Posts Tagged ‘The Social Construction of Winter Weather’

Snow from The Oatmeal

Sociologists talk a lot about things being “socially constructed.” We often talk about the social construction of race and gender, highlighting the fact that our ideas about these things arise largely out of social interactions that are only loosely based on any biological differences. Women have babies, for example, but this does not mean that only women are capable of things like making meals or doing laundry that may be seen as part of caring for children. The past few weeks have highlighted the ways that weather is also socially constructed.

Just like biological notions gender and race, I wouldn’t argue that there is no difference between the weather in different locations, only that the way we assign meaning to the weather depends on social interaction. For example, people all over the country think that their weather is unique. Google the phrase “If you don’t like the weather, wait five minutes” and you will see that it is attributed to nearly everywhere, yet if you travel you will often hear people in different parts of the country say this as if they are providing some wise advice that you have never been exposed to (as you attempt not to roll your eyes…).

This social construction carries over to the way that we talk about other parts of the country having weather that we are accustomed to in our own part of the country (as the above cartoon from The Oatmeal demonstrates). When an ice storm hits Texas, people who live in places where snow and ice are more common laugh at how Southern cities shut everything down because of a little winter weather. This is an extreme example, but we can see the same sorts of comparisons even between areas where snow is more common, as the following image demonstrates:

Doug Bigelow - Nemo vs. Monday

Just like social constructions of race or gender, though, we can also see the sorts of errors that people make when they rely on social constructions of weather. The implication in the above image, or in statements about Southerners getting snow, is that the people in areas that don’t get this type of weather just don’t know how to deal with it. When an inch of snow shuts down Atlanta, Northerners laugh at the inability of Southerners to drive in snow while ignoring the lack of infrastructure that makes driving on Northern roads possible in the winter. Cities in Georgia or Texas don’t have snow plows or large stockpiles of salt that can be used to clear and treat the roads. The most effective way to deal with snow and ice on the roads in many Southern cities is to wait for it to melt when temperatures return to normal in a day or two.

Remember this the next time you hear about weather that is commonplace for you causing problems for people in another part of the country. Women are not the only people capable of making meals or doing laundry and a lifetime of driving in winter conditions cannot give your car traction on untreated roads, as this recent video from Wisconsin (where they know a bit about driving in snow and ice) demonstrates:

If this video was from Dallas we would be laughing at the inability of Southerners to handle a bit of snow. Because it is from Wisconsin, though, we focus on how bad the road conditions were. Social construction at work. Drive carefully.

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