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com Qualitative Research in Psychology 2004; 1: 3 /14

Staking our claim for qualitative

psychology as science
Rom Harre
Georgetown and American Universities, Washington, DC 20057, USA; Linacre College, Oxford, UK

A science includes both a system of concepts for the classication of

phenomena and a set of rules for constructing models of unobservable
process by which the phenomena are generated. The phenomena of the
human sciences are meaningful and of the natural sciences, meaningless.
Correspondingly, there are discursive modes of representation and
complementary material representations. Eschewing quantitative
representations excludes material phenomena from psychology. This
does not mean that all mathematical forms of representation should be
excluded: arithmetic is little use; algebra marginal but geometrical/
structural mathematics is of value. However, grammar (in Wittgensteins
sense) is another disciplinary matrix for representing forms of order. A link
with neuroscience can be made by using qualitative methods to identify
tasks and neuroscience methods of understanding the brain as a tool.
Qualitative Research in Psychology 2004; 1: 3 /14

Key words: classification; discursive; geometrical/structural; grammars;

meaningful phenomena; metrical; models; neuroscience; task/tool meta-

Introduction cisms have been directed against the linger-

ing positivism of much experimental
In the last few years, a variety of new psychology, against the universalistic as-
approaches to the project of creating a sumptions in the presentation of empirical
scientific psychology have emerged. How studies, against the metrication of phenom-
are we to bring into being a truly scientific ena which are defined by their meanings,
psychology, scientific in the sense that and against the use of causal concepts in the
physics and chemistry are scientific? Each description and explanation of normative
of these attempts has been set against one or processes, eliminating human agency. We
another aspect of the mainstream. Criti- have had ethogenics as an alternative social

Correspondence: Rom Harre, Psychology Department, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA.
E-mail: harre@georgetown.edu

# Arnold 2004 10.1191/1478088704qp002oa

4 R Harre

psychology (Harre and Secord, 1972); we of mainstream experimental social psychol-

have had discursive psychology (Edwards ogy, cross-cultural psychology, cognitive
and Potter, 1992), cultural psychology psychology and so on, it is the qualitative
(Cole, 1996), critical psychology (Parker, techniques and the metaphysical presump-
2002), knowing of the third kind (Shotter, tions that back them that come much closer
1993), social constructionism, and more. to meeting the ideals of the natural sciences.
Aside from the diversity of names, there
has been a remarkable convergence of prin-
ciples among the various alternative ap- Part one: science and the uses and
proaches. Psychological phenomena, such misuses of mathematical
as the display of emotions, the solving of
problems, the recollection of past events
and the anticipation of the future, are
discursive acts, meaningful performances
What are the characteristic elements of a
by skilled human actors. While the phe-
genuine science?
nomena are collective, the abilities required
A science makes use of two interconnected
to bring them into being are personal. The
conceptual systems. One of these consists of
evolving patterns of episodes in which
the conceptual requirements for the identi-
psychological phenomena are brought into
fication, individuation and classification of
being are expressions of locally valid
the phenomena of the domain of interest of
norms, conventions and customs. Psychol-
the science. For example, vulcanology iden-
ogy is the scientific study of meaning mak-
tifies and classifies eruptions and earth-
ing and management, and the skills quakes. The other consists of the
necessary to accomplish it. conceptual requirements for the explana-
Qualitative psychology is one among tion of the patterns that emerge from the
other manifestations of these principles, study of the phenomena. There are likely to
having its place in the project of trying to be rules for the construction of models of
make psychology scientific. What is the unobservable processes, as well as various
peculiar contribution of qualitative psychol- causal and other explanatory concepts. For
ogy to the movement? Answering this ques- example, vulcanology makes use of the
tion is the aim of this paper. At the same concepts of plate tectonics to account for
time there are aspects of quantitative meth- the volcanic phenomena it has identified
ods that are compatible with the overall and classified.
aims of the movement, to which qualitative Quantitative descriptions of phenomena
psychology belongs, that should not be are sometimes convenient, but there is no
abandoned. Certain mathematical styles of essential demand for them to be used in any
representation may prove invaluable. domain of science whatever. To understand
Why should students of human life care this point, we need to attend to the role of
whether their methods of enquiry meet the mathematics in the sciences. I mean real
standards of the mature sciences? Critics of mathematics, not statistics!
the use qualitative methods in psychologi- The fundamental distinction between hu-
cal research frequently declare that these man sciences and natural sciences is based
methods are not scientific. The irony is on the distinction between meaningful and
that set against the methods in use in much meaningless phenomena. Human sciences
Staking our claim for qualitative psychology 5

