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From 'after the fact' objective analyses to immediate 'before the fact' living meanings

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Abstract

The worlds of therapeutic interactions, and especially the worlds of our everyday social exchanges, as portrayed in the conceptualizations and theories proposed in research papers, are in fact very different from the worlds within which we all actually live our everyday lives. This is not because I think the conceptualizations and theories offered are in fact inadequate, but because as identifiable and nameable causal process they can only be seen as having been at work in people’s activities after they have been performed. ‘Something else’ altogether is guiding people in the performance of their actions than the nameable things whose nature we seek to discover in our inquiries, something in their relations to the larger circumstances of their involvements with the others and othernesses around them, rather than merely in their actions and utterances exclusively. Conceptualizations relate to observed events after the fact of their occurrence, whereas, much occurs in the experience of participants before the fact of their happening.
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Final draft of a commentary on Martinez, Tomici, and Medina, Psychotherapy as a Discursive Genre: A
Dialogic Approach, for the journal Culture and Psychology.
From ‘after the fact’ objective analyses
to immediate ‘before the fact’ living meanings
John Shotter
Abstract: The worlds of therapeutic interactions, and especially the worlds of our
everyday social exchanges, as portrayed in the conceptualizations and theories proposed
in research papers, are in fact very different from the worlds within which we all actually
live our everyday lives. This is not because I think the conceptualizations and theories
offered are in fact inadequate, but because as identifiable and nameable causal process
they can only be seen as having been at work in people’s activities after they have been
performed. ‘Something else’ altogether is guiding people in the performance of their
actions than the nameable things whose nature we seek to discover in our inquiries,
something in their relations to the larger circumstances of their involvements with the
others and othernesses around them, rather than merely in their actions and utterances
exclusively. Conceptualizations relate to observed events after the fact of their
occurrence, whereas, much occurs in the experience of participants before the fact of
their happening.
Keywords: After the fact; before the fact: hermeneutical; dialogical; instructive
accounts; developmental trajectory.
“When we conceptualize, we cut out and fix, and exclude everything but what we have
fixed. A concept means a that-and-no-other. Conceptually, time excludes space; motion
and rest exclude each other; approach excludes contact... – and so on indefinitely;
whereas in the real concrete sensible flux of life experiences compenetrate each other so
that it is not easy to know just what is excluded and what not.” (James, 1996/1909).
Introduction: from what is inside us to what we are inside of
Martinez, Tomicic, and Medina justify the reporting of the research portrayed in their paper by claiming
that this kind of psychotherapy research is relevant, not only to comprehending “the changes processes in
the patients, but also its contribution to the development of basic knowledge about psychological
transformations in persons by means the language and its meanings” (MS, pp20-21). I wish to question
this claim in every respect.
As I see it, the world of therapeutic interactions (and especially the world of our everyday social
exchanges), as portrayed in the conceptualizations displayed this paper, are in fact very different from the
world in which we all actually live our everyday lives. This is not because I think the conceptualizations
offered here are in fact inadequate, and I want to argue for better ones. But because, as identifiable and
nameable causal process, they can only be seen as having been at work in people’s activities after they
have been performed. Moreover, as nameable ‘things’ they are often in fact foreshadowed in the very way
in which, prior to the conduct of our investigations, we commit ourselves to a particular way or ways of
looking into the phenomena before us — so that aspects of what is offered as an explanation of a process
have in fact been assumed as being at work in it from the very start. In short, in relating to observed
events, conceptualizations have their application after the fact of an event’s occurrence, whereas, much
occurs in the experience of the participants before the fact of it happening.
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William James (1890), long ago, recognized the fallacy of describing a process in terms of its
products. He called it “the Psychologist’s Fallacy” (pp.196-197, p.278): “We have the inveterate habit,
whenever we try introspectively to describe one of our thoughts, of dropping the thought as it is in itself
and talking of something else. We describe the things that appear to the thought, and we describe other
thoughts about those things — as if these and the original thought were the same” (p.279). Dewey (1896)
stated the same fallacy thus: “A set of considerations which hold good only because of a completed
process, is read into the content of the process which conditions this completed result” (p. 362). Bakhtin
(1993) is also aware of the reversed temporality at work in our theorizing:
“Any kind of practical orientation of my life within the theoretical world is impossible: it
is impossible to live in it, impossible to perform answerable deeds... The theoretical
world is obtained through an essential and fundamental abstraction from the fact of my
unique being and from the moral sense of that fact — ‘as if I did not exist’... it cannot
determine my life as an answerable performing of deeds, it cannot provide any criteria
for the life of practice, the life of the deed, for it is not the Being in which I live, and, if it
were the only Being, I would not exist” (p.9).
As the unique being that I am, although I need to act in ways intelligible to those around me, if I am to
satisfy the tensions I feel at work within me, I also need to act in ways that matter uniquely to me — even
though I quite often, mistakenly, formulate what I in fact need, inappropriately, as a specific desire (Todes,
2001)
1
.
