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The Harvard Review of Philosophy

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published on October 23, 2019

J. L. A. Garcia
DOI: 10.5840/harvardreview201910727

Race as a Social Construction
Some Difficulties

This paper raises serious problems for the commonly held claim that races are socially constructed. The first section sketches out an approach to our construction of institutional phenomena that, taking Searle’s general approach, restricts social construction proper to cases where we adopt rules that bind relevant parties to treat things of a type in certain ways, thus constituting important roles in, and parts of, our social lives. I argue this conception, construction-by-rules, helps distinguish genuine construction from other activities and relations and also solves a problem raised against simplistic conceptions. The second shows why and how Sally Haslanger, Linda Alcoff, and Glenn Loury have explained race as a social construct. The next points out problems for their and other accounts, including circularity, difficulties arising from conceptual and linguistic history, and non sequiturs. After returning to Haslanger in more detail, I proceed critically to engage work by Ian Hacking, Lawrence Blum, Luc Faucher and Edouard Machery, and Charles Mills. The following sections move from specific accounts in the literature to offer general arguments that viewing races as products of social construction threatens to mislead in numerous ways. At the end, I discuss the significance of the issue and challenge whether social constructionist accounts are genuinely liberating.

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