Brian Epstein

Agora Speaker Series - How to theorize about social construction

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  • UOW Wollongong - Building 20 Room 4
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The claim that basic kinds and categories in the world are “socially constructed” is perennially debated in philosophy and social theory. Over the years, lots of categories—races, genders, sexes, morality, commodities, corporations, and many more—have been put forward as cases of social construction. But what is social construction, and how is a theory of social construction to be developed and assessed? I propose a framework for understanding the metaphysics of social entities by distinguishing questions of social construction (i.e., what socially constructs the entity to be what it is) from questions about the characteristics of the entity (i.e., what is the product of social construction). Focusing on the former, I consider families of theories of social construction and argue for the demands that a theory of social construction should meet.


Brian Epstein is an associate professor of Philosophy at Tufts. His research interests include philosophy of social science and metaphysics, focusing in particular on social ontology and the nature of social institutions. He also has interests in the ontology of law, individual and group cognition, and the philosophy of economics. He is the author of The Ant Trap: Rebuilding the Foundations of the Social Sciences, winner of the Lakatos Award and the Joseph B. Gittler Award, as well as many articles in the field, and is currently co-editing The Oxford Handbook of Social Ontology and finalizing a Cambridge Element on Social Ontology. Brian received his PhD from Stanford, MA from Oxford, and AB from Princeton. Between degree programs, he worked at a number of technology startups and consulting firms. Brian is the immediate past president of the International Social Ontology Society, and is on the executive board of the International Network of Economic Methodology.