Bannister, D. (1981). Personal Construct Theory and Research Method. In P. Reason & J. Rowan (Eds.). Human Inquiry. Chichester:
John Wiley & Sons.
- A developed psychological theory should have clear implications for research method.
- While most psychological theories point to particular techniques for use, the design of research in these fields derives not from the theory but mimics other scientific procedures.
- The inevitable outcome has been an impoverishment of thought about research design in psychology.
- It has lead to standard textbooks on psychological research being reduced to mere statistics books devoid of discussion about sources of inquiry.
- In proposing Personal Construct Psychology (PCP) Kelly (1955) integrated notions of appropriate research design.
- Research is seen simply as a formalised version of ordinary human inquiry; an act of construing, just like any other.
- The creativity cycle
- A notable omission from literature on research methodology is an indication as to how researchers should think, as distinct to how their research is to be designed.
- Kelly named the form in which we under take construing of events, or inquiry, as the creativity cycle comprising, circumspection, pre-emption and control.
- Circumspection: A phase that holds no rules, and which allows for imagination, fantasising and daydreaming as legitimate tools.
- Pre-emption: The phase where we invent, choose, discover and begin to unravel the kind of question we want to iinquire about.
- Control: A phase where we put our question into operational form, then put it to the test so as to seek a specific answer, to see if our hunch is confrimed or denied.
- A key point is that is a cycle, and not a one shot "do it and write it up" process - it might even involve smaller sub-cycles within the context of a larger overall creativity cycle.
- Kelly also postulated a cyclical process from tight to loose to tight to loose construing, and so on.
- Loose construing is like imagining things, being whimsical and speculative, and is essential for inventiveness and change.
- Tight construing is necessary to move from ideation to action, and involves moving into uni-directional prediction, anticipation and operational definition.
- Unfortunately psychologists tend to take up residence and work exclusively within one or other of these types of construing, resulting in those whose outcomes are vaguely and superficially significant on the one hand, and those that are specifically and precisely irrelevant on the other hand - neglecting the value of the cyclical journey.
- At the heart of most psychological research, the researcher is seen as quite a different being from "the researched" (the "subject"), however in PCP the distinction is at best only a level of abstraction, and in the language of PCP is equally applicable to making sense of how "the researcher" is trying to make sense of how "the researched" goes about trying to make sense of events.
- This quality of reflexivity suggests that your research should have personal meaning and significance for the researcher, and not be a task taken from some set of bland, conventional, institutionally derived issues.
- Reflexivity is intrinsically a denial of the doctrine that researchers think and are purposive while "subjects" are mechanical and determined, to the point that the researcher must employ deceptive devices (such as lie-scales and confederates) to ensure that the subject does not deceive the researcher!
- The psychological experiment is quite simply a formal instance of some people trying to understand some other people - an instance that might be better served by involving "the researched" in the investigation rather than simply treating them as objects to be studied.
- Ethical research behaviour demands more than that "we do no harm" and instead must acknowledge that it involves a relationship between researcher and researched, and our acknowledgement of this or otherwise, is some indication of the value we place on humankind.
- Psychological tools
- PCP has generated a number of tools for psychological inquiry - best known the Repertory Test.
- The major significance of PCP methods of inquiry are that they place emphasis on the meaning that the person (the "subject," the "researched") attaches to their veiw of the world, in contrast to emphasis on the externally imposed meaning that the researcher places on their observations of others
- The interpretation and meaning comes from the individual themself and contrasts with the downsteam conjecture as to whether "the researched" attached the same meaning to the questionnaire item as intended by the "researcher," and likewise whether the "researcher" has attached the same meaning as intended by the "researched."
- While Repertory Grid has been popular for its capacity for mathematical analysis, many other techniques native to PCP had (in 1981) been largely ignored - perhaps because they broke the "closed shop" whereby only psychologists may psychologise. (My note: Many of these other techniques such as self characterisation, Laddering, Pyramid technique etc. have gained in popularity through the 1990ís)
- Research as chaos or as boredom
- According to PCP persons choose to operate at that alternative of a bi-polar construct that they anticipate will provide the greatest possibility for elaboration of their cognitive system. Kelly envisaged 2 modes of elaboration:
- Extension, which means widening the range of convenience of a construct to account for a greater part of our world view and hitherto unexplored areas.
- Definition, which means becoming more precise about the meaning of, or our comprehension of, a specific area of our knowing or world view.
- Whether research is elaboration by extension or by definition hinges upon whether the constructs used in the research are specific and purpose built for a specific area of study, or part of a larger framework.
- Research based on elaboration purely by definition results in publications such as "The effect of varying levels of background illumination on the tachistoscopic perception of geometric figures." not particularly useful in itself, which offers no elaboration into a larger framework, which end up on the enormous intellectual heap of publications, from which nothing else can be construed, and which Kelly refered to as research that meets with "death by boredom."
- Research based on elaboration purely by extension results in publications such as "The implications of extrasensory perceptions of religious belief and interpersonal relations for social class, body type, birth order and philosophical stance." which are equal in offering nothing specifically useful and which Kelly referred to as research that meets with"death by chaos."
- In our personal lives we avoid ultimate boredom and chaos by both extending and defining, and could use the same theroretical framework for the same purpose in science/research.
- Bannister suggests that we should neither limit our research and inquiry to specific and convenient notions, nor gobble recklessly indigestible offerings from all over the place, and instead should employ a language, or construct system, in terms of questions that generate answers that in turn generate questions so that we elaborate along both modes.
- Research Freedoms.
- In summary a PCP approach offers the researcher certain freedoms.
- The concept of constructive alternativism contends that no single interpretation of reality is absolute and irrevocable, instead there are alternatives, and because of those alternatives you need not be trapped as a victim of your own biography or construct system.
- The doctrine of reflexivity argues that you are free to choose personally relevant issues to research and that your research exists independently of public demonstration (though it is fine if you can demonstrate it publicly).
- The contention that change involves cyclically tightening and loosening your construing suggests that research, if you so choose, can be both an act of imagination and an act of hard-nosed emperical testing.
- The creativity, circumspection, pre-emption, control cycle gives you freedom to offer research contributions at any phase of the cycle, and hence you can contribute at levels of hypothesis testing, quantitative analysis and/or thematic analysis of free flowing material (you are not trapped).
- Finally, PCP demands that research be cast into a linguistic- theoretical framework, broad enough to encompass a vision of a person - a framework which gives both you and others opportunity to elaborate further, outwards, from the specific study.
Reviewed by Robin Hill (August 1997).
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