Re: intersubjectivity

Tim A. Connor (
Thu, 17 Apr 1997 10:16:19 -0700 (PDT)

On Wed, 16 Apr 1997, Robert Parks wrote:

> I was interested in your statement:
> >In Pepper's typology, I see SD as organismic with a
> >strong mechanistic slant (as might have been expected from a
> >biologically-based theory); PCP as contextualist (with a twist of
> >dialecticalism, which is not one of Pepper's root metaphors, but should
> >have been, IMHO).
> I'm particulary interested in your desire to add a "twist of
> dialecticalism". Could you elaborate? In a post to this list 5 minutes
> ago, I was working in that direction also. I think the construction of self
> and the construction of society that provides the context of self must be
> taken together. This is what I have come to call "Political Construct
> Theory", because it identifies the nexus of self and social construction as
> its primary task, and identifies the dimensions of power and solidarity as
> crucial to the determination of trajectories of self and social
> construction.
> I would propose power and solidarity as two crucial moments in this
> dialectical process. Power identifying the factors that give us an ability
> to act on our constructs, and solidarity identifying the factors that
> undergird the process of self and social construction (e.g., those family
> and work processes that sustain and give a coherence to this self
> construction process).


When I think of dialectic in PCP, I'm thinking principally of a dialectic
between construction and action. I must construe the world in order to
act, and I must act in order to construe (In a post a while back, on
reality, I think I said something like "reality is the dialectic between
my intended path and the rocks I trip over trying to follow it.") We can't
really hold a construct without acting on it (if we don't act on it it's
not a construct but a conceit), but when we act we are likely to encounter
some degree of invalidation, out of which we synthesize a new construct,
etc. Most of the really important construing and action occurs in
relation to other people (in my private lexicon, I call it INTERpersonal
Construct Psychology), so the dialectic is between my constructions and
the behavior of others when they respond to my actions based on those

I haven't really thought about this much in political terms, though I've
considered the issue of power in personal relationships--it seems to me
that power has something to do with being able to assume commonality and
disregard sociality, to take the stance that of course the other shares
your construction so there is no need to construe their perspective. (And
then, of course, to get away with it--which is where hostility usually
comes in). Solidarity, I think, is a much trickier thing, especially since
power so often masquerades as solidarity. (I guess I'm giving power a
negative spin that you may not have intended--it's the anarchist in me).

I would assume that solidarity involves both sociality and commonality,
but I don't think PCP has yet provided any clear explanation of how one
gets from one to the other (and I don't think the other constructivisms
and constructionisms have done much better). As someone (Chris Evans?)
said a couple of days ago, to construe someone's constructs is not to
know them--so how do people end up sharing constructions, except by lucky
accident? I don't think any of us doubt that people do, through some
process of interpersonal construing, develop large portions of their
construct systems that are, for most practical purposes, identical--they
generate the same predictions and the same set of alternatives for
action. And I don't think any of us doubt that this happens primarily
through language and other symbolic systems.

Maybe I'm looking for a degree of precision and detail in the theory that
isn't really achievable, but I find the usual constructivist spiel about
language vague and even obfuscatory (though it may just be because I've
never had the patience to read Derrida or Foucault). As I've said, I
prefer to use "language" in a narrow sense, to mean systems of signs whose
connection to their meanings is arbitrary (digital). There are other
symbol systems such as posture, gesture, and proximity (Edward T. Hall has
written extensively about these), art, architecture, & music, religious
ritual, etc. that have substantial analog components--they in some sense
directly model the meaning they represent (counting on fingers is analog
symbolizing; doing a sum in arabic numerals is digital). I subsume all of
these under "culture", following Geertz's definition: "the accumulated
totality of organized systems of significant symbols."

So the question becomes "how do I symbolize my construing in such a way as
to make it public and have others construe those symbols in such a way
that we can construe events similarly?" Geertz's answer is that thought
is primarily external--the public manipulation of symbols is the medium in
which we learn to think, the internal, private manipulation of symbols a
secondary, derived capability. I think this is correct, but I haven't
fully worked out how it fits with PCP (given that construing is
presymbolic). Something like this, though: construing takes place in
action, not in the private formulation of hypotheses to be tested in
action (the personal scientist metaphor has its limits); humans have
evolved the capacity to symbolize constructs (and elements), and so to
build models of our construing which we can manipulate and modify in a
social process, and then internalize to modify the structure of our
construing. While construing itself is presymbolic, it is the ability to
model our constructions that gives us the flexibility to explore
alternative constructions and so coordinate our adaptive social processes
without having to rely on biological evolution. Culture then is both a
medium through which we interact and one which structures our own
processes--it's both inside and outside us, interpenetrating all human
systems and breaking down the organizational closure that characterizes
purely biological systems.

I was going to give examples, but this is a very long post already, so
I'll save them. Does this fit at all with your ideas about solidarity?