Re: APA exchange and romanticism

Tim A. Connor (
Sat, 10 Feb 1996 22:50:07 -0800 (PST)

Having come to PCP from a perspective more akin to social
constructionism, I sometimes experience something like double vision when
looking at the two perspectives--I see more overlap than clear
differentiation, but the few points of difference seem so incorrigible
that it's impossible to decide which to focus on (there being only two,
you can't follow MIckey Mantle's advice on hitting home runs with a
hangover: "just swing at the middle ball.")

I've sensed a subtle hostility (in the Kellian sense) toward social
constructionism on this list, I believe because it is identified with
social determinism and so seen as a threat to the individuality and
choice corollaries. Those corollaries are the most "romantic" of the
lot, if one takes romanticism to be the ideology of the supremacy of the
individual consciousness. The commonality and sociality corollaries
serve to counterbalance them, but the fact that GAK listed them last
seems to have put them in a less privileged position, and the fact that
PCP theorists (with a few notable exceptions) have paid less attention to
developmental issues than those working from other theoretical
perspectives has accentuated the problem.

The metaphor of the personal scientist has been romanticised--Kelly's
language does it, composed as it was to counteract the psychoanalytic and
behaviorist dogmas of his time. The image conjured up is one of
self-sufficiency, unfettered inquiry, and unbounded curiosity. But even
professional scientists don't develop the majority of their constructs
from their own experimentation--they acquire them socially, mostly from
professors. They may modify and extend them on their own, but few
seriously challenge the superordinate constructs in which they were
trained. As with personal scientists, the bulk of the construct system
is acquired through the operation of the sociality process--one construes
others' constructions because of the urgent need to play a role, and
having no particular system of one's own, adopts those constructions (one
construction of them) as one's core.

Social constructionism is romantic too: the romance of the primitive and
harmonious community. Its failure lies in the inability to specify a
systemic structure for social constructions, or a process by which they
are transmitted to individuals--the neo-Whorfian linguistics don't
clarify much of anything, for me. It is also difficult to make sense of
deviance or creativity in a social constructionist framework, given the
all-encompassing, almost mystical nature of the construction process.

So far, the two theories might be seen as complementary--different levels
of description rather than competing theories. Social constructionism
could use PCP's precision, PCP could use SC's broader vision of
development and interaction. The fundamental incompatibility arises at
the level at which PCP sees an individual human being as a form of motion,
while social constructionism sees socially constructed systems of meaning
as having a life of their own and imparting motivation and direction to

I don't know that there's any way to resolve this--Laura's post points
out the problematic way it plays out in therapy. Maybe we just have to
get used to double vision--embrace the fragmentation corollary in a very
immediate way and be prepared to shift construct systems with the context.

Tim Connor
Pacific University