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.


Social Construction

I construe our world.

by loudly projecting my fantasies onto you,
and accepting the role I have
unknowingly told myself to take.

by indulging the view of man’s nature for you,
and contrasting my own feelings with the presumed opposite
that has been passed on to me.

We struggle with
and suffer from
strongly created illusions in a weakly constructed reality.


This poem is inspired by Sally Haslanger’s Essay “Ontology and Social Construction”. She differentiates between different forms of social construction and – among others – explains them with respect to gender.



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