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Kelly cautions therapists to pay attention to a client's culture so as to be able to assess the effects of cultural controls on personal constructs. This advice is based on the definition of culture that Kelly adopted, and on the location of the concept, culture, in the basic theory. In this entry, I will first look at some of the definitions of culture in the literature. Then I will cite the definition Kelly preferred and his recommendations about discovering the impact of culture on clients. Finally I will allude to a few of the later developments in the PCP orientation to culture.
Over time, culture has been a highly fluid concept. Its Latin roots are connected with tilling the soil and facilitating growth. But it was also used to apply metaphorically to refinement in persons. A dualism attends the evolution of the concept to this very day. In classical German, the term Kultur was used to describe the innate spiritual brotherhood of people who belong to a defined community. Kultur was contrasted with Zivilisation from the French (civilisation), understood to refer to the artificiality, the contrived manners, and pretended aestheticism of the snobbish upper classes. In English, for a time, the term "culture" was also applied exclusively to "high" culture – the arts and manners of the educated elites. With the rise of anthropology, the term was adopted to describe groups holistically. As one anthropologist put it, "culture is to a population aggregate what personality is to the individual; and the ethos is the core of most probable behaviors" (Coutu, in Kroeber & Kluckhohn,1952, p. 119).
Still, among anthropologists, there are many different conceptualizations of how to characterize an aggregate. In 1952, Kroeber and Kluckhohn assembled 156 definitions of culture and classified them under six headings, each presupposing a different reading of what a given population aggregate is likely to share. In descriptive definitions that attempt to enumerate the content of culture, the items are taken to be similar in the lives of members of a given group. Historical definitions emphasize an aggregate's joint social heritage or tradition. Rules and ways of behaving are the focus of normative definitions of culture. There are also genetic definitions that characterize culture in terms of products, ideas, or symbols. In structural definitions the emphasis is on statistical regularities. Still other definitions are psychological, attaching culture to the outcomes of how children are raised, and referring to processes such as "adjustment", "learning", and "development".
During the latter half of the twentieth century, theoretical approaches to culture shifted to attempts to account for cultural change. Defining culture as a mode of practice, created and recreated through "actions infused with theory", Bauman (1973) asserts that because of their ability to theorize, human beings shape and break - even break out of - cultural patterns. De Certeau (1998) explains that culture is both actualized and changed in the representation of life events in art or even in ordinary conversation. People who talk or represent experiences in artistic creation build on already existing relational networks. In his view, opportunities for cultural change emerge because there is an inevitable breach between representation and interpretation, between intention (of the speaker/ performer-artist) and assimilation (by the listener / audience). Thus, culture is part and parcel of people's modes of dealing with the world. "Culture is what guides people in their thinking, feeling, and acting, and serves as an emotional road map or plan of action in their struggle for survival" (Arvizu, 1994). How individuals read the road map is spelled out in personal construct theory, the psychology of anticipations.

Rejecting reductionist psychological definitions that refer to culture as a collection of similarities in upbringing and environment, Kelly defines culture as constructions of experience. Shared constructions are possible because people who belong to a given group are similar in what they expect of one another, and similar in their perceptions of what is expected of them. From this construal of culture, Kelly (1955, p. 93) derived the commonality corollary to the Fundamental Postulate. In his words: "To the extent that one person employs a construction of experience which is similar to that employed by another, his psychological processes are similar to those of the other person". The affiliations that are likely to lead to similar constructions of experience include, among others, racial and national extraction, ethnicity, social class, church membership, language groups (Kelly, 1995, pp. 695-696). Each type of group to which a person belongs cultivates a repertoire of relevant perceptions of experience. The effects on members, or controls, in Kelly's terms, are likely to be life-long. Although persons may rebel against the controls implemented in the group with which they are associated, this does not necessarily indicate that they have made deep-seated changes in their construct systems (Kelly, 1995, p. 697).

Kelly's insights are of primary importance in therapy. Although the therapist must avoid stereotyping, still it is important to take account of "culture-dictated constructs" – constructs derived from what Kelly calls "general cultural patterns" (Kelly, 1955, p. 307). These form the elements on which clients have had to form personal constructs in regard to the self and companions (Kelly, 1955, p. 182). In order to help clients, therapists must analyze responses to Rep Grids and self-characterizations that shed light on the cultural sources of commonalities. Kelly reminds therapists to note the distribution of "we's" and "they's", as well as descriptions of people: others, strangers, people who are lazy, "peculiar" people, bad company. In addition, it is important to attend to descriptions of habitual behaviors, construals of recurring life events. Among those he cites are: how to make up after a quarrel, mating behavior, topics of group conversation, customary activities, personal conflicts (Kelly, 1955, pp. 698-699). Construals of issues such as success, education, occupation, strength types provide additional information about cultural controls (Kelly, 1955, p. 240) as do patterns of guilt and anxiety (Kelly, 1955, p. 703).

