PostmodernTherapies NEWS                 08/01/01
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In a conversation: One person throws a ball; the other does not know: whether he is supposed to throw it back, or throw it to a third person, or leave it on the ground, or pick it up and 
put it in his pocket, etc.
Ludwig Wittgenstein
Culture and Value, p.74


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Expect the next issue of 
Postmodern Therapies NEWS
September 1,  2001

 Strawberry Patches
the Wizard of Oz
Lois Shawver

Not long ago PMTH NEWS provided you with an article on realism. I believe this was a competent article written by Jerry Shaffer that can give you a solid picture of how the word "realism" is currently used in most philosophy departments in the English speaking world. (Click here to re-read it.)  However, I also believe that the article contains a deep paradox, and I want to use this paradox to introduce my topic for the present article, which is: 

The prevalence and importance of paradox in our western way of thinking.

First, let me show you what I see as a paradox in Shaffer's very straightforward description of realism..  Shaffer began that article saying:

The word, "Realism," is widely used in contemporary philosophy to refer to the idea that something or other exists independently of human experience or activity. There are different varieties of Realism depending upon the something or other at issue.

And, now look how Shaffer concluded that short article.  He said:

 [I]n so far as [Wittgenstein's] concepts of language games and forms of life presuppose the existence of language users who play the games and living humans who have forms of life, I would say he is Physical Realist. 

Can you see the paradox?  Let me use a little paraphrase to bring the two parts of the paradox closer together so it will be more evident:

1) Realism refers to the idea
that something or other exists independent of human experience and activity.

2) Wittgenstein was a 

physical realist because he believed in the reality of creatures who use language, that is, humans.

Now, can you see it?  Let me try to spell it out: 

According to Shaffer, "Realism" is a belief that something  exists independent of human experience and activity.  But if Wittgenstein believes human users of language "exist", then, he believes that human reaity is independent of human experience and activity.  That is surely a paradox.

Philosophers like Shaffer know about these paradoxes.  And Jerry Shaffer, like every philosopher I have ever known, is quick to point to the paradoxes in your logic.  But they are in his, too, and mine as well.

The next question is what to do about these paradoxes.  In our era, as soon as a paradox is uncovered, many traditional philosophers hustle to find a fix.  But no philosophy, it seems, can insure itself against paradoxes. .  Paradoxes are like strawberries hiding behind every green leaf of logic inference, strawberries that glow bright red once you expose them.  That is, once you discover one, it is hard to pretend that it isn't there.

So, I say, the people who try to hide these paradoxes are the ones not to trust.  They must hide them with the tricks and subterfuge that I call "totalizing".  Totalizing is the art of defending any generalization simply by redefining the original terms so as to defend against all counter-examples.  It's a powerful argumentative trick but the cost, eventually, is becoming lost in confusion in the realm of unstudied paradox. 

I say it is better to name these tricky paradoxes, hold them up to the light of day as if they were beautiful prisms that adorn philosophy like remarkable rainbows.  (For an interesting article on paradoxes in logic and philosophy, click here.)  I honor these paradoxes because I assume that "there is no possibility that langauge games can be unified or totalized in any metadiscourse" ( p.36) .

And once I noticed the paradox in Shaffer's logic it, of course, I told Shaffer him about it.  I liked his response because it was defeasible.  This term defeasible is important here. It's a philospohical term that means that, when one is shown inconsistencies in one's original argument, one backs away from the generalization but not as a defeat.  One backs away because one realizes that meaningful generalizations have their exceptions.(Click here to see an example of defeasible argument.)  Given the paradoxes that hide in our reasoning defeasible argument is the best way out. The only alternative, as I said, is to totalize, spinning redefinitions like patches on patches trying to pretend that the fragile cloth of our reason can be woven into a coherent whole.

So, when Shaffer accepted that his original statement was defeasible I told him (and this was just this morning) that in his paradox-laden lingo I, too, am a physical realist.  (I think this is true.)  But, I added, I would never call myself this because it would commit me to ideas and problems that I did not want to commit to. I would prefer my own lingo with its defeasible back doors.  Shaffer responded

[Lois, W]hile I like to pin you down, I appreciate your reluctance [to be pinned down] and accept it.  It is enough that you say, "within your lingo I think I might well be called a physical realist."  That tells me enough about where you stand.

