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Sally Haslanger, MIT, "The Social as Natural and the Natural as Social: The Ordinariness of Social Construction"

January 30, 2009, 4:00 p.m., 607 Dale Hall Tower

Abstract: It is often the case that the social realm is contrasted with the
natural realm.  However, since Aristotle it has been recognized that
we are, by nature, social animals.  So the question arises what to
make of the distinction between the social and the natural.  I argue
that there is a tempting line of thought in philosophy that treats the
"mind-dependent" as somehow less than fully real, and the association
of the social with the mind-dependent taints it with unreality.  This
affects discussions of social construction, e.g., many suggest that
because race is a social construct, it isn't real.  I argue that there
is a very ordinary sense of mind-dependence which is what's important
for thinking about the social construction of race, gender, and a host
of other categories.  On my view, the point of social constructionist
arguments is not to claim that the phenomenon in question is
unnatural, but to reveal the complexity of social structure that is
typically both unnoticed and unjust.  Because we are partly
responsible for the natural world (as I emphasize, we and our social
structures are part of the natural world), my argument also raises
questions about the contrast between the natural and the normative.