Post-Kellyian research into how experience is constructed by different cultural practices has relied on both quantitative and qualitative research to elicit unexpected varieties of constructs (Ross, 1996). Rep grids have proven useful in ferreting out cross-cultural differences in the construals of clinical symptoms (see Leff, 1973; 1977; 1986; Tamaka-Matsumi & Marsella, 1976); and differences in attitudes to "others"   (Neimeyer & Fukuyama, 1984). Oxley and Hort (1996), who choose a different path, argue that culture is about personal construct systems in interaction. Thus, they define culture in terms of "ecologies of meaning". Their qualitative reading accords with the view that culture is expressed in the meeting of communities of selves (Kalekin-Fishman, 1999; see also Mair, 1977). The encounters, interleaved with "plain talk", are part of the dynamics of cultural change (Kalekin-Fishman, 2000). Recognizing that the contemporary human condition is characterized by an active search for changes in culture, Scheer (2003) discusses the variegated challenges to construing presented by experiences of crossing from culture to culture. He points out that the traveler (Walker, 2000), the business person (Jankowicz, 2003), and the person involved in politics (Stojnov, 1999) are likely to misconstrue others' actions, just as their own actions will be misconstrued, when they are confronted by / confront cultural practices different from their own. To sum up his analysis, Scheer shows that transferring theoretical models from place to place may also be a precarious project. He shows that disseminating personal construct theory is problematic because of the difficulties that attend the translation of its terminology into languages other than English. There is a profound irony in the perception that because PCT is so deeply affiliated with Kelly's native language and with Anglo-Saxon ethnicity, the theory, like many clients, is enmeshed in the cultural controls of its sources.


  • Arvizu, S. F. (1994) Building bridges for the future: Anthropological contributions to diversity and classroom practices. In DeVillar, R. A., Faltis, C. J. & Cummins, J. P. (eds.) Cultural diversity in schools: From rhetoric to practice. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, pp. 75-97.
  • Bauman, Z. (1973) Culture as praxis. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • De Certeau, M. (1998) Inventing the quotidian. Theory and Critique, 10, pp. 15-24. [Hebrew]
  • Jankowicz, D. (2003) How can we understand one another if we don't speak the same language? In: F. Fransella (ed.) International handbook of personal construct psychology. Chichester, W. Sussex: Wiley, pp. 359-366.
  • Kalekin-Fishman, D. (2000) Construing culture: 'Plain talk'. In: J. W. Scheer (ed.) The person in society: Challenges to a constructivist theory. Giessen: Psychosozial Verlag, pp. 186-197.
  • Kalekin-Fishman, D. (1999) Experimentation and meaning: Time, emotion and the community of selves. In: J. Fisher & D. Savage (eds.) Beyond experimentation into meaning. Farnborough: EPCA Publications, pp. 14-25.
  • Kelly, G. A. (1955) The psychology of personal constructs. Volumes I and II. New York: W. W. Norton.
  • Kroeber, A. & Kluckhohn, C. (1952) Culture. New York: Meridian Books.
  • Leff, J. (1973) Culture and the differentiation of emotional states. British Journal of Psychiatry, 123, pp. 299-306.
  • Leff, J. (1977) The cross-cultural study of emotions. Culture, Medicine and Psychiatry, 1, pp. 317-350.
  • Leff, J. (1986) The epidemiology of mental illness across cultures. In: J. L. Cox (eds.) Transcultural psychiatry, London: Croom Helm.
  • Mair, M. (1977) The community of self. In: D. Bannister (ed.) New perspectives in personal construct theory. London: Academic Press.
  • Oxley, H. & Hart, L. (1996) Ecologies of meaning. In: D. Kalekin-Fishman & B. Walker (eds.) The construction of group realities. Malabar, FL: Krieger, pp. 363-381.
  • Ross, H. (1996) Construing across cultures. In: D. Kalekin-Fishman & B. Walker (eds.) The construction of group realities. Malabar, FL: Krieger, pp. 181-202.
  • Scheer, J. W. (2003) Cross-cultural construing. In: F. Fransella (ed.) International handbook of personal construct psychology. Chichester, W. Sussex: Wiley, pp. 152-161
  • Stojnov, D. (1999) Construing personality of political leaders in Serbia and Macedonia. In: J. Fisher & D. Savage (eds.) Beyond experimentation into meaning. Farnborough: EPCA Publications, pp. 96-105.
  • Tamaka-Matsumi, J. & Marsella, A. J. (1976) Cross-cultural variations in the phenomenological experience of depression: Word association studies. Journal of Cross-Cultural Psychology, 7, pp. 379-396.
  • Walker, B. (2000) Travelling: 'We don't call it traveling; we call it living'. In: J. W. Scheer (ed.) The person in society: Challenges to a constructivist theory. Giessen: Psychosozial Verlag, pp. 16-28.

Devorah Kalekin-Fishman

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004