The SAGE Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice
 2020935277, 9781526488879

Table of contents :
Half Title Page
Title Page
List of Figures and Tables
Notes on the Editors and Contributors
Editors’ Introduction
Section I:
Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice
Section II:
Research Practices
Practices of Inquiry: Invitation to Innovation
Research as Innovation: An Invitation to Creative and Imaginative Inquiry Processes
Collaborative Action Research: Co-constructing Social Change for the Common Good
Action Research and Social Constructionism: Transformative Inquiry and Practice in Community
Research as Performative Inquiry
We Are All Researchers
To Know and Not to Know: Dialogic Social Inquiry
Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry
Researching Socio-material Practices: Inquiries into the Human/Non-human Interweave
Section III:
Practices in Therapeutic Professions
Curiosity and Generativity: Welcome to Practices in the Therapeutic Professions
Social Construction and Social Work Practice
Collaborative-Dialogic Practice: A Relational Process of Inviting Generativity and Possibilities
Generative Dialogues: Creating Resources and Possibilities in Therapy
How Symbolic Witnesses Can Help Counter Dominant Stories and Enrich Communities of Concern
Contributions of Social Constructionism to Group Work
Constructing Social Therapeutics
Integrative Community Therapy: Creating a Communitarian Context of Generative and Transformative Conversations
Individuals in Competition or Communities in Connection? Narrative Therapy in the Era
of Neoliberalism
20: Post-Truth and a Justification for Therapeutic Initiative
Section IV:
Practices in Organizational Development
When Social Constructionism Joins the Organization Development Conversation
Relational Ethics in Organizational Life
Working with Relational Leading and Meaning Making in Teams of Leaders
Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways
Relational Practices for Generative Multi-Actor Collaboration
Designing Relationally Responsive Organizations
Large Scale Appreciative Inquiry: New Futures Through Shared Conversations
Zooming in on the Micro-Dynamics of Social Innovation: Enabling Novelty Through Relational Constructionist Practice
Social Construction and the Practice of Dialogic Organization Development
Section V:
Practices in Education
Education as Relational Process and Practice: Introduction
Lifescaping: Cultivating Flourishing School Cultures
Creating School Harmony
Creating New Futures Through Collaboration: Dropouts No More
Collaborative, Appreciative, and Experiential Pedagogy in Educational Settings
School Counseling
The Relief of Critical Educational Psychology and the Nomadism of Critical Disability Studies: Social Constructionism in Practice
Specific Learning Difficulties as a Relational Category: Reconstruction, Redistribution and Resistance in Higher Educational Practice
Intercultural Education: Empowering Minority Learners
Educational Evaluation: A Relational Perspective
Section VI:
Practices in Healthcare
Political, Collaborative and Creative: Dimensions of Social Constructionist Health Care Practices
Collaborative Re-construction
of Health Care
Words Matter: Promoting Relationality in Healthcare through Narrative Medicine
Strengthening Our Stories in the Second Half of Life: Narrative Resilience through Narrative Care
From an Individualist to a Relational Model of Grief
Changing the Conversation: Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Practices in Healthcare
46: Populating Recovery: Mobilizing Relational Sources for Healing Addiction
Health Care Practices for LGBT People
Mindfulness as a Generative Resource in Compassionate Healthcare
Toward Relational Engagement: Poetic Reflections in Healthcare
Play Creates Well-being: The Contingency and the Creativity of Human Interaction
Section VII:
Community Practices
Community Building from
a Social Constructionist Lens
Narrative Mediation
Inclusion and Community Building: Profoundly Particular
Placemaking, Social Construction, and the Global South
55: Re-imagining the Welfare State: From Systems Delivery to Collaborative Relationship
Transformative Community Conferencing – A Constructionist Approach to a More Hopeful Future
Relational Community Practices for Transitional Societies
Knowing Ourselves in the
Stories of Us: The Inclusive Practice of ‘Be-Longing’
Intergenerative Community Building: Intergenerational Relationships for Co-creating Flourishing Futures
Social Construction, Practical Theology, and the Practices of Religious Communities

Citation preview

The SAGE Handbook of

Social Constructionist Practice

International Advisory Board The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice has benefited from the insights of an International Advisory Board. The Advisory Board members are senior authors, editors, and administrators who have contributed to the field of social construction. We wish to thank them heartily for their insights, suggestions, and recommendations to the editors in the development of this volume. Harlene Anderson, Taos Institute, USA Duane Bidwell, Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University, USA Tom Billington, University of Sheffield, UK Hilary Bradbury, Oregon Health Sciences University, USA Ronald Chenail, Nova Southeastern University, USA David Cooperrider, Case Western Reserve University, USA Thalia Dragonas, National and Kapodistrian University of Athens, Greece Glenda Fredman, Hunter Street Health Center, UK Dora Fried Schnitman, Fundacion Interfas, Argentina Kenneth Gergen, Taos Institute, USA Jaber Gubrium, University of Missouri, USA Marie Hoskins, University of Victoria, Canada Jean Messingue, Institut de Theologie de la Compagnie de Jesus, Ivory Coast Haesun Moon, Canadian Center for Brief Coaching, Canada Edgardo Morales-Arandes, University of Puerto Rico, Puerto Rico Ottar Ness, Norwegian University of Science and Technology, Norway Johann Roux, Institute for Therapeutic Development, South Africa Jorge Sanhueza, University Adolf Ibanez, Chile Loek Schoenmaker, Hogeschool de Kempel, the Netherlands Josep Segui, Independent Social Psychologist, Spain Monica Sesma, University of Calgary, Canada Mary Jane Spink, Pontificia Universidade Catolica de Sao Paulo, Brazil Sally St. George, University of Calgary, Canada Jacob Storch, Joint Action, Denmark Tom Strong, University of Calgary, Canada Toshio Sugiman, Kyushu Sangyo University, Japan Haridimos Tsoukas, Warwick Business School, UK Nelson Molina Valencia, Universidad Pontificia Bolivariana, Colombia Diana Whitney, Taos Institute, USA Jim Wilson, Systemic Psychotherapist, UK Stan Witkin, Global Partnership for Transformative Social Work, USA Shi-Jiuan Wu, Center for Creative Dialogue, Taiwan Dan Wulff, University of Calgary, Canada Liping Yang, Nanjing Normal University, China Xinping Zhang, Nanjing Normal University, China

The SAGE Handbook of

Social Constructionist Practice

Edited by

Sheila McNamee Mary M. Gergen Celiane Camargo-Borges and Emerson F. Rasera

SAGE Publications Ltd 1 Oliver’s Yard 55 City Road London EC1Y 1SP SAGE Publications Inc. 2455 Teller Road Thousand Oaks, California 91320 SAGE Publications India Pvt Ltd B 1/I 1 Mohan Cooperative Industrial Area Mathura Road New Delhi 110 044 SAGE Publications Asia-Pacific Pte Ltd 3 Church Street #10-04 Samsung Hub Singapore 049483

Editor: Amy Maher Editorial Assistant: Marc Barnard Production Editor: Jessica Masih Copyeditor: Rosemary Campbell Proofreader: Sunrise Setting Indexer: Elske Janssen Marketing Manager: Camille Richmond Cover Design: Naomi Robinson Typeset by Cenveo Publisher Services Printed in the UK

Introduction and editorial arrangement © Sheila McNamee, Mary M. Gergen, Celiane Camargo-Borges, and Emerson F. Rasera, 2020 Chapter 1 © Kenneth J. Gergen, 2020 Chapter 2 © Mary M. Gergen, 2020 Chapter 3 © Celiane Camargo-Borges and Sheila McNamee, 2020 Chapter 4 © Ottar Ness and Dina von Heimburg, 2020 Chapter 5 © Hilary Bradbury, 2020 Chapter 6 © Mary M. Gergen, 2020 Chapter 7 © Dan Wulff and Sally St. George, 2020 Chapter 8 © Rocio Chaveste and M. L. Papusa Molina with Christian Lizama, Cynthia Sosa, and Carolina Torres, 2020 Chapter 9 © Gail Simon and Leah Salter, 2020 Chapter 10 © Tanya Mudry and Tom Strong, 2020 Chapter 11 © Dan Wulff and Sally St. George, 2020 Chapter 12 © Stanley L. Witkin and Christopher Hall, 2020 Chapter 13 © Harlene Anderson, 2020 Chapter 14 © Dora Fried Schnitman, 2020 Chapter 15 © Jasmina Sermijn, 2020 Chapter 16 © Emerson F. Rasera and Carla Guanaes-Lorenzi, 2020 Chapter 17 © Lois Holzman, 2020 Chapter 18 © Marilene A. Grandesso, 2020 Chapter 19 © Jill Freedman and Gene Combs, 2020 Chapter 20 © Karl Tomm, 2020 Chapter 21 © Diana Whitney, 2020 Chapter 22 © Gitte Haslebo, 2020 Chapter 23 © Lone Hersted, 2020 Chapter 24 © Haesun Moon, 2020 Chapter 25 © Johan Hovelynck, Marc Craps, Art Dewulf, Koen Sips, Tharsi Taillieu, and René Bouwen, 2020 Chapter 26 © Ginny Belden-Charles, Morgan Mann Willis, and Jenny Lee, 2020 Chapter 27 © Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Barbara E. Lewis, 2020 Chapter 28 © Danielle P. Zandee, 2020 Chapter 29 © Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak, 2020

Chapter 30 © Thalia Dragonas, 2020 Chapter 31 © Rolla E. Lewis, 2020 Chapter 32 © Gro Emmertsen Lund, 2020 Chapter 33 © Ingebjørg Mæland, 2020 Chapter 34 © Dawn Dole, 2020 Chapter 35 © Michael Williams and John Winslade, 2020 Chapter 36 © Tom Billington and Dan Goodley, 2020 Chapter 37 © Harriet Cameron, 2020 Chapter 38 © Thalia Dragonas, 2020 Chapter 39 © Scherto Gill and Kenneth J. Gergen, 2020 Chapter 40 © Murilo S. Moscheta, 2020 Chapter 41 © W. Ellen Raboin and Paul N. Uhlig, 2020 Chapter 42 © Karen Gold, 2020 Chapter 43 © William Randall, 2020 Chapter 44 © Lorraine Hedtke, 2020 Chapter 45 © Natalie B. May, Julie Haizlip, and Margaret Plews-Ogan, 2020 Chapter 46 © Pavel Nepustil, 2020 Chapter 47 © Murilo S. Moscheta and Emerson F. Rasera, 2020 Chapter 48 © Edgardo Morales-Arandes Chapter 49 © Arlene M. Katz and Kathleen Clark, with Elizabeth Jameson, 2020 Chapter 50 © Saliha Bava, 2020 Chapter 51 © Marie L. Hoskins, 2020 Chapter 52 © John Winslade and Gerald Monk, 2020 Chapter 53 © Janet Newbury, 2020 Chapter 54 © Celiane CamargoBorges and Cesar A. Ferragi, 2020 Chapter 55 © Jacob Storch and Carsten Hornstrup, 2020 Chapter 56 © David Anderson Hooker, 2020 Chapter 57 © Victoria Lugo, 2020 Chapter 58 © Ilene C. Wasserman and Erin W. Taylor, 2020 Chapter 59 © Kristin Bodiford and Peter Whitehouse, 2020 Chapter 60 © Duane R. Bidwell, 2020

Apart from any fair dealing for the purposes of research or private study, or criticism or review, as permitted under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act, 1988, this publication may be reproduced, stored or transmitted in any form, or by any means, only with the prior permission in writing of the publishers, or in the case of reprographic reproduction, in accordance with the terms of licences issued by the Copyright Licensing Agency. Enquiries concerning reproduction outside those terms should be sent to the publishers. At SAGE we take sustainability seriously. Most of our products are printed in the UK using responsibly sourced papers and boards. When we print overseas we ensure sustainable papers are used as measured by the PREPS grading system. We undertake an annual audit to monitor our sustainability.

Library of Congress Control Number: 2020935277 British Library Cataloguing in Publication data A catalogue record for this book is available from the British Library 978-1-5264-8887-9

This book is dedicated to Mary Gergen whose lively spirit forged broad connections and expansive understandings of relational approaches to living.

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Contents List of Figures and Tablesxiii Notes on the Editors and Contributorsxv Editors’ Introductionxxxv SECTION I  INTRODUCTION 1

Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice Kenneth J. Gergen



Practices of Inquiry: Invitation to Innovation Mary M. Gergen


Research as Innovation: An Invitation to Creative and Imaginative Inquiry Processes Celiane Camargo-Borges and Sheila McNamee


Collaborative Action Research: Co-constructing Social Change for the Common Good Ottar Ness and Dina von Heimburg


Action Research and Social Constructionism: Transformative Inquiry and Practice in Community Hilary Bradbury






Research as Performative Inquiry Mary M. Gergen



We Are All Researchers Dan Wulff and Sally St. George



To Know and Not to Know: Dialogic Social Inquiry Rocio Chaveste and M. L. Papusa Molina, with Christian Lizama, Cynthia Sosa, and Carolina Torres



Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry Gail Simon and Leah Salter




The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Researching Socio-material Practices: Inquiries into the Human/Non-human Interweave Tanya Mudry and Tom Strong



Curiosity and Generativity: Welcome to Practices in the Therapeutic Professions Sally St. George and Dan Wulff


Social Construction and Social Work Practice Stanley L. Witkin and Christopher Hall


Collaborative-Dialogic Practice: A Relational Process of Inviting Generativity and Possibilities Harlene Anderson


Generative Dialogues: Creating Resources and Possibilities in Therapy Dora Fried Schnitman


How Symbolic Witnesses Can Help Counter Dominant Stories and Enrich Communities of Concern Jasmina Sermijn







Contributions of Social Constructionism to Group Work Emerson F. Rasera and Carla Guanaes-Lorenzi



Constructing Social Therapeutics Lois Holzman



Integrative Community Therapy: Creating a Communitarian Context of Generative and Transformative Conversations Marilene A. Grandesso


Individuals in Competition or Communities in Connection? Narrative Therapy in the Era of Neoliberalism Jill Freedman and Gene Combs




Post-Truth and a Justification for Therapeutic Initiative Karl Tomm



When Social Constructionism Joins the Organization Development Conversation Diana Whitney




Relational Ethics in Organizational Life Gitte Haslebo


Working with Relational Leading and Meaning Making in Teams of Leaders Lone Hersted





Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways Haesun Moon



Relational Practices for Generative Multi-Actor Collaboration Johan Hovelynck, Marc Craps, Art Dewulf, Koen Sips, Tharsi Taillieu and René Bouwen



Designing Relationally Responsive Organizations Ginny Belden-Charles, Morgan Mann Willis and Jenny Lee



Large Scale Appreciative Inquiry: New Futures Through Shared Conversations279 Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Barbara E. Lewis


Zooming in on the Micro-Dynamics of Social Innovation: Enabling Novelty Through Relational Constructionist Practice Danielle P. Zandee



Social Construction and the Practice of Dialogic Organization Development298 Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak


Education as Relational Process and Practice: Introduction Thalia Dragonas



Lifescaping: Cultivating Flourishing School Cultures Rolla E. Lewis



Creating School Harmony Gro Emmertsen Lund



Creating New Futures Through Collaboration: Dropouts No More Ingebjørg Mæland



Collaborative, Appreciative, and Experiential Pedagogy in Educational Settings Dawn Dole



The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice


School Counseling Michael Williams and John Winslade


The Relief of Critical Educational Psychology and the Nomadism of Critical Disability Studies: Social Constructionism in Practice Tom Billington and Dan Goodley


Specific Learning Difficulties as a Relational Category: Reconstruction, Redistribution and Resistance in Higher Educational Practice Harriet Cameron





Intercultural Education: Empowering Minority Learners Thalia Dragonas



Educational Evaluation: A Relational Perspective Scherto Gill and Kenneth J. Gergen



Political, Collaborative and Creative: Dimensions of Social Constructionist Health Care Practices Murilo S. Moscheta



Collaborative Re-construction of Health Care W. Ellen Raboin and Paul N. Uhlig


Words Matter: Promoting Relationality in Healthcare through Narrative Medicine Karen Gold


Strengthening Our Stories in the Second Half of Life: Narrative Resilience through Narrative Care William Randall





From an Individualist to a Relational Model of Grief Lorraine Hedtke


Changing the Conversation: Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Practices in Healthcare Natalie B. May, Julie Haizlip and Margaret Plews-Ogan


Populating Recovery: Mobilizing Relational Sources for Healing Addiction Pavel Nepustil




Health Care Practices for LGBT People Murilo S. Moscheta and Emerson F. Rasera






Mindfulness as a Generative Resource in Compassionate Healthcare Edgardo Morales-Arandes



Toward Relational Engagement: Poetic Reflections in Healthcare Arlene M. Katz and Kathleen Clark, with Elizabeth Jameson



Play Creates Well-being: The Contingency and the Creativity of Human Interaction Saliha Bava



Community Building from a Social Constructionist Lens Marie L. Hoskins



Narrative Mediation John Winslade and Gerald Monk



Inclusion and Community Building: Profoundly Particular Janet Newbury



Placemaking, Social Construction, and the Global South Celiane Camargo-Borges and Cesar A. Ferragi



Re-imagining the Welfare State: From Systems Delivery to Collaborative Relationship Jacob Storch and Carsten Hornstrup


Transformative Community Conferencing – A Constructionist Approach to a More Hopeful Future David Anderson Hooker




Relational Community Practices for Transitional Societies Victoria Lugo


Knowing Ourselves in the Stories of Us: The Inclusive Practice of ‘Be-Longing’ Ilene C. Wasserman and Erin W. Taylor


Intergenerative Community Building: Intergenerational Relationships for Co-creating Flourishing Futures Kristin Bodiford and Peter Whitehouse


Social Construction, Practical Theology, and the Practices of Religious Communities Duane R. Bidwell






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List of Figures and Tables Figures Figure 5.1 Action-oriented Research for Transformations (ART) Figure 10.1 Gambling social worlds/arena map Figure 10.2 Zooming out: assemblage Figure 10.3 Zooming in: assemblage instance Figure 10.4 Zooming out: network of practices Figure 10.5 Zooming in: gambling practices Figure 10.6 Hinge practice: walking into a casino Figure 10.7 Hinge practice: interacting with a VLT Figure 15.1 Anna’s diary Figure 20.1 The coupled reciprocities in the systemic therapist’s preferred ‘truth’ Figure 22.1 Moral obligations in relational ethics Figure 23.1 Discovering new ways of relating by use of roleplaying with reflecting team Figure 23.2 Roleplaying with reflecting team in bewildering situations Figure 24.1 Timeline of narrative Figure 24.2 Content of narrative Figure 24.3 Dialogic Orientation Quadrant Figure 26.1 Comparing open systems design with relational design Figure 26.2 AMP principles Figure 26.3 Practices for relational responsiveness in organizations Figure 29.1 The generative change model Figure 41.1 Social construction and re-construction of health care Figure 41.2 Collaborative practices in a social field Figure 41.3 Collaborative decision making: divergence, deliberation, and convergence to action Figure 45.1 The 4-D Cycle Figure 49.1 “Completed conversation cards” Figure 55.1 Picture of a family’s network of professional relationships in a municipality Figure 56.1 Example of community narrative mapping Figure 58.1 Critical incident Figure 58.2 Services requested, and approach offered Figure 59.1 Rehema teaching handicrafts to a young person in Uganda Figure 59.2 Intergenerational yoga in India Figure 59.3 Mr. Pongwe and a young person learning and working together in Tanzania Figure 59.4 Dialogue about public policy in Linking Generations ‘Is it Fair’? Figure 59.5 Elements to strengthen intergenerational collaboration

49 104 106 107 108 109 110 110 155 211 233 241 242 251 252 252 269 270 271 304 426 428 430 466 509 577 587 612 613 622 623 624 625 626


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Tables Table 3.1 Imagineering Design Steps Table 22.1 Key assumptions about knowledge and morality Table 24.1 Embedded presuppositions Table 29.1 Five criteria for all OD practices Table 32.1 The cultural geography of the school around early school leaving Table 32.2 Basic assumptions that lead to actions, interactions, relationships and positions Table 35.1 Success rate and expected longevity of outcomes as assessed by victims and team members Table 41.1 Schemas in health care Table 45.1 Traditional versus appreciative language Table 55.1 Municipality Rethinks… Table 55.2 Comparison: Open Dialogue versus traditional psychiatry, 19 years after first-episode psychosis

29 230 249 299 336 339 370 425 469 574 576

BOX Box 32.1 Showcase: the becoming of Sebastian


Notes on the Editors and Contributors The Editors Sheila McNamee is Professor of Communication at the University of New Hampshire and co-founder and Vice President of the Taos Institute ( Her work is focused on dialogic transformation within a variety of social and institutional contexts including psychotherapy, education, healthcare, organizations and communities. She is author of several books and articles, including Research and Social Change: A Relational Constructionist Approach (with D.M. Hosking, Routledge, 2012), Relational Responsibility: Resources for Sustainable Dialogue (with K. Gergen, Sage, 1999) and Education as Social Construction: Contributions to Theory, Research, and Practice (co-edited with T. Dragonas, K. Gergen and E. Tseliou, Taos WorldShare, 2015). Mary M. Gergen is Professor Emerita, Psychology and Women’s Studies, Penn State University, Brandywine and is a pioneer in the field of social construction and feminist studies. Feminist Reconstructions in Psychology: Narrative, Gender and Performance and Feminist Thought and the Structure of Knowledge are two of her books on these themes. Recently Playing with Purpose: Adventures in Performative Social Science, with K. Gergen, is a composite of their performance work. She is also a founder of the Taos Institute, an educational non-profit organization dedicated to the application of social constructionist ideas to professional practices. With Kenneth Gergen, she edits the ‘Positive Aging Newsletter’; Paths to Positive Aging is their most recent book on aging. Celiane Camargo-Borges is a lecturer, researcher and practitioner with a PhD from her native Brazil, from the University of Sao Paulo. While completing her doctoral dissertation, she spent one year as a visiting scholar at the University of New Hampshire, USA. She is faculty at Breda University of Applied Sciences in the Netherlands and visiting professor and guest lecturer at several universities around the world such as University of São Paulo in Brazil, Polytechnic Institute of Leiria in Portugal, University College Aspira in Croatia, among others. Celiane is also the founder of Designing Conversations (www.designingconversations. us), where she consults, designs and delivers workshops and process design within a diversity of areas where creativity, imagination, innovation and dialogue are central. Celiane is also involved in international projects where she facilitates organizations and communities in joining together to initiate change. Among her projects are her collaboration with NGOs in Uganda, with sustainable local tourism in Cape Verde, and with community activism in Brazil. She has more than 30 publications in journals and books on participatory research, Imagineering, design approaches, PlaceMaking and community development. In addition, she is a member of the Taos Institute Board, serving as a PhD supervisor and facilitator of workshops and online courses.


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Emerson F. Rasera is Professor of Group Theory and Practice at the Institute of Psychology, Federal University of Uberlândia, Brazil. He is former President of the Brazilian Association of Social Psychology, and Editor of the Brazilian journals Psicologia & Sociedade [Psychology & Society], and Gerais: Revista Interinstitucional de Psicologia [Gerais: Interinstitutional Journal of Psychology]. His work is focused on social constructionist contributions to psychological practices, especially in healthcare, community work and issues of sexual diversity. His most recent books are Social Constructionist Perspectives on Group Work (2015), Construccionismo Social en acción: Prácticas inspiradoras en diferentes contextos [Social construction in action: inspiring practices from different contexts] (with Karin Taverniers and Oriana Vilches-Álvarez, 2017) and Grupo como construção social [Group as social construction] (with Marisa Japur, 2018).

The Contributors Harlene Anderson is a co-founder and board member of the Taos Institute, Houston Galveston Institute, and Access Success International; she is the founding editor of the International Journal of Collaborative Practices and founder of the International Certificate in CollaborativeDialogic Practices programme. Her books, translated into several languages, include Conversations, Language and Possibilities and (as co-editor) Appreciative Organizations, Collaborative Therapy: Relationships and Conversations that Make a Difference and Innovations in the Reflecting Process. She received the 2008 American Academy of Family Therapy Award for Distinguished Contribution to Family Therapy Theory and Practice, the 2000 American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy award for Outstanding Contributions to Marriage and Family Therapy, and the 1997 Texas Association for Marriage and Family Therapy award for Lifetime Achievement. Saliha Bava is an associate professor of marriage and family therapy at Mercy College (New York), Taos Institute advisory board member and associate, and founding board member of the International Certificate in Collaborative-Dialogic Practices. She focuses on expanding relational intelligence by harnessing the power of play. Partnering with individuals and organizations around the world, she combines interdisciplinary ideas and methodologies to create generative, inclusive change. Performative methodologies, hyperlinked thinking and dialogue guide her academic activism which aims to unsettle dominant discourses regarding research, social justice, and identity. She co-authored The Relational Book for Parenting with her partner Mark Greene. Based in New York City, she consults to couples, companies and communities. Learn more at | Email: [email protected] Follow @ThinkPlay Ginny Belden-Charles helps groups in the midst of complex conditions find cohesive direction, build organizational capacity and facilitate change. She has worked with more than 50 organizations in all sectors and also designs and facilitates large-scale cross-sector social change initiatives. She is a co-founder of the Center for Emerging Leadership and its Women in Leadership Learning Community, now in its 28th year. Ginny has a PhD in Social Science from Tilburg University, an MS in Organization Development from Pepperdine University, a BA from the University of Minnesota in Music Therapy and is a Bush Fellowship recipient. She has taught in several Master’s programmes in the United States and the UK. She is a mentor and coach to many emerging leaders, an actively engaged grandmother and a Lake Superior sailor.

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


Duane R. Bidwell serves as Professor of Practical Theology, Spiritual Care, and CounselingCounselling at Claremont School of Theology at Willamette University, USA . He is a senior staff clinician and supervisor at The Clinebell Institute for Pastoral Counseling and Psychotherapy. A Taos Associate and member of the Taos Institute board of directors, Duane is a clinical Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors; a psychotherapist member of the Association for Clinical Pastoral Education; and a board member of the Society for Buddhist-Christian Studies. He edited Spirituality, Social Construction, and Relational Processes: Essays and Reflections (WorldShare, 2016) and authored When One Religion Isn’t Enough: The Lives of Spiritually Fluid People (Beacon, 2018), Empowering Couples: A Narrative Approach to Spiritual Care (Fortress, 2013), and Short-term Spiritual Guidance (Fortress, 2004). He co-edited The Formation of Pastoral Counselors: Challenges and Opportunities (Routledge, 2006) with Joretta Marshall. Tom Billington is Professor of Educational and Child Psychology in the School of Education at the University of Sheffield. His research and professional practice seek to challenge forms of oppression and discrimination in young people’s lives, in particular, when suffered due to uncritical approaches to psychopathology. In a focus upon the emotional well-being and mental health needs of young people his research draws upon a range of qualitative methods – narrative, discourse analysis, psychodynamic and social constructionist approaches – while his professional practice in the family courts is rooted in analyses of the relational conditions in which young people live their lives. His works include Separating, Losing and Excluding Children (2000, Routledge); Working with Children (2006, Sage) and Critical Educational Psychology (Williams, Billington, Goodley and Corcoran, eds. 2017, BPS/Blackwell Books, John Wiley). Kristin Bodiford is Principal of Community Strengths, working with communities to support creating new possibilities. She serves as a Health Advisor for HelpAge USA and as a representative to the United Nations for Generations United, advising on social development policy related to aging, youth, families and intergenerational solidarity. Kristin is a core team member of the Taos International Relational Research Network, faculty in the Taos Institute International Diploma in Social Construction and Professional Practice, visiting scholar and researcher at Portland State University Institute on Aging, and adjunct faculty at Dominican University School of Social Work. Kristin holds a PhD from Tilburg University and an MBA from the University of California at Davis. Kristin believes magic can happen when people come together around issues they care deeply about. She embraces transformative approaches, tapping into and strengthening relational resources to propel social innovation. René Bouwen is Professor Emeritus at the Center for Organizational Psychology of the KU Leuven (Belgium). Through several national and international networks on organizational innovation research and socio-cultural development, he was involved in the creation of continuous education and research programmes in group dynamics, organizational learning and development, conflict framing, appreciative inquiry and multi-actor collaboration, and in social constructionist study circles. Collaborating across differences in and between organizations remained his core concern after he became emeritus in 2006. Hilary Bradbury is a scholar-practitioner focused on the human and organizational dimensions of creating healthy communities. She supports educators of all types as well as educational institutions in transforming in response to the social-ecological crisis of our times. She emphasizes the integration of research and practice, as ‘action research for transformations’.


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Her global role and reputation for her work is reflected in her position as Editor in Chief of the international peer reviewed Action Research journal. She is founder and principal at Foundation AR+,, a global community of participative action researchers, an active network of multiple action researching universities and think tanks from the Global North and South. Gervase R. Bushe is Professor of Leadership and Organization Development at the Beedie School of Business, Simon Fraser University, and has consulted with a diverse array of leaders and organizations in a variety of sectors for more than 35 years. He has published over 100 articles and books and received numerous awards. His Clear Leadership book and course has been translated into seven other languages and delivered to tens of thousands of participants worldwide. He is the co-editor of Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change (2015). His latest book is The Dynamics of Generative Change (2020). In 2016 HR Magazine in the UK added him to their annual rankings of the most influential HR thinkers. In 2019 he was ranked 12th. A chapter about him and his work is included in The Palgrave Handbook of Organizational Change Thinkers (2017). Harriet Cameron is particularly interested in the way language around learning disabilities and differences comes to shape the way diagnoses of autism, (specific) learning disability, ADHD and mental ill-health are constructed in specific places, spaces and times. She is also interested in the lived experiences of people who come to be categorized as ‘deficient’ in learning or communicating, and in how systems, processes and policies interact with these experiences. Following a career as a specialist teacher/assessor and service lead in the field of specific learning difficulties in higher education, Harriet now undertakes research and teaching as an academic in The University of Sheffield’s School of Education (UK). Her current role follows a previous position as a senior lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University (UK) where she led the MA in Autism Spectrum Conditions. Her research and teaching are centred in critical psychology and education. Rocío Chaveste is founder, general director, professor and clinical supervisor at Kanankil Institute in Yucatan, Mexico, Guest Professor at the Houston Galveston Institute, Associate of the Taos Institute, and a member of the Relational Research Network of the same Institute. She has a PhD in Social Psychology, and three Masters Degrees, in: Family and Couples Therapy, Organizational Management, and Political Communication and Electoral Marketing. She was the Director of Social Development for the Merida, Yucatan municipality. She is the co-author of Prácticas socioconstruccionistas y colaborativas: psicoterapia, educación y comunidad; editor of Identidades, y Relaciones: una mirada desde el Socioconstruccionismo y las prácticas colaborativas y dialógicas; and co-editor of Harlene, conversaciones interrumpidas. Kathleen Clark is an attorney, consultant, speaker, facilitator and published author. The subject of her dissertation was collaborative practices in adverse medical event situations. Her work as both an attorney and consultant involves collaborative practices, non-adversarial conflict resolution, and restorative justice. Dr Clark’s articles have been published in various American Bar Association periodicals and journals, as well as in The Daily Journal, California’s legal newspaper. She has also co-authored a book chapter on conflict resolution in adverse medical event situations. She has facilitated many dialogues on improving healthcare and building community and collaboration across all aspects of healthcare. In addition, she trains and consults on issues related to healthcare and the law in the United States, Canada, Ireland, and Colombia, SA.

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


Gene Combs is co-director of Evanston Family Therapy Center, and a long-time practitioner, teacher, and writer in the field of narrative therapy. Recently retired from his position as Associate Clinical Professor in the Pritzker School of Medicine at the University of Chicago, he serves on the board of directors of The American Family Therapy Academy, and is an Honorary Associate of the Taos Institute. With his partner, Jill Freedman, he has written many articles and three books: Symbol, Story, and Ceremony: Using Metaphor in Individual and Family Therapy, Narrative Therapy: The Social Construction of Preferred Realities and Narrative Therapy with Couples … And a Whole Lot More. Marc Craps obtained degrees in Organizational Psychology, Social and Cultural Anthropology and Philosophy (KU Leuven). His PhD focused on multi-actor collaboration and local communities for sustainable resources management, based on action research in Ecuador. He has 15 years of field experience in Latin America, working with urban squatters, indigenous communities, NGOs and government agencies. His main research interest is in the quality of the relations in collaborative initiatives for complex sustainability issues. He is a senior lecturer at the Faculty of Economics of KU Leuven (Belgium), teaching Strategic Organization Development and Corporate Social Responsibility. Art Dewulf obtained a PhD in Organizational Psychology (KU Leuven) and is personal professor of Sensemaking and Decision-making in Policy Processes at the Public Administration and Policy Group of the Wageningen University (Netherlands). He studies complex problems of natural resource governance with a focus on interactive processes of sensemaking and decision-making in water and climate governance. Dawn Dole is the Executive Director of the Taos Institute. Dawn also consults with organizations, non-profits and schools utilizing strength-based approaches to organization development (Appreciative Inquiry), and designing and facilitating experiential team building and leadership programmes. She has held leadership positions in non-profits, healthcare and community education. Dawn taught elementary school and has worked with children of all ages in community settings. She is the co-author of a book titled: Positive Family Dynamics: Appreciative Inquiry Questions for Bringing Out the Best in Families and co-editor of the book: Social Construction in Action: Contributions from the 25th Anniversary Conference of the Taos Institute. Thalia Dragonas is Professor Emerita of Social Psychology at the National and Kapodistrian University of Athens. She was previously Chair of the Department of Early Childhood Education and Dean of the School of Education. Her research and publications are on psychosocial identity, intergroup relations, social inclusion, intercultural education, ethnocentrism in the educational system, prevention and promotion of early psychosocial health, transition to parenthood, fatherhood and masculinity. She co-directed a 22-year-long intervention for the education of the historical Muslim minority in Greece. She served as an MP with the Socialist Party (PASOK) (2007–09) and was Secretary at the Greek Ministry of Education (2009–10) responsible for populations at risk such as migrants, the Roma and the Muslim minority in Thrace. She co-edited, together with K. Gergen, S. McNamee and E. Tseliou, the volume Education as Social Construction (TAOS Institute Publications/WorldShare Books, 2015). Cesar A. Ferragi is Adjunct Professor at the Federal University of São Carlos (UFSCar), Brazil. He has an MA and a PhD in Public Administration (with a focus on Institutional Theory and Organizational Change) from the International Christian University (ICU), located in Tokyo, Japan, and a BA in Public Administration from the Getulio Vargas Foundation (FGV),


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Brazil. Cesar is interested in the learning capabilities of individuals, understanding education as an organic process, composed of multiple experiences. Having lived in six different countries – and travelled to more than 60 – he tries to ‘connect the dots’ under an NVC™ (Nonviolent Communication) approach. He currently teaches Management and Entrepreneurship at UFSCar, and coordinates an MBI (Master in Business Innovation) – an educational journey through the topics of innovation, entrepreneurship and digital transformation. Jill Freedman is a MSW and is co-director of Evanston Family Therapy Center, a centre dedicated to teaching narrative therapy. She is on the faculty of the Chicago Center for Family Health, is an international faculty member of the Dulwich Center in Adelaide, Australia, an Honorary Clinical Fellow of the University of Melbourne where she is faculty for the low-residency narrative therapy and community work Masters programme, and is an Honorary Associate of the Taos Institute. She has a small therapy and consultation practice in the Chicago area and teaches internationally. She has co-authored many papers and three books with Gene Combs: Symbol, Story, and Ceremony: Using Metaphor in Individual and Family Therapy, Narrative Therapy: The Social Construction of Preferred Realities, and Narrative Therapy with Couples … And a Whole Lot More. Kenneth J. Gergen is a Senior Research Professor at Swarthmore College, and the President of the Taos Institute. He is internationally known for his development of social constructionist theory and practices, and for his relational perspective on human well-being. Among his major works are Realities and Relationships: Soundings in Social Construction, The Saturated Self: Dilemmas of Identity in Contemporary Life, An Invitation to Social Construction (3rd edn), and Relational Being, Beyond Self and Community. Gergen has received numerous awards and has been the recipient of honorary degrees in both the United States and Europe. Scherto Gill is Senior Fellow at the GHFP Research Institute, Visiting Fellow at the University of Sussex, and Fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts (FRSA). Through research, international project development, and writing, she actively explores ways to foster practices of transformative dialogue, the ethics of caring, whole-person development, and global peace. Her most recent books include, Ethical Education: Towards an Ecology of Human Development (Cambridge University Press, 2020), Human-Centered Education (Routledge, 2017) and Education as Humanisation (Routledge, 2016). Karen Gold is a clinical social worker, educator, and Affiliated Education Scientist at Women’s College Hospital in Toronto, Canada. She is a graduate of the Taos PhD program. Her dissertation explored clinician writing as relational practice. She has completed narrative medicine training at Columbia University and is a Certified AWA creative writing facilitator. She has taught at the Faculty of Social Work and the Health, Arts & Humanities Program at the University of Toronto and has facilitated a wide range of writing workshops in hospital and community settings. She has published on arts-based pedagogy, poetic inquiry, collaborative practice, and personal narrative in professional practice. Dan Goodley is co-director of iHuman – an interdisciplinary research institute at the University of Sheffield. He is a recovering psychologist and disability studies researcher who has written widely around the area. Recent publications include Disability Studies: An Interdisciplinary Introduction (Sage, 2016) and Dis/ability Studies (Routledge, 2014). He is currently working on a text for Emerald due out in 2020 entitled Disability and Other Human Questions.

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


Carla Guanaes-Lorenzi is a psychologist and family therapist. She is an Associate Professor in the Department of Psychology, Faculty of Philosophy, Sciences and Letters of Ribeirão Preto (University of Sâo Paulo – Ribeirão Preto – Brazil), where she coordinates the activities of the Laboratory of Study and Research in Group Practices (LAPEPG-USP). Her activity at the Department of Psychology includes training, supervision and research on group work, family therapy and social constructionism. She is also a professor in the Graduate Program of Psychology (USP/Ribeirão Preto) where she mentors Masters and doctorate students on their research projects. She is author of the book, A construção da mudança em terapia de grupo: um enfoque construcionista social [The construction of change in group therapy: a social constructionist approach] (2006) and of many articles and book chapters. She is the mother of two little girls (Ana Cecília and Beatriz). Email: [email protected] CV: http://lattes.cnpq. br/5305070621567074 Marilene A. Grandesso is a Brazilian Psychologist; Family, Couple and Community Therapist; Faculty and Supervisor of Family and Couple Therapy at Catholic University, São Paulo; Founder and Chair of the INTERFACI Institute; Coordinator of the ICCP – International Certificate in Collaborative-Dialogical Practices – Houston Galveston Institute/Taos Institute and INTERFACI (since 2011); Coordinator of the Community Therapy training course at INTERFACI – Sao Paulo (since 2003); President of the Family Therapy Association of São Paulo (APTF – 2000–2001); and first President of the Brazilian Community Therapy Association (ABRATECOM – 2004–2005). She is the author of the book, About the Reconstruction of Meaning: An Epistemological and Hermeneutical Analysis of Clinical Practice (2000, in Portuguese). Marilene is also the organizer of the book, Community Therapy: Weaving Nets to Social Transformation: Health, Education and Public Politics (2007, in Portuguese) and three others about Collaborative-Dialogical Practices. She is a member of the Taos Institute and an editorial board member of World Share Books (Taos Institute). Julie Haizlip is Clinical Professor at the University of Virginia School of Nursing and Faculty in the University of Virginia Department of Pediatrics. Dr Haizlip conducts research on mattering in healthcare. She is currently the Director of the UVA Center for Appreciative Practice and co-Director of the UVA Center for Interprofessional Collaborations. Christopher Hall is Professor of Social Work at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington where he teaches graduate social work practice, field and postmodern electives. In addition to his teaching, Chris practises in the community assisting individuals, couples, families and groups from a postmodern perspective ( He is a board member of the Global Partnership for Transformative Social Work ( and a Taos Institute Associate ( His publications are primarily practice- and postmodern-focused, and he is currently co-editing the 4th edition of Theoretical Perspectives for Direct Social Work Practice. Past publications include chapters for the Encyclopaedia of Social Work, ‘A History of Cybernetics and Social Work Practice’ (2017) and ‘Narrative Therapy’ (2016), as well as journal articles, ‘A Narrative Case Study of Hamlet and the Cultural Construction of Western Individualism, Diagnosis, and Madness’ (2016) and ‘How Social Constructionism Could Inform the Education of Social Work Practitioners’ (2015). Gitte Haslebo has a Master of Science in Psychology from the University of Copenhagen and before that a Masters Degree in Social Psychology from the University of Kansas. Gitte is a certified specialist and supervisor in organizational psychology. In 1991 she founded the consultancy firm known as Haslebo & Partnere, which carries out consultancy assignments in


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Denmark and Norway based on social constructionism and inspired by systemic, appreciative and narrative approaches to consultation, leadership and organizational development. She has also developed and carried through a social constructionist training programme for more than 36 groups of managers and consultants. She is the author, co-author and co-editor of numerous books and articles on leadership and organizational development. Two books have been translated into English: G. Haslebo and K. S. Nielsen, Systems and Meaning: Consulting in Organizations (Karnac Books, 2000) and G. Haslebo and M. L. Haslebo, Practicing Relational Ethics in Organizations (Taos Institute Publications, 2012). For years she has worked as a board member of the Danish Psychological Publishing Agency and was appointed an Associate to the Taos Institute in 2008. Lorraine Hedtke is the programme coordinator and an associate professor of counselling and guidance at California State University, San Bernardino. She is also the proprietor of The Fabula Center, a counselling and training centre. She teaches about death, dying and bereavement throughout the United States and internationally. Her work represents an exciting and unique departure from the conventional models of grief psychology. Her articles have appeared in numerous professional journals and magazines and she is the author of several books about grief. Her children’s book, My Grandmother is Always with Me (2nd edn, Lulu Press, 2013), is written with her daughter, Addison Davidove. Her book, Breathing Life into the Stories of the Dead: Constructing Bereavement Support Groups (Taos Institute Publications, 2012) outlines an innovative and practical model for practice. Along with John Winslade, she is the co-author of the book Remembering Lives: Conversations with the Dying and the Bereaved (Baywood, 2004) and The Crafting of Grief: Aesthetic Responses to Loss (Routledge, 2017). Dina von Heimburg is a MSc and works as a public health coordinator in Levanger Municipality, Norway and is a PhD candidate in Sociology at Nord University, Norway. She is also an adjunct Assistant Professor in the Department of Public Health and Nursing at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU). Her PhD research is a collaborative action research project focusing on the co-creation of social inclusion among families whose children are in kindergartens. Lone Hersted is an associate professor and works as a researcher and a lecturer at the Department of Culture and Learning at Aalborg University (Denmark). Her research is concerned with organizational learning, organizational change processes, relational leading and leadership development, action research and creativity. In particular, she is concerned with dialogically based processes for organizational learning and development. Lone has a professional background in theatre, family therapy and consultancy, and brings these experiences creatively into her work with organizational development. In 2013, together with Professor Kenneth Gergen, she wrote the book Relational Leading: Practices for Dialogically Based Collaboration, which was published in English, Danish and Japanese. In addition, she has contributed to a series of books and articles on leadership, the education of leaders, organizational learning, dialogical process, action research and creativity. Recently she edited the book Action Research in a Relational Perspective together with Ottar Ness and Søren Frimann (published by Routledge). Lois Holzman is director of the East Side Institute, an international research and education centre for the advancement of social therapeutics and performance activism. As a proponent of postmodern, activity-theoretic, cultural approaches to human learning and development, she has championed the role of play, performance and ensemble building as central to ongoing attempts to support people to grow themselves and their communities, to humanize the mental health field

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


and the social sciences, and to effect social change and global cultural transformation. Among her books are Vygotsky at Work and Play; Unscientific Psychology: A CulturalPerformatory Approach to Understanding Human Life (with Fred Newman); and The Overweight Brain: How Our Obsession with Knowing Keeps us from Getting Smart Enough to Make a Better World. David Anderson Hooker is Professor of the Practice of Conflict Transformation and Peacebuilding at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for International Peace Studies in the University of Notre Dame’s Keough School of Global Affairs. His practice spans more than 30 years as mediator, restorative justice practitioner, trainer, leadership development specialist, advocate and community peacebuilder working throughout Africa, Asia, the Caribbean, Eastern Europe, and the (united) States of America. Hooker’s primary research investigates the social and narrative construction of complex identities; the role of multigenerational trauma in the formation of interpersonal and communal relationships, systems and structures; and the various models and approaches to truth-telling as mechanisms for approaching justice, quality peace, and societal reconciliation. He is the co-author (with Amy Potter-Czaijkowski) of Transforming Historical Harms (Eastern Mennonite, 2012) and author of The Little Book of Transformative Community Conferencing (SkyHorse 2016), as well as several other book chapters and journal articles. Carsten Hornstrup is an experienced consultant and leader and is regarded as an expert on public sector development. In later years he has focused on Relational Capacity as a way of integrating systematic evaluations in highly complex cases with dialogical practices. He holds a PhD in Relational Leadership and has published seven books and several books and articles. He is currently the director and founder of Joint Action Analytics and is associated with Aarhus University’s research centre for public leadership as well as chairing the board of the RCRC (Relational Coordination Research Collaborative) at Brandeis University, Boston. Marie L. Hoskins is Professor Emeritus in the School of Child and Youth Care (Faculty of Human and Social Development) at the University of Victoria, Canada. She has held several administrative positions and sat on several boards over the years. She has published in a wide range of journals including Mediation Quarterly, Qualitative Inquiry, The Journal of Constructivist Psychology, Constructivism and Human Sciences, the Canadian Journal of Counselling, Qualitative Inquiry, the Child and Youth Care Forum, to name just a few. Her teaching focus has been in the area of human change processes, girls’ identity challenges and various modes of interpretive inquiry. She has been the principal investigator on two large Social Sciences and Humanities Research Projects (SSHRC), one focused on eating disorders and processes of change, the other focused on the relationships between culture, substance use and transformation. She is a former member of the coordinating team for the Child Soldier Initiative led by Rt. General Romeo Dallaire. Johan Hovelynck works as a self-employed process consultant and is part-time lecturer at the Leuven University (Belgium). With a background in Organizational and Community Psychology (KU Leuven) and in Adult Education (VU Brussels), Johan facilitates group and organizational development processes in various profit and social-profit settings, including multi-actor collaboration in different governance domains. His action research on facilitating relational learning in those fields provides an additional basis for teaching group dynamics and group decision-making at the KU Leuven Center for Organisational Psychology and Professional Learning.


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Elizabeth Jameson is an artist who specializes in the intersection of art and science. Her artwork creates interest and curiosity about the imperfect body, and her work serves as an invitation to open up conversations about what it means to have an illness or disability as part of the universal human experience. She is an artist, a writer and a former public interest lawyer; she has written about illness and disability in publications such as the New York Times, British Medical Journal and WIRED magazine. Her work is part of permanent collections including the National Institutes of Health, major universities and medical schools throughout the nation. In 2016, she delivered a TedX talk, ‘Learning to Celebrate and Embrace Our Imperfect Bodies’. Arlene M. Katz is a Taos Associate and mentor of many Taos PhD students. She is also a Lecturer in the Department of Global Health and Social Medicine at Harvard Medical School, and teaches cross-cultural care in their residency programme at the Cambridge Health Alliance (CHA). A published poet, photographer and videographer, Dr Katz uses social poetics (Hearing the patient’s ‘voice’: Toward a social poetics in diagnostic interviews. Social Science Medicine, Katz and Shotter, 1996) to explore the space between health and the humanities. Her work emphasizes the importance of hearing the ‘voice’ of patient and community, making visible the moral dimensions of care and suffering. Former Director of CHA’s Community Councils Project, she worked with community elders and health professionals to address ageism by developing a ‘Council of Elders’ to make visible the lived experience of aging (A council of elders: Creating a multi-voiced dialogue in a community of care. Social Science and Medicine, Katz, Conant et al., 2000). This has developed into a series of participatory ethnographic publications and research projects, co-creating ‘resourceful communities’ of those involved in healthcare. Jenny Lee is the executive director of Allied Media Projects (AMP), where she has worked in various capacities since 2006. Over this period she led the healthy growth and evolution of the organization through facilitative leadership, innovative programme design, and network cultivation. She honed the theory and practice of media-based organizing that is at the core of AMP’s work. Jenny represents AMP within city-wide and national initiatives to advance the fields of media, art, technology and social justice. She currently serves on the leadership team of the national Art x Culture x Social Justice Network. In 2015 she was a Detroit Equity Action Lab fellow and from 2008 to 2012 she served on the national steering committee of INCITE! Women of Color Against Violence. Jenny graduated from the University of Michigan with a BA in Comparative Literature in 2005. She is a mom, a dancer and a motorcycle rider. Barbara E. Lewis is a co-founder of the Rocky Mountain Center for Positive Change and a consulting partner of the Corporation for Positive Change. She is widely respected for designing and facilitating creative processes to engage diverse stakeholders in collaborative decisionmaking on everything from community visioning to water resources planning to priority setting. In 2000, experiencing first-hand the authentic connections, joyful experience and shared commitment produced by Appreciative Inquiry (AI), she made AI the primary model of her work. She is co-editor of The Promise of Appreciative Cities: Compelling the Whole to Act, an edition of the Appreciative Inquiry Practitioner. Her work has been recognized with multiple awards – most recently the Greater Good Award from the International Association for Public Participation (IAP2) for her contributions to the field. Rolla E. Lewis is Professor Emeritus in Educational Psychology at California State University, East Bay (CSUEB). His current research and scholarly interests include public education advocacy, participatory leadership, and using lifescaping action research practices and participatory inquiry process (PIP) in ways that enhance school communities, student learning power, wellness, and

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


connectedness to the living environment. He was School Counseling Coordinator at Portland State University (PSU), 1995–2006, and at CSUEB, 2006–2014. He is an active Associate of the Taos Institute. Dr Lewis has published numerous chapters, articles and poems in books, peer-reviewed journals and other publications, such as R. E. Lewis and P. Winkelman, Lifescaping Practices in School Communities: Implementing Action Research and Appreciative Inquiry (Routledge, 2017). He is the recipient of the Oregon Counseling Association’s Leona Tyler Award for outstanding contributions to professional counselling. He may be reached at [email protected] Victoria Lugo is a psychologist, with a Masters degree in Public Health, and a PhD in Social Sciences (Tilburg University). She is currently on faculty at the Universidad de Caldas in Manizales, Colombia, the director of the Master program in Social Justice and Peace Building and the editor of “Eleuthera”, an international journal about human and social development. Her research interests focus on social constructionist ideas applied to conflict transformation and restoration with survivors from armed conflict. Her doctoral dissertation was titled ‘Disarmed Warriors: Narratives with Youth ex-Combatants in Colombia’. During 2019, she was the national director of the study ‘Creating Political Abilities for Transitions in Local Territories’, a Participatory Action Research project located in six municipalities affected by armed conflict in Colombia. Gro Emmertsen Lund is an independent consultant and researcher and part of NOISE; Network of Independent Scholars in Education. She holds a PhD from Twente University, an MA in Evaluation from the University of Southern Denmark and a BA degree in Educational Science from University College of Southern Denmark. Her research on social exclusionary processes in schools has played a pivotal role in school development and practices of responding to interactive troubles. As a keynote speaker in Denmark, Norway, Estonia, The Faroe Islands and the United States, she shares her research as well as exploring implications for praxis. As a Taos Associate she has arranged international conferences in the Nordic countries. She is a published author and serves as a co-serial editor for the series Relational Pedagogy at the Danish Psychological Publisher. As an organizational consultant Gro works with organizational learning and improvement, leadership, organizational membership and cultural change processes. Ingebjørg Mæland holds a Social Science and Masters degree in Educational Leadership. She has been working for over 40 years with young people in Norway. She started as a social worker in the criminal justice system, moved on to child and adolescent psychiatric services, and then to outreaching services for drug users. She was consulting for the County Office of Education on special needs education before she became the head of YouthInvest 1998, a post she still holds. Ingebjørg has conducted a lot of seminars and workshops at universities and conferences. She has cooperated with the University College of Southeast Norway 2012–2016 and developed a session-based University programme based on Appreciative Inquiry and other strength-based approaches. This study programme is now connected to Norwegian Technology University (NTNU) where Ingebjørg lectures occasionally. She has been a politician for eight years in a local Municipality and was also leader of the Board of Education and Social Challenges. She has been a board member in a bank (Sparebanken Øst) and in the board of public transport. Robert J. Marshak is Distinguished Scholar in Residence Emeritus, School of Public Affairs, American University and has consulted with managers and executives around the world for more than 40 years. Marshak’s contributions to the field of organization development have been recognized by numerous awards, including the Organization Development Network’s


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Lifetime Achievement Award and the Distinguished Educator Award from the Organization Development and Change Division of the Academy of Management. He is the co-editor of Dialogic Organization Development: The Theory and Practice of Transformational Change (2015). His latest book is Dialogic Process Consultation: Generative Meaning Making in Action (2020). A chapter about him and his work is included in The Palgrave Handbook of Organizational Change Thinkers (2017). Natalie B. May is Associate Professor of Research in the University of Virginia School of Medicine and the UVA School of Nursing. She has co-authored several books and chapters on appreciative inquiry in healthcare, including Appreciative Inquiry in Healthcare: Positive Questions to Bring Out Your Best and Choosing Wisdom. She is a founding faculty member in the UVA Center for Appreciative Practice. M. L. Papusa Molina holds a PhD in Educational Leadership – with an emphasis on Women’s Studies, Public Administration and Chicano Studies – and an MA in Education and Development, the University of Iowa. She is the Executive Director and Professor of Inquiry at Kanankil Institute; Guest Professor at the Houston Galveston Institute; and Associate and member of the Relational Research Network of the Taos Institute. Previously she was the Coordinator for Academic Development at Universidad de Oriente; General Director of the National Institute in Mexico; James Watson Irwin Distinguished Chair in Women’s Studies at Hamilton College; Professor in the Feminism and Spirituality MA Program at the San Francisco Institute for Integral Studies; and co-founder of Women Against Racism. Her early publications and research focused on the intersections of gender, race, class and sexuality; recently she has been engaged with issues of inquiry from a collaborative-dialogic perspective. Gerald Monk is Professor in the Department of Counseling and School Psychology at San Diego State University. Gerald is a practising Marriage and Family Therapist and mediator in private practice in San Diego, California. Gerald has a strong interest in the theory and practice of narrative therapy and narrative mediation. Currently, he works with couples and families utilizing a social constructionist orientation and the theoretical developments connected to the affective-discursive turn. His latest co-authored book is Intercultural Counseling: Bridging the Us and Them Divide (Cognella Publishing, 2020). Haesun Moon is a leading expert and educator on coaching and the use of language in transforming workplace dialogues leading to social change. Her academic and professional research in coaching dialogues and pedagogy from the University of Toronto introduced a simple heuristics of interactions, the Dialogic Orientation Quadrant (DOQ), that has transformed the way people coach and learn coaching worldwide. Haesun teaches Brief Coaching at the University of Toronto and serves as Executive Director at the Canadian Centre for Brief Coaching. She resides in Toronto with her family and her beloved dog, Kito. Edgardo Morales-Arandes is a Taos Associate and Professor in the Graduate Psychology Program at the University of Puerto Rico. In his practice as a therapist and consultant, he has explored the uses of performance, imagination, dialogue, and presence as relational resources that can serve to promote generative change in individuals, couples, families, and organizations. As a researcher, he is currently examining the ways through which autoethnography can help students generate meaningful and imaginative personal narratives that can subvert dominant accounts of marginalization, oppression, and enforced silence while highlighting the transformative possibilities of evocative storytelling. Along with his professional,

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


academic, and personal pursuits, Edgardo has been accompanied by a practice of mindfulness meditation which he began more than 45 years ago, and which still continues to be a vital presence in his life. He is also Academic Co-Director of the Diploma on the Generative Perspective and Practice co-sponsored by Fundación Interfas in Argentina and the Taos Institute. Murilo S. Moscheta is a licensed psychologist and Professor of Psychology, Gender and Sexuality at the Estate University of Maringá (Brazil). For many years, he has worked in a variety of institutional contexts on the development of relational resources for inclusive healthcare practices with respect to the LGBT population in Brazil. As a researcher, he has worked and published on narrative counselling, dialogue facilitation and healthcare workers’ training in gender and sexuality. He is the founder of DeVERSO, a research and intervention group on sexuality, health and policy, and is associate editor of the Brazilian journal Psicologia em Estudo. His latest book is A Dimensão Política do Pesquisar o Cotidiano [The Political Dimension in Researching Everyday Life] (with Laura Vilela e Souza and Emerson F. Rasera, 2020). Tanya Mudry is a PhD, Psychologist and Assistant Professor in Counselling Psychology at the University of Calgary. She practises from a postmodern, collaborative, family therapy perspective, with a research focus on discursive, practice-oriented and systemic approaches to research. Her research has focused on therapy practices, excessive behaviours, addiction and recovery from addiction, and other health concerns. Among Tanya’s articles and chapters, are ‘The Psychological Underpinnings of Addictive Behaviours’, in N. el-Guebaly and H. Tavares (Eds.), Textbook of Addiction Treatment: International Perspectives, and ‘A Life History of a PIP: Snapshots in Time’, in K. Tomm, S. St. George, D. Wulff and T. Strong (Eds.), Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions: Inviting Relational Understandings for Therapeutic Change. Pavel Nepustil lives and works in Brno, Czech Republic. He is a therapist, supervisor and trainer with a special focus on substance use and addiction from a relational perspective. He co-founded the Recovery Brno group, an association of people with their own or family experience with addiction and the Narativ group that promotes the development of collaborative and dialogical practices in the Czech Republic. He co-established several innovative projects in Brno aimed at social integration, housing and recovery support. His book Recovered without Treatment: The Process of Abandoning Crystal Meth Use without Professional Help is available in Czech and English. Janet Newbury teaches and conducts research in the School of Child and Youth Care at the University of Victoria, where she is also an Adjunct Associate Professor in the Faculty of Graduate Studies. She has worked in group homes, schools, camps, an after-school programme, an orphanage, and a family resource centre, and as a family initiatives worker and family enhancement worker. She currently sits on a number of boards, conducts community-engaged research related to children and families, and is actively involved in a range of intergenerational initiatives. The focus of her research and practice is primarily on fostering the structural conditions that contribute to wellness for children, young people and families. Organizing economic, social and political realities such that barriers can be removed and opportunities created for children and families to thrive has been a key focus of most of her involvements – with a particular interest in contributing to decolonization efforts. Ottar Ness is Professor of Counselling at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and Professor of Mental Healthcare at the University of South-Eastern Norway. He is also a


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

senior advisor at the Norwegian Competence Centre for Mental Healthcare. He has been working with collaborative action research projects within the fields of family therapy, mental health and substance abuse recovery and community work. Among his latest books are the co-edited books Action Research in a Relational Perspective together with Lone Hersted and Søren Frimann (Routledge), and Beyond the Therapeutic State together with Del Loewenthal and Billy Hardy (Routledge). Margaret Plews-Ogan is Professor of Medicine at the University of Virginia. As a wisdom researcher, she has developed and implemented innovative curricula and programmes to foster wisdom in medical students and throughout the health system. She has authored several books and chapters on wisdom in healthcare, including Choosing Wisdom: Strategies and Inspiration for Growing Through Life-Changing Difficulties. With Gene Beyt, she edited Wisdom Leadership in Academic Health Science Centers: Leading Positive Change. W. Ellen Raboin is a Senior Organization Development Specialist at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital, Stanford Children’s Health, in Palo Alto, California. Her focus is building contextual resources to support the transformation of local and systemic patterns. Her curiosities include relational action networks in care ecosystems constituted by care organizations, family systems, communities, the workplace and government. Ellen draws on theory and practice from organization development, relational social constructionism, therapy and systemic constellation work. She is a Taos Institute Associate, a Co-Founder of the Collaborative Care Learning Network, past Chair of the Board for Ronald McDonald House, San Francisco, and past President of the Bay Area Organization Network. William (Bill) Randall is Professor of Gerontology at St Thomas University, in Fredericton, New Brunswick, Canada. A former Protestant minister, he has been principal co-organizer of three international conferences called Narrative Matters (in 2002, 2004 and 2010), founding director of the Centre for Interdisciplinary Research on Narrative (CIRN), and co-editor of the online, open-access, peer-reviewed journal, Narrative Works: Issues, Investigations, and Interventions. With Gary Kenyon and other scholars worldwide, he has helped to pioneer a unique approach to aging known as ‘narrative gerontology’. He is the author or co-author of over 60 publications on this and related topics, including the book Reading Our Lives: The Poetics of Growing Old (Oxford University Press, 2008). His ongoing areas of interest include: wisdom and aging, the links between reminiscence and resilience in later life, the practice of narrative care with older adults, and the role of lifestory work in late life spiritual development. Leah Salter is a systemic psychotherapist and supervisor working in NHS Wales. Leah is a doctoral supervisor and visiting lecturer at the University of Bedfordshire on the Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice programme, a Director for The Centre for Systemic Studies in Wales, UK, and also teaches with The Family Institute Wales. Leah also works with Friends of the Earth. Dora Fried Schnitman is a PhD and is the founder and director of Fundación Interfas, a think tank on innovation and a postgraduate educational center based in Buenos Aires, Argentina. She is an associate of the Taos Institute. She is the founder and director of the international postgraduate program in Generative Perspective and Professional Practice at Fundación Interfas in collaboration with the Taos Institute and CINDE-Universidad de Manizales, Colombia. For the last twenty-five years, she has developed and taught the generative

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


perspective as applied to an array of disciplines and practices (therapy, conflict, crisis, war and peace work, community organizing, and others) in different countries. Dora has taught at many postgraduate programs housed at universities and institutes in Latin America, USA, and Europe. She has published nine books, including Nuevos paradigmas, cultura y subjetividad [New paradigms, culture and subjectivity] (Paidós, 1994; in Portuguese Artes Médicas, 1996, WorlShare Books, 2014), Nuevos paradigmas en la resolución de conflictos. Perspectivas y Prácticas [New paradigms in conflict resolution: Perspectives and practices] (Granica, 2000), New Paradigms, Culture and Subjectivity (Hampton Press, 2002; WorldShare Books, 2014), Diálogos para la transformación, Vols. 1, 2 and 3 [Dialogues for transformation, Vols. 1, 2 and 3] (WorldShare Books, 2015-2017), and over one hundred and thirty articles and book chapters in five languages. Jasmina Sermijn is a clinical psychologist, systemic therapist, supervisor and trainer. Her interest areas focus on the practice of narrative and collaborative systemic therapy, postmodern philosophy, including especially the way identity is narratively co-constructed in and through interaction and dialogue. In her PhD dissertation she researched the interaction between psychiatric diagnoses and the co-construction of the self. She has published several books and articles on that topic. Gail Simon is Programme Director for the Professional Doctorate in Systemic Practice at the University of Bedfordshire and runs writing groups for reflexive practitioners. Gail co-founded The Pink Practice in London, UK, which pioneered systemic social constructionist therapy for the lesbian, gay, trans and queer communities. She has edited books on systemic practice and research and is editor of Murmurations: Journal of Transformative Systemic Practice. Koen Sips studied Organizational Psychology and worked as a research assistant at the KU Leuven (Belgium). He carried out research and consulted on the dynamics of organization development and management, with a special interest in teamwork, self-management and new organizational forms. Koen worked in various national and international projects on multi-actor collaboration and complex socio-technical problems, with a focus on sustainable natural resources. He currently works as an independent consultant and action researcher at Point Consulting Group and Cycloop. He is a regular guest lecturer at KU Leuven, University of Antwerp and Nijenrode Business University. Sally St. George is Professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary and a Family Therapist and Clinical Supervisor at the Calgary Family Therapy Centre. She conducts workshops on family therapy and qualitative inquiry. Sally serves on the Boards of Directors for the Taos Institute, an organization dedicated to developing social constructionist practices worldwide, and the Global Partnership for Transformative Social Work, which involves co-developing transformative practices in social work education. For the last 20 years, Sally has worked on The Qualitative Report and is currently Senior Editor for this online journal. Jacob Storch has more than 20 years of consulting experience and is an experienced scholar. Today he works as a practice researcher combining his experiences in consulting and research in addressing the most complex challenges within the public sector in the Nordic countries. He holds a doctoral degree in applied social science and is the CEO and founder of Joint Action Analytics, as well as an adjunct associate professor at Aarhus University. He has a long list of


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

publications in international journals and has authored six books on leadership, consulting and welfare development. Tom Strong is a professor and counsellor-educator who recently retired from the University of Calgary. He writes on the collaborative, critical and practical potentials of discursive approaches to psychotherapy – most recently on concept critique and development (particularly with respect to therapy and research), and critical mental health. Among Tom’s books are Medicalizing Counselling: Issues and Tensions, Patterns in Interpersonal Interactions (coedited with Karl Tomm, Sally St. George and Dan Wulff), Social Constructionism: Sources and Stirrings in Theory and Practice (co-authored with Andy Lock) and Furthering Talk (with David Paré). Tharsi Taillieu is Professor Emeritus of Work and Organization Psychology associated with the University of Tilburg (Netherlands) and the KU Leuven (Belgium). He carries out research concerning processes of cooperation and collaboration (social learning, managing of interdependencies) in interorganizational networks such as business alliances, co-makerships and public–private partnerships. Lately, his focus of attention has shifted towards similar dynamics in the management of natural resources and transitions towards sustainability. Erin W. Taylor is an Associate with ICW Consulting and is a professional educator specializing in bridging food security and education. Erin’s work and interests focus on using land, food and facilitation to build and heal people’s relationships with place, identity and human systems. She works from the principles of anti-oppression movements, and both school-based and outdoor education. She brings these approaches together in her work as a facilitator and in helping organizations use their core values to shape design decisions. In addition to her work with ICW she consults independently to non-profits on both organizational and curriculum development, works as a middle school teacher in public schools, and is the Food Education Manager at Colorado Springs Food Rescue. She holds a BA in Community Health and a Master of Arts in Teaching, both from Tufts University. Karl Tomm is Professor of Psychiatry in the Cumming School of Medicine at the University of Calgary. He is also the Director of the Calgary Family Therapy Centre which he founded in 1973. He is deeply interested in the application of systems theory, narrative theory, social constructionism, bringforthism, and second order cybernetics to therapy. He has focused on clarifying different patterns of interpersonal interaction, different kinds of questions therapists can ask, the influence on therapists of the distinctions they make regarding their clients, the effects of social injustice on families, and on explicating the possible therapeutic and counter therapeutic effects of the interviewing process itself. Amanda Trosten-Bloom is a Principal with the Corporation for Positive Change and cofounder of the Rocky Mountain Center for Positive Change: consultancies dedicated to furthering applying the principles and advancing the practices of Appreciative Inquiry (AI) and related transformational processes. She is a widely acclaimed consultant, master trainer, author and pioneer in the use of AI for high engagement, whole system change. Her award-winning work in the areas of strategic planning, culture transformation and organizational excellence spans the business, non-profit and government sectors. Along with Diana Whitney she has coauthored four books, namely, The Power of Appreciative Inquiry, Appreciative Leadership, Appreciative Team Building and the Encyclopedia of Positive Questions. In addition, she has written more than a dozen articles and book chapters.

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


Paul N. Uhlig is a cardiothoracic surgeon, and associate professor in the Department of Pediatrics at the University of Kansas School of Medicine – Wichita, Kansas. His professional interests include collaborative care with active engagement of patients and families, interprofessional education, healthcare simulation/experiential learning, and patient safety. His research and teaching utilize social science methods to study and transform healthcare practice culture. He is a Co-Founder of the Collaborative Care Learning Network and an Associate of the Taos Institute. Ilene C. Wasserman is President of ICW Consulting, has over 30 years of experience in Leadership Development, Executive Coaching and Organizational Consulting. Ilene helps her clients leverage multiple dimensions of domestic and global diversity by enhancing communication and collaboration. Ilene takes a strengths-based, action learning approach, aligning goals, behaviours and actions. Consultations have included retreats for leadership teams, developing internal work teams and leading large strategic change initiatives. In addition to consulting and coaching, Ilene teaches at the graduate level. She is a Senior Leadership Fellow at the McNulty Leadership Program at the Wharton School, an executive coach with Wharton Executive Education and faculty at PCOM. Ilene holds a PhD in Human and Organizational Development, and a Masters in Counselling Psychology and Social Work. She is the author of Communicating Possibilities: A Brief Introduction to the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM) and Peer Coaching at Work: Principles and Practices. Peter Whitehouse is a Professor of Neurology and former/current professor of Psychiatry, Psychology, Cognitive Science, Neuroscience, Bioethics, History, Nursing and Organizational Behaviour at Case Western Reserve University, Professor of Medicine at the University of Toronto, Honorary Research Fellow at Oxford University and Founding President of Intergenerational Schools International. He received his undergraduate degree from Brown University and MD-PhD (Psychology) from The Johns Hopkins University, followed by a Fellowship in Neuroscience and Psychiatry and a faculty appointment at Hopkins. His current main foci are on ecopsychosocial models of brain health and aging and the role of the arts and humanities in health. Peter considers himself a wising-up, intergenerative, transdisciplinary, action-oriented scholar and emerging artist. And he believes in the magic of relationships too. Diana Whitney is an internationally acclaimed consultant, writer and inspirational speaker working at the forefront of the fields of dialogic organization development and positive social change. Dr Whitney is best known for her work applying Appreciative Inquiry and Appreciative Leadership to strategic large-scale organization culture change. She is an executive advisor, founder of the Corporation for Positive Change and co-founder of the Taos Institute. She is an award-winning author of 20 books and dozens of chapters and articles. Her books include The Power of Appreciative Inquiry: A Practical Guide to Positive Change; Appreciative Leadership: Focus on What Works to Drive Winning Performance and Build a Thriving Organization; and most recently, Thriving Women, Thriving World: An Invitation to Dialogue, Healing and Inspired Actions. Michael Williams is Head of Guidance and Counselling at Edgewater College, a co-educational, multicultural high school in Auckland, New Zealand. He first used Undercover Antibullying Teams in 2004 and has since used them successfully over 60 times. His partnership with John Winslade goes back nearly 20 years and together they have written many journal articles on Undercover Anti-bullying Teams and co-authored Safe and Peaceful Schools in 2012.


The Sage Handbook of Social Constructionist Practice

Michael has a Masters degree in Education from the University of Waikato, the place where their friendship began. He continues to speak nationally and internationally on topics related to narrative approaches to conflict resolution and reintegration after disciplinary actions, and consults with schools about whole school approaches to creating safe and peaceful school communities. Morgan Mann Willis makes room for media-based organizing work to thrive. Morgan is the past associate director at Allied Media Projects, where she produced the Allied Media Conference for seven years. As an independent consultant, Morgan works with creative projects and community-driven organizations to clarify their vision, strengthen leadership and make room for them to sustainably flourish. In 2016 she edited bklyn boihood’s IPPY-award winning anthology, Outside the XY: Queer, Black and Brown Masculinity. In 2017, Morgan was the inaugural Roxane Gay fellow at the Jack Jones Literary Arts Retreat, where she worked on her forthcoming novel, Politics from Nowhere. More often than not her heart is camping in Idlewild, Michigan and with her two nieces. John Winslade is an Emeritus Professor of Counseling at California State University, San Bernardino. He was formerly Director of Counselor Education at the University of Waikato in New Zealand and Coordinator of Counseling Programs at California State University San Bernardino. Also at California State University San Bernardino he was the Associate Dean of the College of Education. He is the co-author of 12 books on narrative mediation and narrative practice, as well as many articles and has taught workshops on narrative practice in 25 countries. Since he is now retired, he lives in New Zealand to be closer to his family. Stanley L. Witkin is Emeritus Professor of Social Work at the University of Vermont and an Adjunct Professor in the School of Social Policy & Practice at the University of Pennsylvania. He is the co-founder (with Dennis Saleebey) and current president of the Global Partnership for Transformative Social Work (, an organization that uses social constructionist and related dialogues to explore ways of enriching relationships that support the generation of just and sustainable futures. In addition to several journal publications and book chapters, recent books include: Transforming Social Work: Social Constructionist Perspectives on Contemporary and Enduring Issues (Palgrave Macmillan, 2017), Narrating Social Work Through Autoethnography (Columbia University Press, 2014) and Social Construction and Social Work Practice: Interpretations and Innovations (Columbia University Press, 2011). Presently, Stanley lives in Charlottesville, Virginia with his spouse, Frannie, and their precocious dog, Pekoe. Dan Wulff is a Professor in the Faculty of Social Work at the University of Calgary and has served as a Family Therapist and Clinical Supervisor at the Calgary Family Therapy Centre for the past 12 years. He has recently incorporated the examination of societal discourses and the impacts of material life conditions into his work with families. Dan also serves on the Boards of Directors for the Taos Institute and the Global Partnership for Transformative Social Work as well as serving as a Co-Editor of The Qualitative Report. Dan teaches graduate-level social work practice and research courses and has taught post-structural family therapy at Blue Quills College and Grande Prairie Regional College, both in northern Alberta. Danielle P. Zandee is Professor of Sustainable Organizational Development at Nyenrode Business Universiteit in the Netherlands. She obtained her PhD in Organizational Behavior at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. As a scholar-practitioner, Danielle facilitates

Notes on the Editors and Contributors


change and conducts action research for social innovation in settings like Dutch healthcare organizations, municipalities and the fire service. She does so from a critical appreciative stance with a keen interest in the micro-dynamics of change. Danielle has published about appreciative inquiry as action research, organizational discourse and institutional change, and about how organization development can help handle the grand challenges of our time. Danielle is a member of the editorial boards of the Journal of Applied Behavioral Science and the Journal of Management Inquiry. She is an active member of the Academy of Management and Past Chair of its Organization Development & Change Division.

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Editors’ Introduction Dialogues on the social construction of knowledge, beliefs and values have played a catalytic role in scholarly life for over 50 years. They have represented a liberation from a narrow scientism, a sensitizing to the ideological dimensions of scholarly work, and an invitation to boundary-breaking exploration. However, the reach of constructionist ideas has extended far beyond the halls of academia, and indeed, stirred the interests of professionals and lay persons around the world. New dialogues have sprung to life within and across such professions as psychotherapy, education, organizational consulting, and medicine. Inspiration has been added by groups engaged in community building, civic governance and conflict reduction. Most important, these dialogues have yielded a massive harvest of innovative practices for enhancing human well-being. Such practices are the focus of the present Handbook. Our purposes are several. At the outset, we aim to offer an array of conceptually related and innovative practices to practitioners, scholars and the public in diverse fields across the world. The hope is not only to provide information, but to offer resources that may enrich existing activities and initiatives in both professional and daily life. Further, readers will find an implicit invitation throughout this volume to further innovation. Social constructionist ideas themselves, emphasize that meaning making is a continuous process of co-creating. For readers this means that the practices described and explained in this Handbook are not so much ‘how-to-do-it’ recipes for action, as invitations to borrow, hybridize and reformulate as needed in one’s unique circumstances. Finally, the Handbook furnishes an historical marking of a period in which a significant shift in the intellectual world has been accompanied by a related watershed in social innovation. We have embarked on this project realizing that there has been no single venue at present for scholars and practitioners to find a concise, clear and comprehensive description of social construction and its contributions to various fields of endeavour. Our hope is that the offerings in this volume remedy this void and provide rich and innovative resources that will assist the reader in orienting his/her own practice within a constructionist stance. We focus here on six domains of practice: Research, Therapeutic Professions, Organizational Development, Education, Healthcare and Community Practice. And, we feel confident that, embedded within each of these areas, those working within other professional fields such as governance, social justice, etc., will find inspiration for their own practice.

ORGANIZATION AND CONTENT The Handbook has benefited from the insights of an International Advisory Board. The Advisory Board members are senior authors, editors and practitioners who have contributed to the field of social construction. We wish to thank them for their insights, suggestions, and recommendations to us, as editors, in the development of this volume. Their names are listed in a special section at the beginning of this volume.


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The Handbook begins with an introductory chapter by Kenneth J. Gergen, a major contributor to the field. This chapter provides the theoretical background and context for the subsequent chapters. As mentioned, chapters are clustered into six domains of practice, each one comprising a section of the book. Within each section there is a broad offering of resources. Authors address specific issues, contexts and professional positions, thereby providing rich resources for the reader. No template was given for the structure of the chapters; authors were asked to design their chapters according to their own intellectual and aesthetic preferences. This allows for a great deal of variety in the book, with their chapters designed to benefit its topic. Each of the sections was overseen by a Section Editor who shepherded the chapters from author invitation through various drafts and revisions. Our Section Editors are the handmaidens of this Handbook, and responsible, to a great extent, for the high quality of the chapters they supervised. As editors of this volume, we wish to publicly thank them for their commitment and creativity in providing such a bounty of practices. Section Editors also contributed an introduction to their sections, which elaborates the major themes of each chapter. We offer a short summary of each main section below.

Section 2: Research Practices (Mary Gergen, Section Editor) Social constructionist ideas have raised significant epistemological, methodological and ethical issues and have inspired new ways of understanding and conducting research. Chapters in this part cover the topics of: innovation in research, collaborative action research, communities of inquiry/practice, research as performance, research as everyday life, dialogic research, and research focused on human–non-human relations. The naming of specific research practices may be distinguished from the naming of other such practices, however the reader will find all methods described in this section share commonalities in the form of collaboration, multivocality and connection to those whom the research is intended to support.

Section 3: Practices in Therapeutic Professions (Dan Wulff and Sally St. George, Section Editors) Human challenges faced by the different caring professions have identified innovative solutions through reframing concepts such as diagnosis, intervention, treatment, cure and professional expertise. In this section of the book, chapters cover collaborative therapy, narrative therapy, generative dialogues, social therapeutics, family therapy, social work, group work, and community therapy. This section includes the work of psychologists, therapists and social workers.

Section 4: Practices in Organizational Development (Diana Whitney, Section Editor) In a fast-changing world, organizations need to quickly adapt to remain relevant. Flexibility, creativity and innovation play a fundamental role in this process. Constructionist perspectives address these challenges through their emphasis on promoting relationships and engagement. In this section of the book, chapters address appreciative inquiry, dialogic organizational development, creativity and design, relational leading, relational coaching, relational ethics, conflict reduction, multi-party decision-making, and organizational consulting. Again, although in a wide variety of settings authors focus on different types of organizations, a great deal of overlap can be seen among the various practices, based on the social constructionist framework that guides their activities.

Editors’ Introduction


Section 5: Practices in Education (Thalia Dragonis, Section Editor) Schools are powerful places to create learning communities that facilitate the development of all participants. Collaborative communities can be achieved by promoting conversational and relational practices in schools. In this section of the book, chapters treat such topics as collaborative and appreciative pedagogy, relational evaluation, school bullying, building school culture, school counselling, minority inclusion, whole systems change, youth at risk, critical education and action learning. The overall tone of these offerings is hopeful and full of potential for achieving innovations in schools, without great expense or overly elaborate interventions. Cultivating an orientation of possibility (as opposed to constraint), based on social constructionist viewpoints, serves as the springboard for progressive changes in a student’s capacities for success in school.

Section 6: Practices in Healthcare (Murilo S. Moscheta, Section Editor) The technological development of medicine, combined with the strengthening of biomedical discourse jeopardize the intrinsically relational character of healthcare. The constructionist emphasis on meaning, collaboration and appreciation adds promising possibilities for improving patients’ and health professionals’ quality of life. In this section of the book, chapters treat such topics as narrative medicine, collaborative healthcare, community action for health, appreciative healthcare, medical education, aging, sexual diversity, play, addiction and bereavement. This section of the book is vital to the efforts of the medical establishment today to reorient patient care so that it is centred on the patient’s interests and values rather than on the expertise and power position of the medical authorities.

Section 7: Community Practices (Marie L. Hoskins, Section Editor) Political disputes, polarization of ideas and various forms of conflict occur daily around the world. It is necessary to enhance the power of dialogue, to embrace differences, and to view conflict as an opportunity to construct new realities. In this section of the book, chapters discuss narrative mediation, inclusion practices, placemaking in communities, social welfare, community conferencing, transitional societies, intergenerativity in communities, and practices of religious communities. Scarcely anything in our political and social worlds right now is more important than creating practices for conflict reduction and mutual understanding. A social constructionist framework encourages forms of dialogue and interchange that facilitate the potential for finding peaceful resolutions to our persistent problems and conflicts. As editors, our hope is that the enormous riches offered by this chorus of contributors will serve to advance social constructionist approaches to knowledge building and practice in the world. We dearly hope that readers of this volume, whom we envision as researchers, theorists and practitioners – students and professionals – will be inspired to further develop these ideas in a world that sorely needs new resources for creating more just and equitable societies and new potentials for saving the planet itself.

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1 Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice Kenneth J. Gergen

The stunning growth of the natural sciences in the 20th century was accompanied by an unbridled optimism. It was just such optimism that also sparked the development of the ‘social sciences’. If inquiry in the natural sciences could lead to the eradication of disease, the harnessing of energy, air flight, and powerful weaponry, one could only imagine the potentials of the social sciences. Could we not cure mental illness, ensure effective education, create profitable organizations, eradicate war, and more? The logic for realizing such societal gains was based on a positivist model of science in which knowledge is established in the basic or pure sciences – such as chemistry, biology, and physics – and then made available to society for broad application. With increased knowledge of the brain, for example, new practices would be anticipated in medicine, education, aviation, athletics, and so on. Thus, in the social sciences, disciplines such as psychology, economics, and sociology could hope to generate fundamental knowledge of broad

applicability. Little now remains of the early optimism. Neither the voluminous theoretical offerings nor the staggering accumulation of research findings in the social sciences have contributed significantly to societal well-being. During the waning years of the 20th century, a range of conversations across the academic community began to challenge positivist assumptions about the nature of scientific truth, objectivity, and value-neutral knowledge. These dialogues ultimately gave rise to what is now characterized as a social constructionist (or constructivist)1 orientation to knowledge. As deliberations on this orientation have matured and made their way into circles of professional practice, the results have been astonishing. A spirited wave of innovation has swept across the professions, across many regions of the world, and its force has continued to the present. Early innovations in fields of therapy, education, and organizational development were soon followed by new practices in social



work, law, counseling, cartography, practical theology, community building, and conflict reduction. These were followed by developments in social justice, healthcare, and welfare programs. Also noticeable were the ways in which innovations carried across borders of practice. New practices in law drew from developments in therapy; new welfare programs found resources in organizational development, and so on. Further, energizing dialogues between the communities of ‘knowledge makers’ and ‘practitioners’ emerged. The concept of ‘scholar practitioners’ is now a commonplace phrase. How are we to understand this mutually enriching relationship between social constructionist ideas and the flowering of innovative practices? What is it about the constructionist dialogues that practitioners have found so inspiring? Can we anticipate a continuing harvest of such magnitude; are there forces that threaten a sustained prosperity? It is to just such questions that the remainder of this chapter is devoted.

SCANNING THE CONTOURS OF CONSTRUCTIONIST THEORY To appreciate the dynamic relationship between constructionist theory and innovations in practice, let us briefly return to its origins in the late 20th century. More extensive accounts can be found in a variety of sources (Arbib and Hesse, 1986; Burr, 2004; Gergen, 1994; 2015; Hacking, 1999; Hjelm, 2014; Lock and Strong, 2010; McNamee and Hosking, 2012; Potter, 1996; Weinberg, 2014). However, it is this very variety that calls attention to constructionism as an unfolding dialogue as opposed to a fixed theory with credited authorship. In general, however, one may trace the more immediate roots to the intellectual tsunami of the late 20th century, variously termed postmodern or post-foundational. Placed in question were the promises of unlimited progress

through science. Such promises depended largely on the belief that because of their reliance on systematic and unbiased observation, the sciences could provide objective and value-free knowledge of the world. Armed with such knowledge, humankind could thus move beyond armchair speculation and ideological bias to predict and control the forces of nature. The harnessing of electrical energy, the curing of deadly diseases, and the developing of air flight were among the many illustrations of potential success. Despite these gains, the power of the natural science approach was not without limitations. Three lines of broadly shared critique played a major role in the decline of faith in the natural science approach, and the development of a social constructionist consciousness. The first movement centers around value critique, or the unmasking of claims to value-neutral knowledge. As argued, all descriptions and explanations of the world – including those of the sciences – are saturated with values. Whether acknowledged or not, there are social and political ramifications of all truth posits. For example, research that differentiates between male and female genders discriminates against gender fluid people; psychological research lends itself to an ideology of individualism; economic research emphasizes the importance of wealth; and the natural sciences themselves – lodged in the assumption of a material world – denigrate those whose lives are anchored by religious and spiritual beliefs. Within the scholarly world, such commentaries have played a major role, from early Marxist and feminist movements, to the work of Foucault (1979; 1980), and onward to include the critical voices of virtually every marginalized minority. The second line of critique centers around language as representation. The positivist vision of science was largely committed to the view that language can function more or less like a picture or mirror to nature. With developments in semiotic theory in general and literary deconstruction in particular

Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice

(Derrida, 1976), attention was variously drawn to the ways in which conventions of language precede all claims to knowledge. Whatever nature may be, its representation will inevitably be dominated by traditions of representation. For example, to describe the world in English language will demand the use of nouns. Regardless of the nature of the world, in relying on nouns the description will automatically segment the world into separate units (persons, places, or things). Or, to make a compelling description of events over time (for example, Darwinian theory, or an account of child development) will take the form of a narrative. Such proposals are also congenial with Wittgenstein’s (1953) view of language as a social practice, with differing linguistic traditions reflecting different ways of life. Words are not maps or pictures of the world as it is, but ways of representing the world within particular communities. What we might commonly index as ‘a person’, might variously be described as a mammal, a living system, a father, a schizophrenic, or a sinner, depending on the language community from which one is drawing. The third significant line of critique counters the philosophic claims to logical foundations of science with a social account of knowledge making. Of major importance here was the 1962 publication of Thomas Kuhn’s The structure of scientific revolutions. Kuhn portrayed normal science as guided by paradigms – an array of assumptions and practices – shared by particular communities. What we view as progress in science, he proposed, is not the result of increasing accuracy in understanding of the world, but the product of shifting paradigms. In effect, we make progress not by ‘seeing better’ so much as ‘seeing differently’. This critique of foundational science was further buttressed by a welter of inquiries demonstrating the way in which what we take to be ‘facts’ are established through an elaborate and unsystematic process of social negotiation (see for example, Feyerabend, 1975; Latour and Woolgar, 1979). Historians added to the argument by


illuminating how the very concepts of objectivity and truth have emerged and changed across cultures and times (Daston and Galison, 2010; Shapin, 1995). Together these three lines of reasoning converge toward a view of knowledge as socially constructed. Knowledge making is understood then, as a social process invariably reflecting the values, assumptions, and ways of life of the time and culture. Or more generally, what we take to be true as opposed to false, objective as opposed to subjective, scientific as opposed to mythological, rational as opposed to irrational, moral as opposed to immoral is brought into being by communal activity. This does not at all eliminate the importance of truth claims, but invites cognizance of the time, place, and communities for whom they have value (or not). When flying across the country, it is wise to trust the knowledge of the community of engineers who designed the plane, and to vilify anyone who intentionally falsifies their account of the aircraft’s safely. Constructionist ideas invite, then, our replacing of the traditional image of a universal, value-free knowledge, with an orientation of reflective pragmatism. What we should ask of various knowledge-making communities, is what they offer to the world and for whom these offerings are valuable or not. These themes will reverberate throughout this chapter and this Handbook.

