Re: APA panel on constructivism, social constructionism,

Rue L. Cromwell (cromwell@KUHUB.CC.UKANS.EDU)
Mon, 12 Feb 1996 11:11:57 +0000

Dear Bob:

Sounds very exciting. Will look forward to what develops--and I urge that
all the presentations be put on the pcp net.

I would make two points (neither may be necessary since you cannot make such
things clear in a brief abstract). Each concern the importance of being
grounded in order to avoid eventually getting shocked.

First, as verious constructions (lines of thought) are getting discussed, it
would be very important to remain mindful that the contrast/opposite of this
particular point of view be made entirely clear. As an analogy, for
example, Dan Quayle and Bill Clinton (not to mention many others) both speak
of "family values." Discussions can proceed at length (possibly ad
infinitum) until one discovers that the contrast/opposite each holds for
"family values" is entirely different. Until this is recognized, one has
the illusion that dialogue is taking place (socialtiy corellary?) To
discover the illusion prommpts a "square one" reconstruction. I hope that
this analogy is not too remote to be applied here.

Second, as various porpositions are offered which follow from the respective
constructions (lines of thought), it would be very important to make the
listener/audience mindful of the instance of disconfirmability (the
alternative constructions, which, if viable, would constrain the viability
and utility of the one being proposed). As you probably know, Kelly liked
to use the term "brittleness" to describe such propositions and viewed this
as an important part of the certitude of science. It is sort of like
knowing exactly what it is you are "buying" from Beethoven, Stravinsky, or
Picasso, along which alternate viewpoints would part ways.

Go for it!



>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
> Robert A. Neimeyer, Ph.D.
> Department of Psychology
> University of Memphis
> Memphis, TN 38152
> (901) 678-4680
> FAX (901) 678-2579
> neimeyerra@MSUVX1.MEMPHIS.EDU

Rue L. Cromwell