Thus, as I see it, ‘something else’ altogether is guiding people in the performance of their actions
than the nameable things whose nature we seek to discover in our inquiries, something in their relations
to the larger circumstances of their involvements with the others and othernesses around them, rather
than merely in their actions and utterances exclusively. It is a matter, not of what is going on within their
actions and utterances, but of what their actions and utterances are going on within. As Voloshinov (1986)
puts it, the influences shaping our utterances are not to be found within “the individual psyche” (p.48) as
individual creative acts of speech, nor within “the linguistic system” (p.52) as a source of normative
forms. To the extent that, as living beings, in all our activities and utterances we are responsive to our
surroundings; thus, as a dialogically-structured event: “The organizing center of any utterance, of any
experience, is not within but outside — in the social milieu surrounding the individual being” (p.93).
More like the growth of plants in relation to the weather occurring around them, than like
computers, impervious to their surroundings, acting only according to their internal programs, our
actions emerge, I want to claim, in a moment-by-moment, back-and-forth, dialogical-hermeneutical
manner, guided and shaped both by our efforts at attaining an overall end-in-view, and by the limited
availability of relevant useable resources in our immediate surroundings. We are never not in a
particular, concrete circumstance, and, as I see it, verbal communication can never be understood and
explained outside of this connection with a concrete situation. Lynn Hoffman (2006) describes my view
thus:
“In his [John Shotter’s] view, communication is like a social weather. It fills our sails,
becalms, or sometimes wrecks us. Sensing what is called for in a particular context,
responding correctly to gestures like an extended hand, feeling a black cloud settling
over a discussion, are all examples of a weather system that can impact us in concrete
and material ways” (p.68).
So although we seek to explore how people do in fact conduct themselves in an intelligible
manner in their meetings with each other, in relation to an overall end-in-view, we cannot, I want to
argue, achieve any understandings of practical use to us in ‘weathering’ the storms or stagnations
occurring to us in our lives, by populating our inner lives with theoretical entities of our own devising —
no matter how much, after the fact, they can provide an accurate description of what happens to us. To
repeat, as I see it, something else is at work, before the fact, in our guiding and shaping our actions and
utterances in the particular circumstance we happen to be in, and it is the nature of this ‘something else’,
and how it can be publicly studied in all its individuality and uniqueness that I want to explore below.
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From causal explanations to ‘instructive accounts’ of new uses of language
In recent years, there has been a distinctive movement of thought, still somewhat ignored in the West,
ever since our adoption of Cartesian, geometric modes of argumentative inquiry 350 years ago. For quite
a while we have been focussing solely on the ‘shapes’ or ‘forms’ of objective things, along with the aim of
seeking patterns out in the world. However, under the influence of such thinkers and writers as
Wittgenstein; Heidegger; Bakhtin, Voloshinov, and Vygotsky; James, Mead and Dewey; Gadamer; and
Merleau-Ponty (among many others), some of us moved away from a concern with the supposedly
eternal, i.e., fixed but hidden properties of objects in the world ‘out there’, and begun, rather, to move
towards noticing similarities and differences in our experiences of events occurring around us (Katz &
Shotter, 1996). We have also moved away from a concern with events supposedly occurring privately
inside the heads of individuals, along with ceasing to search for the ideals hidden behind appearances
assumed as the causes of the observations we make. Instead, we have turned to a direct focus on the
unique concrete details of our living, dynamic, bodily sensed or felt involvements — or participations
in and with the world around us.
In so doing, we have become concerned both with what goes on inside the different ‘worlds of
meaning’ we create within our meetings with the others and othernesses around us, along with noticing
the ever present background flow of spontaneously unfolding, reciprocally responsive inter-activity
between us and our surroundings, in the context of which our expressions have their meaning. For after
all, we respond to the meanings of events occurring around us, not to their objective shapes or forms. And
in telling the others around us of them, we do not just need to achieve a satisfaction of the tensions they
arouse in us, we also need to verbally articulate their nature in such a way as to arouse in the others
around us felt anticipations as to possible next steps they might take in coordinating their behaviour in
with ours (Bakhtin, 1981, 1986).
If we were unable to anticipate, at least partially, how the others around us will respond to our
actions in each of the unique situations within which we happen to find ourselves, organized social life
would be impossible. We would have no sense of what, sequentially, should follow from what — no sense
that particular expressions should be responded to in particular ways — and thus, no capacity as
members of a social group, to coordinate our activities in with those of others. Without their embedding
within that larger flow of activity, their own particular, unique meaning is lost — for its otherwise
indeterminate meaning is only made more determinate, hermeneutically, by its particular placement
within that larger flow.
To repeat, what is lost if we focus only on completed utterances, and subject them merely to
passive, finalized, monological understandings on our part as observers of them by placing them — and
thus offering interpretations of their meaning — within a theoretical framework of our own devising, is
the active, unique, responsive, unfinalized meanings they have for those actually participating within the
dialogic meetings in question.
Vygotsky (1986) described this loss of meaning thus:
“Two essentially different modes of analysis are possible in the study of psychological
structures... The first method analyzes complex psychological wholes into elements...