THEORY AND THE PROVISIONING OF PRACTICE With the contours of a constructionist orientation in place, we return to the question of how to account for the enormous watershed in professional practices accompanying these dialogues. Here it is first helpful to consider some of the reasons why the practical contributions of positivist social science were so unremarkable. At the outset, the alliance of social science with positivist foundationalism, carried with it a range of restrictions.



These included limits on the aims of inquiry, assumptions about the nature of the subject matter, the relationship between the observer and the observed, the acceptable forms of explanation, and methods of research. Such restrictions in what constitutes knowledge and its acquisition ultimately limited the potentials of the social sciences in terms of their offerings to society. For example, the distinction between knowledge making and its application posed a major obstacle to practical innovation. On the one hand, this meant that the research community could proceed in generating and testing theories of sweeping scope, without regard to societal utility. Programs of experimentation, along with complex sampling and statistical procedures, were placed in the service of theories without obvious application. The challenge of application was left to outsiders, often viewed by the research community as parasitic. Thus, for social practitioners such as therapists, organizational leaders, social workers, human service workers, and so on, the academic community had little to offer. And too, should practitioners take the initiative in exploring the scientific offerings, they would frequently encounter an impenetrable thicket of ‘jargon’. They were not the intended audience. The hope that basic social science could contribute to flourishing societal practices began to fade. The emergence of more practically focused social sciences – such as education, organizational behavior, and social work – did speak more directly to societal needs. However, inquiry in these domains was largely conducted within a positivist paradigm, and thus subject to positivist restrictions and assumptions. For example, one might propose a theory of organizational leadership, and proceed to generate data to support the claims. Counter-claims might soon appear, accompanied by relevant statistics. Conflicts would then ensue regarding the methodological purity of the various findings, the clarity and coherence of the conceptual claims, and so on. More research, more conceptual

distinctions … and the route to application was occluded. Let us turn, then, to the relationship between a constructionist orientation to knowledge and its generative relationship to societal practices. We focus in particular on five animating forces.

Liberation from Authority Perhaps the chief incitement to innovation resulted from the constructionist challenge to authority. Whether it be philosophical foundations, rational structures, ethical principles, bodies of evidence, the demands of tradition, or divine inspiration, all claims to authority were thrust into question. An enormous literature began to emerge pointing out the socially constructed character of takenfor-granted realities, both in the natural and social sciences. One had reason to ask of any authoritative pronouncement, from whose standpoint, in what context, for what purposes, at what point in culture or time in history, and with what ideological political implications is this given? It wasn’t that such claims should thus be dismissed, as indeed all counter-claims were equally without foundations. And for many purposes, one might well wish to sustain existing traditions. However, the removal of any fundamental grounds of legitimacy provided an open door to innovation. If existing traditions of understanding are limiting, oppressive, or contrary to favored values, how else could one proceed? Could one create practices that would realize one’s valued goals? In the social sciences, a pervasive sense of ‘what if …?’ thus became evident. New forms of pedagogy began to emerge, often emphasizing dialogue and collaboration as opposed to mastering the words of authoritative texts. The ideological and political implications of traditional texts were also thrown into question, thus paving the way for more varied, inclusive, and individualized curricula. Perhaps the most radical outcomes of

Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice

asking ‘what if …?’ emerged in the domain of research methods. Because natural science research had become progressively identified with positivist foundationalism, there had been strong demands for the newly emerging social sciences to adopt positivist methodologies. Such methods were markers of scientific legitimacy. Thus, systematic measurement, statistical tests, and controlled experiments, for example, had become defining criteria of research. However, liberated from positivist foundationalism, imaginations were free to soar. Such wide-ranging creative efforts were often collected under the misleading but useful banner of ‘qualitative research’. One indicator of the magnitude of this growth was the success of Denzin and Lincoln’s pivotal volume, The handbook of qualitative research. The book was first published in 1994, but so energetic and innovative were the practices that were inspired, by 2018 the work had gone into its fifth edition. These adventures in the social sciences were echoed as well across many domains of social practice. In the mental health professions, for example, the authority of diagnostic labeling came under attack, along with the presumption of the therapist or psychiatrist as ‘the knower.’ Why, it was asked, were the understandings and values of the client or patient so frequently dismissed? As feminists added, the power structure of psychiatry leaves female clients in the position of depending on a male authority to know more about their mental lives than they themselves. Similarly, in healthcare, questions were raised about the way doctors were so often deaf to the values and experiences of their patients. In the organizational world, the shortcomings of top-down control became topics of intense discussion. The knowledge of top management could be narrow, and oblivious to the ideas, needs, and values within the organization and the surrounding culture. Such critique opened the way to developing a new range of more collaboratively based practices, the focus of later chapters in this Handbook.


Inclusion and the Energizing of Innovation While the constructionist dialogues are broadly liberating in their implications, they do not give rise to a ‘new truth’ to which everyone must subscribe. Acknowledged are the multiple perspectives, values, and ways of life created by the peoples of the world, and the rich potentials of sharing. The advantages of this inclusion for the development of professional practices cannot be overstated. There is first a farewell to the ingurgitating conflict among various schools, disciplines, guilds, and the like for ontological primacy. The longstanding conflicts within the world of psychotherapy are illustrative. Early psychoanalytic claims to ‘truth about the mind’ gave way to a succession of battles among schools – Jungian, Rogerian, Behaviorist, systemic, cognitive, and biomedical among them – for preeminent authority. Similar battles may be found in the fields of education, organizational management, counseling, and so on. Such battles have only been intensified by the demands for quantifiable evidence. From a constructionist perspective, however, schools of practice represent different forms of understanding, with different values, goals, and pragmatic potentials. The chief question then, is not which most accurately reflects the nature of the world, but when, where, how, and for whom might an orientation be useful. Here we replace a tradition of either/ or with an invitation to curiosity. For example, are there enclaves for whom classic psychoanalysis is perfectly suited, while others might benefit from positive regard, and still others from a reinforcement regimen? And does this not open the possibility that indigenous healing or spiritual traditions might be ‘just right’ for certain people at certain times? We move, then, from the establishment of self-contained and defensive enclaves of practice, to thriving in an ecology of possibilities (Anderson, 1997; McNamee and Gergen, 1992).



It is just such a context that also invites the crossing of traditional boundaries among disciplines and professions. When one’s concerns are primarily pragmatic, there is no single tradition of understanding or practice from which resources may be drawn. In opening a sea of possibilities so are the creative energies set in motion. In program evaluation, for example, one might think beyond traditional measurement practices, to include phenomenological reports, focus groups, and participant observation practices. Or, a practitioner concerned with conflict reduction, might build a new form of dialogue inspired by practices in organizational development, education, and collaborative action research. A therapist whose practice has traditionally relied on verbal exchange may find it inspiring to incorporate Buddhist meditational practices and role playing. In effect, with an open ear to the many voices of the world, a new wave of innovative practices is spawned.

Values in Action As outlined, in challenging the assumption of value-free knowledge, the constructionist dialogues thrust issues of human value back into the center of social science concern. Where positivist science had seen moral and political values as biasing research outcomes, scholars began to place values at the center of their efforts. Scholarly work could serve as a vehicle for social transformation. One of the most visible results was the emergence of curricula in critical studies – in education, psychology, economics, management studies, sociology, cultural theory, race theory, social work, and nursing among them. These were accompanied by relevant innovations in research methods, including critical discourse analysis, feminist methodology, critical text work, decolonized methodologies, and more. For some scholars, the chief goal of qualitative research is equated with social justice.

As this recognition of the values inherent in otherwise commonplace practices circulated among practitioners, a new source of innovation was unleashed. No longer, for example, were therapists content to embrace a therapeutic practice by virtue of its evidence base. Rather, they pressed on to develop new forms of therapy that might favor a more just, compassionate, or egalitarian society. Practices aimed at supporting and empowering women, minorities, and immigrants, are illustrative, along with practices that legitimated spiritual beliefs, and non-Western ontologies. Both narrative therapy (White and Epston, 1990), and social therapy (Holzman, 2014) indeed functioned as consciousness-raising practices, tracing individual ills to societal problems. In many schools, these ideological energies gave rise to new practices of inclusion, critical pedagogy, restorative justice, environmentalist curricula, and anti-bullying activities. For many businesses, a range of new initiatives began to emerge, variously invested in environmental sustainability, social equality, and the well-being of the laborers who served them. The Business as an Agent of World Benefit initiative is emblematic, in its efforts to support just such activities.

Regenerating Conceptual Tools The constructionist dialogues liberated both academics and practitioners from the demands of authority, invited appreciation of multiple traditions, and opened the way to cementing values to innovation. At the same time, however, the constructionist dialogues drew from across multiple intellectual traditions – philosophy, literary theory, political theory, rhetoric, symbolic anthropology, micro-sociology, and the history of science among them. Most all these sources were absent from mainstream social science itself. Thus, as constructionist dialogues spilled across the professions, so was a rich repository of new logics and concepts introduced.

Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice

The concept of narrative is illustrative. While largely a child of literary theory, the idea of narrative played an important role in constructionist dialogues. As outlined earlier, in representing the world in spoken and written language one must follow the conventions or rules of language itself. There are strong conventions for describing events across time. Informally, these are conventions for telling a good or plausible story; most relevant, the rules of narrative are pivotal to our constructions of the world. The logic of narrative construction has subsequently made its way across the worlds of practice. Narrative therapy (Freedman and Combs, 1996), narrative mediation (Monk and Winslade, 2013), and narrative medicine (Charon, 2006), are among the most obvious derivatives. Closely related, the concept of the storyteller has also made its way into practices of pain management, organizational leadership, educational pedagogy, and peace building. Yet, while the constructionist dialogues have unleashed energies of innovation in professional practice, the relationship between scholarship and practice is also synergistic. Innovations in practice have also fueled the fires of theory. As constructionist scholars have directed their attention increasingly to consequential action, often working sideby-side with societal change makers, new theorizing has been inspired. For example, in just this way one may justifiably understand developments in the theory of coordinated management of meaning (Pearce and Cronen, 1980; Wasserman and Fisher-Yoshida, 2017), dialogical self theory (Hermans and Kempen, 1993), positioning theory (Harré, and Moghaddam, 2003), relational theory (Gergen, 2009), performance and arts-based research theory (Gergen and Gergen, 2012; Leavy, 2019), actor-network theory (Latour, 2005), practice theory of leading (Raelin, 2016), process theory of organizations (Lawrence and Phillips, 2019), embodiment theory (Shotter, 2010) and feminist constructionist theory (M. Gergen, 2001). The same may be said for a plethora of powerful new concepts, such as the


discursive mind, radical presence, generative moments, relational responsibility, withness as opposed to aboutness, poetic activism, and phonetic capacity. Increasingly, however, this cross-fertilization between scholar and practitioner groups becomes an ever-blurring line. The term scholar practitioner does not specify the location of one’s occupation.

The Return of Optimism As outlined, the optimism that sparked the early development of the social sciences can be traced in part to the promise that scientific research could solve social problems. We have glimpsed some of the reasons that the sciences could not realize these promises. However, the logics of positivist science also came to inform the attempts of practicing professionals to bring about change. One of the central logics has proved deeply problematic for practitioners, namely the logic of causality. As most educated professionals could agree, an individual’s actions are neither random nor the result of voluntary whims but are determined by conditions – either environmental or hereditary. As proposed, our social institutions such as education, government, and business are similarly governed by causal conditions. Thus, as the logic goes, in order to bring about change, one must devise means of controlling or manipulating the causal conditions. Among the most visible illustrations of this orientation are Fordism in the world of work, the behaviorist movement in therapy, curriculum-centered education, the use of punishment to reduce crime, and the new public management practices of today. Yet, while the logic is compelling, the results have been largely disappointing. In large measure, the problem with a causal approach has stemmed from the resistance and/or cleverness of those whose actions are being ‘improved’ or ‘corrected’. In the attempt to change others, a distance is often placed between the change agent and the



‘object’ of change. The former may be seen as coercive, manipulative, calloused, and dehumanizing. Feelings of resentment, suspicion, and distrust may be set in motion, triggering the development of counter-strategies – resisting or punishing those in power, or attempting to profit from the situation. Work slow-down, resistance groups, whistleblowing, cheating on tests, selling one’s prescriptions, or colluding with the powerful to game the system, are all common. From a constructionist perspective, the concept of causality is a cultural construction, one form of explanation among others. Whether a change-making practice is based on such a logic is a matter of deliberation  – both pragmatic and ideological. Informed by this view, many practitioners have shifted their logic from causality to the co-construction of meaning (McNamee and Hosking, 2012). If together we co-construct and sustain our ways of life, it is reasoned, then this same process may be key to transformation. As many constructionists put it, if we change the conversation, we may change the future. This is indeed an optimistic vision, and has played a major role in the creation of dialogic practices for change – in organizations, therapy, peace building, education, medicine, and elsewhere. It is at the heart of movements such as the New OD (Marshak and Bushe, 2015), brief therapy (de Shazer, 1994), Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider and Whitney, 2005), and creativity by design (Lipmanowicz and McCandless, 2013).

CHALLENGES TO FULL FLOWERING We find ourselves, then, in a condition of considerable consequence. With an exhilarated sharing of ideas and practices across a wide range of professions and nations, a burst of innovative activity has followed. Can we anticipate a continuing cascade of contributions to human well-being? By bringing potential impediments into focus, we may be

prepared to subvert their functioning. Let us briefly consider four forms of obstruction.

The Stranglehold of Modernism Cultural traditions commonly resist change. And while this is not a critique of traditions themselves, it is often difficult for those within a tradition to reflect on its shortcomings. This is especially so when assumptions and values have been transformed into organizations, and the organizations are located in concrete structures, linked interdependently to other institutions, given a place in the economic process, and defended by law. Those sharing the tradition of positivist science occupy exactly this space. The tradition is linked to institutions of education, commerce, government, law, and more. As commonly put, positivist science is a central constituent of modernist culture. For many modernists, constructionist theory and practices are the harbingers of a relativistic chaos. Should we not anticipate that cultural modernism will soon enough snuff out the constructionist flames? This is not the context for discussing the erosion of cultural modernism, but it is useful to focus on one matter of more local consequence. The relationship between positivist (foundationalist, realist) and constructionist communities has traditionally been contentious. Critique and counter-critique have been accompanied by mutual dismissal, ridicule, and demonizing. In these exchanges, constructionists have often succumbed to this tradition of mutual annihilation, though it is not congenial with constructionism itself. There is nothing about a constructionist orientation in general that would eliminate positivist theory or practice. At play is simply the reality of another community of meaning-making, one that offers logics, values, and practices of rich potential in confronting the future. Thus, rather than caving to the romance of vanquishing the enemy, far better to make clear the benefits of expanding potentials. Mixed

Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice

methods researchers already partake of these benefits. Theirs is a message worth sharing across the divide.

The Foibles of Fixity Innovations in professional practice are typically embraced because they represent improvements; they solve a pressing problem, are more effective, expand potential, and so on. And so it is with most of the practices explored within the present volume. However, when a new and desirable practice is found worthy, there is an accompanying tendency to lock it in place. This may be realized through extensive accounts in books and journals, and through operating principles, codifications, procedural rules, graphic summaries, and so on. One may see this tendency as only natural: ‘if a practice works, let’s make sure we can repeat it’. The modernist worldview just discussed adds further weight: ‘If we can standardize it, we can install it in multiple locations, with a correspondingly high yield.’ Yet, this same penchant for a fixed procedure presents a danger to continuing innovation. On the most obvious level, and spurred by the neoliberal emphasis on economic gain, there are pervasive moves to monetize the practice. ‘How can we use the practice to make money?’ For practitioners, steps in this direction often include trademarking, developing training programs, and certification. There are several unfortunate results. The use of the practice becomes limited to only those who can afford the certified training. And, because they in turn will charge those who wish to make use of their services, the practice will ultimately be limited to the economically advantaged. In the service of expanding profits and/or control, the practice ceases to be transformative. There is a more subtle problem at play in systematizing a successful practice, one that may be termed repetition regression. In general, any action – verbal or otherwise – shifts


in significance as it is repeated. In the same way, any practice that is brimming with success when it is first employed, faces the problem of waning efficacy over time. The reasons are several. When a practice becomes a ritual it often loses excitement. Over time, boredom is invited. The first time one experiences an Appreciative Inquiry practice, for example, may be riveting. The tenth time, one may even feel resistant. Further, in many contexts the importance of a practitioner’s words depends on their authenticity, that is, whether the expressions are specifically relevant to the unique individual or conditions at hand. When a teacher praises a student, for example, or a therapist expresses regard for a client, much depends on whether the praise or regard are seen as programmed – what the teacher or therapist always says – as opposed to being specific to the individual or situation in question. Finally, when a practice becomes formalized, it also becomes open to instrumentalization. It becomes a tactical tool for changing others, and thus subject to the same pitfalls discussed above regarding the presumption of causality. It is essential, then, to avoid memorializing favored practices, and to embrace the possibilities of hybridization and continuous reforming.

The Enchantment of Righteousness Working within a constructionist framework, most practitioners are keenly aware of the values that are realized in their efforts. Practices may be intended, for example, to support those in need, achieve social justice, create social solidarity, achieve peace, and so on. As proposed above, it is just such values that have motivated the development of new practices. However, the satisfaction derived from such efforts also carries dangers. The sense of ‘doing good’ can suppress critical reflection on one’s efforts. Alternative points of view and practices may be dismissed or



demonized. The general antipathy among many constructionists to strategic, mechanistic, individualist, materialist, structural, or hierarchical practices is illustrative. Further, the unreflective championing of one’s ‘good’ practices may blind one to their ‘bad’ consequences. Supporting those in need may sustain the very systems responsible for their condition; the empowering of a group may lead to the dis-empowering of another group; alternatives to diagnostic categories threaten the well-being of those reassured by such categories; and so on. Unless we sustain a posture of humility in our valued endeavors, we risk becoming yet another encampment in the battles for moral superiority.

Absence of the Agora As we have seen, constructionist ideas and practices have emerged in widely disparate professions around the world. Further, there are numerous communities – both professional and informal – in which practices congenial with constructionist ideas are continuing to emerge. Yet, communication between and among these many cousins is effortful. Books and journals are significant vehicles for information transfer, but their costs are often prohibitive, they lack broad visibility, they require translation, and the writing is often technical and opaque. The result is essentially a general state of mutual ignorance both within and across the domains of theory and practice, and across cultures. Metaphorically there is little that functions as an agora or public space for sharing and discussing developments. As constructionists emphasize, it is just such dialogues that kindle curiosity and enthusiasm, build confidence, spark innovation, and generate thoughtful reflection. The present volume is a contribution to building this public space, and while broadly representative, the chief site of dialogue may be between readers and the authors. There are increasing numbers of conferences built

around constructionist-friendly practices – in education, therapy and healthcare for example. Likewise, there are many websites that gather and feature relevant practices from broad sectors. And the Taos Institute has long attempted to bring together scholars and practitioners from around the world to share their work and inspire further growth. However, sustaining and developing the impetus to innovation will importantly depend on generating more plentiful sites for trans-disciplinary and trans-cultural dialogue. Most efficient and least environmentally harmful may be the offerings of the ever-expanding vistas of web-based communication.

CONSTRUCTIONIST PRACTICES: THE VITAL CHALLENGE While there are obstacles to the continued flourishing of relevant practices, there are profound reasons for energetically pressing ahead. We confront a world in which the world’s peoples are both closer together and further apart than ever before. Not only are there more people moving across the globe than at any point in history, but technology enables instantaneous communication among people at virtually any location. These same technologies, however, enable the convictions of any group to be sustained and intensified through continuous interchange. The relations among peoples thus degenerate; callousness, defensiveness, exploitation, and aggression are commonplace. We find ourselves, then, immersed in a drift toward mutual annihilation. It is in just such conditions that the kinds of ideas and practices represented in this Handbook are most vitally needed. The constructionist dialogues themselves invite a humility with respect to one’s own convictions, as they remind us that our beliefs and values have no foundations other than those which we create together. Invited as well is a curiosity about others’ beliefs and ways of

Constructionist Theory and the Blossoming of Practice

life, as these will contain insights and possibilities that may enrich the human venture. And, as we have seen, constructionist theory invites a posture of creativity, emphasizing our potentials for co-creating new and more inclusive ways of life. The practices shared within this Handbook provide both a direction toward a more promising future, and the confidence that it can be achieved.

Note 1  Although the term ‘constructivism’ has early roots in a theory of mind, it is now widely used synonymously with the more socially oriented emphasis of ‘social constructionism’.

REFERENCES Arbib, M. A., and Hesse, M. B. (1986). The construction of reality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Anderson, H. (1997). Conversation, language, and possibilities: A postmodern approach to therapy. New York: Basic Books. Burr, V. (2004). Social constructionism. London: Routledge. Charon, R. (2006). Narrative medicine: Honoring the stories of illness. New York: Oxford University Press. Cooperrider, D. L., and Whitney, D. (2005). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative Inquiry. San Francisco: Berrett-Koehler. Daston, L. J., and Galison, P. (2010). Objectivity. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press. Denzin, N., and Lincoln, Y. (Eds.) (2018). The handbook of qualitative research, 5th edition (orig. published 1994). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Derrida, J. (1976). Of grammatology. Baltimore, MD: Johns Hopkins University Press. de Shazer, S. (1994). Words once were magic. New York: Routledge. Feyerabend, P. (1975). Against method. London: Verso Books. Foucault, M. (1979). Discipline and punish. New York: Vintage.


Foucault, M. (1980). Power/knowledge: Selected interviews and other writings. New York: Pantheon Books. Freedman, J., and Combs, G. (1996). Narrative therapy: The social construction of preferred realities. New York: Norton. Gergen, K. J. (1994). Realities and relationships: Soundings in social construction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gergen, K. J. (2009). Relational being: Beyond self and community. New York: Oxford University Press. Gergen, K. J. (2015). An invitation to social construction, 3rd edition (orig. published 1999). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Gergen, M. (2001). Feminist reconstructions in psychology: Narrative, gender, and performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Gergen, M., and Gergen, K. J. (2012). Playing with purpose: Adventures in performative social science. New York: Routledge. Hacking, I. (1999). The social construction of what? Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Harré, R., and Moghaddam, F. M. (2003). The self and others: Positioning individuals and groups in personal, political, and cultural contexts. New York: Praeger. Hermans, H. J. M., and Kempen, H. J. G. (1993). The dialogical self. New York: Academic Press. Hjelm, T. (2014). Social constructionisms: Approaches to the study of the human world. London: Palgrave. Holzman, L. (2014). Practicing method: Social therapy as practical-critical psychology. Psychotherapy and Politics International, 12(3). Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The structure of scientific revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the social: An introduction to actor-network-theory. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Latour, B., and Woolgar, S. (1979). Laboratory life: The social construction of scientific facts. London: Sage. Lawrence, T. B., and Phillips, N. (2019). Constructing organizational life: How socialsymbolic work shapes selves, organizations, and institutions. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press.



Leavy, P. (Ed.) (2019). Handbook of arts-based research. New York: Guilford. Lipmanowicz, H., and McCandless, K. (2013). The surprising power of liberating structures: Simple rules to unleash a culture of innovation. Seattle: Liberating Structures Press. Lock, A., and Strong, T. (Eds.) (2010). Social constructionism: Sources and stirrings in theory and practice. New York: Cambridge University Press. Marshak, R. J., and Bushe, G. R. (2015). Dialogic organizational development: The theory and practice of transformational change. Oakland, CA: Berrett-Koehler. McNamee, S., and Gergen, K. J. (Eds.) (1992). Therapy as social construction. London: Sage. McNamee, S., and Gergen, K. J. (1999). Relational responsibility: Resources for sustainable dialogue. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. McNamee, S., and Hosking, D. M. (2012). Research and social change: A relational constructionist approach. New York: Routledge. Monk, G., and Winslade, J. (2013). When stories clash: Addressing conflict with narrative mediation. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute Publications.

Pearce, B., and Cronen, V. (1980). Communication, action, and meaning: The creation of social realities. New York: Praeger. Potter, J. (1996). Representing reality. London: Sage. Raelin, J. A. (Ed.) (2016). Leadership as practice: Theory and application. New York: Routledge. Rasera, E. (2015). Social constructionist perspective on group work. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute Publications. Shapin, S. (1995). A social history of truth: Civility and science in seventeenth-century England. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Wasserman, I., and Fisher-Yoshida, B. (2017). Communicating possibilities: A brief introduction to the Coordinated Management of Meaning (CMM). Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute Press. Weinberg, D. (2014). Contemporary social constructionism: Key themes. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. White, M., and Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York: Norton. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations (G. Anscombe, Trans.). New York: Macmillan.


Research Practices

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2 Practices of Inquiry: Invitation to Innovation Mary M. Gergen

With the emergence of the social sciences in the early twentieth century, debates on the nature of research were active and ubiquitous. However, somewhere toward the mid-twentieth century, such controversy was largely replaced by convergence. More specifically, for many social scientists there was much to be gained by embracing what appeared to be philosophic foundations for a unified science. By identifying themselves with the assumptions of logical positivist philosophy, the social sciences would be placed on an equal footing with such widely respected sciences as physics, chemistry, and biology. At the same time, in the process of embracing a positivist conception of research, there was a radical reduction in what counted as an acceptable research practice. As the disciplines of science took shape, so did the disciplining of research methods. Then, with the emergence of social constructionist dialogues in the late twentieth century, a sea-change took place. These dialogues offered a major alternative to positivist foundationalism. In many respects,

constructionist ideas proposed a dramatic liberation from methodological dogma. The strangulating grip of what had become a ‘methodolatry’ was released. Given this liberation, what may now be said about the nature of research practice? To what have the constructionist dialogues given birth? The contributions to the present section begin to answer this question. To appreciate the issues at stake, it will be useful first to briefly scan the historical background for the present undertakings. We may then consider some general outcomes, along with more specific implications for constructionist researchers themselves. Finally, we turn to the particular features of the contributions to this section.

BEYOND THE POSITIVIST PARADIGM As outlined in the opening chapter of this volume, the constructionist dialogues have



undermined the positivist conception of scientific knowledge on which this view of research practice is based. For constructionists, scientific descriptions are not mirrors or maps of the world as it is. Rather, the act of research has its roots in a social process in which ontological assumptions, logics, and values are negotiated. Research places these assumptions into practice. Thus, differing groups of scientists may develop different paradigms of understanding and practice that guide their research and what may plausibly be said about the world. Groups of scientists working within different paradigms may pursue different ends, with different values, different research practices, facing different worlds of understanding. Positivist researchers in the social sciences often criticize all research that is not positivist for its failing to follow their notion of what the standards of proper science are. ‘Not everything goes’, as it is said. To be sure, not everything can go within the limits of a given paradigm. However, we must not forget the paradigmatic limits of the positivist construction of science itself. For constructionists, when we expand our orientations to research, we also enrich the potentials for action in the world.

PRACTICES OF RESEARCH: CREATIVITY AND CONVERGENCE Constructionist ideas of scientific research have moved across the sciences, releasing a vast source of creative energy. Excitement abounds, as the boundaries of what is possible continue to expand. New conceptions of research are invited, open to a wide spectrum of aims and values. The margins between the disciplines are blurred. Most important for present purposes, there is no principled end to what may be fashioned as a practice of research. Perhaps the most visible result of this dawning of consciousness

is represented in the appearance of new journals and handbooks of research methods and practices. In the case of journals, we wish to mention the Berlin-based FQS – Forum Qualitative Sozialforschung/Forum: Qualitative Social Research, as well as Qualitative Psychology, Qualitative Inquiry, International Journal of Qualitative Inquiry, The Qualitative Report, Qualitative Research in Psychology, and the International Journal of Social Research Methodology, among others. As for handbooks, many have been recently published, including the Handbook of Arts-Based Research, Handbook of Feminist Research, Handbook of Discourse Analysis, The Routledge Handbook of Critical Discourse Studies, The Sage Handbook of Social Research Methods, and the Handbook of Constructionist Research. However, the signal accomplishment is no doubt the Sage Handbook of Qualitative Research (Denzin and Lincoln, 1994, 2000, 2005, 2011) and now in its fifth edition (2018). Turning to the present Handbook, the contributors to this section have been especially engaged in constructionist dialogues. However, they are but a small sampling of a vast number of such researchers. They represent innovations in six different countries: Brazil, England, Norway, Mexico, Canada, and the United States. And, while each chapter was written in isolation from the others, one can begin to realize the emergence of certain commonalities. The fourteen authors who developed these practices diverge in the way they describe, illustrate and write up their research topics, but their specific background in social constructionist theory seems to favor a certain range of ideals in research practice. The most powerful shift from a positivist to a constructionist perspective is represented in the way these researchers challenge the trope that research must be unbiased, value neutral, and independent of the interests of the researcher. Also of significance, these researchers often place the interests

Practices of Inquiry: Invitation to Innovation

and outcomes of the research participants in a place of importance for doing the research. The rationale for doing research thus shifts away from a hypotheses-testing model that builds toward establishing a general theory to one that is more specifically related to the special circumstances and motives of the research participants. Accumulating empirical facts, substantiated by statistical analysis, is replaced with a concern for the interests of the participants and others who may be affected by the research. Issues of social justice, social change, power dynamics, and well-being are pervasive. As advocated by Bodiford and Camargo-Borgas (2014), research from a social constructionist position should be relationally sensitive, useful and generative, organic and dynamic, and engaging in complexity and multiplicity. In much the same vein, the researchers often see the relationship of the researcher to the participants as one of collaboration. Participants are often regarded as coresearchers. Research is done with, not about, or on others. The emphasis on ‘withness’, as John Shotter (2010) called it, sets this orientation to constructionist research practices apart from usual empirical research. Helen Kara’s (2015) book, Creative Research Methods in the Social Sciences: A Practical Guide provides further examples of similarly oriented research. To summarize the significant characteristics of research practice favored by social constructionist researchers in this Handbook: 1 The research practice is value-invested. Researchers are not only conscious of the values implied or favored by a given practice of inquiry but engage in research for the very purpose of fulfilling a vision of a better world. This means, for example, that they are conscious of how a research practice constructs the research participants, themselves, and the world. As well, they may be sensitive to indigenous viewpoints, which may diverge from their own, differential power relations among diverse groups, and ethical concerns that are absent from those accepted


in Western scientific communities (Romm, 2018). In all cases, the hope is that the research practice will contribute to enhanced ways of relating among various groups. 2 The research is dedicated to social change. Consistent with the last point, the research practices are designed to affect change. The point of research is not to collect, archive, add to or challenge existing theoretical views so much as to improve on existing social conditions. Constructionist informed research may be useful in formulating new modes of relating among social groups. In this sense, the practice is ‘future-forming’ (Gergen, 2015). Through the research itself, new potentials for future practices are demonstrated. 3 The practice is collaborative. Coherent with the two preceding features, researchers frequently develop practices in which relevant members of society collaborate. The major drivers of a research project may be participants who desire some major change in their life circumstances or the culture at large. Participatory action research is a classic example, but the more general attempt is to work with others who are relevant to the research topic, as opposed to observing and reporting on them. 4 The orientation is pragmatic. The contributors do not select a fixed or given method to guide their research. Rather, their primary concern is with achieving a value-based end, and the particular research practice is chosen or created as a means to this end. Existing practices may be combined in various fashions, or entirely new practices may be created. Most fascinating here are movements toward performative or arts-based inquiry, in which researchers may draw from theatrical, literary, artistic, and musical traditions to enrich research practices, from conception to presentation. Consistent with the previous points, if research is dedicated to social change, it is important that its significance is communicated with sophistication and power to the public at large (Leavy, 2019).

As is clear, the emergence of such an orientation to research radically expands the scope and relevance of social science research, with important implications for practices of education, medicine, organization development, governance, and law among them.



THE PRESENT CONTRIBUTIONS In the context of these broad convergences, it is useful to consider the specific contributions to this section:

Research as Innovation: An Invitation to Creative and Imaginative Inquiry Processes In this chapter by Celiane Camargo-Borges and Sheila McNamee, the metaphor of research as innovation is explored. The authors examine the role of creativity and imagination in the process of inquiry. Researchers move away from the logic of either/or and navigate toward a spectrum of opportunities, not thinking in oppositions or polarities, but embracing ambiguity, uncertainty, possibility, and multiplicity. As a consequence of acknowledging research as a process of social transformation, the results of research move the researcher and participants toward an unfolding and newly constructed future. The authors offer illustrations of research approaches/practices that invite innovation by embracing relationality and participation. They focus on practices that have gained broad acceptance over the past few decades: Imagineering, Arts-Based research, and Appreciative Inquiry.

Collaborative Action Research: Co-Constructing Social Change for the Common Good In this chapter, by Ottar Ness and Dina von Heimburg, the concept of Collaborative Action Research (CAR) is explored as an approach for addressing complex societal problems. The return to the interest of ‘the common good’ can be understood as a rebuttal to the individualist, neoliberalist approaches dominating contemporary societal research. Ness and von Heimburg argue

that forms of collaborative research must be created in order to make participation in societal change processes easy, intuitive, and natural for ordinary citizens. Collaborative action research places meaning-making processes at the center of attention. When working with social change and social justice, one also needs to co-construct knowledge about how co-researchers live their everyday lives. What resources are available in the everyday life of the community such that, with the coresearchers, they can meet their social change goals in a sustainable way?

Action Research and Social Constructionism: Community of Inquiry/Practice One of the most well-known forms of research within the social constructionist realm is action research. Author Hilary Bradbury has been a leading light in this movement for many years (Reason and Bradbury, 2008). She argues, within this chapter, in favor of describing action research as ART; that is, action research for transformation. The major feature of action research is its dedication to the demands of those with whom one is doing the research. The special talents and training of the researchers from outside the system are engaged in order to facilitate the activities of those who are within it. The preliminary stage of the research involves clarifying the purpose of the project in order to streamline its efficacy and avoid unnecessary pitfalls. Project participants must reflect on what their roles might be and how they might facilitate the project’s development. They must be committed to a process that will evolve over time, given various contingencies, including the preferences of the community members with which they work. The talents and viewpoints of all the members must be blended together, to maximize the power of the overall group. Action Research should also be full of good cheer and interpersonal enjoyment. It should

Practices of Inquiry: Invitation to Innovation

be a source of joy and relational robustness for all the contributors.

Research as Performative Inquiry Mary Gergen, who authored this chapter, has been one of the originators of performative inquiry in the social sciences. Performative inquiry, also called arts-based research, is unique among these researchoriented chapters in that the cardinal characteristic is its emphasis on arts-based forms of expression and implementation. Among the attributes of performative inquiry are its capacities to blend various forms of art together with traditional scholarly discourse, to address social concerns more directly than traditional scientific research, and to be more accessible to various public audiences than professional scientific writing. From a performative point of view, while making declarations about the real and the good, performance work simultaneously removes the gloss ‘is True’. Performative pursuits continuously remind us that everything remains open to questioning and dialogue. Performative studies encourage creativity, novelty, and radical revisions of the ‘real’.

We Are All Researchers Authors Dan Wulff and Sally St. George use their own lives as templates for understanding the major theme of this chapter, which is that doing research as a professional and making decisions about everyday life are synonymous. What people do is largely based on what they believe is possible and available. This everyday process mirrors a scientific process as well. The authors’ work focuses on what is in practice rather than trying to impact or influence practice from a position outside. The aim is to go forward, not necessarily to fix or to remedy. This is a significant re-imagining for practitioners  – the focus


shifts from producing change in the client, customer, or community to joining with efforts to take next steps in a preferred direction. It is an endeavor that is not formalized, specified, or described as action research. One might say that ‘action research’ is a formalized and deliberate term for what all people engage in during the course of their everyday lives in making their decisions, big and small. For the authors, this pragmatic approach is utilized in their teaching, clinical work, and program of research. Importantly, inquiry fits into what the practitioner is already doing, rather than being an extra task over and above the daily work. Six initiatives/activities encompass both what they consider practice and what they consider research: attending to curiosities, speculating, enlisting partners, gathering information, making sense, and reflecting-in-action.

To Know and Not to Know: Dialogic Social Inquiry This chapter is the result of the collaboration of authors Rocio Chaveste and M. L. Papusa Molina with former students, Christian Lizama, Cynthia Sosa, and Carolina Torres. Its structure is developed around the act of writing a thesis from a Dialogic Social Inquiry approach, developed at the Kanankil Institute in Merida, Mexico. It is a very helpful description of how research is actually done, as an ongoing activity among a group of students. The students enact ‘Design research,’ based on four principles: (1) research as relational and collaborative; (2) research as useful and generative; (3) research as organic and dynamic; and (4) research as engaged in complexity and multiplicity (as defined in Chapter 3). The approach involves constructing the research question(s); inviting co-researchers; focusing on ethical issues, including maintaining respect and curiosity for the diverse



and complex moral orders practices by those with whom one works; enacting forms of inquiry that depend upon dialogue with other people; and, engaging together with the researcher on a particular topic. The manner in which the research takes place is decided through an emerging process, involving ongoing, reiterative processes with others who are not primarily responsible for the project.

Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry Transmaterial worlding, the title of this chapter written by Gail Simon and Leah Salter, is an unfamiliar phrase to most English speakers. For these authors, the concept of transmaterial alerts the researcher to the significance of the material world in social life. Worlding is a new word that refers to the creation of the world through symbolic means, often stories. Transmaterial worlding describes researcher activity as storying a diverse material world. It is a way to attend to the human condition and the vitality of matter, to the interconnectedness between humans and non-humans, to life beyond species and life beyond what appears as death. Transmaterial worlding is here referred to as a method of inquiry that has an important role to play in showing how language works in and between human and non-human relationships to maintain or disrupt practices of power. We re-position ourselves from inhabiting or co-habiting the world to coinhabiting the world. ‘Worlding’ describes the constant process of intra-becoming within and between species and matter. As an approach to inquiry, this includes not only observing, but also challenging, perturbing, disrupting, and transforming. There is no stasis, only movement. Deconstructing the relations in dominant discourses enables us to see how and why some voices (human or non-human) succeed in their stories being promoted and

popularized in some contexts over others. This has the potential to render visible the context and connection between everyday activities and their local and global contexts. Research then becomes an opportunity to understand and disrupt power relations in order to challenge and reduce injustice.

Researching Socio-Material Practices: Inquiries into the Human/Non-Human Interweave This chapter, written by Tanya Mudry and Tom Strong, echoes the philosophical viewpoint of the previous chapter. The authors focus on researching socio-material ­practices – those that conjoin humans with material elements of their situations. Their aim is to show ways to ‘zoom in’ in order to research specific socio-material practices as concurrent doings, sayings, and relatings, while also ‘zooming out’ to research bigger picture influences sustaining socio-material practices. Socio-material practices exemplify how humans routinely interact with material phenomena to reproduce experiences and relations, and effectively meld with these phenomena. Practices acquire their ‘second nature’ through becoming conjoined in networks and assemblages and then persist because they have a kind of life support system that extends beyond the person caught up in sustaining them. To illustrate, systemic therapy seeking to change unwanted family practices tends to be in competition with other practices engaging the family beyond the consulting room. Thus, a focus on a specific practice in order to create change may seem like bucking the tide when the practice is part of a greater network or assemblage of practices. An important difference relates to the focus of the chapter, which is on integrating the details of a therapy case involving gambling. It is an important narrative in that it allows the significance of the human/ non-human interweave to be explored.

Practices of Inquiry: Invitation to Innovation

REFERENCES Bodiford, K., and Camargo-Borgas, C. (2014). Bridging research and practice. A.I. Practitioner, August, 16, 3. Denzin, N., and Lincoln, Y. (1994, 2000, 2005, 2011, 2018). The Sage handbook of qualitative research (editions 1–5). London, Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Gergen, K. J. (2015). From mirroring to worldmaking: Research as future forming. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45, 287–310. Kara, H. (2015). Creative research methods in the social sciences: A practical guide. Bristol, UK: Polity Press.


Leavy, P. (Ed.) (2019). Handbook of arts-based research. New York: Guilford. Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (Eds.) (2008). Sage handbook of action research: Participative inquiry and practice (2nd ed.) London: Sage. Romm, N. R. A. (2018). Responsible research practice: Revisiting transformative paradigm in social research. Cham, Switzerland: Springer. Shotter, J. (2010). Social construction on the edge: ‘Withness’ thinking & embodiment. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute Publications.

3 Research as Innovation: An Invitation to Creative and Imaginative Inquiry Processes Celiane Camargo-Borges and Sheila McNamee

Much has been written in the past few decades questioning whether or not the scientific research tradition is the best one for exploring and understanding the social world (Law, 2004; Parker, 2005; McNamee and Hosking, 2012). Particularly today, in our technological, globalized, and interconnected world, the ability of traditional research methods to address complex matters is called into question (Camargo-Borges, 2018a; Hilary, 2000; Karakas, 2009; Nowotny et al., 2008). This questioning is not focused on whether or not the scientific research tradition is right or wrong; the question is whether this research tradition is the only legitimate form of research. In 1973, Kenneth Gergen argued that social psychological research actually presented an historical description of the social world, not a predictive one as claimed by social scientists (Gergen, 1973). In the same decade, Latour and Woolgar (1979) showed us how scientists actually construct, through the research process, what come to be considered

facts. And in 2014, Gergen illustrated that, rather than mirroring what is actually going on in the social world (an assumption made about the research process), research actually serves to form the (unknown) future, uniting his earlier argument that research is historical with Latour and Woolgar’s acknowledgment that research is about creating possibilities. In other words, our research endeavors are less an exploration of ‘what is’ and more an opening to ‘what might be’. Relational approaches that explore the creation of new understandings about the social world, such as social construction, argue that research practices should be intertwined with context, culture, and local histories (McNamee and Hosking, 2012; Gergen et al., 2015). In this way, research can be seen as a process of innovation, embracing contemporary challenges and creating potential futures. Innovating in research is the act of conducting research that might point us (and the communities we examine) in a generative and useful direction.


In this chapter, we will explore the metaphor of research as innovation and examine the role of creativity and imagination in the process of inquiry. Here, we use the term creativity in the sense that the focus of our research is on collaborating with people, communities, and institutions to examine together how the complexity and multiplicity within which we live can be embraced. In creative inquiry, the researcher moves away from the logic of either/or1 and navigates toward the spectrum of opportunities, not thinking in oppositions or polarities, but embracing ambiguity, uncertainty, possibility (Montuori, 2006), and multiplicity. We use the term imaginative in the sense that we support modes of research that seek to envision and explore ideas, meanings and scenarios that have previously remained unspoken or minimized. Instead of asking the very same questions validated by previous research protocols and instruments, imaginative inquiry is more interested in developing new questions that will offer new intelligibilities – new ways of understanding our social worlds – thereby forming new futures. Imagination adopts a fluid and less fixed view of meaning, encouraging ingenuity, spontaneity, and novelty. To that end, imagination can be seen as the ability to produce and simulate novelty in practice. Thus, like Janowski and Ingold (2012) who see imagination as not exclusively a cognitive process, we propose that imagination is linked to place and body. Imagination also involves setting up relationships with materials and people. This suggests that, in our research efforts, we cease asking questions concerning the best way to achieve some specific outcome and instead ask questions concerning how we might coordinate together and construct new, useful possibilities. In this sense, research serves as an intervention – a process of transformation (McNamee, 1988). To acknowledge any research process as a form of social intervention/transformation, is to accept that, in defining the research process, selecting the participants, and framing the questions, we


are already setting the stage for reflections, dialogue, and opportunities for new configurations in the system. We are not (as is often presumed in more traditional understandings of research) simply promoting knowledge about a system – knowledge that has presumably been ‘discovered’ due to the researcher’s formulation of the right questions, examination of the right phenomena, and use of the proper tools of analysis. As a consequence of acknowledging research as a process of social transformation, the results of research are already moving researcher and participants toward an unfolding and newly constructed future. We call this process research as innovation. As a consequence, we also stop seeking the best method for collecting data. Instead, we examine what sort of methods, resources and practices we can embrace as researchers who acknowledge what is, to us, the most important aspect of examining the social world – finding ways to go on together (Wittgenstein, 1953). That means the focus is on the participants, the process and the context. In other words, research is always situated and, depending on these situational features (e.g., participants, processes, and context), different methods are likely to be considered useful in different moments. If our attempt is to be innovative – to create new possible ways of making sense of the social world and to create the possibility for new ways of acting – we must remain fluid in our approach to research and sensitive to local, cultural, and contextual features of a given inquiry process. We begin here by providing a brief overview of some of the main distinctions between the scientific research tradition and research as a process of social construction. Our attempt, as stated previously, is simply to make visible the taken-for-granted and broadly unquestioned understanding of research so that we might open the possibility for a plurality of approaches. We then move on to discuss social construction and research as innovation. We will close with some illustrations of research approaches that



fit squarely within the constructionist attempt to focus on relationality, participation, collaboration and the creation of potential and possibility.

THE RESEARCH TRADITION AND CONSTRUCTIONIST ASSUMPTIONS The dominant research tradition has emerged within a modernist worldview (McNamee, 2010). Modernism assumes that, with the proper methods, tools and techniques, we will be able to discover reality, as well as describe it, as it really is. Of course, part and parcel of this assumption is the belief that there is a reality to be discovered. Constructionist thinking, on the other hand, challenges the notion that there is one reality to be discovered. In fact, research within a constructionist frame challenges the very idea of discovery, itself (McNamee and Hosking, 2012; Gergen, 2014). Rather than discover reality, the assumption is that we create reality in our interaction with our topic of research, with the framing of our research objectives and questions and, consequently, with the questions we ask our participants and the observations we make in the environment researched. All research is a by-product of a researcher’s interactions within not only the site of research but also his/her interactions within his/her community of scholars and practitioners. Let us embrace the understanding that there is no reality waiting to be discovered and there is no possibility of a neutral and objective researcher who – with the right tools and methods – will discover how things really are. Let us also invite the radical position that research is an opportunity for innovation and that innovation is embraced by adopting the ideas of multiple truths, multiple realities, and multiple methods for exploring those constructed realities. If we embrace these proposals, we become curious about what sorts of worlds can be made possible through

particular forms of research. Our focus is on relational processes that construct our worlds and this is understood as something very different from a focus on discovering how the world (really) is and (really) functions. The focus on relational processes is the hallmark of a constructionist orientation (Gergen, 2009). This focus represents a shift from examining entities (whether they be individuals, groups, organizations, or physical matter) to attending to what we refer to as language or language processes. Language, to the constructionist, is much more than words or text; it entails all embodied activity. In addition, language is viewed as not simply representing reality. Rather, language is seen as constructing reality. What we do together actually makes our social worlds. Meaning emerges in the interplay of people engaging with each other. And, different communities, groups, and cultures can rightfully negotiate very different meanings and thus live in very different realities. This acknowledgment of diverse meanings, collaboratively negotiated within different communities, is an acknowledgment of the complexity of the world we inhabit. Through innovative research, we can better understand how such realities are created. We can also collaborate with communities who are dissatisfied with their constructed social order to create new possibilities. This understanding invites a deconstruction of our accepted, dominant view of research. In other words, it suggests that we ask: How else might we imagine research? How do we conceptualize what research is when we start from the position of seeing research – like any other interaction – as a collaboratively constructed process? The questions we ask focus our attention on the implications – or unintended consequences – of our communally constructed worlds. And, it is this attention to what our meanings make possible (or impossible) that is critical for constructionist researchers. The attention is not on proving anything to be right or wrong, but on exploring the implications of stepping into and embracing any particular


truth. A researcher’s curiosity about the very different worlds/realities/truths of different communities makes it possible to see the ‘local coherence’ for each group. Thus, as we can see, the philosophical stance of social construction helps us shift our thinking from a view of research as a process of discovery to a view of research as a process of innovation. It offers an appealing new story about what counts as research and how to engage multiple voices, methods, and priorities in ways that are creative and innovative.

RESEARCH AS INNOVATION There is an extensive literature illustrating innovation in research. Yet, most of this literature focuses on ‘research in innovation’, ‘research and innovation’, or ‘research for innovation’ (Audretsch et al., 2019; Hjalager, 2010; Mazzucato, 2018; Ray and Street, 2005; Stilgoe et al., 2013). Less common is the sense of research as innovation, which is what we are proposing here. Innovation is a way of describing research as creating possibilities, or, as Callon (1987) proposes, innovation is ‘society in the making’. This requires a level of sensing and presence from the researcher; a quality of attention to what is happening moment by moment in order to see what was unseen before. Creativity and imagination are core in research; they allow researchers to tap into the unknown. This differs from traditional forms of research where we often see researchers employing the same categories, instruments, and research questions that predecessors have employed. In other words, innovation is the generation of new meanings through critical examination of our assumptions about the phenomena (Mars, 2013) and what counts as data, what counts as analysis of that data, and the unfolding implications of our research (Alvesson and Sandberg, 2012).


Research as innovation centers on an intrinsic collaborative process among researchers and research participants in which information, observations, and other ‘data’ are shared, taking into consideration various vantage points, combining different perspectives and voices, inviting reorganization, reframing, and including alternative contexualizations as the research process unfolds. The expansion and generation of new meanings (traditionally identified as findings) is a process of innovation in the sense that opportunities for engagement with the topic and possibilities for change are amplified. The ‘intervention’ or transformation, from this perspective, occurs when multiple understandings invite a community to begin to question their takenfor-granted ways of being.

Research Practices that Invite Innovation In the remainder of this chapter, we offer some illustrations of research approaches/ practices that invite innovation by embracing relationality and participation, thereby enhancing creativity and imagination in research processes as well as the results of our research. Of course, the range of available practices is limitless. Here, we focus on some practices that have been gaining broader acceptance over the past few decades: Imagineering, arts-based research, and appreciative inquiry.

Imagineering Imagineering is a design methodology inspired by complexity theory and systems thinking (Nijs, 2019). It focuses on the principles and processes of living systems, where concern is with self-organizing life forms and the ways in which they interact with their environment (Banathy, 1996). Thus, emergence, interdependence and non-linear, open relations become central (Corning, 2012; Cross, 2006). The Imagineering design methodology follows these principles, looking at



organization and society from a more complex, interconnected and non-linear perspective. It also focuses on generating high concepts, which are concepts borrowed from the movie industry. Here, producers create a short, easy to communicate narrative, linking the story with an appealing invitation that aims to foster the collective creativity of the audience when engaging with a certain leisure activity. The Imagineering design approach borrows this idea of creating a generative image or a powerful word with the goal of provoking a creative tension that results in reframing meanings and bringing forth a new perspective about a topic or a system. That can be called a Creative Tension Engine. Creative tension is defined by Senge et al. (2015) as the bridge between the actual reality and the future that is to be created. Thus, the high concept, or also called Creative Tension Engine, focuses on designing generative images that provoke a creative tension where new meanings can emerge and new realities can be created. The Imagineering approach to research is focused on promoting emergence more than theoretical knowledge, itself. Emergence refers to a process or a phenomenon in which new patterns are formed as a result of local interactions, thereby forming new realities (Lichtenstein, 2014). In the context of Imagineering, Nijs (2019) refers to ‘emergence by design’. The focus is on interactive approaches where the dialogue among participants initiates emergent processes that facilitate self-organization in a system, thereby generating new possibilities and directions. The research path follows a design cycle of three steps with two phases each. One example is a research project developed in the context of libraries in the Netherlands (Nijs and Terzieva, 2015). Libraries have been struggling with their traditional role in society. Today, most people do not use libraries to access books and information. Instead, they draw upon new technologies to access and interact with knowledge. In an attempt to face this challenge, seven

libraries from North Brabant, the Netherlands invited Imagineering researchers to investigate the topic and come up with possible solutions (Nijs and Terzieva, 2015). The project was named, ‘Creating the future with libraries’ and started with the following questions: What is the core meaning of a library that could be lifted up in today’s society? How can we create a meaningful future where libraries are seen as exciting? How can we help libraries remain adaptive in a digital, fast-moving society? The research followed the Imagineering design methodology by first posing the questions above and understanding the central features of libraries (Inspiration – A phase). To tap into these features, the researchers also explored the main role libraries have in society and the elements that have always attracted people to libraries. The researchers invited librarians, visitors, and students to bring their own views on the topic in order to make it more complex and to embrace different perspectives. The results indicated that participants viewed libraries as institutions that foster openness, transparency and diversity (Inspiration – B phase). With this information, some creative sessions with different social actors were organized in order to evoke the collective creativity of all involved in designing a generative image or word that would invoke emergence (Ideation – C phase). Some narratives were created. One of them was, ‘From Collection to Connection’. This phrase was an attempt to bridge the traditional view of libraries (collections of books) to a new vision of hyper-connection. This high concept had the goal of reframing the mindset of all actors involved with the libraries (Ideation – D phase). This short, easy to remember narrative provoked new ideas for services and activities, thereby facilitating the emergence of a new, inviting library for today’s societal context. From there, the management of the library started to consider new initiatives for the emerging ideas in order to create new actions (Implementation – E–F phases, see Table 3.1).



Table 3.1  Imagineering Design Steps Three Steps

Two phases

Imagineering Design Steps: The research path follows



This is about understanding the issue in an appreciative way, exploring all the different elements that might play a role in a specific topic investigated. This is about taking a step back and a long breath before coming to conclusions about the various appreciative explorations offered. Based on all the material collected, this is about discovering generativity, as well as understanding the golden nuggets of the topic. Here, the main actors are invited to interact and create the generative image or word that has the aim of reframing meanings and engaging transformation (Creative Tension Engine). Here the aim is to translate the generative image into tangible actions/ proposals. This is about developing environments or platforms to enable engagement and commitment to the actions/proposals. This is about creating actions for sustainable flourishing.




D-eveloping Implementation

E-nabling F-lourishing

Source: Adapted from Nijs (2019).

Imagineering research is an illustration of research as innovation as it has the fundamental goal of engaging and inspiring research participants to bring novelty into a system. Attention is given to the creation of new mindsets that have the potential to create new forms of action. Research, in the Imagineering context, is about promoting an iterative and creative process, embracing the challenge of creating high concepts, appealing narratives, a creative tension engine and orchestrating processes of emergence in order to reframe existing situations into more desired ones (Nijs and Terzieva, 2015).

Arts-based Research Arts-based research is a participatory approach combining art and research together. It uses the creative arts, such as dance, painting, and photography to address social questions (Leavy, 2009). It focuses on engaging ways of promoting a participatory research path where new ideas and articulations might emerge. The arts can be used to collect or analyze data or as a way to represent findings. When we embrace the transformative potential of inquiry, the integration of the arts and participatory methods contribute to our understanding of social issues, largely through their relevance and accessibility. For example, we

might explore how visual art serves as a method of exposing and altering unequal relations of power, privilege, and oppression. How might researchers use the visual arts for studying race, class, gender, and sexuality? There are several good examples, but to identify one, we can note how the photography of Robert Mapplethorpe – largely in the 1980s – raised social awareness concerning homosexuality and the AIDS epidemic (Smith, 2010). Other art forms such as theater, drama, poetry, dance, and music provide powerful means for engaging communities in the full participation of social transformation. Capturing the sentiment of what is happening in a given community through artistic expression can be experienced as quite different from collecting the same information through surveys, questionnaires, Likert scales, or interviews. We tend to think of the arts, by definition, as vehicles for creativity and imagination. When recognized as a form of research, we invite broader participation that is likely to result in collaboratively achieved transformation. One example of a method within artsbased research is photovoice. Photovoice  Photovoice is a method where participants are supported to produce their



own photographic work in order to help them to understand, define and communicate in images and stories about the issues that are affecting them (as the Mapplethorpe example above achieved). Through photographs a variety of perspectives emerge, thereby adding complexity to a topic as opposed to teasing out the singular answer. In 2014 a photovoice research project called ‘Discovering the Beauty of Uganda’ was developed in Entebbe, Uganda, with two local partners: Hope for Youth Uganda and Health Nest Uganda (Camargo-Borges, 2018b). The goal was to engage in an exploration of the community through the youth’s positive experiences and impressions of Uganda. The researchers first introduced participants to the Photovoice method (Griebling et  al., 2013) and trained them in the context of the research topic. Participants were prompted to take photos of something that was meaningful to them, that had a meaningful story or represented an important experience in their lives. The data collection unfolded, as the participants were absorbed with the topic, the method, and co-created meaning together. Digital cameras were given to around 20 young people, aged 8 to 26. They moved around the city and took pictures of what they saw/interpreted as the beauty of Uganda. The method of photographing enabled and encouraged participants to be creative and reflect on the topic. With their cameras, participants were able to explore locations, documenting and revealing what they appreciated about Uganda and what they wanted to share. During the data collection, participants were actually generating (creating) data. The participants–method–team interaction promoted the emergence of new ideas and material with which the researchers and participants worked afterwards. The arts-based method used here involved all participants in the research, enabling them to tap into their creativity and inviting interaction among

themselves as well as with the researchers and their own city, promoting a sense of ownership with their locality (Camargo-Borges, 2018a). The next phase was to collect all the pictures taken. The participants sat together in small groups and told the stories their photos portrayed. Their stories became richer as they shared them with each other. After choosing some pictures to be printed, they managed to find shared meanings and also find what was special about their own experiences and stories. The research project ended with a final public exhibition in the community park of the pictures together with the stories written. By sharing the pictures and stories with community members and leaders, their meanings were further extended, and new stories emerged from the interaction. ‘Discovering the Beauty of Uganda’ shows the potential that arts-based research can bring to innovate by using arts, visual arts and narrative to develop shared and coordinated meanings. Young people from two villages developed stories from their experiences in Uganda. They invited people from the community to visit their Photovoice exhibit. The wider community could better understand the experiences of the young people, and could also, in turn, share their own experiences about Uganda. These shared stories began a rich weaving of meaning and a strengthening of relationships. According to Patricia Leavy: Arts-based research (ABR) was developed in a transdisciplinary context and merges scientific and artistic ways of knowing. ABR practices have posed serious challenges to methods conventions, thus unsettling many assumptions about what constitutes research and knowledge. With the tools of ABR, we are able to ask a host of new questions and to ask old questions in new ways. ABR researchers tap into a range of skills, both scientific and artistic – such as thinking metaphorically, symbolically, and thematically. (Leavy, personal communication, October 21, 2019)


Appreciative Inquiry Appreciative inquiry, originally developed by David Cooperrider and Suresh Srivastva (1987), upset the mold of organizational consulting by proposing that, instead of researching the cause of organizational problems as a method for resolving the problem, consultants should inquire into what is working in the organization, what gives it life, and when organizational members feel energized. Originating as a form of organization consultation, AI rapidly became recognized as a form of research that invites innovation (Bodiford and Camargo-Borges, 2014; Hosking and McNamee, 2007; McNamee, 2004). Research reports, such as those presented in the special issue of the AI Practitioner (Bodiford and Camargo-Borges, 2014), offer a variety of illustrations of appreciative inquiry as a research method that invites participants to imagine a preferred future. Through such imagination, research participants join together to create that future. The focus of appreciative inquiry on what is working well in a community, as well as the highpoints in the community’s experiences, orients the research process toward the creation of generative ways to go on as opposed to discovery or documentation of ‘what is’.

WHAT RESEARCH AS INNOVATION OFFERS In terms of knowledge production, these research examples map out opportunities for new formats for engaging in research and, as a consequence, new meanings and opportunities for action and change emerge. The transformation/intervention is the creation of a learning community in which research participants can critically reflect on a topic, cocreating and sharing opportunities for themselves as well as for their context, issue, or challenge.


The illustrations above show some similarities and core values that make research a process of innovation: 1 Shared stories collected throughout the research process: They have the potential to connect people and to increase the sense of belonging. 2 Participatory and process-oriented: The focus is on what is happening in the ‘here and now’ and from there, decisions on how to move on with the research are made as opposed to relying on fixed methods to be followed rigidly that are independent from the context and from what is emerging. 3 Multiple voices invite complexity: Instead of simplifying the topic to come up with one final solution/result, in research as innovation the idea is to embrace the complexity in order to make new combinations, thereby inviting new meanings and actions. 4 Inclusive: Those participating in the research process are part of creating the process. 5 Flexible: Research as innovation understands research as an ongoing, unfolding process; the interest is in creating something new with participants.

What we want to highlight with these illustrations is that innovation in the research process is related to generative learning, engagement, and inclusion in the context researched; it is related to a methodologically pluralistic approach in which the research design unfolds in a relational, flexible and organic manner (Bodiford and Camargo-Borges, 2014). Looking forward, we see research as innovation as a metaphor that opens multiple doors in the research realm, thereby amplifying research as a process of creativity, imagination and transformation, and offering a revolutionary direction for research, particularly for academic research. We believe that research that is viewed as innovation can be seen as a form of activism, calling attention to ethical dilemmas, political action, and issues of social justice. It can improve our understanding of inequality, oppression, violence, and other social issues. Researchers as innovators



are liberated to engage and become more involved in socially significant academic research that has a strong social impact. Research, therefore, becomes an integrated part of daily life.

Note 1  Traditional and popular understandings of research tend to promote a binary view of the world. That is, the research either proves or disproves a theory. It discovers a cause, a cure, a previously unknown ‘fact’ or it does not.

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4 Collaborative Action Research: Co-constructing Social Change for the Common Good Ottar Ness and Dina von Heimburg

INTRODUCTION In a rapidly changing world with increasingly complex problems, such as social and economic inequities, medical disasters, climate change and globalization, collaboration is needed more than ever. Due to the complexity of the world’s problems, the United Nations (UN) has even devoted one of its 17 sustainability goals (SDGs) to collaboration. Around the world, nations and communities are struggling to face the demands of addressing the complexity of the SDGs. This includes finding viable solutions for problems that the civil sector, the public sector, businesses, politicians, media and academia cannot solve on their own. At the same time, in several countries across the globe, we are witnessing a decrease in the broad democratic involvement of citizens, alongside the threat of increasing populism following the rise of anti-global and anti-immigrant political movements (Pestoff, 2019; Smith,

2009). Thus, there is a need for increased citizen participation at all levels of societal development. Active citizen participation can facilitate the resolution of and joint action around some of the most tenacious problems facing governments across the world and help win popular support for such measures (Pestoff, 2019). Although citizen participation is key for collaboration based on democratic principles and values, the need for innovation and collaboration includes constructing new relationships and structures between actors and institutions in an ecologically oriented ‘whole-of-society approach’ (Marmot et al., 2020; WHO, 2019). This involves capacity building that cuts across authority structures, organizations, sectors and stakeholders at all levels, and this is increasingly acknowledged as a necessary approach to addressing these societal challenges (Krogstrup and Brix, 2019; Ostrom, 1996; Brandsen et al., 2018; WHO, 2013, 2019). Such collaborations enable societies, governments


and communities to enhance problem solving and innovation as they mobilize the co-construction of ideas, experiences and resources and the ability to work together towards mutual goals (Bradbury, 2015; Gergen, 2014; Hersted et al., 2020). To meet these demands, we suggest that Collaborative Action Research (CAR) methodologies are an important approach to research and social change. Following Greenwood and Levin (2007), action research can help us build a better, freer, fairer and more socially just society. In this chapter, we explore CAR as an approach to co-construction to address the complex societal problems described above. Gergen (2020, p. xii) asks the following: ‘If action research is a process of co-construction, then what kind of process is this, how can it be done well, what are the obstacles, what innovations are invited?’ These are critical questions for our chapter. Although CAR is an approach that can be used in a wide range of disciplines, we will focus on social and relational processes. The chapter is a response to the need for collaborative, participatory action to address the increasing complexity in a fast-changing world and promote human dignity and flourishing in present and future generations. We will describe a framework for Collaborative Action Research through a social constructionist lens, accompanied by a set of principles for researchers and practitioners working on collaborative action-oriented research and innovation. To contextualize this framework, we invite you to explore some interconnected assumptions and what we believe to be vital prerequisites.

The (Re-)turn Towards ‘The Common Good’ Collaboration across disciplines and sectors, coupled with citizen engagement might facilitate the co-construction of knowledge, practices and policies moving communities and


nations towards ‘the common good’. The return to the interest of ‘the common good’ (e.g., Reich, 2018) can be understood as a response to the individualist, neoliberalist approaches dominating contemporary societal development. In the research literature, the notions of ‘common good’, ‘public value’ and ‘public interest’ seem to overlap, without clear distinctions (Selloni, 2017). Although the term ‘the common good’ has been used in various ways throughout history, we rely on the Aristotelian notion of the common good as a ‘public interest’, i.e., a distinction between pursuing a common interest whereby all citizens can flourish and fulfill their purpose as human beings in community life, as opposed to pursuing the interest of sovereigns and other powerful leaders in the society (Diggs, 1973; Selloni, 2017). In an ever-changing social world, people’s efforts to pursue societal goals also need to adjust. Throughout history, societies have constructed a wide range of structures and institutions aiming to develop communities and societies towards a common good, in which the citizens have been alienated as clients or consumers rather than acknowledged as part of the solution (Pestoff, 2019; Torfing et al., 2016). When research and community change are worked out for rather than with citizens, they are unlikely to engage a wide range of relevant concerns promoting public interest (Gergen, 2014; McNamee and Hosking, 2012; Smith, 2009). Throughout the last century, the Nordic countries and other welfare states across the globe have undergone major (although overlapping and coexisting) changes in logics and ways of governing societies towards desired outcomes (Torfing et al., 2016). Public sector organizations all over the world are now striving to transform neoliberal organizational recipes (i.e., new public management, NPM) into a logic embracing the public sector as an ‘arena for co-creation’ (i.e., new public governance, NPG; collaborative governance). From a co-creational perspective, people, relationships and their living environments



alongside nurturing capabilities, capacity building and empowerment are positioned at the heart of societal and community development (Cottam, 2018; Davidson, Ridgway, Wieland and O’Connell, 2009; Gergen, 2014; Hersted et  al., 2020; McNamee and Hosking, 2012; Nussbaum, 2000; Sen, 1992, 1999; Torfing et al., 2016). We will argue that this represents a truly people-centered and relational approach, placing ‘human becomings’ and the potential solutions that we create together in our social, ecological worlds as a focal point. Adjustments, or even radical change, require inquiry, collaboration and action. One ongoing example of radical change that we find inspiring is the transformation of welfare states towards relational welfare (Cottam, 2018). This approach places people and the relationships between them as a focal point to reinvent and design societies and welfare systems. Based on above-mentioned theories and approaches, we propose the following definition of relational welfare: Relational welfare is a human centred and collaborative approach premised on human rights, social justice and societal sustainable development. Relational welfare means that welfare is a resource that people co-create together, where personal and collective relationships and environments are placed at the centre of development. Within this, the foremost mission of the public sector is to build public value as a common good by supporting conditions that enable all people to flourish and live a life they have reason to value and the capacity to sustain. The purpose is to strengthen the resources, relationships and communities to create positive and sustainable life courses, now and in the future.

Following Cottam (2018) and Desai et  al. (2019), there is a need to start by standing in communities, shoulder to shoulder, and by seeking insight together to understand the complexity of the problems and the possibilities of approaching these from an everyday life perspective. As Cottam (2018, p. 46) points out, ‘participation cannot be seen as something special or unusual that must be celebrated. We need to create systems that make participation easy, intuitive and natural’.

A recent example that has gained largescale international attention and widespread praise for pursuing a ‘re-turn’ towards the common good is New Zealand (NZ). In 2019, the NZ government unveiled its very first (actually the world’s first) ‘well-being budget’, aiming to replace GDP with a national framework measuring well-being, equity and sustainability as the ultimate societal goals. In developing the policies and assessments for progress, the state agencies in NZ invited and mobilized a largescale participatory and collaborative process where citizens with diverse backgrounds contributed by constructing meaning and purpose for national policies. In the development of the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy, the NZ government, with the support of partner agencies, engaged with more than 10,000 New Zealanders, including 6000 children and young people (New Zealand Government, 2019). As a result of what mattered most to New Zealanders in negotiation with the knowledge built on research, all policies in NZ are now evaluated through a lens of kindness, empathy and well-being (Ng¯a T u¯ tohu Aotearoa – Indicators Aotearoa New Zealand, 2019). In this process, NZ people shared what was most important for their well-being through a wide range of face-toface meetings, workshops, surveys, focus groups and free postcards. In 2018, NZ, together with Scotland and Iceland, established the network of Wellbeing Economy Governments (WEGo, nd), through which these governments share expertise and transferable policy to challenge the acceptance of GDP as the ultimate measure of a country’s success. The objectives of the group are as follows: Collaborate in pursuit of innovative policy approaches aimed at enhancing well-being through a broader understanding of the role of economics – sharing what works and what does not to inform policy making. Progress towards the UN Sustainable Development Goals, in line with Goal 17, fostering partnership


and cooperation to identify approaches to delivering well-being. Address the pressing economic, social and environmental challenges of our time.

A ‘well-being economy’ places collaboration to achieve goals such as equal pay, childcare, mental health and access to green space at its heart and demonstrates how this approach helps build resolve to confront global challenges. Although the NZ and WEGo example does not explicitly build on the notion of ‘the common good’ or CAR, we believe that it serves as an excellent example of a ‘re-turn’ to the interest of the citizens as described by Aristotle. Further, we believe that it serves as an inspiration for a collaborative movement towards desirable societal goals, to which CAR could make an important contribution.

The Collaborative Turn and the Growing Jungle of ‘Co’s’ Throughout the last decades, collaboration and active citizen participation have been increasingly endorsed as essential approaches to address complex societal problems and promote human flourishing across a wide range of practices and academic disciplines (Bradbury, 2015; Cottam, 2018; Hersted et  al., 2020; Ostrom, 1996; Pestoff, 2019; Voorberg et al., 2015). Indeed, participatory and collaborative approaches and concepts are not new, especially because they have always been the focus of social constructionist theory and practice. In social constructionist theory, the term ‘co-construction’ has a long history and is used to describe processes of relational meaning-making and joint action (Gergen, 1985, 1994, 2009; McNamee, 2010; Shotter, 1993). However, the expansion of attention to such concepts and the language used for meaning-making around these have most certainly come from the public sector. Many of these emerging discourses have been constructed and described through a language


of ‘co’s’ (Phillips and Napan, 2016). This development may be considered a reaction to societal development heavily dominated by neoliberal and positivist ideas, where individualism and fragmentation have been key tendencies (Gergen, 2009, 2014; Selloni, 2017). The expansion of parallel worlds of ‘co’s’ in a series of academic and practice discourses (e.g., public administration and policy, organizational studies and design thinking) can be described as co-constructed through terms such as ‘co-creation’, ‘co-production’, ‘collaborative governance’ and ‘co-design’. Most of these co’s have mainly focused on descriptions of processes aimed at achieving desired outcomes, not on the process of coconstructing knowledge or evaluating or having dialogues about outcomes (e.g., Voorberg et al., 2015). In this chapter, we will not go into detail about these numerous concepts of ‘co’s’ and the academic struggle to coin and further develop them. Instead, we acknowledge the commonality of collaboration, participation and empowerment as central concepts in the developing pluralism of ‘co’s’ and as key issues in addressing the complex societal problems described above.

Collaboration as Key to Capabilities and Capacity Building for the Common Good We maintain that a movement towards the SDGs, hand in hand with the protection and promotion of human rights, is essential to our understanding of ‘the common good’ in societal and community development. Additionally, we argue that Collaborative Action Research may create conditions and processes to co-construct capacities (e.g., Krogstrup and Brix, 2019). Such capacities can be raised within and between relationships, organizations, and communities to coconstruct better living conditions and capabilities (e.g., Cottam, 2018; Nussbaum, 2000; Sen, 1992, 1999) for ‘the common good’. By doing do, we are placing dignity,



equity, well-being and relational flourishing at the very heart of our understanding of ‘the common good’, where the development of human capabilities is key. The concept of capabilities was coined by the Nobel Prizewinning academic Amartya Sen (1992, 1999) and has been further developed by Martha Nussbaum (2000) and others in somewhat different directions (Robeyns, 2005). Sen (1992, 1999) links the development of capabilities to freedom and quality of life. Sen makes a strong argument for replacing economic imperatives in societal development with the freedom to achieve well-being and argues that policies and our evaluations of them should concentrate on people’s quality of life and the conditions affecting our possibilities to live a life that we have a reason to value. According to Dréze and Sen (2002, p. 6), within this framework, developments of capabilities are not to be mistaken for individual processes. Social opportunities are described as a crucial prerequisite: The word ‘social’ in the expression ‘social opportunity’ … is a useful reminder not to view individuals and their opportunities in isolated terms. The options that a person has depend greatly on relations with others and on what the state and other institutions do. We shall be particularly concerned with those opportunities that are strongly influenced by social circumstances and public policy.

The development of capabilities is a moral issue for achieving social justice. This demands interdisciplinary, collaborative and participatory approaches to societal development, placing human rights and capabilities, democracy, empowerment and meaning-making processes at the center of attention. This will be our main focus when laying out our suggested framework for Collaborative Action Research.

COLLABORATIVE ACTION RESEARCH (CAR) CAR is a democratic and participative orientation to knowledge, theory and practice

creation (Bradbury, 2015; Ness, 2020). It is about how people co-construct knowledge through language, learning and change together through action research (Gergen, 2009; Gergen and Gergen, 2015; Hersted et  al., 2020). It brings together action and reflection and theory and practice in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern. Desai et  al. (2019) argue that CAR can help to break down the distinction between science and the community more broadly. These ‘participatory’ turns are premised on an explicit awareness of social injustice and power imbalances while also challenging the presupposition that community members allegedly hold no expertise on serious matters of science. Instead, community input and participation, including by those community members with direct experience of the topic being studied, are valued and embraced as an important feature of knowledge construction, which can in turn help transform the wider system and benefit the community around it (Desai et al., 2019). Thus, CAR focuses on co-construction with, not about or on, people (Bradbury, 2015; Shotter, 1993, 2008) and focuses on what Gergen (2014) calls ‘future-forming’ inquiry, i.e., research not attempting to describe and explain what is but to bring about what could be. In the history of action research, many descriptions of the practice have been proposed. Hilary Bradbury (2015, p. 1) defines action research as follows: Action research is a democratic and participative orientation to knowledge creation. It brings together action and reflection, theory and practice, in the pursuit of practical solutions to issues of pressing concern. Action research is a pragmatic co-creation of knowing with, not on about, people.

Further, Greenwood and Levin (2007) describe three commitments that link most action researchers: (1) action, which refers to creating and implementing new practices; (2) research, which refers to contributing to


new theory and to generating and testing new knowledge; and (3) participation, which is about placing a strong value on democracy and control over one’s own life situations. Action research balances these elements, and if any of these three elements are absent, the research is not action research (Greenwood and Levin, 2007). This balance is in accordance with Reason and Bradbury’s (2001) concerns: Practice and research occupied with ‘just theory without action is meaningless, and action without reflection and understanding is blind’ (2001, p. 2). Hersted (2017) and Ness (2011) add elements such as collaboration and reflexivity, where coresearchers co-construct knowledge and practices together through reflexive collaborative learning processes. Thus, action research involves two or more people researching a topic based on their own experience or shared agenda, using a series of cycles in which they move between that experience and reflecting together on it (Heron, 1996; Ness, 2020). This is in line with constructionist theory and research methodologies (Gergen, 2014; McNamee, 2010). The practical point of constructionist research has very often been to promote a better way of thinking and, more importantly, living with respect for the worlds that we inhabit (Weinberg, 2008). Brown and Tandon (1983) have argued that traditional action research has tended to concentrate on an individual or a group level of problem analysis, whereas participatory action research, with its more emancipatory emphasis, has tended to focus on a broader societal analysis. Traditional action research has tended to focus on issues of efficiency and the improvement of practices, whereas participatory action research has been concerned with community action, equity, self-reliance and oppression problems (FalsBorda, 2001). Democratic elements are also found in John Dewey’s (1938) experiments on education. These elements are often taken up in definitions of CAR that emphasize an empirical and a logical problem-solving


process involving cycles of action and reflection (Bradbury, 2015; Hersted et  al., 2020). Dewey was occupied with democracy as an ongoing, collective process of social improvement, in which all levels of society had to participate (as cited in Greenwood and Levin, 2007). His important contribution was that democracy had to evolve through people’s active involvement in making sense of their world and not by merely adapting to solutions imposed by powerful outsiders (e.g., researchers or teachers; Greenwood and Levin, 2007). From these ideas on democracy and participation, Dewey proposed that learning was a process of action in which students must be active learners and not passive listeners (Greenwood and Levin, 2007). Dewey’s view on research was connected to this view of a democratic society. He saw research as a process of democratic social action in which scientific knowing was a product of continuous cycles of action and reflection (Bray et al., 2000), which is in line with the ideas of Collaborative Action Research. As mentioned above, Gergen (2014) advocates for research as ‘future-forming.’ This means that research does not provide a map of ‘what is there’; it offers descriptions of how things might be. McNamee (2020, p. 18) claims that one ‘could say that research is more about social transformation than about uncovering the stabilities of life.’ McNamee (2020) further explains that to view research as transformative is to consider the ways in which engaging in the research processes, as well as reading research reports, provides us with new ways of understanding our worlds. These new ways of understanding our worlds open the door to new possibilities for human engagement and social transformation. This represents a significant shift from the traditional understandings of objective, scientific research. Traditional notions of research are focused on discovering essential aspects of the world. However, from a social constructionist stance (Gergen, 2014; Gergen and Gergen, 2015; McNamee, 2010, 2014;



McNamee and Hosking, 2012), what one comes to know about the physical world is bound by language, and language is social and relational. The physical world exists, but how we talk about it and how we make meaning of it are contingent upon our negotiated language practices (Gergen, 2009; McNamee, 2020). We have used McNamee’s (2014, p. 77) framework as inspiration: she argues that relational constructionist research is about the notion of ‘let’s change it together’. Her focus of research is on change, co-creation, and co-research and on generating new meaning and new realities. In addition, she suggests that research is locally useful and generative, historical and co-evolving and that it generates new possibilities. In the following, we will present our proposed framework for Collaborative Action Research from a social constructionist stance with a set of action-oriented principles. This framework and the principles are to be seen as resources rather than as a recipe for conducting Collaborative Action Research.

FRAMEWORK OF COLLABORATIVE ACTION RESEARCH This proposed framework, with a set of ideas and principles, is an ever-evolving process with persons who are interested in co-constructing CAR together with us. We suggest the ideas and principles as context markers and borrow from McNamee’s (2004) ideas on conversational resources and research as a relational practice (2014) for persons and communities interested in CAR. This also means that the principles are part of not a linear but a circular and iterative process. We will now turn to the framework of Collaborative Action Research: co-constructing the research agenda and research process, relational capacity building, negotiating actions and experiments, and co-constructing knowledge and practices.

Co-Constructing the Research Agenda and Research Process The first principle is co-constructing the research agenda and the research process by preparing the relational context (McNamee, 2009). Central for this is collaboration. At the core of these collaborative relationships are people’s competence and capability to listen, take each other seriously, and respect the perspectives of others concerning both the relationship and the partnership in which they are involved (Strong et  al., 2011). Making collaboration useful, Collaborative Action Research requires a free flow of information and the sharing of feedback among all parties so that they are on track with the changing intentions that often arise (Sundet, 2011). In the research literature which focuses on services and practices that keep the participants at the center of decision making, a number of essential principles are espoused. These include working with sometimes competing beliefs, values and priorities; power and power balancing; engagement strategies; consistency of care delivery; relationship competencies; role blurring; and negotiated decision-making (Ness et  al., 2014; Strong et al., 2011). In concrete terms, this principle involves getting to know each other as co-participants in the research, both personally and professionally, and getting to know people’s interests, dreams and agendas – what do we all want to be achieved by doing this research project together. This involves what McNamee (2015) calls relational ethics, which means being attentive to the process of relating; this involves co-constructing trust in both persons and the research process. When working with social change and social justice, one also needs to co-construct knowledge about the living conditions where co-researchers live their everyday lives. This means mapping and exploring the contextual and cultural knowledge about the everyday life of the community together with the co-researchers.


Another important topic is negotiating power relations. This means working in ways that enable the research to be truly collaborative. This requires the authentic engagement of all the co-researchers in equally voicing and influencing shared decision making, which involves listening to multiple views and together finding ways to make the decision-making process transparent and collaborative, not something that those with the most power (i.e., researchers) own (Heron, 1996). Based on these above-mentioned topics, after becoming familiar with the people (i.e., their backgrounds, living conditions, interests, social context) and negotiating the power relations that affect the process of collaboration, the next principle is then to negotiate shared purposes and research questions and prepare the research process. This also involves the need to take into account in the conversation what the participants would like to use as data for the process of coconstructing the knowledge that may be disseminated. Another point is related to research ethics. It is important to consider the ways of conceptualizing ethical issues in terms of an approach that Banks et  al. (2013) call ‘everyday ethics’, which emphasizes the situated nature of ethics, with a focus on the qualities of character and the responsibilities attached to particular relationships (as opposed to the articulation and implementation of abstract principles and rules). Everyday ethics is the daily practice of negotiating the ethical issues and challenges that arise through the life of CAR projects. Thus, the ‘ethical’ is present in ways of being and acting as well as in relationships, emotions and conduct. The key qualities of a researcher include ethical sensitivity (the capacity to see the ethically salient features of situations) and relational virtues, such as trustworthiness (reliability and not disappointing others) (Banks et  al., 2013). This is similar to what McNamee and Gergen (1999) call ‘relational responsibility’ and ‘relational ethics’ and what Swim et al. (2001) call ‘process ethics’.


Relational Capacity Building As we mentioned in the introduction, we see CAR as a process of relational capacity building. Capacity building in this regard is defined as activities that strengthen the relationships, knowledge, abilities and resources of individual communities and that improve institutional and social structures and processes so that organizations and communities can meet their goals in a sustainable way (Brix et  al., 2020; McNamee and Hosking, 2012). This is linked to the capabilities approach, where the focus is on the capabilities that all people need to flourish, i.e., the capability to work/learn, to be healthy, to be part of a community, and to nurture relationships within the family and beyond (Cottam, 2018). Here, we suggest ideas such as how coresearchers can work together to co-identify assets and resources in people and relationships in environments such as buildings, meeting places and green spaces. Something that often happens in the process of co-identifying assets and resources, which we suggest should be emphasized, is that one comes to know many people. Once one comes to know these assets, one can connect people and resources together, which creates relationships and communities. These relationships and communities will then be mobilized in this process, which ultimately creates changes within the area of research interest and beyond. As part of the process, one will surely experience chaos and uncertainty. This refers more to an attitude rather than to a procedure to invite interdependence between chaos and order in a developing inquiry. This attitude enables the participants to avoid premature closure on their reflections and actions while helping them overcome feelings of confusion, uncertainty, ambiguity, disorder and tension as an asset. Since uncertainty accompanies chaos, awareness of relational dynamics may be helpful in guiding the Collaborative Action Research process. Reason (1999, p. 213) argues that CAR ‘is sometimes about



throwing all caution to the winds in a wild experiment. There can be no guarantee that chaos will occur; certainly, one cannot plan it’. An important validity issue for balancing chaos and order is to be prepared for chaos and then to tolerate it and not let anxiety press for a premature order, while waiting for a sense of creative resolution.

Negotiating Actions and Reflections Another aspect of CAR is what kind(s) of actions it is decided to experiment with. As CAR is about changing and improving conditions and practices during a research process, it is important to create a research environment where it is acceptable to try and fail. This involves a process of negotiating what actions will be tried together, when and by whom – and what kind of process the coresearchers want to have to generate data for documenting the changes and improvements being made in the community. One way of doing so is by co-constructing cycles of action and reflections. The purpose of research cycling is to ensure that the research outcomes are well grounded for the participants involved in the focus of the inquiry. This means that co-researchers repeatedly explore emerging concepts for ideas that they believe should be included or omitted. By doing so, ideas and concepts may develop and improve through a co-constructed cycling process between actions, experiments and reflections.

Co-constructing Knowledge and Practices It is important that CAR projects involve changes and improvements that are useful for local contexts. However, we will argue that it is important that other local communities, policy makers, practitioners and researchers come to know how CAR projects are being

conducted and that they disseminate the results. When constructing knowledge from CAR projects, we will emphasize the importance of co-analyzing the chosen data and the co-writing and co-presenting of results, as all aspects of research are collaborative. For this process, we find the following framework useful. Banks et al. (2017, pp.  543–544) developed three types of impact of action research that they call coimpacts. These types can help researchers organize and map out the different aspects of knowledge construction relevant to many contexts: Participatory impact refers to changes within researchers and core partner organizations, which happen as a result of their involvement in the research process. This may entail learning research skills, developing new insights and understandings that can be used in daily life or in community action, developing confidence, and feeling empowered or passionate about a cause. Collaborative impact is based on the take-up and use of the findings of CAR by individuals and organizations to change practice and policy and influence attitudes and culture. This may include impact on the individuals and organizations involved in the project, as well as on outside individuals and organizations. In participatory research, the impact is generated by individuals and organizations working together. Hence, the authors call this ‘collaborative impact’ and note that it is more findings-based than ‘participatory impact’, which emphasizes process. Collective impact involves a deliberate strategy on the part of the research partners (and sometimes others) to achieve a specific, targeted change in practice and/or policy-based issues highlighted via the research. The concept of ‘collective impact’ is currently a hot topic but is used less in relation to research and more in the context of multiple organizations working together strategically to achieve social change, where interventions are co-designed to address ‘wicked’ (intractable) issues, such as poverty or persistently low educational outcomes for children in a neighborhood.

In our experience, co-constructing knowledge and practices by focusing on the impacts that they make sustains results and supports


the capabilities of communities to continue making changes and improvements for the common good.

CONCLUDING REMARKS Try to see it my way… While you see it your way… We can work it out, We can work it out    The Beatles

In this chapter, we have outlined a framework for CAR, seeking social justice, democratic innovation and social change for the common good. The world is continuously facing complex problems and challenges that demand joint action from the whole of society and increased citizen participation. As made explicit by SDG # 17, collaboration is key for sustainable development. By using CAR, we address what Gergen (2014) has called for, that is, research as ‘future-forming’, to build capabilities and capacities within people, organizations and communities by starting with people and their everyday lives. We have argued for and outlined some principles of CAR as an important approach to focus on people’s human rights, sustainable development and the conditions for creating dignity and human flourishing in present and future constructions of our social worlds. As Gergen et al. (2001, p. 681) ask: ‘Perhaps the major challenge for the 21st century is how we shall manage to live together on the globe. What resources are available to us in confronting this challenge?’ CAR is certainly not the only answer to this question. However, we believe, it could serve as a vital part in the future of forming a world of people pursuing the common good – together.

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5 Action Research and Social Constructionism: Transformative Inquiry and Practice in Community Hilary Bradbury

As the windows of the Academy open up, more scholars are called to co-create new experiments in societal learning in response to the social-ecological challenges we faced. Social constructionism is central in how action researchers work. Action Research is shaped by pragmatism, reflexivity and dialogue, in combination necessary to the action research transformative approach to learningby-doing. This chapter proceeds with an introduction to Action-oriented Research for Transformations, or ART (Bradbury et  al., 2019), and offers illustrations and principles for its contemporary practice. The author argues that constructionism offers a possibility for co-creating life sustaining institutions through our joint efforts. Action research brings together action and reflection, theory and practice, with stakeholders, to issues of pressing concern; it is scholarly practice with a participative orientation to knowledge creation (Bradbury, 2015; Reason and Bradbury, 2000).

