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Kelly and Mead
Differing radically from static sociological characterizations of role as structured expectations (rights and obligations), Kelly (1955, p. 97) tells his readers that "a role is a psychological process based upon the role player's construction of aspects of the construction systems of those with whom he attempts to join in a social enterprise." In this definition the psychological process that underlies the sociality corollary is presented as an exercise of will. For a person to desire "to join in a social enterprise" she must have construed "replications of events" as noted in the experience corollary. Moreover, she must have developed an interest in replicating or reviving at least aspects of some of those events. Kelly's definition of the psychological process can be seen as explicating an outcome and continuation of the process of socialization described and analyzed by George Herbert Mead (1863-1931).
As a lecturer at the University of Chicago during the 1920s and 1930s, Mead (1934) proposed a theory of the formation of self which, in Kelly's terms, provides a developmental focus for the crystallization of role. In Mead's construction, the self is formed dialectically as individuals interact with the persons in their environment that are meaningful to them, their "significant others". The interaction is compounded of spontaneous actions that cannot be regulated (Mead: the individual's inescapable "I") and the interpretations of those actions that are remitted to the actor and reinterpreted by her (the individual's "me"). The self that evolves in the course of this dialectic becomes capable of construing how others construct rules through a graded developmental engagement with others. Mead describes three stages. In the first stage, children imitate separate behaviors of significant others that they observe; later, they play, "taking a role" (as Mead defines it) by chaining behaviors into a coherent characteristic sequence. The culminating developmental stage is that of "playing the game" together with others in recognizable situations. This is where the person becomes part of the social world.
From a theoretical point of view, this is where Mead and Kelly meet. The stage of "playing the game" is inconceivable before individuals have experienced events and have assembled repertoires of replications. Only then are individuals capable of construing aspects of the construction systems of those who join together to "play the game". This capacity is integral to viable functioning in adulthood and to the realization of the sociality corollary.  


  • Kelly, G. A. (1955/1991) The psychology of personal constructs. London: Routledge.
  • Mead, G. H. (1934)  On social psychology. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Devorah Kalekin-Fishman

Establ. 2003
Last update: 15 February 2004