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A New Understanding of Mental Disorders A Theory of Feelings Addictions Memory and the Self"Intimate" Violence against Women1001 Solution-Focused Questions101 Healing Stories101 Things I Wish I'd Known When I Started Using Hypnosis50 Great Myths of Popular Psychology50 Reasons People Give for Believing in a God8 Keys to Body Brain BalanceA Brief History of Modern PsychologyA Conceptual History of PsychologyA Conceptual History of Psychology: Exploring the Tangled Web A Cooperative SpeciesA Guide to Teaching Introductory PsychologyA History of Modern Experimental PsychologyA History of Psychology in AutobiographyA History of Social PsychologyA History of the BrainA History of the MindA Hole in the HeadA Matter of SecurityA Mind of Its OwnA Natural History of Human ThinkingA Place for ConsciousnessA Scientific Search for AltruismA Short Introduction to Promoting Resilience in ChildrenA Social History of PsychologyA Stroll With William JamesA System Architecture Approach to the BrainA 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PersonalityOn the Frontier of AdulthoodOn the Origins of Cognitive ScienceOn The Stigma Of Mental IllnessOnflowOpen MindsOpening Skinner's BoxOrigin of MindOrigins of PsychopathologyOther MindsOut of Our HeadsOut of the WoodsOvercoming Depersonalization DisorderPanpsychism and the Religious AttitudePanpsychism in the WestParenting and the Child's WorldPassionate EnginesPathologies of the WestPatient-Based Approaches to Cognitive NeurosciencePediatric PsychopharmacologyPeople Types and Tiger StripesPerception & CognitionPerception beyond InferencePerception, Hallucination, and IllusionPersonal Development and Clinical PsychologyPerspectives on ImitationPhantoms in the BrainPhenomenal Concepts and Phenomenal KnowledgePhenomenology and Philosophy of MindPhilosophical Foundations of NeurosciencePhilosophical MidwiferyPhilosophy and HappinessPhilosophy of PsychologyPhilosophy, Neuroscience and ConsciousnessPhrenologyPhysical RealizationPhysics in MindPieces of LightPlaying with FirePositive 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MindsUnthinkingUnthoughtUs and ThemViolent PartnersVirtue, Vice, and PersonalityVision and MindVisual AgnosiaWarrior's DishonourWe Who Are DarkWednesday Is Indigo BlueWelcome to Your BrainWhat Do Women Want?What Dying People WantWhat Have We DoneWhat Intelligence Tests MissWhat Is an Emotion: Classic and Contemporary ReadingsWhat Is Emotion?What is Intelligence?What Is Mental Illness?What Is Thought?What Makes Your Brain Happy and Why You Should Do the Opposite What the Best College Students DoWhat the Dog SawWhat We Know about Emotional IntelligenceWhat We Say MattersWhat's Wrong With Morality?When Boys Become BoysWhen Perfect Isn't Good EnoughWhen the Impossible HappensWhen Walls Become DoorwaysWho's Been Sleeping in Your HeadWho's in Charge?Why Humans Like to CryWhy Love MattersWhy Lyrics LastWhy People CooperateWhy People Die by SuicideWhy Sex Matters: A Darwinian Look at Human BehaviorWhy Smart People Can Be So StupidWhy the Mind is Not a ComputerWhy Us?Why We LieWhy We LoveWhy We SleepWider than the SkyWilliam James at the BoundariesWilling, Wanting, WaitingWittgenstein And PsychologyWomen and Child Sexual AbuseWorking MindsYoga and PsychologyYou Are What You RememberYoung Minds in Social WorldsYour Brain on CubsYour Brain on FoodYour Brain on Food: How Chemicals Control Your Thoughts and Feelings,Your Brain on YogaYour Child in the BalanceZombies and Consciousness
Several years ago, while writing my doctoral dissertation, I came across an essay by the Russian neuropsychologist, Luria, where he reflects on how his ideas, theses and career grew out of encounters with his teachers, and their teachers' teachers, his mentors, and life experiences. This got me thinking; I thought I'd incorporate a chapter on my own academic relationships, a venerable line of teachers that, incidently goes back to Luria. I discarded that plan, later because it made my dissertation too unwieldly. My research in that direction was interesting, however, for it unearthed little bands of other thinkers who reflected upon their connectedness with diverse others: computer scientists have what they term, their "academic genealogy". Piaget, likewise, became intrigued by this when he developed a field called "genetic epistemology". The Chinese philosophy of Taoism, too, has a keen awareness of the intertwining relationships of self and others: parents, siblings, teachers, mentors, shop assistants, etc; even the interconnectedness with other creatures and the fundamental relationship we have with the physical world: trees, wind, footpaths, and so on. When this collection of self-reflexive essays from psychotherapists, psychologists and psychology teachers, Narrative Identities, was offered for review, I grabbed it.
