APA panel on constructivism, social constructionism, and human nature

R. A. Neimeyer, U of Memphis (neimeyerra@MSUVX1.MEMPHIS.EDU)
Thu, 01 Feb 1996 19:04:55 -0600

If you'd like to hear about and join me in brainstorming about a
forthcoming panel discussion on constructivism and "human nature," read on.
If not, delete now to save yourself some trouble!

As program chair for APA's Division of Theoretical and Philosophical
Psychology, Dave Pfenninger invited me to present a keynote address on
"human nature in the 21st century" (the program theme), from a
constructivist angle. Joining me as panelists/commentators/discussants
will be Hank Stam and Ken Gergen, making for a potentially spirited

In the hope of encouraging some discussion of this issue, I'm including the
abstract for the session below, giving a general sketch of what I have in
mind. Your thoughts on any aspect of the presentation would be welcome as
I formulate my own. If there is sufficient interest, I could sketch some
of the main lines of argument on the listserv to invite more detailed

Changing Images of Human Nature: The Constructivist Challenge

Traditionally, "human nature" has been defined in essentialist terms, as an
identifiable consititution, spirit, or set of traits immanent in human
beings, whether considered individually or collectively. However,
constructivists and others influenced by a postmodern outlook have posed
radical challenges to this romantic view, arguing that any sustainable
conception of human nature or related psychological constructs like the
"self" is far more evanescent, permeable, and contingent than is typically
envisioned by scholars, researchers, or humanists in the modern tradition.
This philosophic sea change has in turn produced a ripple effect in many
facets of psychology, ranging from psychological theory, to method, and to
applications, particularly in the area of psychotherapy.

Our goal in the present symposium is to consider the core features of a
constructivist meaning-making account of "human nature," against the
backdrop of two major alternatives, each of which differs from a
constructivist view in important respects. The first of these, a social
constructionist account, shares with constructivism a generally postmodern
conception of identity as historically constituted, but places greater
inflection on the radical penetration of the "self" by the social field.
The second of these alternatives, a regressive realism, represents a
response to the challenges posed by both constructivists and social
constructionists to a more traditional, objectivist conception of the
"self" and the sort of psychology appropriate to studying and "treating" it

Our initial position statement and ensuing discussion will not attempt to
establish which (if any) of these positions is "right" (more justified,
etc.), but instead will examine their implications for three key
psychological contexts. These will include their (1) differing views on
textuality, or the role of narrative in selfhood processes, (2) contrasting
agendas for human science, and (3) preferred practices for psychotherapy.
In addition, because each posits different goals for the configuration of
psychology as a "unified science," we will briefly consider the stance each
takes toward attempts to synthesize the discipline, particularly as
embodied in the push toward psychotherapy integration.

That's it for openers. I'm happy to elaborate or react to your reactions.

Now this really feels like an experiment in social construction! --Bob Neimeyer

Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D.
Department of Psychology
University of Memphis
Memphis, TN 38152
(901) 678-4680
FAX (901) 678-2579