Alexander J. Motyl: The social construction of social construction: implications for theories of nationalism and identity formation

Although most contemporary theories of nationalism and identity formation rest on some form of social constructivism, few theorists of nationalism and identity formation interrogate social constructivism as a social construction – a social science concept “imposed” on the non-self-consciously constructivist behaviors of people, who generally do not believe they are engaging in construction. Since social constructivism – unless it is a metaphysics about what is real – is really about the concept of social construction, the first task of constructivists is to ask not how various populations have engaged in social construction but how social construction should be defined. As this article shows, constructivism is at best a run-of-the-mill theoretical approach – perfectly respectable, but no different from any other theoretical approach in the social sciences. It is only when social constructivism makes outlandishly radical claims – that all of reality or all of social reality is constructed – that it is unusual, exciting, and wrong.

 

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