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Rhodes University :: Psychology
Brochures | Education 2011-09-20 08:28:28
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    Mo(ve)ments in Identity The Inaugural Narrative Practice & Theory Conference Rhodes University, Grahamstown 28-30 July 2011

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    1 Rhodes Psychology Department has historically been open to inclusive forms of research that interrogate issues of power, race, and gender. Various members of staff have contributed the establishment of a solid research strand drawing on discursive and narrative research methods. Narrative practice fits in quite naturally with this ethos and also opens up interesting researchpractice dialogues. 'This is an area which deserves further exploration in the future,' says Head of Department, Michael Guilfoyle. However, he is also quick to clarify: 'We don't envisage a kind of narrative hegemony in the department. In teaching, research and training it is important for people to have exposure to a range of ideas and practices. So it's wonderful that narrative has a legitimate, solid and supported place here at Rhodes, at undergraduate level but more particularly at postgraduate level, but it would go against our commitments to inclusion and diversity to even attempt to marginalise other ideas and approaches.' The conference title (inspired by the work of Bronwyn Davies) invited presenters to consider the 'moments' in therapy and community work that bring about 'movement'. What happens in a moment that can shift an identity story? What questions can we ask and how should we ask them to make movement a possibility?

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    2 Dr Elmarie Kotzé of the University of Waikato, New Zealand, opened the conference day with a challenging presentation, drawing on Bronwyn Davies' take on poststructuralist positioning theory and discourse as well as the work of John Winslade and Wendy Drewery. Dr Kotzé considered how, in the moment of an utterance, a therapist takes up a position in relation to various discourses and in so doing, positions client(s) in a particular way. At the same time, it is at the moment of utterance that possibilities occur to dislodge familiar/habitual ways of thinking and speaking and produce the potential for discursive shifts or 'mo(ve)ments'. Dr Stephen Gaddis of the Salem Centre for Therapy, Training and Research in the United States, later revisited this theme from a slightly different perspective: 'According to [Michel] Foucault, every utterance I make is a move that takes place within some "game of government"'. According to Gaddis, our intentions in relation to any utterance are largely irrelevant. What matters are its effects. According to Davies, it is at the moment of utterance that possibilities occur to dislodge familiar/habitual ways of thinking and speaking and produce the potential for discursive shifts or 'mo(ve)ments.' Gaddis carefully demonstrated this during the post-conference workshop

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    3 when he took participants through the transcript of a therapy session, utterance by utterance, considering the positioning and 'dislodging' effects of each utterance and demonstrating the theoretical and intuitive alchemy which gives rise to a particular line of questioning. Both Kotzé and Gaddis highlighted self-reflexivity on the part of practitioners as being essential to 'catch' oneself in the moment of taking up a position. One of the powerful examples Elmarie Kotzé used appears in Nelson Mandela's biography A Long Walk to Freedom. It is the story of a moment in which Madiba catches himself feeling anxious when he realises that a black pilot will fly his plane. He is suddenly aware of how he has internalised the denigration of black people's abilities in technologically advanced contexts. He is able to realise how the apartheid system had invited him into this position and he was able to reposition himself. This illustration captured the imagination of the conference and such awareness of the positioning of self and 'other' in relation to available discourses was thereafter referred to as 'a Mandela moment'. Dr Elmarie Kotzé shared moving examples of how she grapples with this concept of positioning in her own work and in the teaching of students. In her presentation, Kim Barker considered the implications of discourse and positioning theory in therapy situations where a client's 'lived religion' is brought into the therapeutic conversation. She suggested that mental health practitioners have an ethical responsibility to reflect on how they position and are positioned within discourses of religion, faith and spirituality: the positions that therapists take up within these discourses have

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    4 real implications for their ability to remain respectfully curious and open to co-authoring the client's preferred narratives. However, she pointed out that religious beliefs have the paradoxical potential of being both emancipatory and oppressive and that it is equally important to engage clients in deconstructive conversations regarding the effects of their 'lived religion' on their choices, relationships, hopes, intentions and dreams. A key question that these and other presentations raised related to how narrative practitioners position their clients with each question that they ask. Therese Hegarty reminded participants of David Epston, the cofounder of narrative therapy's maxim: Every time I ask a question I generate a possible version of life. It is therefore vital and ethical to consider: What possible versions of life do my questions generate for my clients? Are they positioned as agents in their own lives? And how are they invited to perform that agency? Professor Michael Guilfoyle's paper presented a strong theoretical argument for a shift from the question 'Who am I?' to the question 'How shall I conduct myself?' as a guide for living and therapeutic practice. Drawing on Michel Foucault's later writing, Guilfoyle argued for

