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The relevance of Marx to therapeutics in the 21st century contd ...


This process involves a qualitative change of therapeutic focus - from the individuated self who discovers deeper insights into his or her consciousness to the collective engaged in the continuous activity of creating a new social unit (the emotional zpd). The overriding question transforms from "How is each individual doing?" to "How well is the group performing its activity?"

This ultra-focus on activity, specifically on the activity of speaking, i.e., on the conversation, transforms meaning itself. Reconsidering Wittgenstein from a Marxian and Vygotskian activity-theoretic vantage point, we reject the simplistic equation of meaning and use that is common amongst many followers and students of Wittgenstein in favor of the dialectical relationship between meaning and activity. The meaning of conversation is not to be found in how it is used but in that it is used (Newman, 1999, pp. 84-85).

The above, of course, is an abstract characterization of social therapeutics. How does the engagement of power, authority, self, etc., occur? What is a group like? Social therapy groups are typically comprised of 15 to 25 people - a mix of women and men of varying ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, professions and "problems." Most groups are ongoing (although we do some time-limited groups) and meet weekly for 90 minutes. Members' length of time in group varies; some people remain for years, others leave and new members join. A group typically begins in a fairly traditional manner as different people bring up issues they want help with. But the real work of the group is figuring out how to talk about what they want to talk about, i.e., the group's activity is figuring out what to do with all the "stuff" that's been put out, how to create an environment/a methodology/a conversation. In other words, the therapuetic work is methodological, not psychological. The therapist helps the group practice method, i.e., create a tool (as in tool-and-result) uniquely and specifically to deal with what it is they want to talk about. It is in the group's activity of creating the method that such issues of self, language, power, etc., get engaged. The social therapeutic process, then, is not to help people with their problems; rather, it is to help groups of people create environments for getting help. This, we have found, is most helpful.

In orthodox psychology, the moral dimension of life activity is ruled out of order in the name of good science. Fact and value are arbitrarily distinguished even though in the "becoming" of life "ought" and "is" are dialectically intertwined. Not surprisingly, psychology has become less and less relevant to human life and growth. A new science/art is needed - a revolutionary science/art practiced by all - to help us navigate through the swirling waters of a new and complex millenium.

Further reading

Holzman, L. (1999). Performing psychology: A postmodern culture of the mind. New York: Routledge.

Holzman, L. and Morss, J. (Eds.), (in press).Postmodern psychologies, societal practice and political life. New York: Routledge.

Marx, K. (1974). Theses on Feuerbach. In K. Marx and F. Engels, The German Ideology. New York. International Publishers.

Newman, F. (1974). Power and authority: The inside view of class struggle. New York: Centers for Change, Inc.

Newman, F. (1999). One dogma of dialectical materialism. Annual Review of Critical Psychology, 1(1), 83-99.

Newman, F. (in press). The performance of revolution (More thoughts on the postmodernization of Marxism). In L. Holzman and J. Morss (Eds.), Postmodern psychologies, societal practice and political life. New York: Routledge.

Newman, F. and Holzman, L. (1993). Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary scientist. London: Routledge.

Newman, F. and Holzman, L. (1996).Unscientific psychology: A cultural-performatory approach to understanding human life. Westport CT: Praeger.

Newman and Holzman, L. (1997). The end of knowing: A new developmental way of learning. New York: Routledge.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard.

Vygotsky, L. S. (1986). The collected works of L.S. Vygotsky, Vol. 1. New York: Plenum.

Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. New York: Macmillan.


Fred Newman is director of training, East Side Institute for Short Term Psychotherapy and artistic director, Castillo Theatre, New York City. He is the author of a number of books and plays, including three "psychology plays", written for production at annual conventions of the American Psychological Society.

Lois Holzman is director of educational programmes, East Side Institute for Short Term Psychotherapy, and director, Center for Developmental Learning, New York City. She is the author and editor of a number of books, including Performing Psychology (See page 33 for book review and more on Newman and Holzman)


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