Action researchers seek to make a useful difference in a world in which scientific reports rarely provoke the response appropriate to the scale of the problems defined. Yet action researchers do not bring pre-packaged solutions. We acknowledge that expertise resides in the hands of stakeholders. Action researchers, do however, bring diagnostic and facilitative tools, along with distillation and documentation of notable results so that those involved can articulate their own answers and share them. Action research belongs in a category of knowledge that has evolved from an orientation we might broadly label Pragmatism, which emphasizes the multi-dimensionality of human experience and knowledge. The central emphasis of Pragmatism is that knowledge should be assessed by its practical consequences and not - as Cartesian science insists - only by its explanatory power. As a brief framing, with more on the interweaving of heritage from Global South and North below, we may say that action researchers


see clear intellectual lineage back to John Dewey’s (1938) emphasis on the individual’s active inquiry process in combination with William James’ articulation of the primacy of praxis in interaction with the world. This interweaving of learning and democracy also has roots in the work of Mary Parker Follett (1924) and Paolo Freire (1970). Knowledgein-action concerns power; democracy is something to be learned as ever deeper levels of emancipation are realized. Social constructionism (Berger and Luckmann, 1966), followed by the cognitive/linguistic turn, call us to appreciate the ways in which our individual (psychological) understandings of a situation actively shape our collective (sociological) reactions. Action researcher Budd Hall (1992), drawing on Berger and Luckmann (1966), explains that action researchers recognize that knowledge is socially constructed and embedded. This happens because action researchers are influenced by the potential of people they work with, their co-researchers, to shape their own world, through creative acts. Action research allows stakeholders not just to react, but to be choiceful about the type of world we want to shape. Marja-Liisa Swantz, a Finnish action researcher, credited with coining the term Participatory Action Research, gets to the heart of the matter in a recent interview: “In participatory research you can help people in seeing their own problems. You do not tell them, ‘This is your problem’, but you work with them in a way that they become active” (Nyemba and Meyer, 2018). This ‘help’ is a form of collaboration and implies an interest in transforming power dynamics toward mutuality. Reason and Bradbury (2000) presented action research to fellow action researchers as a logical next step beyond a linguistic turn that privileged rational cognition, to one that seeks creative action. In allowing the importance of transforming power relations, if there is to be transformation, we can trace an easy line from the sociology of social constructionism to poststructuralism


with the latter emphasis on how social institutions both enable but also dominate people (Foucault, 1994). Action researchers go beyond merely understanding domination to actively transforming toward desired futures. In this we see the value of a constructionist approach. The influential action researcher Bjorn Gustavsen referred to action research as a form of pragmatic constructionism (Gustaven, 2014). This is similar in spirit to Gergen et al.’s (2015) prod to qualitative scholars to move beyond qualitative (deconstructive) descriptions to invest more in supporting creative experiments that co-produce better worlds. Looking to those rarer efforts that explicitly explicate epistemological groundings for action research (Coleman, 2015), we see social constructionism is at the heart of fostering the explicitly dialogic efforts for collaborative action. These take expression in a variety of forms from balancing inquiry and advocacy (Taylor et al., 2015) and critical appreciative inquiry (Duncan, 2015), to working within the arena of political action. Constructionism when it meets participation implies working transformatively with others, i.e., taking on the exercise of inhabiting another’s mind-set, for which empathy is required. For this, action researchers must become better acquainted with the one who is doing the inquiring, namely the self. Thus, the practice of reflexivity becomes a critical anchor for ensuring quality of work with stakeholders in a way that integrates subjective, intersubjective and objective work (Chandler and Torbert, 2003). For example, the practice of relational action inquiry (Bradbury and Torbert, 2016) describes an effort by the author and her mentor to be in inquiry together about the impact of their different gender socialization. In an era of #MeToo, they illustrate and invite others to attempt to transform power dynamics through the active co-creation of mutuality. This highly personal work can transform deeply alienating, inherited patterns of how women and men relate.



As the windows of the Academy open up, and constructionism is understood as the way in which life is co-created through our joint efforts, there is an opportunity for scholars to help with the societal learning required to meet the interwoven social-ecological challenges we face. This chapter proceeds with an introduction to Action-oriented Research for Transformations, or ART (Bradbury et al., 2019), a contemporary update on action research thinking. It is an update that points to ways in which expanded epistemologies that empower participative and reflexive methodologies for collaborative action can help respond to the call of our social-ecological times. ART articulates a timely updating of our notions of learning beyond ill-fitting mental templates in which knowledge has been presumed to emanate from experts in the form of disinterested fact and figures. Instead ART encourages us to reconnect knowing with emotion and action. A new global consciousness sensitized by awareness of ourselves as participants within the larger ecology of life, along with fellow sentient beings, is now required if we are to make the leap from passive recipients of inert facts to transformative co-creators within an ecology of living beings. Happily, it is not actually a leap, but more of an uncovering, a recognition of the truth available when we turn to our own experience. ‘How long we have been fooled’, poet Walt Whitman enlightened us, ‘we are nature.’ And so our experience, when not drowned out by conditioning to privilege objectifying skepticism, or turn dialogic partners into objects, offers a path forward in scholarship that encourages expression of our full selves within a community of subjects.

ACTION RESEARCH HERITAGE The term ‘action research’ is often attributed to Kurt Lewin (1946), but increasingly it is common to hear of two origins of action

research, one from Global North and the other from the Global South. These are, however, becoming quite intertwined. The Global North account starts with Kurt Lewin’s efforts to understand and prevent human complicity in such horrors as the Nazi Holocaust. Father of social psychology, Lewin escaped Nazi Germany and then stumbled, through collaboration, into bringing observers (e.g., research facilitators) and research subjects (e.g., therapeutic groups) together to share, understand and create new patterns of dialogic interaction. The other account centers on the collaboration of Colombian Orlando Fals Borda (2006) working with Bangladeshi Anis Rahman (2004). Situated in the Global South, action research went hand-in-hand with popular liberation movements, which espoused the importance of popular knowledge creation among nonelite populations (Freire, 1970). The North and South traditions interweave today with, for example, the North’s embrace of the arts, e.g., inspired by Augusto Boal’s (1985) theatre of the oppressed, At the same time, the Global South embraces a wider set of emancipatory issues – such as gender, sexuality and race – that intersect with the previous emphasis on economic justice. The heritage of action research is both wider and deeper than just the past few decades. Olav Eikeland (2006) traces the ethical orientation of action research back to Aristotle, whose notions of multiple ways of knowing included what we might call the primacy of the practical (techne) and cultivation of cycles of action and reflection (praxis). Action research also provides interesting points of connection to Indigenous ways of knowing because of a growing openness to the arts (Etmanski and Bishop, 2017). In turn, this allows for connection to the more integrative Eastern paradigm of mindfulness that weaves threads from Buddhist teachings to Greek and to Western Enlightenment philosophers such as Montaigne. Indeed recent scholarship is troubling the simple notions of what is East and what is West.


The contemporary manifestation of action research as ART includes attention to both internal (subjective) and external (objective) worlds, and goes beyond overly rationalistic formats to include the arts. Since the 1970s, explicit concern with social liberation has been a central component of all action research. Without this concern, indeed, action research is devitalized to a set of powerful but uncritical techniques. The concept/ practice of mindfulness is more globally appreciated for its help in becoming choiceful with intention and emotion. In short, action research has always been transforming and with its practice emphasis and pragmatic purpose has been open to methodological innovation, which in turn opens the door to new ways of living in the world. Given the growing eco-social crises of our time, action research finds a contemporary expression in Action Research for Transformations (ART) (Bradbury et al., 2019) as a call for creative experiments in how to live better together. Our aspiration is that more of us who practice action-oriented scholarship may revitalize our social institutions as social systems learn to become beneficial presences on our shared Earth. In Figure 5.1, action-oriented transformations research is presented as an orientation to learning that makes it possible to know ourselves simultaneously as scientists and caring citizens, consciously bringing reflexive agency (‘inner work’) to peer learning experiments with our stakeholders (‘outer work’) in service to a better world. This Conceptual Space

ART Collaborative Experiments

Relational Space

Figure 5.1  Action-oriented Research for Transformations (ART)


orientation is a means and an end. By ‘relational space’ we mean finding resonance with the ones we work with, the so-called ‘objects’ of our study, using the myriad insights of group dynamics while also attuning to ourselves. Such artful processes often require respect for generative silence (so as not to be burdened by too much ‘self’), speaking from the heart, use of the arts, listening generously, participating constructively, hanging in when confidence is shaken, and … yes, enjoying ourselves! This in turn enriches our conceptual space, a space for better ideas, richer insights, to meet and align. When these spaces are well mingled, transformative experiments become possible. In other words, action-oriented researchers for transformations – ARTists – require equal emphasis on relational, conceptual and praxis spaces. Therefore, in Figure  5.1 you see these core components, linking relational with the more familiar conceptual space of scholarship and then to pragmatic expression in experiments. Action-oriented transformations research is, therefore, an invitation to inquiry-in-practice on how there can be a more concerted emphasis on making a positive difference with the stakeholders to an issue in response to the crises we now face. Intention is key. Without intention toward transformation, scholarship is simply another set of good ideas, disconnected from experience, unembodied. A case follows. It’s intended to provide detail enough to clarify what has just been sketched and, one hopes, to connect lofty sounding abstractions to practice. In the following case, the elements of purpose, ­listening/inquiry in practice, making a positive difference with the stakeholders to an issue, resonance within the subject/object distinction, specific methodologies, dynamically reconnecting reflection to sense-making and active experiments in learning, use of the arts, working transformatively, overcoming institutional inertia – and, not to forget, enjoying ourselves too – will become evident.



A CASE OF TRANSFORMING SELF AND COMMUNITY: THE JOURNAL OF ACTION RESEARCH When baking an apple pie from scratch, quipped physicist Carl Sagan, you must start with the big bang. In other words, as everything is connected to everything else, the location of a pragmatic starting point is always a choice; Similarly, when recounting a case. Let’s take August 29 as a start then. I remember it because I was celebrating my birthday. This was a day punctuated by getting to give a keynote address at an international conference titled, ‘Transformations 2017’, hosted by the University of Dundee, Scotland. This date provides a good starting point from which to look back and see specific notable results which have emerged through the practice of action-oriented research for transformations, namely: i) a new articulation of Action-oriented Research for Transformations (ART); ii), refreshed emphasis by the Action Research journal to develop and publish papers that exemplify ART; iii) stewarding a new global community (Action Research Plus) which gathers online and in person to provide content, curriculum and gatherings for those interested in this ARTful practice of knowledge creation. What follows is therefore a case that integrates personal, interpersonal and impersonal findings. It is not presented, as is conventional scholarship, as a case of work being done ‘somewhere by someones’, though its methodologies and principles are similar to the many such disembodied cases. Instead it is a case offered by the author in the first person. The ‘Transformations 2017’ conference was itself a pearl in a strand among events and efforts championed by scholars concerned by climate change. Professor Karen O’Brien, a geographer, was figural in such events. Karen was a co-recipient of the Nobel Prize for work with the International Panel on Climate Change. Since then, she has come to feel

stymied by the reluctance among IPCC team scientists to even mention ‘transformation’ in connection to climate change. The term was deemed too political, too contentious. There is wisdom in this reluctance given that outright science denial often hinges on the claim that science is biased. Additionally, there is the ongoing sensitivity of scholars to the negative colonizing impact of zealous experts. Still, if talk of transformation is said by scholars to be taboo, then talk of pragmatic efforts, much less engagement of scholars with non-elites, becomes impossible to discuss. Imagine if even 20% of IPCC funding could be spent on local experiments in combatting climate change in ways that those involved might learn from and build upon, harvesting the collective power of abundant, small-scale, nature-based efforts. To get close to such an outcome requires acknowledgment of the need for transformation and a scholarly practice that can support that. It was in this context that I was invited to talk about action research as an orientation to transformative knowledge creation. Despite the often-unquestioned norms of the scientific approach and the heretofore marginalization of action researching as a challenge to the dominant regime, interest in action research has been climbing exponentially since the 1970s. As such, it is a sibling to many efforts today that call for a transformation of the very practice of science, many of which may be found in the chapters of this Handbook. Action researchers can understand the sensitivities around the term transformation without shying away from it. We can seek to be nuanced. Also because of the centrality of stakeholders in decision making, we can strengthen ethical guardrails and have our inclusionary efforts be more evident. A key part of the relational work of action research is to locate allies in other fields and see what we might co-create together. I therefore approached the Transformations conference as an opportunity to meet thinking partners in the field of climate change. As the editor in chief of a journal, I was also


in a position to convene a guest editor team for a special issue that allowed us to blend ideas of action research with those of new allies who do not identify with the legacy or label of action research. With like-spirited guest editors Karen O’Brien, Steve Waddell, Marina Apgar, Ben Teehankee and Ioan Fazey, our collaboration eventuated in an editorial essay which became an important articulation of ART (Bradbury et al., 2019). We also succeeded in bringing a special issue on Climate Transformations to fruition, which is available without a paywall (https:// alongside a set of papers, each emphasizing engaging aspects of a new generation of ART.

AN EPISTEMOLOGICAL INTERLUDE: REFLEXIVITY AND DISSONANCE The case recounted is one example of how I respond to the question of what can I do in my sphere of influence, in my day-to-day personal and professional life. The self involved with action research is a transformative self and this self – and activities with others – are the experiments that help us learn how to enact needed transformations. In the space of the conference we recognized together that part of what inhibits our efforts as scholars is the unquestioned norms of an academia that has yet to truly reckon with the limits to objectivity, much less the need to support active engagement with (rather than distancing description of) our fraying social and ecological ecosystems. When individuals – and more powerfully as a group – find the opportunity to look under the surface of what inhibits our wellbeing (a key step in transformation is asking how structures prevent well-being), we may feel our sense of dissonance increase and sense of agency decrease. How to proceed? At first blush the brain, especially when unpracticed in reflective skills, can


leap to black and white choices: either I must make a difference or fall back to sleepwalking. Taking things personally and feeling (unconsciously) overwhelmed is, however, paralyzing. What might a middle path, a kind of muddling forward, look like? It helps to recall that this ‘I’ is not alone, but is inside a system co-created with others, because of, and for, others. The question may morph to ‘how can I take responsibility without feeling burdened?’. By definition, there is no objectivity for a self who investigates their own experience. Bias is always a danger, hence the need for reflexivity and consensus seeking. Reflexivity in inquiry is a central practice of the self-development necessary in action research for transformations. By investigating more of what I am subject to, through making it an object of investigation, the perspective of ‘I’ transforms. To use an analogy, learning improves the capacity to see, much like updating the software that runs the microscopes in a biology lab. This ‘subject object’ investigation provides the basic dialectical mechanism behind adult constructionist development. With it comes the capacity to grow ourselves in complexity to meet what we experience. Such reflexivity is therefore key in our practice as action-oriented researchers for transformation. In the process, we hardly need to be reminded that the dominant, and in many cases powerfully useful, discourse on objectivity, domiant since Descartes, is but a few hundred years old. Moreover, it is waning. When knowing starts with experience here and now, as when we engage with reflexive practice, the separation between self and other cannot be found. After all the oxygen I breathe or the thoughts I think are not controlled by me. There is – in e­ xperience – only one boundless field, that includes me and my personal agency. Contemporary Buddhist philosophy, exemplified in part by the Kyoto school that has arisen around the work of Kitaro Nishida (1979), is grounded on Buddhist experiential concepts – of say a



boundless field in which all happens – that are radically systemic. Nishida claims that the self is emergent (there is no separate, fixed self), coming to being and passing away in response to action, interaction with others and universal context. He articulates a relational self (also referred to as no-self). Experiential reality is naturally already interconnected. When persons tap into this collective field, collaborative knowing can open up new avenues for inquiry and reflective conceptual knowledge that emerge from the relationships involved.

SOCIAL MEANS BUILDING ON LEGACY Action research can begin anywhere – in any context in which we find ourselves as facilitators, and or as leaders, and/or as participants in the systems that require change. We can’t do action research if there are no stakeholders to the inquiry. Engaging others is the most important, and often most difficult, work. To return to the case above, I wondered about next steps, and next key stakeholders, after the Dundee conference. An immediate group to engage was the other associate editors of the journal in which the special issue on climate transformations was published. What if the special issue was not just a once off? I know from my own experience that no one embraces transformation easily (including me). I started the conversations with my fellow associate editors by stressing how a potential change process – whereby the journal would support more action research for transformations – is also in continuity with what we have accomplished before. As a journal we were well positioned to embrace a refreshment of our mission. Our journal experiences an over-supply of good articles. I knew that each associate editor had individual career and personal goals, and so I inquired with them how a shift in emphasis

to embrace sustainability in our mission, and with it a vision for regenerative society, could be of value to them and to us as a whole board. Not everyone is equally familiar with the notion of sustainability. To bring clarity we agreed that the SDG’s (The UN Sustainable Development Goals) supply a concrete, if imperfect vision of a regenerative world. We agreed that the SDGs supply a concrete, if imperfect, vision of a regenerative world. The emphasis on refreshing our mission at the journal felt like a step toward joining the many poly-centric, poly-vocal efforts within our larger societal shift to embrace better knowledge-creation processes in search of a life sustaining society. These are fed in particular today by the Global South and nonWestern perspectives on diverse forms of knowledge beyond Cartesian colonialism. The action research tradition brings decades of experience, and a commitment to learning with others – a recipe for naturally transforming with the times. While it is unlikely that conventionally trained scientists will leap to practice action research, we agreed as a board that we can and ought to partner more to mutual benefit with those conventionally trained scientists who are interested in impact. In turn, our gift to our stakeholders, i.e., the scholar-practitioners who want to do things differently, who want to be part of the solution, and who see ethics as part of scholarship, is to offer an oasis, a community of inquiry/practice, in an otherwise arid world of objectivist-objectivizing research.

OVERCOMING MICROINSTITUTIONAL INERTIA The journal of Action Research has been around for over 15 years. Our own process of transformation emphasized relational space. Before and during our associate editor meetings, we met in progressive trio groups so all


participants could discuss the implications of a new emphasis. Coming back into plenary dialogue (we number a dozen people from eight countries; we meet by video which allows for breakout groups), there was more willingness than opposition to adopting a transformative agenda. There were also good questions, some too difficult to answer. For example, who would we attract and/or repel with this new emphasis? Would we be forced to reject papers that just a few weeks previously would have been considered good? To answer too soon would merely substitute speculation for inquiry. Perhaps such questions can only be answered through our practice. To take inquiry to practice required aligning in intention. One board member called for more attention to our learning approach, asking us specifically to use our meetings for inquiring systematically into our own practice. We’d see in the intervening time which papers we saw as having potential and which not. We’d learn together to make these decisions more explicit together. We ended up agreeing that we’d look more carefully and reflexively at what constitutes truly ‘transformative’ action research. In other words, while we might not be able to tell in advance what the rejection process would be, we could simultaneously engage the new emphasis as a learning process for ourselves too. Moreover, we also agreed to bring more of the relational spirit to the review process itself. We agreed that the first round of review would remain completely blind, but that later rounds of review could begin to include meeting/dialoguing with reviewers and with authors, thus emphasizing community as part of inquiry in practice. Different Associate Board members brought their own individuality, reflexivity and egocentricity to the effort. One board member chose to resign around this time. As a follow up, I continued to lead ongoing trio meetings among board members, recording notes to ‘play forward’ to the next group. The heart of our work was to refresh the set


of criteria by which we assess quality – called the 7 quality choice points – and which also help us discern how to develop papers toward publication. We shared the new emphasis on transformation with our stakeholders, namely all readers, authors, reviewers. Six scholars volunteered to join as associate editors. We’re really just getting started. Transformation is emergent. In turn there are practical issues, such as building our capacity for using social media, and joining, where welcome, the efforts of others and inviting them to ours. For this we use the Action Research Plus Foundation and the global community developing around it. It was founded with seed capital from the royalties associated with the Handbooks and Journal of Action Research. It is a foundation that also funds work that makes journal articles available in accessible blog posts and videos, as well as books (called Cookbooks) that share stories and resources for self and community transformation. At the ‘Transformations 2019’ conference in Santiago, Chile, two years after the Dundee conference with which this case opens, Action Research Plus (AR+) launched its new bilingual, Spanish/English Cookbook, helping to overcome a language barrier that prevents action researchers from the Global North and South learning together. This launch happened during huge street protests that called on the government to rewrite its constitution. It was also in the midst of a severe drought and a burden of pollution brought about by unregulated capitalism. A timely moment indeed.

WE PAVE THE ROAD BY WALKING Does ART sound perhaps ‘a bit much’, requiring so much emphasis on transformation? Or are we perhaps too used to the controlling narrative of Cartesian scholarship, whose stance is distant from life, controlling, simplifying and universalizing? Stability and



control undoubtedly have a place in producing the powerful impact of double-blind results. Still it is partial (and indeed a surprising number of scientific studies are never reproduced). Action-oriented transformations research calls us to inquiry/practice as whole persons enriched by reflexivity, which allows for interpersonal resonance, and through that capacity for objectivity. Still one may expect that action research – and transdisciplinarity more generally – remains interpreted by a feudal elite of professors and grant foundations as foreign ideas too risky to take on. The resources of mainstream academia emerge to replicate rather than transform the status quo. Patience and understanding is useful. Yet asymmetrical power makes life difficult for more actionoriented junior scholars who would be the future of the field.

THE IMPLICATIONS? All of us scholars grapple with a deep addiction to the unsustainable systems within which we live and work – and a deep addiction also to the approbation, the scholarly rewards that recognize a narrow slice of inquiry. To varying degrees, we belong to communities that practice various levels of denial of just how much we exact a toll of suffering on weaker ones to maintain the status quo. If all of us are morally culpable, we also have the possibility to co-create the next system together, because we understand that we construct our social institutions. Knowledge systems for knowledge creation are not just academic. Transformation of academia is possible too! Action research shows up in many contexts. The special issue on climate transformations mentioned above offers examples, e.g., by Daniel Morchain and his colleagues (2019). They share how transforming Oxfam’s Vulnerability and Risk Assessment methodologies contributed to personal and

institutional transformations. Drawing on projects in Malawi, Botswana and Namibia, they conclude that inclusive and representative participatory approaches can help shift narratives that people hold about their lives and work. By establishing platforms and processes for speaking ‘truth to power,’ participatory processes also allow marginal voices to be heard, which can uncover issues that have been previously unaddressed. Their ART research focused on building relationships and on narrowing power dynamics and differentials to enable the co-creation of solutions that are rooted in social justice. Their work is a powerful example of how to move beyond incremental toward transformational thinking and action, especially in relation to climate change adaptation. This – and the many hundreds more action research cases – share principles of not remaining distant from the object of study, working within a conscious relational space, broadening perspectives and producing results together. Future and past are treated as part of the present moment. To ask ‘how do I do action research’ is similar to asking ‘how do I cook’? There is no simple answer, nor is a conceptual description all that helpful, especially not one without pictures of the dishes. By this I imply that action research is a process and takes various cultural forms across fields of endeavor and scholarly disciplines. And as with cooking there is a range, from simple potatoes to fiesta, and so action research too can involve a few or many thousands. As Gustavsen (2014) points out, there cannot be universality but there is potential for proliferating social learning if the findings are brought to a next group of stakeholders. The wary newcomer may see this as offputting and amorphous in comparison to the controlled process of conventional science. Still there are key ingredients or principles (Bradbury and AR+ Associates, see; as long as you make sure you are not alone nor follow an expert’s recipe to the letter. Along with stakeholders, may the ART force be with you!





I have offered a case as an illustration of the practice of ART. Journals – which channel the work of scholars – help to give voice to, and therefore fashion, the mindset of the educated class that produces – either as reproduction or transformation – the world we have. ART is a process for self-transforming as a scholar, with stakeholders, in the creative work of co-producing a more sustainable world. To be transformative – that is to bring social constructionism to pragmatism with a larger ecological intention, ART comprises:

Berger, P. L., and Luckmann, T. 1966. The Social Construction of Reality: A Treatise in the Sociology of Knowledge. New York: Doubleday. Boal, A. 1985. Theatre of the Oppressed. New York: Theatre Communications Group. Bradbury, H. (Ed.) 2015. The Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, 3rd Edition. London: Sage. Bradbury, H., and Torbert, W. 2016. Eros/ Power: Love in the Spirit of Inquiry. Transforming how Women and Men Relate. Tucson, AZ: Integral Publishers. Bradbury, H., Waddell, S., O’Brien, K., Apgar, M., Teehankee, B., and Fazey, I. 2019. A Call to Action Research for Transformations: The Times Demand It. Editorial. Action Research, 19(1): 1–10. Chandler, D., and Torbert, W. R. 2003. Transforming Inquiry and Action: Interweaving 27 Flavors of Action Research. Shaping the Future. Action Research, 1: 133–152. Coleman, G. 2015. Core Issues in Modern Epistemology for Action Researchers: Dancing Between Knower and Known. In Bradbury, H. (Ed.), The Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, 3rd Edition. London: Sage, pp. 392–400. Dewey, J. 1938. Experience and Education. New York: Collier. Duncan, G. 2015. Innovations in Appreciative Inquiry. Critical Appreciative Inquiry with Excluded Pakistani Women. In Bradbury, H. (Ed.), The Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, 3rd Edition. London: Sage, pp. 55–63. Eikeland, O. 2006. Condescending Ethics and Action Research: Extended Review Article. Action Research, 4(1): 37–47. Etmanski, C., and Bishop, K. 2017. Art: Enhancing Creativity in Action Research in Six Lessons. In Bradbury, H. and AR+ Associates, Cooking Action Research: Stories and Resources for Self and Community Transformation (, pp. 81–88. Fals Borda, O. 2006. The North–South Convergence. A 30-Year First Personal Assessment of PAR. Action Research, 4(3): 351–358.

• • • • • •

Clarifying purpose Reflexivity and agency Commitment to developmental process Inquiry in practice with others Integrating first, second and third And don’t forget, enjoying ourselves too!

How then might we muddle forward, learning together? For our transformative inherent potential as a learning species to be realized, a new intention for knowledge creation is key. Like Othello who bemoaned mere ‘prattle without practice’, we can intend for ourselves, new systems of learning – beyond prattle – which can practice as part of a solutions orientation to future forming. To paraphrase the relational sentiment of Margaret Mead: never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, constructionist actionoriented transformations researchers can help change the world. Isn’t it time that more scholars learned to engage fellow citizens in inquiry/practice around desired futures? It helps to remember the wisdom of philosopher/poet David Whyte who reminds us that our ‘great mistake is to act the drama as if you were alone’. We are not alone. We construct the world in relationship. This is the promise of the constructivist spirit of action research for transformations.



Follett, M. Parker 1924. Creative Experience. New York: Longman Green and Co (reprinted by Peter Owen in 1951). Foucault, M. 1994. The Birth of the Clinic. New York: Vintage Press. Freire, P. 1970 Pedagogy of the Oppressed. Translation by Myra Ramos. New York: Bloomsbury. Gergen, K., Josselman, R., and Freeman, M. 2015. The Promises of Qualitative Research. American Psychologist, 70(1): 1–9. Gustavsen, B. 2014. Social Impact and the Justification of Action Research. Action Research, 12(4): 339–356. Hall, B. L. 1992. From Margins to Center. The Development and Purpose of Participatory Research. The American Sociologist, 23(4): 15–28. Lewin, K. 1946. Action Research and Minority Problems. In Lewin, G. W. (Ed.), Resolving Social Conflicts. New York: Harper & Row, pp. 201–216. Morchain, D., Spear, D., and Ziervogel, G. 2019. Building Transformative Capacity in Southern Africa: Surfacing Knowledge and Challenging Structures through Participatory Vulnerability and Risk Assessments. Action Research, 17(1): 19–41.

Nishida, K. 1979. The Historical Body. In Sourcebook for Modern Japanese Philosophy (Zenshu, 19 volumes). Tokyo, Japan: Iwanamu Shoten, pp. 37–54. Nyemba, F., and Mayer, M. 2018. Exploring the Roots of Participatory Action Research: An Interview with Dr Marja-Liisa Swantz. Action Research, 16(3): 319–338. Rahman, A. 2004. Globalization: The Emerging Ideology in the Popular Protests and Grassroots Action Research. Action Research, 2(1): 9–23. Reason, P., and Bradbury, H. (Eds.) 2000. The Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice. London: Sage. Taylor, S., Rudolph, J., and Foldy, E., 2015. Teaching and Learning Reflective Practice in the Action Science/Action Inquiry Tradition. In Bradbury, H. (Ed.), The Handbook of Action Research: Participative Inquiry and Practice, 3rd Edition. London: Sage, pp. 732–741. Whitman, W., 1855, 1897. ‘We Two, How Long We Were Fool’d’ and ‘Song of Myself’. In Leaves of Grass. Walt Whitman Archive U. Virginia. Whyte, D. 2003. Everything is Waiting for You. Washington, USA: Many Rivers Press.

6 Research as Performative Inquiry Mary M. Gergen

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the ways in which social science research practices have conjoined with the arts, and the place of social construction in these emerging explorations. In my view this conjoining brings to light the potentials of seeing research as a form of performance, and thus an attempt to evoke a responsive action. However, given the rapid acceleration of interest in allying the arts with research practice, performative inquiry is virtually synonymous with ‘arts-based research’. Patricia Leavy, a well-known advocate of arts-based research, defines the field as ‘any social research … that adapts the tenets of the creative arts as a part of the methodology. So, the arts may be used during data collection, analysis, interpretation and/or dissemination’ (Jones and Leavy, 2014, pp. 1–2). Compendiums emphasizing performative inquiry include Playing with purpose: Adventures in performative social science (Gergen and Gergen, 2012), Creative research methods in the social sciences: A practical

guide (Kara, 2015) and many chapters in various editions of The SAGE handbook of qualitative research (Denzin and Lincoln, 2000, 2005, 2011, 2018). The Handbook of artsbased research is a major resource for performative inquiry (Leavy, 2019) and extends its reach into the health sciences, natural sciences, business, and education. Early performative handbooks include The SAGE handbook of performance studies (Madison and Hamera, 2006), and the Handbook of the arts in qualitative research (Knowles and Cole, 2008). Other important contributions include Arts-based research (Barone and Eisner, 2012) and Qualitative inquiry at a crossroads (Denzin and Giardina, 2019). Journals especially receptive to performative work include Qualitative Inquiry, International Review of Qualitative Research, Journal of Mixed Methods Research, and two online journals, Forum: Qualitative Social Research and Qualitative Research. In what follows I shall first provide a brief account of the development of performative inquiry. Now a powerful



catalyst in the social sciences, performative work is of relatively recent origin. How, one might ask, did such flowering occur, and how has its development bolstered by social constructionist ideas? We may then take a more focused look at developments in several areas of inquiry, including those relying on textual, embodied and visual arts. Finally, I will touch on some salient achievement and aspirations.

PERFORMATIVE INQUIRY: EMERGENCE AND DEVELOPMENT One might legitimately trace the origins of performative studies to the publication in 1632 of Galileo’s Dialogue concerning the two chief world systems. In this volume, Galileo effectively justifies his Copernican view of the universe, that the earth revolves around the sun. In this account, however, he draws from the full range of rhetorical devices available at the time: formal scientific articulation, irony, drama, comedy, sarcasm, and poetry among them. By rolling his manifesto into this rich mix of genres, and the like, Galileo was able to give voice to his view of the cosmos, while simultaneously protecting himself from the ire of the Pope and the Catholic Church, for which his views would be anathema. Over the next three centuries, Galileo’s research came to be a centerpiece in the emergence of a self-conscious empiricist science. However, the all-important rhetorical devices had grown into discredit, now regarded as ‘bells and whistles’ as opposed to carrying real objective substance. Science, it was said, was engaged in the pursuit of literal as opposed to rhetorical truth. This was indeed the received view within the burgeoning social sciences of the 20th century. The hope of many scholars was that the study of social life would constitute a science with a status approximating the natural sciences. Such research might provide the scientific basis for generating effective institutions of

education, commerce, and governance; they might lead the way in eradicating poverty, mental illness and other social problems. The effort to create and sustain this dream of the social sciences as kin to the natural sciences remains dominant in psychology, sociology, and economics, especially.

CULTURAL TRANSFORMATION: PROTEST AND PLURALISM As widely documented, a major shift in the political landscape took place in the second half of the 20th century in both the United States and across Europe. Where there had been widespread trust in the existing political institutions, a steadily expanding chorus of protest emerged. In the United States the first major wave of protest was embodied in the civil rights movement in the 1950s. This was followed by the equal rights movement, and most vociferously in the anti-war movement in the 1960s. One might say that, anti-­ establishment protest virtually became a way of life, with gay and lesbian activists, antipsychiatry advocates, environmental activists, and pro-life/pro/choice combatants soon participating. One important outcome of these movements was the questioning of all established forms of authority – not only governmental, but scientific and religious as well. All groups, great or small, voiced the right to speak out, to claim a legitimacy equal to others. While conflict was pervasive, there was also an emerging understanding and appreciation of the potentials of a pluralist society in which new ways of life could emerge, forms of life that favored inclusion, accommodation, and collaboration. Widely recognized for their liberal political leanings, social scientists were often in the vanguard in nurturing such pluralism. And in the same spirit of critique and protest, traditional definitions of scientific knowledge and method came under attack.

Research as Performative Inquiry

Ideological and political critique was already under way in Europe, but was soon joined by a powerful wave of feminist scholarship. Soon joining in were scholars concerned with the homophobic, individualist, capitalist, and Eurocentric biases of the social sciences. As common within the culture at large, there was an accompanying urgency to act. The possibility of combining scholarly work with social activism became increasingly plausible (Conquergood, 1982, 2002). The impact of this confluence remains robust in performative social science today (KeiferBoyd, 2011). Yet, the possibilities of conjoining the arts and sciences for such purposes must be traced to what was taking place within the artistic communities themselves. Many such communities thrive on challenging tradition. Indeed this has been the leitmotif of what we call modern art. However, during this period of broad political unrest, many artists from across the spectrum sought ways of using their various media for purposes of social and political change. Thus making their way into the scene were movements in performance art, pop art, disposable art, political art, street art, and more. In the groundbreaking films of Frederick Wiseman (Titicut Follies, Ballet, In Jackson Heights), and Jennie Livingston’s award-winning Paris is Burning the lines separating ethnography, politics, and entertainment were erased.

THE CONSTRUCTIONIST TURN It is during this same historical period – sometimes heralded as postmodern – that dialogues on the social construction of knowledge also erupted. One central idea within these dialogues was that our understandings of what we call reality emerge from relationships among people, especially through language and other meaningful activities (see Chapter 1). It is through relational processes – situated within particular


historical cultural and physical contexts – that our understandings are created and stabilized (or not), and through which we come to trust one another (or not) as knowable entities acting in what we see as reasonable ways (Gergen, 1994). From this point of view, there is no group of people that can make claims to transcendent truth, that is truth beyond what anyone might think or wish. There may be multiple and competing claims to what is the case, each legitimate within a socio-historical context. Importantly, this applies as well to the sciences. Scientific descriptions are constructed within sub-cultures of scientists, and serve their particular purposes and values. This is not to say that all descriptions are equal, but rather, to ask what purposes and values are served by their work. Thus, if one agrees with the assumptions and values of Western medicine, one can legitimately compare the outcomes with various indigenous forms of medicine. Yet there are also reasons to question the assumptions and values. The question thus emerges, what are the aims and purposes of the social sciences? What do they value, and how are these values fulfilled by their forms of research and their languages of description and explanation? Often it is said that the aims of the sciences are ‘prediction and control.’ However, many researchers are alienated by this conclusion, and prefer to cast their work, for example, in the service of various liberal and humanitarian goals. We are then invited to ask: what methods, what forms of inquiry, and what forms of description and explanation may best suit such ends. From these constructionist dialogues emerged three significant conclusions linking the social sciences with the arts. First, by removing the mantle of authority from traditional empirical science, social sciences were liberated to consider alternative methods of inquiry. One may trace the mushrooming of qualitative research practices – including the performative – to this line of argument. Second, because all accounts of the worldincluding the scientific – carry the values of



those who espouse them, then social science researchers can make no claims to value neutrality. The door now opens to carrying out science not as neutral bystanders, but for the very purposes of realizing social and political ends. Finally, from a constructionist perspective, there is no privileged form of language for describing and explaining the world. Thus, in terms of truth posits, the various languages of the arts are equivalent to the languages (and statistics) of the sciences. While the enormous range of performative and arts-based inquiry that subsequently emerged within the social sciences cannot be traced directly to these ideas, the indirect effects cannot be overestimated. Until such ideas began to ripple through the social sciences, there was no way to legitimate such inquiry. One could look back at many experiments created by social psychologists in the late 1960s and early 1970s as performative in character. For example, Stanley Milgram’s (1974) famous studies on obedience, along with the well-known ‘Stanford prison study’ (Haney et al., 1973) were highly theatrical. However, the performativity was inadvertent, as the primary intention was to create empirically grounded generalizations. More directly related, in my experience were a series of highly popular symposia presented at the American Psychological Association meetings from 1995 to 1999. Presentations included plays, poetry, film, painting, dance, mime, and multi-media presentations. Similarly important were the annual meetings of the International Conference on Qualitative Inquiry, hosted by Norman Denzin at the University of Illinois. Since 2005 they provided an inviting platform for performative work. Attracting over a thousand international researchers a year in the qualitative field, they highlighted the work of many well-known performance scholars, including Tami Spry (2001, 2011), Laurel Richardson (1997), Ron Pelias (1999, 2014, 2018) and Johnny Saldaña (2011). Also noteworthy in the direct linkages with constructionist ideas was the compilation by

Kip Jones et al. (2008) in an edited issue of Forum: Qualitative Social Research (vol. 9), This special issue included 42 entries from authors in 13 countries, and featured 100 photographs, 50 illustrations, 36 videos, and two audio-recordings. Jones also was the organizer of a series of five exploratory conferences in 2006–07. These efforts allowed social scientists to identify areas of possible connections with each other as well as with practitioners from the arts (Gergen and Jones, 2008). Jones continues to advance performative social science through his blog Kipworld (2017), and his work at the Bournemouth University, Centre for Qualitative Research.

ATTRACTIONS OF PERFORMATIVE INQUIRY As we see, the constructionist dialogues provide strong arguments for social scientists to cast off the restrictions of positivist methodology, to give expression to their values in the aims and practices of their research, and to employ the full range of rhetorical skills in communicating their work. For those engaged in these dialogues, there was the additional advantage that performative inquiry avoided the kind of authoritative truth claims often associated with scientific rhetoric. When a message is carried through performance, an audience may be moved without presuming that it is scientifically certified. Performative work constitutes serious play. Whether touched directly or indirectly by constructionist dialogues, social scientists have found performative inquiry appealing in many other ways. At the outset, such inquiry allows the researcher to address social concerns in ways that are far more accessible to public audiences than are the more antiseptic and abstract forms of professional writing (Finley, 2018). This also allows the researcher to avoid the common critique that scholarly work is elitist, that it is written for

Research as Performative Inquiry

other scholars, while the public is shut out of the conversation that is often ‘about them.’ Also attractive is the invitation to personal expression. The researcher is not hamstrung by a cumbersome and formalized language of representation, as required in many scientific communities, but can draw from the full range of his or her potentials. This may mean, for example, drawing from folk traditions in one’s life – woven into one’s ethnicity, gender, or class. In a recent edition of the International Review of Qualitative Research, for example, one article features Anishinabe song and story (Pedri-Spade, 2016) and a second the craft of beading as a method of performative inquiry (Ray, 2016). In contrast to traditional methods – in which one’s life history is eliminated from view, a performative orientation also opens a space in which one’s life experiences can become assets to expression. We shall return to this potential in a later discussion of autoethnography. And too, performative inquiry invites the researcher to explore or give expression to one’s aesthetic potentials – in writing poetry, acting, playing an instrument, dancing, and so on. Many researchers are attracted to performative inquiry because of its rhetorical power. Among the attributes of performative inquiry are its capacity to blend various forms of art together, thus ‘speaking in many voices’ at once. For example, in his analysis of Custer’s ‘last stand’ against native American warriors, Norman Denzin combined autobiographical reminiscences, historical description, artistic representations, staged readings, and snippets of documents to produce a powerful, multilayered ethnography (2011). This feature is especially attractive to activist researchers. While lines of careful reasoning may advocate social change, their temperate and measured form of logical argumentation often leave one in thought. Are there other arguments to consider; what is the history of this issue; and so on. By drawing on the full range of the arts, one’s message can stimulate excitement, the emotions, and the impetus to action.


DOMAINS OF PERFORMATIVE INQUIRY Social scientists now draw from the full range of artistic traditions in their inquiries, and often combine traditions for particular purposes. The creative possibilities are limitless, and the mushrooming developments in digital technology open a vast new territory. However for analytic purposes it is useful to scan the work in three more circumscribed realms: textual, embodied action, and visual.

Textual Adventures Because traditional scholarship takes the form of writing, the most attractive invitation into performative work has been furnished by literary traditions such as biography, fiction, and poetry. Constructionist ideas invite one to experiment with these traditional forms. In the case of biography, for example, in an exploration of her own eating disorder, Lisa Tillmann-Healy (1996) shows her hidden bulimia via short vignettes, from early childhood to her twenties. Karen Fox’s (1996) juxtaposition of three voices was extracted from interviews to form a pseudo-conversation: the first voice was that of her client, who as a young girl, had been sexually abused by her grandfather; the second a man now in prison for sexually abusing his granddaughter; and the third, her own, commenting on her feelings. Kenneth and Mary Gergen (1994) composed a duography, that is, a double biography, which began with the voices of two independent individuals and gradually melded them together over the course of the text. The logic inherent in this tradition also finds lively development in autoethnography (Bochner and Ellis, 2016; Sughrua, 2016), in which scholars use themselves as instruments for illuminating a particular socio-cultural condition. The shift from ethnography to autoethnography is an important one, as it



replaces the authority of the outside observer with the voice of the person in-situ (Ellis, 2004). This work has frequently expanded to include novels and theatrical scripts (Ellis, 2004; Richardson, 1997; Richardson and St.  Pierre, 2005). Excellent compendiums of this work are found in edited volumes by Ellis and Bochner, Composing ethnography (1996) and Bochner and Ellis, Ethnograpically speaking (2002). More radical in its challenge to realist representation is the work of social scientists who have turned to fiction as a means of inquiry. The enormously expanded range of expression allowed by fictional traditions enable them to illuminate their subject matter in what are often seen as more effective and penetrating ways than traditional empirical study. Pfohl’s (1992), Death at the Parasite Café was a courageous and innovative entry into the professional literature – at once serious and playful. Also adventuresome are dialogues between fictitious characters. For example, in Michael Mulkay’s (1985) groundbreaking work, fictional characters, Marks and Spencer, along with inebriated participants at the Nobel ceremonies, dispute about chemistry, in a parody of issues in sociology. Exploration now abounds. For example, Diversi (1998) has used short stories to provide a glimpse of street life for homeless youth in Brazil, and Muñoz (2014) has employed fictional stories to explore dimensions of silence in interpersonal communication. Poetry has long been viewed in the culture more generally as a way of communicating wisdom, insights, or passions in more powerful, economic, and more highly nuanced ways than prose. To explore these potentials in social science, for example, Mary Breheny (2012) has provided a poetic representation of aging; Anne Görlich (2016) has introduced us to the lives of adolescent dropouts, and Laurel Richardson has used experimental writing to illuminate her life in Fields of play (1997). As an alternative to authoring their own poems, other social scientists have

drawn from the words of others – typically those to whom they wish to give voice – to form a poetic integration. For example, Steven Hartnett (2003) has provided insight into prison life through the poems of inmates. For more detailed accounts of the use of poetry in social research see Richardson and St. Pierre (2005), and Faulkner (2009). More on the performative use of text in general can be found in Pelias (2014), and Gergen and Gergen (2012).

Embodied Performance The blend of activism and performance has a long history in the culture of protest. The Brazilian theater practitioner and political activist, Augusto Boal (1995), is noteworthy in opening the way to blending embodied performance with social theory, and he has inspired many to follow. For example, Jonathan Shailor in his work in prisons uses performative methods to create change in the lives of inmates (2010). Also illustrative is the theatrical work of Anna Deavere Smith on youth going to prison (2019), Mary Gergen on women and aging (2001), and Anita Woodley (2015), an inspiring storyteller and creator of ethnodramas, in her role as Mama Juggs on breast cancer and body image. Tami Spry, who has a special concern with Native American lives, also offers wisdom and guidance to those who may be drawn to the potentials of performance (2001, 2011). A major innovator in performance studies is the East Side Institute in New York City, where dramatic productions are integral to educational, therapeutic and communitybuilding functions (Holzman, 1999; Newman, 1996). From this perspective, the performative nature of human relationships is implicated in their doing, and thus, a performative analysis is coherent with the drama of everyday life. However, there is also increasing movement toward full-blown performance. For example, Johnny Saldaña, an educator and

Research as Performative Inquiry

musician, has transformed an aspect of his life story into an hour-long theatrical piece, ‘Second Chair’, during which he plays music as well as speaks lines (Saldaña, 2011). Organizational behavior scholar, Frank Barrett, a former professional jazz musician, has developed a brilliant musical presentation involving audience participation, to illustrate the creation of meaning through collaboration (2012). Possibly because of the far greater demands involved (e.g. multiple performers, costumes, sets) the deployment of theatrical plays as social inquiry has not been well developed. One of the most salutary inspirations is the work of Gray and Sinding (2002), in which women with metastasized breast cancer both wrote and performed a play inviting others, especially medical personnel, to treat them as whole persons, in contrast to reducing their identities to their diseases. Park (2009) and Norris (2010) have shown how play building can be used as a form of action research. As mentioned, Kip Jones has been at the forefront of this effort to use film as a form of performative inquiry (Hearing and Jones, 2018).

From the Visual to the Visionary Given the longstanding assumption that photographs provide the unvarnished truth about their subject matter, it is surprising that outside the tradition of visual sociology, so little use has been made of photography in the social sciences. The performative movement lends new life to this medium, but with an understanding of photography as both interpretive and value invested (Allen, 2011; Allen, 2012; Miller, 2016). To sample the innovative use of the medium, Newbury and Hoskins (2010) gave adolescent girls, who were drug users, digital cameras to explore and portray their life conditions and potentials. In their photovoice work on Parkinson’s disease, Hermanns et al. (2015) asked their participants to take photos of


everyday challenges related to the disease, and then engaged them in dialogue about the photos. Such combining of photography with other forms of representation is increasingly common. Mannay (2010) has combined photos, mapping, and collage production in her study of the experiences of mothers and daughters in a social housing estate. Also see Lawrence-Lightfoot and Davis for their pioneering work on portraiture methodology (1997). Brooks (2017) has elaborated on the importance of portraiture in its contributions of aesthetics to performative inquiry. The development of digital video devices has been a strong invitation to explore filmic representation in the social sciences. The aforementioned works of Wiseman and Livingston opened the door. Kip Jones’ prizewinning film, Rufus Stone (https://vimeo. com/109360805) is testimony to a continuing tradition of excellence. The project was based on narrative materials collected and synthesized by Jones. The aim was also to empower older lesbians and gay men in rural areas through participatory action research. Kenneth Gergen (2018) has turned to video to create what he calls an evocative ethnography of life in the contemporary digital world. Still other scholars have turned directly to You Tube to reach large audiences of viewers. For example, Kitrina Douglas (2012) offers performative videos in anti-psychiatry and feminism in song form. Other efforts can be found in the multi-media journal, Liminalities. These various endeavors in textual, embodied, and visual performance scarcely exhaust the range of innovative explorations now extant. For example, Blumenfeld-Jones (2008) describes the uses and potentials of dance in performative social science; Glenda Russell and Janis Bohan (1999) have demonstrated the power of choral music in the politics of change. Bartlett (2013) has used cartoons as a form of inquiry. Kuttner et al. (2018) have combined cartoons with rap music as part of their research work. There are also numerous



ways in which scholars have combined various forms of representation to achieve their ends. As poetic expression is accompanied by music, for example, the audience’s experience may be enriched. The combinations and permutations resulting from integrations across the realm of artistic expression may be limitless.

ACHIEVEMENTS AND ASPIRATIONS Performative work radically alters the definition of knowledge and research. In doing so, it functions subtly within the academy to gradually expand consciousness of possibilities. And with this shift, the potential contribution of the social sciences to society is substantially increased. Unlike traditional empiricists, typically absorbed by testing abstract hypotheses or observing society from the sidelines, performative inquiry can actively create change. A performative consciousness prompts asking such questions as, ‘Who is this research for?’ ‘Will this research help to make a change for the better?’ It is ultimately a matter of communicating with full potentials to all peoples. In this way, the distance between the academy and the community is diminished and scholars become more fully engaged in the life-worlds about them. Its capacity for engagement further means that performative work establishes the grounds for dialogue within society. Traditional scientific writing speaks down to society, positioning itself as authoritative and legitimate, over and above the views of the audience. In contrast, when communicating with forms of theater, poetry, film, or photography – all common in society – the scholar is often using culturally familiar forms of communication. Because no claims are made to The Truth, the audience can approach performance work not defensively, but with more openness to what is presented. The conditions are thus established for dialogic interchange. To be sure, performance pursuits may express

a particular point of view, often passionately. Yet the very fact that the expression is performative informs the audience that the message is an artifice – crafted for the occasion. One may compare this with traditional empirical work, in which researchers do all they can to suppress their personal investments. While making declarations about the real and the good, performance work simultaneously removes the gloss ‘is true’. Performative pursuits continuously remind us that everything remains open to dialogue. Much more can be said about the potentials inhering in the performative movement. As discussed, by using the arts to socially construct the world, new and exciting vistas of theory and research are opened up (see, for example, Rolling, 2014). And, because performative inquiry does not require that disciplines be defined in terms of pre-fixed objects (e.g. the mind, society, the family, the community), disciplinary boundaries can be crossed more easily. New research territories can also be created, as evidenced in the way performance researchers take up issues in post-humanism, and the new materialism (Barad, 2007; Bennett, 2010; Braidotti, 2013; Haraway, 2016). Increasingly, academic cultures are invited into mutual exploration with mixed-methods and research innovations encouraged. One may now envision a future in which concerns with the philosophical and aesthetic origins of research inquiry will be replaced with questions of how one’s research practices can best serve one’s purposes. Resistance to performative work will remain, but critical reflection is also healthy. At this point in time, however, the vistas of possibility are irresistibly inviting.

REFERENCES Allen, L. (2011). ‘Picture this’: Using photomethods in research on sexualities and schooling. Qualitative Research, 11, 487–504.

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Allen, Q. (2012). Photographs and stories: Ethics, benefits and dilemmas of using participant photography with Black middle-class male youth. Qualitative Research, 12, 443–458. Anita Woodley Productions. (October 27, 2015). Anita Woodley’s Mama Living with BreastCancer Mini Documentary [Video]. YouTube. tUDnwFjYJcU Appignanesi, J. (Director) and Jones, K. (Author). (2011). Rufus Stone [Film]. London: Parkville Pictures & Bournemouth: Bournemouth University. Retrieved from https:// Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway: Quantum physics and the entanglement of matter and meaning. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Barone, T., and Eisner, E. (2012). Arts-based research. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Barrett, F. (2012). Yes to the mess: Surprising leadership lessons from jazz. Boston: Harvard Business School Publishing. Bartlett, R. (2013). Playing with meaning: Using cartoons to disseminate research findings. Qualitative Research, 13, 214–227. Bennett, J. (2010). Vibrant matter: A political ecology of things. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Blumenfeld-Jones, D. (2008). Dance, choreography, and social science research. In J. G. Knowles and A. L. Cole (Eds.), Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Boal, A. (1995). The rainbow of desire: The Boal method of theatre and therapy (pp. 175–184). New York: Routledge. Bochner, A., and Ellis, C. (Eds.) (2002). Ethnographically speaking: Autoethnography, literature, and aesthetics. New York: Rowman and Littlefield. Bochner, A., and Ellis, C. (2016). Evocative autoethnography: Writing lives and telling stories. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Braidotti, R. (2013) The posthuman. London: Polity Press. Breheny, M. (2012). ‘We’ve had our lives, we’ve had our lives’: A poetic representation of ageing. Creative Approaches to Research, 5, 156–170.


Brooks, S. D. (2017). The song (does not) remain the same: Re-envisioning portraiture methodology in educational research. The Qualitative Report, 22, 2231–2247. Retrieved from iss8/16 Conquergood, D. (1982). Performing as a moral act: Ethical dimensions of the ethnography performance. Literature in Performance, 5, 1–13. Conquergood, D. (2002). Lethal theatre: Performance, punishment, and the death penalty. Theatre Journal, 54, 339–367. Deavere Smith, A. (2019). Notes from the field. New York: Random House. Denzin, N. (2011). Custer on canvas: Representing Indians, memory, and violence in the New West. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Denzin, N., and Giardina, M. D. (Eds.) (2014). Qualitative inquiry at a crossroads: Political, performative, and methodological reflections. New York: Routledge. Denzin, N., and Lincoln, Y. (Eds.) (2000, 2005, 2011, 2018). The SAGE Handbook of qualitative research, 2nd–5th editions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Diversi, M. (1998). Glimpses of street life: Representing lived experience through short stories. Qualitative Inquiry, 4, 131–137. Douglas, K. (2012). Signals and signs. Qualitative Inquiry, 18, 525–532. Ellis, C. (2004). The ethnographic I: A methodological novel about autoethnography. Walnut Creek, CA: Altamira. Ellis, C., and Bochner, A. C. (Eds.) (1996). Composing ethnography: Alternative forms of qualitative writing. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. Faulkner, S. L. (2009). Poetry as method: Reporting research through verse. New York: Routledge. Finley, S. (2018). The future of critical artsbased research: Creating aesthetic spaces for resistance politics. In N.K. Denzin & M. Giardina (Eds), Qualitative inquiry in the public sphere. New York: Routledge, 186–199. Fox, K. V. 1996. Silent voices: A subversive reading of child sexual abuse. In C. Ellis and A. P. Bochner (Eds.), Composing ethnography (pp. 330–356). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.



Gergen, K. J. (1994). Reality and relationships: Soundings in social construction. Cambridge: Harvard University Press Gergen, K. J. (2018). The digital wayfarer: Evocative ethnography as performance. Qualitative Psychology, 5, 16–25. Gergen, K. J., and Gergen, M. (1994). Let’s pretend: A duography. In D. J. Lee (Ed.), Life and story: Autobiographies for a narrative psychology (pp. 61–86). New York: Praeger. Gergen, M., and Jones, K. (2008). Editorial: A conversation about performative social science. Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2). Gergen, M. M., and Gergen, K. J. (2012). Playing with purpose: Adventures in performative social science. New York: Routledge. Gergen, M. (2001). Feminist reconstructions in psychology: Narrative, gender and performance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Görlich, A. (2016). Poetic inquiry: Understanding youth on the margins of education. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 29, 520–535. Gray, R., and Sinding, C. (2002). Standing ovation: Performing social science research about cancer. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press. Haney, C., Banks, W. C., and Zimbardo, P. G. (1973). A study of prisons and guards in a simulated prison. Naval Research Review, 30, 4–17. Haraway, D. (2016). Staying with the trouble. Chapel Hill, NC: Duke University Press Hartnett, S. J. (2003). Incarceration nation: Investigative prison poems of hope and terror. Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira. Hearing, T., and Jones, K. (2018). Film as research/research as film. In P. Leavy (Ed.), Handbook of arts-based research (pp. 425– 436). New York: Guilford Press. Hermanns, M., Greer, D. B., and Cooper, C. (2015). Visions of living with Parkinson’s disease: A photovoice study. The Qualitative Report, 20, 336–355. ssss/QR/QR20/3/hermanns10.pdf Holzman, L. (Ed.) (1999). Performing psychology: A postmodern culture of the mind. New York: Routledge. Jones, K. (2013). Infusing biography with the personal: Writing Rufus Stone. Creative Approaches to Research, 6, 6–23. Jones, K., and Leavy, P. (2014). A conversation between Kip Jones and Patricia

Leavy: Arts-based research, performative social science and working on the margins. The Qualitative Report, 19, 1–7. Jones, K., et  al. (Eds.) (2008). Forum: Qualitative Social Research, 9(2). Kara, H. (2015). Creative research methods in the social sciences: A practical guide. Bristol, UK: Policy Press. Keifer-Boyd, K. (2011). Arts-based research as social justice activism: Insight, inquiry, imagination, embodiment, relationality. International Review of Qualitative Research, 4, 3–19. Kipworld (2017). http://kipworldblog.blogspot. com/2017/ Knowles, J. G., and Cole, A. L. (2008). Handbook of the arts in qualitative research: ­Perspectives, methodologies, examples, and issues. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Kuttner, P. J., Sousanis, N., and WeaverHightower, M. B. (2018). How to draw comics the scholarly way: Creating comicsbased research in the academy. In P. Leavy (Ed.), Handbook of arts-based research (pp. 396–424). New York: Guilford Press. Lawrence-Lightfoot, S. and Davis, J. (1997). The art and science of portraiture. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass. Leavy, P. (Ed.) (2019) The handbook of artsbased research. New York: Guilford Press. Madison, D. S., and Hamera, J. (Eds.) (2006). The SAGE handbook of performance studies. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Mannay, D. (2010). Making the familiar strange: Can visual research methods render the familiar setting more perceptible? Qualitative Research, 10, 91–111. Milgram, S. (1974). Obedience to authority: An experimental view. New York: Harper & Row. Miller, K. E. (2016). Dear critics: Addressing concerns and justifying the benefits of photography as a research method work. http:// Mulkay, M. (1985). The word and the world: Explorations in the form of sociological analysis. London: Allen & Unwin. Muñoz, K. L. (2014). Transcribing silence: ­Culture, relationships, and communication. Thousand Oaks, CA: Left Coast Press. Newbury, J. & Hoskins, M. (2010). Relational inquiry: Generating new knowledge with

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adolescent girls who use crystal meth. Qualitative Inquiry, 16(8), 642–650. Newman, F. (1996). Performance of a lifetime: A practical-philosophical guide to the joyous life. New York: Castillo. Norris, J. (2010). Playbuilding as qualitative research: A participatory arts-based approach. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Park, H.-Y. (2009). Writing in Korean, living in the U.S.: A screenplay about a bilingual boy and his mom. Qualitative Inquiry, 15, 1103–1124. Pedri-Spade, C. (2016). The drum is your document: Decolonizing research through Anishinabe song and story. International Review of Qualitative Research, 9, 385–406. Pelias, R. (1999). Writing performance: Poeticizing the researcher’s body. Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press. Pelias, R. (2014). Performance: An alphabet of performative writing. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Pelias, R. (2018). Writing performance, identity, and everyday life: The selected works of Ronald J. Pelias. New York: Routledge. Pfohl, S. (1992). Death at the Parasite Café. New York: St. Martins. Ray, L. (2016). ‘Beading becomes a part of your life’: Transforming the academy through the use of beading as a method of inquiry. International Review of Qualitative Research, 9, 363–378. Richardson, L. (1997). Fields of play. New Brunswick, NJ: Rutgers University Press.


Richardson, L., and St. Pierre, E. A. (2005). Writing: A method of inquiry. In N. Denzin and Y. Lincoln (Eds.), Handbook of qualitative research (pp. 959–978). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Rolling, J. H. (2014). Artistic method in research as a flexible architecture for theory-building. International Review of Qualitative Research, 7, 161–168. Russell, G., and Bohan, J. (1999). Hearing voices: The use of research and the politics of change. Psychology of Women Quarterly, 23, 403–418. Saldaña, J. (2011). Ethnotheatre: Research from page to stage. Walnut Creek, CA: Left Coast Press. Shailor, J. (2010). Performing new lives: Prison theater. Philadelphia: Jessica Kingsley Press. Spry, T. (2001). Performing autoethnography: An embodied methodological praxis. Qualitative Inquiry, 7, 706–732. Spry, T. (2011). Writing and performing autoethnography. Thousand Oaks, CA: Left Coast Press. Sughrua, W. M. (2016). Heightened performative autoethnography: Resisting oppressive spaces within paradigms. New York: Peter Lang. Tillmann-Healy, L. M. (1996). A secret life in the culture of thinness. In C. Ellis and A. P. Bochner (Eds.), Composing ethnography (pp.  76–105). Walnut Creek, CA: AltaMira Press.

7 We Are All Researchers Dan Wulff and Sally St. George

Twenty-two years ago, we wrote an article entitled ‘Research as Practice – Practice as Research’ based upon our social constructionist stance (Gergen, 2009, 2015) and our experiences of integrating our practice of family therapy with research. The article was rejected by a journal editor, stating that ‘everyone was already merging research and practice and this was not a new idea’. As new academics at the time, we were crestfallen and took the feedback to heart, even though from our experience we saw little evidence that people were seeing practice and research as the same. We noticed efforts to create bridges and translations across research and practice, but we did not see others re-visioning them as one and the same process. We have read numerous articles focused on connections between research and practice where researchers focus on the evidence for, and application of, research results to further certain preferred practices (FarleyRipple et al., 2018). While we see advantages

of bridging research results with practice applications, our perspective is to not separate them into two ideas in the first place that then need to be bridged. We have connected with professional kindred spirits who share, at least in part, the interest in seeing research and practice combined into a single initiative (Relational Research Network of the Taos Institute, see relational-research network). We have remained committed to the notion of practice and research being variations of the same thing and continued to experiment with this idea in our practice setting (mostly at the Calgary Family Therapy Centre; St.  George et al., 2015b; Wulff et al., 2015). We were impressed by how generative it was in our professional world and became interested in how it could be productively used in other human endeavors, including everyday activities (e.g., making decisions about how to balance work and personal life, choosing how to invest time and money, evaluating job

We Are All Researchers

choices and decisions, creating and engaging with preferred life styles) (McNamee and Hosking, 2012). While joining these two ideas can contribute to research and researchers, our driving motivation is to improve practices with which to go forward. We are not interested in trying to develop a single ‘truth’ or certainty because we believe in the utility of multiplicities (Anderson, 2014; Gergen, 2015). ‘Practices’ could include parents trying to find better ways to respond to problems with a child, teachers looking to provide better instruction or manage learning difficulties, managers of a small business wanting to improve staff/employee relationships or alter the way their service is delivered, nurses wanting better ways to connect with ‘noncompliant’ patients, lawyers who are looking to refocus legal practice to embrace a different orientation or clientele, or religious leaders wanting to reshape their congregation’s relationship to the surrounding neighborhood. In all of these situations, seeing practice and research as part-and-parcel of each other facilitates directed movement in the moment. Examining aspects of a situation, the context, the history, and the persons involved are sensible and useful considerations in planning and taking action. Additionally, our understanding is furthered by noticing how situations respond to action (Kuhne and Quigley, 1997). Investigating situations is integrally linked to the situation itself. Action provides insight and insight provides action. Distinguishing them as two separate processes diminishes each of them. In this Handbook chapter we will illustrate with everyday examples how common notions of research and of practice unnecessarily distinguish them (McNamee and Hosking, 2012). Everyday examples of deciding what to do or how to do it involve processes to discern the optimal choice(s) for the person given the situation at hand. This is not an attempt to locate the ‘truth’ or the ‘accurate’ choice (Gergen, 2015) – it is an effort to make the best decision for the


person given what is available and desired. Considerations of options are predicated on the actions that will or can be taken. Let us consider how persons decide what kind of transportation to use. Making a decision about buying or leasing a car, carpooling, using public transportation or taxis, riding a bicycle or walking requires thought and deliberation considering preferences, prior experiences, relationships with employment, costs, and other factors. The consideration of options is connected to the ‘doing’ of the choice – the examining of choices is intimately connected with the eventual performance of the choice. The performance of the choice will include an examination of how the choice is working (or not working) – the ‘doing’ will also involve examination and reflection. Both the doing (practice) and the examining (research) happen concurrently, simultaneously. Seeing research and practice as merged acknowledges how we make decisions in our everyday lives. Deciding how to go forward is idiosyncratic for each of us and does not lend itself to being categorized as ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ in an abstract sense. What we do is largely based on what we believe is possible and available – our considerations/reflections are lodged within what we see ourselves as capable of. The optimal answer/decision is the one that fits the myriad of conditions and circumstances involved and that can only be determined by that person or group. We resonate with John Shotter’s (2014) views on ‘withness’ and ‘aboutness’ – our work focuses on what is in practice rather than trying to impact or influence practice from a position outside. The idea of research is within practice. The weddedness of research and practice impacts how practitioners work. A practitioner relates to the situation at hand that involves a client, customer, or a community in a way that points to progressive next steps. The aim is to go forward, not necessarily to fix or to remedy. This is a significant re-imagining for practitioners – the focus



shifts from producing change in the client, customer, or community to joining with efforts to take next steps in a preferred direction (Shotter, 2007; Witkin, 2017). Practitioners undergo this same process when they work with a client in order to understand the nature of the task at hand and to proceed in an effective way. This process of orienting to a client family and their circumstances is a situated endeavor that takes into account a complex of elements in the lives of the clients, the practitioner and his/her way of practicing, and the nature of the service delivery. Research and the production of knowledge about a given problem as detached from practice cannot include enough situational knowledge to fit the specific circumstances of the client. Research knowledge oftentimes needs to be transformed by the ‘user’ of that knowledge to become resonant enough with the context to be useful. Some of our readers may liken the processes that we have just briefly described to action research, and rightly so (Kuhne and Quigley, 1997). Looking into alternatives and creating change based on exploring the context and the circumstances of the person(s) involved using a series of phases and action steps is the basis of action research. These actions are closely associated with what we are describing in this chapter and closely resemble what we have been proposing in Research As Daily Practice (St George et al., 2015a; Wulff and St.  George, 2014), with the primary difference being that we believe that daily living is filled with the ‘action research’ processes without it being formally so labeled. It is an endeavor that is not formalized, specified, or languaged as action research. We might say that ‘action research’ is a formalized and deliberate term for what all people engage in during the course of their everyday lives in making their decisions, big and small. The centralization and consolidation of ‘research’ activities under the purview of an expert, in our experience, tends to distance people from one another and discourages

people without formal scientific training from engaging in examining their own worlds. In this chapter we aim to disrupt the hegemony of research as the exclusive domain of expert researchers, while we would like to acknowledge the importance of ‘expert research’ for what it can provide. Scientific knowledge has helped us understand many aspects of our material existence and has led to the creation of improvements in our health and longevity, our mobility, and technological innovations. Our point is that researching and/or inquiring is involved in practice and that all practitioners are, by virtue of the very processes they employ, researchers (Schön, 1983). Their ‘research/inquiry’ activities are situated in each unique situation – it is a coordinated project with those affected to determine how to go forward (Simon, 2012). All sorts of decontextualized knowledge, anecdotal information, knowledge from systematic studies, historical perspectives, and creative ideas are germane to the process of figuring out how to proceed. But it is the inquiry that takes place in real time between people (e.g., practitioners and clients) that provides the platform from which to chart the course forward.

DIFFERENT OR THE SAME? Our initial impetus in thinking about research and practice as the same grew from an effort to find better ways to coordinate our efforts in doing both research and practice in our academic lives (Wulff and St. George, 2014). Looking at the basic steps involved in each process, we were intrigued by the strong similarities. Practitioners focus on a problem or concern and so do researchers. Practitioners assemble information about the issue (i.e., interviews with their clients, history-taking, reading case files, performing tests or assessments, consulting with others) and researchers collect data (interviews, observations, written documents/archival materials, questionnaires/surveys). Practitioners assemble

We Are All Researchers

the information to conceptualize how to understand the situation while researchers design ways to analyze their data in order to develop understanding. Practitioners use the conceptualization to intervene or provide assistance while researchers transform the data with the methodologies to produce knowledge/understanding. Practitioners assess the impact of their efforts to determine whether to continue or to change course while researchers make conclusions about what they have learned through their processes and publish their results (and perhaps create new research projects to extend the knowledge).

HOW WE USE IT – OUR ‘SOLUTION’ TO BE MORE INCLUSIVE AND EFFICIENT We have developed a way of practicing called Research As Daily Practice (St. George et al., 2015a; Wulff and St. George, 2014) and utilize it in our teaching, clinical work, and program of research. This process allows us to integrate all of the responsibilities we hold as academics. Research As Daily Practice has become a form of knowledge-inaction. Inquiry, as described above, is the central process of how we, as practitioners, practice every day. Our definition of Research As Daily Practice is ‘continuously examining data/information from our own clinical work reflexively in order to better understand what we do and what we could do’ (Wulff and St.  George, 2014, p. 296). Importantly, inquiry fits into what the practitioner is already doing, rather than being an extra task over and above the daily work. We see our therapeutic work as itself ‘inquiry’ for the purpose of change (Anderson, 2014; Epston, 1999). Rather than continue to use language that distinguishes research and practice, we present six initiatives/activities that encompass both what we consider practice and what we


consider research (listed in no preferred linear order): • • • • • •

Attending to Curiosities Speculating Enlisting Partners Gathering Information Making Sense Reflecting-in-Action.

Attending to Curiosities Whether we are engaged in formal/official research or clinical or everyday practice, we become interested in a topic or energized by an unrelenting dilemma, or we notice that we keep repeating the same question or understanding. In our clinical work, we pay close attention to the words and phrases our clients use when they present their troubles and the professional rules, traditions, and voices we adhere to; in reading research, we focus on the language and themes used in the literature and the words and phrases that appear in the calls for grant monies or in our professional discourses. We get curious about consistencies, inconsistencies, and we answer the question of what intrigues us, what we would like to understand better and why. These questions orient us to aspects of our world and invite action.

Speculating As human beings, when faced with dilemmas or concerns, it is hard for us to leave the blanks open, the mysteries unsolved. We tend to fill in those blanks and imagine possible answers to those questions in order to have an understanding and move forward. We begin to synthesize from what we have come to know. This reveals the extent of what we know and the extent of what we do not know. In speculating, we can begin to get more specific and clear regarding what we are curious about and begin to reformulate key questions so that we might focus our work



precisely and efficiently. It becomes a calculated hunch that can help us begin to engage with the topic of interest. It could be called a hypothesis, a guess, a working assumption, ‘starter dough’ – it is most simply, a place to start. It does not lock us into a position – we can reshape our speculations as we go along (and we most likely will).

Enlisting Partners There is no need to pursue questions as a solo mission; we can usually find others who are similarly intrigued and who can provide support for one another. These may be clients, students, employees, or neighbors. There is much to be said for collecting other viewpoints on an issue that stimulate and extend our curiosity. Connecting with others who share a concern or question is a pivotal component. The initiative in which we invite/ encourage inquirers to engage others transforms an individual idea or wish into a collective one. This reverses the trend to separate our questions and inquiries from others. Questions change when we join with others to examine issues that concern us. When we face a clinical or teaching dilemma for example, we actively wonder if we are alone in this or if there are others in our agency/ practice/circle of colleagues who experience this issue. Our experience has been that there are always others who share our interests or concerns. A developing curiosity is how our clients and students could join us in our curiosities about the dilemmas we experience in our efforts to try to help them. This is an example of how one of our six initiatives carries within it the seeds of another one of the initiatives (attending to curiosity). One of the surest ways we have found to expand our thinking is to engage others in our work (Bohm, 1996).

Gathering Information Practitioners in the field, whether working with projects, people, or situations, are aided

in decision-making by gathering information that has been already created, developed, and utilized. We can do this by conversing with others, reflecting on our own thoughts/experiences, noticing effects and patterns, and seeking variety/diversity. We sometimes have very targeted questions, other times more general questions, and other times we may switch our questions once we are engaged in the process. We may connect with ‘insiders’ to the issues or we may solicit relative outsiders to gain some breadth or fresh views. New information often influences our question and we might revise it as we integrate the information we are gathering. You can see that we have already jumped ahead into the making sense part of the process, because it is hard for us not to think about new information and organize it as we take it in. This crisscrossing of these initiatives moves smoothly because they are all part of the process of engaging with our worlds – they are tools that are utilized as the situation or issue-at-hand indicates. They are chosen and utilized as the situation merits. Some issues may require more of the different components we have at our disposal (‘tools in the toolbox’).

Making Sense We must admit, this is probably our favorite part – this is where the picture of what we are doing (or going to do) really starts to take visible shape. We have loads of information and usually new information continues to stream into our thinking. Now we need to do something with it to bring the informational pieces together into something that the individual bits cannot provide – something that will lead to and make action sensible and worthwhile. This is where we start to assemble the various ‘pieces’ to form a picture – a matter of ‘engaged unfolding’ (McNamee and Hosking, 2012, p. 45). From our social constructionist ways of understanding, the pieces we are bringing together are not revealing a

We Are All Researchers

picture that was always there – the sizes and shapes of the pieces work together to create a coherent picture that was not pre-ordained (Gergen, 2015). The various elements we have chosen to bring together can be assembled in a number of different ways, each embracing a sort of coherence of its own. We shape our understandings. We like to challenge ourselves to step outside of the expected, the known, the usual, or our ‘comfort zone’ in order to gain some freshness or newness to our thinking. We ask ourselves the following questions of the information we have collected: • What are we coming to know that was not visible before? • How are our actions aligning with what is already known and accepted? • What possibilities arise from imagining alternative ideas to the status quo? What limitations do they present? • What surprising ideas have we been starting to notice? • What are some of our assumptions or understandings that are getting in the way of seeing things differently?

The questions above fit all manner of choices and decisions. Making sense of the information will be idiosyncratic to each decisionmaker – the ‘facts’ may be organized in very different ways by different people.

Reflecting-in-Action Reflecting-in-action means that we are deliberately trying out our new learnings. It could also mean sharing these ideas with others and then attending to their responses. We do best when we ask ourselves questions about what we see and experience. Those keep us on our toes, prevent us from becoming complacent and are more generative than making assertions and definitive statements. • What new questions can we develop that take into consideration possible influences that we cannot at this time see?


• What new courses of action and joining with others are available to us now? What are new avenues to pursue that we did not see before (or were willing to overlook)? • Are there better questions to pose and pursue? What shape would those questions take? • Do we have new curiosities that have started to form? If so, what are they?

INITIATIVES THAT ARE NOT LINEAR As we mentioned just before we described these six initiatives, the order is not predetermined. As letters on a keyboard, they can be ‘typed’ in many different configurations to create different ‘words.’ Here are some examples. We could begin with a curiosity that we have been having and then move directly to find some partners to engage with discussions. Those discussions could reform our curiosity which could lead to some efforts to try out some practices and pay attention to how they impact our clients and ourselves. This could lead to some information gathering and then trying to put some new conceptualizations or ‘spins’ on what we are attempting. As you can see, these initiatives all engage our work in different ways, leading us to new pathways. There is no need to follow the initiatives in a linear way. Another example could start with the ‘reflection-in-action’ activity. We could pay attention to how our work is going, notice some things that then spawn into a desire to ‘make sense’ differently about what we are doing or what is happening. This could then move back into more ‘reflection-in-action’ that could lead to new efforts at sensemaking. In this example, only two of the initiatives predominate. From these two examples, it seems clear to us that these initiatives could seem very familiar to most of us. They are ways of describing everyday activities of living and acting in our worlds. They are human actions that help us make distinctions in our world,



provide some pathways we could take, and give us confidence and hope that our worlds could be different. They operationalize living in the world with a certain level of intentionality. They do not produce ultimate answers; they provide direction and optimism that we can make a difference.

WHAT COMES FROM ‘RESEARCH AS DAILY PRACTICE’? There are numerous outcomes that we have experienced by utilizing the processes of Research As Daily Practice. Completed project descriptions can be found elsewhere (St George et al., 2015b; Wulff et al., 2015a; Wulff et al., 2015b). In addition to new knowledge and practices, the following items highlight what we believe are key qualities. 1 Conducting inquiry in a manner that is respectful of practitioners’ time and contexts. Pragmatic considerations (time, effort, money, material adjustments) of traditional research are too often downplayed. The more that the ‘research’ ideas can be embedded in our practice, the better for the practitioner and the more likely that those initiatives will be taken up. 2 Using research methodologies and processes that are compatible with the practices being examined (for example in our situation we use reflecting team processes or conversations for both our clinical work and our information collection/recording). The process of organizing data could be done in a myriad of ways, from the most technical to the most simple and hands-on. Ideally, we would organize our data/information in ways that mirrored what we did with the organized information (the researching resembles the actions that evolve). 3 Immediate uses of still-evolving knowledge in the practice context. There is no need to wait until the ‘results are in’ using this approach. The development of the information gathering and sense-making that evolve serves as a springboard to try out the ideas along the way. Once begun, Research As Daily Practice continues to regenerate itself – inquiries stimulate new

i­nquiries. Agencies who use this process are effectively understood as ‘learning communities’. Service delivery is melded with learning and growing on the part of the practitioners. In everyday life examples, we engage in trial-and-error processes that continue to refine what we know and what we do as we go along. Similar to the action research processes, we learn by doing and observing the effects. 4 A willingness to adjust inquiry along the way to better understand the issue of interest. The fluidity and responsiveness of methods of inquiry to what we are studying allows for better attention to the complexities of the issues we are trying to study. Just as practices need to be flexible to serve others more directly and effectively, so, too, researching and inquiry must have a plasticity. The curiosities that fueled the initial initiative keep those questions in the forefront – if our chosen methods get in the way of the questions of interest, then our processes are transformed (as opposed to the reverse which often happens). Similar to Point 3 above, we benefit by an ongoing testing of what we know or expect in order to make adjustments. There is no need to get it ‘right’ the first time – we develop strategies through iterations of approximations. This is a process of continuous learning that is well-suited to the changed circumstances of life – a useful outcome or choice at one point will likely not stay that way. 5 This approach to research does not need extra money and the entanglements that come with it.

YOU TRY We invite you to take a scenario in your life now, whether professional or personal, and give this process a try. • What issue or concern in your life could use some further examination? (Choose something that is important to you and defies a simple solution.) [Attending to Curiosities] • What are the elements or parameters of that issue or concern that you consider to be most important? What needs to be considered? What preferences do you bring into this issue? What are the drawbacks or limitations of this issue in your life? [Speculating]

We Are All Researchers

• Who else could help or is involved with this decision? What value could others bring to you in this deliberation? Where should you begin? How can this issue be of mutual benefit to both you and others? [Enlisting Partners and Gathering Information] • What particular and specific information do you need (even information you might not like)? How can you locate information that you do not already possess? [Gathering Information] • Given all of the information collected, how do you make the greatest sense of it? How did you weigh the contributions of each piece of information? Did you leave some information out or minimize it? [Making Sense] • What is your first action step? How do you put your decision into action? How will you handle roadblocks or doubts with your initiative? [Reflecting-in-Action]

CODA We wanted to emphasize the importance of all of us being active researchers in our daily lives in order to figure out the best ways forward. We have been concerned about the exclusive ‘professionalization’ of certain behaviors/practices that, in fact, we all share in living our lives. Our concerns expressed in this paper are part of larger forces in our world today that lead toward greater and greater specialization of human activities. The challenge we see is to embrace what specialized skills can do for our world without simultaneously denigrating the performance of the skills of those considered ‘less proficient’ (within an expert-based set of criteria). How can we celebrate the most renowned dancers of our world without devaluing the dance performances of those who are less proficient in dance? How can we enjoy world-class athletes while at the same time relishing persons who engage in sports with limited athleticism? We want to valorize each of us for the work we do to achieve the best we can for our lives and for the lives of those around us. We all use research skills in highly proficient ways


within our everyday lives in an effort to make our lives and relationships better.

REFERENCES Anderson, H. (2014). Collaborative-dialogue based research as everyday practice: Questioning our myths. In G. Simon and A. Chard (Eds.), Systemic inquiry: Innovations in reflexive practice research (pp. 60–73). Farnhill, UK: Everything is Connected Press. Bohm, D. (1996). On dialogue. New York, NY: Routledge. Epston, D. (1999). Co-research: The making of an alternative knowledge. In Narrative therapy and community work: A conference collection (pp. 137–157). Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre. Farley-Ripple, E., May, H., Karpyn, A., Tilley, K., and McDonough, K. (2018). Rethinking connections between research and practice in education: A conceptual framework. Educational Researcher, 47(4), 235–245. Gergen, K. J. (2009). Relational being: Beyond self and community. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Gergen, K. J. (2015). An invitation to social construction (3rd edition). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Kuhne, G. W., and Quigley, B. A. (1997). Understanding and using action research in practice settings. In B. A. Quigley and G. W. Kuhne (Eds.), Creating practical knowledge through action research: Posing problems, solving problems, and improving daily practice (pp.  23–40) (New Directions for Adult and Continuing Education, No. 73). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. McNamee, S., and Hosking, D. M. (2012). Research and social change: A relational constructionist approach. New York, NY: Routledge. Schön, D. A. (1983). The reflective practitioner: How professionals think in action. New York, NY: Basic Books. Shotter, J. (2007). Not to forget Tom Andersen’s way of being Tom Andersen: The importance of what ‘just happens’ to us. Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation & Management, 18, 15–28.



Shotter, J. (2014). Methods for practitioners in inquiring into ‘the stuff’ of everyday life and its continuous co-emergent development. In G. Simon and A. Chard (Eds.), Systemic inquiry: Innovations in reflexive practice research (pp. 95–123). Farnhill, UK: Everything is Connected Press. Simon, G. (2012). Praction research: A model of systemic inquiry. Humans Systems: The Journal of Therapy, Consultation & Training, 23(1), 103–124. St. George, S., Wulff, D., and Tomm, K. (2015a). Research as daily practice. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 34(2), 3–14. St. George, S., Wulff, D., and Tomm, K. (2015b). Talking societal discourse into family therapy: A situational analysis of the relationships between societal expectations and parent–child conflict. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 34(2), 15–30.

Witkin, S. (2017). Transforming social work: Social constructionist reflections on contemporary and enduring issues. London: Palgrave. Wulff, D., and St. George, S. (2014). Research as daily practice. In G. Simon and A. Chard (Eds.), Systemic inquiry: Innovations in reflexive practice research (pp. 292–308). Farnhill, UK: Everything is Connected Press. Wulff, D., St. George, S., and Tomm, K. (2015a). Societal discourses that help in family therapy: A modified situational analysis of the relationships between societal expectation and healing patterns in parent– child conflict. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 34(2), 31–44. Wulff, D., St. George, S., Tomm, K., Doyle, E., and Sesma, M. (2015b). Unpacking the PIPs to HIPs curiosity: A narrative study. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 34(2), 45–58.

8 To Know and Not to Know: Dialogic Social Inquiry Rocio Chaveste and M. L. Papusa Molina, with Christian Lizama, Cynthia Sosa, and C a r o l i n a To r r e s

… what the occasion calls for, and in the manner called for (Harlene Anderson)

The writing of this piece requires going back to a conversation between Papusa and Cynthia, one of the students involved in this process. Papusa was at the time, and still is, the Research Methodology professor in all the MA programs at the Kanankil Institute.1 She came from a feminist background in research, but she was teaching the class without paying attention to socio-constructionist and collaborative-dialogic practices. While teaching her class, Cynthia asked her, ‘Why do we have to do semi-structured interviews or another type of qualitative approach when writing our thesis? It feels awkward in the context of the institute.’ So, the conversation continued: ‘What do you suggest?’ ‘Well, do you know Janice DeFehr? She is writing her Ph.D. dissertation with Harlene as her academic Advisor. She is proposing a way to approach research from a social-dialogic perspective.’ ‘Is there

something I could read about it?’ ‘Well – Cynthia answered – let me write to her and ask if she is willing to share with us her manuscript.’ Cynthia did ask, Janice did share, and a whole adventure started for us at Kanankil. The related conversation happened in 2008. Eleven years later, we got together with Cynthia, Carolina, and Christian and talked for about an hour and a half about writing their MA thesis from a perspective that we have started to call Dialogic Social Inquiry (from now on referred to as DSI). The three of them had graduated from Kanankil, and nowadays are professors at the Institute. The topics of their theses are entirely different: Cynthia (2013) on women’s leadership, Carolina (2016) on families living with a disabled child, and Christian (2013) on couples’ infidelity. The intention is to share with the reader the experience they had when facilitating their inquiry process, and how do we do ‘relational research’. We are writing it in quotation marks because, in a certain way, we



consider that all research is relational. As you may be aware, the introduction to this section already explains relational research as understood by social constructionist practitioners. However, the type of relational research we would like to address in this chapter lies in the type of relations and dialogues we establish among all the people who participate in the inquiry process, including the potential readers, as well as some of the methodological implications. We will share how we conceptualize DSI anchored in a dialogic process – described by Jaakko Seikkula (2003), among others, as ‘one in which answers are more important than questions. Yet this new utterance, with its answers, is not an end of the conversation, but a new question aimed at promoting the theme under discussion. It is the theme itself – not the individuals participating in the conversation – that guides the dialogue’ (p. 89). Vicente Sisto (2008) refers to this shift as the change concerning the relationship with the other in the process of producing research. From being a process of gathering data placed on a subject, considered as an object, it is now considered a process of dialogic production between two subjects positioned differently. What is produced emerges, therefore, from this relation. (p. 114)

So, the five of us sat around a table with a recorder at hand three months ago, and a conversation started with one simple question: ‘how was the experience of writing your thesis from a Dialogic Social Inquiry approach?’ Cynthia, who started this process at Kanankil, led the way, saying: ‘it was like creating and constructing … it was very rich, very free’. ‘Very organic’, Carolina followed and continued: It was transformative in several ways, and reflected in some of my diverse identities: as a researcher, it meant moving from a quantitative paradigm to this one; as a mother, it helps me expand my stories of and how I assume my motherhood; as a therapist, I started to have more points of view from which to look upon these stories; as director of a special education center, it allowed me to get closer and more involved with the families in decision-making processes; etc.

Christian took some time to respond and let the conversation flow. After a while, he said: ‘I lived it very differently.’ He went ahead and described how, while he was writing his thesis, he was in parallel writing a novel. His description of the process was about dialogues that got generated between the two pieces: ‘the dialogues had a life of their own  … I realized that one made the other more creative’. Rocio reflected: ‘… a process that generated other processes’.

HOW DO WE DO IT? When invited to write this piece, the editors asked us to provide a ‘how-to’ piece based on our experience. So, what is the process the students follow to do their research? Are there different steps? How do they begin? We could say it very simply. We start from a collaborative-dialogic stance (Anderson, 1997, 2009, 2013). In our case, the students have already a full year of introduction to different concepts and frameworks to facilitate psychotherapy practices. Among these are social construction and relational practices; reflecting process; the concepts of social poetics and spontaneous response (Shotter, 2008); the concepts of withness (Hoffman, 2007; Shotter, 2010) and radical presence (McNamee, 2015); and as part of a philosophical foundation, they have read Rorty, Bakhtin, and Wittgenstein. So they start from a position of knowing some things about dialogue and generative processes but also assuming a not-knowing position as described in the many writings of Harlene Anderson. It is also important to notice, that DSI is not methodologically but dialogically and contextually driven, as Janice DeFehr describes in her dissertation and other pieces of work (2008, 2009, 2017a, 2017b; DeFehr et al., 2012). In Kanankil, we are not pretending to talk about others, their contexts, and their texts, but with others, their contexts, and their texts.

To Know and Not to Know: Dialogic Social Inquiry

Inquiry Process We agree with Bodiford and CamargoBorges (2014) when they propose that a piece of research needs some design. They, for example, ‘design research’ based on four different principles: (1) research as relational and collaborative; (2) research as useful and generative; (3) the organic and dynamic aspect of inquiry; (4) engaging in complexity and multiplicity. In the same way, using the collaborative-dialogic philosophical stance proposed by Harlene Anderson based on a ‘not knowing position’ (2009, 2012), we follow some guidelines when facilitating research processes at Kanankil. The steps described are, more than anything, moments that help us engage all participants in each step of the inquiry process.