Good, because that's probably all of my position on realism he is going to get.   Anything more will make strawberry jam of these lovely paradoxes.

Does this mean that anything goes?  Hardly.  Understanding and learning to navigate these a paradoxes is the most difficult art of all, one that I have far from mastered. But let me show you the ultimate paradox in postmodernism, the ultimate logical strawberry. 

Start with Lyotard's famous definition of the "postmodern"

Simplifying to the extreme, I define postmodern as incredulity toward metanarratives. (p.XXIV)

For the moment, think of these "metanarratives" as the illusory statements that unify everything into an, apparently, nonparadoxical whole.  And, naturally, since postmoderns are disillusioned of metanarratives they study paradoxes.  Lyotard says:

Postmodern science ˆ± by concerning itself with such things as undecidables, the limits of precise control, conflicts characterized by incomplete information, 'fracta,' catastrophes, and pragmatic paradoxes ˆ± is theorizing its own evolution as discontinuous, catastrophic, nonrectifiable and paradoxical.  It is changing the meaning of the word knowledge, while expressing how such a change can take place. It is producing not the known, but the unknown.  And it suggests a model of legitimation thatˆñhas as its basis difference understood as 'paralogy.'

Think of "paralogy" as a way of talking that allows us to find undecidable paradoxes and then use them to navigate new paths to unthought ideas, a kind of conversation that allows us to pool our intelligence to discover a multitude of different possibilities.  Agreement as to the solutions we find are a hindrance. To push the envelope of our discoveries we must reason together and then be willing to go our different ways.  And for this to happen, to be able to reason like this, we must learn to listen to each other (see p.71 of Just Gaming).

But now ask: Isn't the philosophy Lyotard calls for, the philosophy of  paralogy, itself a metanarrative?  A metanarrative of paralogy?  This is, I think, the paradox that Lyotard's interviewer noted at the end of the book Just Gaming, and it is the reason that Lyotard laughed at the end of that interview:

Of course, it's a metanarrative, and of course this is paradoxical. I told you these paradoxes were unescapable! But wouldn't you rather be here, in the realm of postmodernity, exploring the paradoxes that and learning about these paths?  Looking for ways to maneuver them?  Pondering the strawberries along the way?  Wouldn't you rather do that than to build more and more modernist houses of cards that are supposed to hold up without paradox? 

Think of it this way: Paradoxes are our treasures, ripe strawberries free for the plucking in the forest of our great unknown.  And the experts that tell you otherwise, well, I think they are all like in Judy Garland's wizard in the Wizard of Oz.

That's how I think.  But if you think differently, then do think for yourself.

Our Thoughts about 
Lois Shawver

One of the topics we discussed at length this month was the concept of "truth".  Postmodernism often deconstructs the notion of "truth", 

Alastair Duhs said:

i'm ...very aware that in most of human life, "truth" (in terms of "objective" validation) plays little part. most of our stories about ourselves (e.g. whether i'm in a good space with my partner or not) are quite subjective.

Michael Coffey said:

As for stuff existing outside of ourselves as being real ... again this is  perhaps another seventeeth Century European Enlightenment construction of mind and body  separate.

Joe Pfeffer talked about a situation in which a trivial truth upstaged the discovery of a more serious truth.  He said:

Again, the Truth became a lie, not because it was necessarily unfactual, but
because by being accorded status as The Official Story it drove out all other  stories, all other Versions of the Truth, and therefore grossly  oversimplified and tragically distorted a very complex situation that was never allowed to play itself out to any sort of logical or humane conclusion.

When some of our attempts to pin down "truth" became comical  Val Lewis said

I think all of this, ...points to the ridiculous aspect of trying to speak of 'the truth' ....

Then, Manfred Straehle took the question around the linguistic turn when he studied the question of whether the moon should be called "fixed" or "moving" (isn't that a paradox!).  He ended up saying:

But does it really matter
 whether the moon is moving or not?

Straehle's musings reminded me of a Wittgenstein comment that I have always considered profound:

381 How do I know that this colour is red?-It would be an answer to say: "I have learnt English". 

What this Wittgenstein quote reminded me of is that a child cannot learn to say "It is true that this is red" until it learns to use the word "red" the same way the rest of us do.  That is, the notion of "truth" is highly bound up with the rules of language use.

