When I began my studies in sociology, it felt like I was being inducted into a secret society. There we were – 300 undergraduate students standing in front of the auditorium, completely oblivious to the tremendous secret that was about to be revealed. They called us in and the ceremony began. At least that's how it felt.
The professors boldly stated that everything we experience and claim to know is socially constructed. In other words, any meaning that we as humans give to objects or situations is built upon social constructs. This includes everything from our favourite foods, people we admire, our fears, our memories and even our imagination. Suddenly, the auditorium which at first appeared enormous became so full of students that it felt like a tiny and dusty broom closet. The lecture ended soon thereafter and I left the auditorium, exchanging glances with my fellow students as if we had just taken an unspoken oath.
Hearing this revelation was incredible. I kept thinking that I needed to revaluate everything I had ever experienced up to this point in my life. I couldn’t believe how lucky and privileged I was to have been exposed to the secret. But what I really couldn't understand was how little the others – the uninaugurated – cared about their misfortune. Apparently, they couldn’t care less. Whenever I tried to share the secret with anyone else, they seemed generally unimpressed. How could they not be blown away by the reality that there are no actual “facts”, “truths” or “natural differences“ between men and women's thoughts and behaviour?
Like in every secret society, if you're in for a penny, you’re in for a pound! I had reached the point of no return. Even though I knew there was no such thing as the absolute truth or objective facts out there, I still had to keep living in a world that fed off this assumption. My enthusiasm for developing different perspectives and thirst to see objects, events and relationships in new ways was, and still is, quite often perceived as a way of complicating matters. Believe me. I'm often seen as a troublemaker!
But you know what?! It's no secret that the world we live in is a very complicated place. We can continue to neglect this observation and pretend that everything is linear, rational and predictable. Or we can choose to be curious by seeking out new perspectives and alternative explanations. It's all part of the thrill of engaging with a world that is full of contradictions.
Anna Louban studied sociology in Konstanz and is now a researcher in social and cultural anthropology at the same university. In her PhD thesis she analyses the bureaucratic process of immigration in Germany.