What is a social construct?

Have you ever wondered why a post-secondary education is considered to be important? I mean, the material you learn isn’t as practical as actual work experience. Or have you ever wondered why each bill of money has a specific value? I mean, it is just a piece of colored paper. Well, these two things (and many others) have social value because of social construction.

Social constructionism is this sociological theory that believes all things that have social meaning are created by individuals and by societies. In other words, individuals construct meanings for things that would otherwise be meaningless. And as more people join the group (or society), the meanings of these things become reality because large amounts of people believe it. This is the basic process of a social construct.

Who was the first to start researching social construction?

Social construction can be traced back to the works of William Isaac Thomas and Alfred Schutz. However, the term social constructionism was coined by sociologists Peter Berger and Thomas Luckmann in their book The Social Construction of Reality.

The Social Construction of Reality by Berger and Luckmann looks at how social concepts, such as manners and work schedule for example, and behaviors are invented by people and groups interacting with each other, and how these two factors become part of our daily beliefs and habits.

Examples of social constructs:

  • Gender Roles
  • Social class
  • Government
  • Race
  • Organized religion
  • Deviant behavior
  • Currency
  • Beauty
  • Family structures
  • Etiquette 

Let’s take a deeper look at one of these examples. I’m going to use currency, specifically cryptocurrency.

Cryptocurrency is a technology that acts as a digital currency. In reality, it is just a web code –a bunch of 1s and 0s. But since large groups of people have given it a monetary value, it is now considered to be a currency, where it is worth money.

Had people not socially constructed it to give it meaning or value, Bitcoin, for instance, would still just be a virtual code.

Let’s do one more. Another example we could use would be celebrities. If you look at the essence of what a celebrity (actors, singers, athletes, etc.) is, they are just people whose jobs are to entertain us. But since people have constructed the definition of a celebrity to be someone who holds a lot of value for society, they are viewed as famous and more important than us non-famous folks.

Social construction is everywhere in society. It plays a major role in how we behave, what we like, and what we believe. Can you think of some examples of social constructs? Share them below in the comments.






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