Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique

Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique

Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique

Resisting Reality: Social Construction and Social Critique


Contemporary theorists use the term "social construction" with the aim of exposing how what's purportedly "natural" is often at least partly social and, more specifically, how this masking of the social is politically significant. In these previously published essays, Sally Haslanger draws on insights from feminist and critical race theory to explore and develop the idea that gender and race are positions within a structure of social relations. On this interpretation, the point of saying that gender and race are socially constructed is not to make a causal claim about the origins of our concepts of gender and race, or to take a stand in the nature/nurture debate, but to locate these categories within a realist social ontology. This is politically important, for by theorizing how gender and race fit within different structures of social relations we are better able to identify and combat forms of systematic injustice.

Although the central essays of the book focus on a critical social realism about gender and race, these accounts function as case studies for a broader critical social realism. To develop this broader approach, several essays offer reworked notions of ideology, practice, and social structure, drawing on recent research in sociology and social psychology. Ideology, on the proposed view, is a relatively stable set of shared dispositions to respond to the world, often in ways that also shape the world to evoke those very dispositions. This looping of our dispositions through the material world enables the social to appear natural.

Additional essays in the book situate this approach to social phenomena in relation to philosophical methodology, and to specific debates in metaphysics, epistemology, and philosophy of language. The book as a whole explores the interface between analytic philosophy and critical theory.


In the summer of 1963, my family moved from Westport, Connecticut, to Shreveport, Louisiana. I was eight years old. My mother was from Massachusetts, my father from Wisconsin. My family had moved often, even living a stretch of time in south Texas, and all four of the kids (I’m the youngest) had been born in different states. Nevertheless, we were considered “Yankees,” and we came to town ignorant of the local social codes and racial norms.

Shreveport was in the midst of the upheaval of the civil rights movement when we arrived. A short article from the New York Times that July captures the moment:

10 Arrested in Shreveport

SHREVEPORT, LA, July 19 (AP)—Negroes stage sit-ins at the lunch
counters of two downtown stores today. The police broke up the dem
onstrations quickly, arresting 10.

An order to pick up Charles Evers of Jackson, Miss., was also issued.
Mr. Evers is the Mississippi field secretary for the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People and the brother of Medgar
Evers, the slain Negro civil rights leader. (New York Times 1963)

Medgar Evers had been assassinated just a month before.

I was mostly oblivious to the civil rights protests in Shreveport. My world had just been turned upside down by this sudden move, and I was preoccupied with adjusting to a new home and neighborhood, a new school, a new climate, and the loss of all that had been left behind. What I do remember, though, is the constant correction and physical interventions that were attempts to retrain me to conform to the local norms of gender and race. These didn’t come from my parents or siblings—they knew as little as I did about how to behave—but from teachers, neighbors, and strangers. The corrections did not come with explanations, either. Instead, I might be yanked away from a car door (I had been planning to sit in the front seat next to the Negro driver rather than in the back seat), or grabbed by the arm and scolded

Thanks to Kate Manne, Charlotte Witt and Stephen Yablo for excellent comments on earlier drafts.

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