Sunday, May 04, 2008

Article: A Linguistic Phenomenology of Ways of Knowing

Entry for 4 May 2008:

In 1971, Ted Sarbin, my mentor at the University of California, Santa Cruz, handed me a copy of a paper he had just had published [Sarbin, T.R., & Adler, N. (1971). Self-reconstitution processes: A preliminary report. The Psychoanalytic Review, 57, 599-616.] This paper, with its wide-ranging analysis of the factors shared by diverse systems for bringing about drastic personal change, electrified me. The result was my undergraduate senior thesis on metaphors for death and birth and their implications for radical person change. In my thesis, I developed a method for using word etymology and metaphor analysis to analyze psychological constructs. Over the ensuing decades, I used this research method sporadically, to analyze concepts such as “psychological dysfunction”, “empathy,” and most recently “insight” [Elliott, R. (2006). Decoding Insight Talk: Discourse Analyses of Insight in Ordinary Language and in Psychotherapy. In L G. Castonguay & C.E. Hill (Eds), Insight in Psychotherapy (167-185). Washington, DC: APA.]

Several years ago I was asked to write a paper on epistemological issues in psychotherapy research for the Journal of Psychotherapy Integration. I have a long-standing interest in epistemology and philosophy of science, but am not by any means trained or deeply read in these fields, so I approached this assignment with fear and trembling. I ended up dealing with the situation by going back to basics: analyzing verbs of knowing using metaphor analysis, following Lakoff and Johnson, and returning to my old strategy of root metaphor analysis.

After a long delay, this paper has finally been published in JPI (the journal of the Society for Psychotherapy Integration) along with two accompanying papers, one an introduction and the other a commentary on my paper. I've never been given such treatment before and find it all a bit intimidating, but it is fun to see the final product and to view this particular piece of work through others' lenses, in this case three fairly heavy hitters in philosophical psychology: Robert Woolfolk, Frank Richardson, and Jack Anchin. Given that this paper is probably the most unusual paper I've ever published, it's a relief that they didn't just tear it to shreds.

In the title of the paper I refer to “linguistic phenomenology”, a term that refers to the use of language -- and particularly analysis of the metaphors used to construct words -- as a method for illuminating important human experiences. My use of this method was developed independently of Lakoff and Johnson’s later work on metaphor, most famously in Metaphors we live by (1980). However, my resumption of this method has been inspired by their work, especially their 1999 book [Lakoff, G., & Johnson, M. (1999). Philosophy in the flesh: The embodied mind and its challenge to western thought. New York: Basic Books.]

Reference: Elliott, R. (2008). A Linguistic Phenomenology of ways of knowing and its implications for psychotherapy research and psychotherapy integration. Journal of Psychotherapy Integration, 18, 40-65.

Abstract: In this article, I use the linguistic methods of Lakoff and Johnson (1999) to deconstruct the underlying conceptual structure and metaphors for three key verbs of Knowing, in order to answer three central methodological questions: First, is Description possible? Yes, in the sense of writing things down carefully but fallibly, while trying to avoid the danger of confusing permanence with truth. Second, is Interpretation inevitable? Yes, in the sense of Translating between an audience and a text, but not in the sense Making Something Easier to See or Constructing a Model (these are desirable but not inevitable). Third, are Explaining and Understanding fundamentally different ways of Knowing? Yes, they differ in structure (mediated vs. direct knowledge), direction (toward general simplicity vs. unique complexity), and effect (constructing a conceptual model vs. creating a relationship). Consistent with the goals of the psychotherapy integration movement, I conclude that Describing, Explaining, and Understanding are each essential to psychotherapy and psychotherapy research.

Ted Sarbin, whose 1971 paper set me on the path to this paper, died in August 2005, at the age of 94. It’s not common to dedicate scientific papers to people, and this paper carries no explicit inscription. Nevertheless, let it be known here that in fact this paper on the metaphors implicit in verbs of knowing is dedicated to his memory.

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