This site was developed for a group of therapists who study postmodern thinkers.  If you are a therapist interested in the postmodern movement among therapists, you might like read more about it by clicking here.



Provisional Definitions of Common
Postmodern Terms
from D to I
DSM-IV - Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (of Mental Disorders), fourth edition.  This manual is published by the American Psychiatric Association and is a list of mental disorders together with detailed definitions.  The pages describing a disorder typically list from 4 to 15 criteria and allow the diagnosis if a certain number of these criteria are met.  Diagnoses are differential, that is, the diagnostician reads through the criteria to find the best fit even though it is possible for a given person to fall within more than one very similar categories.  The DSM-IV guides the diagnostician in this differential effort by saying things such as "Panic Disorder is not diagnosed if the Panic Attacks are judged to be...." and this is so even if the patient would otherwise fit the criteria for a "panic disorder."  Many insurance companies require a DSM-IV diagnosis in order to pay for therapy.  These diagnoses are typically given by either psychiatrists or clinicial psychologists.  The DSM-IV was published in 1994.  The earlier editions of this manual were as follows: DSM-I 1952, DSM-II 1968, DSM-III 1979, DSM-III-R 1987.  DSM I and DSM II were quite short and non-specific in criteria compared to later editions, they also included a number of "disorders" that are no longer listed as forms of mental illness. return

decenter - to look at the world through another's eyes or to include the other's perspective within one's own vision of things.  return

Read a book that postmodern therapists criticize:

Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders DSM-IV-TR Fourth Edition (Text Revision)


Check out an important critique:

The Selling of DSM: The Rhetoric of Science in Psychiatry (Social Problems and Social Issues) (Social Problems and Social Issues)


deconstruction - A term that, for all practical purposes, was introduced in the literature by Derrida.  It means to undermine the conceptual order imposed by a concept that has captivated our imaginations and ways of seeing things.  (See Shawver, 1996) see "deconstruction quilt" return

deconstruction quilt - a visual representation for deconstruction and differAnce. Click here to see an image of the deconstruction quilt and read a related article.  return


Don't miss this popular critique:

They Say You're Crazy: How the World's Most Powerful Psychiatrists Decide Who's Normal


deductive logic - a way of reasoning from one set of statements to another.  It has the form: If this is the case and this other thing is also the case, then we can conclude, without direct evidence, only our reasoning, that this third thing is the case, too.  People use deductive logic in a loose way when they think and talk, but it is used in a highly formalized way in philosophy circles.  There, in the last century especially, the rules of logic become quite complex and the deduction (the reasoning leading to the conclusion) follows rules that are so formal that they are often thought to be, or hoped to be, a kind of mathematical calculus.  Note that deduction does not require any factual or observed information.  One can deduce something false if one reasons with false ideas or premises.  Contrast "deductive logic" with "inductive logic."  return

Learn how therapists became postmodern

 Nostalgic Postmodernism: Postmodern Therapy


deduction - in ordinary language, a deduction is just reasoning your way to a conclusion.  In philosophy, however, it has a more technical sense, and means that the reasoning conforms to the rules of deductive logicreturn

More books every postmodern should read will appear in this column soon.

differAnce - This is a term coined by Jacques Derrida, father deconstructionism.  (However, Derrida  does not capitalize the "A".)  Derrida explains "differance" as that which is different and deferred (put out of mind).  It's a philosophical term that causes many people headaches and Derrida does not explain it in an introductory way.  However, in many contexts, you will have a rough understanding of what is said if you think of the differAnce as the shadows of our understanding, something we know but forget and need to be reminded.  Or, you might think of it as the cultural Unconscious, something that the whole culture puts mostly out of mind. Click here for an article on differAnce.  Click here to see the deconstruction quilt, which will also help clarify the meaning of differAnce.   Arguably, the differAnce is a source of our creativity.  Mostly we forget it, but sometimes people think of these largely unconscious aspects of life and weave them creatively into new moments of understanding. return

dialectic - In classical Greece, a process of discussion that is illustrated in Plato's dialogues was called dialectic.  It is a way of questioning and conversing and reasoning.  Kant referred to the "transcendental dialectic" as metaphysical reasoning that tried, without success (or possible success) to figure out what the truth was beyond our senses.  The German philosopher, Hegel, applied the term to a process of development in which one idea (the thesis) begets its opposite (the antithesis) and the two come together to form a synthesis. Marx built on this Hegelian notion of dialecic in his version of dialectical materialism. return

dialogic - having to do with dialogue.  A dialogic theory of therapy would be one which emphasized the importance of there being room for different opinions to be expressed. return

discourse analysis - inquiry that leads us to reflect critically and creatively on our common ways of life. return

differend - Lyotard's term for a dispute resulting from the fact that one party cannot voice her complaints (or points) because the other insists on speaking within a different language game or genre of discourse (such as one person speaking within narration and the other within speculation). People who are caught in differends find themselves in difficult conversations. Such difficult conversations result from people using terms in different ways while presuming they are using terms in the same way. return

dominant discourse - A Foucaultian term that indicates a certain way thinking and talking is the most common and most accepted way.  Often it implies an institutionalized way of thinking about things. return

dominant narrative - a term that Michael White and David Epston seem to have picked up from Jerome Bruner. return

discourse - sometimes this term refers to any kind of talk, but often it refers to particular unified ways of talking that represents a kind of conversation scroEss texts from different but related communities. return

The Enlightenment. A philosophical movement of the 18th century that emphasized the use of reason to scrutinize previously accepted doctrines and traditions which it called "superstition."  The Enlightenment philosophy encouraged the American and French revolutionary overthrow of aristocracies and replaced it with the dream of science liberating  us from the scourge of one human's inhumanity to another.  Postmodernism is disillusioned with the power of the Enlightenment dream to bring us to this utopia and points, among other things, to the science behind the Nazi slaughter of the Jews in World War II. return

eclectic therapy - a therapy procedure that is a mix of other more definitive and scriptived procedures. In eclectic therapy the therapist performs less according to a script and more improvisationally..

