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I was privileged be the moderator for the final morning of this year's EBTA conference, Frames and Beyond, where Ken Gergen and Gale Miller were invited to be key note speakers "Looking from a philosophy perspective".  Here are my notes from their talks.

 

Ken Gergen – Co-Founder & President of the Board of the Taos Institute       

The Taos Institute is a community of scholars and practitioners working at the intersection of post-constructionist theory and practice.  Prof. Gergen sees the SF community as part of the same movement - one of global significance, challenging 300 years of western culture and thought.  This movement challenges the privilege of experts, questioning who has the right to define knowledge and asking why knowledge isn’t seen as perspectival and contextual.  There is a multiplicity of views about what is “real” and what is “good” – there is no stone tablet which tells the truth.  This idea invites humility and openness
about where you stand – and to be curious about where others stand. 

Everything we say and do emerges from a complex, indeterminate array of relationships, past and present.  Meaning emerges, in conversation, from the collaborative moment – and this is always in flux.  When we shift the form of talk, we shift how we think.  Talk is a form of action, but it is limited to what happens in the therapy room.  What happens next is indeterminate: language doesn’t determine action, although it may be related to action.  We can forget causality and forget about assessing “the effects of therapy” (although the modernist world may still demand this). 

And so the ability to stay in motion – to move across the sea of constant change – is the ultimate life skill.  We are always improvising and being mindful of this improves our practice. 

This thought leads to the main message of the talk (to this listener anyway): If you don’t deliberate about practice, it dies.  When you solidify practice, it dies.  You have to keep going, morphing and developing; you have to allow experiment, expansion and the presence of other voices, or it dies.  Adding voices adds to the array of possibilities.  Open up to other voices or you will be digging your own grave.      

Gale Miller – Research Professor at Marquette University (the man behind the mirror at the BFTC)

 Gale Miller’s theme was also about emergence and flux.  Starting from complexity theory, he posed the question “where do we find the future?”  His own answer is “as potentiality in the present”, adding that there are few assumptions more basic to SF than that.  The future unfolds within social interaction, a self-organising activity with processes which could bring about transformation at any step.  This is what Gale Miller and Mark McKergow have called “narrative emergence”. He illustrated how storylines emerge within social interactions with reference to 3 scenarios of children playing, captured in transcript in William
Corsaro’s book “We’re Friends , Right? Inside Kids’ Culture”.

Gale called these scenarios “It is”, “It Can’t Be” and “ It’s OK”.  The first – It Is -  is illustrated by a game in which the children accept whatever the others say and work with it.  This is what the BFTC was doing in the early days: asking what was happening in the therapy room and recording it.  This tells us that change can happen in an uncritical environment.  The second – It can’t be - is illustrated by a child refusing to accept a move one of the others made “because ....”  This is where SF practice is today: with trainings, certification, books and conferences, which all add up to “becauses”: this is who we are (and by extension who we are
not).  The third – It’s OK – illustrated by children changing the rules during the game - widens the frame.  This is where the subversive side of Steve de Shazer played; doing SF under the radar in the modernist world.

None of these forms of change is the “best”.  Gale wanted to emphasise that there are numerous potential futures in what we do – every case is different and there is always the possibility of transformation in whatever we do .  Hence the need for mindfulness.

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Comment by Mark McKergow on October 3, 2011 at 15:23
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