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Interest Group: Politics, cultural and social issues (PCS-IG)


Although George Kelly’s approach to the human condition, the Psychology of Personal Constructs, seems to focus on the individual and on the meaning that individuals attach to what they experience around them, the social and societal implications of his theory have not gone unnoticed. Individuals live among other individuals, deal with others, communicate, share food and constructs with others, cannot survive without others. What begins at the group level extends to society. Obviously, individuals are shaped by society, but they are also shapers and authors of their fate – and of the fate of others.
In 1961, Kelly famously travelled around the world, not as a tourist but with the aim of exploring people’s views about crucial issues they and their countries were facing. He thus laid the ground for applying personal construct theory to political issues, at a time when tensions between the so-called First and Second Worlds were at their peak – it was the year the Berlin Wall was erected. Don Bannister, one of the founding sons of PCP, recalled a somewhat cryptic remark by Kelly that he “opted for politics” when considering “where we would like personal construct theory to go in an elaborative sense” (Bannister, 2003, p. 181). Twenty years later (in 1981), Bannister himself contributed to this elaboration in a seminal paper that was published only in 2003. The number of papers addressing the use of PCP with regard to politics have not been many, though. That the South African Peter Du Preez in the 1970s, Devorah Kalekin-Fishman from Israel, Dušan Stojnov from Yugoslavia (now Serbia) and Jörn Scheer in Germany in the 1990s are among them is probably not accidental. The construction of group realities. – Culture, society, and personal construct theory (edited by Kalekin-Fishman and Walker in 1996) and Crossing borders – going places. – Personal constructions of otherness (edited by Scheer in 2003) bear witness to this development.
That ‘great men’ shape history is probably as true as it is simplistic. But, as Fay Fransella (2003) quotes the historian David Gillard, “we can assume that foreign policy consists of the construing by a small number of identifiable individuals of the behaviour of their counterparts in other states. This they do through identifying their opponents’ personal constructs and trying to change or reinforce them by a wide choice of methods, which can range from intimate discussion to total war.” (p. 450) Psychoanalysts have already analysed notorious evil-doers in history and the discipline of political psychology has been around for quite a while. It is probably not surprising that some social constructionists have discovered international politics, although it may be new to the reader that “constructivism has become one of the major theories in the field of international relations” (as a Wikipedia entry posits).

We believe however that the theory of personal constructs can contribute to a better understanding of what's going on in politics - not just international relations, world peace, globalisation and the like. Because politics and political involvement start next door. Or rather behind our own door. Why do some people get involved in politics and others don't, how do workers and managers construe the same issues, what kind of constructs are at the bottom of xenophobia, solidarity, prejudice, reconciliation - there seems to be an infinite number of highly important issues that personal construct theory might be able to shed some light on. I have treated some of the issues in Scheer 2008 (see link).

Jörn Scheer

© Jörn Scheer  2017
Last update 1 September 2017