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Ian Hacking: The Social Construction of What


With a good sense of humor, Ian Hacking carefully maneuvers an extremely deadly topic amongst sociologists, this time, taking up both sides of the coin. Hacking, in his submission, seeks to explain the gaps present in the topic of social construction; what is the idea of social construction. He explores the question ‘What?’ In the social construction theory. Ian strongly expresses his differences with theorists who question the idea of social construction and conspicuously take on Sokal’s writing. Approaching his argument, Ian questions the theory of relativism and the gap it creates in explaining why things happen in society and the insufficiency thereof to give solutions to issues because the idea is based on an individual analysis of why things happen as they do.

Ian’s arguments revolve around analysis from several books of scholars who tried to stand by constructionism. He takes to explain different social trends that have been socially constructed. Hacking demands more explanation about what makes men and women than their physical sexuality. Logic is taken into consideration in all literature (Hacking, 1999). Some things happen due to logic, like one becomes a refugee due to political instability or discrimination. Hacking expresses his agitation by people who use logic questions to undermine social instability and argues that between social constructions takes shape, logic is considered extensively.

As Hacking puts it, Social constructionism is a complex idea that cannot be generalized or rejected on one argument. Ian taps into separating what makes things qualify to be socially constructed through his first chapter after outlining the grading of constructionism; historical, Ironic, reformist unmasked. Rebellion and revolution. The journey through elevator words reveals why people assume a specific nature of things. Elevator words constantly undergo alteration or jumbled-up meanings to explain the meaning of social construction, which still leaves it unexplained (Hacking, 1999). Ian strongly denounces the scientific questions that have been used to program people into a lesser understanding of social construction. Interactions of humans bear new ways of doing things, mostly when an object resonates with a prompted idea. All these are arguments cited by Ian Hacking as he tries to explain the concept of social constructionism by deconstructing the lame ideas and ways used to explain it or question its existence.


When Ian sides with the concept of social construction, thoughts are triggered about questions I have on why people do some things. The so-called ‘unwritten rules’ or ‘way of life, in the society, why they exist and how. My thoughts are broadened to understand that such behaviors are not explained by logic or predominance. Sociologists have not been keen enough to explain the phenomenon wholly; actually, many of them have chosen to ignore its existence. Explaining the concept that freely creates a gap in understanding why societies are different from each other and why things happen the way they do. Social construction gives reasons why certain classes are created among people and why the concept of race is highly manifested in people even though it is so natural to be born of different races. If we are told that we should judge things as natural, logical, historical, where does a particular group of people express the idea of racism?

With a cloud of background checks and study, I start to resonate with Ian that it is only fair to fairly unwrap the theory of social construction, which almost inevitably exists amongst people without subjecting it to thorough scrutiny. He is pretty logical as he makes his comparison and is articulate enough to unveil the ‘what is social construction’ through comparisons in literature. People assume definitions of things and behaviors because of their interaction which categories such a development as socially earned and may later shape a particular society based on the idea in question. Many forces have been used to question the credibility of social construction. Hacking is keen to point out that science, metaphors, and biology are key barriers to explaining social construction, and I concur with him.

Case study

In the case of ADHD, there is quite enough conflict that could aid in understanding social construction. According to Putman 1994, some ideas can lose meaning because the aspect of reality is used to represent a super thing. The existence of ADHD in society is actual, but this down washes the fact that some social actions can trigger ADHD. ADHD is generally explained by genetics, biology, and chemistry. Like Ian warned, many people juggle words only to leave out the critically analyzed version of social construction. Nelkin in 1996 questions the need for scientific words and of what use it is to question the existence of social construction. In the grading of genetics, biology, and chemistry used, here is a deconstruction to expose traces of social construction that trigger their existence.

In society, it is observed that a mother who takes alcohol and smokes cigarettes during her pregnancy could give birth to a child with ADHD. In this case, ADHD is a biologically explained reality, but this biological and the same biology give an instance of its cause, which is smoking while pregnant. It is fair to credit that the situation comes about socially. ADHD has been socially constructed through biological alliteration caused by cigarette smoking by a pregnant mother. After understanding the philosophical issues surrounding different theories of socialism, we must question the credibility of the arguments involved in the theories.


Hacking, I., 1999. The Social Construction of What?. 1st ed. Harvard University Press(1999), pp.1 -123.


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