Re: APA exchange and romanticism
Sun, 11 Feb 1996 19:41:04 +0000

Tim Connor writes, of PCP and social constructionism

>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

Far be it from me. But here's three thoughts:

a) I can't see the two theories as competing since they would indeed appear
to operate in two distinct realms of discourse: to assert they might
compete would be to recreate the Aunt Sally of "psychological versus
sociological explanation'

b) So "complementary" seems to fit the bill as he suggests; but the
possibility of incompatibility still exists, of course, in the potential
conflict between implications for action which might be drawn from either.

c) Okay. Perhaps we might take a point of departure from the assertion that
"social constructionism sees socially constructed systems of meaning as
having a life of their own". What sort of "life", compared to the "life"
involved at the individual-constuctivist level of analysis?

Well, if the concept of "agency" has any meaning whatsoever, then it seems
to me that PCP is about systems which have _agency_, i.e. is about
deliberate intentionality on the part of the self-aware individual person;
while the "socially constructed system of meaning" characteristic of the
social constructivist theory has no such agency or intentionality.

Don't get me wrong: I'm _not_ asserting that the system involved in a
socially-constructed set of meanings cannot influence peoples' behaviour;
all I'm saying is that when it does so, it operates as a set of boundary
conditions, (constraints/facilitations) which _in itself_ does not posess
awareness or intentionality in the way the individual person does. To have
"life of its own" is a powerful metaphor indicating the force of the
constraints involved; it isn't to be taken literally.

Shifting to this level of metaphor, then, one might say that PCP is about
the person as a form of motion seeking meaning, and the socially
constructed understandings characteristic of social constructionism are to
do with boundaries on what is meaningful between individuals who wish to
share and interchange their personal meanings. The force of social meaning
is then revealed when individuals seek to exchange meanings which go beyond
what is socially comprehensible: when a person creates personal meanings
which are solipsist and idiosyncratic, beyond the possibility of sharing
with another.

Clinical psychologists would then speak of bizarre constructions, I
suppose; and social constructionists about the impossibility of meaning,
since there is nothing there that can in some sense be shared.

Golly! One could go on! The Kellian therapist would next argue that it is
still possible to search for the meaningfulness-to-the-individual of
his/her bizarre constructions; the social constuctionist, presumably, would
argue that this is all well and good but _only_ if the two parties shared
enough of a common symbol system, verbal or non-verbal, for communication
to be possible.

I'd better stop: I'm getting that "fools-rush-in" feeling of having
speculated beyond the bounds of my competence. But your reactions would I'm
sure be instructive!

Kind regards,

Devi Jankowicz.