RE: MM\symbolic interactionism and PCP
Wed, 30 Aug 1995 10:39:48 EST

In a series of provocative and witty postings, Malcolm has defined a
position in which he refers to himself as a "Kellian Essentialist" and
has suggested that the theory has not moved forward fast enough because
its methods have not been based adequately on Kellian theory. Jim Mancuso
agreed with Malcolm that he found little in Kelly's theory that needs
revision -- that the basic propositions Kelly asserted could and should
remain intact.

I too am quite partial to Kelly's basic premises. I believe, however,
that modifications of the theory need to be made. In this way I am not a
Kellian Essentialist (Malcolm -- a postmodern essentialist? Isn't that a
contradiction in terms?). I feel that progress moving the theory forward
is not due to our methods not being faithful enought to the theory, but to
the opposite -- to our methods -- THE GRID -- being all TOO faithful to the
theory! It's difficult to modify a theory if one's methods are tied to a
single set of assumptions or framework. In this way, I am with Feyerabend
who would say as far as methodology goes, anything goes!

I have outlined these ideas elsewhere, so I'll be brief. There are
several places where I think Kelly's theory needs modification. Some are
highly central. Keep in mind Kelly's theory is supposed to be an
alternative, complete theory of persons. If so, no dimension of personhood
is irrelevant for analysis. The major areas of concern are:

(a) The Person as Scientist metaphor. In a wonderful article by Ann Brown,
she shows how, in many tasks, children DO operate like little scientists,
exploring their worlds. However, the image of the Kellian scientist -- the
lone explorer testing and revising constructs against experience is
increasingly under question by philosophers of science. Contemporary
models of science stress science as a social activity, rich in interaction,
in which the scientist is not autonomous. Kelly's theory, with its
scientist metaphor, is rich in individualism. We need to see the
individual as inseparable from social context, not as a scientist trying to
break into the social context by testing constructs against social input.

(b) The concept of the _construct_. Is it useful to think of people as
forming constructs? Absolutely. Is it useful to assess construct systems?
Without question. But a theory based so heavily on the concept of
construct to the exclusion of other notions as a unit of analysis (e.g.
narrative, overt action-in-contexts, speech, etc.) is problematic. If we
focus only on constructs, we miss so much. Will we be motivated or
interested in studying the determinants of individual differences in
shyness in infancy, in infants who cannot provide constructs. Can any
attempt to aspire to a complete psychology avoid issues such as these?

(c) the use of the grid. As (b) suggests, if we must go beyond constructs,
we must go beyond grids, which means grids plus interviews, plus watching
people, plus everything else! No method is beyond the pale of a complete

So, while I am quite partial to Kelly, I cannot be a Kellian
Essentialist. The core of Piagetian theory has changed markedly in forty
years. We should aspire to the same for Kelly when there are good reasons
for it.

With warm regards,
Mike Mascolo