25 abr. 2006

On The Social Construction of Tuesday

Tuesday is socially constructed, conventional. It does not exist in nature, apart from human culture and society. It has no essence; it is not a thing-in-itself. Yet the statement "Today is Tuesday" seems an incontrovertible fact (if it in fact is Tuesday). It also seems uncontroversial to say that Tuesday is tranlated as "martes" or "mardi," etc...

I'm not sure where I'm going with this. Maybe it's just a simple demonstration that quite a bit of our reality is socially constructed. I've never understood the entrenched resistance to this idea. The idea that reality is constructed doesn't put us in some Alice in Wonderland world: it puts us squarely in our own world. It doesn't even eliminate normal notions of truth.

Almost everything we study in the humanities is socially constructed. That's almost the definition of the humanities: study of the man-made world of culture. All the ways anyone makes sense of the world are always based in human culture. Not just Tuesday, but Thursday too! Within this study there are still empirical questions, but the overall framework must be hermeneutical, not empiricist. Empirical questions are usually trivial (What is Sam Beckett's real birthday?). The reason why we want to know this is not empirically based even. We have decided as a culture that someone's birthday is significant, the particular Tuesday or Thursday or April or May that someone's birth fall on. We want to commemorate that day, recognize it as a fact. it is only this that makes an empirical fact non-trivial, i.e., enfused with significance.

The meanings and significances of works of literature fall wholly into the socially-constructed realm too. That doesn't mean I can't be right and you wrong. What it means is that there can be no appeal to anything outside of culture. (This is just literary theory 101)

4 comentarios:

Dan dijo...

"(This is just literary theory 101)"

Perhaps, but it's refreshing on this TUESDAY morning. Thanks.

Joseph Duemer dijo...

Alice in Wonderland is deeply & profoundly true. Haven't you ever participated in a Caucus Race? I have. Come to think of it, Alice in Wonderland is about the truth of Social Constructionism.

Joseph dijo...

I sometimes get into this argument with computer engineers at work. They just don't understand where I'm coming from. I suspect that it's because most of things they deal with on a day to day basis are not socially constructed (math, physics). Of course, the language and symbols used to describe mathematics are socially constructed, but the properties aren't. Anyway, the engineers frequently use the phrase "yes, because everything is socially constructed" as an ironic joke at the expense of whatever poor, liberal non-engineer they're making fun of.

Gawain dijo...

Culture resides in pieces of structured hardware called "brains". We couldn't do anything with it if the structure of our brains did not allow us to do things like "understand meaning" (if you think about it, it's a pretty odd concept this" "meaning"). The world we live in -- as human beings with brains and bodies -- has parts (and aspects) which are socially constructed and parts (and aspects) which are not. The debate about social construction tends to be between two opposed, radical,and equally silly views -- that either everything is socially (I prefer to say, culturally) constructed or nothing is. Br, Gawain