Psychology winds up in the same kind of dead end when it analyzes verbal thought into
its components, thought and word, and studies them in isolation from each other. In the
course of analysis, the original properties of verbal thought have disappeared. Nothing is
left to the investigator but to search out the mechanical interaction of the two elements
in the hope of reconstructing, in a purely speculative way, the vanished properties of the
whole... In essence, this type of analysis, which leads us to products in which the
properties of the whole are lost, may not be called analysis in the proper sense of this
word. It is generalization, rather than analysis” (p.4, my emphasis)
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What is needed instead, is a genetic account (see Vygotsky, 1986, ch.4), an account that does not
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take it “for granted that the relation between two given functions never varie[s]; that perception, for
example, [is] always connected in an ideal way with attention, memory with perceptions, thought with
memory" (pp.1-2, my emphasis), but which studies the developmental trajectories involved in people
developing the relevant “ontological skills” (Shotter, 1984, pp.122-123) to relate themselves to events
occurring in their circumstances, perceptually, such that they come to respond spontaneously to them in
ways shared with those around them. As Vygotsky (1978) puts it: “The child begins to perceive the world
not only through his [or her] eyes but also through his [or her] speech” (p.32), and in doing so, learns
both to pick out aspects of the sensory field as those around her or him do, and to express what they see
in ways also shared by others.
In other words, rather than explanations of supposed processes hidden inside the individuals in
question — explanations that can, as in our translation of words in our mother tongue into a second
language, be understood without our having to learn any new practical skills — what we need if we are in
fact to grasp the situated meanings understood by those in a particular, unique circumstance, is an
instructive account of the social conditions conducive to our extending linguistically-structured perceptual
skills. For explanations can only work as such, if a person already reliably responds in certain ways to our
words, to our utterances, for example, by finding certain similarities well known to them relevant and
others not, by looking at later utterances to clarify earlier ones, by testing our characterizations with
examples of their own, and so on. In other words, if persons lacking the experiential resources and the
skills required to carry our such imaginative work, as we might call it, then explanations will not be
perceived as explanations, but merely as a sequence of words still requiring an interpretation.
In other words, a meaning is attributed to them after the factconsisting of an assemblage of
specific generalized component parts — that is not at all their meaning as we experience it in the course
of our involved acting. Indeed, as William James (1890) shows in his account of “what passes through the
mind as we utter the phrase the pack of cards is on the table” (p.279). As he sees it, the ‘thought’ has what
he calls time-parts:
“Now I say of these time-parts that we cannot take any one of them so short that it will
not after some fashion or other be a thought of the whole object 'the pack of cards is on
the table.' They melt into each other like dissolving views, and no two of them feel the
object just alike, but each feels the total object in a unitary undivided way. This is what I
mean by denying that in the thought any parts can be found corresponding to the object's
parts. Time-parts are not such parts” (p.279).
As I see it, James provides us here with a before the fact account of the distinctive feelings or sensings at
work in guiding us in shaping and structuring our utterances in the course of their utterance, right until
the moment of their very completion.
Life within a world in which all ‘things’ exist as separate from other ‘things’
In a Cartesian world of already determinate mechanisms merely awaiting our discovery of them, the effort
to place meaning at the centre of Social Theory has had a chequered career. Meanings felt or sensed in the
course of sequentially unfolding activities within which one have been condemned as subjective, while
only countable, objective things — know in terms of their spatial shapes (forms) — existing separately
from each other have been accepted as the proper results of our inquiries. In short, meanings, as such,
have been ignored. In the classical Cartesian/Newtonian world of separate particles of matter in motion
according to pre-established laws, we have assumed the task of science to be that of discovering the
formal nature of these basic constituents along with their causal relations, and that we should pursue this
task by seeking to prove our proposed theoretical representations of their causal relations true. Crucial to
this endeavour, of course, was the assumption that once a theory was proved true, everyone would, of
course, both understand and agree with it and find it a fitting basis for their future actions.
It is on the basis of just such an assumption as this, that Martinez et al set out to explore the
nature of the talk occurring in psychotherapeutic encounters. As they see it, “therapeutic dialogue occurs
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in two simultaneous levels and [the] the particular way in which this takes place shapes it as a discursive
praxis with its own limits and rules” (MS, p.5) — the two levels being, as they see it, the “dialogal” and the
“dialogical,” i.e., respectively, the inter-mental dialogue between patient and therapist, and the intra-
mental dialogues between voices and positions. They claim that these two levels are required because, as
psychotherapy became a professional practice, “psychotherapeutic discourses constitute systems of
meaning that have been built by psychotherapy as institution and which are then maintained through
practice. [And] these discourses function as reference points by means of which therapists organize their
intervention” (MS,p.19). Thus, as they see it, what prima facie may start out as mere conversation can
become a discourse or discourse genre when — as a result of various events being repeated over and over
again so that therapists can get a sense of ‘what next’ is likely to happen — the exchanges taking place
begin to be shaped, not only by “a set of common expressions, but also by certain given positions or
perspectives adopted by speakers in the discourse as a whole” (MS, p.1).
