Re: re Grand Unified Theory

Hemant Desai (
Sun, 6 Nov 1994 04:30:41 -0600 (CST)

Devi wrote:
> Behind the humour of what has indeed been an interesting set of mailings is
> a more sombre point though. "Constructive alternativism" implies that there
> will always be an alternative construction for any given personal goal;
> people have to be in motion if only because they engage with a phenomenal
> _flow_ and they entrain their search for personal meaning to it: they're
> built in order to track change, so they embody change in themselves. Yet
> PCP has always been taught within, in parallel to, or in contrast to, a
> variety of academic psychologies which for the most part are wedded to a
> positivist epistemology: which do indeed seek understanding by trying to
> build final theories. And that epistemology is so bloody persistent!
> The result seems to be that we Kellians are always having to reintroduce
> and rejustify ourselves. We have to remind people of what we're really
> about because we're either patronised as a minor bolt-on personality
> theory, forgotten (that's why I wrote the "Whatever happened to George
> Kelly?" piece), or, through the constructive alternativising of other
> authors building on a zeitgeist which happened to include Kelly when they
> were first writing their own theories, distorted through the further
> development of _their_principles into forms which misapply or misunderstand
> what Kelly originally said, or what could be reasonably developed from him.
> I get so _tired_ of having to say it all again, d'you see? Clearly, I'm not
> saying that the whole structure should be set in stone (though I've met at
> least one PCPer who takes a "holy writ" approach to it and, absurdly,
> forgets the constructive alternativist bit); but in an intellectual climate
> which searches for certainties, there does seem to be a logical problem
> with a theory, Kelly's, which includes in its epistemology an assertion of
> its own contradictions. Maybe that's why we're doomed to wander the
> psychological sidelines?
> I suspect that there may be an issue of levels of analysis here, and it may
> not in fact be a problem, but I'm not clever enough to see a way through
> it.

In response to the last bit. There seem to be levels of analysis as you
suggest. The interesting part for me is to see how people construe pcp
itself. To some it may a lifelong search for meaning through a system
of knowing that definitely is more conducive to seeking meaning than
most other frameworks in psychology. For others, it may be a curiosity
or a passing fancy and for others yet it may hold no meaning as it may
appear set on unfamiliar, complex, or radically different assumptions.

So there is the individual level of analysis i.e., why people (such as
those on this list) are interested in Kelly's work, pcp, constructivism, etc.

There is also a "superordinate level", that of the movement itself --
built in the last forty years by the people who have worked within it,
on the fringes of it, and also from outside it, who have in someway
been influenced by the idea of a psychology of personal constructs.

The study of this worldwide phenomenon is of great interest to me
for several reasons:

1) it is unique in the sense that there are not many theories/theorists
that identify themselves with the name of its founder (although Freud and
Piaget may be exceptions perhaps, [the latter has a conference dedicated
to him -- Kelly too deserves one and wider recognition]).

2) the way in which pcp has been elaborated by researchers in pcp and
pct. One can detect a couple of main "streams" within pcp which have
proved fruitful perhaps and have seen the most research and publication.
Some recent posts on this list have discussed this: repertory grid v/s
narrative and quantitative v/s qualitative being the primary dichotomies
but there are others like clinical v/s educational. Meanwhile, some
areas have either not received much attention or have had only sporadic
attempts at elaboration.

3) In mainstream academia, outside a few hundred devoted followers,
George Kelly's work has received little recognition or serious attention.

The last point needs to be examined carefully if we are to maintain the
reflexivity inherent in alternative constructivism. Many reasons have
been put forth about the relative anonymity of pcp. These range from
the view that pcp is not compatible with the dominant (politically)
positivistic ideology in the U.S., to the quote about "a prophet being
without honor in his own country". Personally, I think George Kelly
was a thinker not only far ahead of his time but also one who revamped
some dimensions of science and knowledge that many people don't want/
like to consider as it shakes their core constructs and threatens their
worldview. Earlier on the mailbase, I had mentioned that pcp, to me,
implies a motto of "power to the people". For if everyone is a scientist
or at least functions like one, it demands a restructuring of the
established social order.

There has been a lot of research in this field, so much so that it might
be difficult to read or even catalog it all in a given period of time.

However, the social implications of Kelly's work have barely been touched
upon in terms of the changes that would have to be made if everyone is
to be given the opportunity and means to know themselves and others.

Hemant Desai
University of Nebraska