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Constellatory stereotypical construing
A constellatory construct is one that fixes the other realm memberships of its elements. This is stereotyped or typological thinking. (Kelly, 1955/1991, Vol. 2,  p. 6/1991)
One might say that "a rugby player is male, large, tough, likes bodily contact and is aggressive". A rugby player can, of course, be considered as being other things - such as a good father, having a liking for cats - but when construed as a rugby player, the other attributes automatically follow and that is constellatory, stereotypical construing. But it does not go as far as does preemptive construing which says that "if that man is a rugby player he is nothing but a rugby player". The opposite pole of constellatory is propositional construing. To construe propositionally would be to say "that man is, amongst other things, a rugby player" and not specify any elements that automatically go with being a rugby player. Preemptive, constellatory and propositional constructs are all descriptions of the control they exercise over their elements.
Constellatory construing can be seen in personal construct theory in the way superordinate constructs are said to be linked to their subordinate constructs within a person's construing. In a psychotherapy setting, "transference" may cause problems for the therapist. He is seen as "a father figure" and that "father figure" comes with a number of elements fixed to it meaning he is seen in a highly prejudicial, stereotyped way. The client is very clear about just what sort of person the therapist is, and the therapist invalidates that construing with care.
If a person used constellatory constructs exclusively it would be very difficult to be creative or to change. But few people would use them exclusively. It is useful to recognise when one is using stereotypes. Perhaps in the classroom - all children with red hair are quick to shout, misbehave and so forth. In the clinical situation, certain therapies are constellatory in that the clinician looks for specific behaviours that fit into his model of "disorder". Such teachers and clinicians overlook events and behaviours that do not "fit". Bannister (1981) points out just how common constellatory/stereotypical construing in relation to "the disabled". Walker (2003) links constellatory and propositional construing with different degrees of dependency.
Stereotypes are everyday examples of constellatory construing and they make life easier for us. They play a part in our daily routines. But Fransella (1977) goes further than that suggesting that our stereotypes may, in fact, play an important role in defining how we see ourselves. She cites evidence to indicate that some people with a complaint - such as being "depressed" (Rowe, 1971), "a stutterer" (Fransella, 1972), "an agoraphobic" (Bannister, 1962), or someone who "commits arson" (Fransella & Adams, 1971) - can be put into a category but just not see themselves as belonging in that category. We define ourselves, the sort of person we are, by being clear about what we are not. In a sense we do this with our stereotypes. For instance, a person may say "my best friend is a rugby player! But he is quite different from all the others". An exception is made of the individual and the stereotype is not invalidated. Constellatory, stereotypical construing is an efficient and easy way of making sense of the world. It is very resistant to change mainly because we rarely put our stereotyped, constellatory construing to the test. Walker (2002) relates this to nonvalidation.

  • Bannister, D. (1981) Construing a disability. In A. Brechin, P. Liddard, & J. Swain (eds) Handicap in a Social World. London: Hodder & Stroughton.
  • Fransella, F. & Adams, B. (1966) An illustration of the use of repertory grid technique in a clinical setting, British Journal of social and clinical Psychology, 5, 51-62.
  • Fransella, F.  (1977) The self and the stereotype. In: New Perspectives in Personal Construct Theory. D. Bannister (ed). London: Academic Press
  • Rowe, D. 1971  Poor prognosis in a case of depression as predicted by the repertory grid  British Journal  of Psychiatry, 118, 231-244.
  • Walker, B. M. (2002) 'Nonvalidation vs. (in)validation: implications for theory and practice'.  In J. D. Raskin & S. K. Bridges. Studies in Meaning: Exploring Constructivist Psychology New York: Pace University.

Fay Fransella

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004