Constructing the Research Question(s) Inspired by Madelyn Blair’s Essay in two voices (2011), we ask the students to choose a partner to accompany them in the construction of their inquiry question(s). The intention is to engage in a dialogue that will help them clarify their ideas. They start by each of them writing 300 words based on a question/issue that intrigues them about their daily practice. They exchange these, and within a week, each one responds with a reflection on their partner’s proposal of 150 words that helps to focus the main ideas. Each one reads the reflection on her/his ideas and narrows the field of inquiry to 75 words. They exchange these words, and now the partner reduces the main ideas to 30 words. After a week, they exchange again, and each person writes her/ his inquiry question(s).

Inviting Co-researchers Once the main inquiry question(s) gets defined, the student invites three participants who have some experience with the theme to participate in the process. We call these individuals co-researchers and conversational


partners interchangeable; we also refer to the researcher as a facilitator of the inquiry process or the research. In this phase, students present their intentions to the other participants and together explore a series of issues that have to do with the ethical aspects of the relationship.

Relational Ethics Sheila McNamee (2018, p. 364) refers to relational ethics as one that ‘centers attention not on individuals and their isolated actions but relational processes of engagement. In other words, a relational ethic focuses on what people do together and what their “doing” makes. Thus, there is – by necessity – a relative nature to ethics. I refer to this relational ethic as relational responsibility’. She expands to distinguish the difference between the traditional code of ethics and relational ethics. The difference, however, is that rather than champion a dislocated code of ethics as the truth, our relational focus provides us with the resources for seeing a standardizing ethical code as coherent within a particular community (i.e., usually a specific professional community, such as the law, healthcare, mental health, education). Our challenge is to respect the professional code of ethics to which we are bound and simultaneously maintain respect and curiosity for the diverse and complex moral orders created in the lives of those with whom we work. Important to note here is that the potential for incommensurate lifeworlds is enormous. Furthermore, as each of us is immersed in multiple communities simultaneously, the potential for difference is expanded even further. Each of us embodies multiple and often contradictory and/ or incommensurate moral orders. We live in language; this is what distinguishes us from other creatures. (p. 367)

Once the guests have agreed to participate, they decide, where and how the conversations will take place – in person, blogging, by skype/zoom conference; individually or in a group; the kind of agreements they would like to have during the process; what names will be used – the participants could opt to have their legal names or choose those by



which they want to be identified; ‘ownership’ of the knowledge generated; the possibility of editing what was said and how was it said; the use of the information – just for the thesis or if an article could be written about it; the length of time that this inquiry will take; and any other item they deem it necessary to clarify. These relational moments are the beginning of what McNamee and Hosking (2012) suggest is an inquiry, from a socio-constructionist and collaborative perspective, which can be described as a social practice resting on an action driven by the individuals working together. All these conversations are recorded and, preferably, videotaped.

The First Round of Conversations Once the place and time of the first conversation are set, it takes place without a script or guide, but the participants follow the path that emerges as the conversations flow. Harlene Anderson (2014) explains this very clearly in the following paragraph: Participants in collaborative-dialogue are always on the way to learning and understanding and being careful to not assume or fill in the meaning and information gaps. In other words, participants mutually ‘inquire into’ something that has relevance for them. This learning, understanding, and carefulness require responsiveness in which a listener (who is also a speaker) is fully attentive and present for the other person and their utterances, whether expressed orally or otherwise. This also requires being aware of, showing acknowledgment of, and taking seriously what the other person has said and the importance of it. … This aim to learn and understand does not refer to asking questions to gather or verify information, facts, or data. Questions, as is any utterance, instead are posed as part of the conversational-dialogical process: to learn and understand as best one can what the other person is expressing and hopes will be heard. It is a responsive, interactive process rather than a passive one of surmising and knowing the other and their words based on pre-understanding such as a theory, hypothesis, or experience dialogical social beings as suggested by Bakhtin (1986), Buber (1970) and Wittgenstein (1953) and by Shotter’s interpretations and extensions of Bakhtin’s and Wittgenstein’s perspectives. (p. 68)

Cynthia, reflecting on her conversations, says, ‘… the way it evolved, much more open, much more focused on seeing what will happen’, Carolina added ‘… other voices came in, and these voices invited other voices. Once, in the middle of a conversation, a third person came into the room, and then the co-researchers [people with whom I was having the conversation] raised the opportunity to invite them because they were talking of disability that is not normally spoken … it transformed the conversation into what ended up being, the story of three different families’. They went on to describe how the conversations that emerged were utterly different from what could have imagined at the beginning. Kenneth Gergen (2014) suggests that the interview is a complex relational process and can unfold in ways that either invite or suppress the respondent’s offerings. With the interviewer’s keen sensitivity to the relationship and a continuing flexibility, respondents may supply far richer and more illuminating views than can ever be obtained through standardization. (p. 50)

Carolina comments on how she felt ‘a bit uneasy, a bit distressed because I was used to doing it in a more structured way.’ However, they described how, in general, the conversations were flowing, were very comfortable. It is important to mention that not all conversations took place in the same manner. Some were in person, others via different platforms, and other participants, like Christian, used blogs and social media.

Transcribing and Responding Once all the first round of conversations have taken place, then the students transcribe all the recordings. We suggest that the facilitators of the research do this exercise. When listening to the voices, new inner dialogues emerge; we notice words, ideas, and nuances that we did not pay attention to when the conversation happened. It also helps the responding processes. In a way, the transcription is the starting point of this process. It allows us to take notes, write follow-up

To Know and Not to Know: Dialogic Social Inquiry

questions to help clarify, add our inner dialogue, and start bringing in voices from books, articles, daily life encounters, movies, songs, etc. Janice DeFehr (2008) describes this stage as part of her dissertation process, as follows: Narrating an account of the dialogue, for me, means telling a story of the dialogue’s emergence from start to ‘finish,’ voice-by-voice, moment-tomoment, as accurately as I can. I narrate the dialogue from my ‘dual’ vantage point within it, first as a participant in the live spoken dialogue, and second, as a listener responding to the recorded conversation many months later. Not every word uttered in the original dialogue is included in the narration, although all words within quotation marks are written exactly as I hear them spoken. At the same time, additional words appear that were never part of the original spoken dialogue: my response to the dialogue recording expands the narration at various junctures. As I develop an account of the dialogue, I participate in the interchange with my colleagues once again. I cannot help but respond – with acknowledgment, questions, replies, additional ideas, and also, with feelings. Without a plan to guide me, I respond into the dialogue again for ‘another first time’ (Garfinkel, 1967, p. 9). My goal in narrating the dialogue is to invite involvement and active response, from readers of this text, and from myself. The production of a tightly coherent narrative end product is not a priority for me as I write. (p. 12)

Our guests to this article share with us how they did it. Christian mentioned how he never knew what his responses were going to be, and the dialogues had a life of their own: ‘… suddenly, very theoretical ideas appeared, they simply appeared as a response to all that was said in the conversation’. During this transcribing/responding process, the students start weaving what Cynthia describes as a multicolored shawl that will end up being the result of the inquiry. Carolina describes responding as very organic. ‘[How something] makes you feel, how does that emotion emerge … how that reading, that anecdote, that thing that you just heard, that can be the result of anger, of joy,


or something very tender … then I think that all the multiplicity of emotions and thoughts that arise, in a very spontaneous way, mean that I am responding’. Cynthia also describes how responding was a constant ‘I allowed myself to respond by saying I am feeling this … a responsive process, rather than a process of analysis … for me to respond, is the process’. What takes place at this stage, is what Shotter (2008) describes as spontaneously responding to those words that touched/moved the facilitator during the conversations.

Returning to the Conversational Partners Once the transcription/responding is done, the students return all these writings to the participants. The participants are asked to read everything in preparation for another round of conversations. It is important to mention that such reading takes place if the participants can do it. Once, we had a student who worked with Mayan women belonging to a cooperative who produce honey and derivatives from it. Those women did not know how to read and write and just spoke Mayan. The DSI facilitator translated everything into Mayan and read it to them so they could continue the process. We imagine that something similar could be done for visually impaired people where the transcriptions and responses could be read into audio and made available for them to listen to. Once the co-researchers have read and/or listened to the transcription and responses to the first conversation, then a second conversation gets scheduled. Many times, when the first conversations happened individually, the participants ask the facilitator if they can have this second conversation as a group. The facilitator checks with all those involved, and if all of them agree, then the second conversation takes place as a group. It is important to consider that if one does not accept or is even hesitant, we continue with individual conversations.



Following-up Conversations The follow-up conversation is facilitated, starting with just one question: ‘What do you think about the transcription of our previous conversation as well as my responses/ reflections on it?’ As with the first conversation, there is no script to follow. The dialogue gets generated based on the responses that the co-researcher provides to this first question. For our thesis at the MA level, the students usually facilitate just this second round of conversations. However, if at any moment any of the participants, co-researchers or facilitator, feel that they need other conversations, they take place following the same pattern: conversation, transcription/spontaneous response by the facilitator, reading by the co-researchers, follow-up conversation. In a way, the dialogues get constructed always based on previous dialogues.

The Writing Process Once all the participants agree that they have said all that they wanted to say, at least for the moment, the students at Kanankil start writing the first draft of their document. The document in itself will contain at least, the following: (a) the introduction: the description of the initial intentions as well as the transformation they went through; (b) methodology: the way in which the students facilitated the inquiry including the conversation/responses and their theoretical foundation; (c) the dialogues: what was produced as the results of the conversations/responses; (d) the learnings: what happened to them during the process of inquiry; (e) textual references.

The Dialogues We invite the students to start writing the document with the dialogues. We frequently described this part as a weaving process. There are at least three threads that the facilitator brings together when writing this part: the voices of the co-researchers, his/her inner

dialogues, and the voice of other authors who have facilitated research on the subject. She/ he begins responding to all the conversations as a whole and, at the same time, observing the patterns that emerged from them. The patterns serve as a guide for the traditionally called review of the literature. As with any dialogue, on this process of ‘weaving’ there are moments of what Christian calls creation ‘… and if I think about the process, the process ended up feeling like creation’. At this, Rocio responds by saying, ‘There are three words that I have been listening to: one is a response, another is the process, and the other is creativity’. Cynthia jumps and shares, ‘I agree … since you do not develop a methodology with previously established steps, but you live a process of curiosity and inquiry around a particular topic, for me, creativity is required to integrate and/or present all the information that emerges from the conversations’. Once the students feel they have finished with this part, and before starting writing anything else, they return this piece to all the co-researchers for their responses, critique, and eventual approval. If any changes are suggested, those are made and rechecked with the person who made the suggestions until everybody is satisfied with this section.

Methodological Aspects of the Process Once they have the dialogues piece done, the facilitator starts with this section that in more traditional settings is called ‘the methodology’. Janice DeFehr describes DSI as ‘… situationally-driven, rather than methodologically-driven, uniquely local, rather than located “out there” and applied’ (2008, pp. 314–315). In other words, the students in this section describe the different moments of their inquiry process. The choices they made, how did they do it, and the rationale and theoretical underpinnings of their process. Cynthia, when responding to the transcription of our conversations for this article,

To Know and Not to Know: Dialogic Social Inquiry

shares with us the following reflection: ‘After reading the first paragraphs of our conversation about relational research, I think that it is a free process, that everyone is building on it. I would like to emphasize the word freedom, which I think is a major difference with the traditional methodology, as mentioned by Carolina, in which there is a structure already established. However, it makes me think if, in order to carry this process, people should feel and live this freedom’.

The Introduction In this section, the students describe the initial intentions for this inquiry, and the aspects of their daily practice and/or their personal life that motivated them to do it. They usually go back and read the first writings they shared with their partners when they were trying to define the research question(s) and describe even their first set of ideas. They also explain how the question(s) got transformed during the inquiry process and the rationale for that transformation whenever that happened. For example, Carolina shares with us how she was very clear about her topic being the experience of living with a son or daughter with a disability. However, something happened along the way that almost changed her focus. She explains it as ‘… one of the parts that most impacted my life, was motherhood. So when my son was born, I wanted to talk about all those things that are not said, when you have a child … also, I said, at this time, I hear about disability, but what I really want to respond is about motherhood. In the end, although it is not as expressed as such, the topic of the thesis finally had a broader vision of an identity that arose at the moment that I never thought that it would appear when I started, that is being a mother’. It is also in this section where the students describe who the co-researchers are, what were the ethical agreements they had for this inquiry at the beginning as well as the changes that such agreements went through and their causes. They talk about the time it took them


from beginning to end, and briefly describe the contents of each chapter or section.

The Learnings In this section the students describe what they learned during the entire process: the personal and intellectual transformations they went through; the aspects of the process that were the most challenging; how the context in which they facilitated the process shaped some aspects of it; what were the aspects that in retrospect they could have done differently; what learnings they could incorporate into their professional practice; and any other comments that they deem necessary. Once they consider that the entire manuscript is complete, they return the entire piece to the participants for further reflection. The participants could, at this stage, suggest changes, additions, and further comments. We remember a thesis where after completing, the student gave it to the co-researcher to read, and in response, he got 11 pages writing of what the whole process meant for this individual. After talking with his thesis advisor, they decided to include the piece as the last part of the thesis.

CONCLUSION There are many ways to approach relational research. Kenneth Gergen, in his article on research as future forming (2015), invites us to explore new routes, new ways to understand our daily practice. The most productive route in this case is not to embark on a disjunctive, imaginary world – a world of inquiry beyond the reach of contemporary researchers. Rather, it would seem more promising to examine current and emerging practices with future forming potential. If such practices can be illuminated in terms of this potential, a new consciousness may be germinated. New and more potent practices may be stimulated. In certain respects, then, the present offering may serve as a mid-wife to a movement in the making. A voice



may be given to an otherwise unarticulated sensibility, thus giving form and function to future undertakings. (p. 305)

Reflecting on Gergen’s words, we would like to suggest that dialogic practices, being in psychotherapy, education, organizational development, or research, are creating a new way of approaching the complexity in which we are living; it is through dialogue that we will create the future for the seven generations to come. We have seen already results of these practices in vastly different projects like Imagine Chicago conceptualized and facilitated by Bliss Browne (1998, 2002, 2005, 2009) based on Appreciative Inquiry; the work of Jakko Seikkula (2002, 2003; Seikkula et  al., 1995) with Open Dialogues when working with schizophrenic patients that has extended beyond Finland and the rest of Europe, to the United States and Latin America; and the dozens of projects developed by members of the International Certificate of Collaborative-dialogic Practices (ICCP) in 18 different countries. We think it is fitting to close this offering of our inquiry practice, aware of the continuous changes happening as new voices and reflections join, with the voice of Carolina. After having read what me and Christian and Cynthia said, I am left thinking that for me, relational research is a living, generative, relational process of mutual discovery, framed by freedom and uncertainty in each of the participants, which hits us and transforms us. A unique process for each one of the inquirers in each one of the inquiries that he/she gets engaged in. Therefore, it seems that we can speak of processes of dialogical inquiry rather than relational research as that which is done in a single way. The ways, the approaches, will be decided by the same participants during the emerging process. I am also thinking about the therapeutic aspects of dialogue, and therefore, about Dialogic Social Inquiry. Even if this is not part of the intentions, it seems to be one more of the responses of this transformational process.

Note 1  The Kanankil Institute is a postgraduate institution located in Merida, Yucatan, Mexico.

Founded in 1999 it offers Masters programs in Psychotherapy, and Families and Couples Therapy. The whole curriculum is designed from a socio-constructionist and a collaborative-dialogic perspective. The founder, the administrators, and most of its professors, are Taos Associates.

REFERENCES Anderson, Harlene (1997). Conversation, language and possibilities: A postmodern approach to therapy. New York: Basic Books. Anderson, Harlene (2009). Collaborative practice: Relationships and conversations that make a difference. In J. Bray and M. Stanton (Eds.), The Wiley handbook of family psychology (pp. 300–313). New York, NY: Wiley. Anderson, Harlene (2012). Collaborative practice: A way of being ‘with’. Psychotherapy and Politics International, 10, 1002. Anderson, Harlene (2013). Collaborative learning communities: Toward a postmodern perspective on teaching and learning. In B. J. Irvy and G. Brown (Eds.), Handbook of educational theories (pp. 515–527). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Anderson, Harlene (2014). Collaborative dialogue-based research as everyday practice: Questioning our myths. In G. Simon, and A. Chard (Eds.), Systemic inquiry: Innovation in reflexive practice research (pp. 60–73), Farnhill, UK: Everything is Connected Press. Blair, Madelyn (2011). Essay in two voices. Baltimore, MD: Pelerei, Inc. Bodiford, Kristin and Camargo-Borges, Celiane (2014). Bridging research and practice: Designing research in daily practice. AI Practitioner, 16(3), 4–8. Browne, Bliss (1998). Lessons from the field: Applying appreciative inquiry (S. Hammond and C. Royal, Eds.). Plano, TX: Practical Press, Inc. Browne, Bliss (2002). Cultivating hope and imagination. Journal of Future Studies, 7(1), 115–134. Browne, Bliss (2005). Imagine Chicago: Cultivating hope and imagination. In C. Newnes and N. Radcliffe (Eds.), Making and breaking children’s lives (pp. 151–168). UK: PCCS Books.

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Browne, Bliss (2009). An inspired future: The significance of city-wide conversations in Chicago. AI Practitioner, 11(2), 28–33. DeFehr, Janice (2008). Transforming encounters and interactions: A dialogical inquiry into the influence of collaborative therapy in the lives of its practitioners. Doctoral dissertation. Retrieved from DeFehr, Janice (2009). Incarnating Dialogic Social Inquiry: Embodied engagement, sensation, and spontaneous mutual response. Paper for a workshop, Constructing Worlds Conference, Copenhagen, August 23, 2009. DeFehr, Janice (2017a). Navigating psychiatric truth claims in collaborative practice: A proposal for radical critical mental health awareness. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 36(3), 27–38. DeFehr, Janice (2017b). Bodily, in a ‘Living’ way. International Journal of Collaborative-Dialogic Practices, Special Issue, 7(1), 13–15. DeFehr, Janice et al. (2012). ‘Not-Knowing’ and ‘assumption’ in Canadian social services for refugees and immigrants: A conversational inquiry into practitioner stance. International Journal of Collaborative-Dialogic Practices, 3(1), 75–88. Gergen, Kenneth (2014). Pursuing excellence in qualitative inquiry. Qualitative Psychology, 1(1), 49–60. Gergen, Kenneth (2015). From mirroring to world-making: Research as future forming. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45, 287–310. Hoffman, L. (2007). The art of ‘withness’: A new bright edge. In H. Anderson, and D. Gehart (Eds.), Collaborative therapy: Relationships and conversations that make a difference (pp. 73–79). New York: Routledge. Lizama Valladares, Christian (2013). Lo infiel: diálogos sobre la construcción de la infidelidad. Tesis para obtener la Maestría en Psicoterapia. Instituto Kanankil, Mérida, Yucatán, México. McNamee, Sheila (2015). Radical presence: Alternatives to the therapeutic state.


European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counselling, 17(4), 373–383. McNamee, Sheila (2018). Far from ‘anything goes’: Ethics as communally constructed. Journal of Constructivist Psychology, 31, 361–368. McNamee, S. and Hosking, D. M. (2012). Inquiry as engaged unfolding. In Research and social change: A relational constructionist approach (pp. 63–86). New York: Routledge. Seikkula, J. (2002). Monologue is the crisis – dialogue becomes the aim of therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28, 283–284. Seikkula, Jaakko (2003). Dialogue is the change: Understanding psychotherapy as a semiotic process of Bakhtin, Voloshinov, and Vygotsky. Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation and Management, 14(2), 83–94. Seikkula, Jaakko et al. (1995). Treating psychosis by means of open dialogue. In S. F­ riedman (Ed.), The reflecting team in action: Collaborative practice in family therapy ­ (pp. 62–80). New York: Guilford. Shotter, John (2008). Conversational realities revisited: Life, language, body and world. Chagrin Falls: Taos Institute. Shotter, J. (2010). Social construction on the edge: Withness thinking & embodiment. Chagrin Falls: Taos Institute. Sisto, Vicente (2008). La investigación como una aventura de Producción dialógica: La relación con el otro y los criterios de validación en la Metodología cualitativa contemporánea. In Psicoperspectivas. CL: Individuo y Sociedad, Volumen VII, año 2008. Sosa Infante, Cynthia (2013). Ser mujer: diálogos intergeneracionales. Tesis para obtener la Maestría en Psicoterapia, Instituto Kanankil, Mérida, Yucatán, México. Torres Báez, Lilia Carolina (2016). Conversaciones familiars alrededor de la discapacidad. Tesis para obtener la Maestría en Psicoterapia, Instituto Kanankil, Mérida, Yucatán, México.

9 Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry Gail Simon and Leah Salter

At the core of the chapter is this simple narrative: we live in language and in a material world. When we research human life, we cannot see it or investigate it as separate from all else around us, whether ‘man-made’ and/ or naturally occurring. Social constructionist inquiry studies how we use language to construct stories of self and other, of material and apparently immaterial, of that which is animate and apparently inanimate. The idea that humans alone story the world is anthropocentric. The world also stories humans. We are all involved in a worlding process (Barad, 2007) where the stories we generate have consequences. Inquiry that draws on social constructionist principles is guided by an ethical imperative to address practices of power by asking how stories are generated, how some truths are propagated over others, by whom, to what end. We aim to understand the relational effect of stories and how some stories carry more weight than others in different contexts.

Transmaterial worlding describes researcher activity as storying a diverse material world. It is a way to attend to the human condition and the vitality of other matter, to the interconnectedness between humans and non-humans, to life beyond species and life beyond what appears as death. ‘Worlding’ describes the constant process of intra-becoming within and between species and matter (Barad, 2007). As an approach to inquiry this includes not just observing, it includes challenging, perturbing, disrupting, transforming. There is no stasis, only movement. It involves a particular commitment to exploring incoherence between stories lived, stories told, stories ignored and stories rewritten (Cronen and Pearce, 1999; McNamee, 2020). Deconstructing the relations in dominant discourses enables us to see how and why some voices (human or non-human) succeed in their stories being promoted and sold in some contexts over others. This has the potential to render visible the context and connection between everyday activities and

Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry

their local and global contexts (Simon, 2012, 2013; Simon and Salter, 2019). Research then becomes an opportunity to understand and disrupt power relations in order to challenge and reduce injustice. We offer examples of transmaterial worlding as a form of social constructionist inquiry and suggest signposts for how social constructionist research in a transmaterial world can honour societal, cultural, professional and other kinds of situated knowledge and knowhow. These signposts propose coherent ways of validating and rendering transparent how we appraise what matters in social constructionist inquiry. In this chapter, we extend social construction (i) to resituate the concept of social in the posthuman to broaden who/what counts as worthy of study and inclusion as a research participant; (ii) to recognise that social constructionist theory can be used for controlling self-interest in contrast with what we are calling co-construction which foregrounds collaboration and shared ethical meaning-making practices; and (iii) to introduce the concepts of transmaterial worlding and co-inhabitation as onto-epistemological understandings of relationships, movement, meaning-making practices, the influence of power between human and non-human parts of our worlds.

MORE THAN THEORY Social construction is more than a theory of communication, it is a theory of theories. It invites us to explore how realities about people, places, intention and matter are constructed, by whom, to what purpose, and with what affect. Theory and research methods can be understood as products of their era, of their culture, of professional, social, political and economic agendas. If knowledge practices are inseparable from the contexts out of which they emerge, then we must accept that language is never innocent or neutral. Recognising the presence of power


relations and which realities have more influence over others is critical to transmaterial worlding as a form of inquiry. Social construction is a form of qualitative research, more specifically post-positivist inquiry. Given the post-positivist recognition that one always affects the context one is studying, it is important to direct that influence and deliberately set out to constructively and collaboratively change the site of inquiry through the doing of research. Social constructionist researchers not only declare their bias but put it to work and offer rich transparency as rationale, background and learning for the study. This is not simply a trend in research. It connects to concerns expressed by oppressed and colonised groups of people who have been researched and had all manner of falsehoods, intentional or otherwise, written about them, which have often led to the development of policies which have served to oppress these groups further and render invisible issues of concern facing those communities (Clifford and Marcus, 1986; McCarthy and Byrne, 2007; Reynolds, 2019; Simon, 1998; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999; Visweswaran, 1994). Narratives need understanding in the context of their production. We need to study historical contexts that gave rise to them and to explore how contemporary contexts continue to invest in fostering some stories over others. Stories don’t just happen. Someone is promoting and fostering them. Structures such as political parties, newspapers, TV channels and ‘news’ stations are partisan vehicles for those people or institutions with often a hidden vested interest in social relations being maintained or challenged. Some people’s cultures, values and local knowledges are reproduced and revitalised through language networks over others and become easily solidified into codes of normalcy which become policy and legislation. Consequently, social construction does not offer simply a science for studying the social use of language with an attendant method of analysis, it asks why some narratives are in play more powerfully than others



and in whose interest. It invites researchers to consider how social groups can participate in language games to challenge destructive practices of power, and what other methods of communication and power are available to those wanting equality and justice, and at what cost to all those with interests. Victims of injustice, their advocates, professionals, academics the world over struggle for their truths to be taken seriously in a world which uses 21st-century technologies to amplify dominant discourses and fan preferred truths to generate simplistic dismissals of what, in another era, would have counted as fact. Theories have been influenced by the unacknowledged ideological assumptions about the superiority of white people, particularly men and their ‘normal’ ways of living in the world. First person and co-constructionist research act as a counter-movement to decolonise research practice (Dillard, 2000; Lather, 1994, 2007; Madison, 2012; Pillow, 2019; Simon and Salter, 2019; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999; Wade, 1997). Social construction has offered a longstanding critique of ‘truths’ (Foucault, 1979; Gergen and Gergen, 2002; McCarthy and Byrne, 2007; McNamee, 1994; McNamee and Gergen, 1992) as a product of the most powerful people, institutions and cultures. The theory of social construction has been appropriated by the latter resulting in language games with no relational ethics and no reliable ‘truths’ (McNamee, 2004, 2020). ‘Truth’ is not simply subjective but has the potential to be systematically subject to intentional manipulation. While social construction falls into a post-positivist paradigm, it can be utilised in positivist or post-positivist ways. We make a distinction between aboutness research (Shotter, 1999, 2011) and co-constructionist research (Simon and Salter, 2019). Aboutness research is when a researcher uses the theory of social construction to study or deconstruct what meaning others are making with each other, positions them as an observer outside of a system and creates distance between

researcher and that which is being studied. Research participants are not included in the meaning-making processes. It subscribes to an idea that knowledge can be extracted or manipulated for others. In co-construction, the researcher uses the theory and ethical imperative implicit in social constructions that meaning is made with others. The researcher makes their inquiry alongside and with other research participants, exploring discursive practices from within the doing of them. Co-construction involves studying mutual and reflexive meaning-making processes while engaged in the doing of them.

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION AS CO-CONSTRUCTION We propose co-construction as offering a clear ethical term to describe social constructionist research with social justice politics. Co-constructionist research allows us to co-research from an alongside or within position. It encourages us to acknowledge the inevitability and impact of power relations in making something together. Social construction is not owned by those with any one group of people with specific political leanings or social conscience. It is an ideology which can be used to play significant political or interpersonal games to protect those in power and their resources. It is, in itself, neither ethical nor unethical. Co-constructionist inquiry encourages situated research where researcher and participants collaborate, are transparent and open, and work towards creating a culture of co-production and transformation. It can be a result of negotiated and collaborative inquiry (Anderson, 1997; Anderson and Gehart, 2007; McNamee and Hosking, 2012) reflecting decolonial practice and epistemic witnessing (Pillow, 2019). Research as a listening and witnessing activity can be seen as an act of resistance (Salter, 2017a, 2018; Wade, 1997; White, 2007), can support transformation through personal and

Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry

collective story-telling, and can be a form of co-production (Linds and Vettraino, 2008; Salter and Newkirk, 2019; White, 2007). For example, the question, ‘What are they making with each other?’ is different from ‘How am I constructing what they are doing?’ and ‘What are we making with each other?’ When researchers position themselves as observers external to the observed, they must identify how they are co-constructing meaning from what they (think they) have observed. When researching reflexively from within living moments, they can inquire into their inner dialogue, with co-participants and co-respondents, to check meaning. This is co-construction.

REFRAMING ‘SOCIAL’ INCLUSIVITY We propose that transmaterial worlding can be understood as embracing all forms of communication between and beyond human forms. It steps away from an anthropocentric focus so that ‘social’ extends beyond human, reframes language to include transmaterial multilingual communication and sets all these relations within a critique of institutional discourses and material structures. We integrate the concern of protecting the ecology of the planet. This involves our understanding research as an onto-epistemological activity fluidly situated in a range of emergent transmaterial communicatory activities. Transmaterial worlding as a form of inquiry requires that we re-think our relations with-in our environment, that we re-position ourselves from in-habiting or co-habiting the world (both separate us from other materiality) to co-inhabiting (Simon and Salter, 2019). Co-inhabitation emphasises not simply collaboration and intra-action (Barad, 2007) but a humility to re-position humans as living in a vital-emergent-disappearing world as well as alongside and as vital-emergentdisappearing matter.


MATERIAL-DISCURSIVE PRACTICE In transmaterial worlding, we understand researching linguistic practice as a form of mattering. There are no final conclusions – though there may be useful knowledge – and the need to attempt to describe journeys of knowing in which contextualised, situated ways of knowing extend or close down ways of accounting and the potential for transformation of participants. Transmaterial worlding is a process of moving, constructing, deconstructing, reconstructing and reviving stories which include the voices of those normally heard through privileged channels and the voices of marginalised, silenced or exterminated peoples, places, human and non-human, across many matters, across context, across time. Inevitably, material changes depending on where the describer is standing, how they are dressed, how the light is falling or arranged (Simon and Salter, 2019). Any ‘apparatus’ that is used, is part of the research and therefore part of the world that is being co-constructed (Barad, 2007). Discursive mattering is inevitably influenced by the limits of the describer’s own apparatus – cultural lenses and filters which frequently result in a reproductive mattering of dominant heteronormative, white supremacist narratives and practices (Chen, 2012; Pillow, 2019). How we configure ‘other’ people, places or things can happen through taking an aboutness position and become an act of colonisation in attributing meaning or interpreting meaning. Acts of colonisation separate the knower from their knowing and know-how, leading us into binary constructions of ‘us’ and ‘them’, and stories of people who apparently know nothing. Histories are lost and communities fractured. People are silenced in a myriad of ways. This has resulted in unmitigated loss of indigenous knowledge and contextual know-how. Colonised groups of people who have been researched have had all manner of falsehoods, intentional or



otherwise, written about them which have often led to the development of policies which have served to oppress further and render invisible issues of concern facing those communities (Clifford and Marcus, 1986; Salter, 2015, 2017b; McCarthy and Byrne, 2007; Pillow, 2019; Richardson/Kinewesquao, 2018; Simon, 1998; Tuhiwai Smith, 1999; Visweswaran, 1994). This has resulted in catastrophic changes in societies and land ownership, such as loss of rainforests, sustainable communities, homelands, dunes, clean air, uncontaminated sites, the ozone layer and much, much more. So it becomes an ethical imperative to ask, ‘What and who are in focus?’ and ‘Why?’ and ‘How can other silenced voices or erased matters be animated, rendered audible through our research?’ Living in a transmaterial world, parts of which we have largely ignored messages from, we need to learn how to listen to relational communications in transmaterial relationships. Transmaterial worlding, as inquiry, is a process of co-constructing new ways of understanding, meaning-making and ways of being across human and non-human activity, motivated by a concern for social justice with the aim of challenging oppression, improving lives and promoting equality (McCarthy and Byrne, 2007; Reynolds, 2014, 2019; Salter, 2018). Transmaterial worlding as inquiry is not only a means of assessing and theorising what is happening, it involves doing something to improve the living conditions of people and the sustainability of our human and non-human environments and it means engaging in transformative activities.

DE-CENTRING HUMAN IN SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION How we expand social construction from a primary focus on inter-human discursive practice to include other forms of materiality requires a new world-in-view of transmaterial discursive practice. This includes a

review of what it means to be human as well as what/who is included in any study of discursive practice. In her writings on the posthuman, Braidotti critiques how the concept of human has had its own binary logic (2013). The human hero, Anthropos, typically male-white-western-heterosexual-heteronormative-blond-tall-strong-alive-sexuallyactive-reproductive-young and so on, considers himself the highest entity on the worldly pyramid with a right to be owner-controllernamer of all other matter both within and beyond his reach (Braidotti, 2013). All other life forms are considered by Anthropos as inferior to him, passive, possessable, in need of control and therefore ‘othered’. This narrative of superior self and inferior other perpetuates not only social inequality but negates and neglects the needs of other material elements of the planet. Naming, Mary Gergen reminds us, is always a political act (Gergen, 2001). As researchers, we need to pay particular attention to the onto-epistemology of how our stories of ‘self’ and ‘other’ influence narratives of being in the world, of worlding (Barad, 2007). What it means to be human has been changing. Humans are now techno-humans. To say we ‘have’ a phone perpetuates a distinction of separation, and ownership, between the human and the technological device. When we say, ‘My phone reminded me that …’ or ‘I messaged …’ these phrases still show phone and self as separate from each other and yet we have become fused with our gadgets (Haraway, 2004, 2015). Technology plays an increasingly significant role in how we interact in and with the world, how we communicate with others, in how our gadgets extend our memory, how we are remembered or lost by others, how we are identified by others, how we identify ourselves to our gadgets and remote systems, how we locate ourselves in the virtual-physical worlds, and how we are located by remote unknown others with or without our permission (Simon, 2010; Allinson, 2014).

Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry

Bateson (1972) posed the question of where the point of separation is between the blind man, his cane, and the environment he moves about in. Bronwyn Preece enquires into the intersections between ecology and disability, asserting from a first person account, that, ‘I engage with the other-than-human world as alive … I do not segregate biota from abiota, organic from non-organic, the trees from the forest, the ocean from the machines, the stone from mountain’ (Preece, 2019: 76). Braidotti (2013) asked if prosthetic limbs are really ‘otherwise human’. These questions invite us to consider if the phone can be seen as simply an implement (not us) to navigate the modern world (out there)? Or are humans enabling the phones to go about the business of remote corporations while the dominant narrative is of the phone enabling its owner? The mobile phone may not yet be a microchip under the physical skin of a human, but the proximity of humans and their devices is becoming increasingly intimate. Braidotti suggests that the relationship between human and technology has been extended to ‘unprecedented degrees of intimacy and intrusion’ (Braidotti, 2013: 89). When we say we are inter-acting with someone or something, we are separating out parts of a relationship. The concept of ‘inter’ assumes ontological distinguishability between entities: things or people, apparently separate from ‘one another’, as configuring of ‘each other’, as doing things with ‘each other’. Gregory Bateson (1972) challenged the discursive practice of categorising, and therefore separating, subjects and things in a world which has the impact of obscuring relationality, highlighting differences over similarities and foregrounding thingness over relational activity. This separation of human and non-human can be understood as an epistemological error (Bateson, 1972). Nora Bateson asserts that transcontextual research is required to avoid these false separations. (Bateson, 2016). New materialist thinkers critique the anthropocentric narrative of human as separate from the world around


them. According to Braidotti (2013) the posthuman subject is a ‘transversal entity, fully immersed in and immanent to a network of non-human … relations’ (Braidotti, 2013: 193). Karen Barad proposes that matter of all kinds is not separate but inevitably entangled. She says, ‘The very nature of materiality is an entanglement. Matter itself is always already open to, or rather entangled with, the “Other.” The intra-actively emergent “parts” of phenomena are co-constituted’ (Barad, 2007: 393). Barad explains that ‘humans enter not as fully formed, pre-existing subjects but as subjects intra-actively co-constituted through the material-discursive practices that they engage in’ (Barad, 2007: 168).

DECONSTRUCTING ANIMACY AND INANIMACY Part of the challenge for us as contemporary social constructionist, practice-based researchers, is to explore the language we use to describe human and non-human worlds so we can see that all matter is dynamic, agentive and communicative. New materialist thinkers encourage us to deconstruct the language of animate/living, and inanimate/dead (Bennett, 2010; Chen, 2012), viewing this as a social construction which has served to teach communities and their colonisers a disconnection between their immediate local and their remote global environments. Jane Bennett discourages the term ‘environment’ in order to highlight ‘vital materiality’ (Bennett, 2010: 112). She points out that ‘We are vital materiality and we are surrounded by it, though we do not always see it that way. The ethical task at hand here is to cultivate the ability to discern nonhuman vitality, to become perceptually open to it’ (Bennett, 2010: 14). Donna Haraway says: It matters what matters we use to think other matters with; it matters what stories we tell to tell other stories with; it matters what knots knot knots, what thoughts think thoughts, what



descriptions describe descriptions, what ties tie ties. It matters what stories make worlds, what worlds make stories. (Haraway, 2016: 12)

A consequence of the anthropocentric narrative is to categorise matter as either animate or inanimate (Bennett, 2010). Rock is not inanimate, it is alive, and it hosts life, it protects life. It provides a platform for life. In terms of the time frame in which plants, animals and humans live, rock offers stability. We humans have a short life span compared to rock. Rock grows or changes in a relational world in mostly a much slower time frame to the life spans of humans, flora and fauna. We don’t notice the parallel time worlds. We think rock and glaciers are dead because they are not moving in ways we can perceive with our eyes. We tell ourselves simple stories. We say they are frozen, immobile, inanimate. But it is we who are frozen in time. Our own time frame. A human time frame (Simon and Salter, 2019).

THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION OF MATTER AND HUMAN AGENCY We humans have come to think of the material world as made up of matter to consume. Rosi Braidotti says that ‘Nature is more than the sum of its marketable appropriations: it is also an agent that remains beyond the reach of domestication and commodification’ (Braidotti, 2006: 47). Performanceresearcher, Jodie Allinson similarly challenges the advanced capitalist metaphor of environment as ‘consumable resource’ (Allinson, 2014). When natural resources become scarce, they become commodified. Indeed, the very language of natural resources speaks to an advanced capitalist view of nature as a resource to be utilised/colonised by humans – including those humans Anthropos deems to be inferior. People are forcibly moved or murdered, land is systematically stolen by those with special power, rain forests are left to burn to access rich

materials that lie beneath the ground, mountains are physically deconstructed to produce material for building houses or roads. Sand dunes, with their own ecologies hosting interdependent communities of creatures, plants and other dwellers, are disappearing with rising sea levels, tramping tourists and the need for sand to build tower blocks and new islands for economic purposes. This disappearance of matter – wait, no, let’s not use a passive term as it promotes dissociation from our responsibilities for these actions – let’s talk of matter being disappeared by human activity, directly (for example, cutting down forests, shooting migrating birds) and indirectly (for example, increases in greenhouse gasses causing temperature increases and glaciers to melt). And yet technology has adopted the language of nature to naturalise itself: twitter, web, stream, cloud, amazon, apple, for example. The large corporations who own the mouthpieces of social media both facilitate and obstruct bridging between local communities and the global materiality; the storying of the materiality of lives can build or destroy community investment in sustainability beyond what counts as ‘now’ or ‘here’ or ‘me’ or ‘you’. Barad says, ‘it is possible for entangled relationalities to make connections between entities that do not appear to be proximate in space and time’ (2007: 74). Braidotti argues that we cannot use the same language to create solutions that has been used to create the problems we face (Braidotti, 2013). But what language do we use? Climate activists have used the language of ‘climate emergency’ to jolt people into an awareness that time is running out for effectively protecting the earth’s ravaged ecology. However, language in itself is not enough. Urgent messages about the environment are frequently refuted by those whose short-term interests are served by, for example, deforestation. There are many examples of how language is used against activists to undermine their campaigns, often using pathologising mental health discourses to dismiss powerful

Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry

speakers especially when from oppressed groups. We need to understand how those not concerned with social justice are using language to maintain an imbalance of power and appropriating the language of the ‘natural’ to continue with their endeavours. There is a challenge then in social constructionist inquiry to include a presence of other contexts which offer a broader context for the smaller, immediate issues to make visible the implicative influences of changes within our environment on human life. What characterises the movement in and between these levels of context is local reflexivity which asks, ‘What is happening here?’ and global reflexivity which asks, ‘How does our experience here connect with what else is going on out there?’ (Simon, 1998, 2012, 2014).

TRANSMATERIAL RESEARCH QUESTIONS Transmaterial worlding as inquiry asks investigative questions such as: ‘How can we show what matters, how it matters, and to whom it matters?’ ‘How can we show others what is being constructed, how and with whom?’ ‘How can we use our understanding of communication to show how relations in the world are being created?’

The how can we show questions are not innocent or decontextualised research questions. They reflect some anxiety that facts and findings alone will not be accepted as evidence. They anticipate an increasingly sceptical audience. Members of the public see politicians fighting with scientists over who is telling the truth. Black and indigenous communities struggle to have their realities of systematic and institutionalised abuse taken seriously by those in positions of influence. Evidence using what was traditionally considered robust research methods is no longer enough. On the one hand, methods often


reproduce colonising values that serve to reproduce material which does not reflect lived experience, for example, of oppressed and minority peoples. On the other hand, approaches that do reflect experiences of minority or oppressed peoples are often critiqued for being too subjective and insufficiently rigorous. These questions then also need including to address the voices of human and also of non-human life forms. ‘How is material being defined?’ ‘Which voices are being included or excluded?’ ‘How are they represented?’ ‘What negotiations are involved in the process of knowledge generation and knowledge sharing?’

There are different kinds of power to consider in transmaterial worlding as a method of inquiry: 1 The power to influence how people configure realities through discourse and narrative; 2 The power to create structures which solidify and embody those realities; 3 The power to deconstruct and reconstruct material and linguistic structures; 4 The power to recognise that truths are not representative of one’s own, other people’s or the material environment’s experience; 5 The power to deliberately seek out first person experience and alternative truths.

In order for research to make a difference, researchers need to ask ‘What are the governing contexts that have given rise to such a problem?’ ‘How are imbalances of power maintaining this problem?’ ‘How can this research disrupt the power relations that prevent social-justice-driven change?’ ‘Which voices need to be heard and how can we extend what we can hear and see?’ ‘Who is best placed to represent issues and how and with what support?’

Social constructionist research needs to draw on systemic and posthuman understandings of context and power to explain



1 Why change is difficult to effect; 2 Why challenging the social construction of language is in itself not going to result in systemic change, desirable, sustainable change over tokenistic gestures; 3 How to create change and why it might be difficult.

Using questions such as these, transmaterial worlding offers a form of inquiry which integrates a concern for the ecology of the planet into the concept of social.

EXAMPLES OF TRANSMATERIAL WORLDING AS INQUIRY What then can research look like in a material world in which the matter of materiality of people’s lives and the environments in which we/they live can be storied or researched but not always heard and acted on? Here are a few examples of transmaterial worlding which use a range of systemic questions to bring forth both human and beyond human knowledges, to explore narratives and act as transformational practice by inviting new and empathic ways of knowing. Research driven by concern for young people at risk in their neighbourhoods could extend the framework of contextual safeguarding (Firmin and Hancock, 2018) to include human and non-human voices and understand research as transformative of people, places, discourses and power structures: • If the voices of stairwells in housing estates were included as research participants, what would they say works well about them as spaces to allow effective intimidation of young people by people who lead them into trouble? • How can research support young people to redesign the stairwells in their block of flats and empower them to make their views heard by those in power to make changes? • How can research map where local people, landlords and local organisations say the threshold is between personal monetary gain and social gain? And how can research bring forth their

ideas for what can be done where doing nothing is not an option?

Research into the impact of mountain climbing on Everest could ask climbers, guides and travel agents questions designed to disrupt common tourism practice by enhancing transmaterial empathy and imagining more eco-sensitive positioning: • How could the snow at the bottom of Everest make its experience of being transformed by climbers heard in ways that climbers changed their practices? • How might human and non-human stakeholders in Everest map the tipping point between profit or gain of the individual, and the wellbeing of the mountain and its indigenous communities? • What kind of pre-booking preparation could there be for climbers to empathise with the mountain and its surrounding ecology before making a decision to book their trip? • If climbing Everest was no longer an option for more than a few people each month, what would others do who did not win a ticket in this lottery?

An inquiry into how current residents are affected by illness and lost relatives through radioactive toxicity brought into their worlds by local factories or nuclear plants (see the moving ethnographic research by Cathy Richardson/Kinewesquao (2018)) could ask: • Do the spirits of your ancestors speak to you about their experience or yours? How do they communicate? What do they advise you to do? • What are the languages that you feel local government officials are most likely to listen to when local people express worry about their sickness? • How can research support local people to teach government officials local knowledge and practices of knowing? • If local government officials understood your experiences and could listen to what the land has to say and took advice from your ancestors, what would persuade them to act on this understanding and knowledge? What would they see that convinced them that this had been a good thing to do?

Transmaterial Worlding as Inquiry

• How have you managed to keep alive practices that give life and hope?

These systemic questions invite relational reflexivity from the people being asked the question. The questions are based on an idea that questions are never neutral and are a contextual intervention for the person being asked a question (Selvini Palazzoli et al., 1980; Tomm, 1988). Some questions invite an ‘ethic of care’ in ‘imagining the other’ (McCarthy and Byrne, 2007). Others are hypothetical questions (Tomm, 1988), context-setting questions, appreciative inquiry, hope-oriented, narrative questions. Systemic therapy has a rich array of types of questions, a theory of transformation through dialogue and relational response-ability theories (for example, Burnham, 1992; Fredman, 2004; Hedges, 2005; McCarthy and Byrne, 2007; Tomm, 1988; Waldegrave et al., 2003).

SIGNPOSTING FOR TRANSMATERIAL WORLDING Underpinning this signposting is the notion that social constructionist research is inevitably and intentionally perturbing, disruptive, creative, generative, transformative and unexpected – not homeostatic, representational or eliciting of a single truth (Simon and Salter, 2019). These signposts can support the development of new research practice and new professional practice. The signposts are a fusion of: 1 Criteria for what counts as quality in qualitative research (for example, Bochner, 2000; Cho and Trent, 2009; Denzin, 2000, 2003; Ellis, 2000; Etherington, 2004; Richardson, 2000; Simon, 2018; Spencer et al., 2003; Tracy, 2010); 2 Social constructionist and systemic principles, values and theory (for example, Burnham, 1992; Markovic, 1993; McCarthy and Byrne, 2007; McCarthy and Simon, 2016 McNamee, 2004; Selvini Palazzoli et al., 1980); 3 New materialist theory (for example, Barad, 2007; Braidotti, 2011, 2013; Haraway, 2015, 2016).


Research material… a shows critical consideration of where and how voices of transmaterial participants are included in the research; b extends communication to include multilingual transmaterial narrative; c understands research as an intervention that moves the reader to learn or do something differently; d employs creative strategies to tell authentic stories well; e clearly states a social responsibility objective which addresses real concerns for people, organisations and the communities in which they live, showing how the practice in the inquiry shows care for/transforms the lives of others; f asks daring questions intended to provoke social change and explores the power of narrative and discourse alongside discussion of whose voices and lives matter, and what counts as knowledge, evidence or relevance to the subject; g situates experience and description in power structures, local and global contexts, discursive and material systems, historic and contemporary experience, richly inclusive of material from other cultures, materialities, human and non-human systems; h provides intimate detail of relational communication from within activities; i offers an honest, transparent and reflexive account about the selection of material and interpretation and/or use of the material, why the researchers are doing this research, why now and with what intentions; j discusses relational ethics throughout the research process through a rich and overt consideration/critique of power relations, colonising practices, and differences in personal and communal experience, in research relationships and wider socio-political systems; k discusses and evidences how the research makes an original and impactful contribution to the field of social constructionist and systemic inquiry, to members of the public, or other professionals, communities or organisations.

CONCLUSION In this chapter we have set out how transmaterial worlding as onto-epistemological



inquiry supports transformative research into relations between discourse and a transmaterial world. Transmaterial worlding as a method of inquiry has an important role to play in showing how language works in and between human and non-human relationships to maintain or disrupt practices of power that enable or prevent social justice. Co-construction as a form of inquiry and worlding process is an important tool in (i) understanding and supporting decolonial, new materialist strategies to show, extend and disrupt relationships between language and material structures, and (ii) locating human activity as co-inhabitation within a wider fluid sphere of human and non-human environmental context. Examples of systemic questions demonstrate transformative possibilities for generating new and old knowledges that impact on daily practice. Signposts are offered for co-constructionist inquiry as transmaterial worlding to support research which aims to transform lives and create sustainable futures. Transmaterial worlding encourages the development of new practices and is curious about accounts of the fluid and shifting connections between experience and explanation, between theory and practice, language and matter.

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10 Researching Socio-material Practices: Inquiries into the Human/Non-human Interweave Ta n y a M u d r y a n d To m S t r o n g

Decades ago, Michael Polanyi (1966) wrote of there being a tacit dimension to much of what humans do and experience. This tacit dimension refers to taken-for-granted aspects of our experiencing and doing that occur below our attentional radar. Important for our considerations here is that such tacit experiencing and doing occurs because of the familiarities of our responsiveness to people and other features of our situations. Whether learning to pedal a bicycle or greeting a new colleague – beyond any initial awkwardness – these novel sense-making interactions often become familiar, lulling us into overlooking the tacit responsiveness required for enabling such interactions to recur. Should the familiar become tacit in these interactions, we can lose our sense of responding to how we are being responded to, unless such tacit interactions are disrupted or re-visited for new kinds of sense-making. This makes such interactions, or socio-material practices, interesting practitioner-research foci.

Interaction has been difficult to conceptualize for individually focused psychologists and socially oriented sociologists. Basically, it refers to the back-and-forth responsiveness that develops between people, or between people and material features in their situations. Goffman (1967) launched his microsociology suggesting that researchers look at the immediacies of everyday interactions as being ‘where the action is’. Garfinkel (1967) went a step further to suggest that everyday interactions – those recurring in the back and forth of people’s immediate responses to each other – were how they brought familiar order to their relationships. Translated to human interactions with material elements (e.g., technology, objects, geography), a more challenging and recent socio-material view theorizes how humans become situationally ‘entangled’ (Barad, 2007) with material features of their lives. Socio-material practices begin as responses to something new, in sense-­making interactions that develop according to how people


and material elements respond to each other in recurring interactions over time. A considerable literature has been developing, highlighting how interwoven humans and material phenomena have become (e.g., Grosz, 2017; Hekman, 2010) or may have always been (Ingold, 2007). New ‘posthuman’ (Braidotti, 2013) or relational ontologies (Barad, 2007) are discussed within this literature, particularly as technologies become more central in our lives (e.g., Fry, 2018; Latour, 2013). This literature suggests that it is becoming increasingly hard to distinguish human influence from the influence of socio-material phenomena with which we interact, particularly when one adds in Polanyi’s tacit dimension. Therein lies a potentially interesting dilemma, as some practices, such as performed elegance or expertise (Dreyfus and Dreyfus, 1986) illustrate the usefulness of this tendency. However, a downside becomes evident when socio-material practices acquire an unwanted automaticity, such as when we become mindlessly ‘addicted’ to activities. Socio-material practices exemplify how humans routinely interact with material phenomena to reproduce experiences and relations, and effectively meld with these phenomena (e.g., technology, geographies, objects). Gregory Bateson (1972) similarly described how the practice of using a cane could seemingly develop into an extension of a visually impaired person using it. In this chapter, we focus on researching socio-material practices – those that conjoin humans with material elements of their situations. Our aim is to show ways to ‘zoom in’ (Nicolini, 2012) to research specific sociomaterial practices as concurrent doings, sayings, and relatings (Kemmis et al., 2017), while also ‘zooming out’ to research bigger picture influences sustaining socio-material practices. We conceptualize socio-material practices as recurrent ‘doings, sayings, and relatings’ (Kemmis et  al., 2017) that develop into inertias or ‘rhythms’ that persist in taken-for-granted ways that almost feel


second nature. Henri Lefebvre issued, for us, a heuristic challenge for our inquiries: ‘When rhythms are lived, they cannot be analysed’ (2004, p. 88). Through clinical and researchrelated studies of ‘excessive behaviours’ we probe such rhythms through reflexive forms of sense-making, uncoupling how sociomaterial practices tacitly reproduce what can become unacceptably familiar.

SOCIO-MATERIAL PRACTICES A Pavlovian view of practice would probably stop at S-R (stimulus-response) habits, a focus of behavioural therapists for almost a century (e.g., Watson, 1925). This focus on ‘doing’ or the actions required for perpetuating a habit, omits any sayings and relatings. Sayings are what people say to themselves to justify or inform their doing of a sociomaterial practice – a normal target for cognitive therapists (Beck, 1979). Relatings tap into dimensions of value, affect, and goalorientation (or ‘teleoaffectivity’ – see Schatzki, 2010) that relate the person to the practice. Psychological language like ‘compulsion’ partly captures this component, which mindfulness and acceptance-focused therapists (e.g., Roemer and Orsillo, 2010) emphasize. Socio-material practices, however, seldom refer to the discrete doings, sayings, or relatings these approaches to therapy target. They are responsive and typically recur in broader networks or assemblages where they seemingly take on lives of their own. For Peter Sloterdijk (2013), ‘Every active person is dyed in the lye of their activities until the miracle of “second nature” takes place and they perform the near-impossible almost effortlessly’ (p. 321). Practices acquire their ‘second nature’ through becoming conjoined in networks and assemblages and then persist because they have a kind of life support system that extends beyond the person caught up as part of sustaining them.



To illustrate, systemic therapy which sought to change unwanted family practices, tends to be up against other practices engaging the family beyond the consulting room (Dreier, 2008). Thus, a change focus on a specific practice may seem like bucking the tide for being part of a greater network or assemblage of practices.

RESEARCHING SOCIO-MATERIAL PRACTICES The pithy phrase ‘zooming out and zooming in’ (Nicolini, 2012) nicely encompasses our interests in tackling research questions in macroscopic and microscopic ways. Our backgrounds in ethnomethodology (e.g., Garfinkel, 1967; Heritage, 1984) had oriented us to micro-interactions through which humans negotiate a shared, but mostly takenfor-granted, sense of orderliness or familiarity. However, we were also drawn to making sense of larger historical and cultural influences on human interactions – particularly the hermeneutically oriented writings of Foucault (2011) or Ian Hacking. For Hacking (1999), some cultural phenomena acquire their salience in ‘ecological niches’, which in some way resemble the situations or assemblages we will describe in greater detail later. When researching socio-material practices, we think it is important to zoom in, to see how these practices are done in micro terms, while zooming out to consider macroinfluences that shape the salience or relevance of any socio-material practice.

Zooming In on Socio-Material Practices Socio-material practices typically begin in sense-making interactions, and for us that means looking beyond the brain. Others have claims on how we navigate and negotiate sense-making interactions, and not only other

humans (Garfinkel, 1967). Our smartphones show us how our use of them becomes interwoven with other social and material claims on our attention. Practices come out of how we initially make sense of such interactional claims or challenges in ways we can later develop as reliable responses helpful in negotiating such challenges to make them ‘acceptably familiar’ (Lock and Strong, 2010).

Zooming Out on Socio-Material Practices Researching socio-material practices is complicated because they seldom recur in isolation, and more commonly are sustained inside broader networks or assemblages. One needs to consider broader cultural and systemic influences shaping that recurrence (e.g., Tomm et al., 2014). In zooming out to research socio-material practices we alternate between considering their recurrence within assemblages and/or networks. The notion of assemblages comes from Deleuze and Guattari (1988) and addresses conditions under which phenomena like practices commingle and develop together. Assemblages have been used to conceptualize emergent health conditions (e.g., Duff, 2013) and political developments (Massumi, 2015). They function as ecologies inside which unpredictable developments emerge, even go viral, in ways unique yet consistent with their interactive elements. It took a particular convergence of factors like Facebook and Twitter, a cultural disgust for political prevarication, online editing tools, etc., for today’s creative political meme practices to develop on the Internet. Networks acquire a procedural familiarity enabling one interaction or practice to foretell the need to engage in a next familiar practice. This is a view some associate with cybernetics (Bateson, 1972) and entails tacitly knowing what to do next in a patterned sequence. However, there is usually an interpretive interactional gap that any practice stitches


together (Latour, 2013) – a gap humans fill with their doings, sayings, and relatings. Often such gaps acquire a recurring sense that Guattari (1995) referred to as ‘machinic’. The familiarity and predictability of recurring practices inside networks makes them interesting and potentially liberating targets of critical reflection and reflexive inquiry.

REFLEXIVE RESEARCH OF SOCIOMATERIAL PRACTICES One aspect of reflexivity is that questions, whether asked in therapy or in research, are anything but neutral data-retrieval procedures. Karl Tomm’s seminal writing on reflexive questions in therapy (1987) paralleled how action researchers (e.g., Heron and Reason, 1997) saw questions potentially inviting consideration and enactment of new social realities – they could be ‘futureforming’ in Ken Gergen’s language (2015). Furthermore, reflexivity has an ethnomethodological meaning (e.g., Heritage, 1984) shared by process-oriented philosophers (Nail, 2019; Stengers, 2011); that posthuman life is normally in flux. Socio-material practices are ways humans responsively try to stabilize or bring familiar order to that flux. Thus, we sought to research socio-material practices without reifying them, and to instead find generative ways to identify and represent them. Clarke’s Situational Analysis (SA; Clarke et al., 2017) offers mapping procedures useful for zooming in and out to better understand socio-material practices. Macroscopically, John Shotter (2006) referred to ‘responsive orders’ that we see as stitched together by socio-material practices tacitly perpetuated in assemblages and networks of practice. Zooming in helps us look at specific sociomaterial practices, to revisit alternative sense-making that had become closed up or made seamless by such practices (Schegloff and Sacks, 1972). SA maps, in other words


give us lenses for considering the actual and the possible.

RESEARCHING EXCESSIVE BEHAVIOURS Excessive behaviours are common, practised excessively and tacitly, and often experienced as unacceptably familiar, as ‘addictions’. We draw from examples of inquiries into excessive behaviours (Mudry, 2016), specifically gambling, to demonstrate how we have researched socio-material practices. We aim to show how to reflexively probe and uncouple the ways socio-material practices are tacitly reproduced to create and sustain gambling, so that individuals can better change practices they deem are no longer acceptable. In Tanya’s original study, participants who self-identified as feeling ‘stuck’ in, or having concerns related to eating, Internet use, or gambling were interviewed about specific practices they deemed important to sustaining or interrupting these concerns. Nicolini’s (2012) orienting questions were used to attend to the doings, sayings (beliefs, ideas, talk within the practice), timing, tempo, embodied choreography, objects, and place (see Mudry, 2016 for details). Through analysing interview transcripts, we zoomed out to examine participants’ social worlds and arenas to consider which conditions and practices were most relevant or salient to our inquiry, while zooming in to see how unacceptably familiar practices are sustained. For Nicolini (2012) ‘zooming in and out is achieved by switching theoretical lenses, the result is both a representation of practice and an exercise of diffraction whereby understanding is enriched through reading the results of one form of theorization through another’ (p. 219). Here we use data from an interview with one participant, ‘Tom Jackson’ (his chosen pseudonym), to illustrate how researchers might examine socio-material practices by zooming



out and zooming in, through using lenses afforded by the earlier mentioned assemblage and network approaches.

Social Worlds Arena Drawing from Situational Analysis (SA, Clarke, 2005) we created our version of a social worlds/arenas map to depict gambling as a situation pertaining to individuals (Tom Jackson in particular) who gamble. In our social worlds/arenas map (Figure 10.1), we portray the actors engage in this situated form of coordinated action (gambling), as social worlds, or meso-level arena(s) where these actors have something at stake. While not exhaustive, four broad social arenas were identified in the map as salient to the situation of gambling: Mental Health and

Figure 10.1  Gambling social worlds/arena map

Addiction; Political; Personal and Community; and Gambling Industry. Within each of these arenas are actors that have a stake in gambling, some of which are in tension with others. For example, policy makers, research bodies, funding bodies, and government are situated and motivated within all four arenas. Tom Jackson lives in a jurisdiction where gambling is legal and regulated by the government, which receives tax revenues from gambling to fund service providers and treatment facilities for ‘problematic gamblers’. In seeking profit, the casino and gambling industry design casinos and games accordingly, to accelerate play, extend duration, and increase spending (Schüll, 2012). Such goals are in direct conflict with policy makers advocating for responsible gambling, who also benefit from the profits of the casino and gambling industry. Those who


gamble (i.e., Tom Jackson), do so within a tension between the government’s role to help and protect their citizens, while profiting from the gambling revenues through taxation. Depending upon the participant, different social arenas may play a larger or smaller role in (i.e., have claims on) the practices in which they engage. If the participant uses mental health or addiction services, the mental health and addiction arena may be more relevant to investigate. If the participant gambles during work hours, or gambling harms their social relationships, the personal or community arenas (i.e., workplace, social relationships) may be relevant for the inquiry. Social worlds are not fixed, and the porosity of social worlds/arenas are depicted through the use of dotted lines. Tom Jackson’s social worlds involved formal counselling to reduce gambling, as well as Gambler’s Anonymous (peer-based 12-step recovery), both of which sit within the mental health and addiction arena and have stakes in him reducing gambling. Conversely, the casinos and developers of video lottery terminals (VLTs) (gambling industry arena) have a stake in increasing Tom Jackson’s gambling through technology and environment to increase play. Therein lies an important tension between Tom Jackson’s relevant social worlds, each with opposing stakes in him continuing to gamble. When Tom Jackson is engaged in practices that sustain excessive gambling, he does so within and as part of these social worlds. In light of our interest in socio-material practices, we focused on practices involving the Personal and Community (workplace, family, friends) and Gambling Industry (i.e., casinos and VLTs) social worlds.

Zooming Out: Assemblages of Practices We used an assemblage approach to attend to and identify the conditions and influences under which situated elements commingle


and develop into socio-material practices, all occurring within and as part of social worlds. Given Tom Jackson’s social worlds, and our interview with him, we identified the following conditions and influences that likely converged and commingled to facilitate excessive gambling (Figure 10.2): Neoliberalism, media, gambling industry, government/political system, current economy, work/employment, health and mental health, and social network. For the purposes of this chapter, we focused on conditions and influences most related to Tom Jackson’s casino gambling, which directly attend to socio-material elements. However, conditions such as social network (i.e., recent loss of parents, lost connection to friendships due to working night shifts) and health and mental health (i.e., chronic pain and depression) are also major influences in the assemblage. Relevant to casino gambling are neoliberalism, technology, media, the gambling industry, and the political system/government. North America embraces a neoliberal ideology which privileges independence, capitalism, higher socioeconomic status, and, arguably, excessiveness. This translates to a desire to become and appear wealthy, often through excessive spending and consuming (e.g., cars, jewellery, clothing, fancy dinners, going to Vegas). The gambling industry is both a product of, and contributor to neoliberalism. The aim of the gambling industry is to maximize profit, while also promising the gambler the potential to win a jackpot (money is material). This industry uses technology in their materials to engineer player practices and experiences to perpetuate further play (Schüll, 2012). Casinos are designed to be exciting (lights and bells), glamorous, and disorienting in time and space, to keep consumers engaged in the practices. Video lottery terminals (VLTs) are also designed to be ‘addictive’, creating a trajectory towards continuous gaming productivity by ‘accelerating play, extending its duration, and increasing the total amount spent’ (Schüll, 2012, p. 52).



Neoliberal Ideology

gambling industry



government/ political

work social network mental/ health

Gambling Figure 10.2  Zooming out: assemblage

This fits clearly with Tom Jackson’s sociomaterial description of the casino as a ‘different world’ filled with excitement, fun, lights, and sounds. The current economic system creates a tension with the neoliberal ideal. In a neoliberal system, as smaller numbers of people become increasingly wealthy, more become economically disadvantaged without options to progress. Those who are economically disadvantaged are likely to be less satisfied with their ‘reality’; working very hard, in jobs they dislike, and earning less than required for comfort, let alone match the ideal performed in media. However, those who are economically disadvantaged are still under the influence of the neoliberal ideal, which creates conditions to accumulate wealth outside of their regular jobs; gambling at a casino is very lucrative. In the case of Tom Jackson, he talked about his experience of being in the casino as a ‘different world’, with lights,

sounds, and the potential to win money to make the pain and depression of his daily reality (Figure 10.3) ‘go away.’

Zooming In: Assemblage Instance From an assemblage view we can zoom in to a practice of interest (‘walking into a casino’, Figure 10.3) to examine how conditions and influences come together to commingle and create the possibility of gambling. Tom Jackson spoke about chronic pain, depression, grief over the death of his parents, as well as an inheritance (material required to gamble), working night shifts in an empty warehouse, and loss of social connection and leisure activities. Tom Jackson’s daily reality is sharply contrasted with what a casino has to offer: opportunities for excitement, escape, and the potential to win a fortune and escape daily reality. He described the casino as a



Figure 10.3  Zooming in: assemblage instance

completely ‘different world’ – an escape that was exciting – with bells, sounds, lights – and huge potential to win. He spoke about a ‘big win’, which was exciting, and served as a distinct contrast and escape from the stress and depression he experienced in his life elsewhere. He described the small ‘high’ he experienced walking in to the casino and the enormous high (‘euphoria’) he experienced when he hit a jackpot. Going to a different world with anticipation of an enormous high is a logical option.

Zooming Out: Larger Network of Practices Zooming out to a networked view, we can tease apart the mechanics of the practice network, which might be useful for reflexively investigating how practices network together in familiar, tacit ways, engaged as second

nature. In contrast to a commingling and convergence of conditions in an assemblage view, a networked view feeds off procedural familiarity, practices become linked together in ways that seem predictable, one practice inviting the next. The more the practices are associated together, the more familiar the next step in the practice becomes. Hinge practices are those which are central to the perpetuation of a network of practices, a practice which, if altered, changes the network (Harré, 2009). Tom Jackson described certain practices that were important in his network of gambling practices. In Figure 10.4, we depict four hinge practices that network together to sustain gambling: cell phone practice at work, driving to the casino, walking into the casino, and playing the VLT. Note that other daily life/ home practices could also be included in Tom Jackson’s larger network of practices, and expanded upon for a more thorough analysis.



Figure 10.4  Zooming out: network of practices

Tom Jackson described the VLT game on his cell phone as analogous to the VLT he played in the casino. Working the night shift alone, he played this game when he was bored, feeling lonely, or wanted a break. His engagement in the cell phone game was more than escape; however, what happened on the game (whether he won or lost) was associated with particular feelings and beliefs about his next steps. If he was winning in the game, he would go home after work, because he had ‘already won all of his wins’ (a superstitious ‘saying’ described in the next section). However, if he was losing, he knew he was ‘due for a win’ (another superstitious ‘saying’) and embodied anticipation of a win would be felt in his body. If he lost in his cell phone game, at the end of his shift he would drive to the casino (a few blocks away, on his route home). On the drive there (a hinge practice), he would be filled with anticipation, expectation, adrenaline, and excitement. He would walk into the casino (a hinge practice), which was a completely different world (compared to his warehouse job) – an escape that was exciting. The bells, sounds, and lights are all part of the socio-material ‘place’ of walking into the

casino, and the next hinge practice of playing on a VLT.

Zooming In: Hinge Practices From a practice perspective, we can zoom in to each of the socio-material hinge practices in a network to examine the doings, sayings, relatings, and actants (materials, place, and timespace). By ‘zooming in’ we attend closely to the details associated with accomplishing the practice. Doings are the actions of the practice, grounded materially in place and with things (actants). Sayings refer to what is said about the practice, the rationale for the practice, and what is said within the practice. Sayings are drawn from larger discourses or ways of understanding and doing the practice. Relatings are the emotional, embodied connections that glue the practice together. Relatings are teleoaffective and help describe how trajectories are formed within the practice towards continuation. Trajectories (telos = towards an aim, affective = feeling, emotion, embodied affect state) connect and perpetuate the practice in ways that become tacit. In Figure 10.5, we



Figure 10.5  Zooming in: gambling practices

depict how doings (grounded socio-materially in things and place), sayings, and relatings comprise and sustain a practice. For example, we can zoom in to examine the hinge practice of walking into a casino (Figure 10.6), which was highlighted in Tom Jackson’s story as walking into a ‘different world’ (a ‘saying’ from a discourse of escapism). In Figure 10.6, we depict the socio-material practice of entering into this different world (casino), in contrast to the daily world he would like to shut out. In this example, place and timespace of the casino are particularly important from a socio-material perspective. Tom Jackson has an embodied, affective relationship to the casino (place) that feels exciting and fun, and where he experiences a small ‘high’ with potential (i.e., telos) for an enormous high. In this hinge practice, the potential for an enormous high (teleoaffective relating) is networked with the desire to play the VLT (to achieve that high), which is another hinge practice (interacting with the VLT). This practice of interacting with a VLT (Figure 10.7) is grounded in the materiality of the VLT.

The VLT is an important actant, the way in which it spins, the number of spins, how it is re-triggered, its timespace (2–3 mins), and the outcome (huge jackpot), all of which occurred alongside intense affective relatings (high, euphoria) which ‘made all that pain and depression go away’. These affective relatings became associated with the VLT through intensely positive affect. At the time of occurrence, and until deemed problematic, the sayings associated with this experience might centre on thrill, potential to win, excitement, and positive invitation to continue. In the retrospective account described here (after engagement in addiction treatment), Tom Jackson drew from an addiction discourse, when he likened his experience to cocaine or narcotics addiction (Figure 10.7). In these network examples we were able to highlight the complexity of the practices and analytically focus in on material actants, which might be typically implicit or ignored in research. Zooming out allowed us to view these practices as relationally integrated and situated in networks of practices, while by zooming in to hinge practices we could zoom



Figure 10.6  Hinge practice: walking into a casino

Figure 10.7  Hinge practice: interacting with a VLT

in closely on the details of the accomplishment of the practice.

CONCLUSION As therapist-researchers we have sought reflexive methods of inquiry that help people

zoom in and out on the assemblages and networks that sustain particular practices. Seeing the questions and representations of any inquiry as reflexive or socially constructive, given what they might bring forth (Tomm, 1987), in this chapter we also presented considerations for researching socio-material practices in zooming in and zooming out ways. We drew heavily from Clarke’s (2005,


Clarke et  al., 2017) Situational Analysis, a theory-methods package that uses maps to zoom in and out of situations and the practices (i.e., doings, sayings, relatings) that comprise them. Assemblages have indeterminate qualities, yet develop in ways that create particular conditions of possibility inside which a range of socio-material practices might develop. Corners of today’s Internet assemble highly distinctive practices that would have been impossible without the technology. Networked practices, in contrast, are sustained in patterned familiarities that are sequentially connected so that engagement in one socio-material practice almost foretells engaging in an ‘inevitable’ next practice. Whether researching assembled or networked socio-material practices we aim to make their conditions and predictable sequences for unacceptably familiar reproduction evident in ways that enable new thinking, dialogue and actions.

REFERENCES Barad, K. (2007). Meeting the universe halfway. Durham, NC: Duke University Press. Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an ecology of mind. New York, NY: Ballantine. Beck, A. T. (1979). Cognitive therapy and the emotional disorders. New York, NY: Plume. Braidotti, R. (2013). The posthuman. Malden, MA: Polity. Clarke, A. E. (2005). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the interpretive turn. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Clarke, A. E., Friesen, C., and Washburn, R. S. (2017). Situational analysis: Grounded theory after the interpretive turn (2nd edition). Los Angeles, CA: Sage. Deleuze, G., and Guattari, F. (1988). A thousand plateaus (B. Massumi, Trans.). St. Paul, MN: University of Minnesota Press. Dreier, O. (2008). Psychotherapy in everyday life. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Dreyfus, H. L., and Dreyfus, S. E. (1986). Mind over machine: The power of human intuition


and expertise in the era of the computer. New York, NY: Free Press. Duff, C. (2013). Assemblages of health. New York, NY: Springer. Foucault, M. (2011). The government of self and others: Lectures at the Collège de France, 1982–1983 (G. Burchell, Trans.). New York, NY: Picador. Fry, H. (2018). Hello world: Being human in the age of algorithms. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. Garfinkel, H. (1967). Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice Hall. Gergen, K. J. (2015). From mirroring to worldmaking: Research as future forming. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 45, 287–310. doi: 10.1111/jtsb.12075 Goffman, E. (1967). The interaction ritual. New York, NY: Parthenon. Grosz, E. (2017). The incorporeal: Ontology, ethics and the limits of materialism. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. Guattari, F. (1995). Chaosmosis: An ethicoaesthetic paradigm (P. Bains and J. Pefanis, Trans.). Sydney, AU: Power Publications. Hacking, I. (1999). Mad travelers. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Harré, R. (2009). Wittgenstein’s therapies: From rules to hinges. New Ideas in Psychology, 27(2), 118–132. doi: 10.1016/j.newidea psych.2008.04.009 Hekman, S. (2010). The material of knowledge: Feminist disclosures. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press. Heritage, J. (1984). Garfinkel and ethnomethodology. Cambridge, MA: Polity. Heron, J., and Reason, P. (1997). A participatory inquiry paradigm. Qualitative Inquiry, 3(3), 274–294. doi: 10.1177/1077800 49700300302 Ingold, T. (2007). Lines: A brief history. New York, NY: Routledge. Kemmis, S. R., Wilkinson, J., and EdwardsGroves, C. (2017). Roads not travelled, roads ahead: How the theory of practice architectures is travelling. In K. Mahon, S. Francisco, and S. Kemmis (Eds.), Exploring education and professional practice (pp. 239–256). New York, NY: Springer. Latour, B. (2013). An inquiry into modes of existence. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.



Lefebvre, H. (2004). Rhythmanalysis: Space, time and everyday life. (S. Elden and G. Moore, Trans.). New York, NY: Continuum. Lock, A. J., and Strong, T. (2010). Social constructionism: Sources and stirrings in theory and practice. New York, NY: Cambridge University Press. Massumi, B. (2015). Politics of affect. Malden, MA: Polity. Mudry, T. (2016). Behaviour is in the practice: Examining excessive behaviours using a practice framework (Doctoral dissertation), University of Calgary, AB. Nail, T. (2019). Being and motion. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Nicolini, D. (2012). Practice theory, work, and organization: An introduction. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Polanyi, M. (1966). The tacit dimension. ­ Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Roemer, L., and Orsillo, S. M. (2010). Mindfulness-and acceptance-based behavioral therapies in practice. New York, NY: Guilford Press. Schatzki, T. R. (2010). The timespace of human activity. Lanham, MD: Lexington Books. Schegloff, E. A., and Sacks, H. (1972). Opening up closings. Semiotica, 8, 289–327. doi: 10.1515/semi.1973.8.4.289

Schüll, N. (2012). Addiction by design: Machine gambling in Las Vegas. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press. Shotter, J. (2006). Dialogue, depth, and life inside responsive orders: From external observation to participatory understanding. In B. Goranzon, M. Hammaren, and R. Ennals (Eds.), Dialogue, skill, and tacit knowledge (pp. 243–266). New York, NY: John Benjamins. Sloterdijk, P. (2013). You must change your life (W. Hoban, Trans.). Malden, MA: Polity. Stengers, I. (2011). Thinking with Whitehead: A free and wild creation of ideas. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Tomm, K. (1987). Interventive interviewing: II. Reflexive questioning as a means to enable selfhealing. Family Process, 26(2), 167–183. doi: 10.1111/j.1545-5300.1987.00167.x Tomm, K., St. George, S., Wulff, D., and Strong, T. (Eds.) (2014). Patterns of interpersonal interactions: Inviting relational understandings for therapeutic change. New York, NY: Routledge. Watson, J. B. (1925). Behaviorism. New York, NY: W.W. Norton.


Practices in Therapeutic Professions

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11 Curiosity and Generativity: Welcome to Practices in the Therapeutic Professions Sally St. George and Dan Wulff

‘Practices in the Therapeutic Professions’ is a deliciously inviting and inclusive title, embracing many initiatives under the moniker ‘practices’. The term ‘therapeutic professions’ also beckons a wide range of professional endeavors that fall within the purview of ‘therapeutic’. Given this big tent of possibilities, we are pleased to present nine intriguing practices that may be new to you, or for those of you who may be familiar with the work and writings of these authors, you may find some important developments to existing practices. For us, social constructionism has always been a deep well we have turned to for expanding the arena of initiatives and practices that animate postmodern ideas into our everyday lives. We remember attending the inaugural international Taos conference in 1993 and attending a workshop by David Cooperrider (one of the Taos Institute founders) in which he had the participants (therapists and organizational development professionals) switch roles and use the skills

they had developed in their own field and apply them in the others’ field. The therapists had to figure how to convene a meeting of world religious leaders to forge and build interfaith collaboration. The organizational development folks set about trying to help a family in therapy forge and build collaboration as the family dealt with succession planning for their family business. Both groups were initially flummoxed – the therapists felt that the group of religious leaders was too large to engage, and the organizational development practitioners thought a family was far too small to be able to use their skills to make a difference. With David’s encouragement to think about our basic principles of valuing multiple realities and relationships, we all eventually stopped our grumbling and identified places where our skills were applicable in an additional context beyond what we had considered possible. We realized through our professional affiliations that we were languaging things differently, but with the same intent, hopes, and meanings. This experience



of recognizing connections across seemingly disparate fields or applications illustrates the surprise and generativity that social constructionists cherish. As editors of this part of the Handbook, we are very pleased to introduce you to the section on practices in the therapeutic professions. We both teach in a graduate school of social work and have been working with families as couple and family therapists and with student therapists as supervisors for a long time. And what we completely agree on, firmly believe in, and work at every day, is that conversations must be sustained for us to reasonably expect to improve our world. Stress and tension in our world seems to be increasing and the challenges to maintaining openness to alternative ideas feels particularly acute. These are the times when the abilities to grow collaborations are most needed. We rely on social constructionist ideas to spur us on beyond the usual points of polarization, collapse, and shut-down. We believe that when the conversation stops/discontinues, we are in big trouble, but when we can design ways to hold and facilitate the conversations beyond disagreements, beyond dichotomies, beyond evaluations, we can generate hope, interest, energy, and engaged commitment. One could reasonably think that the grounding provided by social constructionist ideas would be warmly welcomed across time and place, but such has not been the case. The modernist traditions have created a firm stronghold across regions of the world and professions, resulting in a suspicion about ‘non-modernist’ understandings. Despite this modernist domination, we have continued to hold closely the fairness and utility of ideas such as multiple realities and multiple perspectives in our family therapy work, especially as demonstrated by individual family members in their interactions. Furthermore, we believe that multiple realities are particularly noticeable when we look at families in their sociocultural contexts. In each of the chapters in this section, you will be able to readily see attention to and appreciation of

multiple realities as opportunities for understanding and moving forward in our work. The chapters relate social constructionism to all levels of human interaction – from the individual, families, groups, communities, and beyond; from the historical, to the present, and into the future. When we listen to our clients talk, we repeatedly hear them talking about their relationships with each other. Relationships are our anchors to belonging, to hoping, to developing, to being valued, to dreaming, and to acting. Therefore, relational talk occupies our conversational space. Each of our authors in this section demonstrates their solidarity with this idea – you will read how each of them talks about generative conversation and transformative conversation. They show us why and how they keep the conversation going toward change, toward justice, toward difference and freshness – all to keep people connected to each other in ways that are fruitful and satisfying.

INTRODUCING THE CHAPTERS WITHIN In this section on Practices in Therapeutic Professions, you will find ideas and examples from a variety of modalities of therapy from individual, family, group, and community, in supervision, and from the fields of psychology, social work, family therapy, and psychiatry. You will also find presentations talking about what ‘social’ means, creating conditions for collaborating, engaging many people at once at the community level, and looking at ways in which we can stretch, expand, and create many more possibilities for living preferred and satisfactory lives together through the theoretical and applied cross-fertilization of ideas. From the field of social work, Stanley L. Witkin and Christopher Hall, who have been leaders of ‘social working’ from a constructionist stance, write about the crossovers and


demarcations when social work practices are conducted from a social constructionist perspective (and when they are not). Their chapter draws attention to the word ‘social’ in social construction and in social work and how key that concept is to both. Despite their potential connections, the authors discuss how social construction has remained a bit detached from actionable value-based involvements and how social work is located within societal structures of a rather conservative outlook. Responding to this critique, Stan and Chris have described a number of practices of social work that have been informed (or could be informed more) by social constructionism. In her chapter, Harlene Anderson continues her writing on Collaborative-Dialogic Practice. While most authors discuss their practices by highlighting the theoretical constructions they make and the derivative actions they take, Harlene always reminds us that a Collaborative-Dialogic Practice is a stance, an orientation from which people come together in conversation in order to decide how to go forward. A sense of notknowing what will take shape, a genuine curiosity about the world and relationships, and a tolerance for uncertainty provide a context to assist the professional to meet with others and generate direction and momentum. Beyond the therapeutic potentials of this way of practicing, Harlene poses a challenge: ‘As practitioners, we are confronted with consistently keeping in mind that we are simply human beings in relationship with our clients, who are also human beings. We are left with what kind of person do we want to be?’ Dora Fried Schnitman writes about Generative Dialogues through which participants can stimulate unanticipated possibilities in the face of presenting problems/ issues. Through their dialogue, the therapist and the client develop ways of going forward that emanate from their interconnections. Through illustrations, Dora reveals how seeds of the future are in the dialogues


of the present, not only for the client but for the therapist as well. The coming together of the therapist and the client provides the context and opportunity for each to evolve their thinking about their work together and their lives beyond their work together. The use of the terms generativity and multiplicity are apt in this chapter, as new ideas and new ways to imagine the future path and the steps along the way are stimulated through the therapeutic relationship. Jasmina Sermijn develops the notion of witnessing in narrative therapy to include ‘symbolic’ witnesses and ways that symbolic witnesses can develop connections between clients to create a sense of community. This practical application of using witnesses in therapy responds to those situations when including other people in therapy is difficult, impossible, or inadvisable. Jasmina expands this narrative element by telling the story of how symbolic witnesses have come into being, demonstrating how innovations in practices can be noticed, nurtured, and developed beyond the initial application. By sharing examples from her practice, Jasmina illustrates how using symbolic witnesses can become a step along the way to creating connections between people, helping people to become less isolated. Emerson F. Rasera and Carla GuanaesLorenzi apply social constructionist ideas in the practice of group therapy, which traditionally has been aligned with psychodynamic theories and approaches. The authors clearly discuss practical ways in which social constructionist ideas can be effectively utilized in group therapy. They emphasize the importance of encouraging the generated dialogue to ‘find its own way’ – supporting the dialogues to develop without the specialist/expert shaping the process in their own preferred ways. This form of facilitation is aided by the social constructionist ideas of multiple realities and encouraging multiple voices to help group members chart their own courses forward. Applying social constructionist ideas to therapeutic group work



presents profound possibilities as they do in other types or forms of therapeutic practice. In her chapter, Lois Holzman walks us through the history of social therapeutics, explaining that this is a practice marked by taking therapy out of the therapy office and moving it into a ‘transdisciplinary practice of relating to people of all ages and life circumstances as social performers and creators of their lives’. Reading this chapter is like running a movie in our mind’s eye as we watch how therapy, according to Lois, is transformed ‘from a non-diagnostic therapy to a postmodernized socio-cultural psychology of development to a new approach to social-cultural change known as performance activism’. Lois’ account of this evolutionary and revolutionary work offers ground-breaking perspectives, ideas, and practices that come from constantly learning from one’s work, from never staying static. Challenging the status quo is never easy and Lois presents the many professional and societal shifts taken to push the limits of current understandings and practices. In Marilene A. Grandesso’s words, ‘ICT [Integrative Community Therapy] was progressively organized as a critical postmodern approach sensitive to communitarian relationships, fostering feelings of solidarity, compassion and respect for the other.’ Marilene is one of the most well-known proponents of this community version of therapy, taking many of the social constructionist principles and practices into much larger group work contexts. The carefully organized and culturally grounded work of ICT reaches further into community dynamics than we are accustomed to seeing. This large-scale work has enormous implications for communities and cultural collectives. Beyond addressing specific issues of concern, ICT stimulates community development and capacity building. Transformation of our worlds/communities is seen in Marilene’s work in strikingly pragmatic ways that are at once focused, personal, warm, and public. ‘Standing for community and solidarity in the face of neoliberalism’s insistence on individualism and competition can be powerfully

transforming.’ This sentence concludes Jill Freedman and Gene Combs’ chapter and it gives us chills – impelling us to jump in and work hard to make sure that we all recognize that not all people’s suffering is because of poor choices or personal deficiencies. In their chapter, Jill and Gene demonstrate a variety of narrative therapy processes that strip away the conflation between neoliberal discourses and mental health troubles affecting relationships, without ever using the word, neoliberalism. Many of us have slid down the slippery slope of traditional approaches to psychotherapy where it is common to blame the victims of the unjust and unreasonable conditions of our collective lives. Jill and Gene help us revise our understandings of the problems that people present to us in therapy and show the level of transformation possible by attending to the infusion of these discourses into professional and daily life. Karl Tomm, well-known in the fields of psychiatry and family therapy, offers a provocative chapter, arguing that ‘the complementary paradigms of social constructionism and bringforthism provide sufficient “tentative knowledge” for us as therapists to make choices and become proactive, even in the absence of certainties’. He invites us to ponder how we, as therapists, decide what to pursue in therapy – what are the ‘truths’ we operationalize in the therapeutic encounter? What grounding do we occupy to make the decisions we make regarding what we talk about and what we do with clients. Karl discusses the potentials of social constructionism and bringforthism to navigate this issue about what ‘truth’ or understandings we choose to embrace and pursue. Be prepared to feel a little unsettled as you ponder his ideas and your own positioning.

LOOKING TO THE FUTURE Despite all the technology and innovations available to us, we do not see the human need


and search for belonging going away. We believe that people will always have the need to connect, to be heard, to be in relationships, and to attend to those relationships. We also see that social constructionist practitioners will continue the turn toward social justice by attending to fairness in our small and daily interactions. One of the perils we see in our world today is the trend toward polarizing into a few camps or tribes. Facing an unparalleled number of possibilities and choices can feel overwhelming, and a move toward a simpler world may appear enticing. A proliferation of ideas may seem like too much and a desire may grow to limit choices – to reassert dichotomies, to pick between ‘this or that’. This limiting of options (rather than expanding options) would reduce the potential to improve our world, a circumstance that would maintain the inequities and marginalization that a majority of persons on the planet persistently face. This analysis of the present and the forecast into the future makes the case for continuously finding applications for social constructionist ideas, especially the inclusion of multiple ideas and perspectives, using language that is inclusive and appreciative of varied ideas, and being clear in our decisionmaking. If these ideas can be made manifest


in our everyday personal and professional worlds, we can provide evidence for their continued applicability, utility, and development as we work together toward creating a better world. Practitioners with boundless creativity and ingenuity find a home in social constructionist thinking and it is applying these ideas in our lives that justifies and encourages us to continue to nurture and develop those ideas. These performances of social constructionist practices provide verification of the importance of those ideas in our world. The world is made better by social constructionist thinking if that thinking spurs actions. The performances of social constructionist thinking outlined in this section underwrite the importance of social constructionist ideas now and into the future. If we hope to continue the evolution of social constructionist thinking in a skeptical world, the products of that thinking need to proliferate. Social constructionist thinking does not predict an end or a completion – it is always unfinished, worthy of more reflection, and capable of re-direction. This helps us to create pathways to respond to uncertainty and challenges that cannot be foreseen, an indispensable resource in contending with what may lie ahead.

