|Oooh! Am I a Monkey?|
One of the readers of my previous post on icons has raised an interesting request in the comments. He asked to know more about social constructionism. Let me present a brief elaboration of this topic, so you can better understand how, in reality - yes, there is that 'dirty' word again! - it has undergirded a lot of what we are seeing today, both in society at large and, at times, even in the Church.
Social constructionism, as implied by its title, defines reality as that which has either been or is constructed by a group of people at a particular location and at a certain point in time. Said to have commenced as a movement in the US with Berger and Luckmann's (1966) The Social Construction of Reality and Kenneth Gergen's (1977) The social construction of self-knowledge, constructionism holds that people "make their social and cultural worlds at the same time these worlds make them" (Fairhurst & Grant). Reality is primarily considered to be both "revealed and concealed, created and destroyed by our activities" (ibid.), rather than just being a reflection of objective truth. Secondarily, reality is constructed in and maintained by one's particular use of language, resulting in what has become known as 'the linguistic turn,' causing language to be considered to not mirror reality "out there" as in objectivist paradigms, but rather constructing reality itself and maintaining it within its specific linguistic structure.
Below is a plain example of what social constructionism can be like when taken to the extreme. Please note that constructionism is not constructivism, since the latter is a different 'animal,' albeit related. Here is the example:
Let us say you have a chair in front of you. This has a seat, four legs and a back. It may also have arms. It has been known as a chair since the time it was thus named - and who knows when that occurred. I certainly don't. But now a group of people comes along that does not want it to be known as a chair any longer. They decide to name it a 'monkey.' For that particular group of individuals, therefore, and anyone who may be either in their company or their group, this chair, to all intents and purposes, has now become a monkey. It is no longer a chair. This even though it does not perform in the same way monkeys do, as understood by those who retain the traditional vocabulary of what is a monkey and what is a chair. So if you want to sit on that chair or do anything with it, you have to say, "Give me the monkey." Saying, "Give me the chair," in that particular group, community, society or whatever-you-want-to-name-it, has now gone the way of the dodo bird. The chair as chair per se no longer exists.
It all has to do with naming; thus constructing reality, not the other way around.
That, ladies and gentlemen, is a summary elaboration of social constructionism - and I have not even skimmed here either its roots or its derivatives to the present day. Apply that, now, to the binary/non-binary discourse we are hearing about today and seeing in Western society, together with its attempted implementations particularly in relation to sexes, genders and truth, and you will have your answer as to what is happening 'where' and 'how' in both society and in the Church.
© Marcelle Bartolo-Abela, aka the Bald Eagle
A former constructionist.