Ontology and Social Construction

This is a translated and slightly altered version of a handout I prepared for my class on “Analytical Feminism”. As the caption suggest, the basis is Sally Haslanger’s chapter on “Ontology and Social Construction”. I really love her clear and organized way of writing and she gives a plausible account on some different understandings of the idea of social construction. If you are looking for a great way to start thinking about debates that discuss the notion of social construction or independent reality, these notes (and the original text) might be a great starting point. 

Note: If you would like a summary of the full argument (not only theses) just ask and I’ll deliver ;).

I. What is social construction?

Causal construction: Iff* social factors play a role in the generation of a thing, or iff something is substantially altered by social factors.
e.g. discursive construction: Iff something is substantially altered through (self-)ascription. (The child that’s always told they are a bad student and starts acting like one).

Constitutive Construction (operational concept): Iff we have to make reference to social factors when defining it.

Pragmatic Construction:
weak: If social factors only partly determine our use of a distinction.
strong: If social factors wholly determine our use of a distinction (it does not represent any “real” fact).

Is there an independent reality?

Thesis 1: The distinction between real and unreal is weakly pragmatically constructed (dependence on language and historical and cultural facts).
-> compatible with the assumption that we can discover independent facts.

Thesis 2: Arguments for a strong pragmatic construction of reality fail.

Argument 1: Paradigmatic examples of the attempted description of the world exhibit a pattern of strong pragmatic construction.

Argument 2:  The distinction between real and unreal itself is strongly pragmatically constructed.

*if and only if


Haslanger, Sally: “Ontology and Social Construction”. In: Resisting Reality. New York, 2012, 84-112.


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