12 Social Construction and Social Work Practice Stanley L. Witkin and Christopher Hall

The overall aim of this chapter is twofold: first, to inform readers about fundamental tenets of social work practice and their congruence with social constructionist positions and concepts, and second, to illustrate how social constructionist concepts have informed (or could inform) different social work practices. Although social workers are a significant provider of services across a range of social issues, they have not been highly represented in the social constructionist literature. Therefore, this chapter addresses this lacuna by describing how social construction does and can influence social work practice. The chapter begins with a discussion of how social work practices are inclusive of, and differentiated from, other practices, for example, group work or psychotherapy. Following this exposition, we discuss similarities and differences between social work and social construction, for example, the meaning of ‘social’. This is followed by illustrations of how social constructionist

concepts are (and have been) used to inform social work practice issues such as cultural competence and practice approaches addressing a range of issues. These illustrations will be gleaned from the existing literature (e.g., Witkin, 2012) and from Chris Hall’s own practice.

THE PROFESSION OF SOCIAL WORK Social work as a profession emerged in the early 20th century. Like other professions, social work is characterized by professional education requirements, mission and goal statements that express its benefits to society, self-regulation through a code of ethics, professional organizations that promulgate and oversee professional requirements, and a specialized body of knowledge. This last characteristic has been a source of contention between those who would and would not grant social work full professional

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status. The basis for this disagreement is that social work has historically drawn from a number of disciplines given its broad range of activities and inclusive view of human functioning. Although such comprehensiveness may be viewed as a strength, the perceived absence of an integrative theory and unique knowledge base has been used to argue against social work’s professional status (e.g., Larkin, 2006). Social work has a distinctiveness: a contextual view of human behavior, a social justice mandate, and marginalized and oppressed groups as its primary constituency. Once again, however, opinions vary on the degree, the nature, and the importance of its distinctiveness depending on one’s orientation and interests. Social work’s distinctive qualities will also vary depending on whether the focus is on its written mandates or how it is practiced, that is, what social workers do. Social work also portrays itself as a socially progressive profession primarily through its written positions on social justice and human rights, race and ethnicity, poverty, and social change. In contrast, the profession is relatively intellectually conservative. By this we mean that its research and analyses largely reflect modernist perspectives. This conservatism seems related to social work’s historical struggle to achieve legitimacy and status in the academy and the more recent neo-liberal trends that have become ascendant in academic institutions. Most illustrative of this conservatism has been the dominance of positivistic assumptions in practice and research reinforced by the priority placed on acquiring external funding for research. Therefore, although we will provide illustrations and examples of how a social constructionist orientation can influence social work practice, this should not be taken to mean that such an orientation is representative of practitioners or academics. This situation exists despite the congruence of social constructionist and social work perspectives and ideas, as we will discuss.


What is Social Work? Similar to the question, ‘What is social construction?’, social work resists a simple, straightforward definition. Social work’s contextual inclusiveness of persons and environments, its myriad practices, ranging from psychotherapy to social advocacy, its strong foundation of values and ethics, and its pluralist theoretical base, eludes succinct definition. Every such effort is inevitably partial, underrepresenting the complexity and comprehensiveness of social work practice. As social constructionists know, a case can be made for not having an authoritative definition; for example, its static nature and the dangers of calcification, over-simplification, and the silencing of alternative viewpoints (Witkin, 2012). On the other hand, such definitional vagueness for a profession like social work leaves it vulnerable to misunderstanding and stereotypes such as the portrayal of social workers as altruistic do-gooders without expert knowledge or skills. Such representations generate a climate in which it is difficult for social work to establish its professional legitimacy. A question that arises in relation to the ‘What is …?’ question is whether social work practices differ from practices of other professions. To put it another way, does ‘social work’ function as an adjective when placed (grammatically) in front of practice or research (Witkin, 1998)?1 The answer, from our perspective, is yes and no. There are some practices such as therapy, group work, or research that can look very similar. Sometimes however, the use of a common language for practices can conceal features that differentiate them. For instance, social work’s person and environment orientation leads practitioners to address social issues even when engaged in individual-oriented practice like therapy. A good example of this is provided by Wulff and St. George (2012), who in the context of family therapy, address social issues of violence and feminism. While practitioners in other fields (e.g., psychology)



might do something similar, for social workers this is more a professional mandate than a supererogatory act. A similar argument could be made for social workers’ mandate to serve marginalized populations rather than a focus on the ‘worried well’ (Specht and Courtney, 1995). Of course, this does not mean that all social workers actually practice in these ways; however, it is how the profession represents itself. We turn now to an exploration of the congruencies and incongruencies between social work practice and social construction. We also point out how social work might benefit from a more social constructionist perspective.

SOCIAL WORK AND SOCIAL CONSTRUCTION: CONVERGENCE AND DIVERGENCE2 Given the prominence of the word ‘social’ in social work and social construction, it would be reasonable to assume a high degree of congruity and commonality. Although there is considerable overlap in the issues that social work and social construction address, social work takes up these issues via a values and political position, whereas social construction tends more toward philosophical, especially epistemological, rationales (e.g., Hacking, 2000). In this section we enumerate and discuss some of the important areas common to both. Readers should keep in mind that while the following issues are presented individually, they are interrelated.

Valuing Multiple Perspectives and Voices Both social work and social construction value diversity of perspectives and beliefs. For social work, advocating for those who hold marginal views and amplifying silenced voices is necessary in order to move toward

a pluralistic, more equitable social order. ‘[S]ocial workers believe that it is important for those who are silenced – for whatever reason – to have a voice. We also tend to believe that those who are marginalized in society have a perspective that is valuable for the rest of us to hear’ (Witkin, 1999, p. 7). For social constructionists, claims of universalism and transcendent Truth are suspect as they necessarily stem from particular historical, cultural, and social positions (Gergen, 1994). Therefore, such claims must be dislodged and alternative discourses legitimized. These alternative discourses are often associated with groups whose voices have been silenced, ‘marginal to existing practice and dismissed by the hegemonic system of meanings and practices as irrelevant or bad’ (Weedon, 1997, p. 35).

Contextual Understanding The inseparability of persons from their environments has long been a hallmark of social work (e.g., Gitterman and Germain, 2008). A course in ‘Human Behavior and the Social Environment’ is a staple in virtually all US social work programs. Environment in social work texts typically refers both to aspects of the physical environment (e.g., substandard housing) and social environments (e.g., racism). A relatively recent trend has been to extend ‘environment’ to encompass the natural environment, in particular the dangers engendered by issues such as pollution and climate change (e.g., Alston, 2015; Crews and Besthorn, 2016; Gray and Coates, 2012). This trend has led to the terms eco-social work and green social work (e.g., Dominelli, 2012). Similarly, social construction focuses on the historical, cultural, and social contexts of beliefs. For social constructionists, persons are not only affected by environments, but generate them. Additionally, for social constructionists what we might call relational and linguistic environments are emphasized. Relationships are the bases of

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understanding and beliefs and language bring them into ‘the real’ (Gergen, 2015). The notion of natural environment tends to be more complex as what we take to be natural is also considered to be a social construction. This does not mean that social constructionists are not aware of or concerned about environmental issues; however, there is not an explicit value position that claims this as an issue that must be addressed.

Values and the Promotion of a More Humane and Just Social Order Social work was borne from a value stance regarding the poor classes and those who were socially marginalized and excluded. This value-based foundation provides the rationale and justification for social work practice. It also provides the mandate for social workers to work toward a more humane and equitable social order. The most common expression of this position is the promotion of human rights and social justice. Social constructionists, although taking values as an unavoidable part of any practice, generally have a less definitive position regarding a specific, explicit value stance. That is, although social constructionists would favor the explication of value positions inherent in various practices, they are more circumspect regarding specific values. This seems to be a result of social construction’s concern about elevating any particular position to Truth. Social constructionists walk a fine line here since values are inevitable. In this case, the issue is how explicitly one’s value position is articulated and whether that position is treated as a social construction. Finally, while social work and social construction prioritize the promotion of a more humane and just social order, social construction is less explicit, thereby leaving room for multiple perspectives on what these concepts might mean.


Adopting a Critical Stance Social work encourages criticality primarily from its value and political positions. Its criticality does not often extend to epistemological issues. For instance, it is more common to find publications that critique social policies for their consequences for marginalized groups, than to question the epistemological bases for various beliefs. This does not negate the importance of social work’s critical stance; however, it does limit its ability to respond to issues in innovative and potentially transformative ways (Witkin, 2017). In contrast, social construction’s criticality is primarily epistemological and less overtly value-based and political. For social constructionists, following Foucault, questioning what is assumed or taken-for-granted has the potential to reveal operative discourses and how they generate what is taken to be real or mask power relations, making it difficult to generate alternatives. Social construction’s problematizing stance can make visible what is assumed and seemingly natural thereby making it available for examination.

The Meaning of ‘Social’ and its Expression in Practice Although the social figures prominently in both social work and social construction, its meaning and expression are somewhat different. The origins of the social in social work stem from volunteer efforts in the late 19th century to address poverty in the context of the Industrial Revolution (Stuart, 2019). This social environment remains central for social work. Its meaning has expanded over the past 50 years to include environments produced by oppressive ideologies such as racism, sexism, and homophobia. Social environment also reflects practices such as community organizing and social development. The social in social construction reflects more of a philosophical position, one that takes relationships rather than individuals to be



primary. Within social construction, the concept of persons, minds, and knowledge are generated by social processes (Gergen, 2015). ‘For example, for social constructionists, persons are social not only because they are socially interactive, but because they are socially constituted’ (Witkin, 2012, p. 32). Whereas in social work the individual (within a social context) is often taken to be the unit of analysis, for social constructionists the relationship is primary. Also, social construction uses ‘social’ to index how beliefs and perspectives are expressions of factors such as historical contingencies and community norms and practices.

Science and Research Differences between social work and social construction are most pronounced in their respective positions on research. For social work, conventional research (e.g., experiments, surveys, statistical analyses) is seen as most authoritative. Critiques of such research are largely internal, focused on methodology, methods, and analysis as opposed to the assumptions or claims of the research itself. Social work’s historical legacy has shaped its relatively conservative position concerning research, for instance, regarding research findings as establishing truth or in the case of practice, effectiveness. In contrast to the above, social construction takes issue with the authoritative claims of conventional research and encourages equal status for alternative forms of inquiry. Additionally, social constructionists are more likely to focus on how what we take as truth functions in terms of its implications for social life. Research generated truths receive their authority through social processes rather than their veridicality about reality (McNamee and Hosking, 2012).

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONIST INFLUENCES ON SOCIAL WORK Although social construction remains somewhat marginal within social work, it has had

some influence on important social work issues and practices. In this section we provide some examples of how a social constructionist orientation has been used to reconceptualize social work issues and how it has influenced practice. Although practice is most often used synonymously with micro-level practices (e.g., clinical work), it is important to note that social work practice also occurs at mezzo (e.g., organizations) and macro levels (e.g., policy). These are rarely independent. Thus, when we discuss social constructionist contributions to social work positions on evidence-based practice and cultural competence, two current and influential approaches to practice, these changes have implications for practices at all levels.

Evidence-based Practice The evidence-based practice (EBP) movement spans multiple professions, such as medicine, psychology, and social work. It has also spawned ‘cottage industries’, most notably organizations such as the Cochrane Collaboration that summarize the available evidence on different practices and provide recommendations to practitioners regarding the degree to which a practice is evidence-based. Within social work, EBP has gained wide acceptance both in the academy and in practice. In academic circles the argument for EBP centers around the superiority of research-based knowledge and the ethical obligation of practitioners to draw upon this knowledge in their practice. This has led social service organizations to promote their services as evidence-based, resulting in the EBP label becoming a marketing tool used to communicate to potential clients that they will be receiving the best available services, backed by science. From a social constructionist perspective, EBP’s underlying assumptions, its widespread endorsement, claims, and politicization, generate some troubling issues.

Social Construction and Social Work Practice

Although on the surface the idea of EBP seems laudable, to use the best available evidence in collaboration with the client to develop a treatment plan, its meaning in use and underlying philosophical foundation bears closer inspection. Social construction encourages a problematizing orientation toward commonly held beliefs and concepts. Rather than accepting such concepts and beliefs as given or the way things are, social constructionists interrogate meanings, origins, use, and most important, benefits and harms. Social construction also encourages analysis from a relational perspective. When applied to EBP, a number of issues emerge. For example, I (Witkin, 2017) problematize the meanings of EBP, raising questions such as: Should early meanings of the concept – those attributed to the originators – be privileged? Is the meaning of EBP found in its definition or in how it is practiced? Is the concept of EBP static or does it change as social conditions change? Regarding application, I explore the difference between EBP use in practice versus its use in research, the latter being more circumscribed and uniform. Also related to application are the complexities of assessing whether an evidence-based treatment is appropriate for a particular client. EBP is a multidimensional concept derived from different kinds of inquiry with different research participants in different settings, presenting different problems, and using different measures. Ironically, when practitioners rely on summary evaluations from organizations like the Cochrane Collaboration, they are moving away from an evidence-based approach toward a more authority-based approach (Goldenberg, 2009). Consequently, applying the recommended procedure involves a leap of faith in the summarizing organization. The issue of what counts as evidence can also be viewed as a political issue. For example, Denzin (2009) asks, [W]ho has the power to control the definition of evidence, who defines the kinds of materials that


count as evidence, who determines what methods best produce the best forms of evidence, whose criteria and standards are used to evaluate quality evidence? (p. 142)

The response to these questions is inevitably political, subject to the vicissitudes of power relations within the context in which EBP is being applied. From the EBP perspective, evidence is a form of knowledge. Such knowledge depends on the means by which it was generated. Therefore, research-based knowledge is most authoritative, trumping knowledge generated from other activities such as practice. From a social constructionist perspective, knowledge can be considered a status given to information. Its credibility will depend on the traditions of the knowledge community to which it is applied. Thus, for practitioners, knowledge generated within the context in which it will be used, and which is sensitive to client differences, is more relevant, robust, and useful. Moreover, it is generated within relationships and will reflect the dynamics of those relationships. Therefore from this standpoint, it is practice that should be the primary site of knowledge generation (Witkin, 2015).

Cultural Competence Social work practice, like practice in related fields, is influenced by constructs that signify cherished value positions. One such construct is cultural competence. Within social work, cultural competence is primarily seen as expressing respect for cultural, ethnic, and race differences, and is therefore a critical dimension of practitioners’ knowledge and skill. This position has led to numerous training programs aimed at equipping practitioners with the requisite knowledge and skills to be competent in various cultures. The social constructionist informed social work practitioner acknowledges the value of sensitivity and knowledge of cultural and other forms of difference and their importance to relationship development; however, this is not



synonymous with being ‘competent’ in a culture. In fact, for social constructionist informed practitioners the very notion of cultural competence is not assumed, but problematized, generating questions such as the following: What does it mean to be competent in a culture? How is such competence conferred and what privileges are given to its holders? What does this construct imply about culture (e.g., that it can be reduced to a set of competencies)? They also challenge the notion of cultural homogeneity and cultural inertia. People internalize and represent cultural values and ethos in different ways. Also, cultures are dynamic, they change over time. Finally, competency is an individualistic concept. As such it ‘underemphasizes the social, relational context of social work practice as the site where meanings are negotiated and realities generated’ (Witkin, 2017, p. 79). A social constructionist orientation could shift the practitioner’s stance from cultural competence to ‘cultural humility’, from knowing the traits or qualities of a specific group to remaining open, curious, exploratory, and respectful of the myriad ways that clients have come to understand and express culture. For practitioners, a useful extension of cultural humility is narrative humility in which the idea of fully comprehending or mastering another’s story is put aside in favor of ‘remaining open to their ambiguity and contradiction, and our own role in the story … how the story attracts or repels us because it reminds us of any number of personal stories’ (Das Gupta, 2008, p. 981). An important implication of this approach is that it extends beyond people perceived as culturally different to the conditions that influence and shape the stories we hear (Holstein and Gubrium, 2008).

of foregrounding relational understandings. Social workers and their clients are understood as existing in a mutually influencing, meaning-making relationship. Micro practice is re-envisioned from the achievement of traditional goals of client behavioral change brought about by behavioral reinforcement, cognitive processing, or other clinical mechanisms to transformational change in which clients re-construct and experience themselves and their worlds differently through collaborative social worker–client relationships. Macro and mezzo practice is based in collaborative meaning-making about how problems and solutions to those problems will be understood. In this section we use practice examples to demonstrate these concepts. Because we view social construction as a sense-making framework rather than a prescriptive, method-oriented blueprint, we use the phrase ‘social constructionist informed’ social work practice. In this case, social construction is the guiding framework in the collaborative co-construction of problems and potential solutions. While there are practice models used within social work that are congruent with social constructionist ideas, for example, solution-focused (de Shazer and Dolan, 2012), possibility (O’Hanlon and Bertolino, 2013), and narrative (White and Epston, 1989), we focus more generally on how a social constructionist informed practice might guide social workers. Key social constructionist ideas that inform practice include that there is no inherent meaning in events, objects, or relationships; that meaning is applied to events, objects, and relationships; that meaning is controlled by language relationships; and that language and meaning are created in relationships (Hall, 2012).


No Inherent Meaning in Events, Objects, and Relationships

Social construction, as applied in social work practice, is not a set of techniques but a way

The above premise shifts social constructionist informed social work away from objective assessments designed to discover the truth of

Social Construction and Social Work Practice

things into the realm of collaborative exploration in which meaning and understanding are explored and created relationally. Specifically, social workers are invited to adopt an open mindset in which assumptions of meaning are acknowledged. This position has been described in various ways by social constructionist informed scholars as looking with planned emptiness (Middleman and Wood, 1990), adopting a not knowing position (Anderson and Goolishian, 1992), and taking a curious stance (O’Hanlon and Beadle, 1999). This premise is most clearly seen in macro and mezzo social work through collaborative community and agency approaches (Wood and Tully, 2006) and in research through constructivist grounded theory (Charmaz, 2014) in which social workers seek to engage in collaborative and non-expert oriented ways of practice and research to reach agreed-upon constructed outcomes, collaborative change, and constructed meaning. In micro practice the premise that meaning is not inherent can be liberating for clients because when definitional space exists it becomes possible to change meanings that may have been problematic. For example, the current trend in social work is to place the word ‘trauma’ on past challenging events. Using the word trauma may be totalizing in the sense that it blocks out alternative and possibly preferred meanings from being discovered or created. By approaching events without preconceived ideas of meaning, definitional space is created. Phrases that clients have used to free themselves from the idea of trauma include ‘a moment of growth’, ‘a rite of passage’, ‘forged by fire’, ‘a spiritual awaking’, or ‘an unwanted expansion of self’.

Meaning is Applied to Events, Objects, and Relationships With the absence of the assumption of inherent and static meaning of events, objects, and relationships, alternative meanings can be


explored and created relationally. Preferred meanings and exceptions to the problem as conceived are prominent ideas in social constructionist informed models of practice (Anderson and Gehart, 2012; DeJong and Berg, 2012; O’Hanlon and Weiner-Davis, 2003; White and Epston, 1989). From this position social workers might ask questions such as the following: How can we understand the problem? How did this problem come to be understood in this way? Are there other ways to understand it? Such questions naturally lead to an exploration of meaning and who participates in the construction of that meaning. Social construction emphasizes the contextual and relational creation of meaning, and perspectival questions are designed to emphasize, explore, and develop hoped-for futures by focusing on the perspective of the other: If your grandfather were here what ideas might he have about the problem? Would your favorite teacher agree about this conclusion? These are questions designed to explore the meaning brought to life events and identity conclusions. At the mezzo level a social worker might work with an impoverished community to recapture and make public its historical and current identity by organizing a public space where local artists can display their work; assisting the public sharing of neighborhood history and stories; facilitating a space for local poetry, music, and self-expression; and documenting and sharing the positive history and development of the community. Each of these examples is a definitional act in which preferred meanings and identity conclusions are offered publicly.

Meaning is Controlled by Language Relationships For social constructionists, language constitutes what we take as real. Language is the vehicle by which cultures communicate and weave the fabric of our relational understandings of the world. How practitioners



and clients name things matters. Collaborative language systems (Anderson, 1995) and open dialogue (Seikkula et al., 2006) are two examples of approaches that use the idea of language and word choice as the cornerstone of meaning-making and change. The constitutive influence of language encourages the social constructionist informed practitioner to explore, challenge, and expand word meaning. A practice example would be interrogating with a client the assumed negativity of a word choice such as ‘anxiety.’ Might there be positive aspects of anxiety? Additionally, is anxiety the only way to name what the client is experiencing? What would be the implications of naming the experience something else? This example illustrates a way to escape the limited understandings of language and expand word choice and meanings in ways that have the potential to collaboratively establish new meanings in the lives of clients and relationally transform them.

Language and Meaning are Created in Relationships The premise of the negotiation of meaning is one that resonates strongly within the social justice history of social work. All forms of social work practice are built on the values of challenging oppression and empowering clients (NASW Code of ethics, 2017). From a social constructionist perspective, challenging meanings and how those meanings were constructed, including who may benefit and not benefit from the construction of those meanings may assist clients to free themselves from dogmatic and harmful ways of understanding and being (Hare-Mustin, 1994). For a discussion of social constructionism and the NASW Code of Ethics please see Witkin (2000). Oppression may be seen in this light as a co-opting of truth, a monopolizing of meaning that marginalizes alternatives to that truth, and a subsequent recruitment of others into this mono-truth.

Common social justice areas from social work practice include gender, race, nationality, economic, and sexual discourses. Social constructionist informed practice seeks to explore and make visible the ways in which significant meanings in clients’ lives have been constructed and maintained. Such dialogue may include who participates in the construction, the benefits and harms to the client and others, and the possibility of creating new meanings that would be more liberating. Often clients may not realize that they are living their lives by ideas that they have received and then internalized. By breaking these ideas down and making them visible there is an expansion of definitional space for clients to begin to collaboratively co-construct new ways of being. At the macro level social workers assist in organizing groups to challenge and change social discourse and policy that may be oppressive in the lives of clients. The discourse of failed parenting is one example in which client negative beliefs are often internalized and treated at the micro level. Macro social work unpacks the idea of parenting to include a recognition of oppressive social practices such as the unlivable minimum wage, lack of affordable childcare, discriminatory hiring practices, underfunded neighborhood schools, and other forms of oppression. Macro social workers advocate with their clients for policy and discourse change while also deconstructing internalized beliefs to create definitional space for the development of preferred identities. With the recognition that language and meaning are negotiated, the social constructionist informed social worker may also view models of practice as cultural language constructions. Models of practice have specific theories that guide them (e.g., cognitive, behavioral, psychodynamic) and these theories have language systems with words created specific to these approaches (e.g., automatic thoughts, conditioning, Id, Ego). With the realization that models of practice are constructed languages of meaning and that language and meaning are negotiated, social

Social Construction and Social Work Practice

workers and clients can openly decide if they would like to collaboratively use a model of constructed language to understand problems and solutions, if they would like to combine them, change them, or not use them at all.


preferred community narratives (Irving, 1999), re-envisioning the child welfare system (Parton, 2014) and assisting in the development of new identity conclusions with trauma survivors and perpetrators (Hall, 2011; Keenan, 2012). The result is a stronger, more ‘social’ social work.

CONCLUDING THOUGHTS Social constructionist informed social work practice expands social workers’ use of the social beyond its typical parameters to include a foregrounding of relationships and a critical stance toward language and meaning. Social workers recognize that meanings are constructed in relationships and that meaning, identity, and the events that we privilege or marginalize in our lives and the cultures in which we exist forge the ways in which we experience the world. Because these meanings are not inherent or static, they can be explored, taken apart, modified, changed, abandoned, and re-envisioned; succinctly put, they could be otherwise. Through this relational, collaborative practice, clients as well as social workers can transform the way they see the world and themselves. Additionally, social construction’s problematizing of dominant discourses and taken-for-granted beliefs generates the possibility of alternative understandings and practices. Social work practice assumes a revitalized use of the social, blending the stratification among macro, mezzo, and micro levels. For instance, social constructionist informed discussions bring to light the effects of privileged discourse in the lives of clients and invite social workers and clients to consider how they have been influenced by macro- and mezzo-level constructed values, and how these constructs manifest at the micro level. Empowerment, a key tenet of social work, occurs as clients let go of potentially unhelpful and oppressive ways of experiencing the world and co-construct new, more preferred ways-of-being. In this case, clients are not only individuals, but can include working with communities to create

Notes 1  A similar question could be raised about social construction. 2  This section is adapted from Witkin (2012).

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13 Collaborative-Dialogic Practice: A Relational Process of Inviting Generativity and Possibilities Harlene Anderson

SETTING THE SCENE Collaborative-Dialogic names my practice whether its context is therapy, education, consultation, organization development, or research. I think of what I do and how I do it as a practice based on an interwoven assemblage of abstract assumptions that inform a process that is distinct to each client and each meeting with them. Explicitly, the professional adapts their responses to the uniqueness of each client and the members of their system, talking with them about what is important for them with the intent that the encounter will generate transformative potential. For me, this approach has proven successful in therapy, education, consultation, research, and organization development. Assumptions form the conceptual framework that orients me in particular ways of being and becoming with people I encounter in various disciplinary and cultural contexts. I purposely use the word assumptions, rather

than theory, because I consider the framework more philosophical than theoretical. Philosophy addresses the living of the activities and challenges of everyday life. Theory, on the other hand, informs techniques and skills designed to achieve a particular result or resolution. Although both philosophy and theory influence how we understand and experience the other and their situation or circumstance, theory often involves ‘proven’ or unquestioned truths that inform planned results, which in turn require learned techniques and skills to achieve. Theory inherently focuses on, or perhaps inadvertently draws our attention toward, sameness. I do not suggest that theories are not useful and should never guide us. Rather, I want to emphasize the natural spontaneous quality of everyday living, and the uniqueness and peculiarities of each person and their situation. Collaborative-Dialogic Practice is one among several postmodern psychotherapeutic approaches – such as anticipation


dialogue (Seikkula and Arnkil, 2018), community and network meetings (Grandesso, 2015; Seikkula and Arnkil, 2018), narrative (Freedman and Combs, 1996; White, 2011), open dialogue (Olson et al., 2014), and solution-focused (de Shazer, 1985) – that are rooted in family therapy (Anderson, 2016). These therapies are distinguished by a departure from pre-formed ways of thinking about human beings and their relationships and interactions with each other and about the professional as an expert knower with an objective reality. All the above are responses to our fast-changing and shrinking world in which people are migrating across borders (geographic and otherwise) and demanding to participate in policies and decisions that influence their present and future lives. The roots of Collaborative-Dialogic Practice date to the late 1950s, when a multidisciplinary team in the psychiatry department of a university medical school created a research project in which they met with a patient and their network (a combination of members of the patient’s family and their social and back-home professional systems) to learn each person’s perspective on the patient, their problem, and recovery (MacGregor et al., 1964). The team believed that more knowledge about the patient, their problem, and the family would help them have a more accurate diagnosis and treatment plan, and therefore, more successful therapy. The team first met with all members of the patient’s network in an opening conversation, followed by smaller sub-system conversations. The conversations continued with each conversation informing the membership and focus of the next. Between conversations, the team met to share what they were learning, discuss next steps, and determine who would facilitate each conversation in the next round. Overtime, the team identified several factors that influenced the success of this new intensive and exploratory three-day therapy, which they named Multiple Impact Therapy (MIT). One important factor was


the ‘self-rehabilitating family processes’ that developed in the brief intensive treatment process (MacGregor, 1962). According to the team, this process was successful because: • each conversation informed the next including its membership and focus; • the patient and members of their system provided useful expertise and resources for the treatment team; • continually making room for and exploring differences proved more valuable than striving for consensus; and • practitioners and practice scholars can learn from their work if they take time to pause, identify and reflect on their new learning.

Subsequently, the practice involved a continuous reflective-reflexive process (Schön, 1983) of finding new language and concepts to help understand and learn from their new experiences. New language influenced changes in practice and vice versa. As the early MIT practice developed further, it gained structural similarity to what became classical systemic family therapy. At the same time, it began to veer conceptually toward the language and theory of social construction theories as well as dialogic, contemporary hermeneutic, and postmodern philosophical assumptions (Anderson, 1997a; Anderson and Goolishian, 1988a). Over time, this new direction led to the abandonment of the notion of family therapy. As a term, ‘family therapy’ had outlived its usefulness and was no longer an accurate descriptor of the practice. The collection of approaches and modalities once referred to as family therapy offered a conceptualization of human systems that was applicable beyond the family to any human system regardless of numbers of people or relationships therein. As the practice transformed so did the conceptual framework. Intense interest in language generated a shift away from thinking in terms of static human systems such as individuals, couples, or families, to people coalesced in language (Anderson, 1995; Anderson et al., 1986). The practice



further evolved from concepts of human systems as distinguished by social structure to human systems as language systems distinguished by language in its broadest sense and eventually to collaborative language systems. As these ideas began to coalesce, it seemed appropriate to delete the notion of systems altogether and highlight the notion of a ‘withness’ practice, doing with each other. Each shift moved away from hierarchically structured professional–client relationships to ones that were more equitable and that recognized the expertise brought by both practitioner and client. The practice has been referred to as systemic, collaborative language systems, collaborative, and now, Collaborative-Dialogic Practice (Anderson, 2019).

COLLABORATIVE-DIALOGIC PRACTICE TODAY The features of current CollaborativeDialogic Practice are based largely in a conceptual framework associated with a collage of abstract philosophical assumptions, including Gadamer’s contemporary hermeneutics (1989), Bakhtin’s dialogism (Holquist, 1990), Lyotard’s postmodernism (1979), and Gergen’s social constructionism (1985, 1999). In the early 1990s, John Shotter’s interpretations of the works of Bakhtin, Merleau-Ponty (1968), Vygotsky (1962) and Wittgenstein (1953), among many others, led to a new focus on relationality and dialogue that influenced the definition of our conceptual framework as ‘perspective orienting assumptions’ (Shotter, 2016). The perspective orienting assumptions include seven interrelated assumptions (Anderson, 1997a, 2012, 2015), the most primary of which are: 1 Holding a critical attitude toward inherited knowledge; 2 Avoiding generalizations; and

3 Accepting the local knowledge or the life expertise of the other.

The assumptions inform the practitioner’s action-guiding sensitivities, that is, the considerations that orient them on how to perform, respond, and live ways of being and becoming. Relationship and dialogue became the centerpieces of the framework. This led to the notion of conversation partners (professional and client) who jointly participate in the client’s story-telling and re-telling process. None of the conceptual framework assumptions stand alone. They are woven together and form the heart of the practice, the philosophical stance. Philosophical stance refers to the practitioner’s position, attitude, manner, and tone of being with – i.e., ways of being, talking, listening, acting, responding, and thinking – with each other. Social construction and dialogue philosopher John Shotter and family therapist, Lynn Hoffman (2002, 2007), influenced by literary critic and philosopher, Mikhail Bakhtin (Holquist, 1990), refer to Collaborative-Dialogic Practice as a withness practice. The philosophical stance includes seven features that function as navigational concepts which can be put into action in different ways depending on the person(s) and the circumstances of the conversation. The features include (a) shared inquiry, (b) relational expertise, (c) not-knowing, (d) being public, (e) uncertainty, (f) mutual influence, and (g) everyday ordinary life. These features were identified through practical experience and research on the characteristics of helpful and not-so-helpful therapy and therapists (Anderson, 1997a). In the following section, I will describe each feature in detail.

Interwoven Features of the Philosophical Stance (a) Shared Inquiry Shared inquiry refers to the interactivity of practitioner and client jointly engaging to


explore the focus of the consultation (i.e., the client’s agenda). Inviting another into shared inquiry begins with meeting and greeting them so they feel welcomed. A hospitable welcoming establishes the tone for a generative relationship and conversation. I want to be a welcoming host and a welcomed guest, as both relationships are critical to fostering generative conversations. This requires an ability to be spontaneous and flexible in engaging with others. It also means avoiding prescribed behaviors and expectations. The host–guest metaphor is one of several I find helpful in describing the practice and its philosophical stance. The client brings a precious gift: the stories of their life. I want to accept the gift, but I do not want to take it from them. I want to gaze upon it and begin to ask questions about it. I think of the gift as a storyball composed of narrative fragments of their life story. I invite you to imagine a storyball composed of pressed-together shredded paper. When it is presented, you only see the part of the ball that the client presents. You cannot see through it or estimate its total circumference. This is where the client prefers to start. I trust that the client will tell me what is comfortable for them, and what they think is important for me to know, at any moment of the conversation. For instance, if a client comes in and starts talking about last night’s ball game, I engage with them. This does not mean that the entire session focuses on the game or other topics most might think of as chit-chat. I had a client who always began our meetings with something about baseball. His baseball story always led to something else, like the time it led to his road rage while driving to the stadium. I simply think of it as, ‘This is the client at this moment’. It is like the client takes me on a helicopter ride and they show me the landscape they want me to see. They may fly us to a spot and hover there for quite a while, or they may fly to three places briefly and then return and hover over the second one. I want to follow the client’s lead and pace, and to honor their preferred


way of showing and storytelling. The client’s stories are not linear. Rather, they are like rhizomes, dynamic and multidirectional; one can easily branch to others in unexpected ways. This approach contrasts with the idea that the therapist can pre-determine what information is critical and pre-structure questions to gather it. My questions, comments, and bodily movements are informed by the conversation and my way of participating in the storytelling. My intent is to always be in a process of learning and understanding what the client wants me to know as best I can. I remain attentive and eager to learn what the client thinks is important for me to know and understand. I keep in mind that I can never learn and understand everything, and that what I learn and understand is my own interpretation of the client’s story and my experience of them. My colleague, Harry Goolishian, and I began to refer to our questions as conversational questions and stressed the importance of our questions maintaining coherence with the client (Anderson and Goolishian, 1988b) and moving within the client’s language (Anderson, 1997b). My questions do not seek answers, rather, they are invitations for the other to speak. I think of the client’s response as simply that, a response. Even though a client may ignore or not answer a question, no response is a response. The conversation begins as a unidirectional activity in which the practitioner is a curious learner and the client is a teacher. This process naturally shifts into a mutual back-and-forth learning together inquiry as the client catches the teacher’s contagious curiosity. As the client listens and responds to the speaker’s curiosity, they become interested in the topic of conversation in ways they have not been before. This cultivates a generative process of the client wondering, questioning, and considering their story from a different perspective. It is in the dynamic, interactional process of trying to understand from the client’s perspective that clarified



or fresh meaning is developed for both client and therapist. As Shotter (2008) suggests, ‘Our words have not meaning in themselves, nor is it a matter of them occurring in a context, nor is it a matter of a speaker’s intentions. Meaning is created by, with, and for people in the collaborative meetings with each other’ (p. 2). Shared inquiry involves the interlinked doings of speaking, listening, responding, and hearing. For instance, I speak to invite the other to speak, so that I can listen to them. I respond to what I think I have heard, because I want a sense that I have understood what they hoped I would. If not, I want to give them an opportunity to correct me and clarify. Hearing is part of the listening, speaking, and responding process, a rhizomatic-like process that is dynamic and multidirectional.

(b) Relational Expertise Relational expertise coincides with the premise that knowledge and meaning specific to the client and their situation is created through the storytelling process – that is, the dialogic interactions between practitioner and client. The client brings valuable resources to the encounter: their experiences, beliefs, and know-how. Practitioners bring their unique expertise in inviting and maintaining a collaborative relationship and generative conversation. Each expertise is distinct and equally important; the practitioner is a process expert and the client is the content expert. A collaborative practitioner’s expertise is in how to invite and engage with others in a generative conversational process and how to invite and use the client’s expertise. Importantly, it is not solution or interpretation expertise.

(c) Not-knowing Not-knowing suggests thinking about knowledge and its use as proposed by the conceptual framework of this book. When taking a position of not-knowing, each client and their life circumstance is new for the therapist. This means that meeting each client is like meeting

a foreigner who teaches you their language, customs, and rituals. In other words, the therapist remains careful not to bring an expert theoretical map on which they place and sort out the client’s story. This is particularly tempting when we experience a client’s perspective or behavior as illogical, illegal, or ill-informed. Learning from and with the client is critical to the dialogic process. Not-knowing is sometimes mistaken for denying or withholding expertise and experience. But this would be impossible, because the therapist’s expertise and experience is always there. As Harry Goolishian and I said, ‘The therapist is always prejudiced by their experiences, but they must listen [and respond] in such a way that their pre-experience does not close them off to the full meaning of the client’s description of their experience’ (Anderson and Goolishian, 1992, p. 30). Importantly, when offering knowledge (e.g., comments, suggestions, questions) the practitioner considers the intent, attitude, tone, and timing of the offering. They also pay careful attention to how the client responds, and maintains coherence with the client’s response, not judging it appropriate or otherwise. Therapists sometimes try to make sense of seemingly nonsensical or irrational things from their expert theoretical maps or clinical experiences. Instead, I want to try to remain curious and understand from the other’s map, believing it is logical from their perspective or truth. I find that if I can remain curious, what at first appears as nonsensical to me does make sense from their perspective. I shift my own reality to the background, and in so doing, am less likely to impose blame, judgement, or shame. Such imposition often generates what can be interpreted as client denial, dishonesty, or resistance. This does not suggest that I ignore or approve their reality, but that I have no desire to challenge it. I want to remain respectful. Continuous curiosity and trying to understand are part of the interconnected process of speaking, listening, hearing, and responding.


(d) Being Public Being public refers to the belief that it is important for the practitioner to share their inner thoughts. Clients want to know what their therapist is thinking, writing in their notes, or telling their supervisor (Anderson, 1997a). In my research on clients’ experiences of helpful and unhelpful therapists, clients often commented on wanting to know what was behind the therapist’s questions and comments. They reported that some questions were intrusive or inappropriate. They also reported that sometimes a therapist seemed to ask the same question repeatedly, yet slightly differently. One man said he felt he could not get the answer right, and if he only knew what the therapist wanted to know that he could have answered it. Clients also expressed curiosity about the therapist as a person. As human beings, it seems fitting for the practitioner to be open. I suggest that we consider where therapy traditions such as forbidding self-disclosure come from and their relevance in today’s world. Interestingly, we are in a world in which the client could dig through the therapist’s social media profiles, reviews, and other digital dust to generate conceptions of who the therapist ‘really is’ or what they ‘really think’. I will add this caveat: this is not to suggest that a therapist or any other practitioner share their most personal lives, but rather to consider what it is like to be human.

(e) Uncertainty Uncertainty – ambiguity, confusion, unknowns – fills Collaborative-Dialogic Practice. As a withness practice, the Collaborative-Dialogic approach involves client and therapist mutually determining the destination and the paths to reach it. Though it is likely that a client arrives with a pre-set destination, this can – and often does – change along the way. Envisioned pathways and endpoints can easily be veered from and new ones can emerge as conversation partners go along and re-adjust with each other. Therapy may be a process of bringing forth something totally unexpected,


or it may uncover something subtle and nuanced, but it is not trying to discover or validate some pre-existing thing we ‘know’ is there. This requires being able to live in and trust uncertainty, that is, to embrace vagueness, ambiguity, the unknown, and unpredictability. Uncertainty is part of life and all creative processes. Certainty has the potential to make us overconfident in our expertise and inhibit our spontaneity, risk-taking, and openness to challenge and change.

(f) Mutual Influence Mutual influence suggests that change is a two-way, not one-way, street. Though most would agree that people generally seek consultation to help them change something or somebody, the therapist is not a changeagent. Whether through therapy or related people-centered practices based in a relational-dialogic process, some degree of transformation will occur among both practitioner and client. Transformation is inherent in the dynamics of dialogue. Dialogue requires the therapist to be open to and acceptant of the otherness, the distinct uniqueness of the other person (Shotter, 2010), that is, the difference they bring to the relationship and conversation. This allows the therapist to suspend judgements, biases, and opinions and try to understand the other from their perspective. It also requires the therapist to be fully present, interested, and engaged as a human being. If the therapist acts as if they are performing a role, they will not be able to hear the client and respond in a manner coherent with their client’s otherness. The practitioner must be equally aware of the client’s influence on them as they are concerned with their influence on the client. What matters most is the client’s own evaluation and punctuation of when and if change has occurred. It is not for the therapist to make this determination. In our Western world, we often expect change or transformation to be something big enough to notice. We think we



can pinpoint when it occurred and assume it happens in our moments together. However, change can be unnoticeable to an observer and even the person experiencing it. Change can happen over time – sometimes long after the moments of its beginning.

(g) Everyday Ordinary Life Everyday ordinary life overflows with an abundance of experiences, emotions, successes, failures, dreams, and disappointments. Through my experiences meeting people in diverse cultures and parts of the world, I developed a more positive attitude about human beings, both collectively and individually. Most people everywhere want similar things. Though expressed differently, with various meanings and in varying degrees, people want to live satisfied lives, have good relationships, and secure sustenance. Most people I meet seem to be coping as best they can when we consider the current global challenges. Each person, regardless of their life history or current situation, has their unique and sometimes invisible strengths and resources. Each person wants a say in decisions that impact their lives. In general, human beings want to belong, feel appreciated, and be respected.

are simply human beings in relationship with our clients, who are also human beings. We are left with what kind of person do we want to be? I am reminded of a quote from John Shotter, which includes his edit to emphasize the importance of humanness as we relate with our clients to enhance the possibility that they may become the person, the ‘who’, they want to be: I shall take it that the basic practical moral problem in life is not what to do but what [who] to be. (Shotter, 1993, p. 118)

As I pause, an ever-lingering thought remains. Collaborative-Dialogic Practice, since its roots in the 1950s, has and will continue to evolve. Though I will participate in its future, it will be particularly influenced, as it has been, by the touches of creative and adventurous practitioners, including you the reader, as we ensure that we maintain our humility and respect for the people we serve and that our work is relevant to them and our changing world. My experiences to date, meeting practitioners in diverse disciplines, contexts, and cultures encourage my hope that the possibilities which CollaborativeDialogic Practice offers beyond the borders of family therapy will continue to be realized as we all try to contribute to a better world.

CONCLUSION Social construction theory runs counter to the dominant discourses most of us live and have been trained in. Regardless of a practitioner’s proclivity for social construction theory and practice, it is a challenging shift to embrace and even more challenging to perform. We are trained, for the most part, to be a knowing expert and to perform that role, that is, to be the person that our professional discourses prescribe. In the end, we are all human beings who, to some extent or another, love, succeed, fail, and fear. As practitioners, we are confronted with consistently keeping in mind that we

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14 Generative Dialogues: Creating Resources and Possibilities in Therapy Dora Fried Schnitman

INTRODUCTION This chapter presents a generative perspective in therapy as a means to foster transformation through dialogical creative processes. It will examine how a generative dialogue allows participants, therapists and clients, to create resources and new possibilities together in the face of problems, conflicts, and challenges. Self and relationships are renewed, and a viable and sustainable future emerges. Dialogue, here, is approached as a generative creative process. How do we foreground generative processes? By using the concept of generative dialogue to refer to the gradual creation of something new in human relationships. Key to that process are generative moments where the subtle and the emergent are discerned and expanded to create new meanings and actions through reciprocal responsiveness in dialogue. An alternative nucleus is formed, one

that can be developed into privileged contexts for interpretation and practice. Inquiries focus on how these moments were, are, or can be generated. What types of dialogic and relational coordination foster the inception of something new emerging and its subsequent consolidation? How does that become a context that keeps new possibilities alive and allows them to effect transformation (Fried Schnitman, 1998, 2002, 2004)? The construction of futures as part of change requires acting upon current circumstances in order to explore how to access these futures. The possibilities created in generative dialogues become virtual realities which, once created, can be actualized, provided they are sustained by transformative processes. Such processes contribute to actions that lead to existential alternatives and new and diverse realities, as well as forms of living. Emerging generative processes reorient us toward an ecology of creation.


GENERATIVE PERSPECTIVE AND DIALOGUE We propose a generative perspective for therapy that relies on the emerging possibilities of dialogue as a platform to construct possible, realizable futures when clients bring problematic or stagnant situations for consultation. Through joint participation, reciprocal inclusion, and responsiveness in dialogue, the participants in therapy (professionals and clients) co-create alternatives to approach the problematic situations. Dialogue is the means and the instrument for this process (Fried Schnitman, 2008, 2015, 2016). The generative dialogue centers on what participants in therapy can construct, creating unprecedented possibilities, and on the active exploration of how the problematic situations relate to emerging resources and possibilities as new territories in dialogue. It focuses, then, on dialogue’s capability to build intersections, forging a path through the emergent resources, the options that become available, and the problems that led to the consultation. The enactment and the progressive implementation of the new possibilities with an eye to a viable future are equally important for a generative dialogue. Working with the creative potential of dialogue offers a view of the landscape of relational constructionism in action. Generative dialogue expands the process from a problemcentered focus to the creation of new possibilities, increasing the skills of participants and providing them with additional resources to work with what is emerging. One of the first implications of this perspective is that it enables a focus on the future, on incipient possibilities that can be amplified – or nonexistent ones that can be created – thus contributing to new client alternatives. Therapists and clients are involved in a generative process and work simultaneously to develop resources in the present while constructing a long-range vision for the future and enacting it as new ways of living. The clients learn to


learn about themselves by clarifying, exploring, and reaching their emerging resources and possibilities through a process that leads to transformations and a viable future.

DIALOGUE AND GENERATIVITY: CREATIVITY IN DIALOGUE Dialogue alludes to the co-creation of meanings and joint social actions by, and among, a certain number of participants. A dialogue is a co-constructive, interpersonal process involving diverse voices and resonances in which people jointly create meaning. Dialogical confluences are transformative processes in dialogue that extend over time, for example in therapy, allowing new perspectives, actions and ways of living to emerge (Gergen, 2009). Bakhtin postulates that when a dialogue occurs, a multi-vocal unit is configured. Each dialogue is unique, according to the author, and takes place in a specific context and time, while meaning emerges from this uniqueness; in each dialogue, diverse voices and dialogues coexist (Bakhtin, 1981, 1986; Morson and Emerson, 1990). Whether these prove coherent or contradictory, generativity will make use of this complexity. A generative perspective is thus based on dialogue between people and their unique relationship. The responsiveness and attentiveness of participants are features of being in dialogue: participants can express and acknowledge their participation not only through words but also through reciprocal indications of connection, inclusiveness, and participation. Everything in dialogue, not only words but embodied language, tone, intonation, and gestures, is formulated with a purpose and addressed to the other. There is a reciprocal recognition of the other as a dialogue participant. Bakhtin stresses the capacity of dialogue to create meaning. People address and respond actively to an other, addressing their listener with purpose and anticipation. Participants



shape dialogues from the outset and any other party to this dialogue is also taken into account and involved in the formulations. The other may be not only another person, but also oneself, another dialogue or the one in progress, a topic, a group. Dialogues involve multiple dialogues, voices, and projects, with centripetal and centrifugal forces. At the same time, each dialogue is connected to a network of dialogues in context and in time. When the complexity of dialogue is connected with timeline links, every dialogue is both facilitated and limited by these preceding and future links. Some of these links may be distant from the current conversation, others closer. These links intersect and resonate with what was spoken in the near and distant past, creating novel possibilities. Participants always produce something new and unique in the moment; there are renovated echoes of the past, and at the same time, new contributions in the present. This is conveyed by the particular form of expression and the singularity of the context in which something is formulated, including the dialogue itself. Besides their connections to the past and present, dialogues also intersect with what might be said in the near and distant future. We can then identify an anticipated future in the current dialogue and establish links with what has not yet been said and what could be said in both a near and distant future. Other links are also feasible between dialogues. A generative perspective actively creates novel networks and links that enable dialogic creativity in the moment and generative confluences over time in order to foster transformative processes. At any point, people may engage in highly diverse and potentially converging (or contradictory) dialogues.

worlds. In these generative conversations, people are integrally involved in exchanges, interweaving ideas, thoughts, perspectives, and feelings. In and through dialogue, self and relationships emerge and can be modified. When a therapist meets clients, she enters into a dialogue aware of their specificity and uniqueness, the problems and hopes they bring. She is attentive, responsive, and aware of the client responsiveness in order to work towards constructing a creative and productive dialogic relationship. The generative perspective prioritizes the recognition of the emerging opportunities and innovations unique to each process. By allowing generative moments to be discerned, the participants’ new resources and possibilities can then be useful to develop alternatives, new narratives, and learning. We call this an emerging generative process. In this process, therapists and clients actively work together to explore the situation they endeavor to transform. As unprecedented possibilities can be produced in dialogue, participants in a therapy process become more proactive, utilizing their own inquiries and reflections to improve comprehension and action as they occur. In this sense, the participants become creative authors of each single process, focusing on the specific activities that generate new possibilities as working platforms for transformations. This generative capacity of dialogue enables unanticipated possibilities, transforms potentialities into new existential realities, and gives the therapy experience some of the openness and open-endedness associated with learning and creativity.

‘God has Spoken’ EMERGING GENERATIVE PROCESSES IN THERAPY Dialogues and confluences in dialogue are formative processes of selves and social

Excerpts from a therapy case illustrate these concepts in action. A student in the Graduate Degree Program on the Generative Perspective and Professional Practice, senior family therapist, and conflict mediator,


Cristina Ruffino, PhD in Psychology,1 brings this consultation to the class to explore generative dialogues. Daniela (D) had contacted her to request a session, at her psychologist’s recommendation. She mentioned that her immediate family regularly contacts her psychologist to complain about her. She is 39-years-old, has been in therapy since age 26, and is taking medication under psychiatric care. She will continue with individual therapy and medication. At the interview, the family, who also runs a business together, begins to share their problems, mentioning frequent arguments, accusations, and growing animosity towards D. The family is very critical of D; her brother describes her as unbalanced and impulsive. He has come to the interview at his parents’ request, but has no expectations that their relationship will change. The father wants to avoid the fighting, and sees D as someone impetuous who makes unnecessary remarks. The mother complains of the overall animosity, that her son is too inflexible and her daughter too emotional. D says that her brother misinterprets everything she says, that they fight constantly and are not on speaking terms. She adds that her father does not understand her. Sometimes she cannot stand herself and has felt increasingly alone and ignored by them, leading her to wish she were dead. She mentions different psychiatric diagnoses (borderline, bipolar, currently depression). She adds that she has attempted suicide several times. Two weeks earlier, in fact, she planned to jump out the window of an apartment the family owns. After writing her suicide letter, she went into the building but could not enter the apartment because the combination lock had been changed. Therapist: D, how would you explain the failure of such a carefully planned suicide attempt? [Interested, the T creatively searches for alternatives and presents a question that may lead to possibilities.] D: God saved me. [Responsive, new meaning ‘God’s voice’ and presence has emerged


within the framework of a protective relationship.] T: (to the family) Do you also believe God saved her? They nod. [The family is responsive and convergent.] T: D, what does God know about you that made him decide you had to go on living? [Begins to search for a perspective that draws in self-appreciation, exploring meanings, resources and possibilities.] D: I don’t know. T: (to the family) Before we continue discussing the problems you are having, can you tell me what God knows about D, that she doesn’t know, that made him decide she had to go on living? [Respectfully moves from problems to possibilities, including other descriptions that will help D perceive or expand on her perception of herself and on family relations.]

Each family member – even the brother – mentions different resources and positive contributions D had made to the family or business. In their narratives, they craft an emergent description of both D and of the family relations that was diverse and full of possibilities, moving away from a focus on the mutual accusations and fights. [Confluences in dialogue, links between different dialogues and contexts and an emerging personal and relational intelligibility.] T: (to D): Do you agree with these descriptions? [Explore whether she recognizes herself in the novel description with resources and the caring and appreciative relationships.] D: I do, but I had no idea that my family knew. [Confluence in meaning, shared intelligibility, crafting of a new identity narrative for D here and in family relationships. Descriptions that acknowledge resources, express appreciation and respect for D, and lay the groundwork for new meanings, resources and personal and relational possibilities.]

The family maintains these productive modes for two more sessions. In the fourth session, the family reports a fight over business decisions; D wants innovations, but her father and brother do not want to change the business which is very successful. In the discussion of the fight, the brother chides her and



returns to the accusations he had made in previous sessions. When the therapist asks how he thinks that D feels, he says that he does not care, that she could die and stop being a nuisance to the family. D ‘explodes’ and answers that she cannot take being blamed again and will kill herself, but not fail this time. The therapist proposes individual interviews with D to explore what it was about this accusation by her brother that made her explode when she had retained her composure and balance in the face of previous accusations. In the individual sessions, the dialogue focuses on her life. Talking about the fight with the brother and how it related to her suicide attempts, D says, ‘My brother wants to get rid of me and my father sides with him.’ T: I wonder, what makes you so obedient to your brother? (D does not understand.) T: How can you stop being the way others describe you? Your brother said you are unbalanced, crazy, and you – who until that moment were doing very well – behaved as he described you. How did you lose sight of the resourceful, balanced person you can also be? [Inviting D to search for her resources and possibilities.] D: I always did my father’s bidding. I studied what my father wanted to fit in the family business – not what I wanted to study. [Responsive and reflexive, shared intelligibility.] T: Now that you can see the difference, that you can choose according to your wishes, what would you choose? [Expanding her possibilities in search of personal and more satisfying options.] D: It doesn’t matter. It’s too late. [She doubts but is responsive.] T: Perhaps you can reconnect with your wishes and explore possibilities in your networks. [Creative initiative linking dialogues from different contexts and times to foster the client’s creativity, resources, possibilities, and life itineraries.]

Next session: D: There is one opportunity with a friend from college that interests me related to art that I will explore. [Responsive, generative dialogues with herself, her interest, her life, and

her networks indicate transformative processes and confluences with the therapist towards a viable future.]

We can see an emerging intelligibility, changes, and a new life emerging for D. The therapist and D work on how D would approach the family with her renewed perspective on herself and her life. In the three final family sessions, the family explores different ways of understanding work. D shares some choices she has made about her life with her family without making or being subjected to any criticism or accusations. She is calm and sure of her decision and wishes to retain her family’s support and her share of the company. In a follow-up conversation one year later, she is doing very well. ‘I don’t know why I was so insistent on being involved in the family business when there was no room for my resources and the best of myself.’ Now, she is living an independent, productive life, studying abroad to become a museum curator, and enjoying her life. The impact of violent conflict is very painful, and not limited to the persons directly involved. Violent conflict breaks up the very tissue of interpersonal relationships. A generative perspective and its practices for facing crisis and conflict help people to recover their resources and relationships, to reconnect to what has meaning for them, to re-orient their lives, and to restore personal and social integrity. An emphasis on resources and the collaborative construction of alternatives facilitates spaces of recovery and coexistence. When recognized, these survival strategies can be expanded to transform identity and social bonds that go beyond the initial resources and have an impact on personal, relational, and political agendas (Fried Schnitman, 2010).

WORKING WITHIN THE GENERATIVE PROCESS When people explain what has led them to consult a therapist, they often provide a


one-dimensional and problematic version of themselves and their circumstances (problem node). The professional must be aware of this; she meets the clients at the interactive moment, and takes their difficulties into account as well as their expectations, resources, and hopes. As the process advances, the therapist pays attention to how clients can expand on this initial moment, further exploring other contexts of life while being attentive to emerging instances, alternative resources, and novel elements in the dialogue that are not part of the problematic situation or actively creating them. The question is how to make the clients’ other voices audible and available to contribute to create new ones that may enrich their possibilities. Whatever emerges from the complexity of dialogue, the links between dialogues, and the diversity that characterizes humans, guides these explorations. By welcoming this diversity and paying attention to the resources that appear, participants can advance towards emerging possibilities and life alternatives. This dialogic fabric takes the form of a network with the different novel resources and possibilities that emerged in the process; in turn, they are interwoven and synthesized, increasing the productivity and creativity of the process. Clients and therapist engage in a dialogue with confluences and convergences over time when they build a novel intelligibility that contributes resources (i.e., meanings and innovative ways of understanding and acting in specific contexts). Generative moments are variations or minor events occurring in the dialogue that can give way to the creation of new perspectives and possibilities. They may be introduced by client or therapist, or simply emerge in dialogue. The therapist is very attentive to reciprocal responsiveness and will bring these emerging moments into the dialogue. If the clients, in turn, are responsive, and validate and expand on the emerging moment, it can turn into a generative moment, which will be confirmed and expanded further through supplementation and responsiveness in dialogue.


When this occurs, these generative moments articulate new perspectives and actions in the dialogue and the client’s life, enabling paths towards transformations. In these cases, generative cycles can be further expanded into diverse areas of the client’s life, bringing more opportunities and learning to fruition. New self and relational narrations emerge. When the generative cycles further generate novel, productive meanings and life possibilities, they can develop into a generative matrix. The generative matrix combines meanings of the emerging perspectives, values, narratives, and novel actions that enable the transformations of people and their relationships both now and in the future. It promotes more productive, viable futures in relation to what motivated the client to seek therapy. When opportunities to innovate appear as novelties in the dialogue through these emerging moments and events, the clients also recover or expand resources from their life contexts. Client or therapist can propose incorporating creative processes to build resources or open up possibilities. The resources and possibilities that appear in the process are further interwoven in dialogue, and forge alternative paths. The recognition of these transformations, and reflections on them, give way to new narratives and generative learning for all participants, including the therapist. An alternative life design is created contextually, in the specifics of each therapy process, transformative and enabling devices are created, opening up a field of study of transformations in which we can discern open networks, wholes that are gradually woven over time and that synthesize heterogeneous circumstances, interactions, or contingent results within the process itself.

CREATION OF A GENERATIVE PROCESS: A WORKING PLATFORM The therapist’s first generative actions focus on creating a dialogue with clients that



establishes reciprocal responsiveness and a mutually inclusive, trust-based relationship. When the therapist and client acknowledge their reciprocal relationship, they develop an accepted relational reference. In the context of creating this bond, as the generative moments and cycles described above take place, clients feel engaged in a relationship that provides them with a different perspective on themselves. No longer limited to problems or inadequacies, their perspective is thus expanded to encompass resources, possibilities, self-trust, and incipient trust in the process. In their confluences in dialogue, therapist and clients jointly build a working platform which connects problems with resources and possibilities and gives meaning to the direction the process is taking. The term working platform refers to a ‘consensus’ in dialogue and coordinated actions on the issues at hand. In short, it is a process that connects problems, resources, and possibilities over time in the direction of a viable future, within the framework of a relationship in which participants recognize the other/s as parties in dialogue. As problems, resources, and possibilities are named and connected during the process, the links between them provide a sense of direction and understanding of how each event relates to the working platform. These possibilities and resources are transformational, helping the client advance towards a possible future and new ways of living. This mutual agreement on the direction they are headed is not the result of the professional applying a certain model or strategy; it is simply part of the same process of creating resources, possibilities, and new forms of living through reciprocal responsiveness and recognition. The working platform provides a domain for the dialogue between participants, a project for what therapy is going to be about, a direction and purposes in context. This is a process that creates a relationship, a framework, a direction, and a sense of relevance that can be expanded or modified as therapy progresses.

During the generative dialogue the reciprocal responsiveness configures virtual dialogic agreements (e.g., convergences and confluences) in the therapist–client relationship and clarifies the purpose of each resource or possibility. Along the way, the transformations can be seen in both the perspective of the clients and in their enactment, as their way of living is progressively redesigned. This pragmatic dimension is an integral part of the process.

ILLUSTRATING THE PROCESS: FROM ‘BEING FROZEN’ TO GENERATIVITY The following example illustrates generative processes in training and therapy. A student in the Graduate Degree Program on the Generative Perspective and Professional Practice, Diana Torres, is a Master in Clinical and Family Psychology, and a university professor in Colombia. In searching for her own and her client resources, she presented this case to the group.

First Session: ‘Being Frozen’ Therapist: What brought you to therapy? N: (looks down and then smiles shyly) I met this girl 2 years ago and well, it’s weird, because I only saw her once. I went out with some people from school and she came along. Afterwards, I walked her home, asked her for her number, and she gave it to me. But when I called to ask her out, she said she couldn’t that day, and told me she’d call me, but never did. Every day since, I think what would have happened if I had done something different. I know this sounds bad, like I’m sick or psycho. What woman would want to be with me if she knew about this? It’s crazy but I can’t stop it. I cry constantly, thinking, dreaming about her (sighing). I have to get her out of my head. [Problem node and hopes.]

The therapist expands the dialogue into other aspects of N’s life (school, work, family relations). N is not working right now. The


youngest of three siblings, he quit school a semester before earning his degree in graphic design. He does not have many friends and spends most of his time in his room crying about everything he wants but hasn’t achieved. During the session, he expressed his desire to change. [Expectations.] N: Still at home at my age! I need a change. I need to work, make money, and get a girlfriend. I can’t go on like this. (His eyes are brimming with tears. He cracks his knuckles.) [Expectations.]

In the therapist’s conversation about this case with her colleagues in the generative group, she comments that the client seems stuck. She cannot find any resources on his part that would allow progress in the timing he expects. He is requesting help and has hopes to move on. She fears that it might take longer. She feels trapped because she wants to help him but doesn’t know how at the pace he needs. The group comments that she has only described problematic aspects and asks whether N mentioned any resources. The therapist says N mentioned that he likes manga (Japanese comics) but she dismissed it because she could not see it as a resource. The group clarifies that manga is art and suggests she inquiries into it and invite N to use manga to draft a proposal for his future in search of openings.

Second Session: Changing. Establishing a Relationship. The Generative Process Begins with Moments, Cycles, and a Working Platform T: Talk to me about your art. I want to learn more about manga. (Her tone is inviting and interested.) [Exploring if art is a resource that might provide possibilities.] N: OK, well manga art (sitting up straighter in the chair) is sort of like comics. I love it and I know I’m good at it. I never quit doing manga. I’ve done a lot with it and I keep getting better.


T: How is it that your voice, posture, and well, your whole attitude changes when you talk about your art? [The therapist notes the emotion, change in posture, positive tone, and N’s continued dedication to his art over time as an emerging moment, and expresses her recognition and interest. She is expanding resources.] N: Oh yeah? (blushing and smiling, looking pleased). I hadn’t realized that. [Generative moment.] It’s just something I really like, a place where things flow for me. [He adds that he recognizes the differences in himself. This generative moment is expanded to newer moments and generative cycles, when he adds that with art, ‘things flow’.] T: You say that things flow for you through art and I can see that’s true. In fact, I was thinking about how some famous actors say similar things. That’s what it feels like with you, what do you think? [She explores his art creatively, discovering new meanings and reaffirming his feelings. Personal and relational emerge beyond failure, loneliness, and isolation. She expands the generative cycles and begins building a working platform that links problems, resources, and possibilities.] N: (with enthusiasm). Totally. When I’m with people talking about my art, things flow better and I can get to know people. [Responsive, N begins an emerging, novel self-narration. The therapist advances on building the working platform further. They are developing a shared intelligibility through confluences in dialogue.] T: What would you say to making a manga that is about precisely how you would like your life to be? [T proposes a timeline that extends beyond his current difficulties into the future.] He begins to draw with great care, making a self-portrait filled with light and expressing desires for his future. [Several generative cycles emerge in the story and later, in his everyday life.]

Third Session T: How did manga become part of your life? N: (smiling) Well, when I was seven, I saw my brother drawing manga and I’ve been drawing ever since (his chest swells). [He proudly responds to the proposal, validating and expanding on it. Manga art is an encompassing resource in his life.]



This dialogue allowed the therapist to link past, present, and future, since manga art has always been part of his life and is something he plans to do in the future. It is a generative tool that elicits change in the moment and is also a resource for the future. These generative moments and cycles enrich and expand the working platform. Later, N becomes proactive and productive, initiating an ongoing self-exploration. [New generative cycles appear and expand the working platform, creating possibilities, such as a job search, new art-related initiatives, new relationships, and an end to crying over times when he felt like a failure, including the incident with the girl two years earlier.]

Fifth Session: Revelation T: (after almost an entire session in which N has not mentioned the girl) I have a question. What allowed you to go the whole session without mentioning the girl? And you know what I think? If I hadn’t asked this question, you would not have. N: (smiling proudly, his eyes shining) I didn’t bring her into the session. Truth is, it didn’t seem that important, since I’m working on trying to find a job and posting things on my YouTube channel (where he has a cartoon series). She comes to mind from time to time, but she’s not as important anymore.

N talked about his art and about changes. He has been sending out his résumé, getting ready for a manga show, and promoting his art. He appears enthusiastic and in high spirits in regards to current and future possibilities, acknowledging them with appreciation and pride. The active exploration and construction of a future with actual changes in his way of living is visible, as are the emotional transformations associated with his new ‘realities.’

Seventh Session: Generating New Knowledge and Learning T: Let’s talk about the fact that you couldn’t get this girl out of your head but in the last

session, she didn’t come to your mind. If these were different sections or chapters in the book of your life, what title would you give them? [This metaphor explores what emerged in therapy and has been consolidated as new ways of living.] N: The first chapter would be the moment when I came for the first session and I’d call it ‘Being frozen’. And I’d call the second chapter in my story ‘Changing’ because that’s the way it feels; I don’t get depressed so much, I don’t cry, I’m making up for lost time and taking steps to make changes in my life, because I feel better but I want to achieve more. [Novel resources and possibilities are included in the narrations and reflexive learnings; transformations are part of generatively pondering changes in his life.]

Although the entire process incorporates a transformation at multiple levels of the self, the client’s relationships, resources and ways of living, the enactment of novel possibilities radically changes the motive for seeking therapy, materializing new ways of life.

Therapist Reflections Something different emerged within me and for my client in the second session, something I referred to as a ‘generative bridge and an outburst of resources.’ N came with his own problem node, and I had my own problem node with respect to the case. I was unable to see that N had resources or that my resources would help him. For me, the outburst of resources came when I received feedback from my colleagues and began relating to the client from the perspective of his resources, giving N the possibility to tell his story and live through a tool that allows things to ‘flow’ for him, manga art. That is to say, both of us experienced an outburst of resources that triggered change. On the other hand, when the problem node connected to new possibilities and a potential future, a generative bridge emerged. N could return to past situations that used to be problematic or negative and connected to them from another place, in the context of a working platform and enabling nodes. This allowed him to be in touch with his past experiences while also connecting to a potential future.


Follow-Up: Strengthening Generativity The therapist reports that she had five additional sessions with N. Besides showing his artwork at two major manga exhibitions, N is building a name for himself in that world, and is much more confident of his capabilities. The issue of the girl he said he was obsessed with is no longer part of the panorama. N has made a powerful transformation that can be seen in his posture, his expression, and his life narrative, which emphasizes possibilities. He has found creative solutions to his problems and also creatively sought out opportunities. He is earning money. [A transformed and active life matrix of enacted resources and possibilities has changed his way of life.] One year after, he has a formal job at a design company and is working towards establishing a manga art project.

THERAPISTS AND CLIENTS: BUILDING FUTURES The generative perspective in therapy heeds dialogue’s creative resources and possibilities. This approach is future-oriented and distinct because of the emphasis it places on the ability of the professional to be an active participant in dialogue and to respond creatively and innovatively to what emerges through it. For the therapist, that means getting involved in the relational field and developing a practice grounded in creativity, generative research, collaboration, and relational responsibility (McNamee, 2015a, 2015b; McNamee and Gergen, 1998; Morales et al., 2015). Through dialogue and collaboration, professionals and clients work together to question unresolved and difficult problems and challenges, to assess and co-create emergent resources, and to craft and implement new


possibilities, alternative futures, and novel ways of living. In other words, they address what clients are grappling with from a perspective geared to transformation, and they do so by focusing on the present moment, and not on pre-knowledges. This requires that professionals recognize uniqueness and felt experience, and grasp each person and their specific circumstances. This dialogic approach at once fosters and invites creativity and co-participation giving rise to complex and nonlinear options. Multiple voices are engaged, and limitations and underlying assumptions questioned to enable clients to reauthorize and re-signify their lives. Through the examples in this article, we see how change is constructed and oriented in dialogue, and problems tied to possibilities for innovations and for reflexive generative learning; new dialogic knowledge is fostered to accompany the process and to expand resources for the sake of transforming participants’ lives. The professional’s participation is aesthetic insofar as it reflects the client’s particularities and idiosyncrasies, and ethical insofar as it responses to their request and needs.

Note 1  I would like to thank Cristina Ruffino and Diana Torres, the therapists who work on the cases described in this paper, for their cooperation.

REFERENCES Bakhtin, M. M. (1981). The dialogic imagination: Four essays by M. M. Bakhtin (M. Holquist, Ed.; C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Bakhtin, M. M. (1986). Speech genres and other late essays (C. Emerson & M. Holquist, Eds.; V. W. McGee, Trans.). Austin, TX: University of Texas Press. Fried Schnitman, D. (1998). Navigating in a circle of dialogues. Human Systems: The



Journal of Systemic Consultation & Management, 9(1), 21–32. Fried Schnitman, D. (2002). New paradigms, new practices. In D. Fried Schnitman & J. Schnitman (Eds.), New paradigms, culture and subjectivity (pp. 345–354). Cresskill, NJ: Hampton Press. Fried Schnitman, D. (2004). Generative instruments of CMM. Human Systems: The Journal of Systemic Consultation & Management, 15(1–3), 153–164. Fried Schnitman, D. (2008). Generative inquiry in therapy: From problems to creativity. In T. Sungiman, K. J. Gergen, W. Wagner, & Y. Yamada (Eds.), Meaning in action: Constructions, narratives and representations (pp. 73–95). Tokyo, Japan: Springer. Fried Schnitman, D. (2010). Perspectiva gene­ rativa en la gestión de conflictos sociales [The generative perspective in the management of social conflicts]. Revista de Estudios Sociales, 36, 51–63. Fried Schnitman, D. (2015). Proceso generativo y prácticas dialógicas [The generative process and dialogical practices]. In D. Fried ­Schnitman (Ed.), Diálogos para la transformación: Expe­ ­ riencias en terapia y otras interven­ ciones psicosociales en Iberoamérica  – Volumen 1 [Dialogues for transformation: Experiences in therapy and other psychosocial interventions in Latin America – Volume  1] (pp. 53–81). Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute/WorldShareBooks. Fried Schnitman, D. (2016). Perspectiva e prática generativa [The generative perspective and practice]. Nova Perspectiva Sistêmica, 25(56), 55–75.

Fried Schnitman, D., & Schnitman, J. (2000). La resolución alternativa de conflictos: Un enfoque generativo [Alternative conflict resolution: A generative perspective]. In D. Fried Schnitman (Ed.), Nuevos paradigmas en la resolución de conflictos: Perspectivas y practicas [New paradigms in conflict resolution: Perspectives and practices] (pp. 133–158). Buenos Aires, Argentina: Granica. Gergen, K. J. (2009). Relational being: Beyond self and community. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. McNamee, S. (2015a). Practitioners as people: Dialogic encounters for transformation. Metalogos, 28, 1–25. McNamee S. (2015b). Radical presence: Alternatives to the therapeutic state. European Journal of Psychotherapy & Counseling, 17(4), 373–383. McNamee, S., & Gergen, K. J. (1998). Relational responsibility: Resources for sustainable dialogue. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Morales, E., Torres, P., Solís, S., & Ayala, Z. (2015). Diálogo, performatividad y generatividad en la psicoterapia [Dialogue, performativity and generativity in psychotherapy]. In D. Fried Schnitman (Ed.), Diálogos para la transformación: Experiencias en terapia y otras intervenciones psicosociales en Iberoamérica – Volumen 1 [Dialogues for transformation: Experiences in therapy and other psychosocial interventions in Latin America – Volume 1] (pp. 85–104). Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute/WorldShare Books. Morson, G. S., & Emerson, C. (1990). Mikhail Bakhtin: Creation of a prosaics. Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press.

15 How Symbolic Witnesses Can Help Counter Dominant Stories and Enrich Communities of Concern Jasmina Sermijn

When clients enter the therapy room, they often feel as if they are enclosed in a world of problems. Fixed problem stories and identities fill the room, obscuring the possible rich and changeable identity stories from view. By searching with their clients for elements that do not concur with the problem stories, narrative therapists try to create room for richer and more preferred stories. During the last couple of decades, a richness of new ideas and maps has emerged and evolved which can help narrative therapists trace preferred stories with their clients and maintain those stories through documenting and retelling stories via definitional ceremonies. In these ceremonies clients are invited to tell and retell their stories for a public of relevant outsider witnesses. Utilizing the social constructionist idea that identity is a relational project, the more that preferred stories are seen and recognized by others and the more these stories are connected in relationships, the greater the chance there is for these

stories to be kept alive and put into daily practice. For clients who become isolated socially and/or emotionally it is often difficult to find ways to re-connect. They may live within impoverished networks where they do not have many contacts to fall back on or they may not make use of the networks they have. In the work with these clients in which finding relevant others who can recognize the preferred stories and who can help them keep these stories alive is difficult, risk exists that new identity stories will live only in the therapeutic space and not in the daily lives and relationships of clients. In this chapter I search for alternative ways to create a public for clients who are isolated. I will introduce the idea of working with symbolic witnesses. As further explained in this chapter, symbolic witnesses offer an alternative for situations in which the invitation of live outsider witnesses seems difficult or impossible. The reader will meet Anna and Vasalisa and will experience (a) how



symbolic witnesses can help support and maintain preferred self-stories, and (b) how symbolic witnesses can create links between the lives of clients by constructing symbolic communities of concern that provide a counterweight to isolation. By introducing the concept of symbolic witnesses, I hope to make a contribution to the social constructionist practices that de-individualize problems and help clients to connect to that which they find valuable in life and to communities to share these values with. Hi, I am Vasalisa. In this chapter, you will get to know me as a ‘symbolic witness’. Are you not sure what that is? I’m not surprised, because I’m not that well-known. I was created by chance when a therapy client did not have any persons to invite to a session to serve as ‘outsider witnesses’. The term ‘symbolic witness’ refers to the fact that I’m a non-living witness who can be called in to a therapeutic process. My most important assignment is to help clients keep to their preferred stories. Next to that, I try to reconnect clients with others by creating a symbolic community wherein stories can be shared. I’ll tell you more about that later! Continue reading now, as the author of this story, Jasmina, will illustrate several narrative ideas to help you place my identity within the broader terrain of social constructionist, narrative practices. See you soon, Vasalisa

ANNA, THE SEARCH FOR PREFERRED STORIES AND THE IMPORTANCE OF WITNESSES A(nna): I really feel, every minute, how everything in me says: STOP! I can’t go on this way, getting up, being exhausted, to drag myself on as if I’m 150 kilos… To go into the office every day anew, knowing that I won’t be able to complete the work I need to do. I just can’t take it anymore… T(herapist): I hear you say: ‘everything in me says STOP… you can’t take it anymore…’ A: Yes, it needs to stop, this isn’t the life I want to lead… and still there is something that makes me go on (cries). T: SOMETHING makes you go on … can you help me understand what that SOMETHING is?

A: Well, say I would stop tomorrow, how should I explain that? To my boss, my colleagues, mother? Should I tell them I can’t deal with it anymore, that I don’t succeed in working as much as the others do? Everyone in our company works at a 200% level, should I tell them that I fail, that I’m not a real career woman?

This segment of a conversation with the 35-year-old Anna shows how people can get stuck in dominant stories that tell them who they should be, how they should shape their life. Dominant societal ideas around work and professional identity inscribed themselves into Anna’s thinking and feeling, and she gets stuck in what White calls ‘problem saturated stories’ (White, 1995; White and Epston, 1990). Being ‘imprisoned’ in problem saturated stories goes together with negative identity conclusions, feelings of powerlessness and failure. In Anna’s story, it is clearly visible how ‘exhaustion’ and ‘inability to continue’ is considered by herself as her own fault (‘I fail’), which leads to negative identity conclusions (‘I’m not a real career woman’) and feelings of powerlessness (‘I don’t know how to get out of this’). Narrative therapists try to help clients to deconstruct these problem saturated stories and to create space for richer and more preferred stories. They do this by searching from the first session for story elements that the client finds valuable in their life. As most of these elements are not in the foreground, this requires a specific position of listening and questioning by the therapist. The therapist opens their eyes and ears, poses questions at internalized discourses, hunts for exceptions and values, and tries to connect these together into richer story lines. T: You say you’re not a ‘real career woman’, can you explain what signifies a ‘real career woman’ to you? A: That you put in 200% effort, that your work is your priority, that you only want to improve. My work is my life, I have done nothing else. My career has always been the priority.


T: Tell me if I’m wrong, but based on this description, it seems to me that you sound like a proper career woman? A: Yes, I guess so… T: Could it be that you’re actually wondering if you want to be this ‘real career woman’? A: Yes, that’s the real question, I do what I have to do, what is expected of me, but this does not make me happy… (cries). T: The fact that you feel unhappy seems to be saying something about your desire for more happiness. What are the moments in which you do feel happy? A: Last Sunday the sun was shining, and I thought, today I’m not going to open my computer. I went to the baker’s, I met my neighbors there, we chatted together and once home I made a nice breakfast for myself. T: Sun, no computer, to go to the bakery, meet with the neighbors, and chat. What does that tell you about what makes you happy? A: The little things in life, the contact with other people, I want more of those things in my life…

The dominant story of the ‘real career woman’ is questioned and together with the therapist, Anna is able to re-position herself towards internalized dominant societal discourses. By doing that, space is created to explore alternative stories that connect better to the way Anna wants to lead her life. For example, when Anna says ‘it does not make me happy’, she refers implicitly to the fact that she does have an idea of what makes her happy. Her description of ‘last Sunday’ sheds light on those moments in which more desired stories were already present and this offers connections to bring out stories that have been hidden away by the problem. But how can we make sure that once the space for richer self-stories is created, the problem story will not take root again? How can we help clients to hold the ‘storiesthey-want-to-live’? In both collaborative and narrative literature there are several indicators that can help us work with these questions. For example Anderson (2012; Anderson and Jensen, 2007) describes the importance of inviting as many different voices as possible into the therapy


room. The polyphony of voices (see also Gergen, 1996; Sermijn and Gergen, 2017) can act as a counterweight against the risk of falling back into a monological truth or dominant story, and it creates a multiverse of possible meanings. White and colleagues (e.g., White 1999) describe the power of inviting outsider witnesses inside the therapy room. Outsiders can be helpful in recognizing preferred self-stories and the continuous enriching of possible identities. The basic idea is that people are ‘relationally constructed beings’ (Anderson, 2012; Combs and Freedman, 2016; Gergen, 2009; McNamee and Gergen, 1999); self-stories/identities are continuously co-­constructed within interactions with others (Meyerhoff, 2007). In this way, the creation of self-stories can be viewed as a ‘relational practice’ (Weingarten, 2013) as opposed to an individual matter. This also means that the more the preferred self-stories are seen and recognized by others, the more chance there is that clients can keep these stories alive and transform them into everyday practice. However, in some contexts it is neither obvious nor possible to invite outsiders. Working with outsiders requires the uprooting of several dominant societal stories connected to ‘therapy’ (e.g., confidentiality, secrecy) (see also Sermijn and Gergen, 2017). Sometimes clients prefer not to challenge these ideas and to maintain the protective walls of the therapy room. There are some clients who are willing to break open these walls, but their social network is quite limited to draw upon. For example, the social network of Anna mainly consists of her mother and a few colleagues. The conversation in which the therapist explores the relationships between Anna and her mother and Anna and her colleagues, shows that none of them can be invited as external witnesses at that point in time. Anna: My mother? No! She doesn’t understand it. I see her maybe three times a year and if I tell something about my feelings, she’s always got an answer that is not helpful. Next to that, I don’t have any other family



and friends, I never had ‘real friends’ (crying) … Colleagues, well, that is impossible. We are a small company, ‘each for himself’ is the main rule. To talk to my colleagues about my struggles is really not safe at the moment. It could cost me my job. The only one I really talk to about it is you.

The client’s rich self-stories will be brought to life through the eyes of the therapist, with the risk of the latter becoming too central. This situation is what collaborative and narrative therapists wish to avoid; they try to decentralize the therapist and to reconnect clients with a multitude of relational contexts that help them shape and live the stories they wish to live. But how can we do that in situations in which people do not have many contacts to fall back on? How can the therapist avoid becoming the central witness in the life of clients?

INVITING SYMBOLIC WITNESSES: THE BIRTH OF VASALISA A: Last time, I really intended to keep to my preferences, to stick to the things that I find important in life, but as soon as I leave here, I lose it. I should be able to put you in my inside pocket (laughs). T: What difference would that make? A: When I’m here with you, I know and feel what I want. If you were in my inside pocket, you would do what you do here. You’d say, ‘Wait a minute Anna, what you’re deciding now, is that connected to what you want, or is it because you think that you have to…’ T: Do I understand correctly that you need a voice that invites you every now and then to take a moment and think about the choices that you make, about the things that you do and especially with what you really want? A: Yes, otherwise I’m just doing what I think is expected of me. Once in the rat race, I don’t even think about what I want anymore. T: I suddenly am thinking about the story of Vasalisa the Wise (Estès, 1992), do you know it? A: Never heard of it. T: The story is about a little girl who gets a puppet from her dying mother. The mother says that she should hold the puppet

whenever she is afraid or she has lost her way. The puppet will then guide her. The puppet in the story is symbolic for the girl’s own strength and voice.

The story of Vasalisa opened a creative entryway within this conversation, a portal to think about how Anna could keep alive the stories she wishes to live outside of the therapy room. As an analogy to the story, a small Matryoshka doll was introduced that was given the name Vasalisa, who became a symbolic witness present during the sessions with the specific assignment to help Anna keep to her preferred voices, choices, and stories in everyday life. A: I kept her close. She even slept beside me and she really helped me. T: It’s so good to hear that you have become such a good team! Would it be okay if we let Vasalisa talk, so she can tell us what she has noticed? Can you please take Vasalisa’s position and tell us from her perspective what she’s noticed? How did she notice that you tried to keep to your wish to take a break from your work to consider what it is that you want? A: I find it a bit strange, but OK, let’s try it… V(asalisa): The first thing I think about is the moment that Anna told her mother to stop deciding for her what is good for her. I was in her pocket when her mother told her it was time to go back to work. She held me tight and said calmly, ‘Mom, I know how you think about it, but I want to ask you to stop giving me advice, because it does not help me. I will not go back to work at this moment because I need a break.’

The segment above shows how Anna – with the help of Vasalisa – succeeds in keeping to the preferred self-stories outside of the therapy room. Besides that it shows also how explicitly inviting Vasalisa’s voice inside the therapy room de-centralizes the voice of the therapist. By taking Vasalisa’s position and speaking from her perspective, Anna alerts herself to preferred voices and self-stories and acknowledges the actions she took to keep alive the desired stories. This idea connects to Karl Tomm’s (1987, 1989) ‘internalized other interviewing’ as


well as to Anderson and Jensen’s (2007) experiments with ‘as if listening and reflecting’. In both methods clients are invited to listen and speak from specific inner voices ‘as if’ they were that voice. The client moves to taking a first person position as ‘the other’ speaking from an ‘I’ position and back to a third person position once more, speaking about the person. In this way a client is both an insider as well as an outsider to his/her own story. In their recent work about ‘insider witness practices’ Carlson and Epston (2017) highlight the importance of being both an insider and an outsider to one’s own life. When we only live ‘inside’ our stories we experience ourselves not as authors but as characters of ‘an already finalized script’ (Morson, 1994, 89) who have a limited capacity for freedom and agency beyond the freedom and agency that is already afforded us by the author of the story. (p. 23)

By bringing Vasalisa in as a symbolic witness and personator of the preferred inner voices of Anna, and by inviting Anna to listen and speak from the position of Vasalisa, Anna is able to move back and forth between an insider’s and an outsider’s position. In this way Anna is not only a main character in which she dwells but also an author with ‘the authorial agency’ (Morson as cited in Carlson and Epston, 2017, p. 23) to give direction and meaning to the events that take place in her life story.

narrative therapists (e.g., Epston and White, 1992; White, 1995; White and Epston, 1990) indicate the importance of documenting these stories. Written documents support the memory because ‘they endure through time and space, bearing witness to the work of therapy and immortalizing it’ (Freeman et  al., 1997, p. 112). Even though narrative documenting mainly refers to documenting through therapeutic letters, the idea can be extended to all written documents (e.g., Fox, 2003; Newman, 2008). Regardless of the shape of the document, the goal is always to locally capture preferred stories and actions. Anna chooses a digital diary in which she records each action she takes in her preferred direction. Each action is named and described from both the voice of Anna and the voice of Vasalisa. Here is a section out of her diary. Action: took a train to work. Had a conversation with my boss about what I’d like to see changed. Vasalisa was in my pocket, held her tight. Anna: ‘I exercised in making public what I find important in life: work + time to do other things (enjoying free time, contact with others, sport, …). I experienced this as really difficult. At a certain moment I felt caught again in the dominant expectations of the career woman.’

Hi, here I am again. So, in the meantime, did you get an idea of who I am? Can you see how I invite clients to take an outsider’s position to their own lives and problems and how this helps them to re-author and enrich their stories? How I help them to become authors of their own life-narratives? Could you take something from it? Great! Don’t be too quick though; the following part will show you that I am also a good story archivist. Catch you later. Vasalisa

DOCUMENTING: HOW VASALISA HELPS TO CAPTURE PREFERRED STORIES AND ACTIONS In the search for how therapists can help clients to keep alive their preferred life stories,


Figure 15.1  Anna’s diary



Vasalisa: ‘Anna persevered. Regardless of the stress, she took the train, entered the office and went to her boss. At first, she was placid, but in the end she said very clearly, “No, I will not start working full time again, because I want to have time for other things that I find important.” You could see from the boss’s face that he didn’t expect that. He tried to convince Anna, but she stayed clear and that helped him to accept what she said and to think about it.’

From an ‘as if’ position Anna was able to look at and reflect on her own life experiences, allowing her to leave the perspective of ‘Anna as the already finalized character’ (Morson, 1994, p. 89) in her own life story. While Annaas-Anna was caught in the problem story, Anna-as-Vasalisa was able to focus on her preferred ways of living. By this documenting of preferred actions and voices, a kind of open archive was created that could continue to grow. The archive becomes a counter-balance against forgetting preferred stories or being overshadowed by dominant stories. This documenting also invites clients to go into an ongoing conversation with the written in which they can re-position themselves continually to their preferred stories and desires. Hi, What do you think of my archivist qualities? Do they inspire you to become also a kind of archivist? Great! You say you have still some questions? You tell me that the story you just read makes clear how symbolic witnesses are helpful in re-connecting clients to their preferred ways of living, but not to other people? You are wondering how I am able to create links between the lives of clients, links which help to go against isolation and solitude? OK, let us research this wonderment and continue our story. In the next part you will learn more about my ability to create symbolic communities of concern in which people who became isolated are reconnected with others. Vasalisa

VASALISA AS A RE-CONNECTING FACTOR: LINKING LIVES AND CO-CREATING SYMBOLIC COMMUNITIES OF CONCERN The above experiences with Anna made sure that Vasalisa became a resident within our

therapy center who is regularly invited as a symbolic witness in conversations with clients. One of her strengths is to change her shape from Matryoshka to finger puppet to a stone or even a self-fabricated necklace. She takes the shape that clients want her to have, yet her role is the same. She helps clients to connect with their preferred ways of living and to keep to the stories-they-want-to-live outside of the therapy walls. In time she became an important guest in the lives of several clients, and she built up a résumé that is shared among clients at our therapy center.

