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CHAPTER EIGHT: The personal and the professional: core beliefs and the construction of bridges across difference

Karnac Books ePub

Barry Mason

Introduction

This is a chapter that has evolved out of practice, theory, and personal experience. It arises from a long-standing focus on the relationship between the development of my own personal core beliefs and the influence of those beliefs on my clinical work as a family and systemic psychotherapist working with individuals, couples, and families from different cultures and religions. A central question for me has become not only how I can help clients find a systemic both–and position, and how the therapeutic relationship can encompass a both–and position, but also, to what extent I can find such a position in relation to my personal beliefs and my professional task. Some of the content herein comes from a certain disillusionment with some of the more recent developments in family therapy, and could be said to be a continuation of the work that contributed to the publication of the book, Exploring the Unsaid (Mason & Sawyerr, 2002), which sought to encourage practitioners to take more risks in working cross-culturally. This was based on the view that interpretations of the developments in theory and practice were hindering, as well as aiding, us in creating effective clinical work. As Alice Sawyerr and I wrote in our introduction to that book, “to develop intimacy, to develop closeness of whatever kind, one has to be prepared to take chances and risk vulnerability” (p. xix). This chapter is written with that in mind.

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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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CHAPTER EIGHT: Choosing meaning: 2

Krause, Inga-Britt Karnac Books ePub

In chapter seven, I showed how the therapist can start from a position that is general enough not to be identified with her own cultural assumptions and yet give some direction to the enquiry and the therapeutic process. The therapist must try to know what she does not know, and this is why she cannot start with a view from nowhere (Nagel, 1986). Indeed, this would be an illusion. I gave some idea of what the “system” that the therapist may want to keep in mind might look like, as well as ethnographic questions and subquestions that can be generated so that the therapist can move towards “thick description”. Thick description involves language in the broadest sense, including its expressive use, the experience of participation in the language loop, and, of course, digital and analogic modes of communication (Bateson, 1973). On the basis of these processes, the therapist may, like the ethnographer, be able to access information that is new and, because it may be different from what she expected, needs explaining. But not all this information is also new to the client, because, just like the therapist herself, clients act, think, feel, and exist against the background of previous patterns of interaction and meaning. Information, then, may refer to what Bourdieu (1990) has called doxic experience—that is to say, knowledge that individual persons take for granted and may not be wholly conscious, but is nevertheless imbued with cultural patterns and meaning (see chapter five). This kind of material is a challenge to the therapist because she cannot ask direct questions about it. Nevertheless, her efforts must be directed towards accessing and tuning into these kinds of meanings, and if she is able to do this, she can use it to generate new questions. This requires some clarification, and I shall do this by way of an example.

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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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CHAPTER TWO: Can we tolerate the relationships that race compels?

Karnac Books ePub

David Campbell

“The fact remains that getting people right is not what living is all about anyway. It’s getting them wrong that is living, getting them wrong and wrong and wrong and then, after careful consideration, getting them wrong again. That’s how we know we’re alive: we’re wrong. Maybe the best thing would be to forget being right or wrong about people and just go along for the ride. But if you can do that—well, lucky you”

(Roth, 1997, p. 35)

A personal statement

In the summer of 1962, I had just graduated from high school in Kansas City, and was preparing to go to university at a small men’s liberal arts college in Ohio. One hot day in July, I received a letter from the college informing me that “amongst the 280 men in the incoming class were two Negroes …” (I will never forget the way this word, with its capital “N” stood out on the page.) The letter continued to ask if I would have any objections if one of these men were assigned to share a room with me. Partly I was shocked by this and partly I was very curious, so I wrote back saying, “on the contrary I would be very interested to share a room with one of these men” … and so it happened.

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