Accepted Paper:

"Inchoate Potential": Therapeutic and Ethnographic Reflections in Dialogic Practice  


Lauren Cubellis (Freie Universit├Ąt Berlin)

Paper short abstract:

This paper explores crisis intervention in which clinicians engage clients dialogically (Bakhtin 1981) to manage psychiatric crisis. My presence in these meetings - anthropological, dialogic, and personal - demands a re-examination of the analytic and existential work of participant-observation.

Paper long abstract:

Bakhtinian dialogism (1981) conceptualizes the self as ever forming. The idea that the self is a straight-forward internalization of cultural material, or that identities are reproduced, is undone by an attention to the active and continuous role of dialogic speech in making up inner worlds. There is no singular individual action in a Bakhtinian perspective; rather, the self is always answering to and being addressed by co-existents with whom they mutually constitute the world (Holquist 1990). In my research, this concept has been taken up therapeutically, in a crisis intervention program where clinicians engage clients and their social networks dialogically about the experience of psychiatric crisis. Anthropology is very compatible with dialogism, as an enthusiastic inter-disciplinary turn to Bakhtin in the 1990s revealed (Crapanzano 1995; Holland et al. 2001; Weiss 1990). The emphasis on open-endedness, subjectivity, and emergence is resonant with our own flexible understanding of the nature of fieldwork. For my clinician informants, there is little problem with my formal incorporation into meetings: an anthropological perspective only adds another voice to the pursuit of polyphonic exchange. But in this context I am being drawn in not only to observe the goings on, but also to own my own participation in a way that merges with unconventional therapeutic practices. My presence in these meetings - simultaneously anthropological, dialogic, and personal - demands a re-examination of the analytic and existential work at the core of participant-observation, and of the ethnographic responsibility we take for the productive frictions in which we engage.

Panel C04
Productive frictions: co-laboration and confluence in the work of new alliances