Classical romance

R. A. Neimeyer, U of Memphis (neimeyerra@MSUVX1.MEMPHIS.EDU)
Tue, 13 Feb 1996 13:46:54 -0600

Well, I got this stone rolling, so I suppose I should add a little moss of
my own. I will piggyback on several of the previous contributions to this
conversation (particularly those by Tim, Devi, Viv, Dusan, Jon, and David),
and inject a few more ideas about where I'd like to take this in terms of
the APA exchange. But I am finding this string to be tied to so many
intriguing issues that I may end up giving a very different paper than the
one intended!

Romanticism & PCP

First, my use of term "romantic" accords with Connor's definition (b),
which associates it with "admiration for the heroic, individuality and
imagination," though in Kelly's case, this is expressed in terms of a
somewhat romanticized notion of the personal scientist, rather than the
artist. [However, the elegance of his basic theory does better accord with
classicism, as Connor points out; in this as in so many other areas, Kelly
continues to challenge our attempts to confine him to a single pole of our
preferred constructs!]

In response to Jon Raskin's posting, please assume that unless I explicitly
state otherwise, every assertion I make (e.g., PCP "is" romantic in
that...) is intended in the hypothetical mood, and the "is" is not to be
taken as an absolute or preemptive construction. This is merely linguistic
shorthand for saying, "let's entertain the idea that PCP might be romantic
in this sense to see where it leads us." It's just that the quotation
marks around my use of the verb "to be" are invisible in normal speech--and

Double vision

More seriously, after living for some time with the double vision Connor
writes about --seeing things sharply, but alternately through an personal
constructivist, and then a social constructivist eye--I seem to be getting
the hang of keeping them both open at the same time. It no longer feels as
contradictory as it once did, although this may simply be because I have
loosened my construing to the point that I no longer require sharp
boundaries in my experiential world! As a consequence, I find myself at a
position close to Devi's, Viv's and David's (I think). In general, although
I continue to find it useful to speak of the "self" as a concentrated
domain or nexus of discourses, organized to acheive a minimal degree of
coherence, consistency over time, and sense of "identity" (allowing for the
rather different dynamics of identity construction in different cultural
contexts), the concept of "agency" has become problematized enough for me
that I know longer use it with the confidence I once did. Thus, I find it
more meaningful to speak of sense-making as an essentially social process,
placing more inflection on the ways in which we (mis)appropriate, posit,
and garner (in)validation for constructions in a social medium, as a means
of coordinating our actions and positions with (relevant) others. Thus,
the intensity (and often subliminality) of this communal process is what
seems primary to me, whereas images of an abstracted individual knower or
disembodied language or cultural system seem more like thin formalizations
of an intensely (inter)personal process.

Indeed, the contrast of personal vs. social at the root of the "self vs.
social context" argument seems increasingly like the "cognition vs.
emotion" construct so elequently analysed and (largely) suspended by Kelly,
Bannister, and others in the PCP tradition: it may be a legitimate but
inherently limited construction that in the present context obscures more
than it reveals. Thus, I am uncomfortable with models that propose some
sort of "interaction" between social and individual forces or factors,
insofar as these risk reifying a more fluid process of meaning making that
cannot be meaningfully localized at either an individual (coritcal?) or
social (linguistic?) level. From this perspective, both selves (as
organizing matrices of meaning, not essentialized, unified personalities)
and language (relatively stable symbolic resources available in molar and
molecular "cultures," not words alone) provide the conditions necessary for
the emergence of one another. Even this way of speaking seems awkward for
me. What I am really reaching for is a term that describes the local
conditions that prevail in organizing discourse (in an expanded sense of
social meaning-making, with its retrospective, pragmatic, and anticipatory
dimensions), without bifurcating self and surround.

This is slippery as a concept, of course, precisely because we do not
possess the necessary discriminations to articulate this "cut" on our
meaning-making activity. In some expanded sense, the term "conversation"
or "dialogue" captures some of the locality of this process, but both seem
too evanescent to refer to the resonance that particular exchanges carry
for us, or the way in which we often struggle to consolidate them into
coherent patterns or regularities to give us some sense of bearing in the
world (see Note 1). It is this effort after durable (but not permanent)
meaning, as well as the effort to expand and revise these meanings, that I
see as the core of "selfhood processes." This seems broadly congruent with
Kelly's (annd Guidano's) take on the "self" as well.

(Parenthetically, this very effort to articulate some new construction not
given us in extant language systems represents a challenging case that our
theorizing needs to take into account. That is, we often find ourselves in
moments like these attempting to use the resources of language to expand
language, in a way that then augments the fund of communal discriminations
available to us for future discourse. As in our present string, this
typically unfolds between "individual" speakers, but the distinctive
contributions of their different voices are critical to the process.)

I could go on, but at the risk of making this so long that it would go
completely unread! But let me close by foreshadowing a couple of themes
I'd like to turn to in future postings: (1) the necessity/advisability of
"integrating" constructivist positions (e.g., radical, personal,
constructionist), and (2) the implications of at least some of these
positions for therapeutic practice (where I believe they suggest some
obvious and less obvious differences in the focus and style of

For the patient reader, I might offer a few recent references that provide
helpful (and divergent) perspectives on PCP and
constructivist/constructionist metatheory. I am sure that others can add
to this basic list. --Bob Neimeyer

Chiari, Gabriele & Nuzzo, M. Laura (1996). Psychological constructivisms:
A metatheoretical differentiation. Journal of Constructivist Psychology,

Botella, Luis (1995). Personal construct psychology, constructivism, and
postmodern thought. In R.A. Neimeyer & G.J. Neimeyer, Advances in Personal
Construct Psychology (Vol. 3). Greenwich, CN (USA), JAI Press.

Burr, Vivian (1995). An Introduction to Social Constructionism (sorry, but
I left the book, and hence publisher info at home)

Lyddon, William (1995). Forms and facets of constructivist psychology. In
R.A. Neimeyer & M. J. Mahoney, Constructivism in Psychotherapy, Washington:
American Psychological Association.

Neimeyer, R.A. (1995). Constuctivist psychotherapies: Features,
foundations, and future directions. In R.A. Neimeyer & M. J. Mahoney,
Constructivism in Psychotherapy, Washington: American Psychological

Note 1.

Elsewhere, I have metaphorically referred to this personal/conversational
meaning making as a form of "linguistic sculpting," an image that suggests
something of (a) the recalcitrance/malleability of the linguistic/symbolic
medium that we are atempting to shape, (b) the roles played by
intentionality and opportunity in en/visioning the form we construct, (c)
the role of (conceptual and social) tools in giving form to a construction,
which may vary considerably in their coarseness or fineness, and (d) our
skill in crafting a construction suitable to our project, which again may
vary considerably from one "sculptor" to another. My focus in using this
metaphor was the distinctive conversational sculpting of personal realities
that typifies psychotherapy, and I am aware of (some of) its limitations
even there (e.g. in describing the bidirectional sculpting that occurs
between client and therapist, or the way in which some (most?)
constructions are the work of many hands, etc.). See Neimeyer, R. A.
Process interventions for the constructivist therapist. In H. Rosen and K.
Kuehlwein (Eds.) (1996). Constructing realities. Jossey Bass.

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