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What is postmodernism contd ...

 

Can you give an example of the ways that postmodern therapists might find to relate to clients?

They might introduce clients to the experience of a paralogical dialogue, one in which the client's own knowledge is given more weight than it has been given in the past. They might also interview clients to help them find their own preferred pathways. Or they might make multiple suggestions so that no single suggestion carries the weight of authority. They might also introduce new postmodern vocabularies or idioms. I offer one myself, but these idioms are presented in a provisional way.

There is a surprisingly large number of ways to relate to people usefully without taking the position that you know the truth about them and know how they should lead their lives.

Who are the leading postmodern authors you read, especially in disciplines related to therapy?

First, I must tell you the philosophers I read because what draws postmoderns together today is the postmodern philosophers they read. Wittgenstein is probably the most prominent philosopher read by postmodern therapists. Jacques Derrida, Jean-Francois Lyotard, Richard Rorty, are also inspiring to postmodern thinkers.

Postmoderns also read about social constructionism. Social constructionism is a visionary approach to postmodernism. These are utopian postmoderns, not nostalgic ones. Social constructionists remind us that we humans create the institutions that define our lives and that we often do so unwittingly, just by accepting the scripts we're handed. Noticing this makes it possible to consider alternative ways of defining our lives.

I am particularly inspired here by the social constructionist writings of Sheila McNamee, John Shotter, and, of course, Mary and Kenneth Gergen. They have so many books, and they often publish in combination. Let me suggest, however, the now classic text, Therapy as Social Construction by McNamee and Gergen.

I am taken by Douglas Ingram's work, too. He is a psychoanalyst who has broken with the psychoanalytic tradition of interpreting every client with the same Oedipal storyline. Instead, he finds ways to give each therapy relationship a "signature" that constructs the relationship as unique and special. I cite his work a lot in my writing and am presently preparing a paper to show what I find inspirational about Douglas Ingram's thinking.

Also, high on the list of postmodern therapists whom I admire is Lynn Hoffman (see page 28). Hoffman is breaking new ground with a philosophy of "speaking with a different voice." She takes her concept of a "different voice" from her reading of Carol Gilligan. The different voice is a voice that has learned to avoid sinking into the acrimonious position disputes that have characterized modernity. Her most postmodern work to date is a collection of essays called Exchanging Voices.

Harlene Anderson's (see New Therapist 5) work is also postmodern. She introduces a "not-knowing" style and actively invites clients to collaborate with her in exploring what she calls the "not yet said." I especially like her work because it can be imported into other ways of doing therapy. Surely every postmodern can profit from reading her book, Conversation, Language and Possibilities.

Another postmodern therapist is Tom Andersen (see New Therapist 2 and 5). His "reflecting team" is a format that replaces the hierarchical, expert status of the modern therapist with the collaborative, side-by-side status of the postmodern one. In this, he seems to extend Lyotard's concept of paralogy into therapeutic practice.

Then there is a large group of activist postmoderns who work with Fred Newman and Lois Holzman (see New Therapist 5). They challenge the model of therapy as an institutionalized profession. Their clients are often in training to become what they call "social therapists," and their therapy does not all take place in an office. Newman, for example, uses self-written and professionally performed morality plays to inspire new perspectives. This team also works a lot with inner city youths by holding talent shows that allow teenagers to develop and enjoy their abilities. The Holzman/Newman team are very busy with their own version of a "non-knowing" approach, and their impact has been remarkable (see New Therapist 5).

There are others, too. I have recently heard Rob Doan speak. Doan is the co-author with Alan Parry of Story-Revisions. Hearing him speak I am convinced of his postmodernism. There is an open style to his talk, a way of inviting others to join with him. And I would like to include Klaus Deissler's work on social poetizing, which shows how we label things with metaphors that help shape our worlds. I think Tom Strong's deconstruction of our diagnostic categories should be included, as well as his other writing (see page 36 of this edition).

And I want to mention, too, a budding new group of Derrideans, Glenn Larner, David Pare, Alexa Hepburn. My list could go on and on, but perhaps these will be enough for now.

How do you see postmodernism related to poststructuralism?

Poststructuralism is one of the routes to postmodern skepticism. There are others.

Structuralism was the school of thought that said that there was a hidden underlying structure to the human mind. Different structuralists posed their own theory as to what exactly this hidden structure was. Poststructuralists, no longer believe there is such a well-defined, stable mental structure and some poststructuralists become postmodern as a way of dealing with this skepticism. That is, they turn to conversational paralogy and try to avoid forcing the paralogy to particular conclusion. Hershey Bell taught me the term "agendaless" to refer to this way of interacting.

Michael White, however, stayed with poststructuralism without moving into this postmodern paralogical approach. As you know, White helped create an important version of narrative therapy. He was heavily influenced by the ideas of the poststructuralist, Michel Foucault. For White, the term "poststructural" calls attention to the specific problems that underlie therapeutic modernism in a way that the term "postmodern" does not. His school of thought offers creative ways of dealing with problems once understood to be structural, but he does not call himself "postmodern," even though he would agree with many postmodern positions at least this is how I understand Michael White's reasons for considering himself poststructuralist rather than postmodern.

As opposed to structuralism, positivism was the school of thought that believed that words always labeled objects and that good positivist philosophy could teach us how to get the labels exactly right. This is the philosophy of most research in the social sciences, research that defines its variables and statistically analyzes its data. This was what I once believed in, and so this was my own route to postmodernism. It was also Wittgenstein's route. This postmodernism is postpositivist.

Remember, however, all of this simplifies the postmodern picture. Most postmoderns study both poststructuralist and postpositivist writing.

 

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