On the Social Construction of Distinctions: Risk, Rape, Public Goods, and Altruism
This chapter describes well-known distinctions with powerful implications for public policy. It includes the voluntary/involuntary dichotomy to explain the relative acceptability of risks, consent versus coercion in sexual relations, the justification of governmental action based on the dichotomy between public and private goods, and the long-standing efforts to distinguish between selfishness and altruism as a moral basis for evaluating behavior. The chapter shows that meanings that seemed fixed are in fact movable boundaries subject to the pulling and hauling of cultural contention. If questions about how the boundary is drawn are raised, risk by risk, they will lead in only one direction: what was taken to be a natural boundary will be discovered to be a socially constructed one. Social construction, is just as real as physical and almost but not quite as easy to spot. A good way to begin is to ask whether there is a fixed distinction between rape and love making by mutual consent.