Peggy Sax

Peggy Sax

Those of us who had the privilege of knowing Michael White can remember how often he used the word “Joy.” Here is what he wrote about the joy he experienced reading Foucault:

“Upon first reading Foucault on modern power, I experienced a special joy. This joy was in part due to his ability to unsettle what is taken-for-granted and routinely accepted, and to render the familiar strange and exotic. Apart from other things, I found that this opened up new avenues of inquiry into the context of many of the problems and predicaments for which people routinely seek therapy.”

White, M. (2002). Addressing personal failure. International Journal of Narrative Therapy & Community Work, 2002(3), 33–76. p. 36.

Foucault’s writings are indeed provocative and unsettling. Not everyone experiences joy when reading Foucault. Also, philosophy can be hard to grasp . Can you help us demonstrate the relevance by sharing stories from your own practice.

– What do you experience when you read Foucault – or about Foucault?
– How central is Foucault to your understanding of narrative practice?
– Can you tell a story from your own work to illustrate how you approach power and inquiry into the taken-for-granted & routinely accepted?

February 21, 2014: Stephane Kovacs 

Hello everybody, Hello Peggy,

In Spring 1988 Michel Foucault came to California to deliver lectures on “Subjectivity and Truth”.During his stay he answered a few questions about Moral, Values, and the Intellectual (refers to the “History of the Present” number 4)

Surprisingly, he defined himself as a moralist:

‘In a sense, I am a moralist, insofar as I believe that one of the tasks, one of the meanings of human existence – the source of human freedom – is never to accept anything as definitive, untouchable, obvious, or immobile. No aspect of reality should be allowed to become a definitive and inhuman law for us. We have to rise up against all forms of power – but not just power in the narrow sense of the word, referring to the power of a government or of one social group over another: these are only a few particular instances of power.Power is anything that tends to render immobile and untouchable those things that are offered to us as real, as true, as good.’

‘I was telling you earlier about the three elements in my morals. They are (1) the refusal to accept as self-evident the things that are proposed to us; (2) the need to analyze and to know, since we can accomplish nothing without reflection and understanding thus, the principle of curiosity; and (3) the principle of innovation: to seek out in our reflection those things that have never been thought or imagined. Thus: refusal, curiosity, innovation.’

When I red this article for the first time I felt a great joy and a tremendeous feeling of release. The joy to share the same morals with him and to agree these elements could be defined as morals. I had never put words on these silent values before because I had been taught moral was a matter of ability to conduct my life through a flawless implementation of the holly Bible rules.

However, too often these rules and principle could not be consistent with my own experience. Here is an example based on one among the Ten commandments (Deuteronomy 5:4-21):

“You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing steadfast love to thousands of those who love me and keep my commandments.”

How God could be jealous ? From what I had experimented jealousy came from a fear to loose a given relationship. Although I prefer freedom I could understand and fully accept jealousy based relationship but how could God fear anything ? How could we be linked together and to God meanwhile be afraid to be separated from him ? How God could threat me and be confident in our relationship? How could God be an expression of love and freedom meanwhile ask for such a kind of definitive, obvious and immobile relationship ?

Something could not work. Meanwhile no moral could not be either a way to conduct my life. How could I be a moralist, respect the spirit of the Bible, not its text, meanwhile step back from it ? These questions often triggered uncomfortable feelings from which I felt released when I started reading Foucault. I felt the same brotherwhood feelings when I red Michael White’s work. I could see Michael’s intention to implement the three morals elements in his own work as a therapist: refusal to accept taken for granted truth, curiosity and innovation. Afterward I investigated my own past life throughout these elements and successfully found stories that talked about their implementation like if they were seeds in my life.

Warm regards,

Here is a link to the “History of the Present” number 4 :

February 25, 2014: Shona Russell

Shona Russell

Shona Russell

Hi Peggy

A great post from Stephane – I’ve tried several times to follow your link so I can reply to Stephane with no success.

As a second option I will put the message here – can you transfer it please or tell me how to find Stephane’s post as it is not visible to me?

” Dear Stephane,

I am reading your post from Adelaide, South Australia and it is good to be connected across the seas. I was particularly drawn to your reflections on the impact of Foucault’s work
on your life and relationships and the resonance you see in approaches to therapeutic work which demonstrates a refusal to accept taken for granted truths about person’s lives.

Just last week I was teaching in the Narrative Practices Adelaide one year course and we were exploring the link between Foucalult’s work on modern power and therapeutic conversations as discussed by Michael White. As you can imagine these were invigorating conversations and we were interested in the kinds of questions that begin to unsettle taken for granted truths about the lives of individuals, families and communities. We went on the explore the relevance of externalising conversations as a practice which reflects curiosity, innovation and questioning taken for granted truth claims that impact negatively on people’s lives and relationships.

But back to your post! Thank you for sharing the link to ” History of the Present No 4 which I look forward to reading. Are you interested in posing some questions to the forum which invite other readers to comment and continue the conversation you have started? Are there particular aspects of Foucault’s work that you or others wish to share or consider via the forum?

I am interested in the way your personal considerations related to specific religious teachings invite us to further reflect on the place of moral conduct or moral codes in our lives/work. I am drawn to considerations of ethics and the practices of ethical stance as a way of describing morals. Much to be said about this and as I think about your reflections I’m reminded of how strongly my work has been shaped by the politics of gender and culture as well as by considerations of identity. I highly value the practices of narrative therapy which enable these ethical positions to be powerfully present in therapeutic work and community engagement and find working towards ethical position an ongoing aspiration.

The paper by Jim Duvall and Karen Young ” Keeping Faith: A conversations with Michael White” Journal of Systemic Therapies, Vol 28, No1, 2009, pp1-18 speaks to me of these considerations and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in reflecting on considerations of ethics in our work.

Thank you Stephane for sharing your personal experience, for sharing a valuable reference and for encouraging us to think further about our own ethical positioning.

If Stephan’s post has sparked thoughts and considerations from you please continue the conversation! “

Shona Russell | Narrative Practices Adelaide

December 15, 2014

Chelsea Yanuaria

Chelsea Yanuaria

Learning about the importance of being aware of discourse and the power relations that can be exposed upon deconstruction reminded me of the doll experiment some of my peers and I were recently talking about and I thought I would share:

I think it shows how easily we internalize the stories culture might tell us about who we are.