Request for advice on laddering and grids

John Mayes (
Thu, 04 Mar 1999 11:04:14 +1300

Dear PCP list members

Fionn Stevenson asked a number of questions which I referred to Dr Valerie
Stewart. Below is her response:

Dear Fionn,

You quote: "One supervisor suggested that it was inappropriate to use
constructs that had been elicited from laddering down in a grid ("they are
superordinate constructs and don't tell you anything more when you carry
out a PCA-just use the
first constructs elicited from the cards 3 at a time!"). Is this right?"

It's not right, I'm afraid, and your supervisor is at odds with accepted
Grid practice throughout the ages. First of all, constructs elicited from
laddering down (tell me more about how elements that are X differ from
elements that are Y) are not superordinate. You get superordinate
constructs from laddering up (Why is that an important distinction to make
.... or Which pole do you prefer and why). Constructs elicited from
laddering down are intended to take you out towards the periphery of the
construct hierachy, by getting more detail about the observable/behavioural
characteristics of the construct.

Much depends on where you enter the interviewee's construct hierarchy, and
this is usually a matter of accident (though you can try to guide). One
person may begin by giving you lots of propositional constructs, and these
you need to ladder up. Another may begin by giving you very abstract
constructs and you need to ladder down to see what they look like in
practice. It sounds as if your supervisor is not as well acquainted as he
might be with the notion of construct hierarchies.

Then you say: The same chap suggested that the primary constructs elicited
from the cards first and before the laddering are "more important" than the
laddered ones. When we talked about this, he suggested that the constructs
that are more immediately accesssible to a co-participant (I prefer this
term to client) when giving constructs, are more important than ones that
have to be laddered down. I argued that they might be more "accessible" but
not more "significant".

You're right. This applies especially to the beginning of the interview,
where people are getting used to the two-against-one process and are
experiencing for the first time what it does to their thinking. Also, it is
not up to your supervisor, or even to you, to decide which constructs are
important. This is a question that can only be answered by the person
you're interviewing. Once you've got a good bunch of constructs out, ask
the interviewee to prioritise them.

Finally you say: All three supervisors (one architect, one psychologist,
one polymath) argued that nobody has really advanced Kelly's basic theory
in 40 years and that most of the work carried out in PCP seems to be a
refinement of techniques only. Is this a fair comment? This was related in
particular to the idea that constructs are possibly related to genetic
"imprinting" that transfers cultural codes from one generation to the
next........ has anyone challenged Kellyian notions of realism based on
experience rather than genetics??

Kelly's theory never really had a champion in the same way that some other
theorists did. So the basic comment is fine. I personally take the view
that I wish there were much more robust experience in the basic techniques
- including the way Grid interviewing is taught - before wasting time on
the nature/nuture thing. I think your experience is an example of this.

Might I suggest that you download my book on Grid from the Enquire Within
website, and/or purchase the booklet we have written on the Repertory Grid
interview, for some support for your views, which in my view as a 30-odd
years gridder are correct?

Valerie Stewart

John Mayes