Saturday, April 17, 2010

Toward a Science of Consciousness, Day 4: Transformations of Consciousness

I skipped day 3 of the Consciousness conference so that I could make a little money. But day 4, yesterday, was packed with new information that I want to share. There is a ton of stuff, so this will take a while to write up and post. Today I begin with the first session from Friday, Transformations of Consciousness.

Plenary 7: Transformations of Consciousness

First up, Cassandra Vieten details the transformative process of change and spiritual engagement.
Transformations in Consciousness through Spiritual Engagement. Cassandra Vieten, Marilyn Schlitz, Tina Amorok, Adam Cohen, John Astin (Institute Of Noetic Sciences, Petaluma, CA)

Spiritual and religious experiences and practices can result in transformations in consciousness - significant changes in people’s worldviews, motivations and priorities, perceptions of self and environment, cognitive/affective functioning, and behaviors. A series of studies including narrative analyses, focus groups, surveys, in-depth interviews, and longitudinal studies conducted by our research team has shed light on what aspects of spiritual experience and engagement predict health and well-being outcomes, as well as potential mechanisms of change. A model of the transformative process will be presented.
Vieten (who represents the Institute of Noetic Sciences) made a good argument for the study of transformations of consciousness, using a rather broad definition of consciousness: "The subjective internal reality and experience of the world, a perceptual view or worldview."

Her working model for transformation begins with a catalyst, a novel experience that launches the person into seeking an explanation or model for an experience. The catalyst can be an experience of awe or some kind of spiritual state, but just as often it can be painful, traumatic, or frightening. Importantly, she detailed what can go wrong at each stage of the process, and at this stage the person can simply reject the experience or deny its validity or impact in a variety of ways.

If the catalyst is not rejected, the person is likely to have seen the experience as profound or dramatic. They are more likely to have an openness of mind, be open to direct experience, to have repeated the experience, and have their experience validated by another person (often an authority of some kind).

The catalyst then launches the person into seeking behavior, looking for an explanation or model that can explain their experience. The downside is that people can get stuck in seeking and end up hopping from model to model and never really settle into any form of consistent practice.

If the person finds a suitable model, they then enter into a practice. She defines most practices as possessing the following qualities:

intention - desire, focus
attention - training the mind
repetition - keep doing it
guidance - a teacher or guide
community - like-minded people doing the same practice
cosmology - a model that explains reality
She also suggests that there are two pathways of practice:
training - top down, learning new habits, new methods for living
insight/realization - bottom up, worldview or mind-space shift as a result of experience
Again, people tend to get stuck in practice as end in itself. Rather than transferring the practice into their daily lives (life as practice, which is the opposite of being stuck), they are the equivalent of Sunday Christians (those who go to church on Sunday, but do not carry over the lessons into their daily lives). Another version of this is those people who get stuck in personal growth as the meaning of life. The healthier side of this is the shift from me to we - becoming of service to the world as a part of one's practice.

Finally, if all of these shifts are successful, the result is what she describes as living deeply. The problem in finding these people is that there is no adequate measure of this form of growth process. She would like to see the development of some diagnostic tools that can measure real depth of spiritual attainment (she and Jeff Martin, who was the next presenter, should talk).

In creating such a measure, she suggests the following qualities that might be included:
a more open stance toward experience
open/expanded sense of self
deeper sense of connectedness
shifts in temporal location
acting from attention/intention
values shift - worldcentric, cosmocentric
properties shift - context not content
Some mechanisms that might explain this shift include the following:
emotional regulation
meta-cognition shifts
subject/object shift
nondual experience
expanded compassion
Finally, she suggested that supporting transformational change in people is more about helping them live more deeply than it is about the change itself.

My questions:
1) What impact does the spiritual line of development have on other developmental lines?
2) How does someone stabilize the "state experience" (which is temporary) into a "stage attainment" (which is more lasting)?
3) How does one cope with the disruption to life that a transformative experience might bring? (As a side-note and self-promotional plug, I address this idea in my eBook on coping with change)

* * * * *

The next presenter,
Jeffrey A. Martin of Harvard University, has a project in which he seeks to verify people's claims to enlightenment. Of those he has tested, most seem to be failing.

Empirically Testing Purported Claims of Enlightenment Using Standard Psychological Methods and Instruments. Jeffrey A. Martin (Harvard University; CIIS, Quincy, MA )

Alleged non-symbolic experiences have been reported for millennia (Stace, 1960, Hanson, 1991). These experiences are often attributed to spiritual and religious contexts, however atheists and agnostics also report them (Newberg, d’Aquili, Rause, 2001; Newberg, & Waldman, 2006; Newberg, & Waldman, 2009). They go by many names, popular ones include: nondual awareness, enlightenment, mystical experiences, peak experiences, transcendental experience, the peace that passeth understanding, unity consciousness, union with God, and so forth (Thomas & Cooper, 1980; MacDonald, 2000; Levin & Steele, 2005). Most nonsymbolic experiences are temporary, but some individuals have reported that they experience persistent forms of them (Travis, Arenander, & DuBois, 2004; Maslow, 1970, 1973; Butlein, 2005; Levin & Steele, 2005). Virtually all of the information about persistent forms of these experiences comes from self report data (e.g., Stace, 1960; McGinn, 1991). No comprehensive empirical investigation of persistent forms of these alleged experiences has been undertaken and completed. This presentation focuses on the first one that is underway, and includes preliminary data as well as an overview of the inquiry and what remains to be done. The overall inquiry focuses on three phases comprising many data collection efforts, each of which are quasi- or full experiments. The first phase focuses on obtaining comprehensive psychometric profiles of individuals who self report these experiences, as well as relevant qualitative data. Examples of measures used in this phase include those covering: psychopathology, big 5 personality, anxiety, absorption, and developmental levels (such as the Washington University Sentence Completion Test). The second phase involves testing psychological claims made by people who self report these states using well validated psychological experiments. These claims are often considered untestable because they are put forth in a spiritual or religious context, and frequently used to refer to ‘ultimate’ truths. However, when one views these claims as psychological there are many empirical tests and measures that can be used to examine the scope of claims being made. For example, claims of ‘loss of a personal self’ and ‘unity’ can be tested from many angles. ‘Self,’ as these participants define it, contains racial and gender bias, so loss of this ‘self’ should lead to participants scoring low on covert tests for this type of bias. Claims of unbiased perception of the world and of seeing ‘what is’ much more accurately in every moment can likewise be tested in many ways, such as using experiments involving visual inattentional blindness. These two phases are being conducted in parallel and have been underway for approximately a year. A third will commence after the first two are completed and will focus on brain imaging based on the data collected in phases one and two. Individuals self-reporting persistent forms of this experience are rare, and data is collected as they are encountered recruited as participants. Strong efforts are being made to attempt a sample that is as diverse as possible.
Martin's definition of enlightenment revolves around the notion of non-symbolic experience - this is from his website (if you think you qualify as having had an experience of this nature, go to the website and add yourself to the subject pool):
The Center for the Study of Non-Symbolic Consciousness is dedicated to academic inquiry into non-symbolic perception and cognition. Broadly speaking, non-symbolic consciousness includes the following concepts, and several others:
Nondual awareness
Mystical experiences
Peak experiences
Plateau experiences Samadhi
Silence beyond sound
Unity consciousness

Transcendental experiences
Cosmic Consciousness Numinous experiences Deautomatization

Flow experience
The peace of God, which passeth all understanding
Shamanic ecstasy
And many more...
He is looking for persistent experience, not a single experience. There has been very little research in this area for a variety of career-oriented reasons, such as tenure, grants, respect of peers.