In other words, to repeat, Martinez et al are here offering an after the fact analysis of a therapeutic
encounter aimed at elaborating and extending Hermans’ (2001) explanatory Dialogical Self Theory.
Whereas, as I see it, if we are to grasp what is involved in a second person replying to a first person’s
utterance in such a way that (a) the speaker experiences what is said by the second as in fact a reply to it,
and (b) the second person also experiences their reply as a satisfactory one (or, if not, acts to correct it),
then what we need is a before the fact understanding, an understanding of how such an achievement is
actually managed, in ways relevant to the immediate circumstances at hand — given that in our everyday
lives, as yet at least, no general rules are applicable
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. As I put it above, we need some instructive accounts of
the social conditions conducive to extending our linguistically-structured perceptual skills, some useful
words or statements which will aid us in picking out aspects of the sensory field around us in ways
shareable with those around us.
I am not convinced that Martinez et al achieve this in their analytical account of the
psychotherapeutic practice they study
4
. Two factors are central to it: One is Althusser’s (1971) notion of
interpellation in which individuals find themselves summoned by events in their surroundings to act in
ways that are often not of their own choosing. Althusser himself introduced the term to describe the
process by which ideology, embodied in major social and political institutions, constitutes people’s
identities through them being 'hailed' or ‘called upon’ to act in certain unavoidable ways by the language
used within their everyday social institutions. Martinez et al, however, use the terms to describe a special
discursive phenomenon that occurs, they say, when someone is called upon to give “an explanation about an
action or expression... [which forces them] to adopt a determinated subjective position” (MS, p.6).
The second central factor is their adoption of the
Dialogic Discourse Analysis
(DDA) scheme of
categories developed by Larraín and Medina (2007), which they have used elsewhere (see Martínez, 2011;
Martínez, Tomicic, Medina, 2012). As they see it, DDA sheds light not only on the different ‘voices’ they see
as being present in people’s utterances, but also on the relationships between them, as well as on the
nature of the "real" dialogue occurring between participants. As they see it, at the level of discourse — the
dialogical level at which the institutional ideologies at work in psychotherapy exert their influence — four
major influences are at work which they term: (1) Enunciators; (2) Subject of the utterance; (3) Subject of
the enunciation; and (4) Modalizers and modalities.
Along with the notion of interpellation, these are all highly technical terms, requiring coders
analyzing the transcripts to have had DDA training (see MS, p.10). Such training is necessary for, clearly,
such ‘wordings’ are not ones which — in being uttered to typical psychotherapeutic practitioners — would
orient them towards, not only noticing such features or aspects of events occurring in their consultations,
but help them to develop relevant, linguistically-structured, ontological skills of such a kind that they come
to respond to such events, spontaneously, in ways shared with those around them. Thus what coders have
to be taught — in a training, clearly, conducted primarily in ordinary, everyday language — is to see
sequences of words in the transcripts which already make one kind of sense to us, as being other than
what ordinarily they seem to be, as being enuciatiors, or modalizers, etc., etc.
Being able to translate everyday events into a technical language, however, is not enough for one
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to become a competent member of a community of practitioners
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; we need to learn how to use such terms
in the same way as other members of that community. More than merely satisfying the anticipatory
tensions they arouse within us, individually, we need to learn how to verbally articulate the nature of these
tensions — by saying what they are like — in ways that will arouse similar such anticipations in others,
enabling them to consider possible next steps they might take in coordinating their behaviour in with ours.
It is not a matter of gaining new knowledge, but of developing within oneself the relevant, linguistically-
structured, ontological skills, at being able to pick out aspects of the sensory field within which one is
immersed as those around us do, and to express what they see in ways in which they also share.
For, as I see it, if we are unable to anticipate, at least partially, how the others around us will
respond to our actions in each of the unique situations within which we happen to find ourselves,
organized social life would become impossible. We would have no sense of how we should respond to
other people’s expressions, and thus, no capacity as members of a social group, to coordinate our activities
in with those of others.
It is this turn to living worlds of meaning, to worlds in which people come to share felt, distinctive
anticipations as to each other’s future actions in otherwise indeterminate, fluid, not-yet-finalized
circumstances, thus to coordinate their activities with each other that we must, I want to argue here,
explore if we are to offer research inquiries of use to practitioners, rather than just to other researchers as
observers of other people’s activities.
Conclusions: before the fact accounts
Evidently, there are two ways in what appear to be theoretical utterances can be used: (1) one is in an after
the fact representational fashion, as stating a claim about the nature of the hidden reality thought to be
responsible for observed events, i.e., “as a preconceived idea to which reality must correspond. (The
dogmatism into which we fall so easily in doing philosophy.)” (Wittgenstein, 1953, no.131). (2) The other
is as before the fact aids to perception, as utterances which direct us to attend to this rather than that aspect
of events occurring within our current circumstances; they are utterances which offer us, in Wittgenstein’s
(1953) terms, “objects of comparison which are meant to throw light on the facts of our language by way
not only of similarities, but also of dissimilarities” (no.130). For new words can provide us with new
anticipations as to what we might see in the events occurring around us that we did not previously notice,
and to express what we see in ways also shared by others. Thus the kind of before the fact investigations
Wittgenstein (1953) is advocating are aimed at clarifying “what is possible before all new discoveries and
inventions” (no.126).
