Main Page
Alphabetical Index

Hints for prints


Corporate constructs
Kelly’s theory deals specifically with personal construct systems which, though they may be explored and understood by others, are unique to the individual. His individuality corollary emphasises difference in our processes of anticipation and construction of events, and, while the commonality corollary suggests that there may be similarities and overlaps within our systems, these similarities are between our personal constructions of events. We may appear to be using identical constructs, but they are likely to have differing implications in the context of our personal construing system. Our social and cultural context will be significant primarily in terms of how we construe it.
Social constructionists have developed our understanding of the social nature of construction, proposing constructs created within a society or culture, which become embedded in its language or socialisation procedures, and which influence, or even determine, the personal construct systems of individuals.
In contrast to these ideas, corporate constructs can be described as those created between people, or within groups, which are explicitly understood and used by the group. They are the collective product of a number of individuals. The theory and practice of PCP, for example, could be seen as a set of corporate constructs, since it is understood and elaborated by a group of psychologists, made available through publication, and used by the group in their work and personal lives.
Corporate constructs, while being shared to a large degree, are nevertheless liable to differing interpretations. Although we may have a corporate understanding of PCP, made explicit through projects such as this encyclopaedia, we are likely to vary widely in the individual sense we make of these "shared" understandings, and in our subsequent behaviours. Groups and communities of all kinds are likely to contain sub-groups of people whose interpretation of events is broadly similar, and markedly different from others’.
Such a perspective on the personal, shared, and corporate web of construing can help us understand the gaps we experience between the formal statements of corporate intent (for example in organisational mission statements or political manifestos), and the often contrasting and less predictable behaviours of those individuals and groups who subscribe to them.
Balnaves and Caputi (1993) have proposed the term "corporate actor" to describe the group within which the corporate constructs are held. They illustrate this with a football club as a corporate actor in its processes of making decisions, choosing players, enforcing rules and so on. The people in the club are aware of these constructs and act as if they were their own. When they play, they follow the rules of the game and abide by the club’s choices. This does not deny the subsequent differing behavioural interpretations of these corporate constructs, described by Balnaves and Caputi as "individual real-time construing", such as deciding whether to pass the ball or run with it. It also does not rule out the possibility of argument with, or transgression of, the corporate constructs by individual members or sub-groups, who make counter-statements through their behaviour.
From this point of view, we see that an organisation’s corporate constructs are neither reducible to the individual personal constructs of its members - largely because of the complex interdependencies of individuals in groups - nor can they be held to be located solely in the corporate body, as these shared constructs only acquire agency through the behavioural interpretation (or even subversion) of them.
Walker (1996) has noted that the use of the term personal constructs implies our individual responsibility for our constructions "and for the experiments that result from their application". The corporate entity might therefore be considered responsible for the actions resulting from its public statements. An individual may for example be struck off a professional register for transgressing the corporate code.
An interesting implication of this idea of responsibility arises when we consider the possibility that, in contrast to Balnaves and Caputi’s definition, corporate constructs may not always be explicit or published. A recent example in the UK would be the suggestion that some organisations are "institutionally racist". There is no implication that these organisations have necessarily set out to be racist; such racism has been defined as "unwitting". We might surmise that collectively developed constructs and shared construction processes at a less articulated level have resulted in widespread racist behaviours. Subsequently, the institution is held to be responsible as well as, and perhaps more than, the individuals or sub-groups whose actions have come to light. We therefore need consider ways of exploring those corporate constructs which are not verbally articulated or consciously recognised by either the corporate body or its members, but which have significant social implications.


  • Balnaves, M. and Caputi, P. (1993). Corporate constructs: to what extent are personal constructs personal? International Journal of Personal Construct Psychology, 6, 119-138.
  • Walker, B. M., (1996), A psychology for adventurers – an introduction to personal construct psychology from a social perspective, in Kalekin-Fishman, D. and Walker, B.M. The construction of group realities. Malabar: Krieger

Mary Frances

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004