As I am about to embark on a tiered exploration of postmodernism and its appearance in systemic therapy, let me begin in this chapter with a baseline discussion. Mapping postmodernism is complicated, for one can engage with it on many levels. Is postmodernism a social condition, a framework for theorising, an epistemology or a form of politics? From different angles it may be claimed to be all these things, and in this chapter I am interested in tracing the outline of postmodernism via these different layers, and then considering the specific issue of the postmodern subject and therapeutic commitment. The cohering identification which becomes apparent through this exploration is the extent to which postmodernism may be thought of as an oppositional domain. This commentary then lays the groundwork for a consideration of the particular ways in which family therapy has engaged with the postmodern.
Postmodernism is a complex phenomenon, situated in the Western cultural and intellectual environment of the late twentieth century and having many different layers of meanings and uses. Yet in its translation within family therapy, understandings of postmodernism have tended to become homogenised. There are no doubt a number of reasons for this, not least being the process of translation that occurs when a practice discipline responds to and takes in broader intellectual ideas. Whatever the reasons, though, it is fair to say that the assumption that we all knew what we were talking about when we said 'postmodernist' came to be made very quickly in family therapy and on the basis of remarkably little initial excavation of its different layers and broader contexts.