He begins by suggesting that among those he has tested and interviewed, there is a very low level of internal coherence in their self-reports.

His research takes a three-pronged approach (1 and 2 are concurrent):
1. Psychometrics: self-reports, psychopathology tests, Big 5 personality, anxiety measures, depression measures, Washington University Sentence Completion Test (Loevinger's developmental levels), and absorption tests, among others.

2. In-depth interviews lasting as long as four hours. Martin is looking for clarity of claims, languaging issues, coherence with personal statements.

3. Brain imaging - this part is still incomplete but is in the works.
Part of the problem with this research is the variety of metaphors used to define the experience, such as: enlightenment, nonduality, samadhi, nirvana, ego-less, no self, one taste, one-pointed, satori, Godhead, bliss, union with the Beloved, flow, and so on. Each of these terms has specific meanings to the people who use them, so any kind of comparison of the terms is a challenge.

Of the 300+ people in his database so far, the diversity is pretty extreme. What he has found:
People are unlikely to stand out in a crowd
Super-achievers range from "rock stars" in the field to the homeless
Most are religious or spiritual
Age ranges from early twenties to early nineties
Globally dispersed, although 2/5 are in US, of which 40% are in California
Generally highly educated
Skewed toward men
What follows are the core claims made, in some form or another, by most of those who self-report an enlightenment experience or attainment. [It was unclear if these were among the 300+ confirmed cases or general self-claims that have been tested and rejected.]
Loss of self: However, most still take the "I" position in conversation. According to the psychometric tests, very little about (if anything) about their self is out of the ordinary. They seem to maintain their addictions, their mental disorders, their racial and gender biases, and so on. Those who know them often report no differences in their personalities.

As an aside, he mentioned one person who was taking anti-anxiety medications. This person reported absence of anxiety and appeared to test as such. However, he reported that if he did not take his meds, he would begin shaking and have an anxiety attack.

Absence of thoughts: This is a false claim. All those who make this claim still can communicate, problem solve, and so on. He suspects that they mean a reduction in self-rumination or emotionally-charged thoughts. However, during fatigue, hunger, or upon waking, emotionally-charged thoughts can creep back into awareness.

Oneness/Nonduality: No adequate test for this state/claim.

Inner peace: Most still subject to "troubling" emotions.

Reduction of autobiographical self: Psychometric testing suggests this is not true.

Lack of agency: No "doer," no free will - ME: witness state?

Things pass through: Not getting hooked, non-attachment. May be one of the best indicators in my opinion.
For all of those tested, orientation in time and space was consistent, and physical/emotional arousal still occurred.

The proposed mechanisms for how these people have these experiences are similar to what was presented by Cassandra Vieten in the first presentation:
1. Effort: Long-term meditation practice, or other practice. These people have devoted their lives to attaining this state/experience.

2. Self-objectifying event: A crisis, a trauma, or some other form of life-changing event launches the person into a position of experiencing self as an object of awareness.

ME: This is a major event for most people when it happens for the first time, but is this really an enlightenment experience?

3. Unknown: For these people it is unclear how or why this state emerges. This is the smallest category of the three.
As to the question of whether or not this state is permanent, as most who have been tested have claimed, the answer seems to be no. Many people have lost access to the state as a result of stress, illness, or other issues (one lost it when his wife divorced him).

Others reject the experience and want to be "normal" again. These folks do not like the changes it brings into their lives. I wonder if these may be the more authentic experiences?

I have some issues with this study.

My guess is that he is failing to distinguish between ego consciousness and witness state consciousness, and he assumes that if one is enlightened, the ego is no longer present or the person no longer feels normal human feelings, which is so wrong as to be laughable in my opinion. This quote explains the fundamental error in his approach (in my opinion):
"Many people make the mistake of thinking that since ego is the root of suffering, the goal of spirituality must be to conquer and destroy ego. They struggle to eliminate ego's heavy hand but that struggle is merely another expression of ego. We go around and around trying to improve ourselves through struggle, until we realize that ambition to improve ourselves is the problem." Chögyam Trungpa Rinpoche: Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism
When people achieve enlightenment, which may be more precisely defined as a permanent access the Witness State, the following conditions seem to apply:

1. the ego does not cease to exist
2. we do not cease to have normal human feelings
3. we do not stop experiencing pain
4. we do not lose temporal awareness
5. we do not stop thinking

However, from what I gather, we cease to attach to any of these things. We see painful feelings come into awareness and watch them dissipate when we do not attach to them, or get "hooked" by them in Pema Chodron's words.

In the famous Zen saying:

Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.
I think that Martin is doing something important, but I think he needs a better understanding of what enlightenment is or is not, and how it changes or does not change those who experience it.

* * * * *

Speaking of enlightenment, the final presentation in this plenary session comes from ZaChoeje Rinpoche, a Tibetan monk teaching in Scottsdale, AZ.

Tibetan Buddhist Perspective on Consciousness, Enlightenment and Reincarnation. Za Choeje Rinpoche (Emaho Foundation, Scottsdale, AZ)

A Tibetan Buddhist Lama shares how thousands of years of spiritual and philosophical tradition can give fresh insight on the nature of consciousness, causality, and ideas about Self. Experience firsthand how exploring new ideas can transform your world. The co-author of “The Backdoor to Enlightenment”, Za Choeje Rinpoche is a Tibetan Lama who was recognized as a reincarnated spiritual Master when he was an adolescent. He left behind his life in a refugee camp to live and study in a traditional Tibetan monastery as a student of His Holiness the Dalai Lama. The next generation of spiritual teachers, Za Rinpoche incorporates ancient wisdom with a sharp understanding of the problems of our modern world.” Rinpoche is a spiritual leader of the Tehor region in Tibet. He represented his region in the presentation of the long life prayer to His Holiness the 14th Dalai Lama in 2005
In all fairness, ZaChoeje (whose original name was Choejor Dhondup) makes no claim to enlightenment, and although he was recognized by His Holiness the Dalai Lama as the 6th reincarnation of the great ZaChoeje Rinpoche (whose last incarnation died in a Chinese Prison), he has no memory of any of his past lives. [However, he completed the trainings for the title of Rinpoche - the Geshe Lharampa degree, equivalent to a PhD in Buddhism - which generally take 25-30 years in only 10 years.]

Rinpoche presented the general Tibetan version of mind and consciousness, defining consciousness as the essence of mind, and not a physically identifiable thing. Brain and mind are connected, but not identical. Consciousness is the clarity element of mind.

The two elements of mind are consciousness and perception. We all have six senses, the five physical senses (taste, touch, vision, scent, sound) - each of which has its own consciousness - and mental consciousness, which is the sixth sense (identifiable most easily in the dream state).

He defined enlightenment as the transformation of consciousness: discovering impermanence, recognizing our inherent Buddhanature. This is seen as nonduality, one consciousness inhabiting all things in unity. All sentient beings have Buddhanature.