Segments from Vasalisa’s Résumé Name: Vasalisa; Nicknames: Senata, Matryoshka, Puppet, Coach, … Sex & shape: Changeable Lives in: Resident at Hestia – Centre for Systemic Therapy – but likes to travel Studies: School of Life

Some References of Hosts:

Anna: Vasalisa is a great life companion. The last year she stood at my side to fight against all the societal ideas that are connected with being a ‘real career woman’. She helps me to hold on to what I want, mostly in situations in which I feel I get overwhelmed by other people’s expectations. Each time I take a step forward in the direction I want to take, I document it by taking a picture and Vasalisa is always there as a witness. Together we created a digital diary with preferred stories and pictures. When it really gets tough, I look at those pictures and it gives me courage to go on. Nel: Yes Anna, you’re right. Vasalisa really helps you to hold on what you want. I replaced the puppet by a necklace I made myself. I made a necklace with a paperclip. That paperclip is a symbol for what I wish to maintain: for myself to speak up to others, in a clear way, especially in those moments I feel I’m losing my voice. Patrick: For me, as a man, a necklace or puppet were not done. I have chosen a stone. I still take it with me, I have carried it in my pocket for about a year and a half… I take it with me to meetings I have to facilitate or when I have to speak in front of an audience. The stone helps me to contradict the voice that thinks I won’t be able to do it and it helps me to reflect on my own actions.


Through her involvement with many people, Vasalisa succeeds in breaking down the walls between the therapy room and the outside world, and the walls between clients. She weaves invisible threads of connection by means of which a symbolic ‘community of concern’ (Madigan and Epston, 1995) is cocreated in which clients’ local knowledges around countering specific problems can circulate. With each new acquaintance between a client and Vasalisa, the therapist gives the client Vasalisa’s résumé as a gift through which experiences can be shared. It is in this way that clients are invited to become symbolic witnesses in each other’s lives. In an implicit way they acknowledge each other’s preferred self-stories and this enriches their previously impoverished networks. Reading how others have worked with Vasalisa as a witness often has an inspirational effect and it creates a feeling of connection with others, especially around those aspects that people find important. For example, Nel’s idea to replace the puppet with a paperclip necklace was taken up by a different client: ‘That’s a great idea, that paperclip! I lost my puppet twice already. Thanks for the hint, Nel’! (Amelie) Through exchanging the résumé, clients request to get into contact with each other with the goal of sharing their experiences about certain topics or struggles. If both parties agree, we look at how this exchange can happen. Hilde, a 42-year-old woman, also searches for ways to counteract the forceful power of the dominant story of ‘the career woman’. While reading Vasalisa’s résumé she got curious about Anna’s story and asked the therapist if it is possible to contact Anna and to share experiences. The therapist informed Anna about this question and after discussing several possibilities, Anna chose to invite Hilde (through the therapist as an intermediary) to start an e-mail conversation about her experiences with Vasalisa. This is what Hilde thinks about this e-mail conversation: ‘I kind of found it exciting.


After all, you are mailing with someone you don’t know. Anna was clear in that she only wanted to share her experiences with Vasalisa, and that felt right to me. We’ve emailed a few times with each other, and the exchange has inspired me. It was helpful to see how others struggle with similar themes and how they cope with that.’

To be Continued From the contact between Anna and Hilde, the idea to create a ‘digital community of concern’ grew, expanding it by opening it up to other people who are interested. Anna, who is comfortable in the digital world, started a secure webpage where other clients (through their therapist) can get access to post their experiences. At the moment, there are approximately 10 clients who also have connected in this way. In addition, there are a couple of people from the clients’ networks who also have access. The website offers an archive in which ‘client wisdoms’ (Epston, 2001) or insider knowledge of those who consult therapists are acknowledged and can circulate outside the closed therapy room. The archive contains fragments of the résumé of Vasalisa – letters, pictures, and artwork that highlight rich alternative stories to the dominant discourses around the career woman. Via this webpage, a symbolic community of concern was co-created in which clients share information with each other and support each other. The lives of clients are linked, problems are de-personified and placed back into the realm of culture and society. Anna comments on the website: ‘At the start we didn’t know how this experiment would evolve. But now, a few months later, I see the power of it. Each time the therapist sends me an e-mail with the message that she met someone who is interested in the webpage I feel a leap of joy, because I know how important it is to have the opportunity to share experiences and to know that what you



wrestle with is not only a personal thing but a struggle against troublesome and sometimes oppressive societal structures and ideas. This understanding and sharing of ideas provides us with the strength to hold on to those aspects in life that we find really valuable. And these exchanges with other people draw a thread that helps me feel less alone.’ Hi, I suspect that by now you have gained some insight into who I am and how I can contribute to therapy as a symbolic witness. Should you still have questions, or if you wish to use my expertise, know that you can always invite me as a guest by sending an e-mail to: [email protected] Bye, Vasalisa

REFERENCES Anderson, H. (2012). Collaborative relationships and dialogic conversations: Ideas for a relationally responsive practice. Family Process, 51, 8–24. Anderson, H., & Jensen, P. (2007). Innovations in the reflecting process: The inspirations of Tom Andersen. London, UK: Karnac Books. Carlson, T., & Epston, D. (2017). Insider witnessing practices: Performing hope and beauty in narrative therapy: Part two. Journal of Narrative Family Therapy: Ideas and Practices in the Making, Release 1, 19–38. Available at: jnft_2017_full_release.pdf Combs, G., & Freedman, J. (2016). Narrative therapy’s relational understanding of Identity. Family Process, 55(2), 211–224. Epston, D. (2001). Anthropology, archives, coresearch and narrative therapy. In D. Denborough (Ed.), Family therapy: Exploring the field’s past, present and possible futures (pp. 177–182). Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre. Epston, D., & White, M. (1992). Consulting your consultants: The documentation of alternative knowledges. In D. Epston & M. White (Eds.), Experience, contradiction, narrative and imagination: Selected papers

of David Epston and Michael White, 1989– 1991 (pp. 11–26). Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre. Estés, C. P. (1992). Women who run with the wolves: Myths and stories of the wild women archetype. New York, NY: Ballantine. Fox, H. (2003). Using therapeutic documents: A review. The International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, 4, 26–36. Freeman, J., Epston, D., & Lobovits, D. (1997). Playful approaches to serious problems: Narrative therapy with children and their families. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. Gergen, K. (1996). Metaphor and monophony in the twentieth-century psychology of emotions. In C. Graumann & K. J. Gergen (Eds.), Historical dimensions of psychological discourse (pp. 60–82). Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. Gergen, K. (2009). Relational being, beyond self and community. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Madigan, S., & Epston, D. (1995). From ‘spychiatric’ gaze to communities of concern: From professional monologue to dialogue. In S. Friedman (Ed.), The reflecting team in action: Collaborative practice in family therapy (pp. 257–276). New York, NY: Guilford. McNamee, S., & Gergen, K. J. (1999). Relational responsibility: Resources for sustainable dialogue. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Meyerhoff, B. (2007). Telling one’s story. In M. Kaminsky & M. Weiss (Eds.), Stories as equipment for living: Last talks and tales of Barbara Meyerhoff (pp. 28–59). Ann Arbor, MI: University of Michigan. Morson, G. S. (1994). Narrative and freedom: The shadows of time. New Haven, CT: Yale University Press. Newman, D. (2008). Rescuing the said from the saying of it. Living documentation in narrative therapy. International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, 3, 24–43. Sermijn, J., & Gergen, K. (2017). Spread the wings of your therapeutic potential: A reflective process with Ken Gergen. International Journal of Collaborative Dialogical Practice, 8(1), 57–68. Tomm, K. (1987). Interventive interviewing: Part II. Reflexive questioning as a means


to enable self-healing. Family Process, 26(2), 167–183. doi:10.1111/j.1545-5300. 1987.00167.x Tomm, K. (1989). Externalizing the problem and internalizing personal agency. The Journal of Strategic and Systemic Therapies, 8(1), 54–59. doi:10.1521/jsst.1989.8.1.54 Weingarten, K. (2013). The ‘cruel radiance of what is’: Helping couples live with chronic illness. Family Process, 52(1), 83–101.


White, M. (1995). Re-authoring lives: Interviews and essays. Adelaide, South Australia: Dulwich Centre. White, M. (1999). Reflecting teamwork as definitional ceremony revisited. Gecko: A Journal of Deconstruction and Narrative Ideas in Therapeutic Practice, 1, 55–82. White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York, NY: W. W. Norton.

16 Contributions of Social Constructionism to Group Work E m e r s o n F. R a s e r a a n d C a r l a G u a n a e s - L o r e n z i

As can be seen throughout this Handbook, social constructionism can be found in different fields of professional practice and presents varied characteristics. From seeking alternatives to empiricist, representational, and essentialist perspectives on knowledge in the human and social sciences, professionals found in this epistemological and practical discourse the justification and inspiration for the creation of different ways of working. They did not develop an application for the theory, as if social constructionism required a certain form of practice, but took this discourse as a way of explaining and supporting what they did. More than this, they accepted the invitation to consider social constructionism in action and created useful ways of caring for people. Just as social constructionist discourses are multiple, so too, are the practices that can be identified with them. There are both authors who define themselves as constructionists, and practices that bear a productive resemblance to the constructionist concerns,

emphases, and concepts, although they are not defined this way. Similarly, there are many well-developed approaches, as well as situational interventions or specific ideas that constitute a heterogeneous set of contributions to professional practices. This is what Gergen and Ness (2016) analyze in describing how different practices put different constructionist sensibilities into action. As examples, the authors point out that the emphasis on action is a specific dimension worked out by Holzman’s social therapy (Holzman and Mendez, 2003), while the polyvocal emphasis is a specific dimension of Andersen’s reflecting teams (Andersen, 1991). Thus, although these authors do not name themselves as constructionists, the practices they develop constitute creative ways of putting constructionist emphases into practice. In spite of this diversity, in the context of the care professions, Gergen and Ness (2016) point out that social constructionism favors a series of shifts in the therapeutic orientation towards flexibility, and awareness of

Contributions of Social Constructionism to Group Work

the construction, collaboration, and sensitivity to values, which promote certain forms of practice that emphasize the production of meaning in relationships, the relational network, multiple perspectives, potentiality, and pragmatic effects. The description of these characteristics does not serve to classify true constructionist practices; however, it functions as a beacon that illuminates and facilitates navigation through a varied set of possibilities. In the field of group work, specifically, constructionism is also present. We can comprehend this presence in two ways: either by explaining the social construction of the group or by proposing different ways of performing the group as a social construction (Rasera and Japur, 2018). On one hand, social constructionism invites us to review the historical development of the ways of defining the group. This task shows how the group as a therapeutic practice was created in different ways by authors and professionals linked to different theoretical orientations. Each of these ways responds to specific social needs and produces a certain group ontology with particular forms of functioning (DeLucia-Waack et al., 2013; Guanaes-Lorenzi, 2017). We can understand how different social and historical contexts contribute to different understandings of group processes. As examples, we can reflect on how the post-war context contributed to Lewin’s concerns about the influence of the group on the development of individuals, with an emphasis on how authority and leadership relations dynamics are developed inside groups (Lewin, 1997). Or we can reflect on how particularities of the Latin American historical and social context influenced the emergence of communitarian and political perspectives on group work (Martin-Baró, 1989). To review the historical process in which diferent group theories emerge allow us to reconsider the idea of the group as a taken-for-granted entity, and to consider how different discourses emerged at different times, institutionalizing the group and sustaining particular modes of practice.


On the other hand, the social constructionist discourse produced specific ways of facilitating the group. Thus, the constructionist vocabulary present in the field of psychotherapy, especially that of family therapy, produced resources that were also used in group work. Accordingly, we can find uses of narrative therapy (Hill, 2011; Laube, 1998; Monk et al., 2005), of the collaborative approach (Becvar et al., 1997; Grandesso, 2015), of solution-focused therapy (Kvarme et al., 2013; Sharry, 2001), or of reflecting processes (Chen and Noosbond, 1999; Cox et al., 2003) in the field of group work.1 In general, this way of working did not produce ontological questioning nor re-description about what the group is. However, in addition to the use of certain resources already present in other therapeutic proposals, the constructionist discourse also allowed a re-description of what constitutes the group and its form of organization. Therefore, the group can be defined as a discursive practice, a way of creating realities through language, that produces certain forms of relationship among its members. It may be an invitation to reflect on a participant’s life story and to understand it differently through a careful conversational interchange based on a sense of confidentiality. In a different way, the group may be an opportunity for the participants to learn recent developments about the health situation they face, through instructions and orientations of the group therapist, and an encouragement to act as a peer educator within their community. So group work has different meanings depending where, why, how, and who is involved. The idea of the group as a discursive practice emphasizes how group work is characterized by the negotiation of a group contract that delimits some forms of organization and possibilities of interaction, by a view of the problem and change as being constructed in language, by the understanding of the therapist’s practice as a conversational partnership, and by the ethical-political analysis of its way of functioning (Rasera and Japur,



2018). That is, to conceive the group as a discursive practice means shifting attention to how we produce the group in the process of social interchange. This is what we intend to show in this chapter. Considering the multiplicity of the constructionist discourse and its different practical inspirations, the aim of this chapter is to describe the contributions of social constructionism to group work in the therapeutic context. This analysis will be based on four points: (a) the focus on language and the meaning-making process; (b) the valorization of collaborative, dialogical, and reflexive stances in the organization of the conversation; (c) the analysis of the identity implication of the group process; and (d) an ethical-political concern about group work. These points can be understood as dimensions of group work, with it being possible to analyze the same group therapeutic practice from each of them. Furthermore, from a theoretical-methodological perspective, they are completely interrelated, their distinction being a didactic resource aimed at the reflection on the constitution of the group work guided by the social constructionist discourses. The selection of these points responds to an attempt to highlight a certain field of constructionist group work without enclosing it in a single definition of a ‘therapeutic model’. Here we present each of these points and some characteristic illustrations. These points were selected based on both the central assumptions of social constructionism (Gergen and Ness, 2016), and on our own previous experience in articulating such notions to group practice (Guanaes, 2006; Rasera and Japur, 2018).

THE FOCUS ON LANGUAGE AND THE MEANING-MAKING PROCESS The social constructionist discourse in the field of therapy values the meaning-making process and a view of language as action.

Therefore, the goal of the therapy is not focused on changing behaviors, ways of perceiving and thinking, or specific attitudes. The proposal is to create dialogic conditions for the creation of preferable meanings for those involved in the therapeutic process. In other words, the proposal is to create conditions for the construction of alternative narratives for the people involved in the therapeutic process, which can relationally sustain new ways of life. This is done by recognizing that language is not innocent (Andersen, 1991). To transform meanings is to transform identities and practices. The constructionist view of language emphasizes its constructed and constructive aspect, that is, it recognizes a historical and social dimension of the vocabularies used by people, as well as the performative power of the use of language, through which activities are developed and realities and relationships constructed (Gergen, 1994, 2009). In the field of group work, the attention to language is present both in the definition of the problem and in the therapeutic change. Accordingly, in relation to the definition of the problem, there is no a priori description established by the expert knowledge of the therapist, however, it may have different versions depending on how the participant is involved in the situation. The definition of a problem is relationally co-constructed. This process of definition and review of the problem is facilitated in group work because of the exploration of different perspectives regarding the problem according to each of the participants, which combats a naturalized view about its cause and origin, as well as its continuity independent of the meanings constructed by the people. In a group, one participant’s view of the problem, for example, grief, illness, or marital separation, comes across another participant’s view of the problem, facilitating the perception that there are different ways of understanding and therefore different ways of facing a supposed common problem. Participants enrich the dialogue with themselves by listening to

Contributions of Social Constructionism to Group Work

others, holding their views less tightly and opening themselves to new possibilities. Group work illustrative of the construction of the problem in language is presented by Quintas (2013). In describing the group work developed with chronically mentally ill people in the outpatient setting of a psychiatric hospital, the author discusses how the labels and diagnoses that define the problems experienced by the participants limit their life experience. She presents how group members actively talk about psychiatric labels, questioning and demystifying them. In a collaborative and dialogical group conversation, she shows how the description of a problem depended not only on the expert diagnosis, but on how it was constructed and reviewed in the negotiations between the participants about their different ways of life. The author discusses how attention to the use of language becomes a significant daily practice performed by the therapist and by the participants in constructing the group reality and that of the participants’ own lives. In relation to therapeutic change, this occurs through the changes in meanings. Depending on the therapeutic approach used, these processes are understood from different concepts such as dialogue, authorship, and narrative, among others. McCune (2010) facilitated a therapeutic group called ‘Recognizing Resilience’ with parents of young people involved in the use of alcohol and other drugs. Through collaborative practices, over six sessions, she pointed out how parents could revise their narratives saturated by the problem regarding the parenting of young people involved in substance use. Through group conversations, in which parents felt heard and safe, they were able to realize that ‘it could be worse’ (McCune, 2010, p. 98), there is ‘more than one explanation’ (McCune, 2010, p. 98), looking at what ‘they have been through and how to keep going’ (McCune, 2010, p. 101), among many other issues. Consequently, ‘parent participants released the tensions provoked by negative descriptions of uncertainty and


not-knowing, and by practicing acceptance and re-authoring hopefulness, parents became free to experience uncertainty of the ups and downs as an experiential process’ (McCune, 2010, p. 104). It is not a matter of directly changing the behavior of young people in relation to substance use, but of producing new meanings that can then generate feelings of acceptance and hope that change the way their families live. Similarly, in a group with people experiencing processes of marital separation, carried out over 11 weeks, and guided by the contributions of social constructionism and narrative practices, Jiménez and Ruíz (2015) analyzed narratives at the beginning and end of the group therapy and reported how the participants were able to broaden these narratives by reviewing the complaint that motivated the therapy, resignifying past experiences, and constructing future potentials beyond the problem. According to the authors, group members were able to review shared social discourses related to marital relationships that made them suffer, and thus generated new meanings on being alone, on the right and pleasure of taking care of oneself and on learning from past mistakes in ‘a narrative that involved co-responsibility, argumentation, a feeling of liberation and even enjoyment’ (Jiménez and Ruíz, 2015, p. 85). As in the work of McCune (2010), therapeutic change is defined by the narrative transformations facilitated through the group conversations. These three illustrations of group work that focus on the use of language highlight how meanings are produced relationally through micro- and macro-social processes and describe how the groups allow a review of the social discourses used for making sense of an experience, connecting the process of problem definition to that of therapeutic change. In addition to defining the problem and the construction of therapeutic change, language is also the privileged means of action of the therapist. The use of language gives support to the development of therapeutic postures that lead to group change, as presented below.



THE VALORIZATION OF COLLABORATIVE, DIALOGICAL, AND REFLECTING POSITIONS IN THE ORGANIZATION OF THE CONVERSATION From a social constructionist stance, therapeutic work with groups involves investment in the construction of a specific interactive space which enables the people to engage in a joint action of production and negotiation of meanings (Shotter, 2008). The facilitator has to invest in creating a good atmosphere so that dialogical communication between the participants of the group can take place. As in other domains, the practice of the group therapist has benefited from the incorporation of social constructionist assumptions, with emphasis on the contributions of collaborative, reflective, and narrative practices. Applied to group work, in different contexts these ideas have allowed the development of creative actions, committed to the legitimation of differences, with greater democratization of the voices present and presented in the dialogue, including that of the therapist. This commitment, in our view, is compatible with positions historically present in the group work, especially those sensitive to the importance of the group as a mechanism for producing greater interchange among people, reducing social isolation, and constructing networks of solidarity and empowerment. From collaborative practices we highlight as a special contribution the emphasis given to the dialogical process, which results in at least two orientations for practice. The first refers to the therapist’s participation in the dialogue, being sensitive to how meanings are produced in the joint action. This orientation allows the group therapist to act as a conversational partner, rather than a specialist (Anderson, 1997). The second refers to the therapist orientation to the ongoing interaction, in order to relationally produce responsive understandings (Shotter, 2010).

This emphasis allows both the group therapist and the participants to talk with people, and not about them (Anderson, 2012). These two contributions are relevant because they enable the group therapist to break away from the ‘technicism’ present in the field of group work, which is sometimes present due to the premature or inadvertent use of group dynamic techniques. It also avoids the therapist’s ‘specialism’, which leads him/her to insufficiently reflect on how much the theories themselves engender certain forms of relationship and dialogue within the group. Alternatively, a collaboratively oriented group therapist is attentive to the progress of the conversation, focusing on the quality of the interactions established among the participants, including him/herself. In this way, the group therapist is able to reflect both on what is said, and on the form of the ongoing conversation and effects of what is said on it. This type of posture illustrates the analysis developed by Guanaes (2006). In a study of a support group in the context of mental health, the author explored the types of interaction among participants, situating dialogue as a quality of the therapeutic communication. Thus, the author states that ‘the therapeutic nature of the group constitutes a construction that is possible or not in the interactive moment itself’ (p. 91) and depends on the quality of the dialogical exchanges established among its participants. In addition to this broad orientation for the developing dialogue, we consider it particularly important for the work of group facilitation to adopt a reflecting position, sensitive to the importance of legitimizing and exploring the diversity of voices present in a dialogue. For the professional, it is necessary to invest in the construction of good circumstances so that these voices can not only appear, but, as they intertwine, allow new orders of meaning. One way to promote reflecting processes is through the use of reflecting teams, in which professionals join the therapeutic system, under certain

Contributions of Social Constructionism to Group Work

conditions, to offer reflections and contribute to new paths in the therapeutic conversation (Andersen, 1991). As a proposal to use reflecting teams in group therapy, Chen and Noosbond (1999) described a set of guidelines on how and when to use them. The authors present productive methods of using language to promote reflection and practical procedures for the use of reflecting teams. They consider the use of reflecting teams to be especially useful at times when the group process seems stagnant. For example, in situations of high tension between group members, when a productive dialogue is not possible, the coordinator may invite the reflecting team to participate in the conversational process. Through the participation of reflecting teams, it is possible to stimulate the analysis of the group process and to help the group in its conversational dilemmas.

THE ANALYSIS OF THE IDENTITY IMPLICATION OF THE GROUP PROCESS An important contribution of social constructionist ideas refers to the problematization of the essentialist and individualist tradition of comprehension of the self, placing personality and its redefinition as a relational enterprise (Gergen, 2009). Thus, understanding how people relationally produce certain selfdescriptions is an important action for the group facilitator, who can direct his/her attention to which personal descriptions are legitimized or questioned in the group interactions. Next, we offer some examples of how this happens. An analysis of how actions developed in the group context itself contribute to the construction of certain identity narratives for the participants was developed by Peretti et  al. (2013). Analyzing transcripts of group therapy sessions conducted at a public mental health outpatient clinic, the


authors observed that, typically, conversations in which the participants related their emotional difficulties to social issues were poorly explored in the group context. For instance, the moments in which the group participants argue that their problems (e.g., anxiety) were related to social issues (such as living in violent environments, or having a lack of opportunities due to few public policies towards poverty or education) were not explored in depth. On the contrary, the therapist would privilege investigating the subjective or emotional causes of the problem. This kind of discursive choice of the therapist would result in conversations among the group participants in which they reflect on their own responsibility in the maintenance of the problem. Based on a critical view of the individualist tradition, the authors discussed the effects that this type of action generates for the participants (who are described as people who do not have enough resources to face the adversities of life) and for the group itself (which cannot be constructed as a context for reflection and construction of citizenship). In addition, we consider the contributions of positioning theory, which allows the self to be comprehended as a discursive and relational achievement (Harré and van Langenhove, 1999), as particularly useful for working with groups. Positioning theory has been used in various contexts as a resource for understanding the dynamics of social episodes. The position concept guarantees the comprehension of the dynamism involved in the construction of the self, from the ways in which individuals relationally assume and attribute to others certain positions in the use of language. In working with groups, understanding how certain positions are negotiated and legitimized in group relationships constitutes a useful resource for analyzing how certain moral orders are sustained among the participants, supporting certain conversational realities. In the last example, for instance, the storyline that emotional difficulties are individual (e.g., located inside



people), allows the therapist to describe the participants ‘as people who have difficulties managing stressful situations’ (position). Thus, helping them to understand their emotions was considered by the group therapist as the only possible therapeutic action. However, Peretti et al. (2013) point out other conversational possibilities. What if these same participants were positioned as activists, fighting for having their rights as citizens respected? The work of Rapizo (2015) exemplifies how the intentional exploration of different positionings in the configuration of group processes can function as a therapeutic resource. Recognizing that experiences with divorce are still experienced in isolation in our society, the author assembled mothers, fathers, and children from different families involved in divorce proceedings in the same group, in order to encourage the exchange of experiences. According to the author, unlike the homogeneity proposed in the literature, the exploration of the different discursive positions in the group, that is, those differently occupied by mothers, fathers, and children, potentialized the exchanges between the participants, allowing new experiences in relation to divorce to be explored through group conversations.

AN ETHICAL-POLITICAL CONCERN ABOUT GROUP WORK This emphasis of constructionist group work refers to the consideration of the ethical and political effects stemming from the objectives and ways of organizing the group. It surpasses the prescriptive ethics of the codes of professional conduct, consisting of a form of relational responsibility in action (McNamee and Gergen, 1999) that goes beyond the care of the person, potentializing the collective action and the transformation in the ways of understanding the self and social life.

This ethical-political concern can be noted in three different ways. First, the negotiation of goals and the way of organizing the group can be re-described. Typically, from a biomedical perspective, professionals assume a specialist position and are responsible for the group’s composition, the definition of its objective, and the group’s functioning structure. However, from a constructionist perspective, these processes can be negotiated with the group participants, from a collaborative and co-responsible posture. In relation to the short-term support groups developed by Rasera and Japur (2018), the authors discuss how the group composition process can be negotiated with the participants. Accordingly, in a stage of preparation for the group, with individual interviews between therapist and patient, the participants are described to each other regarding demographic characteristics and general motivation for therapy, allowing participants to imagine the group composition but avoiding confidentiality issues. At the same time, the therapist investigates the meanings produced regarding possibilities and challenges imagined for the group interaction. Usually, these conversations do not conclude in favor of one participant over another but allow the recognition of possible interactional difficulties and an opportunity to address them. These difficulties may be due to different ways of life and, consequently, motivations for therapy. Talking about them in preparatory interviews assists clients in the process of openness and curiosity about each other, facilitating group conversations. This type of practice, on one hand, promotes the engagement of all the participants with the group work potentializing its effects, while on the other, questions traditional prescriptions about the group composition and seeks to democratize decisions that are traditionally performed exclusively by the therapist. Second, the encouragement of participants’ self-organization is another feature valued in social constructionist perspectives to group work. Therapeutic group work related to the

Contributions of Social Constructionism to Group Work

constructionist discourse often contributes to the participants developing actions beyond the internal composition of the group. These range from the continuity and expansion of mutual care among the participants beyond the group session to the development of social movements and organizations that aim for the transformation of society. It is a questioning of an alleged distinction within/outside the group and the affirmation of the multiplicity of the self and of the political character of the group work. The examples presented next can illustrate this practical dimension. Working with a group of people diagnosed with mental disorders Villares (2015) and Villares and Pimentel (2015) describe how the ABRE (Brazilian Association of Relatives, Friends and Schizophrenia Patients) and the ‘Speech Community’ group were created. From group meetings with users of a mental health service, their family members, and interested professionals, the authors narrate how the participants founded a nongovernmental organization and developed mutually supportive actions and projects to combat stigma in mental health. These group meetings were developed supporting the collaborative posture of dialogue as a motor for collective action that contemplates the different knowledges of those involved. In the activities promoted by that Association, those with mental disorders assume the position of protagonist, developing public education projects and occupying new social places, such as lecturers or consultants. This is a way to comprehend that the meanings about the illness are produced socially and relate to the forms of organization of the social life that go beyond an individual dimension. These two projects illustrate that the opportunity for participants to organize themselves collectively promotes new ways of life. Thus, in addition to individual change, the possibilities created by the project contribute to changing social discourses about what living with a mental illness can mean. Third, to assume an ethical and political concern in group work means to resist


pathological and stigmatizing discourses when working with people. From a deconstructive position about the self, the group, and the world, many group proposals offer practical ways of producing alternative discourses about life. The creation of these alternatives can emphasize both the internal context of the group, by seeking a change in participants’ self-narratives, and the external context of the group, by expanding social discourses about certain experiences. Significant to this effort, Hedtke’s (2012) work consisted of a short-term support group proposal for bereaved people from a social constructionist approach to mourning. Through six group encounters of conversations inspired by narrative practices, she promoted ‘remembering conversations’ that encouraged bereaved people to remain relationally connected to their dead loved ones through stories and memories. Through this type of group work, she questions the traditional view, often pathological and guilty, that people need to say goodbye and emotionally detach themselves from deceased people, sustaining a story of loss in which the deceased no longer participate in their lives. Seeking the resignification of the discourses about auditory hallucinations, the Hearing Voices Movement also provides an illustration of group work related to social constructionism that led to a critical questioning of pathological and stigmatizing discourses (Corradi-Webster et al., 2017). The Hearing Voices groups promoted by the Movement are groups that support the people who hear voices, their family members, and professionals who seek to share experiences and construct new meanings and ways of dealing with the voices. By conceiving the issue of hearing voices as a social difference, this kind of group aims to resist a negative and psychopathological view that promotes only the silencing of the voices (Romme and Escher, 1989). Beyond the work developed inside the group to promote support to voice hearers and their families, it



is important to consider the group meetings as part of a social movement, committed to social change, that is, committed to the transformation of the way society views and treats people who hear voices. The negotiation of the objectives and the way of organizing the group, the encouragement of the participants’ self-organization and the critical effort in relation to pathological and stigmatizing discourses are only some forms of the manifestation of a political and ethical concern in group therapy. In the field of constructionist studies and practices, the ethical debate becomes the central aspect in seeking the replacement of a description of a reality supposedly independent of the socially shared vocabularies by collective efforts for the relational creation of preferable social realities. As presented, group work offers various possibilities for the accomplishment of this enterprise.

constructionist discourse, bring specificities that re-dimension their practice. As you can see from the various studies and illustrations presented, group therapy guided by social constructionist discourses is a field with great development possibilities. Thus, future studies in this field can contribute to the emergence of alternative ways of conceiving group process, proposing creative and liberating ideas on issues such as composition, development, and group facilitation. As we see, there is much room to explore the richness of adopting a relational sensibility in the development of group work.

Note 1  An exception to this form of approach between social constructionism and group therapy is Social Therapy as it presents a specific proposal, strongly based on group work, which re-dimensions its understanding and its practice, as can be understood through the chapter on this theme in this Handbook.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS The exploration of the contributions of social constructionism to group work in the therapeutic context from these four points demonstrates that there is no single model and therefore avoids the assertion of a true form of constructionist group work. In this sense, these points presented in this chapter can be understood as discursive options that, like other group theories, can be used in the effort to keep the conversation going on. The focus on conversation sustains the idea that these resources must not be used in a technicist way or without a cultural sensibility. These points do not cover the totality of contributions of social constructionism to group work; however, they illustrate the invitation for social constructionist therapists to consider the possibilities of group work, and the potentialities of the constructionist discourse for group therapists. They show how group therapies, while sharing characteristics with other therapy formats influenced by the

REFERENCES Andersen, T. (Ed.). (1991). The reflecting team: Dialogues and dialogues about the dialogues. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. Anderson, H. (1997). Conversation, language and possibilities: A postmodern approach to therapy. New York, NY: Basic Books. Anderson, H. (2012). Collaborative practice: A way of being ‘with’. Psychotherapy and Politics International, 10(2), 130–145. Becvar, R. J., Canfield, B. S., & Becvar, D. S. (1997). Group work: Cybernetic, constructivist and social constructionist perspectives. Denver, CO: Love. Chen, M., & Noosbond, J. P. (1999). ‘Un-sticking’ the stuck group system: Process illumination and the reflecting team. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 18(3), 23–36. Corradi-Webster, C. M., Santos, M. V., & Leão, E. A. (2017). Construindo novos sentidos e posicionamentos em saúde mental: Grupo de ouvidores de vozes [Creating new meanings

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and positionings in mental health: Hearing voices groups]. In E. F. Rasera, K. Taverniers & O. Vilches-Álvarez (Eds.), Construccionismo Social en acción: Prácticas inspiradoras en diferentes contextos [Social construction in action: Inspiring practices in different contexts] (pp. 167–193). Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute. Cox, J., Bañez, L., Hawley, L. D., & Mostade, J. (2003). Use of the reflecting team process in the training of group workers. Journal for Specialists in Group Work, 28(2), 89–105. DeLucia-Waack, J. L., Kalodner, C. R., & Riva, M. (2013). Handbook of group counseling and psychotherapy. London: Sage. Gergen, K. J. (1994). Reality and relationships: Soundings in social construction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gergen, K. J. (2009). Relational being: Beyond self and community. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. Gergen, K. J., & Ness, O. (2016). Therapeutic practice as social construction. In M. O’Reilly & J. N. Lester (Eds.), The Palgrave handbook of adult mental health (pp. 502–519). London: Palgrave Macmillan. Grandesso, M. (2015). Integrative community therapy: Constructing possibilities in community contexts through dialogue and shared knowledge. AI Practitioner, 17, 33–37. Guanaes, C. (2006). A construção da mudança em terapia de grupo: Um enfoque construcionista social [The construction of change in group therapy: A social constructionist approach]. São Paulo, Brazil: Vetor. Guanaes-Lorenzi, C. (2017). Recursos para facilitação de grupos em um enfoque construcionista social [Resources for group facilitation in a social constructionist approach]. In M. A. Grandesso (Ed.), Práticas colaborativas e dialógicas em distintos contextos e populações: Um diálogo entre teoria e práticas [Collaborative and dialogical practices in different contexts and populations: A dialogue between theory and practices] (pp. 399–418). Porto Alegre, Brazil: CRV. Harré, R., & van Langenhove, L. (1999). (Eds). Positioning theory: Moral contexts of intentional action. Oxford, UK: WileyBlackwell. Hedtke, C. L. (2012). Folding memories in conversation: Remembering practices in


bereavement groups. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute. Hill, N. L. (2011). Externalizing conversations: Single session narrative group interventions in a partial hospital setting. Clinical Social Work Journal, 39(3), 279–287. Holzman, L., & Mendez, R. (2003). Psychological investigations: A clinician’s guide to social therapy. New York, NY: Brunner-Routledge. Jiménez, A. P. S., & Ruíz, P. T. (2015). Análisis de la psicoterapia grupal construccionista en procesos de separación de pareja [Analysis of postmodern and constructionist group psychotherapy]. Psicología Iberoamericana, 23(2), 77–85. Kvarme, L. G., Aabø, L. S., & Sæteren, B. (2013). ‘I feel I mean something to someone’: Solution-focused brief therapy support groups for bullied schoolchildren. Educational Psychology in Practice, 29(4), 416–431. Laube, J. J. (1998). Therapist role in narrative group psychotherapy. Group, 22(4), 227–243. Lewin, K. (1997). Resolving social conflicts & field theory in social science. Washington, DC: American Psychological Association. Martin-Baró, I. (1989). Sistema, grupo y poder [System, group, power]. San Salvador, El Salvador: UCA. McCune, S. A. (2010). Privileging voices of parents influenced by their adolescent’s relationship with substances: Interpretive description of generative dialogue in a collaborative group process. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. Tilburg University, Tilburg, the Netherlands. McNamee, S., & Gergen, K. J. (1999). Relational responsibility: Resources for sustainable dialogue. London: Sage. Monk, G., Drewery, W., & Winslade, J. (2005). Using narrative ideas in group work: A new perspective. Counseling and Human Development, 38(1), 1–14. Peretti, A. G., Martins, P. P. S., & GuanaesLorenzi, C. (2013). The management of social problems talk in a support group. Psicologia & Sociedade, 25(spe), 101–110. Quintas, C. S. (2013). Ohana and the creation of a therapeutic community. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute.



Rapizo, R. (2015). Group work with people from divorced families: Opening space for dialogue and conversation. In E. Rasera (Ed.), Social constructionist perspectives on group work (pp. 33–42). Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute. Rasera, E. F., & Japur, M. (2018). Grupo como construção social [Group as social construction] (2nd edition). São Paulo, Brazil: Noos. Romme, M. A., & Escher, A. D. (1989). Hearing voices. Schizophrenia Bulletin, 15, 209–216. Sharry, J. (2001). Solution-focused groupwork. London: Sage. Shotter, J. (2008). Conversational realities revisited: Life, language, body and world. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute.

Shotter, J. (2010). Social construction on the edge: With-ness thinking and embodiment. Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute. Villares, C. C. (2015). ‘Comunidade de fala’ – Contando histórias de superação nos transtornos mentais [‘Community of speech’ – telling stories of recovery in mental disorders]. Nova Perspectiva Sistêmica, 53, 120–124. Villares, C. C., & Pimentel, F. A. (2015). Collaborative processes can create social change in schizophrenia. In E. Rasera (Ed.), Social constructionist perspectives on group work (pp. 91–100). Chagrin Falls, OH: Taos Institute.

17 Constructing Social Therapeutics Lois Holzman

Social therapeutics is a 40+-year-old methodology for reinitiating the development of persons and communities through activating their capacity to play, perform, philosophize, and, in that process, create new ways to be, see, and relate. It is also social activism that takes the activity of ongoing social-emotional-cultural-intellectual development to be necessary for world-changing. In other words, to paraphrase Marx (1974), the changing of the world and of ourselves is one and the same task. Social therapeutics originated in social therapy, the psychotherapy developed in the 1970s by Fred Newman (Holzman and Mendez, 2003). In subsequent decades, social therapy practices expanded from New York City (NYC) across the United States, and was taken out of the therapy office, ­becoming  – by the 21st century – the transdisciplinary practice of relating to people of all ages and life circumstances as social performers and creators of their lives. Social therapeutics continues to be practiced and advanced at

the East Side Institute (Institute) headquartered in NYC, and worldwide by hundreds of scholars and activists; psychologists, counselors, social workers, and therapists; educators and youth workers; doctors and nurses; social justice artists and advocates and community organizers. This chapter shares highlights from the decades-long process of broadening and transforming the methodology from a nondiagnostic therapy to a postmodernized socio-cultural psychology of development to a new approach to social-cultural change known as performance activism. There was no plan to this process. It was not rational or systematic. Rather, the process emerged from what we saw happening, both on the ground in our own activities and in the broader culture. It derived from the activity of building organizations that challenged the way established institutions do things and in organizing people to build with us and create institutions and activities that humanize rather than harm.



Social therapeutics is greatly influenced by Karl Marx, Lev Vygotsky, and Ludwig Wittgenstein, all of whom had radically social understandings of human life and activity. To them, how we feel, see, understand, speak, and relate are not merely social in origin but social when enacted, or in our preferred language, performed. Connections between social constructionism and social therapeutics abound: the shared perspective that cognition, emotion, values – indeed, all aspects of human life – are socially constructed through the relational processes people create; the joint concern with meaning and how it is constructed: generating and promoting collaborative and appreciative practices; and honoring the human capacity to play and perform and glimpsing their vast potential to create new possibilities. In addition to these family resemblances, social constructionism and social therapeutics have a shared history. From the 1990s on, Taos Institute founders and East Side Institute founders have partnered in several joint ventures, including co-producing a conference and conducting workshops and conference presentations (Gergen and Gergen, 2012). Social therapeutics is immeasurably richer from these connections.

A THUMBNAIL SKETCH OF SOCIAL THERAPY Originating as part of the social-cultural change movements of the 1960–70s, social therapy was similar to other new psychologies of the time: it tied the ‘personal’ to the political; it engaged the authoritarianism, sexism, racism, classism and homophobia of traditional psychotherapy; and its reason for being was that living under capitalism makes people emotionally sick, while the hope was that therapy could be a tool in the service of progressive politics. The distinguishing feature of social therapy was its engagement of the philosophical

underpinnings of psychology and psychotherapy. It rejected explanation, interpretation, the assumption of self-contained individuals, the notion of an inner self that therapists and clients need to delve into, and other dualistic foundations of traditional psychology, underpinnings that are familiar territory for social constructionist scholars and practitioners. The primary environment for social therapy was and remains the group. Groups vary in size, with 10–20 people being optimal. Groups are heterogeneous, with people of varying ages, ethnicities, sexual orientations, professions, backgrounds and life styles, and ‘presenting problems’. (Some social therapists also run family, teen, and children’s groups.) Most social therapists run their groups for 90 minutes weekly. Groups are ongoing, with new people joining and others leaving at will. Unlike most group therapies where the group serves as a context for the therapist to help individuals with their emotional problems, in social therapy the group – not its individual members – is the therapeutic unit. People come into social therapy, as they do most therapies, wanting help. They want to know ‘what’s wrong with them’, how to fix it, and to feel better. The social therapist will tell them that social therapy is not designed to help them with their individual problems or to make them feel better. It is, rather, designed to help them develop, that is, to generate qualitative transformation, to create new emotional growth through participating with their group members in building something together – namely, their group. This ongoing process is effective in deconstructing the deep-rooted senses of self and identity and reconstructing the concept of social relationship. The great thing about individual therapy is that you know you’re the most special person in the room. In group, it’s not about being the most special person in the room. It’s about what you can give to the group. That means you have to think about whether or not special is something that helps you emotionally in therapy or in your life. (East Side Institute, 2010)

Constructing Social Therapeutics

THE DEVELOPMENT COMMUNITY – ANOTHER THUMBNAIL SKETCH Throughout social therapy’s first few decades, Fred Newman would often say words to this effect: You can’t understand social therapy – or its effectiveness in helping people in emotional distress – separate from the community which builds it and which it builds. Newman was the creator of social therapy and the architect of its community’s many projects from the 1970s until he passed away in 2011. He was also my intellectual mentor and partner in understanding and teaching social therapy, articulating its conceptions and practice in terms relevant to a variety of political, philosophical, and psychological traditions, and bringing its methodology, social therapeutics, well beyond the therapy room. The type of community Newman was referring to, which we are building to this day, is fluid and always emergent. It is not defined by location, membership, or social identity. In the 1990s we began to call it a ‘development community’ – that is, a community that supports the building and development of community and, thereby, the people who participate in it (Newman and Holzman, 1996). Furthermore, the activities and goals of such a community are generated simultaneously (as tools-andresults, Newman and Holzman, 1993). The realization that we were building a development community came many years after its beginning. A working-class New Yorker and Korean War veteran who went on to receive a PhD in Philosophy of Science and Foundations of Mathematics, Newman was radicalized during the social upheavals of the 1960s, like millions of others. He resonated with how movements were challenging the Western glorification of individual self-interest and with grassroots communal experiments to transform daily life. He felt the need to confront America’s failure to deal with its legacy of slavery and racism, as the African-American remained poor and shut out of America’s prosperity.


Newman taught philosophy at US colleges and universities for a few years and then, skeptical that social change would come from the university campus, he left academia with some student followers. They set up community organizing collectives in working-class neighborhoods of NYC and became involved in welfare rights organizing. During the 1970s, their work took two directions: organizing in the poorest, mostly African-American, communities to activate and empower people politically; and engaging the subjectivity of community organizing and the mass psychology of contemporary capitalism.

ENGAGING MASS PSYCHOLOGY AND TACTICS TO TRANSFORM IT It was during this time that I met Newman and his fellow activists. I had a post-doc at Rockefeller University, working in cultural psychologist Michael Cole’s Laboratory of Comparative Human Cognition. Our work there confronted the invalidity of the experimental method of cognitive psychology (Cole et al., 1979). If psychological theory and findings are generated in the laboratory (or under experimental conditions designed to replicate the laboratory), how can they be generalized to everyday life? Did they have any ‘ecological validity’, and if not, could we develop a methodology for a psychology that was ecologically valid? Newman and I came from different places: I from developmental psychology and linguistics research and Newman from philosophy of science and community organizing. We shared the same dreams for a world without poverty, and while different, our training and life experiences had convinced us both that psychology as a discipline and as popular culture desperately needed to be transformed. With its individualistic focus, claim to objectivity, emulation and imitation of the natural sciences, and dualistically divided worldview, mainstream psychology was



an impediment to social development and social activism. My own work in language development and the Cole Lab research were rejections, in practice, of the biases of social science conceptions and method. Newman’s social therapy was a rejection, in practice, of mainstream psychology and psychotherapy. My activism up to this point consisted of anti-war marches, impotent fury at my own parents’ racist behavior, and never voting for a Democrat or Republican. But empowering poor people politically and engaging the mass psychology of capitalist culture felt ‘right’ to me somehow, even though I had no knowledge of or prior thinking on either. I began to participate in the group’s activities and soon was founding, with Newman and a handful of others, the New York Institute for Social Therapy and Research (NYISTR), a precursor to the current East Side Institute. The NYISTR, opened in 1978 on Manhattan’s Upper West Side, lived up to its name. Newman and five to seven therapists he trained had busy social therapy practices. My work focused on research, education, and training. Therapy was provided on a sliding scale and during our first years we told incoming clients, ‘Our aim is to end poverty and we’re asking you to pay as much as you can’. We developed a two-year therapist training program and graduated 8–12 lay people and credentialed social workers yearly as social therapists. We held classes and workshops, and sponsored guest speakers and forums on topics in psychology, culture, and education with leading NYC-based progressives. We published a journal, Practice, in the 1980s. From 1977 to 1987 we held an annual ‘Marxism and Mental Illness’ day-long event with audiences in the hundreds and guest speakers from the psychological and cultural left of the time. We ran a K-12 school, the Barbara Taylor School, a merger of Vygotskian learningand-development theory and the progressive traditions of African-American community schools from 1985 to 1997 (Holzman, 1997). We launched a national organization,

the Association of Progressive Helping Professionals. In NYC, members went door to door asking people for financial support to bring social therapy to poor communities. Inviting strangers to support our activities was and remains a mainstay of the Institute and the development community. From the beginning, the Institute and the organization of its community have remained independently funded and built by hundreds of volunteers. In the early 1980s we opened social therapy centers (‘community clinics’) in Harlem, the South Bronx, Lower Manhattan, and Brooklyn. For four years, we worked to impact the health and mental health of NYC’s poorest. We did free blood pressure screening on the streets and invited people to build ‘Healthy Clubs’ with us. We went door to door in public housing to introduce our Stop Abusive Behavior Syndrome program with a free workshop. Our therapists attracted a small number of people who stuck with social therapy. However, we never were able to achieve a critical mass to break through the stigma of therapy in poor and working-class communities, especially communities of color. Our community clinics weren’t organizing enough people to build with us nor were they attracting enough people to social therapy to have a significant impact on the communities. This organizing effort was a wonderful failure. While we failed to build sustainable centers for social therapy in poor communities, we made our mark as unique health and mental health professionals – a group of people of mixed ethnicities and genders who spoke with people on the streets and at their doors, and delivered an invitation and a very radical message. We also experienced first-hand how successfully the psychological establishment socialized people to the idea that emotional distress is an illness, and what the shame and stigma that this produced among poor people looked like. Perhaps a better tactic would be to try to influence the social workers and other mental health professionals who

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worked in traditional institutions in these neighborhoods. In 1988 we closed the community clinics and began developing ways to attract more people to formally train as social therapists. In addition to our therapist training program, we designed weekend training workshops, a scholarship program, and supervision. Dozens of social workers, addictions counselors, and others trained with us and added social therapeutic elements to their practices in mainstream institutions.

PUTTING SOCIAL THERAPY ON THE SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONIST, POSTMODERN AND CULTURALHISTORICAL MAP In the midst of all of this activity, Newman and I looked at social therapy and the other organizing work of the community through philosophical, cultural, and political lenses. During this early period, we primarily studied our activities through the lives and works of Marx, Wittgenstein, and Vygotsky and their political, philosophical and psychological followers, critical pedagogists, and Black psychologists. We presented our work at psychology and education conferences and published in academic journals, but our engagement with academia began in earnest in the early 1990s with the invitation from the editors of a Routledge series to write a book on Vygotsky. This offer gave us the opportunity to articulate (and in that process, discover) the contributions we believed Vygotsky and Wittgenstein were making to a new psychology. It also helped us realize our responsibility to engage with and build relationships with researchers and scholars if we were serious about transforming the mass psychology of US culture. With Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary scientist, Newman and I presented ‘our Vygotsky’, cautioning readers to approach the book not as about Vygotsky, but rather as what we took to be his revolutionariness and discoveries from


the vantage point of ‘who we are and what we have done’ (Newman and Holzman, 1993, p. x). We saw in Vygotsky’s writings that human individual, cultural, and species development is always social, produced by and producing activity which is qualitative and transformative (unlike behavioral change, which is particularistic and cumulative). We took Vygotsky to be a forerunner to constructionism and social therapeutics’ psychology of becoming, in which people experience the social nature of their existence and the power of collective creative activity in the process of making new tools for growth (Holzman, 2009). We brought Wittgenstein into our exploration of Vygotsky’s work to see what they might teach us if the two of them were synthesized. Their critiques of dualism, especially inner–outer and objective–subjective, despite stemming from different concerns and in different contexts, were remarkably similar and powerful. They both spoke of language as activity and offered alternatives to the correspondence theory of ­language – Wittgenstein’s language games and Vygotsky’s language completing, not expressing, thinking – that helped us see the dialectic of thinking–speaking and the development of meaning making. Wittgenstein wrote of games and Vygotsky of play. We put their insights together and saw how human development happens and how it is stifled. Their radical ways of exposing the limitations of modernism, in both its Western science and Marxist manifestations, were all the more remarkable for them being modernists (Newman and Holzman, 1993, 1996)! In subsequent writings, Newman and I advanced our synthesis, showing it in our community-building and social therapeutic practices, and sharing our understandings with varied psychological, therapeutic, educational, and political audiences (e.g., social constructionists, cultural historical researchers, and critical psychologists). Since Newman’s passing (2011), my colleagues and I have continued to bring our Vygotsky, our Wittgenstein, and the methodology they



contributed to creating into other fields, including second language learning, play research, healthcare, higher education, and organizational development.

Method as Tool-and-Result Vygotsky believed that the subject of psychology should be what is unique to human individual, cultural, and species development – activity. Human beings do more than respond to stimuli, acquire societally determined and useful skills, and adapt to the determining environment. We engage in qualitative and transformative social-cultural activity; we create (socially construct) culture. We transform both ourselves and the circumstances determining us. Human development is not an individual accomplishment but a socio-­ cultural activity. Science’s objectivist epistemology would not work to study activity, for it denies science itself as a meaning-making activity and treats human beings as natural phenomena. A natural science psychology contains ‘an insoluble methodological contradiction … it is a natural science about unnatural things’ and produces ‘a system of knowledge which is contrary to them’ (Vygotsky, 2004, p. 198). What was needed was a non-dualistic method, a precondition of which was a nondualistic conception of method, one in which ‘the method is simultaneously prerequisite and product, the tool and the result of the study’ (Vygotsky, 1978, p. 65). Rather than method being a tool to be applied, Vygotsky’s method is an activity that generates both tool and result at the same time and as continuous process. Tool and result are elements of a dialectical unity/totality/whole. Newman and I called this tool-and-result methodology (Newman and Holzman, 1993).

Creating Zones of Development Another feature of our methodology is creating zones of proximal development (ZPDs).

The zone of proximal development is typically described as the difference between what a child can do alone and with a more skilled other. But it is much more – and other – than that. It is part of Vygotsky’s argument that learning and development are a dialectical unity in which learning does not follow but ‘leads’ development (Vygotsky, 1978, 1987). He asserted the socialness of the learning-leading-development process and the role of joint activity and collaboration in children’s lives. He understood development (qualitative transformation) as a collective accomplishment – ‘a function of collective behavior, a form of cooperation or cooperative activity,’ and a ‘collective form of working together’ (Vygotsky, 2004, p. 202). In more contemporary social constructionist terms, development grows from responsiveness and relationality. When Newman and I put this together with what we understood to be Vygotsky’s tool-and-result method, we saw the ZPD as collective activity whereby the creating of the ‘zone’ simultaneously produces the learning-and-development of the collective. It is dialectical, tool-and-result activity, simultaneously the creating of the zone (environment) and what is created (learningand-development). This new understanding of a developmental way of working together/development, we believed, should not be confined to childhood, which was Vygotsky’s focus, but had broad implications for reinitiating development across settings and the life span.

Playing and Performing as Meaning-Makers Aided by Wittgenstein, Vygotsky’s unpacking of the young child’s language-learning ZPD is illustrative of the interplay of relationality and responsiveness with the being/ becoming dialectic space in which meaning is constructed and in which social therapeutics works and plays.

Constructing Social Therapeutics

When babies begin to babble, they are speaking before they know how. The speakers around them create conversation with them by accepting and responding to their babble as if they understood it. They relate to them as fellow speakers, feelers, thinkers, and makers of meaning. This is what makes it possible for very young children to do what they are not yet capable of. The babbling baby’s rudimentary speech is a creative imitation of the more developed speakers’ speech. At the same time, the more developed speakers ‘complete’ the baby, and the ‘conversation’ continues. Completion is the partner to imitation in the language-learning ZPD. Completion is a rejection of the common expressionist or pictorial view of language, that is, when we speak, we are expressing ourselves (our thoughts, feelings). Speaking is not the outward expression of thinking; thought ‘is not expressed but completed in the word’ (Vygotsky, 1987, p. 251). The relationship between them is dialectical; each is part of a unified, transformative process that entails thinking–speaking. Newman and I broadened this insight of Vygotsky from the individual to social units. It occurred to us that if speaking is the completing of thinking, if the process is continuously creative in social-cultural space, then the ‘completer’ does not have to be the one who is doing the thinking. Others can complete for us. Indeed, if they didn’t, how would very young children be able to engage in language play, create conversation, and speak before they know language? Creative imitation and completion create the relational and responsive ensemble performance of conversation, it turns out, among people of all ages and cultures. Meaning is social; it emerges in people’s activity. In speaking together, we use the linguistic tools we have available to us, but the meaning we create together is not identical to those tools; rather, the tools help us create the result (the new meaning, jointly created). Our conviction that ‘meaning emerges in activity’ owes something to Wittgenstein in


addition to Vygotsky. While most readers of Wittgenstein take him to locate meaning in use, we take Wittgenstein at his word when he wrote, ‘the speaking of language is part of an activity, or of a form of life’ (Wittgenstein, 1953, p. 11). This is both consistent with and adds to Vygotsky’s focus on the joint activity of creating the language-learning ZPD. Additionally, completion and creative imitation are moves within a kind of language play, a language game, in Wittgenstein’s sense. The last feature of Vygotsky’s psychology I want to share was critical to our engagement with postmodern and cultural historical psychology and to the development of social therapeutics as a new approach to social-cultural change known as performance activism.

Play and Performance When discussing the role of play in early child development, Vygotsky (1978) wrote, ‘In play a child always behaves beyond his average age, above his daily behavior; in play it is as though he were a head taller than himself’ (p. 102). What is it about play that actualizes the ‘head taller’ experience? Might some of these features be present in activities we do not typically identify as play? Are there experiences that actualize the ‘head taller’ experience for people across the life span? While Vygotsky’s understanding of play as essential for development never went beyond early childhood, we were eager to make use of what we believed to be an important discovery of his to support the development of people of all ages. In an essay on the development of personality, Vygotsky (1997) noted that the preschool child ‘can be somebody else just as easily as he can be himself’ (p. 249). Vygotsky attributed this to the child’s lack of recognition that s/he is an ‘I’ and went on to discuss how personality and play transform through later childhood. This astute observation of the young child’s performance ability struck home.



The other grouping of people who are ‘just as easily someone else’ are performers on the stage. In the theatrical sense of the word, performing is a way of taking ‘who we are’ and creating something new through incorporating ‘the other’. With little children, relational activity that embraces the being/becoming dialectic creates a newly emerging speaker; on the stage, it creates a newly emerging character. Influenced by Vygotsky’s search for method and the powerful impact of the theater on people both on and off stage, Newman and I came to see performance as a new ontology, both the process and product of human development. People are performers, not only thinkers and knowers. Performing as someone else (being oneself and other than oneself) is the source of development – for Vygotsky, at the time of life before ‘I’ and its socially constructed fixed identity; for older children and adults throughout the life course. Social therapeutics has evolved, over the decades, into a conscious effort to revitalize this human capacity and to organize and support performance as a new kind of social activism and as a humanizing mass psychology. It may well be, as Descartes believed, that ‘I think, therefore I am’. (This, it seems to me, is the modernist bias of mainstream psychology.) Social therapeutics has a different aphorism: ‘We perform, therefore we become.’

‘COMPLETING’ THE PERFORMANCE TURN Vygotsky was not the only catalyst for our ‘performance turn’. So were hip-hop and theater. They came to us and us to them through our community and political organizing. Just as social therapy emerged as part of a larger, multi-faceted engagement of society with an eye towards transforming it, the journey from social therapy to social therapeutics

to performance as a new form of social activism was inseparable from community and political organizing efforts to recreate the-world-as-it-might-be – more equitable, democratic, cooperative, peaceful, and developmental. During the 1970s, the development community participated in the mass movements of the time: the peace movement, defense of political prisoners, solidarity movements in Central America and Africa. We worked to build independent labor unions and became active in left-of-center electoral politics. As with social therapy, we tried a lot of things, many failed, a few got traction. We did most of our community organizing among people living in poor AfricanAmerican and Latino neighborhoods of NYC. By the end of the 1970s our most successful mass organizing effort was the New York Unemployed and Welfare Council, a union/advocacy group for people on welfare. The Council at its height had approximately 10,000 members. It was the organizing of the Council that first established a base for our development community in the poorest strata of New York City’s African-American and Latino communities, a connection that remains active to this day. The Council did not survive far into the 1980s, but the base it established would become the foundation of the New Alliance Party (NAP), an independent pro-socialist electoral party that had some success in NYC in challenging the Democratic Party’s lock on the Black, Latino, Jewish, and gay communities, and which eventually had active chapters in 28 states. In 1988, NAP ran Dr Lenora Fulani – a developmental psychologist whom I had met at Michael Cole’s Lab and who directed our Harlem social therapy community clinic – for president of the United States. Thanks to an intense national organizing effort, Fulani became the first woman and the first African-American to be on the presidential ballot in all 50 states – and she did it as an independent, an effort that included gathering 1.3 million ballot access signatures

Constructing Social Therapeutics

by volunteer supporters. (The development community remains active in independent politics, currently through efforts to develop a movement of independent voters – over 40% of the US electorate – in partnership with other Americans to reform the US political process.) During the Fulani campaign hundreds of New Yorkers fanned out across the country to lead ballot access and fundraising efforts. Some of them were trained social therapists, many more had been/were members of social therapy groups. As a result, new social therapy practices were established in a dozen cities around the country, some of which – in San Francisco, Boston, Philadelphia and Atlanta – took root and continue to this day. The Council was also the catalyst for the All Stars Project (ASP). Council members repeatedly asked our organizers to do something for their children who had nothing to do but hang out on the streets and get in trouble. We went to the young people and asked them what they wanted to do. They said they wanted to put on talent shows. This was the period of hip-hop’s emergence, and youth in the Black and Latino communities were eager to showcase their break dancing, rapping, and other performance skills. Our organizers and the young people (and some of the parents) worked together to produce a talent show, then another, and another. In addition to performing, the young people were soon producing, ushering, running the tech, and organizing their friends and neighbors to attend. At each talent show, participants were told from the stage, ‘If you can perform on stage, you can perform in life.’ The ASP has grown into a national leader in afterschool development, reaching 20,000 young people in New York City, Newark, Jersey City, Chicago, the San Francisco Bay Area, and Dallas. Groups inspired by the All Stars model are active in Atlanta, London, Tokyo, and Uganda. In addition to the Talent Show Network, the ASP currently sponsors other afterschool development programs for youth – the Development School for Youth,


Youth Onstage! and Operation Conversation: Cops & Kids – as well as a free universitylike school, UX, attended primarily by working-class adults. The methodology informing ASP is performatory in the social therapeutic sense – the focus on development, the use of group building to create an environment of cooperation, the developmental value of play and performance to create new possibilities, meanings, versions of oneself, and relationships. Additionally, as an independently funded non-profit organization, the ASP was built by volunteers and is financially supported by individuals, many of whom are also involved as volunteers. Bringing inner city youth together with business and cultural leaders, academics, police officers, and other caring adults creates dozens of overlapping ZPDs where everyone grows. This methodology shifts the focus from cognition (for example, people who are different from each other need to be taught to be tolerant; remediation is needed to develop skills in people who lack them) to the collaborative activity of creating something new together, whether it be a new relationship between rich and poor, understanding mental illness as socially constructed, how to listen to others, or what to do when you want to fight. The entry of theater into our community also played a catalytic role in broadening social therapy into social therapeutics. The Castillo Theatre (originally a part of the Institute) was founded in 1983 by a handful of artists active in our organizing projects who wanted to contribute more by starting a cultural center. Over the years Castillo has produced hundreds of socially and philosophically engaged plays, some of them inspired by people and activities of the ASP and the Institute. In 1986, Castillo’s founders invited Newman to direct a play. He was 51 years old at the time and went on to direct dozens more. He also became a prolific playwright, writing 40+ plays (including ‘therapy plays’ featuring Vygotsky, Wittgenstein, Freud, Marx, and postmodernists and modernists).



Castillo also created an improv troupe that, under various names, continues to this day. Newman began to see social therapy groups in a new way – as pieces of theater. The ensemble building necessary to put on a show shares features with the social therapy group building its group. The social construction of meaning emerges in activity in both social therapy group talk and in creating a production, where script, characters, set, lighting, and costumes come together to create the play. Our experience creating theater and bringing performance to inner city youth corroborated Newman’s and my hunch that Vygotsky’s insights about young children were applicable throughout the life span. The potential to perform ‘as if a head taller’ is always there. On talent show stages and theatrical stages, young people and adults were performing other than who they were (different versions of themselves and made-up characters) – and developing in the process.

THE PSYCHOTHERAPY ESTABLISHMENT CLOSES RANKS AND SOCIAL THERAPY OPENS ITS ARMS The following bits of history were not causally connected. New York was one of the last US states to require a license to practice therapy. This allowed us and other alternative practices to not only see clients but to also provide training to those who showed promise, whether they were credentialed or not. We trained dozens of lay people from the mid-1970s through the 1990s, many of whom remain in practice to this day, and the development and expansion of social therapy across the United States in the late 1980s to early 90s depended on it. But this changed with the turn of the century. In the name of professionalization, the therapy world became smaller overnight. Between 2003 and 2005, legislation requiring the licensing of professionals who

practice psychotherapy or counseling went into effect in New York State. What soon followed was further legislation restricting where practitioners who were eligible for licensing could accumulate supervised practice hours. The result was a narrowing of available psychotherapeutic and counseling approaches and limitations on the kinds of institutions practitioners could be exposed to during their training and early years of practice. This, in turn, resulted in reducing the number of treatment options – as well as understandings of emotional distress – available to the public. Credentialed professionals available to people seeking help in clinics, schools, and community centers were restricted in what type of therapy they could offer, and aspiring practitioners fresh out of school were exposed to fewer and fewer approaches. This legislation severely limited who the Institute could train to people who were already credentialed and eligible for licensing as social workers, mental health counselors, or psychologists. Further, we were not willing to change how we worked so as to meet the requirements (specific diagnoses and types of session records) for being a placement for professionals to get ‘their hours’. Consequently, the numbers in our two-year Therapist Training Program dwindled to one to two every few years. At the same time, awareness of and interest in social therapeutic methodology, our conceptualization of play and performance, ‘our Vygotsky’ and our Wittgenstein– Vygotsky synthesis was growing. It was becoming known internationally and within various scholarly traditions as a method of social engagement and personal transformation. Face-to-face and Internet connections with people developing or searching for new ways to build community, heal trauma, engage the devastation of poverty, and transform the learning model blossomed. Also growing was what we would come to call the performance movement. We discovered that an increasing number of people worldwide

Constructing Social Therapeutics

were experimenting with the creative arts and performance approaches to psychological and social issues. Among scholars, colleagues of ours were also coming to appreciate the potential of performance, including Ken and Mary Gergen and Sheila McNamee. Through a series of conversations in 2000 and 2001, we and the Taos Institute decided to host a conference on performance together. We called it Performing the World (PTW). One hundred and twenty people from 14 countries came together in October 2001, for this three-day experiment in performing a conference. Since then, the Institute has hosted nine more PTWs (since 2008, in partnership with the All Stars Project), each with 300–500 participants from dozens of countries (Friedman and Holzman, 2014). The international interest in social therapeutics, as well as the 2001 PTW, showed us that there was a critical mass that wanted us to find a way for them to train with us. We responded, and two years later in 2003, the Institute launched The International Class, a 10-month course of study in social therapeutics. The International Class combines virtual study and conversation with three immersive residencies at the Institute. In 2019 we graduated our 15th cohort. As of this date, there are 143 alumni from 30 countries. They come from psychology, education, social work, theater, dance, music, creative arts therapies, counseling, medicine, humanitarian aid, and community organizing. Some have established positions at NGOs or in universities. Others are grassroots community workers. Some have explored the use of play, improvisation, performance, theater, or other creative arts and storytelling in their work. Some are pioneers and innovators. Others are radicals in spirit and impassioned about bringing about profound social change. All are committed to empowering individuals and communities, whether they are involved with refugees, marginalized communities, homeless and poor youth, prisoners, or therapeutic, rehabilitation, and educational institutions.


With The International Class, social therapeutics has become global. While all of our graduates have taken something of social therapeutic methodology into their lives and work, some of them, inspired by our development community, are building performatory social therapeutic organizations and development communities. These include five graduates living on the Mexico–US border in El Paso and Ciudad Juarez. Their organization, Performing Communities de Esperanza, is a binational, bilingual, and multicultural community coalition that promotes human development through play, performance, and social therapeutics. Another example is two graduates, one from Greece and the other from Denmark, who have brought PTW to Europe with their bi-annual Play, Perform, Learn, Grow conferences. Their founding conference in 2018 had a particular focus on the challenge Europe faces as millions of refugees and immigrants arrive at its shores. About 10 years into Performing the World and The International Class, after experiencing their steady growth, we realized that social therapeutics was becoming a methodology for a new kind of social activism – performance activism – which is neither resistance nor reaction; not a negation of what is, but a positive becoming of what can be. Since the first social therapy group was held over four decades ago, social therapy has changed and yet remains the same. It is still practiced as a therapy and at the same time it has broadened into social therapeutics and performance activism. Through all of its changes occurring in the midst of the world’s changes, its reason for being – living under capitalism makes people emotionally sick – and its goal – engaging the subjectivity of community organizing and the mass psychology of contemporary capitalism – have gotten stronger. The best future I can imagine is one in which social constructionism and social therapeutics are the ways of the world, and thus, no longer need to be named.



REFERENCES Cole, M., Hood, L., & McDermott, R. (1979). Ecological niche-picking: Ecological invalidity as an axiom of experimental cognitive psychology. New York, NY: Rockefeller University. Retrieved from People/MCole/Ecological-Niche.PDF East Side Institute. (2010). How do you feel being in a therapy that’s not about you? Retrieved from watch?v=czN33b2CA7E&t=12s Friedman, D., & Holzman, L. (2014). Performing the World: The performance turn in social activism. In A. Citron, S. AronsonLehavi, & D. Zerbib (Eds.), Performance studies in motion: International perspectives and practices in the twenty-first century (pp. 276–287). New York, NY: Bloomsbury. Gergen, M., & Gergen, K. J. (2012). Playing with purpose: Adventures in performative social science. New York, NY: Routledge. Holzman, L. (1997). Schools for growth: Radical alternatives to current educational models. Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum. Holzman, L. (2009). Vygotsky at work and play. New York, NY: Routledge. Holzman, L., & Mendez, R. (2003). Psychological investigations: A clinician’s guide to social therapy. New York, NY: Routledge.

Marx, K. (1974). Theses on Feuerbach. In K. Marx & F. Engels, The German ideology (pp. 121–123). New York, NY: International. Newman, F., & Holzman, L. (1993). Lev Vygotsky: Revolutionary scientist. London, UK: Routledge. Newman, F., & Holzman, L. (1996). Unscientific psychology: A cultural-performatory approach to understanding human life. iUniverse. (Originally published, 1996, Westport, CT: Praeger.) Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Vygotsky, L. S. (1987). The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky: Vol. 1. New York, NY: Plenum. Vygotsky, L. S. (1997). Conclusion; further research; development of personality and world view in the child. In The collected works of L. S. Vygotsky, Vol. 3. New York, NY: Plenum. Vygotsky, L. S. (2004). The collective as a factor in the development of the abnormal child. In R. W. Rieber & D. K. Robinson (Eds.), The essential Vygotsky (pp. 201–219). New York, NY: Kluwer Academic/Plenum. Wittgenstein, L. (1953). Philosophical investigations. Oxford, UK: Blackwell.

18 Integrative Community Therapy: Creating a Communitarian Context of Generative and Transformative Conversations Marilene A. Grandesso

If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go farther, go together. (Anonymous)

Working within communitarian contexts can present a new challenge to many professionals interested and involved in facilitating generative and productive conversations. Community, as a space of relationships ever open, can be understood as the network of relational exchanges between its members in a range of complex and unpredictable interactions. In the contexts of community life, people position themselves in relation to each other, building meanings of themselves, of the community itself and of the world in which they live. The complexity of community work stems from the diversity of contexts, the multicultural aspect of their organizations, especially in countries such as Brazil, and the idiosyncrasy of experiences. Working in community contexts demands of professionals a constant positioning of openness to the unexpected and continuous reflection, so that the diversity of local wisdoms

can be respected and, at the same time, professionals can act as facilitating agents of social transformation. Many community work approaches have been dedicated to psychosocial (Ansara and Dantas, 2010), psychoeducational (Minto et al., 2006), and political-activist (Carvalhal and Flexor, 2015) purposes. With regard to social constructionist discourse, the Public Conversations Project (Herzig and Chasin, 2006), Imagine Chicago (Browne and Jain, 2002) and Social Therapy (Holzman and Mendez, 2003), are some successful initiatives to be emphasized. However, in the communitarian mental health field, particularly the field of therapy, significant references or outstanding works cannot be found, especially using a social constructionist approach. Throughout this chapter, therapy is understood as a social practice in which participants engage in purposeful conversations, searching for alternatives to their dilemmas and problems in ways that strengthen



their sense of agency and empowerment. Traditionally, in the context of mental health, therapy processes are carried out with individuals, couples, and families with little reference to community engagement. Most of the time, individuals, couples, and families seek therapy when distress, unrest, or grief lead them to search for help. However, this is not the case when we talk about working therapeutically with a community, having the community as the client. Here are a few questions we pose while considering community therapy. How do we invite community participants to be part of a collective therapy, share their personal experiences, grief, and dilemmas in a communitarian context? This is not a trivial question, as it proposes a differential engagement, going beyond conversational contexts organized by confidentiality and privacy. How do we encourage generous and empathic listening in order to foster a community therapy process based on collaboration and dialogue? A collaborative and dialogical conversation is grounded in a philosophical stance (Anderson, 2007) through which people are able to experience being welcomed by the other as part of more horizontal relationships of respect and non-judgment. How do we generate transformative conversations of collective authorship in such a way that every participant can be part of a common construction of transformative meanings in a non-hierarchical way? How do we construct a reflexive stance to favor full usage of current resources, giving rise to new possibilities while, at the same time, widening the sense of personal and community agency? In community therapy processes, how do we value local knowledge and the participants’ connections with cultural values while building a humanized practice? How do we facilitate dialogical conversational processes among large groups in order to favor a polyphonic chorus arising from the present voices? These and other questions gave rise in this practice to the generative context that will be presented here.

INTEGRATIVE COMMUNITY THERAPY (ICT): THE HISTORY OF A PRACTICE Integrative Community Therapy (ICT) was developed by Adalberto de Paula Barreto (Barreto, 2008) in a community of high social vulnerability, the slum of Pirambu, situated in Fortaleza-CE in northeast Brazil, in the mid-1980s. The work was carried out in partnership with the Human Rights Association of Pirambu, which was coordinated by Airton Barreto, a lawyer and also Adalberto’s brother, along with the Dean of Extension of the Department of Community Health of the Federal University of Ceará (Barreto and Lazarte, 2013). ICT emerged amid the complexity of challenging contexts where poverty prevailed, trying to find answers and possibilities for action to the demands of each moment. So, it was developed step-by-step as a practice into action, taking shape as a singular and generative approach that can be put in practice in the most unusual contexts and with different community systems. At that time Barreto, a psychiatrist, anthropologist, theologian, and family therapist, was directing an internship for residents in social communitarian psychiatry where they could see the population on an outpatient basis. Reflecting on his practice, Barreto realized that he was medicalizing poverty and suffering as if they were pathologies that should be treated as mental illnesses (Barreto et al., 2010). Besides, he considered it a dehumanizing procedure as it placed a social-relational problem on the individual. Barreto was also utterly dissatisfied with the dependence that this type of treatment could promote, as people who sought the service became at the same time a hostage to a specialist who diagnosed the disease and prescribed medication to them. This ultimately became what Foucault (1998) named ‘the docile bodies’, that is, people who were subjected to treatments aimed at changing them outside


(by default) of their circumstances, knowledge, and possibilities of choice. Moreover, most of those people seeking services were migrants who went to the big city dreaming of a better life with more dignity. From a dream to a nightmare, these seekers realized that they came from misery and arrived at a deeper misery as they were without a job and their home and they faced the loss of their supportive networks from the places where they were born as well as their cultural meanings and connections. It was common that these migrants would become homeless, get addicted to alcohol and other drugs, engage with crime, front all kinds of human degradation, and at best, live in slums, such as Pirambu, under poor hygienic conditions. Some questions built up the generative context in order to construct a new practice, which could counter these situations that generate chronicity. Among them, Barreto (2008) asked himself: • How to alter a practice that generates dependence to one that fosters autonomy and personal agency? • How to reclaim cultural values and knowledge derived from the insider knowledge that everyone brings in their own stories? • How to circulate the knowledge in such a way that relations among people could enhance their resources by exchanging alternatives to facing life demands? • How to get back cultural values and ancestral knowledge, if we take into consideration the miscegenation of races with different cultural traditions of the Brazilian population? Denying or underestimating cultural traditions entails selfdenial, since, as relational beings (Gergen, 2009), we build our identities and the sense of who we are from relationships with others significant in our multiple contexts of life. • How to develop a practice carried out with large groups of people, not only to meet endless demands from people in distress, but also to harness the resources of the communities in which they live?

These considerations represent some of the uneasinesses that laid the bedrock for a


paradigmatic shift, withdrawing the focus from the individual and the problem of each one to place it inside a common world built on relationships. Today, after more than 30 years of practice, ICT has spread out throughout Brazil, some countries in Latin America, Europe, Africa, and now it is part of the Brazilian health policy. As a special way of conversing, ICT coordinates a multiplicity of meanings, all of which are attributed to community participants’ shared experiences, demonstrated as a humanizing practice in accord with relational ethics of coordinating multiple discourses (McNamee, 2018). On the foundation of this practice there is the consideration of the person who generates meaning for his or her own existence and the belief that insider knowledge, built on the praxis of living, offers a means to a worthier future. There is, too, the belief that people in conversations in their own communities can reach possibilities that they would not be able to develop if they lived in isolation (Grandesso, 2005). According to Paulo Freire (1983), no one is so ignorant that he or she has nothing to teach, and no one is so wise that they have nothing to learn. ICT was progressively organized as a critical postmodern approach sensitive to communitarian relationships, fostering feelings of solidarity, compassion and respect for the other. This approach is based on values of collaboration, acceptance of differences, inclusion and Paulo Freire’s ideas of unity in diversity (Grandesso, 2014).

COMMUNITY AS A CONVERSATIONAL CONTEXT In consonance with social constructionist discourse, community can be understood as a social construction, displaying itself as a relational space where people engage in multiple and complex interactions in language, constructing and sharing meaning regarding their sense of self and of the world they live



in (Grandesso, 2009, 2015a). Conversations that stem from collaborative and dialogical relationships in ICT put forward a sense of belonging in a community context, mainly when arranged as a space of talking, sharing everyday experiences, and listening generously. ICT practice favors empowerment and a sense of inclusion and belongingness for all persons. Every place where people can face the other eye-to-eye and have possibilities of respectful listening can be considered conducive to an ICT practice. Rounds of ICT practices have been taking place in public spaces such as squares, parks, clubs, hospital waiting rooms, schools, organizations, prisons, and many other types of institutions, thus moving out of conventional office and outpatient clinics. These practices moved away from the traditional private appointments at medical outpatient clinics in favor of public spaces and a co-participative approach. The very idea of keeping narrated stories private was challenged as personal storytelling began to happen in a public context. Besides this, people were recognized as experts in their own circumstances and lived experiences, organizing a more collaborative and polysemic practice.

ICT AS A CONVERSATIONAL PRACTICE: GUIDING SENSIBILITIES The human being knows how to make new roads out of obstacles because life can be reborn in the space of a crack. (Ernesto Sábato, quoted in Pakman, 2018, p. 19)

The ICT methodology has as one of its sensitivities the consideration of the person as an author of his or her stories and the organizer of his or her experiences in relational exchanges that he or she constructs inside language. The person, accepted as naturally resilient, is considered a relational being who is able to learn from his or her own adversities through reflexivity and possibilities of

creative action in the relational dances in which he or she takes part (Anderson, 1997; Grandesso, 2014). A community practice empowers people, families, and social organizations to recognize and develop their own capabilities, getting out of the isolation that constant suffering tends to create. Suffering, in all its facets, tends to keep sufferers at bay; it places them at the margins of social life and reduces and weakens both the links between people and the possibilities for collaborative exchange and learning and for mutual help. In response to suffering, ICT proposes inclusiveness and a collective space where organic connections, often overlooked, can set off a collaborative process that weaves novel meanings and possibilities together through language. (Grandesso, 2015b, p. 35)

Another guiding sensibility of ICT practice is the focus on potentialities and resources rather than on deficits, diagnostic categories, and patterns of normality or functionalities that tend to identify people as dysfunctional. By making transformative possibilities noteworthy instead of problems and solutions, ICT gets closer to Appreciative Inquiry practices (Cooperrider et al., 2003), with emphasis on building other possible worlds. ICT invites an appreciative eye and focuses on the best of people and communities, that is, those positive components that can act as levers in the construction of change (Grandesso, 2015b). When suffering is repetitive or continuous, people tend to take on the responsibility for their own evils, as if they were to blame for their own misfortune, many of which are the result of degrading conditions in the macroeconomic social and cultural context and of the unrighteous consequences of inequalities and social unfairness. The discourses that guide ICT conversations are of an appreciative nature, focusing on the future as an open space for more dignified and socially fair life alternatives. ICT favors a sense of empowerment as it recognizes and legitimizes the community and the person’s knowledge as a knowledge


of a ‘third type’ (Shotter, 1993), acquired in the flow of life, often as learned strategies while facing the harshness life presents. ICT invites one to explore, through the exchange of learned experiences and relationally useful possibilities, more liberating and humanizing alternatives of life. Another ICT guiding sensibility is favoring collaborative and dialogical relationships. Thus, the conversational scenario proposed by the ICT methodology invites openness, flexibility, respect, and coexistence with differences. The word, integrative, in ICT ‘qualifies this approach as an inclusive proposal, in which the polysemic choir of shared stories harmonizes the voices that come from different cultures, socioeconomic levels, ethnic backgrounds, preferences in the field of beliefs and stances taken in the world’ (Grandesso, 2014, p. 172). ICT proposes a relational orientation, attention to cultural values, an attention to relational ethics (McNamee and Gergen, 1999), and a social constructionist orientation to collaboration and dialogue (Grandesso, 2014, 2015a). The organization of the conversational space as collaborative-dialogical sets ICT as a social practice in which participants’ joint action through witnessing (Anderson, 1997, 2007, 2017; Shotter, 2010) strengthens the sense of belonging and community for collaborative learning. The conversations organized by ICT practice, woven as a net of shared experiences, enable new constructions of meaning for lived experience. By listening to the other in an open and respectful way, a common fabric in language is constructed through which the people present can recognize their individual uniqueness as ‘I,’ as well as recognize the other in their otherness, and the collectivity as ‘us’, in a new relational unity (Grandesso, 2015a). Conversational exchanges among participants in an ICT practice build new ways of thinking, feeling, and acting and attributing meaning to what can be understood as a community in itself. A person, as part of a community can be


recognized by name and as part of a collective identity.

DESCRIBING ICT PRACTICE: METHODOLOGY Wanderer, your footsteps are the road, and nothing more; wanderer, there is no road, the road is made by walking. By walking one makes the road, and upon glancing behind one sees the path that never will be trod again. Wanderer, there is no road… (Antônio Machado, Campos de Castilla [Plains of Castile], 1912)

ICT can be understood as a social and political practice as it promotes humanizing social transformation and critical reflection (Freire, 1983; McNamee and Gergen, 1999; Pakman, 2010). Although each conversation is unique and unpredictable, ICT is a goal-oriented practice whose methodology comprises five stages, each one with a specific proposal, defining a singular context of conversation. Following these stages, the community therapist can invite small and large communities,1 up to hundreds of people, so that the conversation can start, develop and come to a final moment, building meanings on a narrative fabric that displays itself as sequentially meaningful as an always open dialogue. The process as a whole, although it is specific to each context, usually lasts about 1 hour and 30 minutes.

Stage One: Welcoming and Warming Up The ICT process starts at organizing the space, even before the community is present. As a good host, the community therapist builds a scenario that is as comfortable as possible in order to welcome the participants. The therapist begins welcoming those who are present, introducing himself or herself and their team (in case there is another therapist working as a facilitator of the processes), and in a few words makes it clear that the



purpose and uniqueness of this conversation is welcoming suffering and exchanging experiences so that everyone can be listened to and respected, and learn with others. A welcome song can help build an atmosphere of relaxation and connection. Next, taking advantage of the community space as a context of legitimizing identities and lives, the therapist invites people to celebrate some important event, achievement, or commemorative date. Each participant who wishes to can say his or her name and what he/she is celebrating that day, thus configuring what Michael White (Grandesso, 2011; White, 2004, 2007) considers to be a definitional ceremony, a kind of identities recognition ritual that gives visibility to some significant situation for the persons concerned. Putting their accomplishments into language in front of a community, each person can transform the commonplace into the exotic. This also allows language to construct an astonishing reality which otherwise would have no visibility. Such practice contributes to new versions of participants as competent in addition to favoring an ontology of hope. (Grandesso, 2015a, p. 128)

The community is usually invited to propose a song to celebrate the events they shared. This moment contributes to building an affective atmosphere, generating a possibility of trust so that people can be comfortable to share their personal issues. To this end some conversational agreements are proposed to guide the conversation: 1 Speaking in the first person, using ‘I’ in recognition that one can only speak from one’s own experience, in concrete, non-theoretical or conceptual terms. This discursive form allows for placing local and insider knowledge as evidence. 2 Holding silence to respectfully and attentively listen to the other. Silence favors a double listening: listening to the other in their otherness and listening to him or herself as a shared experience by the other that can foster associations in the field of each one’s lived experiences. 3 Positioning oneself as a respectful conversational partner and therefore no judging, no interpreting,

and no advising. The ICT does not propose itself as a mechanism to solve problems, but to share and exchange experiences. 4 Sharing songs, poems, jokes, and popular sayings from popular culture that are related to the context of the current conversation. These forms of language have been very useful, offering other metaphors to the construction of new meanings.

This stage ends with some relaxation dynamics, a game, or a joke, inviting playfulness and strengthening closeness and trust to begin the next stage that will involve a higher level of participants’ exposure.

Stage Two: Choosing a Theme for Conversation At this stage the therapist invites participants to present a personal matter they would like to talk about. As it is a community context, a public space, people are alerted to talk about something they feel comfortable exposing about themselves. So, secrets have no room in the ICT context. Inspired by Paulo Freire’s (1983) pedagogy, the conversation organizing theme should be chosen by the community and it will function as a gateway to share experiences and reflection. The therapist encourages people to say their names and to briefly explain what they would like to talk about. Situations of everyday life that become worries, problems, and dilemmas are generally presented as proposals for conversation. Many people present questions about relational conflicts, alcohol and other substances abuse, family or social violence, abandonment, and several kinds of discriminations. After some topics are offered, the therapist summarizes the proposals and invites people to share the one that has touched or resonated with them the most. From there, a choice is made by polling, to represent the community interest, allowing a collective commitment and a shared responsibility for the conversation that will start. The therapist ends this stage thanking people who brought forward their themes.


Stage Three: Contextualizing the Theme This stage fulfills two functions, understanding the meaning of the lived experience of the person who presented the theme, and, from this understanding, organizing a reflexive question that may resonate with the present community. This question should invite people to share learning experiences and competencies developed in similar situations to the person who is in the center of the conversation. We begin by inviting the person whose theme was chosen to talk, using his or her own terms to elaborate on what he or she would like to share with the present community about what he or she is living. At this moment anyone can ask questions. But as ICT does not propose to solve problems, questions are directed to understanding the meaning of the experience for the person, to understanding how that situation affects the way that person is seeing himself or herself, his or her relationships, and future perspectives. It is up to the therapist to take care of conversational agreements so that questions are to invite reflection, avoiding in this way pedagogical, critical, or disrespectful questions. Once the meaning of the lived experience is understood, the therapist expresses his or her thanks and places the person outside the conversation so that he or she can take part in the next stage and listen reflexively, inviting his or her internal dialogue (Andersen, 1991).

Stage Four: Sharing Local Knowledge At the beginning of this stage, the therapist proposes to the community the question that was built in the previous stage, inviting everybody to reflect. This question can be more generic, such as ‘Who has already lived a similar situation and how did you cope with it? What has helped you? What have you


learned from going through it? What have you discovered from that experience that can be helpful for your life?’ Questions like these invite a harvest of experiences in similar situations to those shared by the protagonist during contextualization, presenting the community’s abilities and competencies related to that specific case. However, the question could be metaphorical in nature, promoting common meaning from a diversity of life situations. Take for example, a situation in which a lady shares a theme about how difficult it was being criticized by her mother and by her adolescent daughter, feeling pulled in opposite directions. The question for the group was translated to, ‘Who has ever felt like a rag doll pulled by both arms and how could you handle this situation?’ This question gave way to a bountiful collection of community strategies to deal with conflicts, values, beliefs, and demands of life. This harvest stage is the longest in ICT, and it builds up an atmosphere favorable to the empowerment of a community, due to the rhizomatic effect of listening to their own stories while listening to the stories of others. By coming into contact with one person’s stories of competence, other persons can be awakened to memories of their own competencies. While the community continues sharing their knowledge, the therapist can prepare to organize it into a collective document (Denborough, 2008), which can remain as memories from that community or be shared with other related communities.

Stage Five: Closing Ritual For the closing moments, ICT promotes a collective reflection, theoretically inspired by Freire’s action-reflection-action (Freire, 1996). Usually, we invite participants to stand in a circle, close to each other in a subtle sway, metaphorically proposing that life is a movement and that together we can support each other. We invite them to a last



reflection and sharing. The therapist offers his or her own ideas and appreciative comments on the conversation of that day, and asks one last question: ‘What are you taking from here today?’ ‘Where were you transported to by the conversation we held?’ ‘What did you learn?’ ‘What did you enjoy?’ Therefore, this is one more opportunity for reflection, by putting into language the new learnings and meanings constructed, and also a moment for collective appreciation. We conclude this stage with a song or a short dance, proposed either by the community or the therapist.