consist or should consist of studies based works very well. Only when we stand
on the identification and classification of back and reflect on our activities are we
phenomena with respect to their meanings likely to slip into misunderstandings of
and the principles of order that are mani- the very terminology we know how to
fested in observable patterns. The human use in the management of life.
sciences study the intentional properties of 2) Material phenomena, the domain of the
things and events. The natural sciences natural sciences, have gradually come
consist of studies based on the identifica- to be treated metrically, that is quanti-
tion and classification of phenomena with tatively. Since the nineteenth century
respect to their material properties. we have had a powerful set of concepts
As far as qualitative concepts tend to pick for metrical descriptions of material
out intentional properties of the flow of phenomena, such as shape, motion,
human action, their use is consonant with colour and so on. The aetiology of
the basic distinction between the two main some of these concepts is complex. For
clusters of sciences. Metrical descriptions of example, the use of wavelength to
phenomena are required according to the provide a metrical description of col-
demands of quantitative methods. To deny ours has a long history of the inter-
that this mode of description makes sense weaving of explanatory concepts with
for psychological phenomena has no observables. We can use wavelength to
implications whatever for the question of describe a colour identified by a visible
whether there are mathematical analyses sample because we believe that there is
appropriate for psychology seen as the a thoroughgoing relationship between
study of meaning making and rule follow- wavelength and experienced hue.
ing. I will develop this point in detail below. Other concepts are needed to complete
this story, such as saturation.
Modes of representation
Every science must be based on a way of Despite its current prominence, the qua-
representing the phenomena in its domain litative/quantitative distinction is superfi-
of interest. cial. It is derivative from the more basic
distinction between two kinds of properties,
1) Social and cognitive phenomena can be
intentional and material. All phenomena,
represented discursively, that is by the
intentional and material, are grounded in
use of words, that is qualitatively.
spatio-temporally-locatable state of affairs.
There is a powerful and well-estab-
A sound has material properties (loudness
lished vocabulary already in the verna-
culars of all cultures for the description measured in decibels, pitch measured by
of psychological phenomena. In light of frequency, and so on). However, when it
this, a case needs to be made out for plays a role in some human slice of life, it
abandoning or supplementing these has intentional properties (for example, a
vocabularies with terms of art. The warning). Attending to the former is the
vocabularies of the vernacular are work of the natural sciences, while attend-
neither nave nor vague. They are com- ing to the latter is the work of psychologists
plex and subtle. As Wittgenstein made and other human scientists. Thus, there are
clear, so long as we are busy conducting two ways of taking movements, sounds,
our lives, the common vocabulary brain states and so on.
6 R Harre

Anything of which a human being can nomena, such as displays of emotion,

become conscious has this potential duality. patterns of decision making, remembering
Bodily feelings as much as material objects and forgetting and so on, should not deprive
are in need of interpretation, as to their us of the power of mathematical thinking.
meanings and propriety in the circum- Mathematics has two main virtues:
stances. Wittgenstein should be our guide
on these matters. The meaning of anything 1) It allows a managed level of abstraction
in the domain of human consciousness is to be reached. For example, Aristotle
revealed by asking what role it plays in invented formal logic by using letters to
some human practice. Thus, a stab of fear is represent any descriptive sentence
as much a warning as the tolling of a tocsin. whatever, allowing the logical forms of
As remarked above, since the 19th cen- different kinds of arguments to be
tury material properties of phenomena have abstracted and examined for validity.
been quantifiable, or at least analogues of This virtue carries with it the comple-
them have been, like the use of the expan- mentary danger that abstraction can
sion of a column of mercury to establish a eliminate the relevant meanings of the
metric of temperature. We have no idea how basic discursive units from which the
pattern was drawn. Thus, every mode
semantic, intentional properties of phenom-
of abstraction also selects some feature
ena could be quantified. Neither Lickert
of the original discourse to highlight,
scales nor statistical analyses of populations
eliminating others. Only truth and fal-
of cases make any sense in the domain of
sity of statements were preserved in
meanings, as we shall see. By eschewing
this kind of abstraction.
quantitative forms of representation, we
2) A mathematical system has precise
exclude the material properties of phenom-
rules for the development of mathema-
tical descriptions of phenomena, obser-
In so doing, we refocus the search for
vable and unobservable. This allows for
principles of order from causality and cau-
a running comparison between the
sal mechanisms to conventions, customs, modes of thought, feeling, action and
habits and practices. This suggests a close perception that people actually use and
tie between qualitative methods in psychol- the idealizations abstracted in the first
ogy and Wittgensteins psychological inves- stage.
tigations (Wittgenstein, 1952). The meaning
of a material entity is its use in some The question is not whether we should
practice, and every practice is, in various eschew mathematics altogether, but to
ways, subject to normative appraisal. This which branch of mathematics should we
ties in with Wittgensteins focus on lan- turn?
guage games, practices in which meanings
are made and managed, and grammars, The role of mathematics
representations of the explicit, but more First a general warning: promiscuous use of
usually implicit conventions, customs and mathematics as a mode of representation
local standards of correctness with which can breach the requirement that psychology
our actions are surrounded. should be the science of meaningful phe-
However, eschewing quantitative con- nomena. We must pay close attention to
cepts for representing psychological phe- which aspect or branch of mathematics we
Staking our claim for qualitative psychology 7

are using, so that the level at which mean- ties of psychologically relevant states of
ings are still maintained should not be affairs. It is hard to imagine what such
breached. relations might be. That making a promise
is an act of commitment does not entail that
The traditional divisions. promising causes someone to expect good
Traditionally three branches of mathematics things from the promiser. The indexicality
have been taught and used separately. Re- and contextuality of the act if nothing else
cent developments, inaugurated as long ago ensure its particularity. The beneficiary
as the seventeenth century by Descartes, must understand the meaning of the action
have led to a higher order unification of the in the context of the promisers character
traditional Big Three, but for practical pur- and mode of life.
poses it is helpful to look at them as distinct Variations in responses to the same con-
ways of representing and so of thinking ditions of thought and action are not the
about phenomena. sign of the effect of ceteris paribus condi-
Arithmetic : That branch of mathematics tions on the necessity of a causal law. They
that is concerned with the manipulation of are a sign of the indexicality of the meaning
numbers as such. It includes the familiar relations washed out in the statistical pro-
operations of multiplying, taking a root, as cedure.
well as more recondite procedures, such as All this has been demonstrated repeat-
summing series. In the hands of psycholo- edly, most recently by Danziger (1990).
gists, numbers have been used simply de- Psychology is a strange discipline in many
scriptively, for counting and comparing ways, but the way in which practitioners
groups of individuals as in statistics, and have simply ignored these demonstrations
for counting applications of the standard is astonishing.
unit of a metric as in Lickert and other The instinct that leads many psycholo-
ordinal scales. gists now to move to qualitative descrip-
In neither case are these techniques of tions of phenomena simply bypasses the
much use. Relative sizes of groups are the fallacies of statistical analyses, since what-
raw material of the arithmetical calculations ever else they may be, they are surely
in statistics. Unfortunately, the almost ubi- quantitative. If you avoid statistics then
quitous commission of simple fallacies in you avoid the fallacies. Our verdict on this
drawing conclusions from the results of branch of mathematics must surely be:
these calculations renders the whole busi- Avoid it!
ness worthless. For example, it is a fallacy Algebra: abstractions /functions and
to infer an individual propensity from a what satisfies them : As remarked above,
statistical analysis of the distribution of a Aristotle inaugurated the technique of using
property in a population. letters in representing cognitive processes
It is a fallacy to use Fisherian confidence as a way to abstract a general pattern of
levels to infer the likelihood of there being a reasoning exemplified by many concrete
causal relation between two correlated instances. There must have been millions
properties in the psychological domain. of occasions on which someone reasoned in
This presumes a positive answer to a funda- the following pattern: All woolly mam-
mental question as to whether there are any moths are dangerous; these creatures are
causal relations between intentional proper- woolly mammoths, so, my God!!! These
8 R Harre

creatures are dangerous. It was just as well tual human cognition by the Aristotelian
for us that our ancestor followed this technique of reaching a common level by
schema. abstraction, using the algebraic method.
Aristotles invention of a logical algebra The phenomenon of indexicality is the
allowed him to abstract a common pattern completion of the meaning, lexical or social,
from innumerable examples of similar cog- of a human act by taking account of some
nitive performances. This was the first step fact about the actor or speaker and the
to a formal treatment of cognitive psychol- moment of the performance of the action
ogy, as he studied arguments of these forms or the issuing of the utterance. For example
in search of principles of validity, and the word I is used to index the content of
identified the fallacies that arose when an utterance with the spatial location of the
they were not properly implemented. The speaker and his or her moral standing, since
abstract pattern of our wary mammoth I is typically used in acts of commitment
hunters thoughts could be expressed in a such as promising. The historicity of an act
syllogism in Barbara, which might look like is the accretion of meaning through the past
this: uses of a practice both in a society and in
M a P the life of an individual. Finally, contex-
S a M tuality concerns the role of the material and
S a P social context in determining the meaning
of signs and actions, as episodes unfold.
These features of cognitive and social
Here is a valid inference pattern exempli-
practices are evident in phenomena as
fied in untold numbers of similar patterns of
diverse as remembering, making decisions,
particular sentences, about a myriad differ-
ent subject matters, for example, All men medical diagnosis, becoming friends and so
are mortal, all soldiers are men, so all on. In so far as abstraction deletes indexi-
soldiers are mortal. This pattern of reason- cality, historicity and contextuality, so it
ing no doubt occasionally crosses the minds endangers the scientific status of research.
of Presidents and Prime Ministers as they Though every planet moves according the
send their men into action in the search for law of inverse squares, each is unique. In so
mythical treasures in far flung places. far as there is planetary science, it is
In order to see the limitations to this extraordinarily indexical! Compare the to-
algebraic technique as a complete recipe pography of Mars, Earth and Venus, for
for cognitive psychology, we need to note example.
three attributes of actual cognitive pro- Our verdict is cautious: use abstraction
cesses, and of the meanings through which with great care to avoid eliminating the
they proceed (Winograd et al ., 1986). These level at which meaning survives.
attributes have been noted often enough, Geometry : This branch of mathematics
though in different ways and using different began as a theoretical analysis of the prin-
descriptive terms. There is indexicality, ciples of spatial structures. Points, lines,
historicity and contextuality. We can planes and solids obey certain general
describe them independently, though in principles of order, the theorems of Euclid.
practice they run together in attention to Associated with these are rules for the
the uniqueness of the particular case. They construction of a huge variety of spatial
limit the possibilities of understanding ac- structures. The search for principles of
Staking our claim for qualitative psychology 9

order was not confined to spatial structure, aspects of a phenomenon, its magnitude
but even in the ancient world extended into and its direction. For example, a northerly
the principles of order for meaningful dis- wind at 50 kph can be represented by an
course, grammar. Physics extended the do- arrow half the length of the arrow represent-
main of order, including causal laws as one ing a wind of 100 kph. Threats in trench
category of such principles, though this has warfare have a direction, that from the
been almost wholly abandoned in favour of enemy guns to the advancing soldier, and
the use of symmetry principles. a magnitude, how dangerous is the threat.
One of the major criticisms of traditional The movements of soldiers in no mans
experimental psychology was the almost land can be explained by representing their
complete neglect of the structures of the beliefs about the texture of threat as vectors.
episodes in which psychological phenom- More recently, Goffman used similar con-
ena were generated. This was particularly cept to analyze the fears of people walking
obvious in the case of social psychology in a through an urban landscape (Goffman,
host of notoriously bad studies, which 1972).
should perhaps remain anonymous! For The verdict is encouraging: the use of
example aggression was studied by looking vectorial thinking is a useful tool, and to be
at the conditions under which a person encouraged.
became aggressive, without any detailed Though we can find a place for certain
study of the unfolding of the episodes kinds of mathematical methods in a scien-
in which aggressive acts occurred, particu- tific psychology, the respectability of our
discipline as science does not depend on
larly with respect to the performances of the
the use of formal techniques of representa-
other people involved. Nor was any account
tion. Informal and qualitative systems of
taken of the aftermath of an outburst
concepts have as much right to be used in a
of anger, its management, and its final
disciplined methodology as the formal con-
dying away. Structure and movement
cepts of algebra (abstraction) and geometry
must find a place in psychology. How might
we represent the pattern of thought
and feeling that is manifested in movement.
We are too sophisticated to imagine any-
thing like mental forces pushing people
Part two: other disciplinary matrices
along as if they were canoeists paddling in
a cross current. Thoughts and feelings are
manifested in movement, but how might
this be represented perspicuously? Geome- Grammar
try offers us the technique of vector repre- The rule metaphor, together with such
sentations. notions as schemata and scripts, are
Some early and clever uses of vectors in concepts in the same arena. They enable
social psychology can be found in the works us to represent structure and movement,
of Kurt Lewin (1951), with his concept of unfolding and so on. We must exercise the
the krieglandschaft. The power of the war some caution in eschewing the temptation
landscape could be represented in a net- to insert rules and meanings into the heads
work of vectors expressing the perceived of actors as if they were representations of
threat or danger. A vector expresses two hidden causal mechanisms.
10 R Harre

In this part of the paper I will be sketch- course. One of the current metadiscourses is
ing some extensions of the concept of a the cluster of rather diverse discourse prac-
grammar, originally drawn from the later tices we call psychology.
philosophy of Wittgenstein (1952: 143 /241) One possible way of individuating gram-
A grammar, in the extended sense given to mars is to classify them by reference to the
the word by Wittgenstein, is a list of rules basic kind of entities that their use presup-
apposite for some practice or set of prac- poses. In tabular form, and smoothing over
tices, such as speaking intelligibly, conduct- the fuzzy boundaries between them, we
ing a trial in a courtroom, playing a game, seem to have the following:
shopping, getting dressed, and so on. Some
grammars are sets of explicit instructions, 1) Soul grammar: words like sin, after
followed consciously by an actor. Some life and so on. This grammar is still in
grammars are devices by which a com- use by a great many people, and pre-
mentator can express the implicit norms of supposes an entity-like core that con-
a practice, that exist, in reality, only as stitutes the real person.
learned habits and skills. Wittgenstein was 2) Person grammar: words like I, guilt,
very careful to point out that it is a serious responsibility, pain and so on. This
mistake to presume that regular and accoun- grammar is the most widely used and
table activities that seem to involve implicit also the most under threat from gram-
norms are brought about by unconscious mars having their original role in the
versions of explicit rule following. There natural sciences. The domain of this
has been a tendency to insert scripts into grammar is the world of persons, em-
the heads of actors as if they were uncon- bodied centres of consciousness, cap-
sciously followed in performing some able of thought, feeling and action.
everyday task correctly. Adopting Wittgen- People are distinguished from all other
steins terminology should bring with it his organic beings by their linguistic and
caution against this tendency, a tendency other symbolic capacities, that far ex-
which leads to a pernicious mentalism. The ceed the corresponding capacities of
alternative is not materialism, but the reali- other minded beings, like dolphins
zation that most of our psychological lives and chimpanzees.
are lived in the actual or potential presence 3) Organism grammar: words like heart,
of others. gene pool and so on. The ontological
Taking the population at large we can unit is the human being, qua member of
identify FOUR grammars (principles of dis- the species homo sapiens . To think of a
cursive order) that seem to animate the way human being as an organism is to
people talk about and attempt to explain detach that being from its cultural/
what goes on in their lives. At the same time historical matrix, except in so far as
these are also some of the ways by means of this aspect can be claimed to be genetic
which people live their lives and manage in origin.
the essential cognitive tasks of the everyday. 4) Molecular grammar: words like free
I want to emphasize how natural it is to use radicals, and so on. Molecules are the
the four grammars both to live and think units of the chemical sciences. Many of
about living. These grammars, I believe, are the concepts of the organism grammar
involved in both discourse and metadis- have versions which include concepts
Staking our claim for qualitative psychology 11

from the molecular grammar. This guarantee against talking nonsense on hu-
raises questions about reductionism man affairs.
that are outside the scope of this paper. Moreover, by abandoning the Person
grammar we abandon psychology, since
1 and 2 tend to discursive modes of expres- the phenomena are defined as what people
sion, while 3 and 4 tend to formal modes of think, feel and do.
expression, using explicitly defined con-
cepts usually with some metrical aspect.
Only three of these grammars are in use as
principles of order in contemporary psy- Part three: joining the winners: melding
chology, and there is a tendency to reduce qualitative methods with neuroscience
them to two, namely 3 and 4. The soul
grammar has not been in use in academic Neuroscience is a powerful and burgeoning
psychology for at least a century. The discipline. It has obvious connections with
obvious objection to the pursuit of the psychology. Can we find a way of maintain-
reduction project is simple: the phenomena ing the Person or P-grammar, and hence
with which psychology purports to deal are maintaining the topics to be inquired into as
described in a vocabulary that identifies psychological and the methods as meaning
and rule oriented, and at the same time
these phenomena independently of the
linking it non-reductively to the material O-
material description of the bearer of the
and M-grammars?
phenomenon. Wittgenstein was very good
The art of science is the creation of the
at pointing out that such cognitive skills
potent metaphor or model. Here is one
as reading have been identifiable for at
proposal: the task/tool metaphor. Cognitive
least three thousand years without benefit
Tasks are described and sometimes mana-
of any concepts from the organic or
ged in discourses shaped by the P-grammar.
molecular grammars. A recent book by For example, each year I have the job of
Papineau (2002) spells out this point yet remembering my wifes birthday. One way
again. to do this is to use the resources of my brain,
Where does the reductive impulse come in short the hippocampus as a threefold
from? A nave idea of what constitutes a neural net, linked to the entorhinal cortex
scientific discipline is part of it. Since only and so on (McCleod et al ., 1998). Alterna-
material properties are genuinely metrical, tively, I can make a note of the date in my
anyone who thinks that to be scientific is to diary. That too is a material cognitive tool.
use numbers, would tend to look on me- There are various Material Tools I can use to
trical concepts as the only genuinely scien- carry out cognitive tasks. Tools divorced
tific ones. There is the medicalization of from their role in human practices and
morality, very noticeable in the USA where considered only as material things are de-
ritalin is routinely used to maintain disci- scribable in the O- and M-grammars. How-
pline in school. There are some aggressive ever, such material things are describable as
atheists who think that preserving persons tools only when taken up into in the P-
is tantamount to re-instituting the soul grammar. Similarly, a hand is just a bundle
grammar. It is only too painfully evident of bones and tendons considered in its
that the Nobel Prize for achievements materiality. However, when it is being
in one of the physical sciences is no used to sign a document promising to
12 R Harre

hand over the kingdom to the ruler of a b) This yields a catalogue of meanings and
neighbouring duchy it is a tool. A bit of standards of correctness and propriety.
wood attached to a sheet of steel becomes a c) Each can be expressed as a set of rules,
tool, a spade, when it is put to use in the constitutive and regulative.
personal project of digging the cabbage
patch. Commentary: This step seems to have
The task/tool metaphor provides a natural been adequately founded in the develop-
and very precisely defined link between ments of discursive psychology in
qualitative psychology with its attention to which qualitative methods play an essential
meanings in cognitive tasks and neuropsy- part.
chology, with its attention to the material
properties of cognitive tools. Furthermore, it Step two.
is a non-reductive relation since the tool- Make a formal analysis of the sets of rules
hood of a palmtop computer or the hippo- which must be realized in a computational
campus is a concept that makes sense only model of the process. Using the principle of
in the domain of concepts for meaningful Multiple Realizability (the same program
and normatively constrained human action, can be run on all sorts of different material
the P-grammar. devices) make a conjecture as to the neural
Neuroscience and discursive psychology structures and processes needed to run a
using qualitative methodology are natural suitable version of the above computational
partners. Each provides problems for the model.
other to solve. What bit of the brain is used Commentary: Expert systems and the like
to perform this task, say choosing a font for are poor models of the brain processes
a business card? What task is this bit of the which might realize them. However, some
brain used for, say the right temporal lobe? faith has been revived in cognitive science,
We could call the fruitful interaction be- though not yet fully restored! PDP or con-
tween discursive psychology as the study of nectionist machines can perform the same
human practices by the use of predomi-
computational tasks as von Neumann ma-
nantly qualitative methods and neuropsy-
chines (the standard computational archi-
chology as the study of the organic tools by
tecture, of central processing unit, satellite
means of which people carry out these
memory stores and so on) but do not require
practices hybrid psychology.
any of the implausible architectural as-
The project of a hybrid psychology sumptions of the Symbol System hypoth-
What would a research program built on esis, such as unique one for one
these principles look like? Here is a brief representations of elementary units of
sketch of the methodology set out in detail knowledge.
in Harre (2002).
Step three.
Step one. Use the connectionist working model as a
a) Analysis of the performance of some guide to hypotheses about the workings of
cognitive practice such as remember- the brain as the Person carries out the tasks
ing, classifying, reasoning or calcu- defined in the P-grammar.
lating, from initial situation to Commentary: The beauty of the hybrid
completion. psychology proposal is that the brain is
Staking our claim for qualitative psychology 13

taken up into the P-grammar where it is ical and cultural links with the movement
interpreted as a system of tools. Any at- to transcend the modernist aim of a once-
tempt to make the assimilation in the con- for-all science of human life, without slip-
trary direction deletes the concept of a ping back into scientism of the past.
person since none of the crucial moral Though I cannot imagine the historical
concepts definitive of personhood have transformations from which the successor
analogues in the O- and M-grammars. A to hybrid psychology will emerge, that there
behavioural science without the Person is will be a successor is undeniable. Yet, just
not a psychology at all. as Behaviourism and the Freudian take on
the sources of our thoughts, actions and
Opening out the research domain feelings, have each shown us something
Having identified and described a practice about ourselves, so too will the historian
and having used the task/tool metaphor to of the future, looking back on the era in
pose research questions to our neuroscience which qualitative methods took over from
friends, we need to open up another range the crude scientism of statistically pre-
of questions. How have these practices sented psychological experiments, see its
come to be? What are their historical and peculiar contributions.
cultural origins? At this point discursive
psychology joins forces with cultural and
historical psychology (Stearns, 1994) and
with psychologically oriented anthropology Conclusion
(Wierzbicka, 1999). In each of these fields of
Ironically, the objection that qualitative
research, qualitative methods are required,
methods are not scientific, is rebutted not
since the questions to be answered are
only by the fact that they meet the demands
concerned with meanings and local rules
of correctness and propriety. of the methodology of the natural sciences
more truly than do the methods of main-
However, the historicity of human prac-
stream quantitative methodologies, but by
tices is as much a feature of psychology as a
the fact that they are essential to neu-
human practice, as it is of any other activity
roscience! The study of the brain is of
that people engage in. In the twentieth
century we had two main ways of under- relevance to psychology only in so far as
people use their bodily organs as tools for
standing human thinking, feeling and acting
various human tasks. Since many of the
to choose from: the behavioral and the
tasks involve the management of meanings
Freudian. Though the project of hybrid
within normative frameworks neuropsy-
psychology, the fruitful marriage of discur-
sive psychology with its emphasis on mean- chology could not exist without the meth-
ods by which the tasks of everyday life are
ings and rules, with neuropsychology, with
described and analysed. And that means
its emphasis on mechanisms of cognition, is
qualitative methods.
presented here as a step beyond the para-
digms of the twentieth century, it is itself
historically located in the twenty first cen- Acknowledgements
tury, in which it will surely become the
dominant model for psychology. Eschewing I am grateful to Brendan Gough and Ian
the more extravagant excesses of post-mod- Parker for their invaluable advice in the
ernism, it is a project that has close histor- preparation of this paper.
14 R Harre

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About the author

RO M HA RRE is Emeritus Fellow of Linacre College, Oxford and teaches in Washington DC at
both Georgetown and American Universities. His current interests include developing the
relation between discursive psychology and neuroscience, further developments of social
constructionism, avoiding the accusations of relativism, and continuing his long standing
interest in the interpretation of recent physics.