All beings can attain enlightenment by recognizing their always, already present Buddhanature. For him, enlightenment is a permanent state (we are already there, we just don't know it).

Some great quotes/koans:
Remaining unstruggled in the struggling world is enlightenment - He compared this to "coming home to the present moment."

Enlightenment is the DUH! moment - The Buddha giggled when he discovered his always already enlightened self, finding it funny that it had been there all along while he had spent years seeking it. It's a realization, not an achievement.

"We think of samsara (the reality that generates suffering) as being here and nirvana being somewhere out there, but it is the opposite. We are out there in samsara and we need to come back here to nirvana."
An important point related to the last presentation - Rinpoche says the Buddha still experienced struggling after his enlightenment, because struggling is the nature of this reality. However, and this is the key point, Buddha did not struggle with the struggling.

On the topic of reincarnation, Rinpoche says there is no proof. There are no physical markers than persists from one incarnation into the next.

At the moment of death, we dissolve (he used the word deconstruct) through eight progressive stages until at the moment of death he experience Clear Light, a very subtle state. At this point, all personal traits associated with that body are lost.

My thoughts:
His philosophy of consciousness seems to be monist in each person's lifetime, then dualist at the moment of death - very interesting approach. For this life, body and mind are unified as far as our experience is concerned, so that is how it is treated in practice.

He also supported the quote I presented in the last section from Chogyam Trungpa on ego - He made the point (during the Q&A) that ego is necessary for survival in this world. It is also necessary for development - we cannot transcend/subvert the ego in the return to our true nature if we have not developed a healthy ego in the first place. If we have no ego, we have no safety and will not survive.

Moreover, he made the point that centralization of identity in the ego is crucial to our development - this statement came in response to a question about raising our children without the supposed limitations of ego consciousness. He said, "We must consolidate before we can transcend."

Again, this question from the crowd of philosophers and neuroscientists seems to suggest a persistent and widespread misunderstanding of ego and enlightenment.

* * * * *

I have a lot more to discuss, including a new presentation from Antonio Damasio on his Neural Theory of Self, a look at Panpsychism (as closely as I can make sense of it), an effort to make sense of Damasio's "core self" and Buddhism's meditation practices to dismantle the self (another misunderstanding of Buddhism, I would contend), and a look at Rita Carter's presentation on multiplicity in the self (based on a lot of work by other people whom she failed to credit AT ALL), and more.

George Kelly's Personal Construct Theory

This is a primary entry and explanation of George Kelly's Personal Construct Theory, a psychological model that was new to me until a recent episode of the All in the Mind. This material comes from The Internet Encyclopedia of Personal Construct Psychology.

I'm interested in this model's understanding of how people organize and change their views of self and world in the counseling context. I'm not willing to say I agree at this point, since I am still looking at the model and its different interpretations, but it's interesting.

There is a journal - Personal Construct: Theory and Practice - with many more good articles.

Personal Construct Theory

Personal Construct Theory (PCT) represents a coherent, comprehensive psychology of personality that has special relevance for psychotherapy. Originally drafted by the American psychologist George Kelly in 1955, PCT has been extended to a variety of domains, including organizational development, education, business and marketing, and cognitive science. However, its predominant focus remains on the study of individuals, families, and social groups, with particular emphasis on how people organize and change their views of self and world in the counseling context.

At the base of Kelly’s theory is the image of the person-as-scientist, a view that emphasizes the human capacity for meaning making, agency, and ongoing revision of personal systems of knowing across time. Thus, individuals, like incipient scientists, are seen as creatively formulating constructs, or hypotheses about the apparent regularities of their lives, in an attempt to make them understandable, and to some extent, predictable. However, predictability is not pursued for its own sake, but is instead sought as a guide to practical action in concrete contexts and relationships. This implies that people engage in continuous extension, refinement, and revision of their systems of meaning as they meet with events that challenge, or invalidate their assumptions, prompting their personal theories toward greater adequacy.

Kelly formally developed his theory through a series of corollaries , which can be broadly grouped into those concerned with the process of construing, the structure of personal knowledge, and the social embeddedness of our construing efforts. At the level of process, PCT envisions people as actively organizing their perceptions of events on the basis of recurring themes, meanings attributed to the 'booming, buzzing confusion' of life in an attempt to render it interpretable. By punctuating the unending flow of experience into coherent units, people are able to discern similarities and differences of events in terms that are both personally significant and shared by relevant others. At the level of structure, PCT suggests that meaning is a matter of contrast - an individual attributes meaning to an event not only by construing what it is, but also by differentiating it from what it is not. For example, a given person’s unique description of some acquaintances as 'laid back' can only be fully understood in the context of its personal contrast—say, 'ambitious' as opposed to 'uptight'. At a broader level, individuals, social groups, and whole cultures orient themselves according to (partially) shared constructs such as 'liberal vs. conservative', 'pro-life vs. pro-choice'”and 'democratic vs. totalitarian', which provide a basis for self-definition and social interaction. Especially important in this regard are core constructs, frequently unverbalizable meanings that play critical organizing roles for the entirety of our construct systems, ultimately embodying our most basic values and sense of self. Finally, at the level of the social embeddedness of our construing, PCT stresses both the importance of private, idiosyncratic meanings, and the way in which these arise and find validation within relational, family, and cultural contexts.

To a greater extent than other 'cognitively' oriented theories of personality and psychotherapy, PCT places a strong emphasis on emotional experiences, understood as signals of actual or impending transitions in one’s fundamental constructs for anticipating the world. For example, individuals might experience threat when faced with the prospect of imminent and comprehensive change in their core structures of identity (e.g., when facing dismissal from a valued career, or abandonment by a partner they counted on to validate a familiar image of themselves). Alternatively, people might experience anxiety when confronted with events that seem almost completely alien and uninterpretable within their previous construct system. This attention to the delicate interweaving of meaning and affect has made PCT an attractive framework for contemporary researchers and clinicians concerned with such topics as relational breakdown, trauma, and loss, all of which can fundamentally undercut one’s assumptive world, triggering a host of significant emotional and behavioral responses.

As an approach to psychotherapy, PCT stresses the importance of the therapist making a concerted effort to enter the client’s world of meaning and understand it 'from the inside out', as a precondition to assisting with its revision. In this way the therapist does not assume to be an expert who guides clients toward a more 'rational' or 'objectively true' way of thinking. Instead, he or she works to help clients recognize the coherence in their own ways of construing experience, as well as their personal agency in making modifications in these constructions when necessary. At times the therapist prompts the client’s self-reflection by making use of various interviewing strategies such as the laddering technique to help articulate core constructs, or narrative exercises such as self-characterization methods, as a precursor to experimenting with new ways of construing self and others. Such changes may be further fostered by the creative use of in-session enactment, fixed role therapy (in which clients 'try out' new identities in the course of daily life), and other psychodramatic techniques.

