The concept of social construction was first used in the mid-1960s as part of an ambition to explain how people perceive their social reality. Since then, the concept has been further developed within critical theory in order to show that phenomena such as gender, race and identity are not constant, inevitable or given by nature, but are rather products of human interaction and collective actions (see also queer, racialisation). They are characterised by historic and cultural variations. Even the production of knowledge itself is affected by such social norms (see also situated knowledge). If we have social norms that describe homosexuality as a disease and something deviant, a lot of the knowledge produced in the area will be shaped by these norms and therefore reinforce rather than challenge them (see also heteronormativity, othering).
Social construction is sometimes used and understood incorrectly, as to denote something as not existing in a physical or material sense. More correctly, however, social constructions should be understood as capturing the meanings, characteristics and attributes that are assigned various phenomena giving it it´s meaning. For example, small children use attributes to describe people’s gender; long hair, make-up and a purse mean woman, regardless of the person’s physical and biological appearance. This is an example of how we can view attributes, traits and behaviour as some of the building blocks of our perception of a person’s gender, beyond biology.
The discussion around social construction has been developed further for example through a questioning of the difference that is often made between biological sex and gender, or social sex. By pointing at how biological attributes are given a meaning in a social context, it can be said that people ‘make’ gender through their behaviour and actions. Others have discussed race as a social construction, where what is relevant is not whether race in a biological sense exists or does not exist but rather what social meaning skin colour, religion, cultural attributes and other external features are assigned through racialisation processes.