For the founder of modern sociology, Emile Durkheim, "The determining cause of a social fact should be sought among the social facts preceding it and not among the states of individual consciousness."
At its most extreme, Social constructionism could be called "absolute relativism."
In The Social Constuction of What?, Ian Hacking analyzses the usage of the term "social construction" in a number of different contexts, from child abuse to quarks. Hacking distinguishes between "interactive" and "indifferent" concepts of "social construction." The former are drawn primarily from the social sciences, where the development of a concept in a matrix of institutions and practices, can effect changes on its very "object," particularly if the term is being applied to conscious human subjects. Hacking differentiates those interactive usages from the application of concepts of social construction to "indifferent" objects, such as physical particles. Presumably, "quarks" are indifferent to the names and concepts applied to them. According to Hacking, quarks themselves (the objects and not the concepts) are not constructs, are not social, and are not historical. (p.30)
Hacking acknowledges the "liberating" effects of the idea of social construction, (for example in gender issues) especially in helping "raise consciousness." He formalizes the arguments of social construction thus: (p.6)
(0) In the present state of affairs, X is taken for granted, appears to be inevitable.
(1) X need not have existed, or need not be at all as it is. X, or X as it is at present, is not determined by the nature of things; it is not inevitable.
Arguments proceeding from (1) often go further and urge that:
(2) X is quite bad as it is.
(3) We would be much better off if X were done away with, or at least radically tranformed.
In developing his catalog of examples, Hacking also categorizes the intensities of commitment to constructionism, ranging from the historical to the ironic, the reformist or "unmasking" attitude to the rebellious or revolutionary.
Hacking himself believes that something can be both socially constructed and real, and seems unimpressed by critiques of science, especially the physical sciences, that use the term of "social construction." Yet he is careful to acknowledge that the directions of scientific research reflect social values. For example, he realizes that one must ask the question as to how much the tradition of science and technology in the West is fundamentally affected by the desire to create weapons.
One cannot easily imagine Francis Crick to be very sympathetic to the idea of social construction. But in describing vision, Crick emphasizes the constructive aspect of the process, of vision as active interpretation.
Is there a relation between the claims of social construction and the the presumably scientific observation that "what you see is not what is really there; it is what your brain believes is there"?