A unique feature of PCT is its extensive program of empirical research, conducted by hundreds of social scientists around the world. Most of this research has drawn on repertory grid methods, a flexible set of tools for assessing systems of personal meanings, which have been used in literally thousands of studies since Kelly first proposed it. By providing visual and semantic 'maps' of an individual’s construct system and how it applies to important facets of one’s life (e.g., relationships with friends, partners, and family members), grids have proven useful in both applied and research settings. Among the many topics investigated using this method are the body images of anorexic clients; the ability of family members to understand one another’s outlooks; children’s reliance on concrete versus abstract construing of people; and the degree of commonality of work team members in their construing of common projects.

Finally, it is worth emphasizing that PCT, despite its status as the original clinical constructivist theory, remains a living tradition that continues to attract scholars, researchers and practitioners from a broad range of disciplines. More than many theories, it has established a sizable following and annual conferences outside of North America, with vigorous programs of training, research, and practice in countries as diverse as Australia, Germany, Spain, and the United Kingdom. As it has grown in influence, it has also begun to articulate with other, more recent 'postmodern' traditions of scholarship, including other constructivist, social constructionist, and narrative therapy approaches. While these various perspectives differ in some respects, each draws attention to the way in which personal identity is constructed and transformed in a social context. Likewise, each focuses on the role of language in defining reality, and each suggests a collaborative role for the psychotherapist attempting to assist clients with the problems of living.

  • Fransella, F. (1996). George Kelly. Thousand Oaks, CA and London: Sage.
  • Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. New York: Norton.
  • Neimeyer, R. A., & Raskin, J. (Eds.). (2001). Constructions of disorder: Meaning making frameworks in psychotherapy. Washington: American Psychological Association.
  • Neimeyer, R. A. & Neimeyer, G. J. (Eds.), (2002). Advances in Personal Construct Psychology. New York: Praeger.
  • Raskin, J. D. & Bridges, S. K. (Eds.). (2002). Studies in meaning: Exploring constructivist psychology. New York: Pace University Press.
~ Robert A. Neimeyer and Sara K. Bridges
I want to include one more section, on emotion in Personal Construct Theory.


David Lester
Richard Stockton College, Pomona, New Jersey, USA
George Kelly claimed that there were no emotions in Personal Construct Theory (PCT). The present paper notes that Kelly did define four important emotions and reviews the work by McCoy in extending the range of emotions that can be explained by PCT. In addition, the theories of personality formulated by non-PCT psychologists (Paul McReynolds and Prescott Lecky), which are consistent with PCT and which are provocative, are discusssed.

Keywords: emotions, personal construct theory, Mildred McCoy, Prescott Lecky.
We have to be careful in reporting George Kelly's theory. It is not that George Kelly liked to mislead people, but he liked to test people, to play games, perhaps to see whether they were sharp enough to see the light. Part of this game playing is apparent in the way in which he described his own theory. He noted very early in his exposition of the theory of personal constructs that his theory had no place for emotions. He said, “There is no ego, no emotion, no motivation, no reinforcement, no drive, no unconscious, no need” (Kelly, 1955, p. x). Many readers of his theory accept this, and I can imagine Kelly's eyes twinkling as he says to himself, "Fooled you."

One task for any scholar who proposes a new theory is to show how this new theory is unlike any other that has been proposed before - to sharpen the differences rather than look for similarities. In his description of his theory above, Kelly is saying that his theory is not like Freud's psychoanalytic theory and not like Skinner's theory of learning. But he is also misleading us.

Personal Construct Theory (PCT) is certainly quite different from Skinner’s learning theory and Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. There is no reinforcement, ego or unconscious, as defined in those theories, in PCT. But the theory is viewed by almost all textbooks on theories of personality as a cognitive theory. Since modern psychology views motivation as involving the choice of behavior made by an individual, Kelly’s Choice corollary is clearly a motivational element. And since construct systems change on the basis of people’s past experience, learning of a kind takes place.

According to McCoy (1977, p. 99), “Kelly’s expressed wish [was] to abandon emotion as a separate category of human behaviour...” Bannister (2003) phrased this issue in terms of a bipolar construct, thought versus emotion, and admitted that Kelly chose to leave this construct out of PCT. Bannister noted that reviewers of PCT typically viewed PCT as a cognitive theory of personality and criticized PCT for not dealing with emotions, but Bannister defended Kelly by arguing that there, “can be no onus on any theory to duplicate the constructs of another” (p. 65).

Kelly said that his theory had no emotion but, on the other hand, he provided definitions of threat, fear, anxiety, and guilt. Therefore, Kelly did have a small place in his theory for emotions. Later PCT writers have rejected Kelly’s position. Miall (1989), for example, asserted that, “emotion therefore has a significant role in organizing the construct system” (p. 185), but he admitted that PCT, “has not so far provided a matrix for refocusing the issues in such a way that these long-standing conflicts about the role of emotions could be resolved” (p. 187).

In this essay, Kelly’s own definitions of these emotions will be presented. Next, McCoy’s elaboration of emotions based on Kelly’s blueprint will be described. Finally a theorist whose views have long been relegated to the footnotes of personality theory, Prescott Lecky, will be described, with a focus on his description of emotions, descriptions which fit neatly into PCT.


Emotions have long been a “problem” for psychologists. Are they central to human experience or are they, as it were, the “exhaust” of human experience, an unavoidable nuisance? This debate has also concerned PC theorists and constructivists. As Miall (1989) noted, McCoy (1977), whose ideas will be discussed later, explored how emotions can be described in terms of the core and non-core structures of a personal construct system, while Katz (1984) saw emotions as indicating the activation of primitive constructs.[1] Cummins (2003), in discussing anger in PCT quickly moves to a discussion of anger constructs, thereby changing the focus from emotions to cognitions.

In contrast, Mascolo and Mancuso (1990) rejected the duality of human experience as consisting of emotions and cognitions and advocated a unified adaptive system. Indeed, they quote Mandler (1984) approvingly who denied the psychological relevance of emotions. Mascolo and Mancuso conceptualised emotional states as “the intrapsychological context in which there appears mobilization (or demobilization) activity that accompanies and supports transitions in the relation between perceived events and a person’s goals or concerns” (p. 209). Positive emotions accompany resolution of input-concern discrepancies and negative emotions accompany mismatches between input and concerns. Emotional experiences are, therefore, the result of conscious construction.

Mascolo and Mancuso (1990) did define the following emotions. The first five are experienced when maintenance of some state is threatened.
- Anger: the concern is to maintain conditions which ought to exist.
- Sadness: the concern is to maintain contact with a valued object.
- Fear: the concern is to maintain the integrity of the self.
- Guilt: the concern is to maintain internal moral standards.
- Shame: the concern is to maintain another’s validation of one’s identity.

The final two are experienced when goals are achieved.
- Joy: when any salient goal is attained.
- Pride: when a goal is attained that enhances one’s identity.[2]

However, Mascolo and Mancuso “spurn the task of building a theory of the different emotions” (p. 219). Furthermore, emotions do not cause behavior but rather they are the result of a breakdown in construing with accompanying bodily changes (see Miall, 1989, p. 186). Miall viewed their approach as similar to that of William James (1884) and, later, of Schachter (1971) in which emotions were merely the subjective interpretation of a state of arousal (with physiological and cognitive components).

Miall (1989) defined emotions as signalling “an active self-related concern: an emotion is the constructive anticipation of evolution or change in the construct system relating to the self” (p. 190). “Emotion in the construct system in thus self-referential and anticipatory” (p. 191). Kirsch and Jordan (2000) stated that, “emotions are contained implicitly as a result of a previous construction and its verification (e.g. validation/invalidation)” (p. 291). This approach was pursued by McCoy (1977; see later).