erasure - (or "under erasure" or "putting [something] under erasure" ).  This is Derrida's term.  It means presenting our ideas as though they were undeconstructable but with awareness that they can be deconstructed. One might say, "I say [such and such], but I am putting it under erasure." return

ethnomethodology - A term coined by Garfinkel.  It refers to the study of the body of common-sense knowledge and any sense making procedure. (See Heritage, pp.4-5)

externalization - a term introduced by Michael White and David Epston.  It is the name given to the process of asking relative influence questions that assists the client in separating from a pressing problem so that it is possible to see the self as authoring a life that weakens or overcomes the influence of the problem. return

explicate order - a term introduced by David Bohm.  The "explicate order" is the reality that we see around us.  It is distinguished from the "implicate order".

face validity - one of the forms of validity for an operational definition.  If an operational definition has "face validity" then, on the face of things, it appears to measure what it is supposed to measure.  If a test that called itself a test for creativity, for example, consisted of questions testing the subject's ability to memorize, then the test would not have "face validity."  This would be so even if later studies showed that people who scored high on this test actually were more creative than people who scored low on the test.  Contrast "face validity" with "construct validity."  return

facts - a concept that differentiates the social constructionist from teh realist. The realist says that facts exist independent of our construction.  The social constructionist feels that we socially construct facts.  Compare Tom Strong,'s review of Jonathan Potter's social constructionist concept of "facts" with Jerry Shaffer's review of John Searle's concept of facts, and ask yourself if the dispute is a differend.return

facticity - objectivity, an illusory objectivity return

felt sense - Shawver's term for Lyotard's word "pagan." return

finitism - The belief that there are cannot enough rules to explain how things work.  Finitism rejects the belief that there can be an ideal language, for example, in which the meaning of statements are entirely determined by a set of self-consistent implicit rules.  It also rejects the notion that a research program could conceiveably determine a sufficiently elaborate set of rules that completely explains how things work.  Both Wittgenstein and 
Garfinkel were finitists.  PMTH has a series of articles on finitism in Wittgenstein and Garfinkel.return

foundationalism -  The foundationalists are philosophers who argue that we must have certain apodictic truths that are self-evident in order for knowledge claims to be deduced from them.  return

Foucauldian - a common way of spelling or meaning what we would ordinarily imply by "Foucaultian", or related to Foucault. return

fly-bottle -    Wittgenstein's term for the confusion that results when one is mystified by language complications.  The terms comes from aphorism 309 of the Philosophical Investigations, in which Wittgenstein says, "309.What is your aim in philosophy? -- To shew the fly the way out of the fly-bottle." The linguistically confused person is the "fly."  return

Frankfurt School - Also called "critical theory" emerged in the early twentieth century in Frankfurt, Germany. 

generous listening (or reading) - Shawver's term for one of the things we do to promote paralogy. It involves accepting the other person's key terms in their distinctive senses.  Generous listening does not require us to accept the other person's conclusions, but it does require us to be generous in their distinctive use of words.  It is to be distinguished from critical listening. The concept and the history of this term is detailed in Shawver,1998, Postmodernizing the Unconsciousreturn

generative metaphor - A term introduced by Schon.  A generative metaphor is an implicit metaphor that can cast a kind of spell on a community.  All solutions are understood in terms of the implicit metaphor.  "Under the spell of metaphor, it appears obvious that [one thing or another] is bad and [the other] is good." Schon, p. 255.  If someone can introduce a new generative metaphor, new solutions can be found.  return

gerundic - the turning of a verb into a noun, as drinking becomes a noun in the phrase  "his drinking."  A gerundic switch in culture would take a action and turn it into a thing.  For example, the action homosexual sex becomes a thing when we speak of "homosexuality" or "homosexuals."  return

grammatology - Derrida's term for the science of writing (in his sense of "writing"). return

grammatical fiction - Wittgenstein's term {see aphorism #307] for myth that is communicated to all the speakers of a natural language by a peculiarity in our standard way of talking.    It is as though we are a tribe who thinks because we say that love is in the heart that we assumed that this was physically true.  The languages in western culture teach us key grammatical fictions and some of these have to do with the way in which we think about the human mind. (see a PMTH NEWS article called "Is Wittgenstein a behaviorist? Part 1" discussing grammatical fictions by clicking here). 

grand narratives - another name for Lyotard's concept of metanarratives. return

hegemony - a culture or institution is a hegemony if it is so dominant that other cultures and institutions do not have a voice.  return

heteroglossia - Bakhtin's key term.  "Heteroglossia" is a weave of different ways of talking and thinking, their intersection and interaction.

heterotopia - literally, it means the displacement of a body part to an abnormal location.  return

hermeneutic circle - A concept of Martin Heidegger's that was used by his student Hans-Georg Gadamer, and, finally, incorporated into the therapy theory of Harlene Anderson and Harry Goolishian.  For Heidegger it meant that one cannot understand the beginning of a text until one has understood the end of the text.  And one did not understand the end of a text until one had read it through from the beginning.  Thus one's study of any text cannot be linear but must be circular. This translates into therapy theory so as to say one's understanding of the client must move back in an interactive dialogic way with the text of what the client says.  return

hermeneutics - The science of interpretation. return

HGI - Houston-Galveston Institute, formerly known as the Galveston Family Institute.  The institute was founded by Harlene Anderson and Harry Goolishian, two authors that developed a form of postmodern therapy called "Collaborative Language Systems" or CLS.  return