FINAL CONSIDERATIONS Having worked as a community therapist since 2002, I have witnessed the transformative power of collective conversations that are organized by ICT. In different contexts, different community organizations, different values and cultures, different age groups and life conditions, the ICT dialogical practice has favored adding and promoting possibilities to creative and transformative actions where they did not seem to exist before. ICT invites a kind of creative and transformative action promoting a singular kind of conversation that sets the scenario in which the community by itself acts, making the difference. Many research projects have been developed about the effectiveness of ICT in Brazil, especially in the context of health policy, with regard to mental health and integrative and complementary practices (Ferreira Filha and Lazarte, 2019; Ferreira Filha et al., 2015; Reis and Grandesso, 2014). The results have encouraged us to move forward, building on a growing enthusiasm with this type of community work with its micropolitics of inclusion, equity, and humanization of relationships. As a social practice, ICT, according to Freire’s pedagogy, favors the problematization of the reality experienced and critical reflection, presenting itself as a

productive and hopeful possibility for the promotion of citizenship and the empowerment of people and the communities in which they live.

Note 1  As a community therapist I conducted an ICT with 1400 policewomen as part of a celebration of 50 years of our organization in Brazil.

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19 Individuals in Competition or Communities in Connection? Narrative Therapy in the Era of Neoliberalism Jill Freedman and Gene Combs

In his writing (e.g., White, 2001) and teaching around the turn of the century, Michael White called our attention to metaphors that had to do with ownership and personal property. Here’s an excerpt, recently transcribed from one of his lectures (White, 2018, 2:07): How many of you have resources, personal resources? … The whole idea that we have these personal properties is associated with the development of modern liberal theory. … One of the cornerstones of liberal theory was … the recognition and preservation of the individual’s right to own property, to possess property. It also preserved the individual’s right to capitalize on their property … by mining it, and to bring to the surface these resources, or [to] cultivat[e] their property to improve its assets. Now around the same time, there was this new idea that … we have a self that’s like personal property that we can own in the same way that we can own actual property: land. And so we can actually mine the self to discover the resources and bring those resources to the surface, and put them into circulation. How many of you have found yourself in situations where you had to dig deep, to get in touch

with your resources and to put them into circulation? Internal miners in the group? [laughter] These are relatively new understandings … this is all part of a tradition that … is often referred to as structuralist: action in life as a surface manifestation of some element or essence that comes from the center of who we are. And these ideas are now taken for granted. … That is almost never questioned. … I think it’s important to understand that these ideas have been developed and constructed in history and in culture. If we understand that, we’re not chained to the ideas; we’re not tied to them. We can think outside of them.

In the 20 years that have passed since the words above were spoken – under the influence of neoliberalism (Davies, 2015; Harvey, 2005; Thomas, 2016) – the pressure for each of us to take ownership of, and capitalize on, our personal properties has grown, and our failure as individuals to succeed as we compete with each other in the ‘free market’ has become increasingly pathologized as some sort of individual deficit: ‘anxiety’,



‘depression’, ‘ADHD’, ‘burnout’, or ‘being a taker instead of a maker’. A basic and general practice in narrative therapy is to be aware of, and to critically reflect on, metaphors like ‘properties’ and ‘resources’ and how they shape our perceptions. Sheila McNamee (1996) commented on these and similar metaphors in her classic paper on the social construction of psychotherapy. In order to escape the limitations of any system of metaphors, we must stop taking them for granted – we must see them as metaphors instead of ‘facts’ (Lakoff and Johnson, 1980).

NEOLIBERALISM The term ‘neoliberalism’ has been around since the 1930s but is still not widely understood. Even though it often elicits eye rolls or glazed expressions, we use it because it is the most comprehensive label we have found for the dominant construction of political and economic reality in the ‘developed world’ during the last 40 years. The ‘liberal’ in neoliberal does not refer to liberal social policy; it refers to liberal (unrestricted) economic policy – the policies favored since the time of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher – sometimes referred to as ‘trickle down economics’ or ‘vulture capitalism’. The neoliberal worldview treats monetary return on investment as the most highly valued measure of success, and it conceptualizes each of us as an entrepreneur in the world market, in competition with every other person – each of us as a tiny corporation. Neoliberalism values competition, efficiency, and individualism in the management of privately owned resources. Its highest value is the pursuit of monetary wealth. The metaphors of neoliberalism, which White was calling our attention to, pull us away from any focus on community, collaboration, or caring for each other’s welfare. Stephen Metcalf (2017) puts it this way:

Peer through the lens of neoliberalism and you see more clearly how the political thinkers most admired by Thatcher and Reagan helped shape the ideal of society as a kind of universal market (and not, for example, a polis, a civil sphere or a kind of family) and of human beings as profit-and-loss calculators (and not bearers of grace, or of inalienable rights and duties). … Still peering through the lens, you see how … pervasively we are now urged to think of ourselves as proprietors of our own talents and initiative, how glibly we are told to compete and adapt.

This pressure to compete, to take individual responsibility, and to become ever more efficient in managing our personal properties affects us in ways that have us show up in therapists’ offices, mental health clinics, and hospital emergency rooms. But the effects are not usually perceived as anything other than our daily reality. Neoliberal policies and management practices strongly invite us to focus on individuals, and away from social and cultural pressures. Instead of ‘unreasonable workload’, we see ‘poor stress management’. Instead of ‘fear and worry due to financial insecurity’, we see ‘depression’. If we are to help people escape the constraints of neoliberalism, we must understand enough of how it has been constructed that we can expose its workings. Without this sort of critical reflection, it is difficult for people who consult with us to glimpse possibilities for community, connection, and mutual caretaking. Returning to the metaphors of ‘property’ and ‘ownership’, it may be useful to remember that there once was such a thing as ‘the commons’ – the mutually used and managed land shared by a village. As mercantilism and the Industrial Revolution began to edge out feudalism, laws were enacted allowing for the enclosure, partitioning and selling of commonly-held land. Farmers were forced to become renters, and the owners of their property became landlords. Property owners could buy and sell their properties (land, sugar cane, cotton, rum, woven cloth, people who were enslaved) on the open market.


As economists from Marx (1867/1981) to Piketty (2014) have pointed out, profits were extracted from the labor of farmers, distillers, weavers, people who were enslaved, and other non-owners, increasing the wealth of owners at the expense of workers. Fast forward two centuries, and we have George W. Bush promoting the ‘Ownership Society’, in which nearly all aspects of life are managed as private properties and traded in the free market (with bankers and hedge fund managers skimming off profits from every trade). Renters become impoverished. But the social, historical roots of their poverty are invisible within the metaphors of neoliberalism. Poverty gets storied as due to a lack of merit. According to George Monbiot (2017), Neoliberalism turns the oppressed worker into a free contractor, an entrepreneur of the self. Today, everyone is a self-exploiting worker in their own enterprise. Every individual is master and slave in one. This also means that class struggle has become an internal struggle with oneself. Today, anyone who fails to succeed blames themselves and feels ashamed. People see themselves, not society, as the problem. (Kindle location: 806)

Neoliberalism shapes governments to create new properties, to privatize once-public resources so that they can be traded and capitalized upon. Higher education becomes a business; healthcare is managed as if hospitals are factories where doctors and nurses work on assembly lines. In the world of the free market, profit is the greatest good – the only meaningful measure of success or worthiness. In his book, The Happiness Industry, William Davies (2015) describes how, from the 1970s onward, the healthcare industry has been influenced by neoliberalism. He documents the interlocking interests of the pharmaceutical industry and the American Psychiatric Association, where a majority of the authors of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM 5) are also highly paid as speakers for drug companies. These relationships swing the focus of psychiatry more and


more toward individual, biologically based, diagnoses (for which drugs are proposed as the primary treatment), and the psychological state of the individual becomes a target for the accumulation of capital. In this world, it seems at times that disorders are defined into existence to further the market for drugs. Davies also describes how corporate workplaces – with their neoliberal focus on maximizing financial return to investors, winning the competition with other companies, and holding individuals responsible for the management of their personal properties – are outsourcing all responsibility for the increased stress of their work environments. A whole ‘happiness industry’ has grown up, offering stress management classes to profit from servicing the socially constructed needs of corporate wage slaves. A New York Times op-ed (Whippman, 2016) puts it this way: This is a kind of neo-liberalism of the emotions, in which happiness is seen not as a response to our circumstances but as a result of our own individual mental effort, a reward for the deserving. The problem is not your sky-high rent or meager paycheck, your cheating spouse or unfair boss or teetering pile of dirty dishes. The problem is you. It is, of course, easier and cheaper to blame the individual for thinking the wrong thoughts than it is to tackle the thorny causes of his unhappiness. So we give inner-city schoolchildren mindfulness classes rather than engage with education inequality, and instruct exhausted office workers in mindful breathing rather than giving them paid vacation or better health care benefits.

The discourses of neoliberalism, with their attendant metaphors of ‘individual ownership’ and ‘management of our personal properties’, are not the only discourses that we strive to understand and deconstruct in narrative therapy, but they are very frequent sources of problems. In the rest of this chapter we will examine some of the specific ways we seek to assist people in the social construction of lives in which community, connection, and reciprocal caring are valued over individualism, competition, and maximally efficient return on investment.



The first step is to listen to people’s stories with curiosity about how neoliberalism (among other discourses) might be implicated in the hardships and limitations they are facing. We need to be able to discern those discourses as discourses before we can ask questions that offer the choice of other metaphors, storylines, and possibilities for living that are shaped by other intentions and values.

DECONSTRUCTION In narrative therapy we are interested in telling and re-telling the preferred stories of people’s lives (e.g., Freedman and Combs, 1996; White and Epston, 1990). Sometimes, in order to see through problems so that we can find not-yet-storied alternative experiences, it is important to deconstruct the discourses that support the problems. To deconstruct (Freedman and Combs, 1996; White, 1991), we ask questions that we hope will unpack a discourse or create gaps in it. Successful deconstruction shows how something was constructed, implying that it could be constructed differently. We have not found it useful to take a stand against neoliberalism in our therapy conversations or to teach people about it as a part of their therapy. What often does help is to engage in a conversation that deconstructs some of the discourses involved in neoliberalism. For example, Margaret and Al came to therapy after Al lost a high-paying executive job and had begun to interview for a new position. Al and Margaret had very different views of their situation. Although Margaret appreciated the home and neighborhood and lack of worries about their financial future that Al’s career had afforded them, she was also aware of difficulties it had caused. Their two young children had already changed neighborhoods and schools three times, and their moves had caused the loss of more

than one set of good neighbors and friends. Margaret was happy with their current home, not far from where her parents and sister lived, where she had been able to reconnect with some old friends. She wanted Al to limit his current job search to the Chicago area. Al thought that Margaret took his success for granted. He was proud of his career to this point, and of the sacrifices he had made – and was willing to continue to make – for his family. I (JF) began a deconstructing conversation by asking Al to tell me more about the sacrifices. He said they included long hours of work, which had him missing family activities. They left him little time to relax at home. When I inquired further about the effects of the long hours, Al and Margaret talked about not only the money the hours earned, and the lack of worry about the financial future, but also about the strain on their relationship, and how Margaret was turning more and more to her extended family and less to Al – which left Al feeling isolated and Margaret fearful of moving to follow a job. Although I did not use the word ‘neoliberal’, we learned that neoliberal ideas about success were making it seem that if Al did not compete for the ‘best’ job and always be ready to move anywhere, anytime, to fill it, his reputation would suffer, and fewer positions would be available to him. We traced how these ideas operated in his work context, how he was recruited into them and how, over time, they put him in the position of having to choose between a high salary (with its accompanying prestige) and family closeness. We also revisited and re-examined the plans and ideas Al and Margaret developed when they decided to marry and create a life together. I asked if they still treasured the hopes they had then for their relationship, their children, and their life together. They did. We then looked together at where ‘ideas of success’ had taken them as a family. This was clearly not the place they had planned on. These conversations were not easy but they were worth it, as they put Al and Margaret


together, and in a position to decide jointly about Al’s next job. They would choose not only according to financial reimbursement, but by how the new situation would fit with the life of connection and cooperation that they desired.

UNPACKING IDENTITY CONCLUSIONS Michael White (2001) called our attention to the usefulness of questioning the conclusions we come to about each other’s identity, even when we draw positive conclusions. When we say that a person ‘is resilient’ we are orienting to ‘resilience’ as a property that the person possesses. Such orientation to ourselves and others as the managers of personal properties de-emphasizes and hides the histories and relationships that have led to our gaining skills and abilities that we subsequently perceive as evidence that we have particular properties. We find it useful to deconstruct identity conclusions, whether they are positive, like ‘resilient’ and ‘creative’, or negative, such as ‘lazy’ and ‘dependent’. We strive to unpack the relational and process aspects of these labels, rather than leaving them misunderstood as possessions. White (2007) thought of identity conclusions as ‘internal state understandings’, which he distinguished as different from ‘intentional state understandings’. Internal state understandings are those descriptors of personal qualities or traits that treat them as things that reside inside individuals. Intentional state understandings focus not on qualities that people ‘have’ inside, but on the hopes, dreams, desires, commitments, and intentions that words such as ‘resilient’ reference – and on the relationships and activities that support and flow from those intentions. Simply accepting that a given person ‘is resilient’ does not offer the same possibilities as those that appear when we examine resilience (or any other property) as an intentional state. Leaving identity conclusions


packed up supports a neoliberalism-tinged politics of haves and have-nots. ‘Resilient’ people in such understandings are constructed as more deserving than the lazy, dependent, moochers who lack resilience. When we focus carefully on what people give value to, the relationships they participate in, and the activities that make them appear to ‘have’ a given property, we help them step out of individualism and possessiveness and into a world of relationships and mutual support. Drawing on the work of Michel Foucault (1977), we develop ‘histories of the present’ that trace the stories of the relationships, actions, and meaning-making that have led people to be labeled as resilient, or inventive, or in possession of some other personal property. When we look for previously unexamined and unrecognized intentions and relationships, we can develop new stories in which ‘properties’ are experienced as relational rather than individual. • We can ask where people learned to show a certain quality or property. • We can ask who would have noticed the interactions labeled as (for example) ‘resilient’ if they had been present to see them. • We can trace stories of mutual support and alliances that made the interaction possible. • We can identify the knowledges and skills involved in exhibiting what had previously been thought of as a property, and then trace the relationships in which the knowledge and the skills have been transmitted, shared, and appreciated.

These histories then can be used to scaffold a different understanding of how the knowledge, skills, and abilities are aspects of a person’s identity within the person’s present relational context. Similarly, negative identity conclusions can be unpacked and located in historical, relational understandings. This opens possibilities for new actions and new relationships that can support more positive understandings. For example, in a supervision meeting, Caroline expressed frustration with James,



a young man who had been diagnosed as HIV positive and who she was seeing for ‘case management’. She said that although she had counseled him about the importance of consistently taking his medication, he was not compliant, and not very bright, and had put himself in medical jeopardy by not strictly following the recommended medical regimen. I (JF) asked Caroline if she could name the problem that she was struggling with in her work with James, and she replied that James did not care about himself, had a low IQ, and was a drain on the system. When Caroline persisted with this description (although I had asked externalizing questions, she was still labeling James as the problem) I said I felt uncomfortable with our conversation because it felt disrespectful to characterize someone the way we were characterizing James. I wondered if we could find a way to talk that we would be happy to use in front of James, one that was not blaming of him. Caroline answered that I had misunderstood her. She told me that she was not the kind of person who blamed people she worked with, so this could not be what was happening. We now had two sets of identity conclusions to unpack. The positive identity conclusion that Caroline made about herself obscured the negative identity conclusions she was using to characterize James. When, to unpack her conclusion, I asked Caroline what she meant by ‘not the kind of person who blamed people she worked with’ she said that she was understanding and caring. I asked about her history of understanding and learned that her grandmother always believed that Caroline meant well, even though she was often in trouble with her parents about things she did. She gave examples of times that this had happened. I asked what skills she had learned from her grandmother. After some thought she said, ‘knowing there are two sides to a story, asking questions instead of assuming, and affiliating with people I love’. Then I asked what

it was that she understood about James. She was quiet for a moment, then said, ‘I’ve taken some shortcuts. I have to rethink this. But our caseload is high. There isn’t much time to think.’ After the unpacking conversation, Caroline did take time to think and to act. The next time we met she told me that exploration of James’ ‘noncompliance’ revealed that his medication required refrigeration. Since James did not have a home, refrigeration was a huge obstacle. As a gay African American man, James had a history of double marginalization. Having grown up in the projects, in a neighborhood with lots of violence and little opportunity, he dropped out of school early. When he contracted the HIV virus, his family shunned him. What Caroline initially described as ‘not very bright’ she was now thinking of as the effects of a context that did not support education. The idea that James did not care about himself because he did not regularly take his medication began to fade when she remembered that he regularly attended counseling and group meetings at Caroline’s agency. Caroline asked James why he attended these meetings. He told her how important it was to be with others facing similar struggles, saying that this gave him a sense of belonging. It also supported hope that he could make a difference for others in the group and that maybe things would be better in the future. All these intentions and relationships were invisible until ‘not compliant’ was unpacked. Unpacking Caroline’s positive identity conclusions (that she was understanding and caring) led her to unpack the negative conclusions that neoliberalism had led her to form about James. As she got more in touch with his history and culture, she stopped seeing him as not intelligent. As she worked on finding a way for him to keep his medication refrigerated she experienced his appreciation and willingness to take steps on his own behalf, as well as his desire to make a difference for others.


LINKING LIVES THROUGH SHARED PURPOSES Instead of individualism and competition, the narrative worldview, and social constructionist worldviews in general (e.g., Gergen, 1990; St. George and Wulff, 2016), focus on interdependence and the collaborative sharing of experience (White, 1997, 2003). Narrative work often includes the circulation of documents (Freedman and Combs, 1996; Freeman et al., 1997; White and Epston, 1990), the formation of leagues (Epston, 1999; White and Epston, 1990), and, of course, the telling and retelling of preferred stories. David Epston (1999) described himself as the archivist of the Anti-Anorexia Anti-Bulimia League of New Zealand. In that role, he shared documents, tapes, and art work among people he worked with, thereby enrolling them as members of the league. From the early days of narrative therapy, narrative therapists have worked to find ways like Epston’s to share insider knowledge and to help people have the experience that they are not alone in their struggles – that the problems they face are not due to internal properties, but to the larger socio-cultural context, which has caused similar problems for others as well. We offer the following story as an example of how narrative therapists link people’s lives as they struggle with similar problems. David Epston had shared documents from the Anti-Anorexia League with us, and I (JF) then shared one of these – a diary entry from Heather – with Ann, a woman who was consulting with me. We then sent this off to New Zealand. Dear David, I am meeting with Ann of Chicago and she asked me to tell you that bulimia has been giving her a hard time so she is glad to find out about the archives of the Anti-Anorexia (Bulimia) League. We were reading Heather’s Anti-Anorexic Diary and Ann could really identify with the feeling that anorexia/bulimia is your best friend. She said that she really identifies with Heather’s description of the


friendship and that she is now in the position of really relying on it. In fact, before the session Ann was thinking of telling me that bulimia had tricked her into thinking it was her best buddy, her one and only friend. This made her think she had to stick by it because she feels if she gives it up she has nothing or no one to fill the gap and that feeling even makes her feel more worthless. As she explained how bulimia makes her see her situation it moved her to tears. When I asked Ann if it made her feel less alone to know that Heather had a similar experience she said, ‘Yes, but I want to know what she has done to fight it or overcome it.’ I suggested that we write to you and ask if you would be willing to ask Heather this question for Ann. We have written this letter together and hope that Heather will choose to respond. If you think another member of the League knows something about this that would be helpful we would welcome hearing about that too. It would be fine for this letter to be available to explain Ann’s question to Heather or other members of the League. Yours Anti-Bulimically, Ann and Jill

This began a series of letters between Ann and the Anti-Anorexia League with Ann posing questions and League members sharing hard-won knowledge. At one point, in response to one of these letters, we received this fax from Rosemary, a member of the League. Dear Ann and Jill: David has shown me the questions you recently sent him and we thought my very new and now ongoing communication with Bulimia might be of use to you. You ask: ‘What kind of things do you say when you talk back to Bulimia?’ For me undoubtedly the most important step in fighting the battle was to assign another personality to Bulimia. Bulimia is another entity and not me. That way I experience Bulimia as a kind of evil force, quite separate from myself. I then don’t think of myself as doing the Bulimia with the attendant self-disgust but rather that Bulimia is trying to exert power over me to do it. So when the urge to binge comes along, I say things like: ‘No you are not going to get me this time.’ ‘No you are not going to do this to me.’ ‘You are trying to make me do something I don’t want to do.’ ‘Clear off. I don’t want you and I don’t need you!’ I have not found this an easy process but the more I talk to Bulimia, the more I am aware that it doesn’t like being addressed.



The letter continues with more insider knowledge. After receiving the letter, Ann told me of an incident in which she found herself pulling food out of the refrigerator in preparation for a binge. She grabbed the letter and with one hand propping open the refrigerator door and the other holding the letter, she read Rosemary’s words as loud as she could, over and over again, until finally she closed the refrigerator door and left the kitchen. Ann said it was as if she were joined by other women on the other side of the world who stood with her and let her know it was possible to get through the moment without bingeing. When neoliberalism has us in its grasp, we cannot see outside the walls of our little corporations-of-one. Linking lives helps us break free.

OUTSIDER WITNESS GROUPS Another narrative practice that facilitates linking lives through shared purposes is outsider witness groups (White, 2005). This is what Michael White called his adaptation of the reflecting team practices originated by Tom Andersen (1987; White, 1995, 2005). Outsider witnesses to a narrative interview respond to four themes, which we summarize below along with the questions they imply: • Identifying the expression. (What stood out to you from the interview?) • Describing the image. (Does this give you a different picture or idea of the person or family?) • Embodying responses. (What about your life experience made this stand out for you? What is it you resonate with?) • Acknowledging transport. (How will it make a difference for you to have witnessed this interview?)

We will focus here on the third and fourth themes. The third theme encourages witnesses to respond as people, rather than as bearers of expert knowledge, as people with

life experience that resonates with what the people at the center of the interview have described. It joins them in the pursuit of similar values and purposes. The fourth theme brings alive the two-way nature of the witnessing experience. It is not only the people at the center of the conversation who are affected by the therapy conversation; the witnesses are affected as well. This mutuality stands in strong contrast to the individualizing, competitive effects of neoliberalism. When we have included outsider witness groups in our therapy, people at the center of the conversation invariably feel joined and they describe the experience as being very helpful.

COLLECTIVE DOCUMENTS Another narrative practice that focuses on community and interdependence is the making and sharing of collective documents. It has been shaped and refined by David Denborough and Cheryl White in their work with communities (Denborough, 2008; Denborough et al., 2008). The documents they facilitate are worked on in a group context and feature themes from the community as well as words from the participants. Other narrative therapists, such as Jennifer Freeman (Freeman et al., 1997) and David Newman (2016a; 2016b) create collective documents that insiders add on to one at a time as they gain hard-earned knowledge. As an example, we include a snippet from a document of the add-on type below, which we, along with the people who come to see us, have been compiling over the last couple of years.

Changing Our Relationships with Fear and Worry Fear and worry can take over life, keeping us from making the choices we want to make, coloring our view of the world and making our lives miserable. Here are some of the ways we have changed our


relationships with fear and worry and put ­ourselves back in charge. This is an ever-growing document. The more people who add their experiences, the more people it will be relevant for.

1 The most important thing I’ve learned is to pay attention to the very earliest signs of fear and worry. For me, that usually means a slight twinge in my stomach. If I start breathing slowly and deeply I can usually get in touch with what’s going on for me and then I can decide what to do. If I don’t pay attention I end up with overwhelming feelings and no choice. I’m immobilized. My advice is to notice when it is at a 1 if panic starts at 8. 2 The thing that helps me most is music. When fears or worries come I put them to music, something joyful, with a beat. Then they seem different, sometimes funny even. 3 It is your mind, so you can picture something different or say something different. 4 The thing I’ve learned is that if I feel worry or panic I’m probably screaming at myself. If I talk to myself the way I would to a friend I calm down. 5 Fear for me had to do with worry I would make the wrong decisions. I trusted other people’s opinions but not mine and I would go in circles of indecision and worry about the consequences. The thing that made a difference was putting pictures of myself all over my apartment. Instead of the worry going around and around in my mind, I would look at a picture of me and ask ‘What do you think?’ Looking at images of me helps me know what I think about things. This puts an end to worry. 6 Telling myself things that are important to me puts the worry in its place. If the worry says, ‘You spent too much time with your boyfriend and not enough time at your job’, I say, ‘Relationships are more important than money,’ and they are. The key here is asking myself ‘What do you value more? Does that have to do with the choices you are making?’ 7 I discovered that without even knowing it there was this frozen image of trauma that flashed through my mind and then I had all the feelings that went with it. It helped me to visualize how I got past that moment. It sort of diffused the association. 8 My advice is to find a way to put this in perspective. I made a collage with the most


important things being the biggest. When worries start, I look at the collage.

The full document has 26 entries at this time. We hope we have included enough for you to sense its breadth and its grounded usefulness.

CONCLUSION Sometimes neoliberalism seems so insidious and ever-present that in order to resist its influence we must ‘dig deep, to get in touch with our resources and to put them into circulation’. Then we remember that we are not alone. Our narrative friends and commitments help us in this struggle. One of our guiding intentions as narrative therapists is to help people vividly experience joining their lives with others in pursuit of creating a more generous and interconnected world. We approach our work with the intention of bringing forth and circulating stories of inclusion, partnership, community, and caring. Standing for community and solidarity in the face of neoliberalism’s insistence on individualism and competition can be powerfully transforming. We believe that narrative and social constructionist practitioners will continue to develop networks and ways of working that are based in community and solidarity. We hope that over time our endeavors will shift the dominant discourse away from neoliberalism’s focus on the greedy management of individual resources.

REFERENCES Andersen, T. (1987). The reflecting team: Dialogue and metadialogue in clinical work. Family Process, 26, 415–428. Davies, W. (2015). The happiness industry: How the government and big business sold us well-being. Brooklyn, NY: Verso. Denborough, D. (2008). Collective narrative practice: Responding to individuals, groups,



and communities who have experienced trauma. Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre. Denborough, D., Freedman, J., & White, C. (2008). Strengthening resistance: The use of narrative practices in working with genocide survivors. Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre. Epston, D. (1999). Co-research: The making of an alternative knowledge. In Narrative therapy and community work: A conference collection (pp. 137–157). Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre. Foucault, M. (1977). Discipline and punish. New York, NY: Pantheon Books. Freedman, J., & Combs, G. (1996). Narrative therapy: The social construction of preferred realities. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. Freeman, J., Epston, D., & Lobovitz, D. (1997). Playful approaches to serious problems: Narrative therapy with children and their families. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. Gergen, K. J. (1990). Therapeutic professions and the diffusion of deficit. The Journal of Mind and Behavior, 11(3, 4), 353–367. Harvey, D. (2005). A brief history of neoliberalism. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1980). Metaphors we live by. Chicago, IL: University of Chicago Press. Marx, K. (1867/1981). Capital. New York, NY: Penguin Books. McNamee, S. (1996). Psychotherapy as a social construction. In H. Rosen & K. T. Kuehlwein (Eds.), Constructing realities: Meaning-­ making perspectives for psychotherapists (pp.  115–140). San Francisco, CA: Jossey-Bass. Metcalf, S. (2017, August 18). Neoliberalism: The idea that swallowed the world. The Guardian. Retrieved from https://www. Monbiot, G. (2017). Out of the wreckage: A new politics for an age of crisis [Kindle]. Brooklyn, NY: Verso. Newman, D. (2016a). Explorations with the written word in an inpatient mental health unit for young people. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 4, 45–58.

Newman, D. (2016b). How we deal with ‘way out thoughts’: A living document … Ways of talking with young people about suicidal thoughts. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 4, 59–65. Piketty, T. (2014). Capital in the twenty-first century. Cambridge, MA: Belknap Press of Harvard University Press. St. George, S., & Wulff, D. (2016). Community-minded family therapy. In ­ S. St. George & D. Wulff (Eds.), Family therapy as socially transformative practice: Practical strategies (pp. 9–23). AFTA Springer Briefs in Family Therapy. Thomas, P. (2016). Psycho politics, neoliberal governmentality and austerity. Self & Society, 44(4), 382–393. Whippman, R. (2016, November 26). Actually, let’s not be in the moment. New York Times, November 26. Retrieved from https://www. actually-lets-not-be-in-the-moment.html White, M. (1991). Deconstruction and therapy. Dulwich Centre Newsletter, 3, 21–40. White, M. (1995). Reflecting teamwork as definitional ceremony. In M. White, Re-authoring lives: Interviews and essays (pp. 172–198). Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre. White, M. (1997). Narratives of therapists’ lives. Adelaide, Australia: Dulwich Centre. White, M. (2001). Narrative practice and the unpacking of identity conclusions. Gecko: A Journal of Deconstruction and Narrative Ideas in Therapeutic Practice, 1, 28–55. White, M. (2003). Narrative practice and community assignments. International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work, 2, 17–55. White, M. (2005, September 21). Outsiderwitness responses. In Michael White workshop notes. Retrieved from http://www. White, M. (2007). Maps of narrative therapy. New York, NY: W. W. Norton. White, M. (2018, June 25). Michael White, narrative therapist: Funny moments [video file]. Retrieved from White, M., & Epston, D. (1990). Narrative means to therapeutic ends. New York, NY: W.  W. Norton.

20 Post-Truth and a Justification for Therapeutic Initiative1 K a r l To m m


What is Post-Truth?

As we as therapists become more aware of how ‘realities’ are socially constructed and that ‘alternative truths’ are possible, we become more uncertain about how to proceed in therapy. Although uncertainty has significant benefits, especially in loosening one’s entrapment in a limiting or problematic truth, too much uncertainty can become a liability. When clients ask for help, we need to respond, and in doing so we need to accept a ‘reasonable truth’ to guide our initiatives. But which truth? When is it appropriate to privilege one constructed reality over another? In this chapter, I propose that the complementary paradigms of social constructionism and bringforthism provide sufficient ‘tentative knowledge’ for us as therapists to make choices and become proactive, even in the absence of certainties.

In 2016 the term ‘post-truth’ was named the word of the year by the Oxford English Dictionary (OED).2 Its use had suddenly increased by over 2000% from 2015. The OED defines post-truth as ‘circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief’.3 It appears that claims about truth, trustworthiness, alternative facts, misinformation, and ‘fake news’ are drawing more and more attention and scrutiny. Some contemporary philosophers are suggesting that partly because of the widespread availability of social media, we have entered a new age of post-truth in which we can readily find on the internet whatever ‘evidence’ we need to confirm our pre-existing beliefs (McIntyre, 2018). Some commentators see this as an alarming cultural development in that arbitrary claims of truth are



increasingly being exploited for nefarious political ends. They suggest that post-modernism and social constructionism may have prepared the ground for this problematic global development (Ball, 2017; D’Ancona, 2017; Sim, 2019).4 Others see post-truth as an inherent aspect of the human condition since our species (homo sapiens) began constructing knowledge. Indeed, patterns of interpersonal persuasion and propaganda have probably been with us since civilizations came into existence some 10,000 years ago. Perhaps it is time for therapists to take concerns about the nature and uses of truth more seriously. In this chapter, I will begin with a theoretical exploration about knowing ‘the truth’ and then end with a clinical situation where alternative truths could be distinguished.

What is the Place of ‘Truth’ in Systemic Therapy? As systemic therapists we have come to value multiple perspectives and alternative realities as opposed to a single objective truth. One reason for this is that if we privilege objectivity and accept something as objectively ‘true’ we are then stuck with it, and our degrees of freedom regarding therapeutic change are automatically limited by that truth. Another reason is that the more we believe that something is ‘true’ the more we feel justified in imposing that truth upon others. ‘Believing’ inevitably predisposes us to try to dominate others with our truth, sometimes to the extent of perpetrating violence. Most therapists abhor violence of any sort. So if we loosen our grip on any assumed objective ‘Truth’ we reduce the risk of therapeutic violence in the process of doing therapy. In systemic work we typically avoid making claims of objective truth and try to maintain openness to alternative possibilities. Indeed, we often actively contribute to co-constructing preferred realities

and alternative truths that we think might be more helpful than what a client or family already believes (Tomm et al., 2014). A skillfully articulated ‘alternative truth’ potentially opens space for new understandings that enable therapeutic change.

Does a Systemic Commitment to Alternative Realities Place us in the Domain of Post-Truth? As uncomfortable as this might feel to us as therapists, I would like to suggest that it actually does. Most systemic scholars avoid the kinds of research that generate facts. But if we do not have any facts, how can we know what is true? And if we do not know what is true, how do we know how to act in therapy? Most, if not all, therapies are grounded in emotions and beliefs. If our work as systemic therapists is based on beliefs, rather than on facts, how should we decide among alternative realities to intervene in the course of providing therapy? One response to the dilemma of multiple realities is to ‘decide not to decide’ on any one of them. I am not aware of any therapy approach that champions this stance. If there were one, it probably would be soundly criticized for hiding behind uncertainty and avoiding clinical responsibility. And as the proverb goes, ‘If you don’t stand for something, you risk falling for anything.’ Another response has been to adopt an active stance of ‘not knowing’ which reflects curiosity and is manifest by asking questions. There are different versions of curiosity and, depending on the disposition of the interviewer, the kind of questions asked can have very different effects (Tomm, 1988). For instance, compassionate curiosity about the suffering of the other can create an experience for the other of being deeply heard and understood (Anderson and Gehart, 2007). Exploratory curiosity can generate alternative perspectives and contrasting possibilities (Cecchin, 1987). Investigative curiosity can


have judgmental and demeaning effects (as in a stigmatizing assessment interview). The relational effects of not knowing, curiosity, and questioning can easily be overlooked or obscured. Indeed, therapists can ‘hide behind their questions’ and avoid offering an opinion when they adopt a not knowing position. While the active listening associated with not knowing can be very validating for clients in being deeply heard, when applied naively it could contribute to anxiety-provoking uncertainty. Uncertainty begets indecisiveness which can be paralyzing: clients don’t know what to do. Such indecision becomes especially problematic when prompt action is expected or required. When urgent action is called for in dayto-day living, most adults act decisively on the basis of intuitive knowledge, and ‘know’ what to do. For instance, if a small child playing in front of us were about to run into oncoming traffic, we would immediately act to restrain the child. Indeed, the failure to take such action would be deemed callous and unethical. Clients typically come to us because they are suffering and want change, often urgently. They want us to do something. If as therapists we choose to act, what course of action should we take? Among the various ideas, beliefs, and values that we can coconstruct, which should we use to inform our actions? Socrates was often described as a wise man because ‘he knew that he did not know’. If we adapt his wisdom and come to ‘know that we don’t know anything with certainty’, then it follows that ‘we don’t know with certainty that we don’t know’, which means that ‘maybe we do know something’. This recursive kind of ‘knowing something’ inevitably remains tentative, but it offers an advantage over pervasive uncertainty and the certainty of not knowing. I am proposing that the ‘maybe we do know something’ position is a sufficient basis for therapists to take initiative in an era of post-truth. The ‘maybe knowing’ stance points to foundational questions about what can be


known and what we can legitimately claim to know. Yes, our emotions and beliefs do have major influences on what knowledge we come to. But just what kind of knowledge does systemic thinking privilege? What kinds of practices are supported by systemic knowledge? Is a systemic perspective merely a preferred worldview or does it reflect a certain paradigm of knowledge?

WORLDVIEWS VERSUS PARADIGMS A worldview (Weltanschauung) may be regarded as a loose set of beliefs about fundamental aspects of reality that ground and influence a person’s perceiving, thinking, knowing, doing, and the storying of his or her life. A paradigm is a more rigorous constellation of concepts, values, perceptions, and practices shared by a community which informs a particular version of reality and which becomes a basis for the way a community organizes itself (e.g., in professional work or research activities). There are at least as many worldviews as there are persons in the world but there are only a limited number of paradigms. Worldviews are largely acquired non-consciously in the experience of living, whereas paradigms are acquired through deliberate study of a particular perspective. Different paradigms arise from contrasting approaches to systematically understand how relevant knowledges can be acquired. In my opinion, it is reasonable to regard social constructionism and bringforthism as two complementary paradigms of systemic knowledge.

The Paradigm Dialog by Egon Guba Guba describes a paradigm as a core set of beliefs that guides patterns of thought and action into particular directions or pathways. He claims that the answers to the following



set of three basic questions can produce a particular paradigm (Guba, 1990): 1 The ontological question: What is the nature of the ‘knowable’ (i.e., what is the nature of ‘reality’)? 2 The epistemological question: What is the nature of the relationship between the knower (the inquirer) and the known (what is knowable)? 3 The methodological question: How should an inquirer go about generating knowledge about what is knowable (i.e., about reality)?

The answers to these questions may be explicit, but often remain implicit. In his 1990 book, Guba5 explicated answers to these questions for several paradigms including positivism, post-positivism, and constructivism. My colleagues and I have been trying to explicate some paradigms that are more systemic, such as social constructionism and bringforthism. A current leading figure in social constructionism is Ken Gergen, whose work is already well known in the systemic community (1999, 2001). The notion of bringforthism as a paradigm is not yet as widely recognized, although the work of Humberto Maturana (from which it is derived) has attracted considerable interest from systemic thinkers. Maturana offers an explanation for how knowledge arises in us as complex, cognizing, living systems (Maturana and Varela, 1979, 1987). In the spirit of trying to become more rigorous about the nature of truth and of truth-making, what follows here are my tentative answers to Guba’s three questions for these two systemic paradigms.

A Social Constructionist Paradigm Ontology: Relativist Realities exist in the form of multiple constructions, socially and experientially based, local and specific, dependent on social consensus within the communities in which they arise.

Epistemology: Inter-Subjectivist Inquirers enter into relationship to jointly inquire into and co-construct what can be

known. Findings are a creation in a process of social interaction between two or more persons co-constructing narratives of reality.

Methodology: Deconstructive/ Co-constructive Universal truths are deconstructed through argumentation and scholarly debate, while alternative local truths are co-constructed through collaborative conversation in relationships.

A Bringforthist Paradigm Ontology: Multiple Realities Each reality is that which an observer is structure-determined to bring forth as ‘real’ in his or her living.

Epistemology: Subject Dependent An observer, arising at the unique intersection of a particular biological body with an idiosyncratic socio-cultural drift, interacts within a specific niche through which he or she comes to know about his or her situation and story.

Methodology: Recursive Reflection Distinctions, descriptions, explanations, intentions, choices, and actions are reflexively examined through (internal and external) languaging and emotioning.

Expanding the Paradigm Dialog Associated with Guba’s three basic questions and their answers are implicit values and ethics which contribute to the actual politics in our relationships with each other as human beings. To clarify these implicit issues, a former student, Faye Gosnell, and I decided to add two more questions, namely an axiological question and a political question, to each paradigm. Axiology is a branch of philosophy that studies values and ethics (Bahm,


1993). So in addition to Guba’s three core questions we can go on with: 4 The axiological question: What is considered ‘good’, ‘better’, ‘bad’ or ‘worse’ (within this paradigm) and how should we create, manage, and change our relationships with each other within this ‘reality’?

Working within any particular paradigm influences the manner in which we as professionals practice, and what we might do or not do in therapy. So we need to address this additional issue. 5 The practical/political question: What are the possible, probable, and improbable ramifications of this paradigm in our actual patterns of living together, and in our professional practices?

In combining Guba’s and our questions we could mark the social constructionist paradigm with the following priorities: • • • •

Ontology: Relativist Epistemology: Inter-subjectivist Methodology: Deconstructive/Co-constructive Axiology: Collaborative Co-construction. It is ‘good’ to enter into relationship and collaborative conversation to go on together and to accept multiple realities and possibilities; it is ‘good’ to privilege stories of liberation and empowerment; it is ‘bad’ to avoid relationship, to oppress, to shut down conversation, to silence, or to otherwise marginalize others. • Politics: Collectivism. In our interactions we privilege inclusiveness; we co-construct something jointly though collective performances that do not marginalize or oppress; we accept joint responsibility for the descriptions and narratives we use and what follows from them.

In the same way we could expand our view on the bringforthist paradigm as follows: • • • •

Ontology: Multiple realities Epistemology: Subject dependent Methodology: Recursive reflection Axiology: Enact loving relatedness. It is ‘good’ to open space for the existence of the other as legitimate in relation to the self; it is ‘bad’ to remain indifferent about the experiences and condition of the other.


• Politics: Place objectivity in parenthesis. We adopt a relational attitude of accepting and caring for others as they exist in the present moment, and act always to increase options (including the option to reduce options); we strive to maintain an awareness of, and accept full responsibility for, one’s own distinctions, the personal stories they are woven into, the actions that follow from those distinctions and stories, and for their consequences.

DO THESE SYSTEMIC PARADIGMS PROVIDE A JUSTIFICATION FOR THERAPEUTIC INITIATIVE IN OUR POST-TRUTH ERA? I am prepared to take a stand here and say, ‘Yes, they do!’ Both social constructionism and bringforthism accept multiple realities and alternative truths. Both give priority to relationship over individualism. Both are committed to ‘adding life to life’. In other words, whenever we find ourselves in a clinical situation in which we see an option to create an alternative reality that could diminish pain and suffering, and/or enhance wellness, we should take the initiative to act to privilege that ‘helpful truth’. At the same time however, that helpful truth is held tentatively. Both social constructionism and bringforthism actively attend to the immediate and remote consequences of any initiatives taken and propose seeking alternative truths whenever the relevant consequences appear to be more problematic than helpful. Both paradigms are useful in supporting constructive initiatives in systemic therapy. What then are the main differences between these two systemic paradigms? In some respects they reflect two sides of the same coin. Social constructionism posits relationship itself as the foundation out of which realities are constructed. It gives priority to what takes place in the interpersonal space between persons. A major strength of social constructionism is foregrounding how social interaction and collaboration are instrumental in creating knowledge. It does



not, however, explain how the social actors come to exist in the first place. When a therapist wants to foreground the origins and status of the actors, who through their interaction come to generate knowledge, the bringforthist paradigm becomes more helpful. Bringforthism posits cognizing biological organisms in relationship with other living organisms as the foundation out of which realities are constructed. It gives priority to understanding how individual persons, through their evolution and living, become capable of bringing forth distinctions and generating realities in their social interaction. In the absence of living organisms, there can be no interactive relationships to start with. The necessity for the continuity of biological living provides bringforthism with a significant justification to prioritize initiatives that preserve the state of living, which ultimately enables the relationships through which knowledge is constructed. Each one of us as a human being occupies a unique position of knowing how to survive at the intersection of a gigantic history of biological drift in evolution and a gigantic history of socio-cultural drift in society (Maturana and Varela, 1987). Together the social constructionist and bringforthist paradigms leave us as human beings prepared with the biological and social knowledge we need to act ‘spontaneously’ to stop the child from running into traffic. By extension, they also provide us with guidance to act ‘intuitively’ to take initiative in more complex situations of responding to human suffering in therapy. How these paradigms are relevant may become more apparent when applied in an example from family therapy.

ALTERNATIVE ‘TRUTHS’ IN A CLINICAL SITUATION What follows is a composite scenario of a common family situation (drawn from clinical work with many families) to illustrate the applicability of some of the theory. A

fictional 15-year-old adolescent, let’s call him John, was referred by the family physician for therapy when the parents sought help for the boy’s ongoing disrespectful behavior and a recent suicide threat. The parents reported that over the past year John had become increasingly defiant with yelling, swearing, and occasional violent outbursts whenever they limited his screen time or insisted he first complete his homework. For the past six months he had been refusing to comply with house rules or complete his chores. The physician diagnosed him as having an ‘oppositional defiant disorder’ (APA, 2013, p. 462) and referred him for treatment. When the boy refused to attend individual therapy, the parents sought family therapy. When the family arrived at the clinic, John was obviously in a bad mood. He grudgingly lagged behind his parents to enter the therapy room with his hoodie up, covering his head. At first, he failed to respond to the therapist altogether. He ignored her offer of a handshake and as the interview began refused to respond to her questions, even simple questions about school. In contrast, the parents were quick to give example after example of John’s defiant behavior and his failure to comply with their requests. They provided volumes of evidence to support their ‘truth’ that John was disrespectful. The father described the boy as ‘a spoiled brat’. The mother felt indignant about John’s betrayal of her efforts to get him to comply by protecting him from his father’s anger. The suicide threat had emerged after the father confiscated his cellphone when John kept texting his friends despite several reminders to do his homework. The parents provided further evidence to support the physician’s ‘truth’ of a mental disorder by detailing an extended history of oppositional behavior going back several years. All the while, John sat there with his body slouched in the chair, hoodie over his head, glaring at the parents intermittently. Upon hearing their story and witnessing the interaction between John and his parents,


the therapist distinguished a problematic pattern of ‘imposing coupled with protesting’ in the relationship between them.6 This systemic distinction by the therapist could be regarded as an additional ‘truth’. In listening to the parents’ stories of past events, she noted that the more the parents engaged in criticism and controlling practices (based on their truth that John was disrespectful), the more John engaged in overt or covert protest. She speculated that John experienced his parents’ control efforts as unfair which activated his protest, and that the parents experienced his protest as disrespectful which activated more pressure to get him to concede. The systemic truth of ‘imposing coupled with protesting’ did not match the physician’s professional truth about John having an oppositional disorder, nor the parents’ lay truth that John was disrespectful. Nor did it match John’s own ‘truth’ (which emerged later when he joined the conversation) that the parents were ‘unfair’, ‘rigid’, and ‘mean’ (in that they did not allow him to hang out with his friends, they took his phone away, and they nagged him incessantly). The social constructionist paradigm helps us understand how these different realities arose. Each truth had a coherent and understandable origin that was relative to its unique social context. The parents’ truth arose predominantly from their respective families-oforigin in which children were expected to be obedient and respectful of their elders. The physician’s truth arose largely from his professional socialization into DSM diagnosing practices (APA, 2013). The therapist’s truth arose out of her immersion in the IPscope framework of systemic understanding (Tomm et al., 2014). And John’s truth arose out of talk with peers and explorations on social media about controlling parents. Each truth emerged in a different social domain and could be seen as a reflection of a social construction of meaning in each of those domains. From a bringforthist perspective, the multiple realities in this clinical situation were


all subject-dependent. The truth held by each person depended on their unique ecological drift in giving meaning to what they were experiencing. The bringforthist paradigm also helps explain how each family member was structure-determined to persist in privileging their reality within their biological and social drift in living. For instance, within the phylogenetic context of the family life cycle the parents ‘knew’ they had to guide their offspring away from bad habits and towards good routines to increase their child’s chances of future success. The father brought forth John’s disrespectful and defiant behavior as antisocial and felt compelled to get his son to submit to appropriate social authority and become a responsible citizen. The mother distinguished John’s failure to comply (despite her protective nurturance) as disrespectful betrayal and concurred with the father’s authoritarian stance. Their phylogenetic and socio-cultural ‘knowledge’ about child-rearing propelled them to impose their truth upon him. In contrast, John’s biopsychosocial drive to emerge into adolescent autonomy necessitated his rejection of what he experienced as his parents’ excessive control. He felt compelled to assert his own truth. He became increasingly biased to notice the injustices among their behaviors. His distinctions of their unfairness bolstered his angry outbursts against their restraints to his freedom and provided him with an experience of momentary autonomy. In the meantime, the systemic therapist who had been trained to notice and bring forth relational realities, selectively distinguished the coupled reciprocity of the family members’ actions that generated, maintained, and/or amplified the problematic interpersonal pattern in the family system.

Which Reality or ‘Truth’ Should the Therapist Privilege? While each of these several realities could be seen as equally legitimate within each of the



social contexts in which they were constructed, they are not equally desirable in therapy. So what is the answer to the axiological question in this clinical situation? Which truth is better? Why is it better? And then, what is the answer to the political question? How should a therapist proceed to privilege her preferred truth? The process and consequence of privileging one truth over another is always significant and is often risky. Each presumed truth has implications for what could be considered legitimate action. The parents’ action to impose discipline (e.g., limit John’s screen time) was justified on the basis of their truth that John was being disrespectful. Unfortunately, their initiative to do so activated John’s truth that his parents were being unfair and mean. John’s action to mount a protest on the basis of his truth of parental unfairness was then also justified. His protest however amplified their view that he was disrespectful. Neither John nor his parents recognized the systemic reciprocity in their interactions that maintained what the therapist distinguished as her truth of a problematic interpersonal pattern. The physician’s diagnosis of oppositional defiant disorder justified the referral for therapy (which John did not want). The parents’ truth and the physician’s truth were closely aligned, namely, to regard the oppositionality as located within John, adding more collective pressure for him to concede (which collided with his truth and fueled his impulse for more autonomy). His apparent moodiness at the beginning of the initial interview could be seen as a protest not only against the parents and their unfair alignment with the physician, but also against the anticipated alignment between the parents and the therapist. In this situation, the therapist’s ‘maybe knowing’ intuition was to favor her systemic truth of ‘imposing coupled with protesting’. Favoring this truth does not mean that it was viewed as ‘more true’, but that

it was axiologically ‘better’ than the other truths. That is, it was regarded as therapeutically advantageous in terms of its pragmatic effects. First, locating the problem in the interpersonal space rather than in any one of the participants undermined the legitimacy of individual shaming and blaming, and helped reduce entanglements in painful emotions of frustration, anger, shame, and guilt. Second, it helped maintain ‘therapeutic neutrality’ (i.e., the therapist not siding with any one family member against another). This neutrality pertains to equal acceptance of persons; not acceptance of problems. When John experienced her being neutral towards him, he abandoned his protest against the anticipated coalition against him. He felt freer to speak his protest about the parents’ unfairness. Third, it incorporated and affirmed some aspects of each party’s truth. No party was completely wrong and each party was partially vindicated. Fourth, it transcended the credibility gap among the contrasting truths presented by family members. Prior to embracing the systemic version of the truth, the parents could not accept as credible John’s claim that they were being unfair. And John could not accept as credible their claim that he was being disrespectful. As the therapy unfolded what became increasingly credible was the contingency between imposing practices and protesting practices. Indeed, it was not just the parents who had tried to impose their truth upon their son, John had also tried to impose his truth of their meanness upon them. The coupled invitations of imposing and protesting went both ways (see Figure 20.1). And fifth, the systemic truth implicitly proposed some common ground on which they could move forward together. That is, they could collaborate in jointly liberating themselves from the problematic pattern of conflict about opposing truths and together co-construct healing and wellness interaction patterns7 to replace the problematic pattern.



parents limiting screen time

John rejecting their limits



John demanding more fairness

parents rejecting John’s demands

Figure 20.1  The coupled reciprocities in the systemic therapist’s preferred ‘truth’

Enacting the Systemic Politics of Taking Initiative for Therapeutic Change The therapist ‘knew’ that the probability of therapeutic change in the family system might be greater if her systemic truth could be recognized and embraced. But how could such an alternative truth be brought forth without being disrespectful towards the other truths that already existed in the family? Initiatives by her to convince them of her ‘better truth’ could be experienced by any family member as an imposition. This might activate some opposition and risk replicating the problematic pattern within the therapeutic system by ‘adding fuel to the fire’ of arguing about the truth. In other words, the therapist’s first political challenge was to avoid imposing her ‘maybe truth’ upon the family. Thus the therapist actively restrained any impulses to criticize the incessant criticism of the parents or to challenge the son’s disrespectful behavior. Hence the basic ethic: ‘first do no harm’. In the social constructionist paradigm we privilege inclusiveness, so another priority for the therapist was to engage John to participate in the conversation. The therapist’s initial efforts to connect with him were

rejected. Persisting in her initiatives of social civility as a way to include the young man could also have been experienced by him as impositional. Thus the social constructionist stance would suggest searching for alternative ways to include him. In the bringforthist paradigm we privilege ‘caring for others as they exist in the moment’. John appeared to feel tyrannized by critical judgments at the beginning of the session and clearly felt extremely miserable. The therapist took his condition seriously and chose to implement practices of acknowledgment as a way to selectively bring forth respect instead (Tomm and Govier, 2007). The axiological and political aspects of both social constructionism and bringforthism justified the therapist’s initiative at this juncture. Taking action to generate respect was justified because it was better than passive witnessing of judgmental practices that generated more conflict. She began by acknowledging John’s discomfort in the situation. She proactively acknowledged that it probably was not his choice to come to the meeting, and that he had come against his will. She also acknowledged the parents’ underlying concern for John’s physical safety and for his academic success. She went on to construe John’s physical presence as evidence of his willingness



to accept his parents’ request that he attend the session even though it clearly was not his priority to do so. The therapist further acknowledged John’s implicit maturity and generosity in being able to ‘do something he really did not want to do’, namely, to attend the session. The therapist then invited the parents to also acknowledge John’s attendance as significant. When the father accepted this invitation and thanked John for coming, John finally chose to participate in the conversation. While he began by pouring out a great deal of pent-up frustration by bitterly criticizing his parents’ restrictive practices, he was at least beginning to participate in the conversation. The therapist’s initiatives then shifted to acknowledge John’s developing autonomy and to selectively draw out legitimate aspects of John’s protests from among his criticisms of his parents’ parenting practices. She also asked about the good intentions behind the parents’ choices to discipline John and drew attention to the unintended negative effects of those choices. At the same time, she began drawing connections between the protesting and imposing so that the systemic truth of ‘imposing coupled with protesting’ began to emerge more clearly and took shape in the minds of all three family members. None of them wanted this pattern to dominate their relationships. All of them became more receptive to alternative ways of interacting that were more acceptable. Ultimately, they were successful in escaping the problematic pattern and their relationships improved significantly. Full details of the therapeutic practices entailed to bring forth the systemic nature of the problem and to co-construct more wellness are beyond the scope of this chapter. Suffice it to say that a core ethic guiding this therapeutic process was invitation, not imposition. Recognizing that a systemic perspective is ‘better’ justifies its legitimacy as a preferred basis for action. Withholding ‘better knowledge’ when family members are suffering could be seen as unethical. Yet

justification for taking therapeutic initiative does not mean justification for imposition. As systemic therapists we draw upon knowledges from the domains of both social constructionism and bringforthism to coconstruct respect and wellness in both the family system and in the therapy system. Justification in this context means taking initiative to invite others to share in our ‘healing knowledges’, not imposing those knowledges, nor withholding them.

POSSIBLE FUTURE DEVELOPMENTS In this emerging era of post-truth, I anticipate expanding conversations and public debates about many facets of truth, the legitimacy of competing truth claims, investigation into practices of misinformation, patterns of truth checking, and clarification of different actions that could be taken on the basis of alternative truths. With the advent of electronic media and the immediacy of communication, human beings have never before had so many tools to interconnect and address these issues. It remains to be seen which emerging truths might be most supportive in guiding our global cultural drift towards ‘better worlds’. The survivability of human life on our planet may well depend on us ‘maybe knowing’ about ‘good truths’ and taking collective initiatives based on those truths.

Notes 1  This paper is an extended version of a keynote for the Systemic Spirits Conference at the 30th anniversary of ÖAS (Austrian Association of Systemic Therapy) in Vienna in April 2019. The abbreviated version was published in German as K. Tomm (2019), Das Postfaktische und eine Begruendung für therapeutische Initiativen. Systeme. Interdisziplinaere Zeitschrift für systemtheoretisch orientierte Forschung und Praxis in den Humanwissenschaften, 33(2), 119–132. 2  See: (02.05.2019)


3  See: post-truth (02.05.2019) 4  A nice overview in The Guardian bookshop (see: result/?q=post-truth-506757) and a prudent review of these three paradigms is given by Nick Cohen in The Guardian book review from May 21, 2017 (see: https://www.theguardian. com/books/2017/may/21/post-truth-evan-davismatthew-dancona-james-ball-fake-news-nickcohen-review) 5  An overview on Guba’s work can be found at OCLC Online Computer Library Center, Inc.: http:// (02.05.2019). 6  These kinds of problematic relational interaction patterns have been described as ‘Pathologizing Interpersonal Patterns’ or PIPs in Tomm et  al. (2014). 7  The nature of these Healing Interpersonal Patterns (HIPs) and Wellness Interpersonal Patterns (WIPs) are also outlined in the book on interpersonal patterns by Tomm et al. (2014).

REFERENCES American Psychiatric Association. (2013). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (5th edition). Washington, DC: Author. Anderson, H., & Gehart, D. (Eds.). (2007). Collaborative practice: Relationships and conversations that make a difference. New York, NY: Routledge. Bahm, A. J. (Ed.). (1993). Axiology: Science of value. Amsterdam, the Netherlands: Rodopi. Ball, J. (2017). Post-truth: How bullshit conquered the world. London, UK: Biteback.


Cecchin, G. (1987). Hypothesizing, circularity, and neutrality revisited: An invitation to curiosity. Family Process, 26, 405–413. D’Ancona, M. (2017). Post-truth: The new war on truth and how to fight back. London, UK: Ebury. Gergen, K. (1999). An invitation to social construction. London, UK: Sage. Gergen, K. (2001). Social construction in context. London, UK: Sage. Guba, E. (1990). The paradigm dialog. Newbury Park, CA: Sage. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1979). Autopoiesis and cognition: The realization of the living. Boston, MA: Boston Studies in the Philosophy of Science. Maturana, H. R., & Varela, F. J. (1987). The tree of knowledge: The biological roots of human understanding. Boston, MA: New Science Library, Shambhala Press. McIntyre, L. (2018). Post-truth. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Essential Knowledge Series. Sim, S. (2019). Post-truth, skepticism & power. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan. Tomm, K. (1988). Interventive interviewing: Part III. Intending to ask lineal, circular, reflexive or strategic questions? Family Process, 27, 1–15. Tomm, K., & Govier, T. (2007). Acknowledgement: Its significance for reconciliation and well-being. In C. Flaskas, I. McCarthy, & J. Sheehan (Eds.), Hope and despair in narrative and family therapy (pp. 139–149). New York, NY: Routledge. Tomm, K., St. George, S., Wulff, D., & Strong, T. (Eds.). (2014). Patterns in interpersonal interactions: Inviting relational understandings for therapeutic change. New York, NY: Routledge.

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Practices in Organizational Development

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21 When Social Constructionism Joins the Organization Development Conversation Diana Whitney

Organization Development (OD) came of age with the flourishing of industry and a bold vision of progress through science. Its purpose was to support executives, managers, and supervisors in their efforts to enhance organizational effectiveness by applying human science knowledge to organizational issues such as motivation, productivity, and efficiency. A primary question posed by early OD researchers and practitioners was ‘How do we create change in hierarchically structured, routinized organizations?’ The answer was to be found in the applied behavioral sciences: change the behavior of people – individually and in small groups – to change the organization. Early OD interventions centered upon objective, data-based, diagnosis of problems (who and what needed to be changed). These interventions, directed by organizational leaders with the help of OD professionals, sought to change the behaviors of employees and other stakeholders. At the heart of OD was the assumption of behavioral change as the means and the end to

organization change. For more on the origins of OD than can be presented here, read noted OD consultants, Billie Alban and John Scherer’s thoughtful narrative, ‘On the Shoulders of Giants’, in Practicing Organization Development (Alban and Scherer, 2005). The context of OD practice changed dramatically as the modern era of industrialization veered toward postmodernism, the digital information age, and globalization. The vision of progress pivoted in response to a loud global wake-up call for sustainability. Widespread challenges to authoritarian leadership and bureaucratic organizing have emerged, with masses of people, both inside organizations and on the streets around the world, demanding to have a voice in their own futures. Today leaders, change agents and organizational consultants in all sectors of life from business to healthcare to religion are being challenged by stakeholders with visions of social equality, economic justice, environmental sustainability, and human



well-being. They are facing demands to engage and accept large numbers of diverse people in the co-creation of futures that give meaning, dignity, and coherence to their lives. These challenges prompt OD professionals and the leaders they support to ask, ‘How can we engage with multiple, diverse people and groups of people to co-create mutually beneficial preferred futures?’ As is often the case, practices of the past are not suited to the needs of changing times. Answers to this question and others of relevance today, can no longer be found in the applied behavioral sciences. The authors and editors of this book posit that human and organizational change practices based upon the principles of social construction are suited to address the complex organizational challenges of our time. The purpose of this section and the eight chapters it contains, is to highlight practices – derived from social constructionism such as relational responsibility, collaboration, dialogue and appreciative inquiry – that can be used to successfully inform human organizing and change. The eight chapters constitute a compendium of ideas for applying social constructionist ideals to the area of organizational life. They cover a broad range of practices, answering questions relevant to leaders and change agents today, such as ‘How can relational responsibility help people, groups and whole organizations flourish?’, ‘How can relational practices support learning, leadership development and coaching processes?’, ‘How can constructionist approaches engage large numbers of people in conversations creating and re-creating their preferred futures?’, ‘How can significant social values such as inclusion, democracy and harmonious coherence be designed into organizing processes and structures?’, and ‘How can relational processes be used to address complex, globally challenging issues such as sustainability?’ Each chapter answers one or more of these questions by describing ways that social constructionist theory has been applied to situations ranging in impact from the personal

to the public. In some chapters you will find ideas and practices for stimulating learning and development among people within organizations. Lone Hersted’s chapter defines relational leading and suggests role playing as an essential interactive process for leadership development. Haesun Moon offers the field of coaching a way to understand and improve how coaching works, with a constructionist orientation to language, questions, and attention to the process of relational meaning making. In Gitte Haslebo’s chapter you will discover how to work with an intact team to shift narratives from individual blame to relational responsibility. In other chapters you will find practices for engaging large numbers of diverse stakeholders. The chapter written by Johan Hovelynck, Marc Craps, Art Dewulf, Koen Sips, Tharsi Taillieu, and René Bouwen focuses upon practices and conditions for bringing diverse people, groups and organizations together in conversation to resolve complex multi-actor issues. Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Barbara E. Lewis provide an overview of Appreciative Inquiry as a conversational process that can be used to engage large numbers of people in creating their preferred future. In their chapter Ginny Belden-Charles, Morgan Mann Willis and Jenny Lee describe the evolving nature of relational organizing and share practices that enhance relational responsiveness and foster personal, organizational, and societal wellbeing. Danielle P. Zandee points to micro relational constructionist practices as a viable means to social innovation. In their chapter, which serves as a capstone for this section, Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak introduce the notion of dialogic organization development. They differentiate it from classical diagnostic organization development and put forth the idea that constructionist practices, at their best, enable generative change. Taken together the ideas put forth in these chapters suggest an evolution in the field of OD. It is for each reader to discern: how might these ideas and practices be added to your existing repertoire? Or are they an


imperative to significantly transform your practice into what we might call constructionist organizing?

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONIST THEMES The chapters in this part illuminate four significant themes, each a way that social construction theory joins the OD conversation and informs the practice of social organizing and change. The first locates the place of organizing, and hence of change, as patterns of communication, networks of conversation, and narrative realities that are continuously being created and recreated through relational interactions. Of interest to social constructionists are the many ways that we talk our worlds into being and how organizational members and stakeholders engage with one another in conversation and collaboration, leading to their preferred futures. Organizing processes are of more interest than organizations. Leading is more noteworthy than are leaders. And prototyping is more intriguing than the prototype. Social constructionist practices for organizing and change come alive in communication, they guide practitioners to join with others in learning and co-creation. The second theme prominent in this section centers on relational processes as the locus of understanding and authority. All that is meaningful to organizational life, work, roles, and results is derived from relationships. From a social constructionist perspective, agency and authority reside not with individuals but rather in relationships among people, groups, organizations, and communities. For constructionists, the world is a sea of relational possibilities. We seek to enhance relational responsibility, relational resonance, and relational responsiveness among people within organizations and across organizational boundaries. An essential question in social constructionist organizing is, ‘who else needs to be involved?’ We live and work with the


mantra, ‘it takes two to tango’. Whenever one person is singled out for reward or blame, we wonder, who else was involved, who is the partner? How did they do it together? All life and all work are done with others, together. Social construction invites us to study and enhance how we go forward together. The third theme arising from the chapters in this section is the notion of embracing and working with diversity, of people and cultures, of stakeholder groups, and of ways of knowing, thinking and being in relationship. Constructionist organizing resides in and emerges from, fluid, improvisational processes that recognize and work with multiple voices and visions of possibility. Unlike traditional organizations and leadership that sought to ‘command and control’ people, and reduced variance in systems through standardization and commonalities, constructionist organizing celebrates and struggles with the challenges of multiplicity. Practices that seek to recognize, hear and honor diverse perspectives, respect the dignity of all people, and facilitate conversation, collaboration and co-creation among differing, and at times conflicting, stakeholders, position constructionist organizing as viable for addressing complex, global issues such as healthcare, economic justice, gender equality, and sustainability. The fourth theme highlighted throughout this section is the move from the diagnosis and repairing of problems to the co-creation of mutually beneficial preferred futures. OD practices emerged and have been built upon problem-solving as a dominant means of understanding and making meaning out of life situations and ways of organizing. The act of seeking problems, leads to the articulation of problems. This, in and of itself, has become a limitation to innovation and the creation of thriving organizations. In contrast to the OD deficient approach, constructionist practitioners join with members of an organization or community in dialogues that affirm strengths, best practices, and highperformance patterns as a basis for imagining



and designing preferred futures. While conversations about problems tend to demoralize and lead to blame and shame, conversations about strengths and preferred futures energize, inspire, and lead to collaborative commitments. Constructionist practices meet the call for diverse engagement by including diverse people and groups in collaboration and in the co-creation of mutually articulated preferred futures.

CHAPTER OVERVIEWS In each chapter in this section, case examples illustrate how practices rooted in social construction enhance and draw upon the strengths of relational interdependency, shared responsibility, conversational meaning making, and collaborative learning and co-creation leading to desired futures. Taken one by one, these practices each can be seen as broadening the repertoire of OD practitioners and hence enhancing the field of OD. Taken together, however, they seem to raise a question of essence, ‘Are change agents working from a social constructionist stance practicing OD or might we better describe the way they work as organizational constructionism or even constructional organizing?’ I will let you, the reader, be the judge of this. As you read the eight chapters in this section, reflect upon whether the theories, assumptions, and practices described can add to your OD practice or whether they invite you into an entirely new genre of organizational consultation and change. In her chapter, ‘Relational Ethics in Organizational Life’, Gitte Haslebo tells us that the assumptions we hold are socially learned, that they guide the ways we perceive, think and feel about things, and that they are taken for granted, thus hard to change. She makes a distinction between organizational culture and performance based on assumptions of realism and those based upon social constructionism. She outlines the differences

in Table 22.1, ‘Key assumptions about knowledge and morality’. ‘Realism,’ she says, ‘presumes the existence of an exterior world with properties which are independent of the observer’s thoughts and perception’. With social constructionism, knowledge resides and is shaped in relationships; neither knowledge nor what is considered truth are separate from the relational contexts through which they emerge. Conflict, she contends, emerges when people operating from differing sets of assumptions, or epistemologies, work together without understanding each other’s assumptions. Efforts to resolve conflict can either magnify the conflict or enable learning and systemic solutions. She presents one of the clearest cases I have read that illustrates social construction practices used in conflict resolution at work. The case shows the power of moving from blaming an individual as the locus of a problem to relational responsibility and the collaborative search for systemic communication dynamics in a contentious situation. In this case, the results are striking. As the one person who was previously designated as the problem is understood, team members recognize their part in the dysfunctional pattern and what they can do to take responsibility for ongoing success. Furthermore, her case shows how individual blame is further diminished when the need for policy change is recognized and implemented. Lone Hersted, in her chapter, ‘Working with Relational Leading and Meaning Making in Teams of Leaders’, offers a well-studied understanding of relational leading. She has written a superb explanation that makes the notion relational leading understandable and at the same time practical. She describes relational leading as a shared activity based on principles of dialogue, multivocality, co-creation, and meaning making. She goes on to say, when working with relational leading, special attention must be given to the development of communication skills, which are best developed interactively.


She then provides an example from a project, funded by the Danish Ministry of Education, where she and colleagues used role playing to support leadership development in teams of mid-level leaders at 38 vocational schools. Through role playing, leaders were able to explore different ways of communicating from within the unfolding dynamics of relationships. This enabled them to move away from old bureaucratic and formal ways of communicating and they began relating to others in more improvisational and spontaneous ways, thus widening their communicative repertoire and relational leading capacities. Hersted’s chapter makes the important point that social constructionist practices are not separate from how we live and work together; indeed, they are the very practices by which we relate on a day-to-day basis in all aspects of life. The development of relational leading stems from reflection of unfolding relational dynamics of which we are a part, and the communication patterns that inform them. Haesun Moon makes it clear in her chapter, ‘Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways’, that learning occurs in relationship, and that the practice of coaching is no exception. After discussing the significance of coaching as a booming business and field of study, she tells us that much has been written substantiating the viability of coaching and yet little has been written about how coaching works. Her chapter brilliantly fills this gap. She discusses how coaching works from a constructionist stance, by presenting sections on the role of language and how questions and formulations work. In each section she draws us into the process of coaching with alternative examples of what a coach might or might not ask or say. In this way she demonstrates the ongoing conversational and improvisational nature of coaching. Moon makes a unique contribution to the field of coaching with her introduction of ‘The Four Quadrant Model of Coaching’. Based upon constructionist ideals, it is a straightforward format for understanding


coaching dynamics. It describes life narratives as existing on two continuums, time – past to future – and content – positive to negative. It offers coaches, consultants and leaders seeking to support others’ well-being a way to move conversations from problems of the past toward preferred futures. Her examples illustrate how, by joining with others in conversation, witnessing, and inviting them through questions and reflection to change their life narratives along the two axis of the Four Quadrant Model, we can make a positive difference in the lives of our clients, colleagues, and friends. In their chapter, ‘Relational Practices for Generative Multi-Actor Collaboration’, Johan Hovelynck, Marc Craps, Art Dewulf, Koen Sips, Tharsi Taillieu and René Bouwen make the case for relational practices when working with stakeholders engaged in complex issues such as sustainable development. Their chapter on multi-actor collaboration illustrates both the needs and the benefits of collaboration among groups of people, each having different perspectives and ideals related to an important social issue. Their literature review highlights five compelling collaborative practices: constructing a domain of interdependency; constructing complementarity from differences; developing commitment for collective responsibility; creating a referent structure for governance; and developing a generative process for social learning. They illuminate the effectiveness of these practices by weaving a case of sustainable drinking water in the Andes throughout the chapter. Their research and practice led them to three overarching conditions for successful multi-actor collaboration. Each alone is important for collaboration. Taken together the notions of developing a generative connection, generative confrontation, and supporting emergent commitment provide a foundation for working with complex issues that no one person, group or organization can resolve. They offer a clear blueprint for facilitating multi-actor collaboration.



Ginny Belden-Charles, Morgan Mann Willis and Jenny Lee’s chapter, ‘Designing Relationally Responsive Organizations’, takes us on a well-charted journey of organizing from a social constructionist perspective. They set the stage by describing social changes and forces impacting the business world today, concluding with the need for leaders and change agents to look beyond traditional forms of organization structure to new definitions and ways of organizing. They point us in the direction of network organizing and share the remarkable case of Allied Media Projects (AMP) in Detroit, a network organization that has cultivated relational practices in their work. They offer stories of their experiences at AMP to introduce six practices that support relational responsiveness: Purposeful Belonging, Listening Relationally, Inviting the Whole Self, Seeking Meaningful Coherence, Surfacing Deep Differences, and Collaborative Reflexivity. Belden-Charles, Willis and Lee write that because work is intimately bound up within relational and interactional discourse, organization design cannot be divorced from relational effectiveness. They say, ‘Instilling relational practice shifts the idea of organization design in significant ways. … Rather than analytical, problem-focused and engineering design solutions, practices for relational responsiveness must be developed, adopted and reinforced throughout organization life.’ Their claims are at the same time bold and practical. They point out that by focusing on the quality of relationships, leaders and change agents can enhance a network’s relational organizing effectiveness and learn, respond, and adapt to the many changing conditions we all face daily. This chapter presents a much needed, clearly articulated, departure from our traditional understanding of organizations as bureaucratic, hierarchical structures. It is based on the powerful idea that we live and work in relationship and hence the best way to enhance our organizing is through relational responsiveness.

Experienced Appreciative Inquiry (AI) consultants, Amanda Trosten-Bloom and Barbara E. Lewis, illustrate ways of taking social constructionist ideas to scale within intact organizations and among multi-stakeholder groups. In their chapter, ‘Large Scale Appreciative Inquiry: New Futures Through Shared Conversations’, Trosten-Bloom and Lewis provide an overview of Appreciative Inquiry practices and then discuss ways of taking AI to scale by increasing numbers of people and conversations. Their ‘seven considerations for large scale AI’ is a meaningful addition to the field of AI which clarifies practices that are essential for leaders and change agents seeking to engage large numbers of people in organization change. The many case examples woven through the chapter, demonstrate the power of appreciative, value-based questions, relational inquiry, and large-scale conversations to enhance organizational effectiveness and to transform organizational cultures. In a departure from traditional OD which targets human behavior as the means to change, Trosten-Bloom and Lewis, reveal the power of conversations as the means and end of organizational change. After sharing stories of thousands of people being involved in large scale processes for strategic planning and organization transformation, they write that large scale AI is more than worth the effort. They conclude by saying, ‘In short, large scale Appreciative Inquiry enables people with different voices, backgrounds, and perspectives to speak, listen, learn, imagine, and create – together. Conversation leads to understanding, understanding to insight, insight to imagination, and imagination to action. Thus, powerful connections – forged through conversation – pave the way to promising new futures.’ In her chapter, ‘Zooming in on the MicroDynamics of Social Innovation: Enabling Novelty Through Relational Constructionist Practice’, Danielle P. Zandee describes how Organization Development (OD) can play a role in enabling much needed social


innovation (SI) by adopting a relational constructionist stance centered on micro practices that are issue oriented. She clearly describes and provides examples of relational practices used to stimulate SI in two settings, each focused upon a social issue of importance: one based on citizen participation in creating municipal happiness; and the other on mobilizing self-managing teams for sustainable healthcare. Through these cases she illuminates micro relational constructionist practices, such as: the practice of identifying and discussing the complexity of social issues as itself a process of social construction and change; an appreciative approach partnered with dialogue about tensions and conflict to reveal and transform power dynamics; and one-on-one conversations with the potential to alter political agenda setting. In each case she shows how small dialogic OD leverage points can be located and used to create SI. Zandee’s case work is impressive. What I find most inspiring, however, are the lessons she draws from bridging the literature with her experience. She issues a bold challenge to OD practitioners to take a leading role to address the pressing, complex issues that so urgently need attention today. She tells us that practical theory can help OD practitioners better work within connected patterns of interactions undertaken by actors across organizational boundaries. And, to my mind, most significant is her plea for ‘a more critical OD practice that actively seeks to deconstruct unhelpful power dynamics’. All doable, according to Zandee, from a relational constructionist stance. Leading OD scholars, Gervase R. Bushe and Robert J. Marshak build upon their seminal work distinguishing Dialogic OD from traditional problem oriented, diagnostic OD. In their chapter, ‘Social Construction and the Practice of Dialogic Organization Development’, they provide five criteria for all OD practice, and go on to illustrate, in principle and practice, how dialogic approaches, based on social constructionism, meet these criteria. They align constructionist


practices with OD when they write, ‘change results from “changing the conversations” that shape everyday thinking and behavior by, for example, involving more and different voices, altering how people talk to each other, challenging and/or disrupting limiting patterns, and/or by stimulating alternative narratives or generative images to re-story current realities.’ Bushe and Marshak elevate the conversation about OD and social construction when they introduce their ‘generative change model’. Their research into current practices of large scale change such as Appreciative Inquiry, Future Search, Open Space and the Art of Hosting shows that successful organization transformation processes flow through a common series of activities or organizing conversations. What they call the generative change model involves six dialogic processes: identifying the adaptive challenge; framing a possibility focused purpose statement; engaging diverse stakeholders in generative conversations; stimulating self-organizing innovations; learning from successes and failures; and embedding successful innovations. Their case example illustrates generative change and offers insights for others seeking to align their OD practice with social construction principles.

CONCLUSION The chapters in this section touch on a myriad of issues relevant to human organizing and change, such as leading, ethics, coaching, collaboration, design, large scale change, and social transformation. They do so from a social constructionist stance and highlight ways social construction shifts the practice of OD. I identified four themes emerging from the chapters, each an important conversation between social construction and OD, as consultants, coaches, and leaders seek to find coherence in their practice. First is the shift from focus upon



organization structures to human organizing as dynamic patterns of communication, networks of conversations, and narrative realities that are ever adapting. The second shift is from individual behaviors to relational practices, such as responsibility, relational resonance, relational responsiveness, and relational leading. Third is the shift of emphasis from controlling variance and diversity to embracing diverse, polyphonic ways of knowing and the people who embody them. And finally, the fourth shift is from diagnosis and repairing problems to the cocreation of mutually beneficial preferred futures that serve the well-being of society and the environment as well as organizational owners. Earlier I posed the question, ‘Do the chapters in this section add to the repertoire of OD practices available or are they theoretically different enough to warrant, perhaps even demand a new field of practice – ­constructionist organizing?’ As the chapters

in this section indicate, this is a question that is vibrant and ongoing. It is my hope that these chapters will prompt OD practitioners to explore the epistemology of their practice and to seek relational coherence with clients and colleagues in order to give voice to otherwise oppressed people, while upholding democratic ideals and co-creating preferred futures. As for me, having read and supported the writing of this part, I now wonder, ‘How might a notion of relational power help us shift the world from authoritarian dominance to a world that works for all?’

REFERENCE Alban, Billie, T. and Scherer, John, J. (2005) ‘On the Shoulders of Giants: The Origins of OD’. In W. J. Rothwell and R. Sullivan (Eds.), Practicing Organization Development: A Guide for Consultants. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., pp. 81–105.

22 Relational Ethics in Organizational Life Gitte Haslebo

INTRODUCTION The starting point for this chapter is the idea, that epistemology, theory and practice cannot be separated from each other and dealt with as independent matters. The majority of the literature on management, leadership and organizational development however operates from a division between theory and practice: the first step is to know the theory, the second is to learn how to apply it. Noted social psychologist, Kurt Lewin questioned this understanding in his widely recognized saying ‘There is nothing so practical as a good theory’ (Gergen, 1994, p. 50). This point can be stretched by adding epistemology and stating that there is nothing so practical as a helpful epistemology. In the important book An Introduction to Social Constructionism the author offers this definition: ‘Epistemology is the study of the nature of knowledge’ (Burr, 1999, p. 86). An epistemology concerns assumptions about the generation and functioning of knowledge. What

assumptions do we have about where to look for knowledge and about the way knowledge is created? Under what circumstances can we trust our knowledge about what is real, rational and good? There are a number of competing views of knowledge. As pointed out by Kenneth J. Gergen the challenge is not to find out which view is ‘true’, but to raise the following question: ‘What are the gains and losses to our way of life that follow from each view? In what sense do these discourses contribute to our well-being and in what sense do they obfuscate our ends? And indeed, this discussion itself should have no terminus’ (Gergen, 1994, p. 79). This question is actually an ethical and moral one inviting moral deliberation centerstage. This chapter raises the question whether some basic assumptions about knowledge and morality are more helpful than others when it comes to moral concern and moral conflicts in organizational life. The basic assumptions from two different epistemologies: realism and social constructionism



will be compared (see Table 22.1). In many organizations assumptions from both epistemologies live side by side or in conflict with each other and offer very different options for managers and employees. What a manager, an employee or consultant happens to draw on in a specific situation, can make a world of difference as to the events that follow (Pearce and Littlejohn, 1997).

THE DYNAMICS OF BASIC ASSUMPTIONS IN ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURES Edgar H. Schein’s work on developing ideas to understand and change organizational cultures has been widely recognized and used around the world. He defines the term organizational culture in this way: I will argue that the term ‘culture’ should be reserved for the deeper level of basic assumptions and beliefs that are shared by members of an organization, that operate unconsciously, and that define in a basic ‘taken for granted’ fashion an organization’s view of itself and its environment. These assumptions and beliefs are learned responses to a group’s problems of survival in its external environment and its problems of internal integration. (Schein, 1985, p. 6)

Schein underscores some very important points about the workings of basic assumptions in an organization. • First, basic assumptions are a learnt product of shared experiences in a group. • Second, the learning is implicit and not put into words. Nonetheless the basic assumptions guide the group’s members as to the right way to perceive, think and feel about things. • Third, basic assumptions are difficult to change, as they are taken for granted and have dropped out of awareness.

However, Schein does not deal with the connection between different basic assumptions and epistemology. This chapter takes a big step in illuminating this connection

and exploring how specific basic assumptions in organizations shape different moralities. Essentially, epistemology concerns convictions about what it takes for us to think that we understand something, for instance a problem, a critical comment from a colleague or the main challenge for the organization. Under what circumstances can we rely on convictions about what is real, rational and good? Realism and social constructionism offer very different answers to this question.

ETHICS AND MORALITY IN THE ORGANIZATIONAL SETTING Life in organizations is characterized by complexity, unpredictability, and different perspectives and versions of reality. No wonder that coordinating the management of meaning often is difficult (Pearce and Littlejohn, 1997). Even though the intentions are usually good, organizational members might experience hurt, humiliation and disrespect, and moral conflicts pop up in unexpected ways in the organization. Many everyday situations unfold so quickly that we operate on autopilot and pick what seems like the only available option. In other situations organizational members can make space and time for ethical reflections – often motivated to do so by a strong sense of a moral dilemma and the belief that the choice of action can have a great impact on others and the organization. There are a number of ways in which organizational members address situations of moral conflict. One approach might be to turn to classic ethics theories, such as virtue ethics or the ethics of duty, which offer universal guidelines and categorical requirements for moral behavior. These ethics theories are an integrated feature of Western history and culture and part of the basis for the ethical reflections of organizational members. The universalistic way of thinking about ethics has led to

Relational Ethics in Organizational Life

great efforts in many countries to formulate general ground rules for an organization or a professional group, hoping that knowing the ground rules could guide action in morally difficult situations. A second approach is to rely on one’s gut feeling and intuition: ‘I did this because it just felt like the right thing to do.’ We cannot explain in words why we did what we did. This ethics approach is related to the notion of remaining authentic (true to our feelings), open (sharing our feelings) and honest (telling the truth about our feelings). These particular ethical values are often at play in organizations. The ideal of relying on subjective gut feelings as the basis for a moral choice springs from the assumption that there is a truth and that this can be found in the mind of the individual. Both the universalistic and the gut feeling approaches run into trouble by creating fights about who has the right to define reality and morality. A third approach is what is called relational ethics. Taking this path requires abandoning the universal definitions of true and false, good and bad, right and wrong and the gut feeling approach, turning instead to an emphasis on co-construction of meaning, coordination of actions and mutual relatedness among organizational members. This path was elaborated in the book: Practicing Relational Ethics in Organizations (Haslebo and Haslebo, 2012). One of the important points in the book is, that it is not a strong argument for the moral quality of an action to state that my intentions were good. Instead, organizational members have a moral obligation to consider the likely impact of their own actions and take responsibility for these together with other organizational members.

REALISM AND COMMONSENSE MORALITY Realism presumes the existence of an exterior world with properties which are


independent of the observer’s thoughts and perception. In this line of thinking it is possible to describe ‘things out there’ and their workings in an objective and unambiguous way. There is a clear distinction between an objective (real) and a subjective (mental) world, and it is possible to use language to make a precise and reliable link between the two. The belief is strong that language can be used to describe, uncover and explain the causal links underlying phenomena ‘out there’ in an objective and precise way. Realism is based on a number of assumptions about how we go about acquiring knowledge and reach an understanding of the world (Burr, 1999). The main points are the following: • The aim is to reach objective and universal knowledge and truth. • Science and investigation can uncover reality and reveal the connections between cause and effect. • Knowledge is an individual possession. • Language describes reality. • Neutral observation is possible. • Events are caused by the actions of individuals. • The individual is an autonomous entity. • The actions of the individual are governed by needs, motives, interests, feelings, etc. • The individual is accountable for his or her actions.

If these assumptions are strongly held in an organization managers and employees will take it for granted that the organization, a manager, a team of employees, a problem, etc. can be described and explained independently of the perspectives of the person, who is describing and explaining. It is, however, necessary that descriptions cover the facts in a correct and precise way and that explanations are based on an analysis of the connections between cause and effect. The key question is WHY. Only when the cause is detected, will it be possible to act in a proper way. When it comes to actions that are difficult to understand, it is important to search for answers to the WHY, looking into the



needs, motives, interests and feelings of the individual. The assumptions in realism not only determine what are intelligible ways of knowing and understanding, but also the moral obligations that have priority. In order to be a clever, rational and good manager one must be able to distinguish between true and false descriptions of reality, between honest opinions and lies, between good and bad actions, between good and evil intentions, etc. Within the framework of realism, a good manager must have the courage and skills to hold the individual accountable for his or her actions and place guilt on the right person.

CASE EXAMPLE PART ONE: THE REQUEST FOR CONSULTANCY Let me draw on a consultancy task I worked on some years ago. I was contacted by the technical director of a private company. The technical director explained that he needed help to deal with a conflict that had been going on for about a year. The conflict revolved around the service manager, who had been employed in the company for 24 years. After a merger four years ago the technical director had ‘inherited’ the service manager. In connection with the restructuring, the technical director was told that the service manager was competent but temperamental and sometimes prone to ‘lashing out’. Initially, the technical director had been preoccupied with other tasks, and it seemed the service manager was doing okay. However, over the past year or so there had been incidents that suggested something was not right. Several members of the service manager’s team had left the company because they were unhappy with their working conditions. The deputy manager of the service manager had recently requested a talk with the technical director. In this talk he said the climate in the team had deteriorated to the point where he personally found it almost unbearable. On

many occasions, team members would spend the day virtually holding their breath, anxious to see whom the service manager would turn on next. The technical director had spoken with the service manager, who felt that everything was fine, except that some of his team members were seriously underqualified. The technical director said that he was personally very bothered by the conflict. It was important for him that the employees felt that they were being treated right, so he found it quite upsetting to have frustrated, unhappy and critical employees reach out to him. In our talk about the scope of the consultancy the technical director said that he considered this a last call. Unless the service manager realized that he needed to change his behavior, redundancy was clearly on the table. However, this was not the outcome the technical director wanted, in part because the service manager was very competent in his field and had been with the company for a total of 24 years, in part because former directors might have ignored and thus enabled his gruff manner, and in part because top management considered resignations an admission of failure. There had to be a way to resolve this conflict, although he could not see how. By the end of the preliminary talk we determined that the five managers on three levels should be included in the consultancy process: the technical director, the three managers on the next level (including the service manager) and the service manager’s deputy. The consultancy was designed to include three half-day sessions with the group in my office and one final session with the technical director alone. The entire process was to be completed within a month.

Commonsense Morality in Action The word ‘conflict’ plays an important role in this showcase. When the word is used within a commonsense framework it creates a logical force to find out, who the parties are, who started the conflict and what the

Relational Ethics in Organizational Life

opposing needs and interests are about. ‘Logical force’ is an important concept from Pearce’s work on communication. It catches the insight that taken for granted assumptions define the correct action in a very compelling way (Pearce, 2007). When the problems in an organization are urgent, with many negative effects, it is a moral obligation to do something about it. But what? When the basic assumptions from realism are in play, it becomes a strong moral obligation to take steps to uncover the truth about the problems, which in this showcase is a conflict. Important questions must be answered like the following: • Who started the conflict? The service manager or some of the employees? • Are the many complaining employees telling the truth? • Why does the service manager not recognize that there is a conflict? • Why does the service manager behave in such a gruff manner? • Who is to blame for the conflict?

