The Corner

Education

‘The Conceptual Penis’: The Sokal Hoax Returns!

Remember the Sokal Hoax? Back in 1996, the physicist Alan Sokal wrote a deliberately nonsensical article, steeped in postmodern jargon, arguing that quantum gravity was a “social construct” — and managed to get it published in Social Text, a prominent journal. Its spiritual sequel argues that something very different is a social construct.

You can read it for yourself here, at least until it’s taken down, but I’ll provide the abstract:

Anatomical penises may exist, but as pre-operative transgendered women also have anatomical penises, the penis vis-à-vis maleness is an incoherent construct. We argue that the conceptual penis is better understood not as an anatomical organ but as a social construct isomorphic to performative toxic masculinity. Through detailed poststructuralist discursive criticism and the example of climate change, this paper will challenge the prevailing and damaging social trope that penises are best understood as the male sexual organ and reassign it a more fitting role as a type of masculine performance.

This was published in the peer-reviewed journal Cogent Social Sciences. The authors revealed their hoax in Skeptic magazine. Jerry Coyne is also worth reading.

So, that ought to brighten your weekend. Unless you’re currently paying for your child’s college education.