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October 30, 2009



Height isn't discrete like those categories, everybody accepts the standard measurements, and it changes over a lifetime.

Hopefully Anonymous

TGGP, do you acknowledge a game element to claims that categories are or are not discrete?

Hopefully Anonymous

Also, are you positing an intuition here that people consider trait categories "socially constructed" if they are discrete, with disputed standards of measurement, and fixed over a lifetime?

Because I think the first and third on your list would seem to make something less likely to be considered socially constructed.

Joseph Hertzlinger

The phrase "social construction of fat" (something else that isn't discrete and changes over a lifetime) got 534,000 hits.

Also see the war on shortness.


Height is an objective matter of fact, whether you are classified as "tall" or "short" is socially constructed.

Obama's genome and skin albedo are objective matters of fact, whether he is classified as "black" or "white" is socially constructed.

More here on social construction.


Height isn't discrete like those categories, everybody accepts the standard measurements, and it changes over a lifetime.


The spambot quoted me. I must be an exemplary human.

mtraven links to an argument he had with me, but I agree with his comment. Things commonly said to be social constructions are categories people are placed in based on some similarities. Height is a measurement.

I don't think people consider something to be socially constructed if they meet all my requirements, just that those things make it less likely that something will be perceived as socially constructed. I'll also add that height is applied to inanimate objects, which are less "social".

Hopefully Anonymous

TGGP, you didn't address the counterintuitive parts of your requirement list.
I intuit that you're taking a just-so approach with your requirement list.

Also, I think it's the relative saliency of similarity categories that people are discussing when they call some categories "social constructions". To go further, I think they're implying there is social gaming/rent-seeking going on when some social agents attempt to focus attention on certain categories rather than others.

For example, 5'10" black women may feel short white men might be deliberately promoting whiteness and maleness as more salient similarities than being about 5'10".

Alternatively, 5'6" and shorter white men may feel 5'10" black women are deliberately promoting blackness and womanness as more salient differences in order to reserve sanctioned minority status and benefits for blacks and women rather than deviantly short men.

My own suspicion is the game space is complex, and their are complex coordinations and competitions, with agents engaging in both of the above strategies, sometimes in coordination with each other, and sometimes changing strategies as their perceived interests fluctuate.


I agree that salience is more socially constructed. I always took "social construction" to mean there wasn't a real scientific basis for the concept. The one-drop rule is an interesting case where there was no scientific basis for the idea and so it can be called a social construction, but it ended up being something like a self-fulfilling prophecy (in contrast to non-anglo parts of the new world where more people were significantly mixed).

Hopefully Anonymous

Aren't you interested in the "real scientific basis" for social construction itself?


I'm not quite sure what you're getting at.

Hopefully Anonymous

human beings engaging in social construction. That's a natural phenomenon. Are you interested in it as a natural phenomenon?


The Robber's Cave experiment is an example where randomly assigned kids constructed group identities with certain features deemed salient. That could give some clues. Do you know of other resources on the topic?

The subjectivity of salience would seem to bedevil attempts to compare behavior to some objective standard of what is expected to be salient. I recalled that being something like Psychohistorian's objection to this thread, but now I'm not so sure. After going to the trouble of finding that old post I'm still going to link to it.

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