So, although in the past we have felt “as if we had to penetrate phenomena,” says Wittgenstein
(1953), this is not now the case. Our investigations need to be “directed not towards phenomena, but, as
one might say, towards the ‘possibilities’ of phenomena. We remind ourselves, that is to say, of the kind of
statement that we make about phenomena” (no.90). We need to do this because, in our ordinary,
immediate uses of language — in the words we utter as we conduct of our everyday practical affairs in
with the others around us — we express ways of relating ourselves to the world around us that matter to
us, many ways in fact.
In the past, we have tended to disparage ordinary people’s everyday experiences and the evidence
of our senses in favour of the objective knowledge arrived at by the pure intellect. But clearly, what occurs
to us in our everyday practical involvements, as we skilfully and spontaneously move around in relation to
and with the others and othernesses around us, are primary, while what we give names to as ‘things’ or
‘objects’ is secondary, and dependent on quite specific meanings that come to be present
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to us as a result
of our bodily movements out in the world at large — the meanings that arouse in us specific anticipations
as to what might next occur.
It is against this kind of background that I have offered my comments in relation to the research
presented by Martinez, Tomicic, and Medina in their paper in this issue of Theory & Psychology. My
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criticisms have thus been more in criticism in principle than in detail. Indeed, as I see it a whole style of
research, as a discourse genre, is in question. For if it really is the case that we are living in a turbulent, fluid
world then, as I see it, it is not enough to produce general accounts of people’s actions that merely display
their actions as orderly, and to report what can truthfully be said about them after the fact of their
occurrence. More than merely true statements are required. As Rorty (1999) puts it, in such
circumstances: “We cannot regard truth as a goal of inquiry.... Inquiry that does not achieve coordination
of behaviour is not inquiry but simply wordplay” (p.xxv).
If we are to provide instructive accounts of possibly occurring phenomena in psychotherapeutic
meetings, we need to do more, much more, than merely satisfying the tensions aroused in us by the
general questions we formulate in relation to certain designated kinds of bewildering situations. For we do
not in fact live our lives in designated kinds of situations. We encounter the situations in which we live, as
Garfinkel (1967) so nicely puts it, always for “another first time” (p.9). Thus, if we are explore how we
might in fact deal the unique circumstances we encounter, and to do it in a way that others can benefit
from our explorations, then we must articulate our experiences in such a way that arouses in the others
around us anticipations as to possible next steps that make it possible for them to coordinate their
behaviour with ours. Research of this practice-based rather than theory-driven kind, however, is still in its
infancy (see Shotter, 2014).
References:
Althusser, L. (1971). Lenin and Philosophy and Other Essays. New York: Monthly Review Press.
Aristotle (1955) The Ethics of Aristotle: the Nicomachean Ethics, trans. by J.A.K. Thompson.
Harmondsworth: Penguin Books.
Bakhtin, M.M. (1981) The Dialogical Imagination. Edited by M. Holquist, trans. by C. Emerson and M.
Holquist. Austin, Tx: University of Texas Press.
Bakhtin, M.M. (1986) Speech Genres and Other Late Essays. Trans. by Vern W. McGee. Austin, Tx: University
of Texas Press.
Bakhtin, M.M. (1993) Toward a Philosophy of the Act, with translation and notes by Vadim Lianpov, edited
by M. Holquist. Austin, TX: University of Texas Press.
Dewey, J. (1896) The concept of the reflex arc in psychology. Psychol. Rev., 3, pp.357-370.
Garfinkel, H. (1967) Studies in Ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.
Hermans, H. (2001). The dialogical self: toward a theory of personal and cultural positioning. Culture &
Psychology, 7(3). Pp.243-281.
Hoffman, L. (2006) A bright new edge: The art of withness. In H. Anderson, & D. Gehart (Eds.),
Collaborative therapy: Relationships and conversations that make a difference. New York:
Routledge, pp.63-79.
James, W. (1890) Principles of Psychology, vols. 1 & 2. London: Macmillan.
James, W. (1996/1909) A Pluralistic Universe. Lincoln, NB: Univ of Nebraska Press.
Katz, A.M. and Shotter, J. (1996) Hearing the patient's 'voice': toward a social poetics in diagnostic
interviews. Social Science and Medicine, 46. pp.919-931.
Kuhn, T.S. (2000) The Road Since Structure: Philosophical Essays, 1970-1993, with an Autobiographical
Interview. Edited by James Conant & John Haugeland. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.
Rorty, R. (1999) Philosophy and Social Hope. London: Penguin Books.
Shotter, J. (1993) Real and counterfeit constructions in interpersonal relations. In Shotter, J. (1993)
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Todes, S. (2001) Body and World, with introductions by Hubert L. Dreyfus and Piortr Hoffman. Cambridge,
MA: MIT Press.