The urge to blame is very strong. Gergen puts it this way: ‘In the Western culture we have a pervasive tendency to hold individuals morally accountable for their actions’ (Gergen, 2009a, p. 120). Holding accountable leads to a search to find the guilty person, which must be done by collecting facts in a neutral way. In many organizations realism and these moral obligations will lead to the decision to hire a consultant, who can make an investigation in order to find the right answers to the questions in an objective and neutral way. This could be done by individual interviews, which are believed to give good conditions for obtaining honest answers. The request from the technical director was open as to epistemology. The problem story had elements from realism and the obligations to know more, but not the ‘truth’. The technical director had a strong feeling that the situation was a point of important ethical concern. Pearce coins this a bifurcation point,


in which the choice of direction is considered decisive for coming events (Pearce, 2007). That gave me the opportunity to design a consultancy process with inspiration from social constructionism and relational ethics.

SOCIAL CONSTRUCTIONISM AND RELATIONAL ETHICS Social constructionism is an epistemology that has been under development for more than 30 years. Important forerunners were the well-known books: The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (Kuhn, 1962) and The Social Construction of Reality (Berger and Luckmann, 1966), both of which challenged foundationalist views of scientific knowledge. With the establishment in 1993 of the Taos Institute as a virtual organization operating around the globe, a rich development of social constructionist ideas and practices accelerated and inspired researchers, practitioners and authors in a growing number of countries in most continents. The basic assumptions about knowledge and morality are very different from those based on realism. In order to make it easy to compare the assumptions I have put the previously mentioned assumptions into Table 22.1 and added the corresponding and very different assumptions from social constructionism. When navigating in organizational life in accordance with the key assumptions in social constructionism the WHY questions disappear and are replaced by HOW and WHAT questions, for instance: How did we create the understanding that this is a conflict? What other ways to understand the events could there be? What do we want to co-create as regards better cooperation in the department? What communication patterns could we use? How does each organizational member contribute to the communication pattern? And so on. The possibilities for WHAT and HOW questions are endless. They build on the idea of co-creation of meaning and action



Table 22.1  Key assumptions about knowledge and morality Realism

Social constructionism

Knowledge and truth must be objective and universal

Knowledge and ‘truth’ are shaped in culture, relationships and contexts Science and investigations deal with what certain groups agree to define as knowledge Knowledge resides in relationships Language creates our understanding of reality Any observation is made from a particular vantage point Events are co-created in patterns of communication

Science and investigation can uncover reality and reveal the connections between cause and effect Knowledge is an individual possession Language describes reality Neutral observation is possible Events are caused by the actions of individuals The individual is an autonomous entity The actions of the individual are governed by needs, interests, feelings, etc. Individual accountability

and relational responsibility (McNamee and Gergen, 1999). This way of thinking leads to a second order morality, in which focus is not on good or bad, but on through which processes we can create the good. ‘In the case of second order morality, individual responsibility is replaced by relational responsibility, a collective responsibility for sustaining the potentials of coordinated action. To be responsible to relationships is, above all, to sustain the process of co-creating meaning’ (Gergen, 2009b, p. 364). Relational ethics is a second order morality. The ideas and practices in relational ethics were unfolded in the book earlier mentioned (Haslebo and Haslebo, 2012). This book offers a thorough exploration of how key social constructionist concepts like context, relationship, narratives, appreciation and empowerment are connected with moral obligations in relational ethics. Relational ethics in organizational life can be illustrated as a flower with five petals each showing a moral obligation – see Figure 22.1. A moral obligation is very different from a rule. Whereas a rule defines a specific action, a moral obligation can guide ethical reflections in complex situations, in which it is difficult to choose a good step towards a desirable future.

The individual can be constructed in many ways by the positioning in narratives Individual actions can be understood in different ways dependent on relationships and context Relational responsibility

CASE EXAMPLE PART TWO: THE CONSULTANCY PROCESS So how did it go? Very briefly, the three sessions were structured as follows: the first was about setting the stage in order to get the process started and to give the five participants a chance to tell their individual stories and listen to the others’ feedback. The second session was about elaborating on the stories and opening the space for new understandings, while the third was about determining how each participant could contribute to changing the undesirable pattern of events, making commitments and planning how to inform the employees about the sessions and the commitments. The initial phase was the hardest part. The mood was very bleak, and no one was keen to say anything. There was hardly any eye contact among the participants. The technical director began by outlining his reasons for seeking outside assistance. He made it clear that situations had arisen that top management found unacceptable, and which would have to change. Then he handed over the responsibility for the process to me. It proved necessary to spend about an hour clarifying the context for the sessions, including my role as a consultant, and to make the ground rules explicit.

Relational Ethics in Organizational Life

In particular, it was necessary to spend time talking about the implications of confidentiality and non-disclosure. Confidentiality was defined to mean that the sessions were to serve as a free space, meaning that nothing that was said during a session could ever be used in a different context later on. The participants could speak freely, without fear that something they said might be included in their personnel file and thus potentially used later in a disciplinary context. The technical director was very aware of the ethical aspects of the process. Non-disclosure was interpreted to mean that for the duration of the consultancy, everyone had to abstain from sharing with others what was going on and what they or any of the other participants had said. During the final group session, we needed to spend some time to consider how to inform others in the organization about the process and the results. This consultancy process contained two particularly interesting moments that would be crucial in ensuring a positive development. The first moment occurred towards the end of the first session, when both the technical director and the deputy manager acknowledged the service manager for his significant professional expertise and high-quality performance, and when he encountered understanding from everyone that he might ‘erupt’ when he found that others were riding roughshod over his quality standards. The moment the service manager felt that he was being understood and acknowledged for standing up for something valuable, he underwent an almost physical transformation. He relaxed, opened up and contributed in a manner that was lively and engaged. The second moment arose during the second session. We had spent some time exploring how the different stories were interwoven. At some point, it became clear that the actions or inaction of several individuals contributed to creating the course of events that led to a situation where the service manager ‘erupted’. The big shift in understanding happened with the insight into this shared co-creation of


and responsibility for an undesirable course of events. Following this, the participants got together around a new shared language to discuss ‘situations that entail the risk of a volcanic eruption’. This language proved very useful in shifting the focus from an individualized problem to a shared responsibility. The language was useful, even if the metaphor was less than perfect. In real life, there is precious little we can do to influence what a volcano does. That was not the case here: Everyone could play a part in predicting, preventing and attempting to stop a volcanic eruption. The final session was a very productive process where a wide range of possible courses of action were formulated and discussed. For instance, it was decided to launch a project to elevate some of the service manager’s quality standards to corporate policy and thus relieve him of having to wage a personal battle in defense of quality. On a personal level, the participants agreed on a secret signal that anyone could give the service manager if they noticed the early signs of a ‘volcanic eruption’. The signal was a secret single word that the uninitiated would not be able to guess the meaning of. A year later I received a call from the technical director about a different issue. As we talked, he mentioned that the participants still remembered the word, and that to his knowledge it had been used a couple of times. All the managers in the service department were still working in the company.

Relational Ethics in Action In a social constructionist perspective it is important to pay careful attention to language and consider which key words to use and to work reflexively with the meaningcreating processes. Some words can be very strong, as they activate certain dominant narratives. The word ‘conflict’ is one of them. ‘Conflict cannot be avoided and must be thought of as an opportunity to build rather than destroy relationships. For many participants, this is a foreign concept. For them,



conflict by definition threatens relationships’ (Littlejohn and Domenici, 2001, p. 12). But it does not have to be this way. In this consultancy assignment the technical director introduced the word conflict in his initial request, and it was a key word in the preliminary session in the discussion between director and consultant. However, when the technical director opened the first session the word ‘conflict’ was replaced by the wording ‘situations that are unacceptable and have to change’. This change in words was a very important shift, putting relational responsibility centerstage instead of individual accountability and guilt. In what ways were the moral obligations brought into action in this consultancy process? The beginning of the first session was especially important in order to make it possible for all the participants to take social responsibility for the context. A thorough discussion of which ground rules would be needed in these specific sessions was important to create a shared understanding of the purpose and possibilities and to give each participant a secure place in the process. To do so was especially important in this case, where the stakes were high and the final outcome unknown and unpredictable. In the first session each participant was given the opportunity to tell his story about important events in the service department, while the others were listening and asking exploratory questions. The stories had some similarities, but also showed many differences. Focusing on the differences stimulated great curiosity, surprise and respectful comments, like this one: ‘Wow, I did not know, that you experienced the event in that way’. The participating managers and the relationships among them were part of each other’s stories. The dialogic obligation to honor relationships was clearly in play. The two other managers and the service manager’s deputy all had direct experiences with the service manager’s ‘explosions’, while the technical director did not. All

participants had some information about the critical employees who had complained about the service manager’s rude manner and had resigned. On this background the risk was high that the service manager would be positioned as a bully and the colleagues and employees as victims, and that the bully would be punished and eventually excluded (Haslebo and Lund, 2015; Lund, 2017). This, however, did not happen. On the contrary, the service manager was positioned as a manager with high quality standards and one who was fighting for the company. Both the shared responsibility for the positioning of each other and the obligation to inquire into the value to the work community were activated by the dialogic processes. Attention to the positioning powers in communication is of utmost importance in relational practices (Haslebo, 2003). During the second session comparing experiences and reflections on situations where the service manager ‘erupted’ helped to discover that the other managers, who often did not do anything, also had a responsibility, and that everybody involved had a certain scope of action possibilities. This new insight activated the obligation to interact as morally responsible agents – not only in the present moments, but also in risky situations in the future. Dialogic processes pave the way for reflexivity. Monk and Winslade put it this way: ‘Reflexive practices help to make what we are barely aware of more obvious, and therefore more available to our conscious efforts to change’ (Winslade and Monk, 2001, p. 121). The concept ‘moral obligation’ is a relational concept describing qualities in relationships and the interconnectedness among people and stories. What is interesting to note is that moral obligations do not reside in the individual participant but are brought alive in the dialogic processes being co-created by the consultant, technical director and the managers. The participants did not first receive teaching in social constructionist concepts and relational ethics and then encouraged to

Relational Ethics in Organizational Life

Social responsibility for the context

Obligation to interact as morally responsible agents


Dialogic obligations to relationships

Relational ethics

Shared responsibility for positioning

Inquiry of value to the work community

Figure 22.1  Moral obligations in relational ethics

try to practice the new knowledge. They were right away invited into dialogic processes, in which it was possible to calibrate their understanding of events and actions with each other. And they grabbed this opportunity.

PERSPECTIVES ‘We do not suffer from an absence of morality in the world. Rather, in important respects we suffer from its plentitude’ (Gergen, 2009b, p. 356). This is also the case in organizations: organizational members can draw on many different and competing moral obligations. The decisions as to which communication pattern is used in a complex situation with strong moral concerns are quite decisive. When investigations of who is accountable and at fault are chosen, the

communication is monological. The moral atom is the individual, and the risk of blaming, punishing and excluding is high. When dialogic processes are co-created, the moral obligations from relational ethics can flourish. When this happens many times in an organization, the chance will increase that basic assumptions and moral obligations from realism will be challenged and changed. Focusing on relational ethics holds promising perspectives for the further development of ideas and practices in management, leadership and organizational development, as it can strengthen the mutual relatedness among organizational members and the coordination of meaning and action. But how can we make this happen in organizational life? This chapter has shown a wide scope of action possibilities. Let me sum up some of the most important points:



1 The ‘choice’ of assumptions about knowledge and morality in a specific situation can make a world of difference as to future events. 2 As assumptions are culturally generated in the organization and often not made explicit, the ‘choice’ is often incidental. 3 The ‘choice’ of basic assumptions from social constructionism will invite the organizational members involved to practice the moral obligations in relational ethics. 4 The showcase leads to the surprising discovery that careful and mutually respectful dialogic processes help the participants to practice relational ethics, even though they do not know the theory behind it. 5 The showcase leads to the interesting hypothesis that participation in dialogic processes can lead to a shift in basic assumptions from realism to social constructionism, gradually making it possible to put the new assumptions into words and pave the way for a change in organizational culture.

What are the implications for the future development of social constructionist practices in organizational life? The answers are not the traditional ones: more theoretical education, more training of the individual manager, more instructions, more guidelines on ethical behavior, and so on. What we need to focus on is how we can create contexts in the ongoing organizational life in which dialogic processes can flourish even in rough times. How can we sustain the processes of co-creating meaning, and how can we restore and repair relationships even when they have been damaged? Morality does not reside in the individual, but in the co-creation of processes, relationships and communication patterns. That is what we need to focus on in the future.

REFERENCES Berger, P. & Luckmann, T. (1966). The Social Construction of Reality. New York: Doubleday/Anchor.

Burr, V. (1999). An Introduction to Social Constructionism. London: Routledge. Gergen, K. J. (1994). Realities and Relationships: Soundings in Social Construction. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gergen, K. J. (2009a). An Invitation to Social Construction. London: Sage. Gergen, K. J. (2009b). Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Haslebo, G. (2019). Relationer i organisationer – en verden til forskel. 2nd edition. København: Dansk Psykologisk Forlag. Haslebo, G. & Haslebo, M. L. (2012). Practicing Relational Ethics in Organizations. Chagrin Falls, OH: A Taos Institute Publication. Haslebo, G. & Lund, G. E. (2015). Practicing Relational Thinking in Dealing with Bullying in Schools. In: T. Dragonas, K. J. Gergen, S. McNamee & E. Tseliou (Eds.), Education as Social Construction. Chagrin Falls (pp. 168–191), OH: Taos Publications Worldshare. Kuhn, T. S. (1962). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago: University of Chicago Press. Littlejohn, S. W. & Domenici, K. (2001). Engaging Communication in Conflict. S­ystemic Practice. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Lund, G. E. (2017). Making Exclusionary Processes in Schools Visible. PhD dissertation, Twente University, the Netherlands. McNamee, S. & Gergen, K. J. (1999). Relational Responsibility: Resources for Sustainable Dialogue. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Pearce, W. Barnett (2007). Making Social Worlds: A Communication Perspective. Oxford, UK and Australia: Blackwell Publishing. Pearce, W. B. & Littlejohn, S. W. (1997). Moral Conflict: When Social Worlds Collide. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Schein, E. H. (1985). Organizational Culture and Leadership: A Dynamic View. San Francisco: Jossey-Bass Publishers. Winslade, J. & Monk, G. (2001). Narrative Mediation: A New Approach to Conflict Resolution. San Francisco: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.

23 Working with Relational Leading and Meaning Making in Teams of Leaders Lone Hersted

INTRODUCTION In recent years, an increasing interest has been paid to the relational aspects of leading and some scholars have even started using the term relational leading as a specific understanding of leadership. This movement is highly influenced by the dialogical turn in both social and human sciences and, in relation to this, social constructionist ideas. Relational leading is linked to a relational understanding, which puts dialogue at the center of organizational life and understands leading as a shared activity, where people work together to move the organization forward, rather than it being the result of a single person’s achievement. This understanding moves away from the traditional image of the strong, heroic leader. This chapter discusses fundamental aspects of relational leading seen from a social constructionist stance and their implications for practice. This chapter also provides the reader with an illustrative example

from an action research practice with a team of leaders (officially appointed managers) at a vocational school. Finally, a series of important ethical attention points, in relation to this practice, and further implications for the practice are shared.

WHAT IS RELATIONAL LEADING? Around a decade ago, Kenneth Gergen and I started discussing this theme, and we decided to write a little book with the title Relational Leading: Practices for Dialogically Based Collaboration, which was published a few years later (Hersted and Gergen, 2013). The book was based on a series of workshops with managers where we used roleplaying for the enhancement of dialogic and relational capabilities. But what does relational leading mean? In the following, I will unfold my understanding of the term.



Within a social constructionist view, an organization can be understood as a web of conversations, conversational flows (Gergen, 2012) or a confluence (Hersted and Gergen, 2013) through which people interact and coordinate with each other. These conversational flows are carried out among people and groups who have different points of view, different presupposed assumptions, and different ways of understanding their tasks and their surroundings. Here we find multiple understandings and variations in locally and relationally constructed realities. Within a relational view, these different understandings and realities are not stable but always in movement. This means that through microprocesses of conversations and interaction, understandings, meanings, and opinions are developed and modify over time. Relational leading is not a matter of attempting to control these understandings (which would be an impossible effort) but of acknowledging and working with and within diversity and complexity. Within a relational view, polyvocality is seen as necessary and enriching, contributing to decision making and enhancing organizational knowing, learning, development, and creativity. Relational leading builds on the notion that, through dialogical interaction and collaboration, we can create new ways of moving forward together while accepting that, in an organization, there will always be different voices and interpretations at stake. Viewing organizations as webs of conversations, conversational flows, or a confluence of conversations contrasts with the view of the organization as an ultimately rational, controllable, and efficient machine. My approach to relational leading is built on an understanding of leading and organizing where communication is seen as a continuing process, emergent and open, and where people attempt to construct meaning together through coordinated action (Gergen, 2009) or joint action (Shotter, 2008, 2010b). In this view, meaning is not something preconceived and preplanned, rather it emerges and develops through dialogue, interplay, interaction,

and co-creation (see also Hersted, 2016; Hersted and Gergen, 2013). Relational leading understands leading as a co-created activity and pays special attention to dialogue and relationships in organizational life (see also Cunliffe and Eriksen, 2011; Gergen and Hersted, 2016; Hersted, 2016; Hersted and Gergen, 2013; Ospina and Uhl-Bien, 2012). In a relational perspective, sense making, decision making, and leading, are seen as unpredictable, emergent processes. In an organization, there may be formally appointed managers, but the activity of leading is a collaborative practice. Thus, leading in this view is not embodied in an independent person who controls the organization, but emerges out of a relational process. Rather than attempting to control the organization, relational leading is about moving with or within these emerging relational microprocesses. As written elsewhere, there are no leaders ‘independent of the relationships of which they are a part’ (Gergen and Hersted, 2016, p. 178). In my account on relational leading inspired by social constructionist ideas, I attempt to move beyond the traditional leader–­follower division as questioned and criticized by Hosking (2006). I prefer the verb leading rather than the noun leadership because I see it as a process and an activity where organizational members are relating to each other in shared ongoing action. As mentioned earlier, there may be formally appointed managers, but, in a constructionist understanding, the task of leading is a co-created, shared activity. This also includes taking a process perspective, rather than understanding the organization as something stable. While taking a process perspective, we view the organization as in a constant state of becoming, a state of ongoing change rather than stability. As Shotter puts it, we are living in ‘an unfinished, still developing world’ (2016a, p. 61) and ‘we are a part of the making’ (2016a, p. 67). Being ‘part of the making,’ as Shotter (2016a) points out, also implies that we, as organizations and


individuals, contribute to the world making and that we are responsible for the ways in which we, as organizations and individuals, relate to our surroundings. The conditions of rapid and ongoing contextual change in the surrounding world call for new forms of leadership and new ways of organizing. At the same time, any organization is constantly changing from within. Relational leading puts major emphasis on continuous emergent change. Change, within this perspective, is seen as an ongoing process where actors are constantly ‘reweaving their webs of beliefs and actions to accommodate new experiences’ (Tsoukas and Chia, 2002, p. 580). This view contrasts with traditional approaches to leadership that are often dominated by the attempts of privileging stability, order, and routine that are controlled from a top-down position. These traditional approaches often understand organizations as structures. As previously mentioned, I see an organization as a confluence of conversations and coordinated actions. Relational leading represents a shift in our understanding from seeing people, objects, and organizations as independent entities to viewing everything as connected in a relational, responsive process. From a relational perspective, we are all interrelated with each other and we are always in the process of coordinating meaning and constructing our reality. In daily organizational practice, we are embedded in relationships which continuously develop through our daily interactions.

PRACTICES OF RELATIONAL LEADING Today many organizations are depending on people who have different kinds of skills, competences, and educational backgrounds; who are expected to be capable of working across disciplines and professions. We see a movement from unification toward diversity and an increasing request for collaboration across professions. The leader today has lost


his or her monopoly on knowledge and needs to take the knowledge and experience of others into account in the meaning- and decision-making processes. Furthermore, he or she needs to negotiate with employees concerning specific organizational decisions, usually with officially appointed representatives from various groups of employees, for instance, work councils, staff committees, and labor unions. In order to succeed, new ways of relating, involving, and communicating are required. Within a social constructionist perspective, we consider relationships as a fundamental condition and as something which we constantly construct and develop through relationally-responsive processes (Shotter, 2006, 2008). And, in these processes, we attempt to make meaning together. Thus, moving within relationally-responsive processes becomes a matter of finding new pathways together and teaching ourselves ‘thinking in duration’ (Shotter, 2008, p. 501), which means seeing everything as interrelated and fluid. It is a matter of navigating in a continuous state of becoming, where we need to learn how to move within fluidity, complexity, and unpredictability without having the answers and conclusions beforehand. Therefore, relational leading involves curiosity, listening, responsiveness, improvisation, and reflexivity, including our capability to question our presupposed assumptions. When relational leading builds on the understanding of leading as a shared activity, basic principles such as dialogue, multivocality, co-creation, and meaning making become crucial, and special attention is paid to the development of capabilities in communication. It is, to a great extent, a matter of taking part and engaging dialogically in a relational process where relational leading puts the main focus on what is going on in the interplay among people and draws attention to everyday conversations in organizational practice. Leading is seen here as reflexive participation in a dialogically based process of mutual meaning making or sense making – a



process of continuous coordination among organizational members. Karl Weick (1995, 2001) was the first scholar who emphasized the important role of sense making in the process of organizing. Whereas some scholars understand sense making mainly as an individual, cognitive process (Klein et al., 2006), others see it as inherently discursive and social (Maitlis, 2005; Weick, 1995, 2001; Weick et al., 2005). Weick et al. (2005) explain that sense making is where meaning is materializing through language and where ‘situations, organizations and environments are being talked into existence’ (p. 409). These scholars point out that sense making, to a great extent, is a relational activity concerning organizing through communication. Within a social constructionist understanding, sense making – or meaning m ­ aking – is primarily seen as a social process because a main assumption here is that through conversations and embodied interaction people co-construct their understandings and interpretations of their social world. In organizations, and in our daily life, we make sense of our experience through stories, narratives, and dialogue. We co-create collective narratives to create shared meanings around experiences and episodes and, as Gergen (2005) points out, narratives connect characters, actions, and plots with biography and history. Constantly things are happening in the organization that we cannot predict or control. We are thrown into a series of unpredictable, unknown events, and we seek the answer to our question: ‘What’s the story?’ (Weick et  al., 2005, p. 410). In particular, there is a need for thoughtful sense making when an incident does not correspond to our understanding of the world, for instance when we experience disruption understood as radical organizational change. In these situations, we experience an urgent need for making sense, so that we will become capable of acting and adjust ourselves to the new situation. Therefore, sense making is not only

retrospective, but it also concerns how we can navigate here and now into the future. Seen from a social constructionist standpoint, sense making is not just simply a matter of being a good storyteller but more a question of being a good facilitator of and contributor to meaning-making dialogues. Leading, within a relational view, becomes to a great extent a matter of facilitating and engaging in dialogues for sense making in, for example, groups and teams. This requires the willingness to offer space for multivocality and being capable of tolerating and navigating in dissensus. In line with Shotter’s thoughts (2006, 2010b), it is a matter of working from a withness approach rather than an aboutness approach; being and talking responsively with people, rather than making decisions above their heads. Here the leader’s capability of entering into dialogue as a resourceful conversational partner (Shotter and Cunliffe, 2003) becomes crucial, as well as her or his willingness to put him/herself at the disposal of others for questioning and meaning making. Likewise, it is important to offer the organizational members and stakeholders the necessary space for expressing themselves, uttering their concerns, doubts, worries, and critical viewpoints. This is an ongoing special task for the appointed leaders in the organization, not only in periods of radical change, but in daily organizational life as well.

HOW CAN RELATIONAL LEADING BE DEVELOPED? AN EXAMPLE FROM PRACTICE Most leadership development programs focus on the individual leader. In my experience as a researcher, educator, and organizational consultant, there is a need for working with learning in groups or teams of leaders where they can train their capability of communicating, reflecting together, collaborating, and creating new ideas jointly. This can be done, for instance, through action learning


and action research (e.g., Hersted and Frimann, 2019; Raelin and Coghlan, 2006). The following presents a brief example of how it is possible to work with leadership development and meaning making through roleplaying with a reflecting team within the frame of action research. The approach is based on an understanding of leadership as basically relational, dialogical, and unscripted, which means that leading cannot be learned from manuals and recipes. Rather, it is a matter of developing capabilities in what could be called unscripted leadership (a term borrowed from Gagnon et al., 2012) and finding generative pathways in responsive relationships from within (Shotter, 2005, 2006, 2010a, 2010b) challenging situations in the organization. While working from the notion of relational leading, I am interested in finding how we may ‘sensitize leaders to the impact of their interactions and enable them to become more reflexive and ethical practitioners’ (Cunliffe and Eriksen, 2011, p.  1428). This idea of ‘sensitizing’ leaders to become more aware and reflexive concerning their engagement in relationships has informed my action research practice for several years, where I include the use of roleplaying for leadership development (Hersted, 2016, 2017, 2019). The following example derives from a project where we worked with leadership development in teams of mid-level leaders (managers) at 38 vocational schools. The project was externally funded by the Danish Ministry of Education, and the overall aim of the project was to develop leadership in practice and sustain the development in the 38 leading teams. The inquiry was inspired by action research. In one of these vocational schools, the group of seven leaders wished to work with the development of their communicative and relational capabilities in relation to their leading practice. Only two of the seven leaders had been working at the school for more than two years, so they were relatively new to each other.


Within this frame, we agreed to work with challenging communicative situations in their leading practice. In these challenging situations, the leaders found themselves stuck in degenerative communicative patterns loaded with tension and conflict. Therefore, it was crucial to find new ways of relating, communicating, and navigating in response to the current situation. In other words, it was necessary to make sense and find new ways of moving forward. First, we had to create a frame for reflexivity (Cunliffe, 2002, 2004) and learning in a supporting and nurturing atmosphere. We agreed to use an inquiry based on roleplaying and a reflecting team to experiment with new and more generative pathways to move thoughtfully forward in challenging and bewildering situations. The central guiding question in the group of leaders became, ‘How can we, as leaders, develop our communicative and relational capabilities to create a better organization?’ Related to this guiding question, we worked with the theme of sense making, which became important to the group due to impending cost savings initiatives and minor organizational changes. The leaders were in doubt about how to navigate and communicate with the employees in this situation and many questions emerged, such as, ‘How would the cost savings and organizational changes affect the organization and the employees?’, ‘What to say and how and when to say it?’, ‘What kind of burning questions could the employees possibly have in this situation?’, ‘How could they, leaders and employees, make sense together through dialogue?’ To put it simply, ‘How could they move forward with people in generative ways?’ The leaders were interested in discussing and finding pathways concerning how they could facilitate meaningful dialogues with the employees and each other in relation to the new situation and engage in these dialogues in supportive ways as resourceful conversational partners. How could they navigate reflexively in these difficult circumstances? In addition, how could



they be responsive and recognize their own and the employees’ emotions and memories from previous cost-cuttings? How could they meet and resonate with these emotions in generative and nurturing ways instead of attempting to push them away? Of course, the answers to these questions could not be scripted. However, through roleplaying, we created a frame for improvising different scenarios and trying out different ways of communicating in these kinds of challenging situations. The leaders picked up and staged scenarios that they had recently experienced themselves and found challenging or bewildering or caused them to be stuck. Here are some examples of themes they decided to work with: (1) engaging in sense-making dialogues with groups of employees concerning the cost savings; (2) mediating conflicts in teams of employees; (3) entering into dialogues with teachers due to claims from students; (4) facilitating dialogues for development and knowledge sharing in teams of teachers; (5) facilitating dialogues to sustain the inclusion of newcomers in the organization; and (6) facilitating dialogues for creativity and innovation in the teaching programs. I had the role of facilitator of the process. Figure 23.1 illustrates the different phases in the process. As illustrated in Figure 23.1, we included working with a reflecting team (consisting of colleagues from the team of leaders) to create a space for collaborative reflexivity among the participants (see also Hersted, 2018, 2019). This way of working with a reflecting team was inspired by the systemic family therapists from the well-known Milan school and the Norwegian psychiatrist and family therapist, Andersen (1991). With the reflecting team, we paid special attention to the use of discourse, metaphors, and the kinds of spaces the remarks among the participants opened up and, likewise, closed down. Furthermore, we discussed possible alternative scenarios: What else could have been said/done? Figure 23.2 illustrates the set-up with the use of the reflecting team.

When we communicate, we metaphorically co-create generative or degenerative scenarios (Gergen, 2009; Gergen and Hersted, 2016). Sometimes we find ourselves caught in fixed and destructive patterns or, as Gergen (2009) formulates it, dangerous dances. If we see a remark as an invitation, how then, can we respond to it in a thoughtful way? Through the roleplaying scenarios we created different shifts in the ‘dance’ and tried to find new openings in the conversation while taking into consideration that, in any kind of conversation, the conversational partners must be thoughtful and reflexive concerning the possible ripple effects. With the use of roleplaying, we explored the following: How can we express the things which are difficult to say in such a way that all involved keep their dignity and are able to continue working together? How can we listen in such ways that the people involved are encouraged to speak and how can we communicate in ways that encourage people to listen? How can we, as leaders, assist organizational members in sense-making processes in times of rapid change? When using the term discourse, we also included the embodied dimensions of communication. It is my experience that roleplaying, in particular, can help participants become more aware of their bodily expressions and sensations and encourage participants to pay more attention to other people’s embodied and responsive ways of acting as well. As Shotter (2010a) points out, ‘we do not need to refer to a mental schematism (a theory or a model) in order to act in a skillful manner; we simply need to act continuously in response to our sense of our current situation’ (p. 279). It is my experience that roleplaying can contribute to enhancing and refining this kind of responsive, relational sensitivity which Shotter refers to, because, in roleplaying, participants need to respond to each other and improvise all the time. In sum, roleplaying is all about relationships and responsiveness.

Figure 23.1  Discovering new ways of relating by use of roleplaying with reflecting team





Figure 23.2  Roleplaying with reflecting team in bewildering situations

Shotter (2016b) emphasizes that, ‘all communication begins in, and continues with, our living, spontaneous, expressive-responsive (gestural), bodily activities that occur in the meetings between ourselves and the others and othernesses around us’ (p. 127). Unfortunately, in programs for management education, emphasis is often put on cognitive approaches to learning, and the bodily dimension is ignored. The work with communicative scenarios through roleplaying offers an integrated approach because it includes embodiment, reflexivity, playfulness, improvisation, responsiveness, and collaboration. In relation to our work with roleplaying, we can talk about embodied sense making while understanding bodily utterances and reactions as entirely integrated in human interaction and communication. As argued by Cunliffe and Coupland (2012), embodied sense making constitutes a significant part of organizational

life because we are touched by each other in our daily interactions in the organization. Through roleplaying, the leaders engaged in responsive relationships and developed different ways of communicating from within the unfolding dynamics of relationships instead of strategically trying to plan and control conversations. They started moving away from old bureaucratic and formal ways of communicating and began relating to others in more improvisational and spontaneous ways. Little by little, they discovered that they had a broader potential than they initially thought, and, in this way, they widened their communicative repertoire.

Outcomes of the Project At the end of the project, all seven managers participated in individual interviews of 30–40 minutes each, where they expressed



their feelings and reflections concerning the experience. Some of the common points in their commentaries was that the roleplaying with the reflecting team had supported them both at an individual level as leaders and as an entire management team. They explained that the roleplaying had helped them in:

be responsive, adjust to the emerging scenarios, and adapt to each other. Here they develop their capability of saying yes to each other (Barrett, 2012) and coordinate in joint action as if they were a group of improvisational jazz players.

• Improving their capability for considering different perspectives other than their own; • Developing relational capabilities; • Engaging in sense-making dialogues with other organizational members; • Developing bodily awareness; • Sensing openings in the conversation; • Developing capabilities in improvisation and risk-taking; • Developing reflexive capabilities by giving and receiving feedback; • Developing responsive ways of engaging with others; • Increasing the level of trust and collaboration in the team.


In summary, it is my experience that this way of learning through roleplaying with a reflecting team can contribute to sensitizing participants in their relational engagement and improve their capabilities of entering into and facilitating dialogues as resourceful conversational partners. It can help participants to sense openings in conversations, to become more responsive in their relationships with others, and to improvise and navigate without scripts instead of attempting to predict the situation. It is about engaging in living relations, being responsive and moving with the process, rather than trying to control it. Furthermore, the project has shown that, this kind of training can help leaders engage in sense-making dialogues with other organizational members, for instance, in confusing situations or even crises. In addition, it can contribute to the development of trust and confidence in a group because participants move to the edge of their comfort zone and allow themselves to take risks and show their imperfections and vulnerability. When engaging in roleplaying, which is based on improvisation, participants need to

Working with roleplaying in organizations is not an innocent activity because memories, emotions, and energies become activated. Therefore, in the following, I emphasize some basic ethical points to which we should attend that have emerged and become formulated during my practice. These may inspire others who consider working with roleplaying for learning and development in organizations: • Embrace polyphony – include multiple voices, multiple perspectives and multiple selves. • Avoid stereotyping the other, which means avoiding the construction of closed and static identity conclusions (working from the idea that we have multiple selves). • Always recognize the unique otherness of the other and be responsive to him/her. • Use withness-thinking instead of aboutnessthinking, which means that we must work with people while simultaneously challenging and questioning the presupposed assumptions and established truths (in the group and one’s own). • Continue being curious, keep wondering, and asking questions. • Always be creative and look for new openings in the conversations. • Avoid imposing initiatives on anyone, but work with people in a relationally-responsive way. • Always be respectful if some participants do not wish to participate directly in the roleplaying. Be creative and offer other ways to participate, for example, by taking part in the reflecting team, taking notes, or making drawings in relation to the process on a shared poster. • Always work from within the zone of proximal development. • Ensure that all participants feel comfortable during and after the process.



IMPLICATIONS FOR LEADERSHIP AND LEADERSHIP DEVELOPMENT IN THE FUTURE Relational leading emphasizes the development of relational and dialogic capabilities, not only among officially appointed managers but also among employees because leading, in this view, is seen as a shared practice. The case described shows that if we wish to help organizational members develop a high degree of reflexivity and help them become more capable of relating, communicating, coordinating, improvising, and adjusting to what emerges in relationally-responsive and responsible ways, learning through roleplaying with reflecting team can be one way to go. However, there may be many other ways as well, and I can see an enormous potential in action learning and action research where leaders and employees work closely together in dialogically based settings to develop new ways of strategizing, organizing, and coordinating. In this way, leading can become even more relational, more engaging, and to a greater extent become a shared practice based on multivocality and democratic involvement.

REFERENCES Andersen, T. (ed.) (1991). The reflecting team: Dialogues and dialogues about the dialogues. New York: W. W. Norton & Company. Barrett, F. J. (2012). Yes to the mess: Surprising leadership lessons from Jazz. Boston, MA: Harvard Business Review Press. Cunliffe, A. L. (2002). Reflexive dialogical practice in management learning. Management Learning, 3(1), 35–61. Cunliffe, A. L. (2004). On becoming a critically reflexive practitioner. Journal of Management Education, 28(4), 407–426. Cunliffe, A. L., & Coupland, C. (2012). From hero to villain to hero: Making experience sensible through embodied narrative sensemaking. Human Relations, 65(1), 63–88.

Cunliffe, A. L., & Eriksen, M. (2011). Relational leadership. Human Relations, 64(11), 1425–1449. Gagnon, S., Vough, H. C., & Nickerson, R. (2012). Learning to lead, unscripted: Developing affiliative leadership through improvisational theatre. Human Resource Development Review, 11(3), 299–325. Gergen, K. J. (2005). Narrative, moral identity and historical consciousness: A social constructionist account. In J. Straub (Ed.), Narration, identity and historical consciousness (pp. 99–119). New York: Berghahn Books. Gergen, K. J. (2009). Relational being: Beyond self and community. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gergen, K. J. (2012). Co-constitution, causality and confluence: Organizing in a world without entities. In T. Hernes & S. Maitlis (Eds.), Process, sensemaking, and organizing (pp. 55–69). Oxford: Oxford University Press. Gergen, K. J., & Hersted, L. (2016). Leadership as dialogic practice. In J. A. Raelin (Ed.), Leadership-as-practice: Theory and application (pp. 178–197). New York: Taylor & Francis/Routledge Business & Management. Hersted, L. (2016). Relational leading and dialogic process (PhD thesis). Aalborg: Aalborg Universitetsforlag. Hersted, L. (2017). Reflective role-playing in the development of dialogic skill. Journal of Transformative Education, 15(2), 137–155. Hersted, L. (2018). Doing relational research through roleplaying. In C. Ø. Madsen, M. V. Larsen, L. Hersted, & J. G. Rasmussen (Eds.), Relational research and organi­sation studies (pp. 117–141). London: Routledge. Hersted, L. (2019). Developing leadership through action research with roleplaying. In L. Hersted, O. Ness, & S. Frimann (Eds.), Action research in a relational perspective: Dialogue, reflexivity, power and ethics (pp.  111–133). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group. Hersted, L., & Frimann, S. (2019). Leadership development and organizational learning through dialogical process. In L. Hersted, O. Ness, & S. Frimann (Eds.), Action research in a relational perspective: Dialogue, reflexivity, power and ethics (pp. 75–92). New York: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.


Hersted, L., & Gergen, K. J. (2013). Relational leading: Practices for dialogically based collaboration. Chagrin Falls, OH: TAOS Institute Publications. Hosking, D. M. (2006). Not leaders, not followers: A post-modern discourse of leadership processes. In B. Shamir, R. Pillai, M. Bligh, & M. Uhl-Bien (Eds.), Follower-centered perspectives on leadership: A tribute to the memory of James R. Meindl (pp. 243–263). Greenwich, CT: Information Age Publishing. Klein, G., Moon, B., & Hoffman, R. (2006). Making sense of sensemaking 1: Alternative perspectives. Intelligent Systems, 21(4), 70–73. Maitlis, S. (2005). The social processes of organizational sensemaking. The Academy of Management Journal, 48(1), 21–49. Ospina, S., & Uhl-Bien, M. (2012). ­Introduction – Mapping the terrain: Convergence and divergence around relational leadership. In M. Uhl-Bien & S. Ospina (Eds.), Advancing relational leadership research (pp. xix–xlvii). Charlotte, NC: Information Age Publishing. Raelin, J. A., & Coghlan, D. (2006). Developing managers as learners and researchers: Using action learning and action research. Journal of Management Education, 30(5), 670–689. Shotter, J. (2005). Inside the moment of managing: Wittgenstein and the everyday dynamic of our expressive-responsive activities. Organization Studies, 26(1), 113–135. Shotter, J. (2006). Understanding process from within: An argument for withness-thinking. Organization Studies, 27(4), 585–604. Shotter, J. (2008). Dialogism and polyphony in organizing theorizing in organization


studies: Action guiding anticipations and continuous creation of novelty. Organization Studies, 29(4), 501–525. Shotter, J. (2010a). Situated dialogic action research: Disclosing ‘beginnings’ for innovative change in organisations. Organisational Research Methods, 13(2), 268–285. Shotter, J. (2010b). Social constructionism on the edge. Chagrin Falls, OH: The Taos Institute Publications. Shotter, J. (2016a). Undisciplining social science: Wittgenstein and the art of creating situated practices of social inquiry. Journal for the Theory of Social Behaviour, 46(1), 60–83. Shotter, J. (2016b). Speaking, actually: Towards a new ‘fluid’ common-sense understanding of relational becomings. Farnhill: Everything is Connected Press. Shotter, J., & Cunliffe, A. L. (2003). Managers as practical authors: Everyday conversations for action. In D. Holman & R. Thorpe (Eds.), Management and Language (pp. 15–37). London: Sage. Tsoukas, H., & Chia, R. (2002). On organizational becoming: Rethinking organizational change. Organization Science, 13(5), 567–582. Weick, K. E. (1995). Sensemaking in organizations. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage. Weick, K. E. (2001). Making sense of the organization. Oxford: Blackwell. Weick, K. E., Sutcliffe, K. M., & Obstfeld, D. (2005). Organizing and the process of sensemaking. Organization Science, 16(4), 409–421.

24 Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways Haesun Moon

INTRODUCTION As one of the fastest-expanding industries worldwide with a multibillion dollar annual market value, coaching has generated a multitude of theories, methods, standards, and areas of application that permeate through various intersectoral and interprofessional boundaries with prolific success (Pappas and Jerman, 2015; ICF, 2016). Coaching is now one of the most cited leadership skills expected of a leader in healthcare, the corporate world, education, and the public or nonprofit sectors, and the demand for coaching and coach training has increased exponentially, especially in the last two decades (Maltbia et al., 2014). The burning question of the 1990s and early 2000s, Does it work? seems to have been answered with a surging increase in the number of outcome studies. Yet pursuing answers to the question How does it work? reveals just how scant database information is in a field still in its infancy.

Current research literature is dominated by outcome studies that report individual cognitive processing and internal (motivation, confidence, beliefs, etc.) changes. The relational and reciprocal nature of the dialogic process is still largely underrepresented in research and pedagogical considerations. Although the permeating nature of words in dialogues has been widely documented, systematic process studies that record interactional perspective and the impact of co-presence – the phenomenological sense of ‘being there’ with another person in place and/or time – are still only emerging (Co-presence, n.d.). In this chapter, I explore the core question of studying coaching as a dialogic process that co-constructs the notions of purpose, possibility, and progress – things ordinarily viewed together as an invisible or mysterious process. I also provide a new framework of coaching, The Dialogic Orientation Quadrant, derived from a Solution-Focused, interactional perspective, and offer a

Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways

practice-based way to understand ‘how coaching works’.

DEFINING COACHING In a field considered to still be in its infancy in terms of academic rigour, the lack of a unifying body of knowledge and the use of overarching definitions make it difficult to distinguish coaching from other human development interventions. Defining coach as a noun, as a verb, and as a profession are tricky undertakings that perforce engage multiple perspectives from diverse root disciplines. Each of the root disciplines has its own knowledge base comprising both theoretical frameworks and best practices that inform the theoretical grounding of practitioners from a wide range of occupational backgrounds now working as coaches (Sherman and Freas, 2004; Grant, 2005; Brock, 2008). Such diversity in the domain of coaching gives rise to as many definitions and models as there are practitioners and researchers. The respective legacy fields of those now working as coaches seems to inform how they define coaching in four general areas: what the coach does; what is understood as the client’s progress; how the progress happens; and the protocol, boundaries, and usefulness of the interactions. A surge in the number of associations and researchers in recent decades has brought with it ever refined yet eclectic definitions of coaching as a conceptual bricolage of these diverse biases. For example, the Association for Coaching (n.d.) defines personal coaching as ‘a collaborative solution-focused, results-oriented and systematic process in which the coach facilitates the enhancement of work performance, life experience, selfdirected learning and personal growth of the coachee’. The embedded biases in definitions influence how people participate in coaching dialogue as well as how they afterwards evaluate and reflect on their practice.


Along with the paucity of a unifying definition comes the increasing demand for more academic rigour in diversifying research. For example, influential authors like Grant illustrated heavy imbalance found in outcome studies relying solely on self-reporting and retrospective narrative, rather than rigorous examination of the coaching process. Grant (2006) acknowledged the diverse characteristics of coaching when he defined coaching as ‘collaborative, individualised, solution-focused, results orientated, systematic, stretching, fosters self-directed learning, and should be evidence-based, and incorporate ethical professional practice’ (p. 13). In this chapter, coaching is defined as a dialogic and relational approach to curate clients’ preferred interactions by exploring what might be wanted and identifying existing progress in that direction.

THE PROCESS OF COACHING Imagine, for example, that you are sitting with another person in a dialogue who tells you: I have been struggling with that for some time. I really want to see some positive changes, but I find myself going back to my old habits. I know I can do it and others seem to think that too, but for some reason, I don’t seem to be able to move forward as much as I want to.

How you respond might largely depend on the expected role and relationship you have with this person. Did you imagine the other person to be a friend, a family member, a client or a colleague? Other layers of relational complexities influencing your response may include micro-habits of one’s lifeworlds, dominant or binary narratives, existing interactional patterns, and so on. Our biases and assumptions direct our attention to specific parts of a narrative more so than other parts presented in that narrative. As dialogue participants, we discriminate, infer, interpret and



organize information presented in and through narrative. How does one make moment-by-moment choices in dialogue with someone? How do those choices influence collaborative dialogue in a coaching context?

The Meaning-Making Before studying how coaching works, one needs to determine one’s perspective to see the phenomenon through. In studying how meaning is established or negotiated or transformed in and through dialogue, some may find themselves in alignment with the structural stance posed by authors like Kegan (2009): What ‘form’ transforms? This traditional stance generally privileges positivistic interpretations and explanatory standpoints (cognition, motivation, other conceptual frameworks, etc.). From this point of view, the role of a coach is to discover the ‘true meaning’ contained in and underlying the surface structure of words. The influence of the aforementioned root disciplines may contribute to the position of coaches doing the work of thoroughly-knowing – literally, the process of dia (thorough or through) -gnosis (to know). Others may sharply contrast this perspective with a post-structural perspective where meanings are co-constructed within particular interactional contexts, instead of seeing meaning as part of ‘deep structure’ waiting to be unearthed (Chomsky, 1968 and Saussure, 1959, as cited in Bavelas et al., 2014). Instead of studying the words used by coach and client as independent parts of a conversation, the interactional perspective places emphasis on how words and gestures function to create and augment meaning in a given interaction. In search of the interactional functions of a coach and a client collaborating in meaningmaking, post-structural therapists like De Shazer and his colleagues offer an alternative view where ‘the participant’s social interaction determines the meaning of the words

they are using’ (Bavelas et  al., 2014, p. 1,). Other communication researchers following De Shazer, such as McGee (1999; McGee et  al., 2005), pose questions like, How do therapeutic questions work? in search of how language functions in interactions acknowledged as collaborative meaning-making: the process called, literally, dia (through or thorough) -logue (words).

The Role of Language The interactional and collaborative process of meaning-making is referred to as co-construction. The term co-construction is also a central concept used in broader theories of social constructionism that presupposes ‘people, through their social and language interactions, continually create and rework the meanings that influence their lives’ (Bavelas et  al., 2014. p. 4; Gergen, 2009). According to this presupposition, the presumed process of a coaching conversation is to inductively observe new subjective meanings emerge in the collaborative interaction so that other narrative realities are made available. This supports De Shazer’s (1991) description of co-construction as an activity, not an abstraction. Yet the description of the activity in the literature largely remains that of a conceptual framework. Especially in a modality like coaching that prioritizes language as the primary tool for facilitating change, understanding how the tool works and refining its use is important for both pedagogical and practical reasons. Based on the assumption that words both shape and are shaped by social interaction, the coach’s role as an influential listener in the interaction may be seen as someone who attends to the client’s narrative with an intentional stance reflected in their responses. Bavelas and her colleagues (2000) call listeners co-narrators because their responses orient the narratives of their clients in the immediate social context. The main tools of co-construction in a dialogue offered by

Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways

De Jong et al. (2013) include questions, formulations, calibration, gestures, gazes, and many more. We explore questions and formulations more closely in this chapter.

How Questions Work Although there are other interventions, the most frequently documented tool of coaching dialogue is questioning. The function of questions in a coaching dialogue reaches beyond information-gathering and the very act of posing a question may itself be an intervention. As Healing and Bavelas (2011, p. 46) propose, ‘all questions are “loaded questions”; the practitioner’s choice is how to “load” them with presuppositions that will be useful to the client’. A question suggests deliberate and alternative possibilities that both orient and constrain the respondent to answer within a spectrum of presuppositions embedded in the question. Take, for example, these popular opening lines from coaching demo tapes available online: • What brought you here today? • How can I help you? • What would you like to talk about today?

What do these questions presuppose? There are implicit assumptions of both roles and

process, and explicit requests for specific information embedded in the examples, as illustrated in Table 24.1. Though not an exhaustive list, we can clearly see the assumptions in these examples. It may not be surprising to observe a client accepting some or all of the embedded assumptions that then become part of the shared perspectives in the collaborative meaning-making. As presuppositions scaffold the shared perspectives between the coach and the client, using more useful presuppositions when posing questions should be an intentional process. Take, for example, the following opening questions from a Solution-Focused Brief Coaching session: • Suppose this conversation somehow turns out to be useful, what will tell you that it was useful as you go back to your life afterwards? • You must have a good reason to come here. What are your best hopes from this conversation? • What are some positive changes that you would like to notice as a result of coming here?

The embedded assumptions are clearly orienting and they ask the client to address specific aspects of his or her life that are relevant to the reason for the visit. The above questions orient the client’s attention in a way that is very different from the previous example.

Table 24.1  Embedded presuppositions Question



What brought you here • Something happened in the past today? • That happening is related to or is what caused you to be here • You know what that is • It may not have been you volunteering to be here • You will tell me what brought you here How can I help you? • You need help (assumption about the client) • I can help you (assumption about coach’s role) • You know what help you need (building on the primary assumption ‘You need help’) • You will tell me how I can help (assumption of coaching process) • Talking about this would be helpful (assumption about proposed outcome) What would you like to • You want to talk talk about today? • You have a topic in mind • You will tell me • Talking about it would be useful somehow



How Formulations Work Using all or part of what a client has presented is another co-construction tool coaches use when responding to client narrative, as evidence of understanding (or misunderstanding). Garfinkel and Sacks (1970) call such responses formulations in which ‘one participant describes, summarizes, explicates, or characterizes what another participant has said’ (p. 350, as cited in De Jong et  al., 2013). It is also known as reframing, normalizing, mirroring, echoing, etc. in language-based interventions like therapy and coaching. Although formulations have been traditionally and generally regarded as neutral and non-directive activities meant to clarify information or display understanding and empathy, the transformative quality of formulations was observed as early as the 1970s in studying the social functions of formulations (Heritage and Watson, 1979). De Jong et al. (2013, p. 26) take an even more radical view that ‘all formulations are influential choices rather than passive evidence of understanding’ since the practitioner omits, preserves, or adds to what the client presents. Returning to our earlier example of a client’s narrative: I have been struggling with that for some time. I really want to see some positive changes, but I find myself going back to my old habits. I know I can do it and others seem to think that too, but for some reason, I don’t seem to be able to move forward as much as I want to.

At this point, the coach needs to make a choice. That choice may involve omitting, preserving (verbatim or in altered form), or adding to what has been said. The choice and all subsequent choices influence the conversational contexts and shared perspectives accumulating in and through the interactions. Here are four response examples selected from many possibilities from coach practitioners: 1 So, it’s been a struggle for you. (you replacing I, deictically preserving the pronoun, preserved

ha(ve) been, preserved struggling as an altered form a struggle, added for you) 2 You keep going back to your old patterns. (you and your replacing I and my, added the words keep and patterns to replace habit, preserved going back to and old) 3 There is something blocking you from moving forward. (added there is something blocking you, preserved move forward in an altered form moving forward) 4 So, you want to move forward to see some positive changes. (you deictically preserving I, and preserved the client’s language move forward, want to see some positive changes in a rearranged order)

These four formulations are consistent with the practitioner’s espoused theory of how change happens (David (1986) and Philipps (1999) as cited in Korman et al., 2013). For example, the formulations made in the first example preserve the word struggle and this may reflect the coach’s assumption that the struggle is somehow related to the desired change. The second formulation seems to emphasize the persistent nature of the client’s patterns and the client may take this formulation as an invitation to further elaborate on old patterns they believe they continue to follow. While questions may explicitly request more information, formulations often orient the client’s attention and implicitly invite them to speak further on that particular content of the narrative. The third example illustrates a formulation where the coach adds the new information that was not introduced by the client: something blocking. The coach assumes a possible reason for the client not moving forward and attributes it to external factors. If accepted by the client, this assumption becomes a shared perspective between the coach and client. This particular perspective that the client is blocked by something is a significant departure from the initial client’s utterance that they know they can do it and they are not moving forward as much as they want. The fourth and final example shows a Solution-Focused coach responding to the client’s narrative. As seen in these examples, the coach’s embedded curiosity behind each

Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways

formulation orients the client’s utterances and narratives, and the coach’s choice of formulation will influence the client’s next utterance. This is what I call interfluence.

THE FOUR QUADRANT MODEL OF COACHING When coaching is introduced as a questionbased practice, the reciprocal and interfluent nature of dialogue is easily overlooked as it quickly becomes about what the coach does or, more precisely, about what the coach asks. Studying individual elements of dialogue instead of interactional functions risks the practice becoming ossified as a formula instead of a rhizomic flow of meaning. While acknowledging the complexity of collaborative meaning-making and interfluential relations of coach and client in their situated contexts, making the co-construction process visible is possible with the aid of an appropriate framework. The following simple heuristic of interaction is called the Dialogic Orientation Quadrant (DOQ) and is intended to make the inductive observation of a coaching conversation simpler to organize.

Observation #1: Timeline of the Narrative There seems to be an inherent timeline in a narrative. We notice this timeline not only in

coaching dialogues, but in ordinary conversations with friends, family and colleagues. The time spectrum spans from past to future and, in some cases, the past goes back to a time even before we were born and the future far out to a point even beyond our own existence (Figure 24.1). In this model, the concept of now or the present is defined as the time the coach and client spend together, so the focus of the activity is not distracted by possible and irrelevant discussion about defining ‘the now’. In coaching, it has been generally believed that the coach should focus on the narratives about the future, however, there is an increasing amount of evidence available that challenges the very notion of focusing only on the future narrative (Oettingen et al., 2016).

Observation #2: Content of the Narrative In a conversation like coaching that can be more polarized than other everyday conversations, the content of narrative can be mapped along a spectrum somewhere between positive content and negative content, to borrow the terms used in the research method, Microanalysis of Face-to-Face Dialogue (Smock Jordan et al., 2013). Positive content includes the things people want to see continue, increase, and grow in their life: interactions, moments, experiences, thoughts, decisions, attitudes,

We can notate the timeline in the narrative introduced earlier as follows:



I have been struggling with that for some time (past). I really want to see some positive changes (future), but I find myself going back to my old habits (past). I know I can do it and others seem to think that too (past), but for some reason, I don’t seem to be able to move forward as much as I want to (past).

Figure 24.1  Timeline of narrative




feelings, and hopes. At the opposite end is the negative content people want to see less of. Returning to our earlier sample narrative, we can notate the content as shown in Figure 24.2. As you may have noticed, mapping the content is not always as straightforward as mapping the timeline. This is, in part, because we are looking only at text here, devoid of other visible and audible acts of meaning. We might also find ourselves taking an evaluative stance when we assess the content as positive or negative in another person’s life. Figure 24.3  Dialogic Orientation Quadrant

Observation #3: Mapping the Narrative A simple quadrant is created when we overlap the timeline as the horizontal axis and the content as the vertical axis (Figure 24.3). Moving counter-clockwise from the top right, each quadrant bears a unique combination of the two axes:

• Quadrant 1 (top-right): positive content and future timeline, The Preferred Future • Quadrant 2 (top-left): positive content and past timeline, The Resourceful Past • Quadrant 3 (bottom-left): negative content and past timeline, The Troubled Past • Quadrant 4 (bottom-right): negative content and future timeline, The Fearful Future

I have been struggling (negative) with that (negative) for some time. I really want to see some positive changes (positive), but I find myself going back (negative) to my old habits (negative). I know I can do it (positive) and others seem to think that too (positive), but for some reason, I don’t seem to be able to (negative) move forward (positive) as much as I want to.

Positive Content

Negative Content Figure 24.2  Content of narrative

Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways

Our nomenclature nods both to technical terms used in the field of coaching as well as to language used in everyday conversations. The name of the model takes into account both the quality and function – dialogic and orienting – of the coaching conversation: Dialogic Orientation Quadrant (DOQ) (Moon, 2019). We can now apply the quadrant to our narrative: I have been struggling (Q3) with that (Q3) for some time (Q3). I really want to see (Q1) some positive changes (Q1), but I find myself going back (Q3) to my old habits (Q3). I know I can do it (Q1, Q2) and others seem to think that too (Q2), but for some reason, I don’t seem to be able to (Q3, Q4) move forward (Q1) as much as I want to (Q1).

It may be useful to note here that this activity is meant as an approximation, similar to the metaphor popularly evoked by Korzybski when he describes a model as a map and not the territory. Minor variations between different raters undertaking the analyses are common and the scope of analysis may be even more microscopic or macroscopic than that provided here. A close examination of interactional activities like those shown above demonstrates the extent of congruence between what is espoused by a coach as their framework, and what is actually practised in their coaching responses in exploring the client narrative. As seen here in earlier definitions of coaching, it is generally agreed that coaching conversations explore future-focused timelines and client strengths and potentials (positive content). If coaching intervention tools like questions and formulations function to transform and shape meanings towards the direction of what is wanted in the future (Q1) and existing relevant experiences (Q2), what might be an appropriate response to the client’s narrative at this point? Although there is no set way of forming questions, a pattern nonetheless emerges when we observe coaching sessions by various practitioners. For example, a SolutionFocused coach is more likely to elicit and


expand on the information in Q1 or Q2 with their questions and formulations. The Q3 and Q4 are less likely to be explored, though acknowledged, when expressed by the client. Experienced practitioners are able to use Q3 and Q4 information to orient a client’s attention to Q1 and Q2. Solution-Focused coaches may be more likely to respond to our sample narrative with one or more of the following: • So, you want to see some positive changes. What will you see? • So, you want to move forward. What will tell you that you are moving forward and in the right direction? • You mentioned that both you and others know that you can do it. What is it that others know about you that makes them believe that?

Notice that all responses are specific to the preceding narrative. The responses also preserve the client’s language that we have mapped in either Q1 or Q2 and an explicit request is made in each response to expand on the information captured in the formulation. When information is presented in all four quadrants, a Solution-Focused coach will rarely invite the client to explore Q3 or Q4. For example, it is very likely not Solution-Focused coaching if the coach responds in the following manner: • So, it’s been a struggle for you. How long have you been struggling with this? • You keep going back to your old patterns. What is getting in the way of breaking free from those patterns? • There is something blocking you from moving forward. What are your next steps that you need to take to get rid of these roadblocks?

These responses each consist of a formulation and a question. Clients and coaches build shared perspectives in moment-bymoment exchanges of visible and/or audible acts, and Bavelas et al. (2017) noted that more than 80% of agreement is visual and includes things like nods, smiles, and raised eyebrows, without audible cues.



Observation #4: Orientation of the Narrative Perhaps, the most useful aspect of the DOQ is that it records the ephemeral nature of dialogue onto a tangible form. It makes visible the interactional patterns of language use and one can easily see how narratives are elicited, shaped and organized. The movement of client narratives can be mapped as clients consistently cooperate in answering the coach’s questions. For example, What brought you here? elicits further narrative from clients that can be mapped onto Quadrant 3: The Troubled Past, more often than not. In contrast, when asked, ‘Suppose this conversation somehow turns out to be useful, what will tell you that it was useful as you go back to your life afterwards?’ clients will most likely respond with narrative that can be mapped onto Quadrant 1: The Preferred Future. This pattern of client narrative corresponding to promptings from the coach, be they positive or negative in content, has been consistently observed, as documented by Smock Jordan et al. (2013). Similar observations can be made with the formulation/question pair, as shown earlier. Although the coach may not elicit Q3 and Q4 responses, the information presented in these quadrants needs to be acknowledged and not avoided. Returning to our sample narrative, here are alternate response options using Q3 and Q4 information: • So, it’s been a struggle for you. (Q3) How have you been coping as well as you have? (intended to elicit information in Q2) • You keep going back to your old patterns. (Q3) So, what does your new pattern sound and look like instead? (intended to elicit information in Q1) • There is something blocking you from moving forward. (Q3) Suppose the block somehow disappears, what will you notice that’s different or better about the way you are moving forward? (intended to elicit information in Q1)

The formulation part is consistent with the previous example, but the question part has

been modified and the intended direction of the questions are notated in terms of the quadrant. With this modification, one can easily imagine the client’s narrative following what the coach is seeking in their questions.

CLOSING THOUGHTS Departing from the notion of goal setting and the use of a goal-centred approach, coaching can be practised as the moment-by-moment co-construction of meanings centring around what client might want. The quality of the co-construction can be inductively observed using a communication heuristic like the DOQ. Current research initiatives and publications rely heavily on extrapolation and inference from psychological research. For that reason, closely examining real-world coaching interactions and describing what can be observed exercises and strengthens the listening and responding muscles of the coach. The DOQ renders such examination of one’s progress tangible by slowing down the observational process to a moment-bymoment choicepoint in the interaction. Kurt Lewin’s quote that ‘there’s nothing more practical than a good theory’ serves to illustrate the effect of the DOQ as a highly practical theory with diverse implications in the areas of coaching practice, pedagogy, and research, just to name a few.

Implications for Practice Using language as a transformative tool with individuals and groups has been well documented in other closely related fields like Appreciative Inquiry (Cooperrider and Whitney, 2005), which pays close attention to relational aspects of meaning-making. Studying one’s own practice from this interactional perspective using the DOQ enables both broad and in-depth examination of what

Coaching: Using Ordinary Words in Extraordinary Ways


actually happens in a dialogue. Mapping client narratives helps one to listen closely to the actual language of what the client says. Noticing one’s influential presence in orienting client’s narratives and paying close attention to how meaning gets co-constructed in the immediate interactions help practitioners to become observers of their own work.

conversations as phenomena is escalating. How meaning is co-constructed moment-bymoment in people reciprocating with both visible and audible acts of communication in their interaction is gaining more importance in studying coaching, and it should continue to take the central site of research moving forward.

Implications for Pedagogy

Ending with Beginning in Mind

Using the DOQ as a pedagogical tool to illustrate the learner’s progress throughout their learning is another good use of the model. If you teach dialogic approaches, the DOQ can serve not only as a practical illustration in class but also an assessment tool for measuring learners’ progress. For example, I often start a class by asking learners to record a short session with another learner. Without much introduction to coaching or related models, their recorded session in the beginning is established as their baseline of skills. As they continue learning the approach, they make subsequent recordings so that learners themselves can compare their recordings to observe progress in their learning. Having the recordings makes supervision and mentoring sessions much more tangible for both supervisor and learner, and the focal point of supervision and mentorship becomes about celebrating the learner’s progress and existing competence instead of correcting the wrong.

In this chapter, coaching as a dialogic process centred on meaning-making is introduced with a simple heuristic of interaction, the Dialogic Orientation Quadrant. As we end the chapter together, the burning question of ‘how will you use it’ remains. As we continue to engage in the sacred work of bringing about positive changes in the spaces we occupy, it is my best hope for you to take what you learned and initiate a meaningful difference in the very places that might be exasperating various relations. As I often say in the beginning of a coaching class, the effectiveness of a dialogue expands beyond what coaches do in session towards what clients do after the session. The idea of ending the chapter with your various beginnings in mind in your own contexts is lifegiving, and I certainly hope that you will continue to learn from every conversation you hold with yourself and others.

REFERENCES Implications for Research If a good theory is and should be practical, as Lewin said, it can also be said that there is nothing more theoretical than a good practice when we consider research as an inductive process of keeping one’s curiosity about how coaching works. While the field of coaching is saturated with outcome studies testing various hypotheses, the need for more inductive and emergent ways to study

Association for Coaching. (n.d.). Coaching defined. Retrieved from https://www. Defined (November 2, 2019) Bavelas, J., Coates, L., & Johnson, T. (2000). Listeners as co-narrators. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 79, 941–952. Bavelas, J., De Jong, P., Smock Jordan, S., & Korman, H. J. (2014). The theoretical and research basis of co-constructing meaning in



dialogue. Journal of Solution-Focused Brief Therapy, 1(2), 1–24. Bavelas, J., Gerwing, J., & Healing, S. (2017). Doing mutual understanding: C ­alibrating with micro-sequences in face-to-face dialogue. Journal of Pragmatics, 121, 91–112. Brock, V. G. (2008). Grounded theory of the roots and emergence of coaching. (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Library of Professional Coaching uploads/2011/10/dissertation.pdf. Cooperrider, D. & Whitney, D. (2005). A positive revolution in change: Appreciative Inquiry. In: The change handbook: The definitive resource on today’s best methods for engaging whole systems. 87. Co-presence [Def. 4]. (n.d.). In Oxford Reference, Retrieved 24 September 2019 from 10.1093/oi/authority.20110803095638654 De Jong, P., Bavelas, J., & Korman, H. (2013). An introduction to using microanalysis to observe co-construction in psychotherapy. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 32(3), 17–30. De Shazer, S. (1991). Putting difference to work. New York: W. W. Norton. Gergen, K. J. (2009). An invitation to social construction (2nd edition). London: Sage. Grant, A. M. (2005). What is evidence-based executive, workplace and life coaching? [online]. In M. Cavanagh, A. M. Grant, & T.  Kemp (Eds.), Evidence-based coaching volume 1: Theory, research and practice from the behavioural sciences. Bowen Hills, QLD: Australian Academic Press, pp. 1–13. mmary;dn=042761113263166;res=IELBUS Grant, A. M. (2006). A personal perspective on professional coaching and the development of coaching psychology. International Coaching Psychology Review, 1(1), 12–22. Healing, S., & Bavelas, J. (2011). Can questions lead to change? An analogue experiment. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 30(4), 30–47. Heritage, J. C., & Watson, D. R. (1979). ­Formulations as conversational objects. In G. Psathas (Ed.), Everyday language: Studies in ethnomethodology. New York: Irvington, pp. 123–162. International Coach Federation (ICF). (2016). International Coach Federation global

coaching study: Executive summary. Retrieved from app/uploads/2017/12/2016ICFGlobalCoachi ngStudy_ExecutiveSummary-2.pdf (September 24, 2019) Kegan, R. (2009). What ‘form’ transforms? A constructive-developmental approach to transformative learning. In K. Illeris (Ed.), Contemporary theories of learning: Learning theorists – in their own words 35–52. Abingdon: Routledge. Korman, H., Bavelas, J. B., & De Jong, P. (2013). Microanalysis of formulations in solution-focused brief therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and motivational interviewing. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 32(3), 31–45. Maltbia, T. E., Marsick, V. J., & Ghosh, R. (2014). Executive and organizational coaching: A review of insights drawn from literature to inform HRD practice. Advances in Developing Human Resources, 16(2), 161– 183. 2313520474 McGee, D. R. (1999). Constructive questions: How do therapeutic questions work? (Doctoral dissertation). Retrieved from Library of University of Victoria https://dspace.library. uv i c .c a/bi ts tream/handl e/1828/8884/ McGee_DanielRaymond_PhD_1999. pdf?sequence=1&isAllowed=y (March 21, 2017) McGee, D. R., Del Vento, A., & Bavelas, J. B. (2005). An interactional model of questions as therapeutic interventions. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 31, 371–384. Moon, H. (2019). Making progress visible for learners of solution-focused dialogue. InterAction: The Online Journal of Solution Focus in Organisations, 11(1), 4. Oettingen, G., Mayer, D., & Portnow, S. (2016). Pleasure now, pain later: Positive fantasies about future predict symptoms of depression. Psychological Science, 27(3), 345–353. Passmore, J., & Fillery-Travis, A. (2011). A critical review of executive coaching research: A decade of progress and what’s to come. Coaching: An International Journal of Theory, Research and Practice, 4(2), 70–88. 596484

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Sherman, S., & Freas, A. (2004). The wild west of executive coaching. Harvard Business Review, 82(11), 82–90, 148. Smock Jordan, S. S., Froerer, A., & Bavelas, J. (2013). Microanlsysis of positive and


negative content in solution-focused brief therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy expert sessions. Journal of Systemic Therapies, 32, 46–59.

25 Relational Practices for Generative Multi-Actor Collaboration Johan Hovelynck, Marc Craps, Art Dewulf, Koen S i p s , T h a r s i Ta i l l i e u a n d R e n é B o u w e n

This chapter focuses on collaborative practices in multi-actor initiatives. These are endeavors in which actors with diverse backgrounds and often conflicting interests seek to resolve complex issues in which they are interdependent. Rather than claiming their ‘right’ through mere economic, political or legal means, they do so by creating spaces for shared identification of what is at stake and how to deal with this to the best possible interest of all involved. Opting for the complexities that come with multi-actor collaboration often includes the experience that simpler approaches are ineffective, or short-lived at best, and the conviction that a sustainable way forward requires valuing the interests of all involved. Our literature review and exploration of social constructionist practices suggest three core processes for generative multi-actor collaboration: connecting, confronting and committing.

THE NEED FOR MULTI-ACTOR COLLABORATION As it becomes increasingly clear that many complex issues related to sustainable

development cannot be adequately tackled without directly involving groups and organizations that have a stake in them, interest in collaboration between public, private and civil actors is growing (United Nations, 2015; Gray and Purdy, 2018). Initial interest in inter-organizational collaboration, such as supply chain networks and public–private partnerships, has broadened to include actors that are not formally organized, mostly local communities that are affected by these initiatives and influence their outcomes (Gray, 1989; Huxham and Vangen, 2005; Craps et al., 2004). The increased heterogeneity of actors involved in multi-actor settings enhances the so-called wicked nature of many sustainability challenges (Rittel and Webber, 1973). Such challenges have no definitive problemformulation as any problem involved can be considered a symptom of another problem, turning problem-formulation into the discovery of a web of problems. Hence wicked problems have no final solution. In fact, what is problem-solving to one actor may be problem-generation to another. Discussions

Relational Practices for Generative Multi-Actor Collaboration

and negotiations become even more complicated as actors argue over the meaning and significance of facts according to the value perspectives of their respective constituencies. Hence, actors typically settle for a temporarily satisfying situation within the limitations of the available resources, rather than a final solution. In what follows we first explore the relational challenges of multi-actor initiatives. We then propose that generative collaboration involves processes of connecting between the actors and issues at stake, confronting problem frames and committing to coordinated courses of action. We conclude with suggestions to enhance the generativity of multi-actor practices.

THE CHALLENGES OF MULTI-ACTOR COLLABORATION In her ground-breaking book on Finding Common Ground for Multi-Party Problems, Gray (1989, p. 5) defines collaboration as ‘a process through which parties who see different aspects of a problem can constructively explore their differences and search for solutions that go beyond their own limited vision of what is possible.’ Fundamental features of this type of initiatives include


constructing a domain based on interdependency, constructing complementarities out of the differences, developing commitment for collective decisions, creating a referent structure for the governance of the domain, and developing a generative process for social learning.

Constructing the Domain of Interdependency Collaborative efforts start with an awareness of mutual dependencies. In most cases, several actors take the initiative to solve the problem as they see it and their interventions are ineffective due to causing unanticipated problems for others, who take action in turn. It is largely through the succession of unilateral initiatives and responses that the actors and interdependencies come into view, and the so-called ‘problem domain’ emerges. Hence, collaborative efforts tend to carry a history of conflict. Actors often identify each other through confrontation with the effects of each other’s one-sided measures and countermeasures. As these continue to lead to unsatisfactory results, the saliency of interdependency grows and eventually provides a drive to look into mutually beneficial solutions.

Sustainable drinking water in the Andes  A case of multi-actor collaboration focused upon the issue of sustainable drinking water is woven throughout this chapter as an illustrative example of the practices we discuss (Craps et al., 2004). The events started in the context of an escalating conflict between supporters and opponents of a project to build a dam for agricultural irrigation in a rural region of the Andes. A study by the project funders found that only 15% of the population reported having access to acceptable drinking water. With both project supporters and opponents complaining about the quantity and quality of the water, this created an opportunity to bring diverse actors together in an initiative to tackle water issues. A foreign NGO, specialized in water management and community organization, acted as convener. Due to the quality of its work and its participative approach, acknowledged by all actors, it was able to bridge the gap of mutual distrust between the indigenous communities and public authorities, which was rooted in a long history of colonial and paternalist relations. The initiative started with bilateral conversations between the convener and other actors. As a result, all actors agreed to sustainable drinking water as a priority and realized that they were unable to guarantee this by themselves. They hence started looking for complementarities in the capacities of the different participants in the initiative to cover all necessary technical, financial and organizational challenges.



Constructing Complementarity from Differences Differences in interest, agendas and resources are an important threshold to collaboration. In the history of conflicts, suspicion that the joint initiative will serve some actors’ interests better than others’ is common. Yet these differences are the raison d’être for any collaborative initiative and also contain its potential. Gray (1989) argues that the ineffectiveness of single actor initiatives is largely due to a failure to understand issues and organize measures at the domain level. Hence the differences in actors’ background and input represent the collaborative advantage and constructively dealing with it is a crucial aspect of multi-actor collaboration (Vangen and Huxham, 2003). This involves acknowledging differences, accepting that all actors have legitimate interests, and attempting to construct a complementarity of differences

The actors involved in this case included various national and international non-governmental organizations (NGOs), local governments, public agencies, funding organizations, universities and hundreds of indigenous community organizations. All framed the main challenges in their own preferred action logic, e.g. local communities emphasized their self-sufficiency, NGOs added the need for ecological sustainability, public agencies put emphasis on technical issues, funding organizations on long-term financial feasibility, and the convener stressed the need for inter-organizational coordination. Actors did not identify with one single frame, however, as they mixed elements of these different frames in their interactions with the others. This helped in developing more integrative frames, connecting different perspectives and interests. Large group workshops, inspired by the principles and practices of search conferences, soft systems methodology and appreciative inquiry, enhanced participants’ awareness of the common ground as well as the differences in their perspectives and interests, and stimulated their willingness to collaborate.

(Gray, 1989; Curşeu and Schruijer, 2017). The drive to do so is grounded in an important mutuality: the experience that any single actor lacks the authority or expertise to tackle the domain by themselves. Simultaneously, expectations and uncertainties about how specific viewpoints, interests and routines will be received in the heterogeneity of the multi-actor group arouses a hesitation to do so. This tension between drive and hesitation shapes the development of the collaborative process.

Developing Commitment for Collective Responsibility A third key challenge of multi-actor collaboration is the joint ownership of decisions. This means that actors take responsibility for reaching agreement and enacting agreedupon measures. Unlike litigation or regulation, where intermediaries devise and impose solutions, actors in collaborative initiatives take direct responsibility for the future direction of the domain. In terms of governance, this represents a form of self-regulation (Trist, 1983). Making this work hinges on the actors’ commitment to the collaborative platform and its decisions, which in turn hinges on mutual understanding and shared

Finding an adequate legal status that gives equal weight in the decision-making to the two most important actors, the municipalities and the local communities, proved a real challenge. The national legislation enforced choosing between two ‘single organization’ structures for drinking water management, i.e. a municipal company or a community cooperative, and excluded the possibility of a multi-actor structure. Lots of creativity and lobbying enabled developing and instating a consortium, as a third and ‘multiorganizational’ option, with shared decision-making power between municipalities and communities, and NGOs in a supporting role.

Relational Practices for Generative Multi-Actor Collaboration

sense of purpose, typically developed through joint inquiry into the domain and the diversity that shapes it (Bouwen and Taillieu, 2004). Varughese and Ostrom (2001) argue that group heterogeneity in this context is a matter of institutional design, crafting workable ground rules for collective action, rather than a hindrance to collective action.

Creating a Referent Structure of Governance In order to be effective, the actors need to create a workable platform for their collaboration and to manage their joint initiative. This may take the form of minimal ground rules for interaction, all the way to establishing an umbrella organization for the constituent network (Brown, 1991; Prins, 2010). Trist (1983) introduced the term ‘referent organization’ to designate this joint structure, which we adopt to mean any multi-actor platform characterized by recognized interdependency, self-defined purpose and explicit ground rules regarding membership structure, internal interaction and external representation. Membership structure concerns the question which actors are invited to collaborate and in what capacity. Much of the work on collaboration assumes some form of explicit, voluntary and mutually agreed-upon membership, although that is not always clear in practice (Huxham and Vangen, 2000, p.  778). Importantly, membership is between autonomous actors (Gray, 1989; Huxham and Vangen, 2000), which means that dependency is highly reciprocal. Smaller and more stable membership facilitates developing commitment to collective action, trusting that other actors also take responsibility (Ostrom, 2010, p. 556). Ground rules on internal interaction cover basic questions regarding agenda-setting, timing and location as well as agreements


The local experiment with the consortium structure turned out to be so successful that this option was incorporated in the national law and promoted by the public water agency in the rest of the country a few years later. The convening NGO learned however that one should not just copy this legal multi-actor structure and transfer it to other places. An intense process of internal debates in and between the communities, and negotiations with the other actors, is necessary for the adaptation of the structure to the peculiarities of each context and for the appropriation of it by the involved actors. The collaboration resulted in service centers, managed by a multi-actor consortium, that provide technical and organizational support and capacity building, the supply of spare parts, and monitoring of the rural drinking water systems. Other issues, like environmental and health education, protection of water wells, river basin management, etc. are as well attended, according to the local interests. The centers are real meeting places between rural community people and professional people, where different kinds of experiences and knowledge are exchanged.

about type of interaction, confidentiality, joint decision-making, follow-up on implementation, etc. Ground rules regarding representation cover questions regarding who can act for the collective platform and in what capacity, for example on administrative matters or as a spokesperson.

Developing a Generative Process for Social Learning Several authors put forth the emergent nature of the collaborative process: initiatives take shape and evolve as actors interact over time (Gray, 1989; Thomson and Perry, 2006, p. 22). Two key characteristics of the multi-actor setting magnify the emergent nature of the process. First, there is no recognized decision-maker for the domain. Hence the work starts without a clear, pre-defined objective. Lacking a



specific task, pre-established procedures and recognized leadership as reference points, the moment-by-moment interactions become the most salient benchmarks for the collaboration. This brings group dynamics to the ­foreground. Second, individuals in the collaborative initiative participate as representatives of their respective constituencies. Simultaneously connecting with people and concerns at the joint table and remaining connected with concerns in their actor group creates a tension known as the ‘two-table problem’ (Gray and Clyman, 2003, p.  401). This complicates group dynamics, as important forces in the collaborative process are not present at the referent table. In this context, ongoing learning about the collaborative process as well as the substantive issue is a condition for effectiveness. The group learns to collaborate by engaging in collaboration, the interaction itself providing an opportunity for learning how to proceed (Bouwen and Taillieu, 2004). As actors interpret each other’s behavior at substantive and relational levels, continuous problem-solving is interwoven with ongoing repositioning and fine-tuning of interactions. In the initial stages of collaborating, the task and task-structuring typically appear to be the only legitimate topics of conversation, hence insights in the collaborative process mostly remain tacit. As actors become comfortable addressing the quality of interaction more explicitly, the learning about how to manage issues together intensifies and opens new possibilities for action. This result is far from guaranteed, however, and heavily rests on developing the capacity to cope constructively with actor diversity (Vansina and Taillieu, 1997; Van Bommel et al., 2009). The critical impact of this process on developing collaborative advantage gave rise to a strand of literature and practice that frames multi-actor collaboration as a fundamentally interactive learning process (Bouwen and Taillieu, 2004; Pahl-Wostl

In 2017, 20 years after the first conversations, the Foundation ‘Premios Latinoamerica Verde’ selected the multi-actor consortium among 500 socio-ecological projects in the continent as the best example of sustainable water management: ‘Since its creation, it has managed to supply the resources efficiently, steadily and of high quality to all citizens, promoting the right to safe water and the protection of water sources.’

et al., 2007; Senge et al., 2007; Van Bommel et  al., 2009). Drawing on theory regarding organizational learning (e.g. Hosking and Bouwen, 2000), social learning (e.g. Wenger, 2000) and group development (e.g. Bouwen and Hovelynck, 2006), this strand largely informs our further presentation of the process tasks involved in domain-wide collaboration.

THREE PRACTICES FOR SUCCESSFUL MULTI-ACTOR COLLABORATION In what follows we develop the notions of connecting, confronting and committing as three practices for generative multi-actor collaboration. Building on the work of Lagrou (1984), we acknowledge the importance of these three tasks throughout the collaborative process yet simultaneously propose that connecting is a precondition for generative confrontation and that the interplay between connecting and confronting sets the stage for commitment. Generativity is understood as the capacity for generating new ideas and the commitment to carry them out (see also Bushe, 2013, p. 89; Cooperrider and Fry, 2010).

Connecting: Constructing the Domain by Gathering Actors Although conflict is often part of the run-up to multi-actor initiatives – as the sustainable

Relational Practices for Generative Multi-Actor Collaboration


drinking water case clearly illustrates – the collaboration starts by connecting in a new context, enacting the intention to move from unilateral action to a domain-wide concertation. This is not a merely relational task – as the word ‘connecting’ may suggest – but involves familiarizing oneself with the substantive issues as framed by different actors as well as with the actors themselves. In multi-actor collaboration, connecting also concerns the actor constituencies, and through them the domain. Several process characteristics contribute to developing generative connections, among which are the following:

front- and back-stage interactions, and different locations, each offering opportunities for frame clarification and development (Gray, 2007; Bouwen and Taillieu, 2004). • Ground rules facilitate connecting when supporting shared ownership of the initiative and containing risks of open interaction. Examples include agreements on convening and other roles, such as hosting or facilitating, on confidentiality and anonymity, on transparency with regard to bilateral concertation, on the temporary suspension of partial and bilateral agreements, on distinguishing between personal and constituent opinions, and others. As part of the referent structure, ground rules should be subject to joint reflection and revision.

• Convening power refers to the capacity to bring actors together to discuss the issue that ties and divides them. The convener may be a single actor, an initial coalition of actors, or an external third party such as a government agency or NGO – as in the drinking water case. Convening power hinges on credibility of intention, position in the domain, influence in the broader system, and a general capacity for relational leadership, which is beyond the scope of this chapter (Craps et al., 2019; MacRae and Huxham, 2001; Vangen and Huxham, 2003). • The issues at stake should be framed at the level of the domain. Maintaining a domain focus means that aims, interests and needs are eventually defined in terms of the interdependencies among actors rather than in terms of separate actors (Trist, 1983; Gray and Clyman, 2003). Domain-level framing includes sharing responsibility among the actors at the referent table, rather than passing responsibility to the convener. • Although presenting multi-actor issues as problems is strongly embedded in the multi-actor literature, Cooperrider and Srivastva articulate the drawbacks of such a problem perspective in their seminal article on ‘Appreciative Inquiry in Organizational Life’ (1987). The generative capacity of an appreciative stance in connecting with issues and actors has since been widely documented (Bushe, 2013; Fry and Hovelynck, 2010). • Bringing actors together in ways that support connecting to the shared domain, to each other’s constituencies and to the referent group involves an interplay of small- and large-group meetings,

Although the importance of connecting is not limited to the initial phase of a collaborative initiative, giving it due attention in the startup period tends to counter premature reliance on task-structuring methods. The latter is a common factor in collaborative failure. In terms of Dewulf (2019), the multi-actor initiative requires joint sense-making before focusing on decision-making. Both go along as events unfold yet making sense of what is going on and deciding on what to do are different processes, requiring different approaches: sense-making is about meaning, decision-making about choices. While both processes inform each other, some sequentiality is still in order. Understanding the distinction and relationship between both can help in withstanding uncertainty while exploring ambiguity, until the actors come to a sufficiently shared frame of what is at stake to start setting a direction.

Confronting: Addressing Differences While Maintaining the Connection As every problem frame implies some solutions and excludes others from being considered, disagreement in problemsetting is unavoidable. In direction-setting, however, conflict becomes more prevalent as



decision-making implies discarding options brought up by one or more actors in favor of other options and different actors. Confrontation is necessary for exploring information and possibilities and for developing a vision to which actors can commit, hence collaboration hinges on constructively dealing with the conflicting views and interests involved. The prime condition for generative confrontation is to maintain the connection, both in a substantive and a relational sense. In plainer terms: it requires staying with the topic and staying in touch (Lagrou, 1984). The following process characteristics contribute to generative confrontation: • Complementarity of differences is more easily achieved at the level of underlying concerns and interests than at the level of concrete actions and positions, hence direction-setting starts by developing a shared vision for the domain (Gray, 2007; Bushe, 2013). This broad purpose serves as an agreed-upon reference point in dealing with conflicting interests when making and validating choices. • It is important to maintain awareness of the domain-wide interdependence and the unviable consequences of not dealing with the differences, which typically triggered the initiative. • Ground rules that support constructive confrontation include formulating conflict at a substantive level (Curşeu and Schruijer, 2017), in testable, contradictable statements (Bouwen and Taillieu, 2004) and at the referent table rather than in other fora. • As the formulation of collaborative goals may be rendered difficult by a variety of constraints imposed by their respective constituencies, the representatives’ joint learning about the ‘twotable’ tension may contribute to constructive confrontation. • Third parties may facilitate interactions or mediate in conflict situations when the actors themselves are not in a position to do so (Gray, 2007; Curşeu and Schruijer, 2017). Depending on context, such a role may be taken by government agencies, NGOs, action researchers or process consultants. While external facilitation often helps connecting in the initial stage of collaborating, it is common that this possibility

is considered only later, when there is sufficient commitment to the collaborative initiative yet sharper confrontation slows down initial progress.

The sustainable drinking water case illustrates several of these process characteristics, including the importance of a joint underlying concern and the mediating role of NGOs and local community leaders. Avoiding conflicts in interests and opinion may lead to false consensus or otherwise compromise decision quality (Curşeu and Schruijer, 2017), or lead actors to converge around a shared vision yet leave decisionmaking to bilateral negotiation (Vansina and Taillieu, 1997). Either way, it jeopardizes further commitment.

Committing: Developing Trust through Joint Action Commitment develops progressively throughout the collaborative process. In early stages, actors commit to meeting and connecting, in the sense described above. Depending on the reciprocity in this initial process, they later commit to a joint effort and, largely depending on the equity in investment and anticipated returns, commit to agreed-upon decisions. Commitment, trust and reframing are interrelated and emergent aspects of interaction (Sol et al., 2013) and are finally put to the test during implementation. Process characteristics that support commitment include: • Given the link between commitment and trust, structures and behaviors that support trust will promote commitment. Willingness to rely and depend on each other tends to shift from rather calculative to more relational trust depending on how reliable actors appear during interactions over time (Lewicki et al., 1998; van der Werff and Buckley, 2014). In multi-actor collaboration, it is important to appreciate both the connection and the distinction between trusting the individuals at the referent table and their constituencies (Schilke and Cook, 2013).

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The representatives serve as boundary spanners, meaning people that are a member of both communities, and focal points in a process of reciprocally assessing trustworthiness. In the case of the drinking water initiative, for example, the NGO acted as boundary spanner between the indigenous communities and the municipalities, while indigenous community leaders with a professional background played an important role as boundary spanners between their communities of origin and the professional actors (Craps et al., 2004). • In a domain without established leadership, the referent structure offers guidance for coordinating the joint effort. Yet structure may distract from purposeful commitment when it prematurely restricts the range of options to tackle the substantive issue and a formal and binding structure tends to hamper the emergence of relational trust. Hence the collaborative process seems best served by minimal structure (Termeer and Kranendonk, 2008). In plainer terms: as much as needed, as little as possible. • Commitment seems related to how agreements are followed up on more than to what specific rules are agreed. Hence ground rules for decisionmaking should focus on concerted action rather than on consensus. The question is not whether everyone fully agrees, but whether there is sufficient agreement for full commitment. • External communication about collaborative efforts and output fosters commitment as it generates feedback and urges the involved actors – representatives at the referent table as well as constituent leaders – to take a stand for their