Threat was defined by Kelly as an awareness that a comprehensive change was imminent in your core constructs and, therefore, in your conception of yourself. In the broadest sense, threat can be induced when we perceive any plausible alternative to our core constructs. A comprehensive change in one’s core constructs is what occurs during an “identity crisis,” when one’s conception of oneself is shaken and needs to be re-construed. The assistance of a long-term psychotherapist is helpful in this process.

In contrast, fear, defined as an awareness that an incidental change is imminent in your core constructs, is much less interesting. Since the change in one’s core constructs is small, people typically handle fear without recourse to psychotherapy.


Guilt is defined as an experience that accompanies your perception that you have become dislodged from your core role. Your core role is the subsystem of constructs that enables you to predict and describe your behavior. It gives you a sense of identity. Guilt is the result of invalidating your core constructs, that is, finding out that you are not the kind of person whom you thought you were. The discrepancy between what you thought you were and what you now realise you are has to be relevant to your core role for the guilt to be strong and psychologically important.

This definition of guilt is similar to that provided by Freud’s psychoanalytic theory. For Freud, guilt is experienced when some of your desires come into conflict with your superego desires, desires that include the dos and don'ts (the ego ideal and conscience, respectively), most of which were introjected from your parents. For Kelly, guilt is experienced when your behaviors are not consistent with your theory of yourself. Although Kelly does not take a position on the sources of the core role, in particular, the degree to which it is formed by the expectations of the parents for their children, it is quite likely that many aspects of the core role are based on parental expectations for their children.


Anxiety is experienced when your construction system no longer applies to the situation that confronts you. You cannot construe (make sense of) what is happening. Finding yourself in any new situation leads to some anxiety. If you have developed a sound construction system, you will eventually make sense of the situation and make effective choices as to how to respond. If you do this, your construction grows in its range of applicability.

However, if your construction system suggests no appropriate behavior for you, then your anxiety may become extreme and chronic and you may choose an unhealthy strategy. For example, you may withdraw into a more predictable world (constriction), or you may loosen your construction system so that it provides some guidance, even though the decisions you make may be ineffective.

Independently of PCT, McReynolds (1956, 1960) suggested that anxiety is aroused in four situations.

(1)the rate of influx of information is too high,[4]
(2)the information is too novel to assimilate,
(3)the additional constructs needed to assimilate the information is not presently available, and
(4) the information is internally inconsistent.[5]

The first three sources may disappear with time, but the fourth source may generate long-term anxiety.

McReynolds noted several hypotheses that could be derived from these ideas. First, the greater a person's anxiety, the stronger will be his/her tendency to assimilate new percepts that cannot be avoided (c.f., Kelly's tactic of loose construing). This will prevent his/her level of anxiety rising still further. Second, the more anxious a person is, the more he/she will resist giving up a conceptual schema according to which percepts have been assimilated. To give up a schema would result in more unassimilated percepts and raise the anxiety level still higher. Third, anxious persons should tend to deny or avoid the perception of incongruent stimuli (c.f., Kelly's strategy of hostility). McReynolds noted that the person did not have to be aware of the incongruencies for this to happen.

McReynolds noted that normal and pathological anxiety are the same because both arise from unassimilated percepts. The only differences are those of degree and of coping strategies necessary. When unassimilated percepts are relatively easy to assimilate, we experience thrill but, when they are not, we experience anxiety.

Trauma leads to anxiety because it results in percepts that are not readily assimilated. Sometimes, new percepts destabilize earlier experiences (and schemata), resulting in a flood of now unassimilated percepts. Psychotherapy seeks to reverse these processes by helping the patient to assimilate previously unassimilated percepts and to reintegrate perceptual systems that were incongruent with other systems.


McCoy (1977, 1981) has provided a thorough analysis of how emotions can be fitted into PCT in a way that is consistent with Kelly’s approach. McCoy discussed Kelly’s concepts of aggression and hostility, in addition to threat, fear, anxiety and guilt, because she saw them as antecedents and the consequences of emotions. This may be incorrect, confusing aggression and hostility as defined in common usage with the specific definitions provided by Kelly.

Most of us commonly define people as aggressive when their behavior hurts us. Kelly, as in his discussion of other concepts, tried to look at this behavior from the subject's point of view. What is the aim of the aggressive person? Kelly defined aggression as the active elaboration by people of their perceptual field. Aggressive people seek out and get involved in situations that require decisions and actions. The contrast of aggressiveness is passivity. Thus, aggressive sexual people seek out sexual situations and get involved sexually with others. Aggressive business people seek out business opportunities and actively pursue them. Aggressive scholars conduct and publish a large amount of research. Other people may sometimes suffer as a result of the aggressive person's behavior. However, the goal is not to hurt others, but rather to get involved with and achieve in particular types of situations. It is not clear what emotions accompany such behavior.

Suppose that you test a part of your construction system and find that it does not predict well what happened to you and so is of little use to you. This part of your construction system is invalid. What can you do? You could try to replace this part with a more useful construction system that anticipates the outcome of the events more accurately. If you do this, you are building a better construction system.

Alternatively you could refuse to accept the disconfirming evidence that has invalidated your construction system and, instead, seek to distort the information so that it is no longer inconsistent with your construction system, or you could even seek to extort information from the environment that is consistent with your construction system. These strategies are the essence of Kelly’s concept of hostility. Again, it is far from clear what emotions accompany hostile strategies.

McCoy sought to expand the set of emotions explained by PCT, endeavoring to include what other psychologists have described as the fundamental emotions (e.g., Tomkins, 1970; Izard, 1972; Ekman, Friesen & Ellsworth, 1972).

First, McCoy considered changes in core structure, with threat being an awareness of imminent comprehensive change in your core constructs and fear being an awareness of imminent incidental change in your core constructs. These are identical to Kelly’s definitions and have been discussed above. McCoy continued by considering changes in non-core constructs (that is, peripheral constructs), with an awareness of imminent comprehensive change resulting in bewilderment and an awareness of imminent incidental change resulting in doubt. This is overly negative. An awareness of change in peripheral constructs could arouse curiosity or interest.

The third category of emotions results from validation of core structures. Love is experienced when your core structure is comprehensively validated, that is, “feeling accepted for the self you know you are” (p. 109). If the validation is only partial, that is, that only part of your core structure is validated, then happiness (or joy, pleasure, delight or mirth) is experienced.

The fourth category of emotions arises from validation of non-core structures, that is, peripheral constructs. Comprehensive validation results in satisfaction while partial validation results in complacency.

The fifth category of emotions arises from invalidation of core structures, with sadness as the result. McCoy did not distinguish between total and partial validation here.

The sixth category was fit of self and core role structure. Following Kelly, McCoy defined guilt as an awareness of one’s apparent dislodgment from your core role structure, whereas self-confidence is an awareness of a good fit between the self and one’s core role structure. Shame results as an awareness of the dislodgment of the self from someone else’s construing of your role. McCoy omits the critical term “core role” here, but it would probably make more sense to restrict shame to the core constructs and use embarrassment for dislodgment in the peripheral constructs.