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    5 consideration of what he called the 'Ethical subject' who holds him/herself accountable to a personal ethics/ethos: Do my actions today correspond to the principles that I have given myself? While still constituted within the sea of discourse, the 'ethical subject' is able to exercise choice and would be guided by a question such as, 'How close can I come to the principles I have given myself?' rather than the more elusive and ultimately destructive pursuit: 'How close can I come to reaching the 'truth' of who I am?' Using a fictitious composite case study, Guilfoyle demonstrated the significant implications of this shift in focus for narrative therapy conversations. With remarkable synchronicity, in his conference presentation, Stephen Gaddis offered a poignant description of the destructive versions of life that were generated for him as he considered the same question which has so successfully, and so invisibly, captured the imagination of the modern, white Western world: 'Who am I?' Gaddis explained: 'I never questioned the question. I assumed that it was the right way to organise myself in relation to

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    6 myself. But', he continues, 'I am literally lucky that the power of the question didn't end up killing me'. Gaddis therefore prefers to 'downgrade questions of who I am and upgrade questions of who I might want to become' as he enacts his commitment to engaging in conversations in which clients are positioned as agents in their own lives. Particularly moving was the story of his correspondence with a young man in South Africa around their shared experiences of family violence and their commitment to becoming different kinds of fathers. In a further example of 'theory in the service of practice', Therese Hegarty of Froebel College, Ireland's conference presentation drew on both attachment theory and narrative ideas, as she highlighted the importance of teachers' role in co-constructing learners' identity stories, and in structuring environments in which learners feel secure enough to exercise curiosity. For example, every teacher asks hundreds of questions every day - what possible versions of life do their questions generate for their pupils - and what possible versions could they be generating? Hegarty described how teachers sometimes find themselves teaching a class where a problem has taken hold of the class culture. Name-calling, Cliques, Excluding, Suspicion and Competitiveness are some of the problems which have been known to occur. Too often, individual children are blamed for such a problem and these children acquire 'a reputation'. However, this usually does not have much effect on the problem and simply invites defensiveness on the part of the one who is blamed.

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    7 Hegarty's preferred approach is to work with the whole class, drawing on practices of Narrative Therapy, Jungian Sand Play and Circle Time. Externalising opens up space for the problem rather than the children to become the subject of enquiry and concern. Children can then explore the effects of the problem on the class and on individuals. They can discuss the kind of relationship they would prefer to have with the problem, based on the values they hold. And then, together, they can begin to take small steps outside of the grip of problem. Hegarty explained how this approach draws childrens' attention to the culture itself (of the class, the school, the broader society) and allows for interrogation of the culture: 'My hope is to provide a scaffold for children to think, and exert agency around the relationships that exist between them.' Hegarty believes that this approach can contribute towards the creation of a 'participative democracy' which can inform pupils' subsequent relationships in groups and in society.

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    8 Hegarty also highlighted the process by which children acquire reputations in a class or school: how these reputations surface, attach themselves and become fixed, and how reputations can be changed when children have other aspects of their identities witnessed and acknowledged. She concluded with a strong argument for more extensive support and supervision for teachers. The importance of witnessing and communities of care were also at the forefront of Elmarie Kotzé's post-conference workshop. As narrative practitioners we are often required to work in contexts of violence and trauma. Kotzé suggested that in such contexts we can see counselling practice as social action and work towards 'doing reasonable hope' by 'creating and sustaining communities of care'. Kaethe Weingarten was the one who first suggested that hope is not something we have or don't have, but something that we 'do' in community. When we do 'reasonable' hope we take small steps towards change, staying well within the realms of possibility. Reasonable hope also does not rule out the simultaneous presence of despair or hopelessness - the two can exist side by side. Kotzé used the powerfully moving example of 'Rona', a woman who had escaped an extremely violent and abusive situation through the intervention of a police officer who supported her in leaving the violent relationship, to demonstrate some of the practices which can be employed in doing hope, such as taking-it-back practices (in this case the writing of letters) and the creation of communities of care through the sharing of those letters in an ever-widening circle of influence.

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    9 Kotzé's work in creating communities was extended with the presentations of the Rhodes Masters in Clinical and Counselling Psychology students' community work projects from 2010 and 2011. Dr Trudy Meehan, co-ordinator of the Masters Community Work module, introduced the two groups: Noluvuyo Mazaleni & Ronald Davies, now interns at Fort England Hospital and Masters students, Kirstin Friis and Michael Mclnerney. The presenters offered an honest overview of the challenges and small successes of their community work experiences. It offered the students an opportunity to story their struggles and disillusionment and to have those witnessed by a community of caring conference participants. Although their experiences have profoundly challenged their expectations of what community work would be like, one student concluded, 'we are learning to sit with the discomfort, the disillusionment, and from that comes hope for change.' Themes of community work and creativity converged in Yvonne Sliep's energetic presentation of her use of Narrative Theatre in healing work with traumatised communities, with particular reference to her work in Burundi. Sliep, who is an Associate Professor in the Psychology Department at the University of KwaZulu Natal, outlined the theory behind Narrative Theatre, a term first coined when Sliep was working in Uganda in 1995. This practice draws on influences as diverse as Augusto Baul's 'Theatre of the Oppressed', Gergen's 'mobilisation of moral agency', Foucauldian deconstruction of power practices, and the concept of 'positive performativity': walking the talk and moving beyond reflexivity as an internal, intellectual process towards translating reflexivity into external and relational contextual practice.

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