Cover image for The social construction of what?
The social construction of what?
Hacking, Ian.
Personal Author:
Publication Information:
Cambridge, Mass. : Harvard University Press, 1999.
Physical Description:
x, 261 pages ; 25 cm
Format :


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BD175 .H29 1999 Adult Non-Fiction Non-Fiction Area

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Lost in the raging debate over the validity of social construction is the question of what, precisely, is being constructed. Facts, gender, quarks, reality? Is it a person? An object? An idea? A theory? Each entails a different notion of social construction, Ian Hacking reminds us. His book explores an array of examples to reveal the deep issues underlying contentious accounts of reality.

Especially troublesome in this dispute is the status of the natural sciences, and this is where Hacking finds some of his most telling cases, from the conflict between biological and social approaches to mental illness to vying accounts of current research in sedimentary geology. He looks at the issue of child abuse--very much a reality, though the idea of child abuse is a social product. He also cautiously examines the ways in which advanced research on new weapons influences not the content but the form of science. In conclusion, Hacking comments on the "culture wars" in anthropology, in particular a spat between leading ethnographers over Hawaii and Captain Cook. Written with generosity and gentle wit by one of our most distinguished philosophers of science, this wise book brings a much needed measure of clarity to current arguments about the nature of knowledge.

Reviews 2

Library Journal Review

To what extent are our claims to knowledge supported by reality? To what extent are they social constructs? Hacking (philosophy, Univ. of Toronto; Mad Travelers: Reflections on the Reality of Transient Mental Illnesses) is one of the best philosophers of science and society of our time. Here, as usual, he argues from carefully researched examples. Hacking refuses to be bullied into taking either side of the debate on science vs. objective truth, but he recognizes that a dizzying process started with the attempt (which he finds in Kant) to see morality as a human construct. The idea that all knowledge might be a construct inevitably follows. Unfortunately, Hacking does not explore the part played by the separation of the good from the true in the press-ganging of much science into the service of the military industrial complex; his weak chapter is on weapons research. Despite this glaring deficiency, this is a delightful bookÄevenhanded, fun to read, and packed with information on everything from nuclear physics, nanobacteria, and madness to the deification of Captain Cook. For all academic libraries.ÄLeslie Armour, Univ. of Ottawa (c) Copyright 2010. Library Journals LLC, a wholly owned subsidiary of Media Source, Inc. No redistribution permitted.

Choice Review

Most of us think of science as giving us a more and more accurate picture of the way the world really is. Social constructionists argue that this view is naive, that the objects of scientific discourse are social constructions reflecting the interests and values of segments of society, constructions that are in some sense radically contingent, that often serve to legitimate repressive social systems, and that often require a liberating deconstruction. The social constructionist program has played an important role within the culture wars over race, gender, history, the literary canon, and even natural science. It has provoked bitter polemics between its supporters, who see it as liberating insight, and its detractors, who see it as obscurantist nonsense. Hacking (Univ. of Toronto) tries to avoid the polemic, seeking to separate the kernels of truth from the worthless chaff within the many diverse claims advanced under the social constructionist banner. While informed by a sophisticated grasp of the issues, the work is accessible, witty, and good-humored in tone. There are fascinating discussions of social constructionist claims regarding subjects as diverse as gender, Zulu nationalism, quarks, and dolomite. Recommended for general readers and for all academic levels. T. A. Torgerson; University of Minnesota--Duluth

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