Making Up Your Mind: The Social Construction of Human Kinds and its Implications

Dissertation, Rutgers the State University of New Jersey - New Brunswick (2000)


What does it mean to say a thing is socially constructed? What is implied by something's being a social construction? I explore these questions in what follows, focusing on constructionist claims concerning human kinds. Chapter 1 provides an overview of the dissertation and discusses a number of background questions relevant to the realist, naturalistic approach to social constructionism I take. ;In Chapter 2, I develop the notion of a social role and review a body of empirical literature suggesting that social roles explain many behavioral regularities. I go on to suggest that the stability of such roles might be explained by the stability of social conventions. I conclude that such social roles count as causally homeostatic kinds, that are explanatory, stable and can support induction. ;In Chapter 3 , I offer a case study of the social construction of concepts, suggesting that what appears to be ail empirical dispute between evolutionary approaches to the human emotions and those who favor a social constructionist account may be explained as a dispute over the theory of meaning and of reference. Once one sets aside this semantic dispute, the empirical questions are much more tractable. ;In Chapter 4, I examine the dispute over racial constructionism. I distinguish two aspects of the debate---one centered on the metaphysics of race and the other on the normative status of 'race' talk. I ask whether various metaphysical readings of racial constructionism can achieve the normative goals some racial conservationist constructionists set for it. I conclude that constructionism leaves the crucial normative questions about 'race' talk in place. ;Finally, in Chapter 5, I consider the project of revealing putatively natural categories to be social constructions, examining three models of how such research is intended to undermine constructed categories. I conclude that two models are unsuccessful, but that a third model I develop may explain how such research might be efficacious. I briefly discuss the implications of this model in attempting to understand contemporary putative social constructions such as race and gender.

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