But is that all there is to truth?  Language rules?  Yes, say the extreme positivists.  Permit me to expand a moment on what scholars in the past have said. Here is A. J. Ayer presenting us with a positivist critique of the ordinary concept of truth:

The traditional conception of truth as a real quality or a real relation is due, like most philosophical mistakes, to a failure to analyze sentences correctly.
Language, Truth and Logic p.88

PMTH subscriber Riet Samuels asked who said:

"Objectivity is the subjectivity of the dominant group?" 

Well, no one seemed to know exactly, but I think it was probably Michel Foucault.  I saw a close connection between the Samuels quote and what Foucault says about truth in his essay Truth and Power.  In this essay, Foucault said:

'Truth' is linked in a circular relation with systems of power which produce and sustain it, ...
Power and 
Knowledge, p.133'

In summary, the truth is not as simple as it seems.  So, I'd like to end this ike to end this little story about "truth" by returning to a particularly interesting passage by Joe Pfeffer

[A]re we not all "imaginary" as we appear to each other on the [internet]  Do we not choose certain aspects of ourselves to highlight, others to keep in the shadows?  Are we not all constructing "imaginary selves" as we write these posts?  I do correspond
occasionally with listmembers off list, and I have an ongoing relationship with one in particular that goes back more than a year.  The person I construct in those correspondences is not at all the same person you
encounter on the list.  Which one, then, is "imaginary" and which "the real me?"  The answer of course is both and neither.  Both are social
constructions built on some basic ground of personhood that, however, only becomes "real" in social interaction.  The paradox is that that "real" person that others perceive and interact with is entirely imaginary, a complete social construction.

Well, from one imaginary person to another, that is from me to you: May the play of your imagination provide the reality of your tomorrow with an always  better truth.

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Lois Shawver

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Talking about Conversation
Lois Shawver

If you have followed some of the discussions in PMTH NEWS, then you know that I have an interest in talking about "paralogy" - the kind of conversation that can sometimes blossom in postmodern circles. I like to think of paralogy as a conversational way of making the "known unknown, and then reorganizing this unknowlege into an independent symbolic metasystem" (Breton cited in Lyotard, p.100)

But can we even study this special kind conversation and see how it works?  How would we do it?  How would we  browse through a ton of conversation and pin down the paralogical moments and passages?

More specifically, Is there a system of research that would allow us to talk about different kinds of conversation, such as paralogy?   I began this  inquiry in PMTH with the preconceived idea that that there are three research methodologies that might be appropriate for such studies.  I called these three methods: 

1) content analysis
2) conversation analysis
3) discourse analysis

I knew something about each of them, but not enough.  But two PMTH contriubtors came to my rescue and talked with me about content analysis and conversation analysis (CA)

If you want to do a resarch project on conversation (and I hope you do), perhaps a thesis or a dissertation, then let these contributors give you the following introductory tour guides.  One is PMTH subscriber Priscilla Hill.   She has provided us with a little introduction to the methodology that for now I am calling "non-content analysis." Hill is changing the name of this established form of research to something she feels is more apt.  The other introductory tour guide below is John Lawless who has offers us a an initial introduction to "conversation analysis." 

Please read on, to hear what they have to to say:

Non-Content Analysis
Priscilla Hill

I have been invited to explain the concept of "content analysis" in psychology research. The concept is fairly simple. In the content analysis tradition of research, the researcher develops schema/systems for the classification of things that are said in small face-to-face groups in order to study interpersonal interaction and group process. Different content analysis look at different categories of things that people might say.

However, I must add that I do not like this term "content analysis." It is a poor reflection of what the research is like. I propose a term that is more current and descriptive: Verbal Interaction Process Analysis (VIPA). Although the term "content analysis" may be more prevalent for this type of research, I believe the concept will be less confusing if we refer to it as VIPA.

R. Freed Bales should be considered the father of VIPA. Bales seems to have gotten the inspiration for this new research methodology from Talcott Parsons who provided sociology with a general theory of human action. Bales was also concerned with human action, but Bales wanted to study it empirically, on the level of verbal interaction. The two VIPA that Bales introduced were called the Interaction Process Analysis (IPA) in 1950 and SYMLOG in 1979. Although Bales worked mostly with task groups he saw his scales as applicable to both task and therapy groups but most other VIPA were designed specifically for therapy/counseling groups. 