Voloshinov, V.N. (1986) Marxism and the Philosophy of Language. Trans. by L. Matejka and I.R. Titunik.
Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, first pub. 1929.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1978) Mind in Society: the Development of Higher Psychological Processes. Edited by M. Cole,
V. John-Steiner, S. Scribner, and E. Souberman (Eds.) Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Vygotsky, L.S. (1986) Thought and Language. Translation newly revised by Alex Kozulin. Cambridge, MA:
MIT Press.
Wittgenstein, L. (1953) Philosophical Investigations, translated by G.E.M. Anscombe. Oxford: Blackwell.
Bio: John Shotter is Emeritus Professor of Communication in the Department of Communication,
University of New Hampshire; Research Associate, Centre for Philosophy of Natural & Social Science
(CPNSS), London School of Economics, London, UK; Visiting Professor, Open University Business School,
Milton Keynes, UK, and University of Leeds Business School, Leeds, UK. He is the author of Social
Accountability and Selfhood (Blackwell, 1984), Cultural Politics of Everyday Life: Social Constructionism,
Rhetoric, and Knowing of the Third Kind (Open University, 1993), Conversational Realities: the Construction
of Life through Language (Sage, 1993), Conversational Realities Revisited; Life, Language, Body, and World
(Taos Publications, 2009) and Getting It: Withness-Thinking and the Dialogical... in Practice (Hampton
Press, 2011). Email: jds@unh.edu
Endnotes:
1. As Todes (2001) points out: “The meeting of a need first makes the need recognizable for what it is; whereas the
satisfying of a desire merely assuages the desire, without aiding us in its recognition... We can thus be disappointed by
getting what we desire; it may not prove as satisfying as we anticipated, so we conclude it is not what we needed even
though it is certainly what we felt we needed, i.e., what we desired” (p.177).
2. As I put it elsewhere (Shotter, 1993, Ch.8), in focussing primarily on forms and not on meanings and only later giving
them meanings by interpreting them from within a theoretical framework, we are substituting counterfeit social
constructions for those that are actually being treated as real by those engaged in the exchanges we are studying.
3. As Aristotle (1955) notes, with respect to being angry, “... it is not easy to determine what is the right way to be
angry, and with whom, and on what grounds, and for how long.... it is not easy to define by rule for how long, and how
much a man may go wrong before he incurs blame; no easier than it is to define any other object of perception. Such
questions of degree occur in particular cases, and the decision lies with our perception” (1109b18-23, p., 110).
4. It would be remiss of me not to report on my own disturbed reactions to the episodes displayed in the three
transcripts. Worried that my reactions might be idiosyncratic, I asked two psychotherapist colleagues also to look over
the transcripts and to report their reactions to me. Both were disturbed in the same way, feeling that the therapist was
abusive to the client, and that little of a therapeutic nature seemed to be occurring in the episodes.
5. As Kuhn (2000) has recently put it, mere mechanical translation is not enough for the kind of understanding needed
if one is to fully enter into an alien world not of one’s own: “... anything which can be said in one language can, with
imagination and effort, be understood by a speaker of another. What is prerequisite to such understanding, however, is
not translation but language learning” (p.61). Like James and Bakhtin, Kuhn also is less interested in what is inside us
than the larger whole that we have our being inside of.
6. The notion of a meaning as being present to us, clearly, needs further explication. But let me just say here that in our
practical lives we often experience an event — say, like meeting a special person, or simply watching a particular
movie — that occasions a distinctive movement of feeling within us, to which we can respond, without our being able
to categorize and thus to name it at all, although in being uniquely distinctive but still unspecific, we cannot
legitimately call them objects of thought, nor can we call them images. We can, however, to a degree, say what they are
like, and in so saying, as “real presences,” as a form shaping influence, they can change us in our very being-in-the-
world (Shotter, 2003). As Steiner (1989) puts it, on such occasions: “The ‘otherness’ which enters into us makes us
other” (p.188).
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... It is not new explanatory theories or concepts that we need. We need a more basic, before-the-fact kind of poetic understanding of, I think, a dialogical and hermeneutical kind (Shotter 2014(Shotter , 2015. For what we talk of as our "brains," our "bodies," and "our environments," all flow out of and into each other, thus how we act cannot simply result from the deliberations of a "rational mind" sitting somewhere inside us. ...
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Currently, our official rationality is still of a Cartesian kind; we are still embedded in a mechanistic order that takes it that separate, countable entities (spatial forms), related logically to each other, are the only ‘things’ that matter to us—an order clearly suited to advances in robotics. Unfortunately, it is an order that renders invisible ‘relational things’, non-objective things that exist in time, in the transitions from one state of affairs to another, things that ‘point’ toward possibilities in the future, which mean something to us. I have called such things, hermeneutical–dialogical ‘things’ as they gradually emerge in our back-and-forth, step-by-step relations to the others and otherneses in our surroundings; they consist in the ‘promissory’ things sustaining our trust in each other and in our authorities, in our social organizations and social institutions, and in our culture. Clearly, we need to understand better, not only what robots can, and cannot do, but also the long-term ethical and political implications of inserting robotic activities into our everyday ways of relating ourselves to our surroundings if we are to avoid the dystopian futures envisaged by some. Descartes’ aim of “making ourselves, as it were, masters and possessors of nature,” forgets our larger task of our making ourselves into human beings—of doing together in dialog what we cannot do apart.
