Wednesday, 30 April 2014

Multiple truths

     According to Michel Foucault, “Truth has its existence within discourses and practices and understandings produced by them and through them. Truth, in human affairs, is historically and culturally situated in practical activities, not abstractly transcendental and existing outside these practices” (Foucault, 247). In other words, according to social constructionist ideas, truth varies from each community, shifts overtime depending on social norms, and is a byproduct of multiple relations. For, we can look at it as there not being any concrete “Truth”, but rather multiple truths that evolve and change overtime depending on how communities construct them.
     Take for example the Catholic Church and Pope Francis’s newly outward beliefs. For a long time, one of the accepted truths within the church was that homosexuality was to be condemned as a sin. Additionally, the idea of “hell” as a true and solid existence was widely believed by followers. However, as times have shifted and social norms have changed, the religion itself has also taken on new forms of truth. For instance, Pope Francis recently declared that the Catholic Church is accepting of homosexuality, as well as the fact that hell is a metaphor and not an actual place one goes after they die. In the CNN article, “Pope Francis: Church could support civil unions”, he states that “We have to look at different cases and evaluate them in their variety” (Burke, 1) when asked about new forms of marriage.

     This is just one strong example of how truths can not only change overtime within certain communities, but also how they are rationalized through the acceptance of the relationships surrounding the certain truth.

Beauty: More than Skin Deep


On April 28th Maria Del Russo took to popular lifestyle and beauty blog Refinery29 to talk about her addiction to tanning as a teenager. Del Russo describes sitting outside on the beaches of the Jersey Shore, tanning until itchy red bumps covered her skin. "There are photos from my teenage years that include my two brothers, my father, and all of my friends, and we're all the same burnt-red, slightly orange color. It was a way of life." (Del Russo). She was literally getting poisoned by the sun, yet continued to do it because it was her way of life. That bronzed skin, in her mind, was beauty. Even at the sacrifice of her health (she mentioned being fully aware of the risks of skin cancer) the drive did not falter. This is her way of life, so what's the problem?

As a social constructionist, I would let Maria know that this did not have to be the "correct" or the "natural" way of life.  Social constructionists know that norms, are created through language. It has now always been beautiful to be tan, but rather "the world is not then born of the pictures in our minds, but of realtionships" (Gergen 6). It was not as though someone imagined or discovered a tan woman, and thus the rest of society attempted to emulate her. Rather, society through its interactions of variety of communities has, through language, come up with standards that are awlways changing.

Need evidence? Look at the 1800s where woman who were heavy and pale were the most beautiful, because they had money and didn't have to work. In the 1920's woman bound their chests; in contrast to the 1980s in which breast implants were all the rage. The list goes on. But why does this matter: taking a critical look at Maria Del Russo's view of being tan as beautiful as "the way it is" is not universally true. It has changed over time, through history as well as in different communities. With that, there is potential for coordinating with others, and perhaps stimulating change.

Science Isn't Neutral

      Emily Martins article The egg and the sperm: knowledge as ideology in Social Construction A Reader illustrates the way that biology defines the reproduction system and describes how the women’s reproduction system is categorized as “waste” and “death”. Males are than more powerfully described in the biology textbook; such as the fact that the author doesn’t write sperm is considered to be “waste” as well.  Martin explains how science shows a different use of language that reflects upon the stereotypes central to our cultural definitions of male female.
            This scientific fairytale presented in a major scientific textbook demonstrates how the women’s monthly cycle is described to produce eggs to prepare a place for them to be grown and fertilized, till the end of making babies. “By extolling the female cycle as productive enterprise, mensuration must necessarily be viewed as a failure. Medical texts describe menstruation as the “debris” of the uterine lining, the result of necrosis or death of tissue” (Martin 28). This implies that the system has gone to make products useless and wasted. There is even an illustration in the medical text showing the menstruation as chaotic disintegration. “In 1948, in a book remarkable for its early insights into these matters, Ruth Herschberger argues that female reproductive organs are seen as biologically interdependent, while male organs are viewed as autonomous, operating independently and isolation” (Martin 29). These descriptions illustrate how science is not neutral. Another example that portrays science not being neutral is a show called “Brain Games”.

            “Brian Games” is a show on a National Geographic. There was an episode that talked about stress and how our brain controls stress. This episode shows in a scientific point of view of how our brain controls stress, and what happens to our brain that makes us feel stressed. However, from a social constructionist viewpoint, one can control how they choose to feel during a stressful situation. In other words, you can spend your time being “stressed” or you can spend your time choosing to respond differently to a situation.

We Live Our Lives in Narrative


     In realizing that narratives constantly surround the world in which we live in, we are able to recognize which we construct ourselves through various narrative forms. The movies we watch, the books we read, and even media, such as the news, play into repeated narratives that have been constructed for centuries. Because we are surrounded by these constant discourses, we learn to construct our own “stories” by them, as well. From a social constructionist perspective, one is able to dissect how we establish certain narratives and how we act out expected narrative performances.

     As Vivien Burr discusses in her, book, An Introduction to Social Construction, “It is useful to think of these narratives as the ways we live out our lives as well as the way we privately or publicly tell of them” (Burr, 93). In other words, people begin to shape their lives in forms of narratives, such as comedy, romance, or tragedy, which each take on different characteristic forms. A “romance” narrative, for example, is a dominant discourse in our Western culture, where the climax for many people’s narratives is finding one’s “soul mate”. Additionally, there are distinguishing construct narratives that both males and females are expected to abide by.

     However, there can be implications for those who change the dominant, accepted narratives of a situation, and attempt to fit them into a new narrative framework. Take the images I attached for example about the Boston bombing victim costume, as well as the George Zimmerman and Trayvon Martin costumes. In both cases, the largely accepted narratives were “tragedy”, to which most people responded to them in this way. However, as we can see, some people chose to reshape the constructed “tragic” narrative to one of “comedy”. Furthermore, these people received immense backlash from communities of people who felt that they were dismantling the moral structure connected to death and tragedy. For a social constructionist, it is apparent here to see that the larger community were not willing to play as “co-actors” in the construction of these comedic stories. Therefore, we can see that a large part of people’s personal narratives are dependent upon the relationships that are willing to support the events of our narratives.

Together We Make Meaning: Westboro Baptist Church hits the Lorde Concert


Recently, founder of the Westboro Baptist Church, Fred Phelps, passed away. Westboro Baptist Church is infamous for its extremist ideologies and hatred toward homosexuals and has been called "arguably the most obnoxious and rabid hate group in America" (Southern Poverty Law Center). Many would remember the Westboro Baptist Church's picketing of a military funerals, carrying signs reading "fear god" and "god hates fags" among others. 

Recently, members of the Westboro Baptist Church went to the singer Lorde's concert in Midland Theatre in Kansas City, Mo., on Friday to protest the singer for "serving herself and teaching other young people how to be indolent rebels" (Sieczowski) one day after Phelps' death. However, as the protesters arrived, the Lorde fans held up a sign reading "Sorry for your loss".

The way that the Lord fans reacted to the hatred that the Westboro Baptist Church hurled their way supports the idea that meaning is co-constructed. "The process of co-action is not simply an exchange of words alone. As we coordinate movement together we are also co-creating meaning (Gergen 98). Meaning is created through language, between the two parties. The Lorde fans could have chosen to retaliate and hurl vitriol back toward the church members. Instead, they chose to use a message of compassion, offering sympathy for the death of their deceased leader. This created a completely different meaning of the interaction. 

This has huge implications for the way the situation played out. Conflict between the two parties could have led to insults at best, violence at worst. This shows how powerful reframing a situation can be on its outcome.