APA exchange and romanticism

R. A. Neimeyer, U of Memphis (neimeyerra@MSUVX1.MEMPHIS.EDU)
Tue, 06 Feb 1996 13:14:35 -0600

In response to my posting of the abstract for my upcoming exchange with
Gergen and Stam at APA, Jim Mancuso raised an electronic eyebrow at my
reference to the "romantic view of human nature" embodied in some forms of
constructivism, in contrast to the rather more jaded view taken by social
constructionists. He suggested sharing our brief subsequent exchange with
others on the network who might be interested, so here goes.

My reply:

This is a bit controversial in PCP circles, at least, but I'd contend that
a strong emphasis on agency, self-creation, autonomy, etc. in some readings
of Kelly and many traditional humanistic psychologies is romantic in the
sense that they downplay contraints on construing as a function of our
participation in a social field. I believe that social constructionism,
for example, qualifies (and in some forms, denies) the agency of the
individual, and I wanted to throw this tension into the hopper of public
discussion. My own position on this issue is more moderate than either

Jim came back with:

I appreciate your effort to throw a bit of fuel into the fire by
referring to an overemphasis on agency as ROMANTIC. That really is a nice
I, however, in my continued immense admiration for the skill with which
Kelly handled so many crucial issues; figure that a PCP theorist can handle
agency very well by applications of the choice corollary and the sociality
corollary. The current system, in that it constrains a rampant readjustment of
the system on exposure to novel inputs, defines the limits of agency. At the
same time, one must construe the construction processes of others in order to
engage in a social interactions -- thus, the presence of the socially valid
constructions constantly act as noveltly that demands the extension of the
existing system.

You should put our little exchange about romanticism on to the pcp net
-- if you still have them. It might evoke some interesting reaction. Did
anyone else bite on the ROMATICISM construction??

My public reply to Jim:

You bet. I would agree that not just any change can be accommodated by our
systems, insofar as we are poised between the need to maintain adequate
coherence with our core (identity) structures, and the need to maintain
sufficient consensus with our social medium to negotiate a coordination of
meaning and activity with others. Restated in negative terms, the extent
of sustainable change is defined on the one hand by the level of threat we
can tolerate, and on the other by the level of anxiety we can manage (in
the Kellian senses of these "emotion" terms). The attempt to find and work
within these limits while introducing moderate novelty into a problem
system is essential to psychotherapy.

We'd both be happy to read the comments of others on this or any other
aspect of the abstract. --Bob Neimeyer

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