... According to such an idealism, there is a world we can scientifically determine, with singular ways to represent and know it correctly so that we can programme it like 'clockwork' (dolnick, 2012). Shotter's abandoned direction remains one that most scholars and practitioners adhere to, despite how it consistently fails to deliver 'before the fact' (Shotter, 2014) knowledge needed to meet many of our most immediate and other exigencies of everyday living. i am a counsellor educator acutely aware of students' clamouring for scientific knowledge that they can learn prior to seeing clients that could prepare them to counsel correctly and effectively. ...
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While many influences inform the writing of John Shotter, in this chapter I take up one particular influence on Shotter's work: the writing of Hubert Dreyfus. It was Dreyfus' 1967 article, "Must computers have bodies in order to be intelligent" that contributed to a change in Shotter's research orientation: from an interest in a technologically focused approach to language learning, to a much less mechanistic, more dialogical approach to learning most readers would commonly associate with Shotter. In this chapter, I juxtapose technological and artificial intelligence developments, up to their smartphone and friendly robot applications, with the relationally embodied views articulated by Dreyfus, and partly adapted by Shotter. My aim is to invite contrasts between these relationally embodied views given recent potentials foretold by advocates for artificial intelligence and 'smart' technological applications.
... But what is a risk in the eyes of an entrepreneur may be a waste in the eyes of those with legitimating power. Therefore, the living story of meaning that exists before the risk (c.f. Shotter, 2014) can be found in the microstoria of others involved in the entrepreneurial firm. Many who take a risk are not said to take a risk. ...
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Storytelling is important for understanding business plans, risk taking, and venture capital. Narratives can limit the entrepreneur’s ability to dynamically change. Friendship is when entrepreneurs can focus on antenarratives and living stories instead of static narratives. Friendship happens in the future before it becomes a narrative past. In this article we outline fore-having, fore-telling, fore-structure, and fore-conception. These relate to four antenarratives before, bet, beneath, and between. We do this is so that we can answer the questions "how can we understand entrepreneurial storytelling processes in moments of friendship?" and "How can entrepreneurial storytelling overcome narrative degradation of living story?" At its core, the answer is is that in the entrepreneurial storytelling moments of friendship can allow living story interactions by creating new fraternity.
... The understanding of multiple ''inner'' and ''outer'' voices at the same time as the ways of dominance, ambivalence, and development within psychodynamic psychotherapy shows a constant dynamic in power we need to understand. Shotter (2014) also advises that social life would not be impossible if we are unable to anticipate within unique situations: Actions and responses need to give notable possibilities in reaction for interacting within dialogue. Furthemore, Lehmann Oliveros (2014) comments on Martinez et al. (2014) that silence, and not only voices in the sense of utterances, is to be seen as part of the act to understand psychotherapy as a discursive genre. ...
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Psychoanalytic Practice can be understood in the Discursive Genre, in which the dialogical language represents the psychotherapeutic practice. The utterances of the patient and the therapist can be conzeptualized as a system of “inner” and “outer” voices, which represent transference. In relation to the dialogical self framework of Hubert Hermans which focuses on the interplay of voices and I-positions we concentrate here on the borders of “inner” and “outer” voice systems of DS through a look at transference and countertransference processes, well known from the psychoanalytic theories of Sigmund Freud. Three levels of operation of the DS are analyzed—conscious, preconscious, and unconscious. Voices operating at preconscious and unconscious levels lead to an understanding of consciousness through therapy considered through the DS framework. Understanding the importance of unconscious and preconscious “inner” and “outer” voices might be one leading step into direction of consciousness by passing decisions of dominance, ambivalence, and development in psychotherapy to offer high levels of self-reflection on patients and their mental health.
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This article is an exploration of John Shotter's suggestion to approach social inquiry as a ‘craft’. To take this suggestion seriously calls for making visible the specific ‘skills’ that conjure social inquiry into being, as craft. For this reason, the article presents small vignettes—drawn from the author's practice of supervision of researcher‐practitioners—that elucidate some of the turbulent passages that social researchers learn to negotiate, as they ‘acrobatically’ stretch themselves to eavesdrop on the messy trails of world‐making activity they are thrown into, as they participate in a social milieu. From waiting at awkward thresholds that do not announce an agenda; to approaching mis‐takes as occasions for bringing experience to articulation; to registering the pregnancy of silences that meet language at its edge. Just like Joyce's masterpiece Finnegans Wake brings into visibility the work that readers must perform to engage with its messy text, so this article argues that social inquiry as craft involves becoming skilled in various heuristic moves, through which social worlds can be listened into articulation.