It is interesting to note that at about the same time that Bales was developing VIPA in the social sciences J. L. Austin was developing a theory of ordinary language in philosophy. There is no evidence that Bales and Austin knew about each others' work, and their approaches and goals were notably different. Nevertheless it is possible to compare the categories that each developed.

In his seminal How to Do Things with Words (1962) Austin pointed out how we not only say things with words but we DO things with words in the ordinary course of our lives. For example, when one says "I promise" one creates an obligation to another. Austin referred to such doing as the illocutionary aspect of a speech act. He searched the dictionary for performative verbs which mediate this illocutionary aspect, and after finding around 1000 of these, he (provisionally) classified them into 5 types which he called Verdictives, Exercitives, Commissives, Behabitives and Expositives. 

Interestingly, the superficial form of Austin's categories is quite similar to that of many of the VIPA which sprang from Bales¹ work. That is, both Austin and the VIPA authors emphasize what the speaker is DOING by virtue of performing speech acts. Examples of categories used in some VIPA are: Questioning, Acknowledging, Interpreting, Guiding, Reflecting, Approving, Informing, Paraphrasing, Confronting, Self-Disclosing. These VIPA category systems might, therefore, be called Illocutionary VIPA. 

However, all VIPA are not Illocutionary. For example, I have worked extensively with a VIPA called the Hill Interaction Matrix (HIM), which I believe goes beyond the illocutionary aspects of language. 

The HIM was authored by Wm. Fawcett Hill, around 1960. It is a two- dimensional system for classifying verbal interaction in therapy/ counseling groups. Each of these dimensions has four levels. Levels of the Content Style dimension are Topic, Group, Personal and Relationship. Levels of the Work Style dimension are Conventional, Assertive, Speculative, and Confrontive. Sixteen specific categories result from the intersection of the Content Style and Work Style levels. e.g., Topic Conventional, Topic Assertive.....Relationship Speculative, Relationship Confrontive. A 66-page HIM manual details criteria for placement of speeches into the 16 HIM categories; it also contains numerous examples of speeches which would be assigned given categories. It is important to note that the 16 HIM categories can be ordered in terms of hypothetical therapeutic value but they need not be so ordered. And in any case the determination of actual therapeutic outcome is a separate matter.

Perhaps in another article in a later issue of PMTH NEWS I can show how I believe that VIPA such as the HIM go beyond illocutionary aspects of language and thereby become more constructionist in nature.

(A note to PMTH NEWS readers: Priscilla Hill has been invited to write a followup essay.)

 Conversation Analysis
John Lawless

 A topic that has been given considerable time this past month on the PMTH list has been research methodologies that explore naturally occurring conversations.  As a researcher, who tries to incorporate postmodern ideas, I have found conversation analysis (CA) to be a useful methodology, in that CA allows me to explore conversations empirically within a postmodern paradigm.  This use of CA is much different from how a ˆ¨puristˆÆ CA researcher would proceed.  I hope that as CA gets noticed as a useful methodology in a variety of new disciplines (e.g., marriage and family therapy), and that these disciplines will shape and mold CA.  There are a variety of trajectories a discussion of CA can take but for the purpose of this article I will focus on how I have utilized CA within a postmodern research framework. 

 What attracted me to CA initially was its potential as a tool for exploring naturally occurring conversational sequences and patterns without biasing our findings much with our preconceived biases, categories, and expectations.  In this quest for a postmodern research tool, I think I am influenced by John Shotterˆ‚s work of how postmodern research can look.  Shotter (1992) delineates shifts that a modernist researcher can make to become a more postmodern researcher.  Some of these shifts include movement from; 

(1) exploring theories (the 
     why) to studying practice 
     (the how)
(2) intrapersonal inquiries 
     that lack contextual 
     information to 
     contextual rich 
(3) using language as 
     representing reality 
     to language as a 
     representation of social 
     constituted meanings
(4) findings reported as 
     authoritative and 
     definitive to findings 
     as being locally 
     constituted and 

 While it is impossible to fully explore each of these shifts in this essay, I want to discuss ideas briefly in the context of CAˆ‚s three main assumptions. 

Conversational analysis (CA) can be traced to the work of Harvey Sacks.  Sacks, influenced by Garfinkelˆ‚s ethnomethodology, wanted to develop a research method that would be descriptive and naturalistic.  He wanted to generate descriptive data so that researchers could illustrate how conversationalists constructed their social reality rather than explain why a behavior occurred.  Sacks CA research tool was naturalistic in the sense that it was designed to study action that occurred as a spontaneous event in time, not action occurring in a preconceived situation.  I felt this descriptive and naturalistic stance could provide a context that could help researchers explore practice, activities, and contextual concerns rather than theories, constructs, and intrapersonal inquires.  As Tom Strong highlighted in his PMTH post, CA can also be utilized to explore the generation of possibilities; that is, to explore how people transform language games, creating new performances and, as Wittgenstein would say, "forms of life".  This is in contrast to CAˆ‚s historical use of mapping or classifying language processes. 

The examination of the generation of language game possibilities can develop because of CAˆ‚s focus on the microanalysis of language.  This microanalytic focus helps the researcher to examine how the participants use language to construct and maintain the context of the conversation.  This is directly tied to the three assumptions of all CA work.  These assumptions are; 

(1) talk is context-shaped
(2) talk is context renewing
(3) there is a mutual 
     interpretive competency 
     between the participants. 

The following example will help to elucidate these assumptions.  If Lois Shawver asks me a question (e.g., How is the weather?) she is shaping the context in how I would construct my answer.  When I answer her question (e.g., Very hot and humid) I am renewing the context of the conversation in which we are participating thus we are co-constructing the conversation.  It is important not to get lost on whether a specific turn is context shaped or renewing.  It is a matter of punctuation.  As we engage in our context-shaped and context-renewing actions, sequences of a mutual interpretive understanding occur.  As I work from a postmodern perspective, I understand this mutual interpretive understanding to be locally situated as well as representing how language is used to socially construct meaning

As conversational participants engage in these behaviors they create a sequential and reflexive interaction.  Thus, language is examined by linking meaning and context to the idea of sequence.  The patterns and forms that start to emerge from the analysis are built on the participantˆ‚s actions not on a researcher's preconceived ideas.  It is a bottom up process in which the participants ˆ¨informˆÆ the researcher as to how they are making sense of this conversation.  It is the ˆ¨practiceˆÆ of conversation that is important.  From this vantage point, language is viewed as a representation of socially constructed meanings.

 CA methodology brings forth a very rich and thick description of how people use language and paralinguistic features of language (pauses, rate of speech, intonation) to interact and organize and collaborate to build their social worlds.  As highlighted above, CA assumptions lend themselves to explore naturally occurring conversation from within a postmodern framework.

(John Lawless, is also invited to contribute another article on Conversation Analysis.)

Performing the World Conference

Here's a conference that promises to be intense fun.  It is a conference on the performing arts as therapy. Remember, folks, Shakespeare says that all the world's a stage. I think this group takes this seriously.  Lots of big names at this conference and lots of practitioners of performative therapy.

Check it out


This conference has got to be the bargain of the year.  It is unique, too.  Instead of listening to the scholarly stars, people will gather together in what seems to be a vacation atmosphere and let the conversation develop among themselves.

Check it out

Postmodern Geriatrics

A collection of items on geriatrics, from the news, and from their personal experience, are provided to you with this month's newsletter from Ken and Mary Gergen. click here

Want to Join Us?

Lois Shawver

PMTH is a closed community for professional therapists, as well as scholars,professors and graduate students with specialities related to therapy. We keep our list reserved this way in order to have a special place for people who are concerned with doing good therapy to discuss their personal issues about therapy in some depth.  We go to other lists to discuss things with people who don't fit this profile.  If you want to invite one of us to a list you're on, there is a way to do that.  Or, if you fit the profile for membership to PMTH, you can consider joining us.  Whichever you want, you can write me, by clicking


This will send a post to me, Lois Shawver.  Tell me of your interest. If you are looking to join us, also give me a little information about yourself that tells me how you fit the profile for joining the PMTH online community.  And, in either case, .tell me that you got the idea to write by reading PMTH NEWS.



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