re: Core Constructs
Sat, 23 Nov 1996 00:19:07 +0100

Charles Smith asks a question which IMHO is so important that I'll break my
usual rule about extracting just a key phrase to save bandwidth, and
instead, quote his posting in full before responding.

>I follow your method of finding core constructs, but I'm never so confident
>of what I find, or whether my technique is up to it.
>I was recently talking to someone about their career, when he mentioned the
>importance of being a manager. When I asked "why is it important to be a
>manager?" the response was a long silence, a look of complete despondency,
>and ultimately "do you know, I've never thought to ask that before". Is this
>a core construct? It seems unlikely? It certainly isn't in universalist
>terms. I'm more inclined to accept an Object Relations explanation at this
>point - that there was an early relationship which created anxiety and
>"being a manager" is the remains of a defence now irrecoverable. A
>psychoanalyst would claim to be able to recover this - I certainly don't.
>Perhaps the core construct at the top of everybody's ladder is just an
>existentialist black hole, and you are only finding how near to that hole
>you can get, or the subject invents some 'values' to fill the hole when
>being interviewed by a Personal Construct therapist.
>I'm sorry, but this depressing rambling is just a fear that we may have a
>circular argument: (a) to find a core construct you ladder as high as you
>can (b) a core construct is what you have when you ladder as high as you can.
>If you can extract me from this circle I would be more than grateful.
>Best wishes
>Charles Smith

a) I'm _never_ "so confident"_! Meaning is something _negotiated_ between
myself and the person who's values I'm trying to identify. And note, I
_did_ stress the need to ask the very simple question, "is this a value?"

I am _not_ in the business of telling the person, you, or anyone else what
that person's values are.

This sounds abrupt; please don't feel I'm being rude; it's just that I feel
strongly about it, and you seem to have missed the pragmatic tentativeness
of my suggestions.

b) Next, please note the _exact_ wording of the laddering technique. I fear
that when you asked your manager "why is it important to be a manager?" you
may very well have been putting him into a position of pronouncing on an
abstraction. No wonder he was despondent and you were unsure of the status
of his response.

The whole point about laddering is to ask the person "why is" (the
preferred pole whatever it is) "important FOR YOU?" !!! And not in the
abstract terms which you used....

I'm tempted to say that "I _guarantee_ that this wording, iterated as I
indicated, will progressively lead to more central, value-laden material".
Well, life is never that simple, I suppose, but try it! I'm fairly
confident you'll get fruitful results.

c) That's assuming, of course, that what you're looking for is personal values.

I can quite understand how the wording you used may have been useful in
confronting your manager with an ontological issue of great importance to
both of you. Whether you construe this as "a black hole" depends on whether
you were expecting a core construct or an ontological issue, I guess. But
ontological questions certainly do lead to anxiety, as Kelly defined it, by
definition, whenever the respondent is placed in a position of constraint
thereby (and today's managerialism certainly constrains managers
themselves, regardless
of what it does to the rest of us!)

Whether an Object Relations explanatory system would then be pertinent I
can't say, since I'm completely ignorant in that field; but perhaps some of
our clinical colleagues on this mailing list will offer their reactions on
this particular point.

d) Finally, no, I can't agree that there is any circularity in the
technique I sugegsted. The four criteria are helpful _precisely_ because
they permit me, and anyone else using them, to _avoid_ circular statements
of the kind you propose, and I'm puzzled that you should see the situation
as circular. If the problem is that one can never be _sure_; that one has
to _negotiate_ the meaning with the client; that there is no objective

... that's nothing to do with circularity;

... and welcome to the world of constructivism!

kindest regards,

Devi Jankowicz