them to Be on Top & Others Below • They Believe They “Earned It” & Others Are “Lazy” or Stupid

  11. SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM AS AN ALTERNATIVE Recognizing We Aren’t Born With Pre-Conceived Ideas: • What It Means to Be Male, Female, Bisexual • Who Is “Human” & Who Is Not • Who Are the “Best” People • What a Different “Race” Or “Ethnicity” Is • What Constitutes “Upper,” “Middle,” Lower Class • What Is a Disability & What Is “Inappropriate” • What Is a “Proper” Pattern of Behavior: Family Structure – Who Should Associate With Whom Appropriate Marriage Partners – How to Pick a Mate

  12. CONSTRUCTING THESE CATEGORIES • These Categories Result from LEARNING – Through SOCIAL INTERACTION • “If We Define Situations as Real, They Are Real in Their Consequences” (W.I. Thomas) • Therefore: • We Believe Races, Social Class, Ethnic Groups Are Real & Treat Them As Real • Society Accepts Them Unconditionally • Social Structure Builds Upon These Views

  13. 3 STAGES OF SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION Externalization Objectivation Internalization

  14. STAGE 1: EXTERNALIZATIONDEFINITION • Social Interaction Creates “Cultural Products” • Material Items (Wheel, Computer, Cell Phone) • Social Institutions (Family, Religion, Politics) • Values, Beliefs (“Democracy,” Freedom, Sex Roles)

  15. EXTERNALIZATION – EX. 1: GENDER • EX: Construction of Gender (Judith Lorber #9) • Gender Begins At Birth – Classified: Boy – Girl • Reinforced – Dressed in Blue or Pink • Gifts: Baseball or Dolls • Reinforcing the Roles: • Constant Reinforcement By Relatives, Neighbors • Early Childhood/Nursery School Experience: • Girls Be Nice & Quiet; Boys OK to Be Noisy, Rough • Children Respond & Act Accordingly

  16. GENDER EXTERNALIZATION (ctd) • Does Gender Socialization Ever Change? • Lorber’s Example: Changing Roles of Father: • Men Caring for Children in Public Today • Girls Wearing Jeans, Playing Baseball • How About Boys Wearing Dresses, Playing Dolls?!

  17. EXTERNALIZATION – EX. 2: RACE • Race Concept Varies Historically (Omi & Winant #1) • Early Colonial Period – Race Seen As Biological • Hypo-descent – One Drop Makes Person Black • Race Applied to Non-English Whites • Race Precedence Over Tribal Origins (Ibo, Yoruba) • 1800s-1900s: Social & Political Dimensions Recognized (Max Weber) • Race Concept Questioned By White Categories • Scots, Irish, Germans, etc.

  18. CONCLUSION REEXTERNALIZATION EXAMPLES • Illustrate: • Changing Character of Social Categories • These Changes Occur Through Social Interaction • Consequence: • Different Generations Are Socialized Differently • Hence the Categories Change Over Time

  19. STAGE 2: OBJECTIVATIONDEFINITION • Products Created in Externalization Stage Take on a Life of Their Own • No Longer Tied to Their “Creators” • Accepted By Everyone As “Reality” • Not Questioned

  20. OBJECTIFICATION – EX 1: RACE • Racial Categories Still Accepted By Many • U.S. Census Bureau: • Now Allows People to Pick “Mixed” Race • Only 2% of Respondents Pick “Mixed” • Shows How Few Think of the Categories That Way • When People DO Select “Mixed” – They Are Often “Corrected” • EX 1: Teresa (Black & Caucasian) • EX 2: Leslie(Filipino & Caucasian) • Social Constructs Die Hard!

  21. STAGE 3: INTERNALIZATIONDEFINITION • Members of Society Learn the (Supposedly) “Objective Facts” About Social Products • They Assume These Things Are “Natural” – Unchangeable – Things Everyone Does

  22. INTERNALIZATION: COMPONENTS • Occurs Through Socialization – Process of Learning Society’s Rules & Roles • These Issues Are Accepted Uncritically – Never Questioned

  23. INTERNALIZATION – EX 1: SOCIAL CLASS • Role of Mass Media in Defining Social Class – Making Class Invisible (Gregorio Mantsios #6) • TV/Internet Define Social Class for Many: What Class Is – What Each Class Is Like • Myths of Social Class Perpetuated: • Poverty Not a Problem in U.S. • Everyone Has An Equal Chance • The “Poor” Are Just Lazy

  24. INTERNALIZATION OF SOCIAL CLASS: CONSEQUENCES • Middle Class Assumes Their Success Is Based Totally on Individual Effort • EX: I Got into a Good College Because I’m Smart! • Middle Class Whites Assume OTHERS’ Success Is Due to “Special Influence” • EX: Blacks Who Get into College Got In Because They’re Black! • Views Come From Parents, Neighbors, Media

  25. INTERNALIZATION – EX 2: FAMILY Widespread Evidence Across the World: • Wide Diversity in Family Structure • Patriarchal & Matriarchal Leadership • Nuclear & Extended Family Patterns • Long vs. Short Childhood Patterns BUT: Continued U.S. Assumption: Nuclear Family • Male Head, Non-Working Wife, Submissive Children • Assumption: “All Families Are Like Mine!”

  26. SOCIAL PROCESSES AS “MESSY” • Stages Rarely Clear-cut & Neat • Usually Occur in Unclear Fashion • Norms & Values Transferred Accidentally By Those Who Believe in Them • Accepted Unconsciously by Children from Family, Friends • Exception: “Heterosexuality” Concept – Developed Deliberately (Jonathan Katz #13) • Will Discuss At Length At a Later Point

  27. NEXT STEP: ANALYZING THECONSTRUCTION OF SOCIETY’S“CATEGORIES OF DIFFERENCE” • What Are the Specific “Categories of Difference” That Exist in Our Society? • How Were They Created? • How Are They Perpetuated?

  28. GOAL OF REMAINDER OF COURSE • This Course & The Text Are Specifically Designed to Describe This Entire Process • How the Institutions of Our Society Are Employed to Create & Maintain the Categories • Roles of Various Segments of Society in This Process