Critical Theory interrogates the everyday commonsense notions that shape public life, and suggests that these notions are socially constructed by the dominant culture to prevent social and cultural change.. One of the most important of the conceptual sites centres around the meaning of what we call "human nature". Critiques of the concept of human nature are numerous. In the PDF that is included here, I give a historical and ideological analysis of the concept and suggest further that what we take as "normal" in any society has deep political roots. While we (are led to) presume that what is normal is grounded in some deep and unchanging psycho-physical absolutism, the wide diversity of human and cultural forms and behaviours ought to lend a sense of caution to this belief. Are we then, cast into some moral and ethical relativism? Is nothing to be considered normal?
Between these two poles lies a dialectic worthy of further investigation. What is the ontology of normality? Is ithe state of normality anything but a state of alienation from ourselves? As the late Scottish psychiatrist Ronnie Laing said,
"The condition of alienation, of being asleep, of being unconscious, of being out of one's mind is the condition of the normal man. Society highly values its normal man. It educates children to lose themselves, and to become absurd, and thus to be normal. Normal men have killed perhaps 100,000,000 of their fellow normal men in the last fifty years."
The dilemma for the professional in any field is inescapable. Does he or she follow the "normal" patterns of professionalism and cater for a public with little reference to their sense of alienation or disempowerment? Or, on the other hand, does the (critical) professional interrogate the normality of his or her own profession as a possible agent for that alienation? If the latter is the case, then the education of the critical professional requires a very different form of pedagogy than that which is normally available. The PDF available here develops these arguments and suggests that Western theories of the nature of society - particularly those developed and promulgated in Sociology and Psychology have been heavily influenced and shaped by the structures and limiting possibilities of Capitalism. By extension, it also implies that a Critical Theorising of what it might mean to be human holds out our only hope of moving beyond the carnage of the last five hundred years as well as the mediocrity, emptiness and irrelevance of current social theories.
The Social Construction of Normality is a chapter from my 1997 PhD Dissertation, The Social Construction of an Architectural Reality in Design Education. To download an Abstract and Index to the Dissertation click here .
To download the PDF The Social Construction of Human Nature click here.