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Second, personal projects challenge traditional units of analysis in the study of both personality and motivation. They are frequently regarded as ‘goal units’, but I have argued that they are better regarded, as discussed previously, as PAC units (Little, 2007). The difference is best explained by invoking George Kelly’s (1955) concepts of the range and focus of convenience of explanatory constructs. The focus of goal constructs is primarily on internal, cognitive, and representational issues. The range of convenience of goal constructs extends to action as well as to the envel- oping context, particularly when one talks about goal pursuit or goal action. But its focus is internal.

The focus of personal projects is at the juncture of goal and action, of internal aspirations and external contexts. Its range of convenience is more expansive than goal units, ranging from the purely ideational and cognitive to the ecological and political conditions that allow projects to be pursued. This is not just of theoretical significance; it has important impli- cations for the initial stages of empirical explorations. Personal projects may subsume several goals; thus, by eliciting only goals, one risks missing superordinate projects. This means that using personal projects analysis allows the investigator to examine cognitive, affective, behavioural, and contextual features of everyday action with the same assessment instrument. In this respect, it contrasts most strongly with conventional trait psychology. Instead of having separate measures of stress and locus of control, for example, project analysts will examine the covariation between control and stress within the individual’s personal project system. Both normative and individual level measurement is afforded by the methodology, and there is strong evidence that patterns of relationship measured at the individual level are highly similar to those measured at the normative level (Little, 2005; Little & Gee, 2007a). This brings us back to George and Elizabeth. Although used to make more evocative the social ecological framework, there is at least some warrant for using such individual level exemplars to address issues more often examined at a normative level.

Third, and finally, free trait theory is still in its early stages and may well be wrong. But evidence to date suggests that it offers a viable extension to and in some senses alternative to orthodox trait theory. Free traits can explain inconsistencies or seemingly paradoxical aspects of a person’s everyday behavior. It also casts such behavior in a rather different light than conventional views. We do not see those who act out of character as stand up chameleons, as superficial role players or as annoying error variance. Individuals engaged in free-traited behavior may well be advancing core project of ultimate significance to them. To understand such core projects and free traits, we need to reconsider some of the tacit assumptions underlying the study of personality and motivation and adopt new constructs that pose different questions. What drives the choice of core projects? Are some traits, such as those having higher biogenic strength, less easy to adopt as free traits? Can protractedly acting out of character lead to actual biogenic changes? How do we negotiate our fidelity to three compelling and potentially conflicting sources of the self? Exploring such questions could help to both explain and enhance the quality of human lives.

References

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