Re: introductions?

Lois Shawver (
Fri, 10 May 1996 15:21:35 -0700 (PDT)


Jim Mancuso:

> The question of the stasis of construct systems!!!!
> I have found it very useful to distinguish between CONSTRUCTS and

Yes, and I believe this term "construction" would be used a bit
differently than "social constructionism". Right? "Construction" in the
Kelly sense would be closer to a kind of Kantian concept of synthesis of
the categories with the intuitions for synthetic a posteriori or
apperceptions. In other words, that which "constructs" is in the mind.
It is a stable system for organizing incoming information. The individual
human is the constructor, using personal constructs to make the
constructions. Is that right? Whereas in social constructionism, we have
institutions providing the engine of construction. Does that fit your
picture of things? I take it you would see this as a difference between
pcp and social constructionism?

To return to Kelly -- He spoke of ANTICIPATORY
> Other theorists have used other terms --- Sarbin, Taft and Bailey -- in 1962
> -- used a similar construction, which they called MODULES. vanDijk and
> Kintsch
> spoke of SITUATION MODELS when they discussed discourse strategies in their
> brilliant 1983 work. vanDijk and Kintsch are worth quoting:

Yes, I'm acquainted with Ted Sarbin, and some of his ideas, although I
would like to know more about them. We both have done expert testimony
work on the issue of gays in the military so we tend to run into each
other now and then. Moreover, he was kind enough to right a blurb for my
book on this topic (And the Flag Was Still There: Straight People, Gay
People, and Sexuality in the U.S. Military). We both have a chapter going
into a book that gives a scholarly treatment to the question of gays in
the military. It will be published by the University of Chicago Press
later this year.

However, perhaps you, or Ted if he is around and cares to do so, could
explain the difference between your system and Ted's. Is it just a
matter of words? Or is the difference deeper? And, maybe, if you're so
inclined you could give us a sense of the difference between both of
these systems and the system of vanDijk and Kintsch that you mention.
Your quotations from vanDijk and Kintsch indicate that they use the term
"text" in the standard Derridean way. Are these authors coming from that

You say:
> We cannot speak of stability of a CONSTRUCTION. Each construction is
> developed in the CONTEXT in which the TEXT occurs. Ted Sarbin pushed the
> point that a CONSTRUCTION must be taken as a DOING -- not as a HAPPENING.
> Each CONSTRUCTION stands a novel occurance.

I can understand why he might say that and, if this is what is involved, I
very much agree. A "doing" is what philosophers call a "human action".
It is what Roy Schafer has in mind when he talks about "action language"
(for example, in his "A New Language for Psychoanalysis" Yale, 1976).
Electrical storms are happenings. No human takes responsibility for them.
Human Actions, on the other hand, are what we take responsibility for,
and conceptualize as events which we have a hand in making happen.

Is that your picture of what is involved?

Also, you told me a little about your concept of constructing in
context before. I see the power of that way of conceptualizing things.
But how do you relate the notion of constructing our constructs in
context with the notion of doing a rep grid? Don't rep grids suggest
that these constructs would apply in context other than the test taking

> CONSTRUCTIONS _seem_ to have stability [and this is where personality
> theorists have gone all awry, because they have assumed that CONSTRUCTIONS
> _are_ stable -- e. g., "I am depressed" -- rather than, "I have built a self
> role construction in which I construe myself as DEPRESSED."] The makers
> of the highly lucrative MMPI want to believe that the former sentence
> has ecological validity. They assume that reporting one's self
> as DEPRESSED may be seen as a HAPPENING -- rather than as a DOING:
> a proactive construction of a situation model; an anticipatory
> construction, etc.


> Thus, they are betting on stability of CONSTRUCTION.


> Stability of CONSTRUCTION, I would contend, seems to occur. It does so
> because of relative stability of constructs -- and the relationships between
> constructs. [Be sure to note that I used the term "relative stability.]

The question, imho, is what language to use to talk about it, because the
language we use, the terms and metaphors, can have an effect on what we
notice and want to say. The metaphor "construction" creates imagery of
something very stable that, once constructed, stays constructed for a
while, at least until something tears it down. We use the term
"construction" to talk about houses, chairs, automobiles. These things
are, we say, are "constructed", but other interesting metaphors exist. We
might talk of composing text, as well as construting it, or designing,
choreographing, writing, and so forth. And, very importantly, maybe,
there is "construing". There are many other possibilities, too. The
choice of which to use is our choice of language games as we go about
acting and doing rather than letting things "happen".

> So, I put my bets on a stable CONSTRUCT SYSTEM!!! -- a stable system of
> bipolar judgment scales from which we use as we build CONSTRUCTIONS [about our
> self roles, and everything else inthe world]. Or, to use vanDijk and
> Kintsch's terms -- a system which allows us "to understand" as we build
> situation models.

Completely stable? Or perhaps a stable one, combined with an evolving
system? Must it be one way or the other? Is this construction of the
world through stable constructs then a "happening"? One must see other
options, imho, to make it a doing. If one's is stuck with one's
constructs, then it's thought of as a happening.

> I still regard the rep grid as a brilliant means of getting at a
> person's systems of constructs.

I regard it as brilliant, too. The concern is whether we should make a
metaphysical construction of these "constructs", or is that, as Gregory
Bateson would say, confusing the territory with the map? I think Kelly
has given us a brilliant language game, with various ways to create
interesting and profitable things (potentially, at any rate), to say about
people. I am using the word "language game" in the sense later
Wittgenstein meant it when he gave us the term. It does not mean "word
game". It means a way of talking within a particular area of discourse,
such as Kelly's pcp theory, or Jung's theory, or whatever. Personality
theories, in my mind, are, "language games", ways of talking within a

I am not willing to say that the current grid
> practices are the last word; but when I compare the kinds of things that Brian
> Gaines, Mildred Shaw, Jack Adams-Webber, etc., have done with grids to where we
> were thirty years ago, and when I see what can happen on a simple desk top
> computer -- then I allow myself to believe that the future of grid work is BIG.

Yes, as I say, I'm probably not informed on the latest, but I have read a
little more recently. Maybe you can teach me a bit and use this as a
forum to explain what it is about. For example, how do you see the
recent theorists having changed the lanscape of pcp over what it was when
I was in school thirty years ago?

> We have a long road ahead, and many promises to keep -- but this group
> of theorists and researchers -- in my view -- are closest to the promises I
> wish to see honored by our discipline.

Good. Strong optimistic words. If it's true, then the important thing
is that the ideas are gotten out there in the world. Maybe you'll tell
us more about them. But please understand that those outside the system
may be skeptical of one to devoted to a single system. There are so many
systems and so many devotees.

..Lois Shawver