The seventh category is fit between one’s own core structure and that of someone else. Contempt and disgust result when you become aware that the core role of someone else is comprehensively different from one’s own, and McCoy added that this may also involve the other person experiencing guilt. Clearly some factor is missing in McCoy’s definition here. Individuals who are very different from oneself can be interesting and attractive as well as, in other cases, arousing our disgust. Thus, disgust should involve a perception of a difference in core roles plus some additional factor.

The eighth category is recognition of construct system functionality. Here, McCoy followed Kelly in defining anxiety as an awareness that your construct system cannot explain or predict events in the situation in which you find yourself. When faced with a sudden requirement to construe, we experience surprise. When we are in situations which we can construe adequately, we experience contentment. Again, McCoy chooses one emotion when others might be equally likely, in this case boredom.

Finally, McCoy discussed aggression and hostility, and she saw anger as an awareness of invalidation of constructs leading to hostility. This was mentioned above, as well as objections to it. Cummins (2003) also found fault with McCoy’s definition of anger on the grounds that McCoy linked anger too definitively with hostility. Cummins questioned whether anger always precedes hostility. Cummins proposed that anger was one of a range of possible responses to invalidation.

McCoy’s analysis is of interest because of the framework she provided for the classification of emotions and the bipolarity of many of the categories. However, whether the definitions of the emotions that she provided are satisfactory or heuristic is open to question. For example, defining love as an emotion experienced when your core structure is validated (feeling accepted for the self you know you are) seems much too broad. For example, there may be times when this happens to a client in psychotherapy (the psychotherapist validates the client’s core structure), but it is doubtful that all such clients “love” their psychotherapists in this situation. There are, of course, many types of love, but McCoy’s definition seems inconsistent with many of these types.

Second, it does not seem as if McCoy’s definitions of emotions result in an advancement of the theory, provide ways of better understanding clients, or provoke hypotheses for research. Kelly’s definition of threat, for example, or hostility were provocative and did result in clinical insights and occasional research. For example, Lester (1968) reconceptualized manipulative attempts at suicide as hostile strategies which enhanced our understanding of the behavior. Third, as mentioned, McCoy often settles on one emotion in each situation rather than exploring the full range of emotions that could be stimulated by each situation.

Finally, some have objected that McCoy’s analysis is not in the spirit of Kelly’s approach. Walker and Winter (2007) noted that McCoy’s analysis casts positive emotions as indications of validation of construing, while negative emotions are indications of invalidation of construing. This conceptualizes emotions as similar to positive and negative reinforcement, a link that Kelly rejected.

In the next section, the ideas of a theorist who was a precursor to PCT, Prescott Lecky, will be presented, and his ideas, although limited, are provocative.


Lecky (1949) was an early holistic theorist, proposing that humans are units, systems that operate as a whole. Lecky felt that such dynamic systems can have only one purpose, one source of motivation, and he proposed the need for unity or self-consistency as this universal dynamic principle.

Personality is an organization of values that are consistent with one another. The individual always tries to maintain his integrity and unity of the organization, even though we might judge his behavior to be irrational or disturbed. This organization defines his role, furnishes him with standards, and makes his behavior appear regular. Conflict is a result of environmental input conflicting with the system. The system then tries to eliminate this conflict.

Lecky saw individuals as having two tasks: (a) maintaining what he called "inner harmony" within their minds, that is, an internally consistent set of ideas and interpretations, and (b) maintaining harmony between their minds and the environment, that is, between their experience of the outside world and their interpretations of this experience. In his choice of a system principle that focused on consistency, Lecky foreshadowed Kelly’s PCT.

For Lecky, learning was a process of assimilating new experiences. As the person assimilates these experiences and maintains his organization in a greater variety of situations, he maintains his independence and sense of freedom. Psychological development is a process of assimilating new information so as to maintain a self-consistent organization of values and attitudes. Whereas learning serves to resolve conflict, conflict must always precede learning. Conflict may profitably be viewed as a clash between two modes or ways of organizing. This anticipates Kelly’s notion that healthy individuals are always trying to extend their construction system.

We need to feel that we live in a stable and intelligible environment. We need to be able to foresee and predict environmental events and, by anticipating them, prevent sudden adjustments. Anxiety is caused by breakdowns in our predictive system. To do this we may have to avoid certain situations or make overly simplistic judgments, but the goal is self-consistency. For some individuals, preservation of their predictive system without change becomes a goal in itself, and they seek experiences that confirm their predictions and avoid situations that disconfirm their predictions. This definition of anxiety is identical to that of Kelly, and the strategy described by Lecky is what Kelly called hostility.

Lecky brought emotions into his theory in a way consistent with Kelly's ideas but extending them.


Lecky defined love as the reaction toward someone who has already been assimilated and who serves as a strong support to your idea of self. In this definition, Lecky added a component to the definition provided by McCoy. If we translate this into PCT, in order to love someone, we first have to be able to construe the individual. Then, the way in which they construe our core self has to be consistent with the way in which we construe our core self. If this is the case, then they agree with our self-concept and, thereby, support it. “Love at first sight” does not fit into this definition of love (unless the person is a superb clinician and can construe another individual in a few brief moments).


Lecky defined grief as an emotion that is experienced when your personality must be reorganized due to the loss of one of its supports. This is a very narrow view of grief. If the President of the United States is assassinated, as in the case of John F. Kennedy, then the emotion that people experience is not this type of grief since the President did not support the way in which we construe ourselves. If our pet dies, then we may experience grief for it is possible that our pet did support the way in which we construe ourselves. For example, if we construe ourselves as a kind and caring individual, and if we showed this facet of ourselves with our pet, then losing the pet loses a support for our self-concept.

Hatred/rage and horror

Hatred and rage are emotions felt toward objects that we cannot assimilate, that is, events which we cannot construe. In this situation, we experience anxiety, and the anxiety cannot be reduced. In some of these situations, we may eventually be able to construe the objects, and then the hatred will diminish. Alternatively, we can avoid or destroy those objects so that we do not have to attempt to construe them (a hostile manoeuver).

Horror is the emotion felt when we are confronted with experiences that we are not prepared to assimilate, such as a ghastly accident. In time, we may be able to assimilate this experience, and then the horror will diminish.


Experiences that increase consistency and unity give rise to joy and pleasure. Pleasure is experienced when we master new experiences, for example, when we learn to like nasty tasting foods, such as olives or bitter coffee. If we could learn to tolerate more bitter substances than coffee, other pleasures would replace our liking for coffee. The same is true for other sensory modalities. For example, as we mature, we come to like more and more complex music, art, and literature. The more difficult an accomplishment, the more pleasure we derive from it. Pleasure is clearly related to the basic desire for unity or self-consistency, and it can be understood only historically. Pleasure comes into existence because of a difficulty that is overcome, and continuous pleasure demands continuous solution of new problems. This definition of pleasure differs considerably from related emotions defined by McCoy such as happiness, joy, pleasure, delight, mirth and satisfaction.


If your behavior violates your self-concept, you feel guilt. Clearly, this anticipates Kelly’s definition of guilt. In PCT, this is when you have become dislodged from your core role.


