STS 301
Social Construction Spring 2025
Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Cross-listed COMP 315 / WGSS 302 / SOC 301 / REL 301

Class Details

“Social construction” can often seem like the great collegial insight. By now, you’ve all heard that categories such as race, gender, and sexuality are in some sense not part of nature, but instead are created and maintained socially or culturally. The idea of social construction has been vital to critical race theory and queer theory, and, in this course, we will push ourselves into philosophy of science to see whether or not these same insights apply to everything. If we know that “Whiteness,” “heterosexuality,” and “masculinity,” for instance, are all socially constructed, we will ask if the same is true of “electrons,” “money,” “the solar system,” and “climate change.” Can it be that all of our reality is socially constructed? Or does social construction have limits? If so, what are they? We will also ask more fundamental questions, such as: What does it mean to say something is socially constructed? How does social construction relate to claims that an aspect of the world is “real” or “not real?” Is social construction a theory about language, power, culture, societies, human perceptions, or the limits of science? What kind of political, ethical, ontological, or epistemological work do theories of social construction do? We will begin with different accounts of the social construction of race, gender, and sexuality. In the second part of the course, we will dig deeper into philosophical debates about social construction as such. Then we will explore constructionism about natural science. In the last part of the course, we will change gears and explore look at cutting-edge work in the theory of social science aimed at explaining the construction and ontology of social worlds. The class will culminate in a project in which students will put their social construction theories into practice.
The Class: Format: seminar
Limit: 15
Expected: 15
Class#: 3841
Grading: no pass/fail option, yes fifth course option
Requirements/Evaluation: regular attendance and participation, short weekly reflection papers, a 8-10 page research paper, and final project
Prerequisites: none
Enrollment Preferences: Preference will be given to majors and concentrators from STS, ANSO, COMP, REL, PHIL, WGSS, AAS, LATS, JWST, and AFR. If the class is overenrolled students will be asked to submit an email about themselves and why they want to take the course.
Distributions: Division II Difference, Power, and Equity
Notes: This course is cross-listed and the prefixes carry the following divisional credit:
COMP 315 Division I WGSS 302 Division II STS 301 Division II SOC 301 Division II REL 301 Division II
DPE Notes: Central to REL 301 will be an analysis of the social construction of race, gender, and sexuality. It will show how power and difference are tied up in their construction and maintenance of these categories. Students will be taught how to critically analyze race, gender, and sexuality as well as social construction as such. Students will also learn sophisticated tools for studying systems of social power and difference.
Attributes: PHIL Related Courses

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