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Qualitative methods such as focus groups and interviews are common methodologies employed in participatory approaches to community health assessment to develop effective community health improvement plans. Oral histories are a rarely used form of qualitative inquiry that can enhance community health assessment in multiple ways. Oral histories center residents’ lived experiences, which often reveal more complex social and health phenomena than conventional qualitative inquiry. This article examines an oral history research component of the Little Village Community Health Assessment, a collaborative research effort to promote health equity in an urban, Mexican ethnic enclave. We collected of 32 oral histories from residents to provide deeper, more grounded insight on community needs and assets. We initially used thematic data analysis. After analytic peer debriefings with the analysis team, we found the process inadvertently reductionist and instead opted for community listening events for participatory data analysis, knowledge translation, and dissemination of findings. Oral histories were most meaningful in their original audio form, adding to a holistic understanding of health by giving voice to complex problems while also naming and describing concepts that were culturally unique. Moreover, the oral histories collectively articulated a counternarrative that celebrated community cultural wealth and opposed the mainstream narrative of the community as deprived. We argue for the recognition and practice of oral histories as a more routine form of qualitative inquiry in community health assessment. In the pursuit of health equity and collaboratively working toward social justice, oral histories can push the boundaries of community health assessment research and practice.
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This two-year qualitative participatory research project examines practical guidelines for supervision. Sixteen experienced supervisors across professional settings of family therapy, child protection, and specialty mental health services in the geographical regions of Northern Norway and Northern Sweden outline four main practical guidelines in supervision based on their supervisory practices: (1) elaborating an agreed-upon contract; (2) exploring potential formats; (3) exploring contents; (4) acknowledging responsibility for process and dilemmas. Participants summarised how they generated mutual growth in supervisory relationships, while being respectful of the first-person perspective of supervisees. The study challenges pre-dominating guidelines about deficit- or developmental stage-oriented supervision. It illustrates reflecting processes and a polyphonic orientation in supervision by welcoming diversity, wondering, and tolerance for the not-yet-decided among involved persons in a mutual exploration and calibration of relevant knowledge. It outlines a dialogical research for sharing, exploring, and questioning knowledge as beneficial for whom, told by whom, and evaluated by whom.
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This special issue originates from an international workshop on “Vico and imagination,” that took place at Aalborg University in 2014, within a research project on Giambattista Vico and the epistemology of psychology. Imagination has inexplicably been relegated to the background in contemporary psychology, despite the fact that imaginative processes are involved in even the most mundane activities. In this editorial, I first present the rationale and the content of the articles and commentaries. Then I outline a brief history of the concept of imagination before Vico, drawing some consequences for contemporary psychology. Finally, I provide the proposal for a new research program on imagination as a higher psychological function that enables us to manipulate complex meanings of both linguistic and iconic forms in the process of experiencing.
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These excellent papers by Pablo Rojas and Mariagrazia Grantella, both in their own very different ways, begin to bring into view aspects of our social psychological functioning that Descartes’ mechanical-mathematical world view has occluded, i.e., made rationally invisible to us. They both emphasize the degree to which we have our being within already flowing, intra-mingling, strands of both physical and social activities that influence us more than we can influence them. Rojas’ interest is in our coming to feel so “at home,” so to speak, in moving around on a piano keyboard, that we can come to relate to it as we relate to our own vocal tracts in singing—skills that we can develop (but not easily) by rigorous training. Grantella too, in turning to Vico’s notion that the early people’s “were almost entirely body, and practically not at all reflection,” makes a similar point: we need to replace our rationalistic interest in abstract entities with an interest in origins and processes, and to focus on our human ways of being and of living our lives. My only point of criticism of these two excellent paper is that I think that they still start too late in the day.
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In our talk of meanings, we are used to thinking of them as working in terms of mental representations, and to thinking of such representations as passive objects of thought requiring interpretation in terms of shared rules, conventions or principles if their meaning is,to be understood. Here, however, I argue that the meaningfulness of our language does not initially depend on-its systematicity, but on our spontaneous, living, bodily responsiveness to the others and othernesses around us. Hence, I want to explore the realm of expressive-responsive bodily activity that 'pre-dates', so to speak, the 'calculational' processes we currently think of as underlying our linguistic understandings, the realm within which direct and immediate, non-interpretational physiognomic or gestural forms of understanding can occur. Central to activities occurring between us in this sphere is the emergence of dynamically unfolding structures of activity that we all participate in 'shaping', but to which we all must also be responsive in giving shape to out own actions. It is the agentic influence of these invisible but nonetheless felt 'real presences' that I want to explore. Their influence can be felt as acting upon us in a way similar to the expressions of more visible beings. Thus, within this sphere of physiognomic meanings, it is as if invisible but authoritative others can directly 'call' us into action, can issue us with 'action-guiding advisories', and judge our subsequent actions accordingly with their 'facial' expressions or 'tones' of voice. Below I will explore how this some would say, 'mystic' (Levy-Bruhl)-form of participatory thought and understanding can help us to understand the 'inner' nature of our social lives together, and the part played by our expressive talk in their creation.