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CHAPTER FOUR: Culture and system

Krause, Inga-Britt Karnac Books ePub

System again

We have come a long way away from the model of a mechanical system mentioned in chapter two, in which different elements or parts are tightly interconnected and the relationship between them is a causal one, so that whenever something happens to one element this always has the same, predictable effect on other elements. Although this mechanical idea of a system has been used by both anthropologists and family therapists, it is a caricature of the processes that take place in social systems, and there are at least three reasons for this.

First, it is impossible to delineate the boundaries of a social system in the way that this can be done for a mechanical one. A social system is a collectivity of persons who are connected indirectly or directly though ongoing social relationships and who more or less agree on the use of certain cultural conventions, words, signs, themes of meaning. It can perhaps be characterized as a community and associated with a locality, but this does not fit straightforwardly with the experience of the increasing numbers of displaced persons or diasporas (Brah, 1996). Much more important for a social system is that in considering themselves members, persons take part (sometimes only momentarily) in processes that distinguish them from members of other social systems, groups, or communities (Banks, 1996; Barth, 1969; Jenkins, 1997). A social system is therefore characterized by social processes that differentiate members of it from members of other social systems and not so much by the criteria of membership, be these signs, symbols, ancestry, or locality, even though each of these may be the focus for highlighting the differences. Social systems, then, can only be defined roughly.

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APPENDIX: THE REFLECTIVE LOOP

Krause, Inga-Britt Karnac Books ePub

About the reflective loop

Because there is no perfect fit in communication and because there is even less fit in cross-cultural communication, therapists who work cross-culturally must sometimes take great risks. Taking risks means that mistakes will be made, and therapists therefore also need to be able to get unstuck in ways that are respectful and do not lead to further discrimination. The “reflective loop” is an exercise that can be used to minimize discrimination. In it, I adopt the language loop (Smith, 1997) to a process that begins as self-reflection and moves on to questions that aim to be open, respectful, and curious and are likely to lead to new experiences for clients and therapists and, eventually, to a dialogue (or a language loop in the way used by Smith that, in turn, will call for further self-reflection by the therapist, new open questions, and new dialogues. I also follow Hildebrand (1998) in assuming that experiential learning is the most comprehensive way to learn. As an exercise, the reflective loop is therefore not aimed at how therapists can give up their own models and ideas in a simplistic way or at how they can adopt foreign ideas as a kind of idealization of “the other”. Rather, it is aimed at how therapists can develop ways of thinking about their own ideas and conceptions as only one possible way in which things can be done. By these means, it is aimed at enhancing sensitivity to cultural and ethnic differences.

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CHAPTER ONE: Introduction

Krause, Inga-Britt Karnac Books ePub

In 1998, a significant event took place in race relations in Britain. This was the Stephen Lawrence Inquiry. Stephen Lawrence was murdered by a small gang of young white men as he waited for a bus. His murder was not properly investigated, and to date no one has been found guilty of it. However, the public inquiry that eventually took place found the Metropolitan Police guilty of negligence and institutional racism, and in the weeks that followed the publication of the report on the inquiry (Macpherson, 1999), radio and television news, newspaper editorials, and commentaries as well as private conversations were focused on these events and their implications. Many people, including young Afro-Caribbean, Asian, and white British, attended the inquiry, and a play—The Colour of Justice—based on verbatim transcripts of the inquiry was screened on television at peak viewing time. The inquiry into the murder of Stephen Lawrence openly placed an obligation on the Establishment to address issues of racism and discrimination in a different way from what had previously been done. This was no easy matter, and although there have since been important and essential initiatives—such as the introduction of the Race Relations (Amendment) Act into the public sector during 2000—it is perhaps too early to say whether the implications of the Macpherson Report have been recognized by the public, the government, and professionals in key public services in Britain. These implication are indeed far-reaching and therefore difficult to face. The difficulty is to be found in the notion of institutionalized racism to which the report drew attention. Lord Justice Macpherson and his team defined institutionalized racism as

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CHAPTER SIX: Connectedness and rationality

Krause, Inga-Britt Karnac Books ePub

From the previous chapters it should be clear that a systemic view is not automatically culture-free. We have replaced our idea of a cybernetic (mechanical) system with a social system, and a social system cannot be perceived or examined outside the cultural themes and meanings that provide the reasons for persons in it to be engaged with each other. However, as I described in chapter four, it is a characteristic of a social system as a generalization that describing it does not implicate value judgements. The fact that persons are related does not tell us anything about whether these persons are happy or unhappy in their relationships. What can, then, be said to be a human condition or a human theme—and in this sense to be “culture-free”—is connectedness. In all social systems, persons are connected to each other and to general more-or-less patterns and ideas about how things should be done. And this also extends to things and artefacts that behind them have social relations. Social systems are therefore characterized by relationality, both in organization and in process. But connectedness cannot by itself explain information, because connectedness is a condition for culturally constructed processes of interaction and communication. The interaction and the communication cannot take place without relatedness or connectedness being there in the first place. There is a wide variety of ways in which persons can be connected to each other, just as there is a variety of ways in which certain tasks can be performed, but the variation is not infinite, because all the different solutions must meet the requirements of human conditions. Nevertheless, the existence of variety means that relationality must be distinguished from rational-ity.

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CHAPTER FOUR: Objectification, recognition, and the intersubjective continuum

Karnac Books ePub

David Pocock

I will begin with a poor question: what is culture? The idea that culture can be something (some “thing”) without a reflexive concern for definition led, during the period of my family therapy training in the late 1980s, to “culture” becoming a corrective to ethnocentric assumptions of universality implicit in the theories of family structure and process that had proliferated in the preceding two decades. The predominant message to trainees was that cultural differences were to be respected, honouring culture being a good thing. Simultaneously, late 1980s UK family therapy was preoccupied with gender. However, here the message was strikingly different. Skewed gender roles were not to be respected but challenged, patriarchy being a bad thing. It is a testament to the feasibility of Foucault’s (1975) notion of the disciplinary power of discourse that I do not recall the obvious question being framed by any of us trainees: given that most cultures could be judged to be patriarchal, and notions of equality imply a mostly Euro-American ethnocentricity, which message should predominate—do we honour and respect patriarchy or challenge it? Since the denigration of otherness (to consolidate a comfortingly superior togetherness) is also a feature of most dominant cultures, the same dilemma becomes even more acute for racism; surely we should not honour that? With the linguistic turn in family therapy of the 1990s, one way of managing the discomfort of moral relativism that these issues raise was to allow in marginalized discourses—to give the other a voice. But, as Burr (1999) argues, this mostly sidesteps the issue; would we wish to further legitimize the voices of paedophiles and holocaust deniers, are these not also cultural groups?

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