Curiously, this book makes no mention of the other precedents for this line of thinking. The Preface tells us that the idea arouse from earlier works of the editors, Yancy and Hadley, which isolates the enterprise somewhat for me. Their idea for the book was suggested by another, but to think that this self-reflexive process has not been done before in the field of psychology is a little presumptuous. Such an assertion as this is all the more strange, given that the various contributors to the essays in this book are mostly workers in the fields of narratology, social constructionism, feminism, existential phenomenology, and similar psychological traditions. Most contributors already situate themselves within their theoretical narrative; their self already is seen as part of the multicontextualized worlds of work, life and everything. That this is so makes this book at once curiously glorious and peculiar at the same time. The enterprise is not new, as the disciplines of narrative therapy and social constructionist theses already indicate.
George Yancy and Susan Hadley, to 'help shape the process of epistemic autobiographical self-reflection and exploration' (their words), 'provided each contributor with a long list of questions, some generic and others that were tailored to the contributor's specialized work in psychology' (p.11). Such an enterprise, the editors realized, was wrought with risk. How might the contributors want to be remembered, how to write a life that is coherent for 'storied selves are elusive, complex, and multicontextual' (p. 11), how to do this requested task, was very much at the forefront of the editors' minds. Any story, however, is, in the end, just this, a story. Thus we readers get the innovative, the self-centered, the inhibited, the ordinary life that hides behind academic honours, the sweet and funny, the extraordinary, ...that whole panoply of human folly collected here in this one book. What is absent, though, are the stories from the editors, they preferring to keep their 'voices to a minimum by limiting [their] remarks to [the] Preface'; the book's weakness, as far as I'm concerned. By absenting themselves they, I suggest, perpetuate the premise of Cartesian thought that it is possible to observe without changing the fabric of that which they observe. After all they provided the contributors with questions! The "what" questions, with their responses, are laid out faithfully by Tod Sloan (pp. 228-244). The editorial presence was already there. Their efforts to categorize the contributors already place boundaries around the possibilities that might otherwise have arisen.
I am delighted by John Shotter's gift to this book. He reveals (p. 150) that 'George Yancy originally asked me to contribute toward this volume as one of the originators of the movement in psychology and social theory known as social constructionism. However, I have to say that for me, social constructionism has been a station on the way to somewhere else.' Shotter's somewhere else is social ecology (p. 151). Categories and the urge to categorization, in a life, can be slip-knots to something else, something far more spontaneous, far more responsive. They can, however, stultify, sometimes kill, possibilities. I feel that possibly some of the contributors to this book have been so limited by the questions given them, for there are hideously inhibited pieces among the reedbeds of reflexivity.
Narrative Identities provides a rich field for researchers and the genetic epistemologists among us. Another criticism before I finish: how very much more interesting this enterprise might have been if the editors requested self stories from representatives of psychotherapeutic traditions not given to self reflexivity. Maybe, though, this would have been like trying to bleed stones. We already need to recognize our embodied situatedness in the richness of our academic and non-academic environment to give justice to an autobiography of self as members of an academic family. To do the task well we need 'participatory ("with-ness" writing rather than representational ("about-ness") writing', as Shotter puts it in another context (p.160).
There is "with-ness" writing in this volume and there is "about-ness" writing. It is probably impossible, anyway, to maintain "with-ness" writing when writing about oneself, for the autobiographical consists not only of remembered connections and engagements, but stories told about oneselves by others who don't always have a participatory relationship. We make up a profile of ourselves that consists of these two kinds of accounts. The contributors to the book weave in and out of "with-ness" and "about-ness", that sometimes err on the safe representational account ('I joined ...staff at the ... Institute', etc) and sometimes focus on the phenomenological (eg "I" was always a "we" and an "I", Ilene A. Serlin, p.246). I suppose there are readers who will be most interested in representational accounts; they will be happy. My own interest as a therapist-in-training and ex-academic philosopher, is and has always been, with the experiencing "I" and I am only partly happy by this book. Less editorial guidance and more editorial transparency could have improved my view of the book. I suggest Yancy and Hadley, in the next edition of the book, write two self-revelatory stories in "with-ness" writing, so we readers can know where they are really coming from. Such an addition would make a good book a lovely book.
© 2007 Elizabeth McCardell
Elizabeth McCardell, PhD, Independent scholar, Australia.