Essentialism v. Constructionism

On which side of this coin do I fall?

Since this is all about breaking down binaries, as the queer project was initially intended to do, I’m going to come right out and say that I think I fall somewhere in between. On a test once I was asked to distinguish between the essentialist and constructionist perspectives. Here is what I wrote (yes I have old tests lying around):

Essentialism assumes that differences between groups of people are inherent, somehow natural – scientists usually refer to biological or genetic differences between groups. Constructionism rejects these assumptions in favor of a perspective that recognizes and understands the essentialist argument or completely standing behind the idea that society and culture create and maintain certain principles and concepts.

Now, the writing isn’t fabulous, I was an undergraduate and my writing has improved, but the point is still there, I’m still pretty content with this distinction between the two camps. I think I fall in that place where I recognize that there are some genetic differences between groups of people – there is also as much variation within most groups of people as there is across groups of people. I think there is also a human need to classify – think cavemen needing to classify what is food and what is not food, and the way children learn to distinguish between almost everything in their worlds. Children initially learn through classification.

The problem with most essentialist theories is the way these classifications are used to justify treating people shittily, to say the least. It is also in the way meaning is created around these differences, which are called natural and inherent.


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