Fear is experienced when we fail to resolve inconsistencies. This is very different from Kelly’s definition of fear and seems to be equivalent to a low level of anxiety.

Emotions were seen by Lecky as characteristics of behavior when first encountering a new problem. They are, in fact, a way of assisting the acquisition of control over the experience and, when the experience is assimilated, the emotion will be reduced. Emotions do not disorganize behavior. The new experience disorganizes the behavior, or rather the personality, which in turn leads to greater stereotypy in the person's behavior.


Any comprehensive theory of personality cannot dismiss emotion and refuse to discuss or account for them. Although George Kelly claimed to have no emotion in his theory, he did discuss at least four basic emotions (threat, fear, guilt and anxiety). McCoy explored how other emotions could be incorporated into PCT and extended the range of emotions that could be accounted for. Lecky, writing eleven years before the publication of Kelly’s two-volume work, anticipated some of the elements of PCT, albeit in a crude manner, and provided definitions of emotions such as pleasure, love and hatred, that are consistent with PCT and provocative. The result is that we can conclude that PCT is not a theory of personality in which emotions have no place. Rather, the full range of human emotion can be explained using the concepts of PCT.

[1] Katz’s proposal of “phylogenetically rooted primitive constructs which emerge during characteristic periods in the individual’s ontogenetic development” (p. 318) does not seem to have received wide acceptance.
[2] In a subsequent article, Mascolo and Mancuso (1992) defined pride, guilt and shame in terms of appraisal and felt motive-action tendency components.
[3] For a modern presentation of Kelly’s definitions, see Bannister (2003) and Butt (2008).
[4] McReynolds used the term “percepts” rather than “information.”
[5] This is found in double-bind communications where the different levels of communication (verbal and non-verbal) may conflict.


Bannister, D. (2003). The logic of passion. In F. Fransella (Ed.) International handbook of personal construct psychology, pp. 61-74. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.

Butt, T. (2008). George Kelly: The psychology of personal constructs. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan.

Cummins, P. (2003). Working with anger. In F. Fransella (Ed.) International handbook of personal construct psychology, pp. 83-91. Chichester, UK: John Wiley.

Ekman, P., Friesen, W. V., & Ellsworth, P. (1972). Emotions in the human face. New York: Pergamon.

Izard, C. E. (1972). Patterns of emotions. New York: Academic Press.

James, W. (1884). What is an emotion? Mind, 9, 188-205.

Katz, J. O. (1984). Personal construct theory and the emotions. British Journal of Psychology, 75, 315-327.

Kelly, G. A. (1955). The psychology of personal constructs. New York: Norton.

Kirsch, H., & Jordan, J. (2000). Emotions and personal constructs. In J. W. Scheer (Ed.) The person in society, pp. 290-302. Giessen, Germany: Psychosozial-Verlag.

Lecky, P. (1949). Self-consistency. Garden City, NY: Doubleday.

Lester, D. (1968). Attempted suicide as a hostile act. Journal of Psychology, 68, 243-248.

Mandler, G. (1984). Mind and body. New York: Norton.

Mascolo, M. F., & Mancuso, J. C. (1990). Functioning of epigenetically evolved emotion systems. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 3, 205-222.

Mascolo, M. F., & Mancuso, J. C. (1992). Constructive processes in self-evaluative emotional development. In R. A. Neimeyer, & G. J. Neimeyer. Advances in Personal Construct Theory, Vol. 2, pp. 27-54. Greenwich, CT: JAI Press

McCoy, M. M. (1977). A reconstruction of emotion. In D. Bannister (Ed.) New perspectives in personal construct theory, pp. 93-124. New York: Academic Press.

McCoy, M. M. (1981). Positive and negative emotion. In H. Bonarius, R. Holland & S. Rosenberg (Eds.) Personal construct psychology, pp. 95-104. New York: St. Martin’s Press.

McReynolds, P. (1956). A restricted conceptualization of human anxiety and motivation. Psychological Reports, 2, 293-312.

McReynolds, P. (1960). Anxiety, perception and schizophrenia. In D. Jackson (Ed.) The etiology of schizophrenia, pp. 248-292. New York: Basic Books.

Miall D. S. (1989). Anticipating the self. International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 2, 185-198.

Schachter, S. (1971). Emotions, obesity and crime. New York: Academic.

Tomkins, S. A. (1970). Affect as the primary motivational system. In M. B. Arnold (Ed.) Feelings and emotions, pp. 101-110. New York: Academic Press.

Walker, B. M., & Winter, D. A. (2007). The elaboration of personal construct psychology. Annual Review of Psychology, 58, 453-477


David Lester, Ph.D., is Professor of Psychology at the Richard Stockton College of New Jersey. He obtained his doctorate at Brandeis University where he studied under Abraham Maslow and George Kelly.


Lester, D. (2009). Emotions in personal construct theory: A review. Personal Construct Theory & Practice, 6, 90-98, 2009.
(Retrieved from

Variant Magazine - Radical Change In Culture / Manifesto

Interesting perspective - I wonder if these ideas are confined to Poland, or if this kind of arts & culture manifesto is more widespread. Anyone know?

Radical Change In Culture / Manifesto


Culture is one of the most important fields in the struggle for a more democratic, egalitarian and free society. If the changes currently proposed to this field by the Polish authorities are not subject to a wide social debate, consultation and criticism, they will bring catastrophic results for both the producers of culture and society as a whole. Culture should be perceived as a public good, not a privilege for a selected group of citizens. The dangers embedded in the governmental proposals for reforms in the domain of culture have already been discussed by artists, theorists, cultural and social activists. All agree that culture is a very specific field of production, and that it would be endangered by an exclusively market-oriented strategy of organizing it.

For the Polish authorities, culture appears to be just another life-sphere ready to be colonized by neoliberal capitalism. Attempts are being made to persuade us that the ‘free’ market, productivity and income oriented activities are the only rational, feasible and universal laws for social development. This is a lie. For us – the cultural producers – culture is a space of innovation and experimental activity, an environment for lively self-realization. This is under threat. Our lives, emotions, vulnerability, doubts, purposes and ideas are to become a commodity – in other words, a mere product to fuel the development of new forms of capitalist exploitation. It is not culture that needs “business exercises” it is the market that needs a cultural revolution. That revolution should not be understood as a one time “coup d’état”, but as a permanent, vigilant and compassionate dissent, a will to protest against, verify and criticize any form of colonization of the field of culture for the private interests of market players and bureaucrats.

Therefore we say: “We would prefer not to”. Our resistance is an expression of our more general protest against the commodification of social relations, its reifying character and general social injustice. We hereby express our existential and political solidarity with the people who oppose this marketization of all spheres of social and personal life. Culture plays an important role as a space for experimentation and reflection, for creating mutual trust and bonds between people. Cultural interactions based on the spontaneous activity of individuals and groups play a crucial role for the development of the society, including its economic dimension. Recognizing the importance of this is a necessary step in creating a space for self-realization and democratic debate.

We will not be bribed with special privileges like the recently announced “1% of the GNP for culture”. We will not be distracted from our vision of the social world, in which the producers of cultural symbols would be able to pursue their activities in a heterogenous, self-governed community made of free, equal and diverse individuals respecting solidarity. These are the necessary conditions for culture to cease to be a privilege, and to allow culture to become a true right of everyone to freely shape their life. That is what we want and this is what we will aim for.

