MM\symbolic interactionism and PCP
Wed, 30 Aug 1995 23:35:58 +0000

Hi everyone,

I wonder if, in subscribing to a label of "Kellian essentialist", we aren't
trivialising Kelly's theory and stance on technique to the point at which
it becomes an Aunt Sally with which _no one_ would agree?

For example, Mike Mascolo refers to his extremely interesting work on
children and says:
>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?

Well, this isn't really my field, but I would hesitate to conclude that
infants can't provide constructs. Maybe colleagues will correct me; but
I've always understood constructs as more than verbalisations. Surely one
can infer constructs from non-verbal and indeed pre-verbal behaviour, by
recognising patternings indicative of conceptualised
similarities-and-differences, regardless of the mode in which they are
expressed? We can thereby infer constructs in pre-verbal creatures such as
human children, and indeed other animals whether adult or not.

I once did a workshop in which people brought along reproductions of
paintings in which they were interested. One of the exercises involved a
person grouping paintings, first in twos-and-contrasted-ones to establish a
construct, and then ordering all the paintings along the construct
involved. Other participants had to reproduce the intended construct by
ordering a second set of paintings "in the same way", the first person
being allowed to say "yes, that's what I had in mind" or "no, not quite",
reordering the second person's paintings to clarify the construct intended.
Little or no verbalisation, but constructs there were aplenty!

Then there is the notion that you're a "Kellian essentialist" only if you
limit yourself to the repertory grid. Well, again, as a self-confessed
grid-basher who hasn't devoted as much attention to other techniques as I
might have, I still seem to remember Kelly's advocacy of
Self-Characterisation as an equally useful way of getting at people's
constructs, and have occasionally used it to good effect myself.

Maybe we ought to eschew this notion of "essentialism", and explore,
following Mike's prompting, the ways in which a broader application of
Kelly's ideas might grow from what is, IMHO, a rather richer starting point
than "essentialism" might indicate.

Devi Jankowicz