Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Michael White and Adventures Downunder

Academic journal article The International Journal of Narrative Therapy and Community Work

Michael White and Adventures Downunder

Article excerpt


When Maurizio Andolfi invited me to write this piece about the work of the late Michael White, he explained that he hoped it would take its place in a series of inter views with key figures in the field of family therapy who were from countries other than the USA. He explained that it would be translated and published in Italian. As I am vitally interested in history, and in the work of Michael White, this sounded like a terrific publishing project and a ver y interesting invitation.

Because of Michael's death five years ago, this piece was always going to be very different than the others in the series, but I have tried to honour Maurizio's request by shaping this piece with the questions that he sent through:

* What were some of the key steps in Michael's historical development from a personal-professional perspective?

* From where did Michael draw his main inspirations?

* What have been his major contributions?

* And what has Michael left to the younger generations?

In responding to these questions, I have faced a profound dilemma which I wish to acknowledge at the outset. Michael White had a conviction not to speak for or on behalf of others but instead to create the conditions whereby they could speak for themselves. Much about 'narrative therapy' hinges on this conviction. This was perhaps most obvious in Michael's work with people who had been diagnosed by others as 'schizophrenic'. The 'Power to Our Journeys' group (Brigitte, Sue, Mem & Veronika, 1997), which Michael facilitated, became a forum for people who heard hostile voices and saw visions, to meet together, to define their own realities, to re-author their own stor ylines of identity, to speak at conferences, and to publish documents and influential ar ticles about ways of reclaiming their lives. Michael did not 'speak for' or 'on behalf of' the Power to Our Journeys group, he created the possibilities whereby they could speak for themselves.

Because of his conviction not to speak for or on behalf of others, and because of his determination never to make assumptions about the lives of others, it is a profound challenge for me to write about Michael White and his work now that he is no longer here to speak for himself. There are three ways I have found to respond to this dilemma. Firstly, I have included below a number of direct quotes from Michael. Secondly, if anything in this shor t piece is of interest to you, dear reader, then I would invite you to read Michael's writings. For there he still lives. And within them, he speaks for himself. And thirdly, I have tried to be transparent as to why I have chosen to emphasise certain aspects of history. As Hayden White (1973) the historian has illustrated, ever y telling of histor y is to some degree an invention of history and there are reasons linked to my own values, interests, commitments and histories why I have chosen par ticular stories to tell here.

With these provisos in mind, let's begin ...

WHAT WeRe sOme Of THe key sTeps in miCHAel's HisTORiCAl DevelOpmenT fROm A peRsOnAl-pROfessiOnAl peRspeCTive?

Let me share just three. They relate to a bicycle, an unusually intelligent mouse, and two social movements. The reason I have chosen to highlight these in par ticular is that Michael drew attention to them in his own writings.

Adelaide, South Australia, where Michael White lived and worked, is a long way from the USA. It's also a long way from Italy. But there was a par ticular gift Michael received for his tenth bir thday, in 1959, that he credited with opening the world to him:

I grew up in a working-class family in a mostly working-class community, and although access to other worlds of life was limited, I was always deeply curious about those worlds. When I was a young boy it was maps that made it possible for me to dream those other worlds up and imaginatively transport myself to other places. Then, on my 10th birthday, I received the gift of a bicycle. …

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