Tim A. Connor (
Mon, 28 Apr 1997 17:15:27 -0700 (PDT)

A lot of good stuff here over the last few days. I especially liked
Bob's observation about language as a mirror, and seeing ourselves as a
mirror for others (so much more elegant than talking about construing
others' construing of our constructions of them...:-).

I think representation is a difficult concept, in that it is often taken
as implying accuracy. I prefer (following Geertz) to talk about models
rather than representations. Models are constructed with the *intention*
of representing selected relevant features of the environment, but the
term doesn't imply a one-to-one match as representation seems to. A
blueprint is a model of a building, but my architect brother-in-law
recently showed me photos of locker rooms in two middle schools he is
renovating, which were built from identical blueprints but had differences
that even a layman like me could recognize without looking hard. There's
a distinction (Geertz points out) to be made between a "model of" and a
"model for," which is relative to the intentions of the person using the
model. The blueprints began as models for a building; they were given to
my brother-in-law as models of the buildings. We can construct a "model
of" something (including our "self"), take it as a "model for" and try to
replicate it in action. We might also take a model of something, introduce
new elements or change the relations between elements to generate a novel
model, which might be either of or for. While there are purely biological
"models for" (DNA is one), it requires symbols to construct a "model of",
or to convert between the two modes.

The more I think about it, the less satisfying I find the "live in
language" formulation (even taking "language" in a broad sense). I think
it points to something important, but is too restrictive in its view of
human experience. It seems to suggest that thought is fundamentally
verbal/symbolic, which does not seem to be supported by any evidence I
know of. Aphasics can function quite adequately in most areas of life,
and their conceptual and problem-solving skills can be relatively intact
(sometimes there's some difficulty with sequencing) even though they can't
produce and/or comprehend language (BTW, Gary--I know of no form of
amnesia that includes forgetting how to talk. As important as language is
in organizing our experience, I don't think it is the exclusive medium of
our experience. We need to symbolize our experience in order to make
sense of it and act upon it in a coherent way, and symbols themselves are
a large part of our experience as social/cultural animals, but they aren't
the whole thing. I do think Devi's right to note that there is a risk
that defining construing in too elemental a way, but I guess my own sense
of it is that there is some correlation between construct hierarchies and
CNS hierarchy. In my lexicon, construing begins at the
brainstem--activation of a reflex arc is not construing.

I don't think I've read enough of Gergen and the other social
constructionists to have a good grasp of their view of language/culture
as a psychological system. What I've read seems rather vague--language
is invoked without any real analysis of the process by which it
structures construing. Also, they seem to me to reify society as much as
more individualistic theorists have reified the self. It seems to me
that it's here that we really need the dialectical perspective--to look
at the tension between the socially constructed meaning systems that
individuals internalize, and the personal meaning systems that they enact
socially. Without that dialectic, one seems to fall into social
determinism on the one hand or solipsism on the other, and both seem to
foreclose on the possibility of what I see as the most distinctive
quality of human beings--our boundless inventiveness and creativity.
Individually and collectively, we constantly come up with new responses
to old situations, something other animals do infrequently, and usually
through genetic mutation. How do we do it?


Tim Connor, M.S. "Psychotherapy is not
Pacific University an applied science, it
School of Professional Psychology is a basic science in
2004 Pacific Avenue which the scientists
Forest Grove, OR 97116 USA are the client and his
<> therapist"
--George Kelly