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Perpsectivism and pragmatism

This summary integrates some central elements of perspectivism and pragmatism:

• The "world" is seen in terms of an indefinite, inventive process of "world-making" and, correspondingly,

• The "world" is not seen as given.

• These traditions have a historicist emphasis, in that both question that entity known as a "knowing subject", posited as free from the constraints of time, space, and chance.

• Rather than dealing with "universal problems", these traditions concentrate on the elucidation of particular problems and objectives. Hence, there are no final descriptions or meta-vocabularies, only what is fashioned relative to a changing domain of inquiry and language; no "one way" the world is or "one way" that human beings are. Similarly, there is no "end point" or general evolutionary direction, whether one of guaranteed improvement or of increasing rationality.

• There is a rejection of classical dualisms and the appearance-reality distinction, replaced by an emphasis on useful (or less useful) descriptions of the world and ourselves.

• With an unrelenting relational view of human beings and "entities" in the world, there can be no simple criteria of objectivity or uncovering "how things are".

• Alongside this is a key emphasis on the flexibility or plasticity of human selfhood. We are complex bundles or assemblages, immersed in a "community of partaking" (Dewey, 1958, p. 185).

• In this reading, perspectivism4 and pragmatism are consonant with pluralism and diversity.

Perspectivism and pragmatism in therapeutic work

Vignette: a team in trouble?

A mental health team asked for help, "to look at how we work and to take stock", the manager adding, "There's a lot of hurt in the team". The consultation took the form of (a) a whole team meeting to formulate an agenda and (b) a day of exploration to look at problems and solutions.

I isolate two dominant views, expressed, with considerable passion, by the team.

One part of the team, mostly senior, emphasised a historical transition, from a time when the team was well supported, held in high-esteem and innovative, to a present in which they felt demoted, reduced in scope and caught in a "straight-jacket" of external requirements. One person put it thus:

We have been put in our place by people and policies that are shortsighted ... I've suffered a lot as a result, in fact quite a number of us have, but it's the service to the clients that's more important, and what they've lost in terms of resources and our expertise.

His colleague, adding to this theme of history and decline, added:

One of my old clients the other day said, "They wouldn't have stood for this ten year ago, when they had that other [such and such] service. I recon they have you by the balls. They don't want to you to help us now, only control us. It's all about shoveling the mess out of the way."

I describe these views as "dominant" because the theme of a previous era, dressed in glory and followed by decline, was reiterated and underlined several times. It raised obvious emotion and reminders of injury ("I've suffered a lot as a result ."). In spite of this, another part of the team, predominantly junior, and reticent at first, expressed pride in current innovation and achievements. Ray said:

It's really good—we've not done it before. I feel good about it and the feedback from the users is positive. It's not the only thing—our new policy on [such and such] has made a whole lot of things more accessible. Let's hear a bit more about that for a change.

In the "middle", other workers felt that, complaints aside, they were doing "reasonably well" and were keen to "get down to our core business . to deliver [such and such]". Their language was one of "realism".

As the day grew to a close, two set of views emerged regarding a way forward. One worker said:

We have a lot to look at—there's a lot of baggage in this team. Unless we start doing it, we won't move on. It's like we need to grieve so that we can move on.

Others felt that the day had already been beneficial and that, to quote again, "Dwelling on things will not help". Their viewpoint was that the team had the talent and resources to continue with its task and that the team should therefore, "look forwards".

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