I’m wondering if there should be a distinction between constructs being imposed and composed.

In your river example, there are clearly physical phenomena that would be there whether or not humans were there to label it. That being said, the concept of “river” would not exist without humans. How do we determine if a molecule of water is part of a river? When does it stop being a river and start being a creek or stream? What process mutates molecules of water from being the San Juan to being the Colorado? These are constructs human beings have imposed on physical phenomena.

Money is probably the clearest example of something being composed. Money would not exist without humans, especially when it comes to the purely abstract money that financial institutions often deal with. It is entirely a human invention, often with no physical corollary.

Most of the things people would call social constructs I think have both imposed and composed aspects. With race, for example, there’s generally some degree of biological phenomena that are being imposed upon, even if they may be very vague and possibly contradictory. On the other hand, the way race interacts with social norms and laws are entirely composed. Segregation and discrimination are not physical phenomena we happen to be labeling; they are active decisions that human beings have made collectively based on social constructs.

Even constructs that appear to be entirely imposed may have composed elements. For example, legislation around rivers codifies their existence and creates norms of behavior that humans must follow. Plants that grow outside of the twenty miles of East Rosebud Creek designated as Wild and Scenic don’t share the same legal properties as those inside the protected zone. If you cross certain parts of the Rio Grande without undergoing specific rituals, you are designated as an illegal human who must forfeit the legal protections granted to those who either stay on their side of the river or go through the proper rituals.

Mental illnesses are a clearer example of a social construct, although I stand by Leukemia being a broad, semi-arbitrary concept that probably has significant composed elements. Labels like “autism” are extremely broad constructs with basically no way to objectively measure their existence. However, these labels are very important to how society functions, because they determine who gets access to money, medication, assistance, etc. Something like anxiety clearly has a broad range of physical manifestations in the body, but ultimately who gets diagnosed with an anxiety disorder has a massive social component and interacts heavily with other social constructs like race and gender.

There’s actually significant literature on how race and gender affect the way that physical health is diagnosed and treated. Here’s a statistical analysis of race and leukemia: https://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-19081-4

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.

Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations.