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Abductory Inference, Communication Theory and Subjective Science
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The Electronic Journal of Communication / La Revue Electronique de Communication
***** GOLDMAN ************** EJC/REC Vol. 1, No. 1, 1990 ***


Irvin Goldman
University of Windsor

        Abstract.  Q methodology is distinguished from
     conventional hypothetico-deductive methodologies
     by virtue of its emphasis on Peirce's abductory
     logic, and from conventional communication
     approaches by focusing on what is subjective
     (meaning-centered, self referential) rather than
     objective (message-centered, without self
     reference).  Q methodology is also noncategorical,
     hence relies on dependency factor analysis (rather
     than variance analysis) as a way to reveal
     inherent structure and states of "mind,"
     comparable to the energy states of quantum theory.
     Epistemological principles are illustrated in a
     single-case study of cultural narcissism examined
     in terms of responses to pictures appearing in
     Time magazine.

     Methode Q se distingue des methodes
     hypothetico-deductives conventionnelles par son
     insistance sur la logique abductive de Peirce.
     Elle se distingue des approches conventionnelles
     en communication par son interet pour ce qui est
     subjectif (centre sur le sens, auto-referentiel)
     plutot qu'objectif (centre sur le message, sans
     auto-reference).  La Methode Q n'utilise pas de
     categories et depend donc de l'analyse factorielle
     de la dependance (plutot que de l'analyse de la
     variance) comme moyen de decouvrir les structures
     sous-jacentes et les etats "d'esprit" qu'on peut
     comparer au niveaux d'energie de la theorie
     quantique.  Les principes epistemologiques sont
     illustres par une etude a cas unique de
     narcissisme culturel analyse selon les termes des
     reactions a des images parues dans le magazine

     Q methodology has been widely misunderstood and is
often applied within a hypothetico-deductive framework (see,
e.g., Kerlinger 1973), which in many ways misses what is of
fundamental significance.  Notions such as abduction,
dependency factor analysis and the like present an alternate
framework for scientific inquiry which is indeed at odds
with the dominant Newtonian mechanistic paradigm in
communication theory and research, and this is all too often
forgotten.  Q engages the social sphere from the perspective
of the experiencing subject and hence embraces the quantum
world view of intersubjectivity, indeterminism and
complementarity.  It is perhaps in this sense that Q
constitutes a critical methodological epistemology firmly
rooted in the humane sciences.

           Objective Science, Abductory Inference
                     and Q Methodology

     Social science in general, and communication research
in particular, especially in the United States is anchored
philosophically in logical positivism and methodologically
in hypothetico-deductivism.  Although historically it was
Comte who coined the term "positive philosophy" and
sociology, formulating a natural science of society in the
mid-nineteenth century, the emergence of logical positivism
can be traced to three major developments in science.  Feigl
(1943) traces these to Russell's revolutionary studies on
the logical foundations of mathematics, the transformation
of classical physics by such leading figures as Einstein,
Heisenberg, Planck, and Bohr and the subsequent development
of behaviorism in psychology.
     In an attempt to resurrect a more scientific philosophy
in the 1920s, a group of European scientists and
philosophers met regularly in Vienna and became known as the
Vienna Circle.  These scholars turned their attention to
such notions as the logical and philosophical foundations of
language and meaning, as well as the testability of
scientific statements; in short, fundamental questions
concerning epistemology.  As to the former, they
distinguished between cognitive (factual) and noncognitive
(emotive) meanings.  Ayer puts it this way:

        The presence of an ethical symbol in a
     proposition adds nothing to the factual content.
     ... If I say to someone "you acted wrongly in
     stealing that money," I am not stating anything
     more than if I had simply said "you stole that
     money."  In adding that this action is wrong I am
     simply evincing my moral disapproval of it.  It is
     as if I had said, "You stole that money," in a
     particular tone of horror, or had written it with
     some special exclamation marks.  The tone, or the
     exclamation marks add nothing to the literal
     meaning of the sentence.  It merely shows that the
     expression of it is attended by certain feelings
     of the speaker (Ayer, 1946, p. 107).

     Cognitive meanings then are informational, factual or
logical statements, devoid of affect and linguistically
neutral.  The noncognitive sphere of meaning is by nature
affective and conveys feeling, self reference, value, intent
or the like and its expression is more likely to be conveyed
through symbolic form, as in the arts.
     As for the fundamental epistemological problem, that
is, the questions of knowing, logical positivism adheres to
the criterion of testability as providing the only valid
approach to knowledge.  The so-called "verification
principle" is central to the positivist platform and rather
simply asserts that any empirical statement must be capable
of being proven or disproven.
     Hypothetico-deductive (HD) methodology epitomizes and
encapsulates logical positivism.  For example, Hull's (1943)
preference for the HD method was forcefully influenced by
the tenets of logical positivism which stressed the
importance of logical analysis, causation, and the
development of a language, that is, a system of symbolic
signs free from contradictions.  Roughly, HD methodology
concerns itself with systems of higher order postulates or
laws, namely, theories from which hypotheses are derived or
deduced.  These are then tested through experimentation
aimed at confirming that reached deductively beforehand.
     To be sure, there have been some disputes and radical
departures from the original tenets of the Vienna Circle.
(1968) attempts to rescue meaning from testability by his
two notions of:  establishing criteria of demarcation, that
is, separating science from nonscience, and the significance
of falsification.  Popper refuses to equate nontestability
with meaninglessness, arguing that there are degrees of
testability; metaphysics, for example, would in the main be
included in nontestable theories.  Refutation, on the other
hand, he suggests is a criterion for demarcation (between
science and nonscience) but not of meaning.
     Inductive logic, Popper argues, is closely linked with
empiricism, which involves the repeated empirical testing of
observed regularities in nature, later to be stated as
universal laws.  However, he contends that a law can never
be fully verified for there is always the possibility that
the n + 1st observation will refute all of the former
observations.  Popper suggests that the idea of induction is
more myth than method and, in fact, science could do away
with careful fact gathering.  In its stead, he points out
that science progresses through the conjecture of
"implausible" hypotheses which are at once open to
     Popper's work, in some sense, represents a more
critical tradition in positivism, although he himself denies
being a positivist.  As for the social sciences, Popper
contends the same approach is needed as in the natural
sciences.  Thus:

     ... methods are fundamentally the same in all
     sciences  ...methods of trial and error, of
     inventing hypotheses which can be practically
     tested, or of submitting them to practical tests
     ...a social technology is needed whose results can
     be tested by piecemeal social engineering.
     (Popper, 1973, p. 222)

     No doubt Popper overlooks the historical and perhaps
contradictory character of society; however, his
contributions, according to Giddens, reside in breaking with
the traditional conceptions of science.  Giddens puts it
this way:

        Popper's philosophy of science not only broke
     substantially with logical positivism, but also
     with traditional conceptions of science which
     tended to treat scientific method in terms of the
     individual scientist confronting a subject-matter,
     substituting for the recognition of science as a
     collective enterprise, an institutionalization of
     critical reason.  But, precisely because of this
     latter emphasis Popper's work also prepared the
     way for Kuhn and for subsequent developments in
     the philosophy of science that have in some
     substantial part moved away from Popper's own
     views. (Giddens, 1976, p. 136)

     Given all of that, Popper's work moves entirely in the
direction of deductive inference, embracing an ideology of
testability, rather than discovery.  Although one cannot
deny that this approach has led to solid achievements in the
past, its importance has been exaggerated and limitations
     Q (Stephenson, 1961), engages the notion of abductive
inference, conceptually first proposed by Charles Sanders
Peirce (Buchler, 1955).  Peirce, it may be said, moves away
from the position of the early positivists in that his
conception of methodology concerns itself not with
clarifying the logical structure of scientific theories, but
rather with a logic of procedure by which to obtain
scientific theories.  As such, Peirce distinguished between
three forms of scientific inference:  deduction, induction,
and abduction.  Deduction, as it was noted, merely proves
that something must behave in a certain way; induction
suggests that, in fact, it does behave that way; abduction,
on the other hand, entertains the notion that something will
probably, although not necessarily, behave in a certain
     Abduction, Peirce went on to argue, is that form of
inference which extends knowledge, essentially a rule that
introduces new hypotheses, impelling the inquiry onwards.
Deduction implies the development of hypotheses by recourse
to initial conditions.  Induction, on the other hand,
implies examination through experimentation to ascertain how
nearly and with what probability the predictions can be
confirmed.  Deduction, according to Peirce, is the least
important form of inference for scientific progress in that
it does not advance any new understandings.  While Popper
called induction a myth, one has to agree with Peirce that
abduction and induction are significant for true scientific
progress and discovery.

       Communication Research and Subjective Science

     It was noted that communication research in the U.S. in
particular has been conducted primarily in the objective
framework, namely, along hypothetico-deductive lines, this
approach being message-centered rather than
meaning-oriented.  Stephenson distinguishes between two
forms of communication -- the objective mode and the
subjective mode -- with scientific principles being
applicable to both.  The objective point of view is
conceived of in terms of information, messages, facts, and
predictability, all of this being a matter of bringing about
changes in "outside" reality.  The subjective side of
communication, on the other hand, is not concerned with such
change, the focus here being on feelings, thoughts, dreams,
beliefs, and the like.  Stephenson makes this point as

        The objective mode is in terms of "statements"
     of fact and predictability, that is, instructions
     informing us what has to be done, or already has
     been done, to bring about change "outside."
     Characteristically these "statements" are
     singular, like a mathematical equation, or as when
     we say "the boiling point of water is 100 C at sea
     level."  The real world, a famous psychologist
     reminded us, is one of accomplishment (Koffka,
     1935).  The practical arts, and all sciences up to
     now, are based on making change "outside" as the
     only way to be sure of reality.  The subjective
     form of communicability is our primary concern and
     involves no such change.  It is within ourselves,
     involving our thoughts, wishes, emotions,
     opinions, fantasies, dreams, beliefs -- in a word
     our "mind."  We can conjure nothing of this into
     "outside" reality -- no one has materialized any
     of it into objects in the world outside.  This
     form of communicability is characteristically
     diffused; its statements have "excess meanings"
     (as in synthetic propositions); it is subject to
     expansive understanding and not to prediction.
     (Stephenson, 1976, pp. 101-102)

     One must remember that it is Dilthey (Hodges, 1949) who
was responsible for the current-day division of methodology
into nomothetic and idiographic points of view, with the
former being prototypical of the natural sciences and the
latter of cultural sciences.  For Dilthey, experimental
psychology had failed by not dealing with man's perception
of himself, overlooking the higher mental processes.  The
explanatory forms of psychology thus had not come to grips
with man's cultural achievements, such as art, literature,
religion, and so on.  Hence, while there are two
methodologies, they are not those anticipated by Dilthey.
Fundamentally, there is one methodology without self
reference and one with self reference; the objectives or
rules of scientific inquiry apply in all other respects.
     Q methodology thus reaches into subjectivity whenever
matters pertaining to self reference are under
investigation.  It is perhaps in this sense that
Stephenson's work lifts communication research out of the
limitations and categorical assumptions imposed on it both
in the American and European contexts.  Carey, for example,
an exponent of the "cultural" approach, has suggested that
cultural studies are a means of going beyond the American
emphasis of study which focuses on the precise psychological
and sociological conditions under which attitudes are
changed and persuasion occurs.  He puts it this way:

        European and American work derives from quite
     different puzzles and is grounded in two different
     metaphors for communication....  American studies
     are grounded in a transmission view of
     communication.  They see communication therefore,
     as a process of transmitting messages at a
     distance for the purpose of control.  The
     archetypal case of communication then is
     persuasion, attitude change, behavior
     modification, socialization through the
     transmission of information, influence or
     conditioning....  By contrast, the preponderant
     view of communication in European studies is a
     ritual one:  communication is viewed as a process
     through which a shared culture is created,
     modified, and transformed.  The archetypal case of
     communication is ritual and mythology. (Carey,
     1979, p. 412)

Moreover, Carey finds the solution not in a behavioral
science aimed at elucidating laws nor a formal science aimed
at elucidating structures, but rather in a cultural science
whose aim it is to elucidate meanings.  He writes:

        Specific forms of culture -- art, ritual,
     journalism -- enter only indirectly, if at all ...
     expressive forms are exhausted as intellectual
     objects suitable for attention by students once
     relevance to matters of behavior change have been
     demonstrated.  The relation of these forms to
     social order, the historical transformation of
     these forms, their entrance into a subjective
     meaning and significance, the interrelations among
     them, and their role in creating a general culture
     -- a way of life and a pattern of significance --
     is never seriously entertained. (Carey, 1979, pp.

     Carey, it would seem captures the essence of the
problematic rather well, but he is prone to dismiss any
scientific methodological questions as irrelevant, thereby
throwing out the baby with the bath water.  Along Q lines we
can indeed embrace Carey's cultural approach with its
emphasis on meanings and a way of life but on grounds other
than he proposes.  Instead of Carey's arbitrary
categorizations pertaining to communication, reality, and
consciousness, in Q the only claim about reality is that
each person defines it for himself.
     From a subjective perspective, the concern is with the
mass-of-communication which is primary, placing the mass
media as subordinate to the common everyday talk in a
culture.  This point of view embodies an entirely different
conception of the audience.  In the objective framework, one
conceives of the media in terms of transmission and
information and measures the effects of messages.  Moreover,
one speaks of a television audience, consumer market, or the
like.  From our perspective audiences are defined by
experiencing persons and are not thus prone to what others
say about them on categorical grounds.  A step is then
pursued along existential lines which moves in the direction
of audience-centered research, embracing a model of
communication which fosters subjective understandings rather
than social effects.  As such, communication is placed in
the common everyday world where it fundamentally belongs.
It is in this context that self is central to all else, as
when we gossip or converse with each other about this or
that matter.  We are not merely informing each other, but
are in some sense expressing attitudes and opinions rather
than facts; in short, we are being subjective, and not
objective, or factual.

              Q and Dependency Factor Analysis

     The logic of Q methodology is fundamentally abductory,
involving what Stephenson called dependency factor analysis,
embracing two basic methodological approaches.  One is by
way of Fisherian analysis of variance involving categorical
assumptions and serving primarily as a means of representing
the domain of inquiry, that is, the concourse in its most
general terms.  The second is that of factor analysis, which
in principle, is free from a priori categorization.  Factor
analysis brings to light operant factors by way of synthesis
giving way to new meanings, rather than a reductionistic
     The notion behind structuring a Q sample is really an
innocent one, in the main, allowing the investigator to be
rather explicit about his own theoretical position, while
also facilitating the selection of Q samples.  It must not
be forgotten that Fisherian designs also provide a basis for
replicating Q samples in a systematic manner -- in the same
sense assuring comparability of samples (regardless of
sample size).  Although the statements are modeled or
conceptualized theoretically, one is ultimately uninterested
in the logical properties of the Q sample, but rather the
way in which the individual understands the items.  In the
hypothetico-deductive method, explanations are anchored in a
priori definitions imposed by the investigator; in Q,
meanings are given by the person a posteriori.  Validity, as
such, matters little here, for there really is no external
criterion for a person's own point of view, or as Stephenson
has stated, the operational definitions of a person's
attitude are not in the items but rather significantly, it's
what he or she does with them.  Hence, while variance
analysis provides a logical frame of reference from the
investigator's point of view, factor analysis is given
prominence in that it envelops the person's own point of
view.  This, in principle, is the route of an abductory
methodology which allows for new discoveries but on grounds
other than those postulated by the initial experimental
     While factor analysis in general is a method for
classifying variables, with R methodology the variables are
tests or traits, while in Q the variables are the Q sorts
themselves.  In Q, one is interested in determining how
individuals have classified themselves rather than being
prone to the categorical attributions of the researcher.
Stephenson states:

        Thus, in R a number of tests are applied to a
     sample of persons.  The tests are scored
     objectively, and the concern, fundamentally, is
     with individual differences.  But if we invite any
     person to look at all the tests, to deal with them
     as he would a pack of cards, and to order them
     with respect to (A) which he believes himself to
     be most expert at, or (B) which he would like most
     to do, or (C) which in his opinion is the fairest,
     or (D) which will give more information about his
     ability, and so forth -- in any case Q-technique
     would be at issue, and concern, fundamentally,
     would be with the single case. (Stephenson, 1953,
     p. 5)

     The concern of Q is thus not with the observables of
statistical populations, that is, with the trait,
intelligence, attitude, or the like.  These notions are
attached to the domain of R, and hence remain in the older
mold of classical Newtonian physics.  Stephenson (1982)
argues that Q is more akin to quantum physics, which is
fundamentally concerned with states of matter and not
individual observables.
     Although R and Q are anchored in parallel statistical
foundations, quantum theory is inapplicable in R.  What is
at issue in Q is systems of state, and the factor theory as
such is for measurement of differences of saliency of
feeling for one person, by way of single case studies.
     Hence, what is of concern in any Q study is to design
compelling experiments to elicit factor structures inherent
in phenomena, rather than artifacts of the instrumentation.
Thus, the aim is to elicit natural effects, rather than
imposed instrumental effects.  In this regard, one notes
that Q samples, as such, are never standardized.  In R, if
one measures a child's intelligence, one would expect to
find a concrete value for it, while in Q the concern is with
the natural clusters that appear.  Hence, in any given study
one starts with all the elements, that is, the statement (or
Q sample) and these are given values by way of feeling and
self reference.  Subjective situations are thus transformed
into operant factor structures involving one person and many
Q sorts.  The possibility now exists that complex phenomena
in subjectivity can display inherent form analogous to the
situation in quantum physics, all of this being a matter of
lawfulness as expressed in the structure.
     Factors are operant, that is they emit behavior, and
this is determined by both mathematical-statistical as well
as psychological criteria.  The mathematical-statistical
merely prepares the phenomena of nature so that they can
show inherent form, while the psychological is in reference
to a given, and hence particular individual.  In reference
to the psychological criteria, Stephenson (1961) draws on
Peirce's observation that "ideas grow continuously," with
new ideas being formed in relation to feelings.  Given all
of that, Peirce's so-called law of mind posits the notion
that new ideas are schematical.  Q methodology, in fact,
lends credence to Peirce's theoretical and philosophical
insights to the effect that operant factors are thematic.
The task of the investigator is to interpret and thus
qualify what has already been created by the Q sorter.  The
ultimate task, is, therefore, to tap into the creative
nexus, and come to grips with the implicit meanings arrived
at by way of feeling and self reference.

                 An Illustration Utilizing
               Lasch's Cultures of Narcissism

     Up to this point, the discussion has focused on
abduction, scientific inference and the like.  This material
is fundamental to Q methodology and these notions will now
be illustrated in relation to a study in communication and
culture.  The impetus for this research came by way of
intellectual historian Christopher Lasch.  His THE CULTURE
OF NARCISSISM (1978) in many ways reflects an intellectual
tradition which, in the main, uses both psychology and
sociology, psychoanalysis and Marxism.  This particular
school of social thought is in many ways consistent with
critical theory and emerged in the United States in the late
1930s by way of an intellectual German refugee community
which shared a commitment to social change.  They were
critical of bourgeois repression which they perceived as
being reflected in an authoritarian personality structure,
and included excessive sexual repression, and a puritanical
morality.  Led by such figures as Reich (1970), Fromm
(1955), and Marcuse (1966), the so-called Frankfurt School
sought to humanize and historicize Freudian theory while at
the same time reviving the dialectical tradition in early
Marxian thought which they believed had succumbed to
     Moreover, they chronicled the progressive collapse of
the family in capitalist society and its ever weakening
capacity to serve as an adequate socializing agency.  This
phenomenon they believed brought about changes in
personality organization and indeed laid the groundwork for
the psychological basis for fascism as well as other means
of political repression.  Frankfurt School scholars argued
that the mediating and socializing functions of the family
had been taken over by the culture industries, fostering in
Marcuse's (1966) words a passive and one-dimensional
     Lasch, too, locates contemporary social disorganization
in the weakening of the family, and the progressive
infiltration of monopoly capitalism.  However, Lasch argues
that the earlier Marxist critique is out-dated and one has
to analyze society according to prevailing historical
conditions.  He writes:

        Events have rendered liberationist critiques of
     modern society hopelessly out of date -- and much
     of an earlier Marxist critique as well.  Many
     radicals still direct their indignation against
     the authoritarian family, repressive sexual
     morality, literary censorship, the work ethic, and
     other foundations of bourgeois order that have
     been weakened or destroyed by advanced capitalism
     itself.  These radicals do not see that the
     "authoritarian personality" no longer represents
     the prototype of the economic man.  Economic man
     himself has given way to the psychological man of
     our times -- the final product of bourgeois
     individualism.  The new narcissist is haunted not
     by guilt but by anxiety. (Lasch, 1978, p. xvi)

     Basically, Lasch argues that current objective
conditions in capitalism have fostered the development of a
narcissistic social character in America today.  The
historical decline of the family and the increased
bureaucratization of private life has, according to Lasch,
weakened the self; all which has fostered a therapeutic
rationality.  Under these conditions, the ego regresses to
more primitive modes of psychic functioning.  A better
society, Lasch avers, would result when common sense once
again prevails and the competence of the ordinary person,
which has been undermined by the "knowledge industries," is
     Lasch's analysis of culture is in the tradition of Marx
and Freud; however, rather than using terms like
"ideological superstructure," or "cultural superego," Lasch,
like Fromm before him, employs the term social character,
referring broadly to those character traits that a people
have in common by virtually living in the same culture.
Lasch uses the concept of narcissism in terms of its precise
clinical meaning, suggesting that theoretical precision is
important because in the first place the idea itself is
susceptible to moral inflation and, secondly, equating
narcissism with everything selfish is rather inaccurate
historically.  The emergence and prominence of psychiatric
character disorder, as well as changes in personality
structure, mirror specific alterations in culture and
society.  By linking personality and society through the
concept of narcissism, Lasch renders a psychodynamic
explanation of America, its institutions and hence its
culture.  He writes:

        Psychoanalysis best clarifies the connection
     between society and the individual, culture and
     personality, precisely when it confines itself to
     careful examination of individuals.  It tells us
     most about society when it is least determined to
     do so.  Freud's extrapolation of psychoanalytic
     principles into anthropology, history, and
     biography can safely be ignored by the student of
     society, but his clinical investigations
     constitute a storehouse of indispensable ideas,
     once it is understood that the unconscious mind
     represents the modification of nature by culture,
     the imposition of civilization on instinct.
     (Lasch, 1978, p. 34)

     Lasch's account of the syndrome, namely narcissism,
builds primarily on the work of Melanie Klein (1964) as well
as the more contemporary work of Kernberg (1975) and Kohut
(1971).  While there is a shift from ego to self analysis,
narcissism is theoretically conceptualized in orthodox
psychoanalytic doctrine as opposed to the neo-Freudian
revisionism, as portrayed for example by Fromm (1955) who
seeks to rescue Freudian theory from its "biologism."
     Following Stephenson's theoretical approach pertaining
to communication theory and research, which has been briefly
discussed, this paper pursues the study of the mass media
from an operant, meaning-centered approach, with an emphasis
on feelings and self reference as opposed to the objective
paradigm which seeks to measure the social effects of the
mass media.  The former entails subjective understandings of
a culture, that is, a way of life, while the latter concerns
itself with categorical reductionistic explanations.
     Hence, one has to attend to a rich nexus of subjective
meanings, inherent in the mass media as operant factor
structure, by way of single case studies which place the
individual's core of feelings as central to the research
procedure.  The initial problem, therefore, concerns the
relation of these structures to issues of self-object
cathexis.  This involves where the individual places himself
in relation to other induced conditions of instruction,
thereby relating such subjectivity to Lasch's discussion of
narcissism in American culture.  From this perspective,
Lasch's thesis will be fundamentally put into place as
abductory.  One has an explanation of American culture in a
general way, namely narcissism, but just what precise form
that will take is not yet known.  In effect, this study
takes a step in the existential-humanistic direction by
locating the study of mass communication and culture in a
subjective paradigm, and while using Marxian and
psychodynamic principles, the emphasis is on self rather
than categorical postulates.   The task therefore, is to
illustrate how the subjective underpinnings of culture can
be explicated by employing mass communication research in
the context of subjective science principles.  This will, in
the main, render psychosocial understandings of "a way of
life and patterns of significance," as Carey (1979) would
have it.
     Essentially, Lasch's work is one of social
interpretation containing virtually hundreds of propositions
of general significance, as for example:

        To live for the moment is the prevailing
     passion -- to live for yourself, not for your
     predecessors or posterity. (Lasch, 1978, p. 5)

        As the family loses not only its productive
     functions but many of its reproductive functions
     as well, many men and women no longer manage to
     raise their children without the help of certified
     experts. (Lasch, 1978, p. 10)

        The media give substance to and thus intensify
     narcissistic dreams of fame and glory, encourage
     the common man to identify himself with the stars
     and to hate the "herd" and make it more and more
     difficult for him to accept the banality of
     everyday existence. (Lasch, 1978, p. 21)

        The popularization of psychiatric modes of
     thought, the spread of the "new consciousness
     movement," ... share a quality of intense
     preoccupation with the self.  This self absorption
     defines the moral climate of contemporary society.
     (Lasch, 1978, p. 25)

        As the new elite discards the outlook of the
     old bourgeoisie, it identifies itself not with the
     work ethic and the responsibilities of wealth but
     with an ethic of leisure, hedonism, and
     self-fulfillment. (Lasch, 1978, p. 221)

        The struggle against bureaucracy therefore
     requires a struggle against capitalism itself.
     Ordinary citizens cannot resist professional
     dominance without also asserting control over
     production and over the technical knowledge on
     which modern production rests. (Lasch, 1978, p.

In Q methodology these statements constitute a concourse of
communication, and may indeed include what is commonly
talked about by intellectuals and many college-educated
North Americans.  Moreover, these statements can be grouped
logically into classes embracing Lasch's theory of
narcissism, which involves dynamic issues pertaining to self
and socialization.  In a rather reductionistic sense,
narcissism could theoretically mean self absorption, while
non-narcissism would logically be self detachment, all self
references being covered by this dichotomy.  Issues
pertaining to culture socialization in Lasch's treatise can
be broadly categorized to include personality,
professional-economic, and social-historical matters.  The
Fisherian design for this theory is as follows:

Table 1

    Main Effects                Levels

A. Self functions    (a) Self-        (b) Self-
                         absorption       detachment

B. Sociocultural     (c) Personality  (d) Professional
                          (d) Social-historical

     The problem has not yet been solved for as it was
stated, the concern was to reach understandings of the
narcissism in American culture by primarily engaging the
mass media.  The mass media are certainly a cultural product
and as Lasch suggests they are one of a number of social
influences that foster the development of the narcissistic
social character.  He writes:

        Bureaucracy, however, is only one of a number
     of social influences that are bringing a
     narcissistic type of personality organization into
     greater and greater prominence.  Another such
     influence is the mechanical reproduction of
     culture, the proliferation of visual and auditory
     images in the "society of the spectacle."...
     Cameras and recording machines not only transcribe
     experience but alter its quality, giving to much
     of modern life the character of an enormous echo
     chamber, a hall of mirrors.  Life presents itself
     as a succession of images or electronic signals,
     of impressions recorded and reproduced by means of
     photography, motion pictures, television, and
     sophisticated recording devices. (Lasch, 1978, p.

     Hence, rather than using the statements from Lasch's
book, we can place the concourse directly into the mass
media by way of Time magazine, which much like the daily
newspaper, roughly approximates the communication of
American culture and its institutions, portraying a way of
life.  If, for example, one glances at the index of this
weekly news magazine, the news is categorized under
religion, art, science, business, law, sports, military, the
sexes, behavior, and so on.  Photographs from these sections
readily capture and communicate the cultural life of America
and its institutions and any educated American could at
least find some meaning in these photographs.  The
statements gathered in this study are "news worthy" items
caught by the photographer's lens; they are "ecological"
naturally occurring events as opposed to samples, being
structured in regard to theoretical matters as indicated,
for example, in Table 1.  However, these photographs also
constitute a concourse of communication -- the Fisherian
design for which is shown in Table 2.

                        The Q Sample

     A Q sample was thus developed consistent with the
factorial design of Table 2.  Approximately five hundred
photographs from Time magazine, which included issues
between 1975 and 1980, were clipped out and inspected.
Careful consideration was given not to choose photographs
which could involve biases or special knowledge.  In this
regard, pressing issues of the day as well as colored
photographs of celebrities were not represented.
Essentially, one can readily think of the Q sample along the
same lines as the Thematic Apperception Test upon which one
projects feelings.  The 10x2 design replicated three times
provided a Q sample size of n=60, out of the original 500.
All of the 60 original photographs from Time were
rephotographed and eventually the investigator ended up with
four sets of 4x5 black and white prints.  The photographs
were then randomized and numbered.  One must again emphasize
the notion that the investigator is ultimately uninterested
in the logical categories of the Fisherian design.
Structuring the sample is only the beginning; the ultimate
interest is what the Q sorter does with the statements, that
is, with the inherent form that emerges in the factor
structure.  Stephenson addresses this issue as follows:

        In Q method the concern is with these samples,
     but also with the variate designs.  The latter
     represent singular propositions that are being
     tested, and this testing can be pursued with
     regard to the structure of the sample, namely by
     way of factor analysis.  But when we seek to
     explain a factor we turn to the variance analysis
     of the sample. (Stephenson, 1953, p. 75)

Table 2

A. Culture     Religion    Law       Military     Business
                  a         b           c            d

                Arts       Sports    Education    Medicine
                 e           f          g             h

               Miscellaneous         Miscellaneous
                 i                      j

B. Valency          Positive         Negative
   (feeling)            k               l

     In Q only a few subjects are required as opposed to
R-methodological studies which require a large number of
individuals but relatively few tests.  Samples in Q are
associated not with persons but with the items or statements
comprising the Q sample.  In fact, Q methodology has from
its very inception been associated with "single case"
studies (Stephenson, 1974).  Of course, one is not concerned
with generalizing in Q; it is only the theory that is
"general" with respect to each individual in the study.  The
understandings that emerge are likely to be quite specific
to the person; however, such findings are also likely to
pertain to matters of narcissistic culture if indeed Lasch's
thesis is along the right lines.

           Conditions of Instruction in Q Studies

     Theory, one notes, is introduced in Q by way of the
structured Q sample, but also in another important manner,
that is, as conditions of instruction for Q sorts.  The
logic pertaining to the conditions of instruction is that
they are the so-called independent variables that are
fundamental to experimentation in Q.  More significantly,
however, they are hypothesis-inductive and hence used to
induce lawful behavior.  Conditions of instruction are thus
based on laws or theory, and as such are expressions of
lawfulness.  In this paper, for example, eight induced
experimental conditions are used to shed light on Lasch's
thesis and are as follows:

     1. What is important for you now in the way you
     2. What has entered as a direct influence in your
     3. What represents for you the "ideals" of life?
     4. What are personal problems for you now?
     5. What are the real issues in life?
     6. What can you enter into conversation about most
          freely with almost anyone?
     7. What do you feel class conscious about?
     8. What represents you, yourself?

One must remember that the condition itself is not being
tested, but is merely an expression of lawful possibilities.
Clearly, there are now probes to cover the situation
enabling one to experiment, that is, to reach into
subjectivity in relation to a given person's feelings and on
lawful grounds.
     A few words are now in order in regard to the matter of
lawfulness.  The notion of lawfulness is conceived of as
something other than prediction from fixed and timeless
laws, but serves a very pragmatic function by way of probes
into reality.  As was pointed out earlier, the conditions of
instruction are aimed expressly at Lasch's thesis, but
following Peirce's reasoning are only indicative that
something may be, but neither must be, nor actually is.
Lasch, for example, asserts that narcissistic traits are
present in everyone, to a degree.  This is a generalization
and under no conditions could one empirically verify this.
In reality, only instances of this generalization may be
observed, the logic being that laws, generalizations, or the
like are pragmatics or guides telling the investigator "how
to find his way about in reality."  Stephenson puts it this

        The matter of lawfulness is no doubt difficult
     for most scientists to accept, because they have
     got into the habit of thinking of laws of nature
     as regularities, like Newton's law of motion....
     These are not just rules, but openings into
     pragmatics.  Their purpose was not to state
     universal truths, but to help the investigator in
     the conduct of his inquiries:  and all natural
     laws are of this form, of instructions
     (information) telling the scientist what to do to
     elicit changes (effects in the world about him).
     This is how laws were conceived in Q method in
     1953, where well-attested generalizations are
     expressed as laws and put to use by conditions of
     instruction for Q-sorting. (Stephenson, 1980, p.

     A situation now exists indicating that subjectivity is
lawful and in this conceptual framework one can potently
touch on the underlying cultural dynamics by way of general
theory and known laws (conditions of instruction are given
in Table 3).  Three such important laws are:  James' law,
Rogers' law, and Parloff's law.  James' law has been used
widely in Q studies and has important psychological
implications.  The law suggests that a person's subjectivity
will emit some operants which contain self attributions
reflective of his or her personal "me."  Other operants are
expressed as "not me" or "mine."
     Rogers' law reflects the work of psychologist Carl
Rogers and is rooted in the psychoanalytic notions of
superego and ego ideals.  Rogers' law of self-ideal
congruity is to the effect that behavioral adjustment rests
on a concordance between one's self concept and one's ideal
conception of one's self.  These are likely to be
significant in one's operant subjectivity.  For example, a
pre-medical student may have ideals of becoming a medical
doctor.  However, if she achieves only Cs and Ds he is
unlikely to achieve his goal and this might lead to feelings
of inferiority, of not living up to internalized
expectations.  Her poor academic performance might be due
either to intellectual or emotional factors or both, and she
will eventually have to re-align her ideals to achieve some
sort of congruity with her self.  In any event, condition
three of the study (ideals) was deliberately included to
make such lawfulness evident.
     Parloff's law holds that overt behavior is likely to be
associated with "me," and not merely "mine".  Hence,
self-referred factors are more likely to lead to practical
courses of action as opposed to those that are not so
     It is important to note that factors are operantly
arrived at.  Stephenson's reference to operant behavior is
used in the same context to that of B.F. Skinner, the
psychologist who is most associated with this term.

        It doesn't matter significantly what precise
     box Skinner uses for his experiments on the
     operant behavior of pigeons, provided there is a
     release mechanism for the rewarding pellets of
     food.  The behavior comes operantly from the
     pigeons.  As we indicated, the mental tests of
     R-factor methodology were not operant:  instead,
     they were essentially operational definitions of
     categories, each factor a tautology -- number
     tests use numbers, and the factor is a
     number-factor ... the conditions of instruction
     for Q-sorts are of minor significance compared
     with the subjectivity at issue, operantly released
     by the technique, which is intrinsically
     interactive, and projective, not merely reactive.
        Operant behavior, therefore, is the primary
     concern in Q methodology, that is, an achieved
     objectivity free from categories imposed by the
     scientist; the behavior belongs to the Q-sorter
     and his concrete situation. (Stephenson, 1976, pp.

     Moreover, the factor structure is intrinsically
implicit and the individual is scarcely aware of the factors
that result from his Q sorting.  If one is thinking
dynamically, the Q sorts can be thought of as conscious
while the factor structure itself can have unconscious
implications.  Thus, when one places the factor arrays in
front of the individual Q sorter he may, or may not, by way
of retroflection recognize aspects of himself.  Again, in a
dynamic sense, the factors could well have tensional
implications and indeed when structures are problematic for
the Q sorter the communication could well be suggestive of
defensive behavior such as denial or the like.  The factor
structure, then, represents the actual approximations of
one's real life communicability.  In effect, the structure
represents inherent form, dynamically related, and as such
brings to light aspects of American culture as it emerges in
the subjective communication by way of feelings and self

                         The Study

     The subject of the study is a middle-age man and a full
professor at a major American university, with a strong
interest in the humanities, especially literature.   More
recently, he developed an interest in the relationship
between psychoanalysis and American culture from a literary
criticism perspective.  His graduate education was taken at
one of the Ivy League universities and he has spent a
considerable proportion of his career teaching at a
prestigious southern college.  His mother was a nurse and
his father an army chaplain.
     Professor G performed eight Q sorts and the data were
correlated and then factor analyzed.  Four operant factors
as given in Table 3 emerged from the eight Q sorts lending
empirical support to Lasch's narcissistic culture.

Table 3

   Conditions of                      Factors
   Instruction                A      B      C       D

1. Important now           (.65)   (.33)   -.09     .23
2. Upbringing              (.87)    .29     .01     .19
3. Ideals                  (.86)    .22    -.07    (.34)
4. Personal problems        .32    (.71)   (.33)    .12
5. Real issues             -.06     .14    (.62)   -.10
6. Common conversation     (.41)   (.77)    .12     .22
7. Class conscious         (.34)    .20    -.17    (.64)
8. Self                    (.79)   (.59)    .01     .14

   Loadings in parentheses are significant (p<.01)

     Two of the variables are in "simple structure" (2 and
5), the rest are confounded.  Factors A and B have "self"
while factors C and D do not.  Hence, the former two factors
are apparently "him" while the latter two are only "his"
(James' law).  In factor A he can talk about himself,
ideals, upbringing, class consciousness and what is
important to him now.  One also notes here a congruence
between himself and his ideal self (Rogers' law) which
would, on examination, point to adjustment of sorts.
     Although factor A is adjusted, that is not the case in
relation to factor B which is saturated with personal
problems and lacks self/ideal congruence.  His personal
problems, moreover are pressing and in apparent need of
expression.  Dynamically, this could well be indicative of
defensive or conflictual behavior, and an opening into
narcissism.  Just exactly what this may be can only be
discovered by looking at the actual factor scores.
     The real issues form another segregation in the gross
structure but apparently he is not willing to talk about
them.  The "real issue" condition was used to tap the nature
of the "public self" structure in American culture.  In
essence, they (real issues) have no part of "him" being
merely "his" and are not likely to be associated with any
overt behavior (Parloff's law).  It also appears as though
his personal problems are fused with public issues.
Although Professor G has tacit or "personal knowledge"
(Polanyi, 1958) of the real issues the structure in fact
illustrates how the impersonal public realm has indeed
become devoid of expressive action in American life.
     Factor C is exemplary of Sennett's (1976) thesis to the
effect that the American falsely equates intimate feelings
or personal problems with the very meaning of reality and
social life in general.  The data are therefore suggestive
of a culture which is experiencing a crisis in both its
public and private spheres, a matter of self loss, as well
as the narcissism that all of this enjoins.
     Class consciousness along with ideals emerge on factor
D (both variables are confounded) and these matters are
something he is not willing to talk about, nor is it part of
his upbringing, or public self.  He has "personal knowledge"
concerning class position, but such ideations are not likely
to manifest themselves in any overt behavior.  Clearly, the
class consciousness variable as manifested on factor D is
stripped of both public (self, real issues) and expressive
(conversation) action.  One could argue that group interest
and community has thus been replaced by what Sennett (1976)
has termed "collective personality."  Personality becomes a
filter through which class position is perceived, reflecting
a culture that equates success and upward mobility with
personal qualities.  Failure to move up the ladder thus
constitutes a defective personality and people tend to blame
themselves for the injustices inflicted upon them.
Impersonal group solidarity and community are thus devoid of
expression in a culture where class consciousness is
constituted on the basis of individual pursuits and personal
     Professor G's factor structure suggests manifestations
of narcissistic communication behavior.  He is readily
willing to enter into public conversation with almost anyone
if it regards himself, his life style, the intimacies of his
upbringing, and even what is personally troubling him.
Public or real issues, as well as class consciousness, on
the other hand, are segregated, being matters he is not
willing to talk about.  Theoretically, the emphasis is
therefore in the direction of psychic absorption, and hence
a lessening of social participation.  There is a sense here
that his social life comes to life when it concerns his most
inner feelings and communication with his social world is on
that basis.  This communication behavior pattern has
profound implications for both self and society which Lasch
argues symptomatically manifests itself in narcissistic
character disorders and narcissistic culture.

                     Intensive Analysis

     As it was pointed out, theoretically, all meanings
begin with concourse.  Hence, in addition to the structures
given in Table 3, the concern in Q is also with the factor
scores, that is, the scores gained by each statement in the
concourse sample.  This would, of course, be for each factor
in the study.  Meanings are therefore grasped empirically by
the configuration of the concourse statements.  Lawfulness,
it was noted, brings to light inherent form; however,
operant factors are also schematical with a stream of
feeling running through the entire array from positive to
negative.  The interpretation of factors is contingent upon
empathically finding the schema running through the factor.
Understandings as such are reached synthetically a
posteriori, by apprehending the implicit meanings; in other
words, the schema in the factor arrays.  In the process of
interpretation  the investigator taps into the realm of
feeling created by the individuals from the Q sample by way
of self reference.
     One must once again remember that while the Q sorting
is a conscious exercise, the transformation of the Q sorts
into the operant factor structure is an expression of an
underlying system of feelings, the unconscious, if you will,
of which the person is quite unaware.  Moreover, each factor
is deeply motivated and taps into the very lived experience
of a given person.   The investigator, of course, has to
grasp the inherent creativity so expressed by each
individual and this can be achieved if one knows what to
look for in terms of theory.
     One can readily demonstrate this by interpreting factor
A of Professor G to demonstrate some of the principles that
have been discussed up to this point.  Factor A is in
relation to his self, upbringing, ideals and class
consciousness; moreover, all of this is important in the way
he lives now and is prepared to talk about this publicly
(conditions of instruction 1, 2, 3, 6, 7, and 8).  The
statements (photographs) which distinguish factor A from B,
C, and D are given in Table 4.

Table 4

                                       Factor Scores
    Items                           A     B     C    D

 8  Graduating nurses               4     1     0    2

18  Midwives attending birth        2    -4     0   -1

48  Monitoring newborn              2     0    -1    0

60  Trashing steps                  1    -1     3   -1

34  Volvo plant                     0    -2     2   -2

38  Man on crutches                 0     5    -3   -5

45  The Beatles                    -1    -3    -4    2

59  Session with psychologist      -1    -3    -3   -4

54  Radio active waste             -2     3     4    0

11  Neopagans                      -3     0     1    1

12  Police handcuff                -3     2     3    1

22  Police dragging protestor      -3    -1     3   -1

32  Ku Klux Klan                   -5    -2     5   -1

53  Wounded American soldier       -5     2     4   -3

     Overtly, the factor is characterized by graduating
nurses (8) who, according to him, represent "a sense of
service and care" as well as childbirth (18) and apparently
the professor can sympathize with the woman in labor.  The
scientist working in the laboratory (48) was a "cooler
figure" as was the man inspecting the car (34).  Moreover,
the man on crutches (38) was trying to "overcome his
handicap" and the man being hypnotized (59) not threatening,
and the religious ceremony (11) suggested people's emotions
were being manipulated.  There were also suggestions of
sympathetic feelings in relation to the protestors (60, 22)
and he was strongly disturbed by racial prejudice (32) and
the horrors of war (53).
     Professor G was interviewed and he was asked to
associate with each of the factor arrays.  All of the above
is, of course, explicit and overt; the covert or implicit
meanings can only be grasped by way of his associations with
the material as well as the skill and insight of the
investigator.  One notes here that all of the creative work
has already, in some sense, been achieved by the subject of
the experiment.  The task of the investigator is to grasp
the meanings so given.  The positive side of the factor is
characterized by strong identifications with his mother who
was a nurse (8) and apparently she is idealized in some
sense and served as a model for him in terms of being
involved in public service.  Interestingly, his father, who
was (or is) a navy minister, is identified with item 51, the
woman priest.  Male figures are seen as being "cool" (48,
34) or in some sort of painful (38) or unpleasant
circumstances (59, 54, 12).  In a dynamic sense, the factor
can be characterized by somewhat feminine identifications,
but underlying this the factor seems to point to a deep need
for reassurance.
     At this point, hopefully the reader is able to get some
sense of the dynamic nature of operant factors.  Clearly,
the factor is deeply motivated, expressing matters
pertaining to significant others in his upbringing, ideals
which have been internalized into himself.  The structure is
clearly not merely "his."  It is in fact "him" (James' law)
and as such is likely to be associated with practical
courses of action in his lived world.  Theoretically, as was
indicated, one continuum of feeling runs through the factor
and this, indeed, was the case here whereby the positive
side expressed positive feminine identifications that did
not appear to be the situation in relation to the male
figures.  His self confirmers, therefore, appear to be
effeminate in orientation (Bursten, 1977).
     Briefly an examination of the other three factors
pointed to the following understandings.  Factor B is in
relation to Professor G's self, personal problems and
conversation.  His self factor is in fact quite fragmented,
with the self being split (confounded), that is appearing on
both factors A and B.  Factor B theoretically at least may
well be a lead into narcissistic behavior, pointing to a
preoccupation with his body, sickness and aging.  The factor
itself is highly conflictual and points to confusion and
deep pain.  While there is a marked preoccupation with the
self he doesn't appear to have any real sense of self
identity.  The deep need for reassurance that manifests
itself in factor A is in relation to a problematic self
identity of factor B.
     Factor C, the real issues factor, displays a marked
amount of volatility and explosiveness.  The factor itself
is credible, in other words it has truth-value, or what
Polanyi (1958) would call personal knowledge, "...submission
to requirements acknowledged by the self as independent of
itself, from what is merely or improperly subjective"
(Polanyi, 1958, p. 104).  The factor is both exemplary and
indicative of the alienating tendencies in American culture.
The professor is aware of what the real issues are and
identifies the ambiguities in the fractured social sphere
but all of this is without self involvement.
     Factor D is an idealization of class consciousness.  On
the overt level the factor reflects matters of status and
position.  One gets a sense here that his class position
takes on an exaggerated importance in his life world.
     Indeed, the study is suggestive of a crisis in American
culture and, moreover, this development one could argue
fosters the genesis of a rather absorbed self.  Hence,
Lasch's thesis pertaining to narcissism in American culture
found empirical support in this study, but on grounds other
than he himself had anticipated.  Sennett's work for example
on the decline of public culture was persuasive and rather
significant in that the data pointed to a highly
individualistic, privatized social sphere.  In essence, his
observation that public issues are worked out in terms of
personal concerns seemed to be thematic in all of the
     While, in the main, one could anticipate the likes of
Lasch's narcissistic culture and the perpetuation of a
problematic selfhood confirmed in Q studies by Stephenson
and others, what indeed can be made of all of this?  One
notes the cautionary conclusions of Freud (1961) who was no
more optimistic about the future of human culture than he
was about the probability of finding perfect happiness.
People had somehow to reconcile themselves and find a
balance between the two opposing instincts of Eros and
Thanatos.  One could only at best achieve mild contentment
through the sublimations found in work, play and love.
Lasch on the other hand suggests that we restructure society
and thereby replace our therapeutic rationality with
competent citizens who are able to find solutions to their
own problems rather than relying on a "knowledge industry"
that is administered by a professional elite.
     The position articulated in this paper places its faith
in the understanding of communicability all being a matter
of subjective science.  Significantly, this study was able
to reach into deep subjective meaning by employing the mass
media as a methodological device to study America and its
institutions, all of this being a matter of applying
subjective science principles as outlined in Stephenson's Q
methodology.  Unlike the objective mode which exclusively
studies the products produced by and delivered over the mass
media, with Q one is able to study a way of life to grasp
the webs of significance in which man is suspended.  In this
spirit, Q methodology transcends the categorical speculation
of C.P. Snow's (1956) "two cultures" and potently touches on
subjectivity wherever it may appear, rendering holistic and
humanistic understandings of a person's lived experience.
Moreover, this paper demonstrates how indeed news values
reconstitute themselves as the dominant ideology which one
can locate as narcissistic discourse in the individual
character structure.  This found expression in the factor
structure brought to light by Q.


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     Irvin Goldman is in the Department of Communication
Studies, University of Windsor, Windsor, Ontario, Canada N9B

                  Copyright 1990
Communication Institute for Online Scholarship, Inc.