What Are We Against?

Against bureaucrats and economists governing the domain of culture
The economists tend to misunderstand the distinctive character of culture as a domain of the common social life of the multiplicity of people and their activities. They employ the same theoretical tools to speak about culture as they would to growing potatoes or manufacturing vacuum cleaners. Culture is not subject to the simple calculations of investments and profits. A much more appropriate set of descriptive tools might be provided by concepts such as potlatch, carnival, excess, transgression or generosity. Terms apparently unknown to economists, who not only would not understand them, but tend to seriously misunderstand their power. At this very moment the same hedge fund management and financial specialists, who in the current financial crisis have proven their incompetence, short-sightedness, arrogance, self-interest and greed, are beginning to “reform” and “restructure” another domain: culture.

Against the commercialization of culture
The application of the laws of supply and demand combined with an introduction of concepts such as “market value” into the sphere of culture will certainly have a negative impact on its quality. In our opinion Jenny Holzer’s slogan “Protect Me from What I Want” undoubtedly constitutes a better principle for culture than “free” market values. For the development of democracy, equality an open access to culture is crucial. It provides the society with tools to transform itself and encourages participation in politics too. The ‘free’ market restricts these forms of participation to the economically privileged. We will not hand over our power of collective cultural decision making to finance. We shall not let money be the ultimate condition of the development of culture and society.

Against the instrumentalisation of culture
The efforts by our leaders to use culture as a tool for the accomplishment of short-term and short-sighted aims; such as the promotion of a region or city, electioneering, the management of national identity, and so on, always leads to cultural impoverishment. We therefore want culture to be free from the duties and obligations of professional politics, whether in the form of imposed topical social issues, tying funding to designated political contexts or the promotion of official ideologies. It does not mean however, that we support politically indifferent culture enclosed in its own consecrated world and projecting itself and its own interests back onto the society in which we all live. We believe that the opposition between “pure art” and “engaged art” is false, this has already been demonstrated through the history of the avantgarde, modernism, critical postmodernism and various critical aesthetic theories. Art is most effective and its influence on society is strongest not when it is locked in an ideological cage, but when it can freely profit from autonomy. We therefore agree with Guy Debord: “The point is not to put poetry at the service of revolution, but to put revolution at the service of poetry”.

Against elimination or impairment of the cultural public sector
Culture is a public good par excellence. All public institutions should therefore guarantee public access to culture and the ability to produce it. One of the indispensable conditions of the autonomy of culture and a necessary element of an appropriate cultural education is the efficient functioning of public institutions – which must act according to their public mission, and not for the sake of the private gain of politicians or municipal authorities.

What We Propose

Elimination of the centralized, bureaucratic model of governing culture and, in its place, the opening of social councils for culture and art
The councils (regional and national) would make decisions concerning all the cultural institutions including art academies. Both the producers of culture and its publics would participate in the councils (and would be chosen according to the principles of participatory democracy, including participatory budget procedures). The constitution of the councils would nevertheless have a mixed character (politeo-democratic or meritocratic-and-democratic) so that the art producers would have more power than could be implied by their sheer number. The councils would transform culture into a genuinely public good, so that it would cease to be state property it wouldn’t be just a toy in the hands of bureaucrats and politicians, who use it for their own purposes of self-promotion, political propaganda, electoral campaigns, etc.). The national or regional offices would only have executive, consultative and administrative functions – councils would become sites of democratic power based on meritocratic principles, not on the needs of particular political groups or markets. The councils would gain real prerogatives and qualifications for decision making and control over the work of officials, which would differentiate them from existing bodies of evaluation and counseling, which generally serve as tokens for bureaucratic control at work.

Equal legal status of various forms of intellectual property
Culture is malfunctioning in a regime of closed intellectual property a regime of copyright, trademarks, and patents – just to mention the most common forms of exclusive legal organization. Ideas, inventions and concepts should circulate freely – be used, modified and cross-connected in order to create new cultural value, not harnessed to the market for the private accumulation of profit. Some currents of contemporary culture, like film or music have already exceeded this legal framework of intellectual property rights and they constantly cross the limits of what would be considered “legal” (i.e. found footage, mash-up, sampling, mixing and other new media techniques). We will therefore promote and apply alternative and democratic forms of protection and redistribution of the author’s rights using “open license” strategies. Meanwhile, we demand the introduction and extension of the existing forms of production and distribution of culture in ways that would be appropriate for the new, horizontal exchange, distribution and circulation of cultural production. We are against restricting the distribution of culture according to the aim of maximising profit.

Social welfare of (not only) art producers
A vast majority of art producers (both – artists and organizers of events) currently live under conditions of precarity, without social insurance or any hope for retirement benefits. This condition of precarity does not necessarily mean that artists live in poverty, but it forces them into a state of permanent instability and insecurity about their future. The domains where art producers are not benefiting from full employment, like visual art and literature, and where the only way of providing oneself with health insurance or retirement (i.e. buying it), means that they are forced into the marketplace and forced to adapt to its conditions. The art producers who for various reasons do not participate in this “free” market exchange are condemned to live in a state of permanent risk. The market itself cannot provide the distribution of resources which could alleviate that precarity. The market makes us live in a world where everybody works, and only a few profit, whereas an effective development of the process of symbolic production requires the participation of all members of the social network regardless of the ability to pay. Without the whole collective body of cultural producers and their publics (i.e. the art milieu and the art scene) no “genius” will appear – neither in painting nor critical video art, neither installation art nor performance, neither sculpture nor socially engaged practice. The only reasonable solution would be to propose an unconditional guaranteed salary for all cultural producers, which would not be a form of a social hand-out but signify a recognition of their role in creating all the creative and cultural resources of society. In a longer perspective this would lead to the regulation of the legal guarantee for a common wage based on a redistribution of incomes from the top to the lowest level of income, for all members of the society.

Basic education about contemporary culture
We demand an introduction of a new topic – contemporary culture – to the basic school education, starting with kindergarten. These lessons would provide knowledge on the main issues in culture of the last 20 years, with a special emphasis on current art production. The lessons should have an interdisciplinary character – developing knowledge and experience in both theory (elements of history of philosophy, history of art, art theory and art criticism) and practice (visits to concerts, exhibitions, theater shows, participation in critical debates). As it can already be understood, this education would not mean a grinding of cultural knowledge, but rather a work on creating self-determined, critical and informed forms of reception and participation in culture. Such knowledge and experience should aim to facilitate the creation of non-hierarchical, nonviolent models for sharing one’s opinions and experiences. It would therefore become a preparatory class for critical reflection, participation and living in a direct democracy.

Signed by the members of the committee for a radical change in culture:
Roman Dziadkiewicz, Grzegorz Jankowicz, Zbigniew Libera, Ewa Majewska, Lidia Makowska, Natalia Romik, Janek Simon, Jan Sowa, Kuba Szreder, Bogna Swiatkowska, Joanna Warsza.

Published on the 15th of october 2009
on the website:
under the license Creative Commons Attribution 2.5, Poland,

We would like to thank: Dave Beech, Neil Cummings and Mel Jordan for helping us with editing the English version of Manifesto.

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