Re: Introductory Comments

Robert Parks (
Wed, 15 May 1996 23:12:29 -0400

Dear Bill,

Thanks for the comments.

In response to my statement:
>>Because the self is such a transient construction, perhaps we are studying
>>temporary and fragile constructions.

you wrote
>I'm a little puzzled by this, at least in the context of politics. It runs
>counter to my early psychological education (pre-modern, so to speak) and
>reminds me of the beast in "The Forbidden Planet" which, you may remember,
>was "recreating its molecular structure from micro-second to micro-second". If
>we construe the 'self' - indeed if 'self
><-> non-self' is a construct, then 'self' has (or is it _is_?) a replication
>which is either stable or "reconstruing its replication from - when? -
>moment to moment, hour to hour?"

I wouldn't want to suggest that the self is brought into being on a second
by second basis, willed by the thought of its own construct. What I have in
mind is that in construing someone as an "other"....a mother or brother or
stranger, a child creates a self over against that other... much as Piaget
helps us to understand the creation of a schema of the physical self in the
process of acting on the physical world. implied in the construct. Thus,
the constructs of "son", "brother" and "stranger" are attributed to a
"self", when from another perspective these constructs are constitutive of
self. My parents die, my loving brother becomes a teenage tyrant, and the
stranger next door becomes my lover. As my constructs of others change, my
self construct evolves in varying degrees.

I suppose this apparatus is less necessary than simply to say that an
"identity" is constructed out of possibilities a society presents for a
"self".... in African society, the mothers brother may be more important
for self than my biological father. In American society, the absent father
may leave the self construction process in limbo... or someone may with
determination give significance to a political hero. My generation may well
be defined by the significance of John F. Kennedy at a crucial time in our
identity formation.

>I'm prepared to accept this, on a more extended time-scale, from a
>behaviourist point of view (although the last time I did this on the list a
>shudder of horror ran through at lest one of us), but find it hard to accept
>in a constructivist context.

I'm not familiar with the behaviorist points of view you might have in mind.

>And, to get to the point, can a political
>system (which implies stability) be established by any community of such
>selves? (The other extreme would be an ant-hill, presumably).

I guess thats the payoff question. Can a political system be established by
a society that gives so few meaningful contexts for significant
identification of interests and construction of a stable identity... can
such a society maintain a stable political community.

>For what it's worth, why these dimensions, and with these combinations of
>labels? Do we risk distorting meanings by enforcing opposites that may not
>be those used by our students? For example, why not 'equality <->
>inequality'; 'group <-> individual'; 'authority <-> anarchy', or 'hierarchy
><-> anarchy'? Or even, to be mischievous, 'democracy <-> anarchy'?
>Pedagogically, this is a case where I would be tempted to let the
>individuality corollary have its head.

Good questions. I use those dimensions because they tap the fundamental
questions of politics... questions which may or may not be consciously part
of the student's repertoir of significant dimensions.... Nonetheless, they
are surely part of her thinking. Am I treated fairly? (equality) Who is to
authorize the actions I'm responsible for? (authority) To what extent is my
life part of a community? (individual/community) And to what extent is the
state implicated in creating the conditions for equality and community?

I'm looking for help at this point. My thought is that I could ascertain
the students' constructions of the meanings of those dimensions that are
important in construction of a socially significant ideology. And then use
those student generated dimensions in the assessment of policies. Perhaps
it needs to be spelled out in more detail before I can solicit the kind of
constructive critique I need. I'm looking forward to your/everyone's help.

Thanks for your help...

Bob Parks