The where, when and what of social construction really matter


It’s no news that our categories for thinking are both strengths (e.g., a specialization) and weaknesses (e.g., its particular blind-spots). Nor is it news that both are social constructions morphing over time. What may be news, nevertheless, is where that social construction takes place and when it matters.

In the public policy and management, it’s assumed that major meaning- and sense-making take place at the micro, meso and macro levels–even as we admit that the scales are socially constructed (think: what we use to call international and then global and now planetary).

That micro/meso/macro are easily historicized doesn’t stop me, however, from thinking through linkages and connections between these individual, emerging and system levels.


There are instances where this usage poses no real problem. At least one set of cases is problematic, and importantly so. It’s where dynamic interconnections between and among phenomena determine the scale and shifts immediately thereafter.

A city water manager told us that recent improvements in the potable water system meant that, in case of emergencies, they could close down portions of physical system, section by section, interconnection by interconnection, thereby isolating “the scale of their problem”. At these times and for these purposes, scale follow from interconnectivity changes, regardless of the obvious that both interconnectivity and scale are social constructions.


So what?

If infrastructure operators, like those for the city water system, are not present after a disaster, then damage assessments for new funding default to the emergency management agencies.

They, however, are arguably more familiar with devastation (another social construction), as in search and rescue operations, than with initial service restoration of interconnected backbone infrastructures that involve very different social constructions. To repeat: differentiating the where’s, when’s and what’s of the social construction matters greatly.

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