What do you see?
Whenever I think about essentialism and constructivism, I employ a useful anecdote from the introductory essay of The Meaning of Difference: American Constructions of Race, Sex and Gender, Social Class, and Sexual Orientation by Karen Rosenblum and Toni-Michelle Travis. The anecdote tells the story of three baseball umpires. The first umpire says “Some are balls and some are strikes. I call ’em as they are.” The second ump says “Some’s balls and some’s strikes. I call ’em as I see ’em.” The final umpire thinks about it and says “Some are balls and some are strikes, but they ain’t nothing until I calls ’em.”
“I call ’em as they are.”
The first umpire represents essentialism. Broadly defined, essentialism is the ideology that things exist in the world independent of any human perception. Something is what it is regardless of who is looking at it. We are neutral observers.
“I call ’em as I see ’em.”
The second umpire is somewhat removed from pure essentialism. For him, entities exist independently in the world BUT they are open to interpretation by the individual.
“they ain’t nothing until I calls ’em.”
The final umpire represents a constructivist approach. Concepts and entities have no meaning until an observer gives them one. Constructivism posits that meaning is created by the individual.