The Social Construction of What?

Duke W. Austin, PhD

This teaching and learning activity illustrates how categories such as race are socially constructed. During the activity, students practice social construction.

"Race is indeed a pre-eminently socio-historical concept. Racial categories and the meaning of race are given concrete relations and historical context in which they are embedded. Racial meanings have varied tremendously over time and between different societies."1

After dividing the students into groups, I give each group a bag full of small items. The items are all smaller than a golf ball, and they can be just about anything: coins, paper clips, hair ties, business cards, you name it. Most of the bags have the same items, but there are a few differences. Each group of students is asked to sort the items into groups, label the groups, and give a definition of the group. For example, the categories look like the following:

The Social Construction of What Activity The Social Construction of What Activity

I then have one or two members of each group of students serve as ambassadors. The ambassadors visit the other groups of students to learn how they have categorized their items. The ambassadors then return to their own group to report on their findings.

The following pictures show the ambassadors going group to group, learning how the other groups have sorted their items.

The Social Construction of What Activity The Social Construction of What Activity

Finally, we discuss how the social construction of race is also a process of placing people into groups, giving the groups a label, and giving meaning to those groups.

This teaching and learning activity addresses SLO1: Thinking and Reasoning, SLO2: Communication, SLO3: Diversity, SLO4: Collaboration, and SLO6: Specialized Discipline.

1 Omi, Michael, and Howard Winant. 2014. Racial Formation in the United States. Routledge.