One step forward, two steps back and still going on

Performatory activities – in a) the college, b) in the university college, c) in a social psychiatry house d) in organisations - in a developmental way while the whole world is becoming more and more alienated

Volker Bunzendahl, MSc Psychology, lecturer at the University College, Aalborg


With this paper I want to show, in a simple way, how a concept[1] of postmodern attitude (Anderson, 1997), a “not-knowing”-position (Newman & Holzman, 1998), a performatory approach to human development (Holzman, 1999, Ognjenovic & Skorc, 2003) is fruitful for me as a psychologist, teacher and consultant, while working with people, peoples education, growth and development. The title of this article tries to paint the impression I have of what we, human man kind, are doing, are able to create, and unfortunately not always are able to do right. Every time I get the impression that we, our organization, our group is on it’s right way, the voice of postmodern skepticism raises, telling me that what is happening could be told in many different ways, and by the telling the picture of what actually happens it is changing the situation we are in.


Our time – my time

Reading postmodern sociology these days (Bauman, 2002, 2004) is intellectually very exciting, while it emotionally hurts at the same time. Being in touch with counter cultural movements makes me at one moment feel very optimistic, e.g. participating in a peaceful festival with 20.000 people from all over the world, celebrating a new and other reality, of dance and trance, while I am at other moments can see “the writings on the wall”, which is that the powers of the world want to discriminate the ones who are not normal consumers in an ever growing marketplace of the capitalistic world, where everything is at sale. Forget what you cannot change anyway, and buy and buy everything you need, seems to be the slogan, while the ones who still want to discuss politics in a sober way are seen as old-fashioned hippie-freaks and/or Marxists. It makes med remember George Orwells book, 1984, where lies where made true, where peace meant war, where freedom fighters are called terrorists and vice versa, where the main civil person is comfortably numb. He/she does not care, as long he/she can buy a new kitchen, a new car, a new travel to places which are kept free for the troubles of the world. I do not have an answer for that, but I pray to what ever we want to call it, that he/she/it will give us strength in this hopeless struggle for freedom and justice and agape[2] in the global village, in the global and already World Wide Web connected reality, where human man kind seems to go back two steps, every time it looks like we succeed doing just one step, which is developmental.  



How to go on in a world, where my own science, psychology as a child of modernism seems to be in real trouble, where it seems, seen with postmodern eyes, quiet old-fashioned[3] to give the impression that psychology has the key to all answers concerning human psychological functioning, being and becoming? Yes and there are many, various and, often even each other opposing, theories of mind, learning, emotions and social activity in the “house of psychology”. But, is this a force or a weakness?


Positivists would answer this question by saying that it is a weakness, because a science, which has not one clear voice, one clear idea of methods and how to explain them, is a weak or not at all a science. The positivistic approaches claim that their kind of therapy is data based, that their approach is tested, evaluated with scientific eyes, and therefore they know how long it will take to cure e.g. a depression. There are rules about how to practice scientific evident therapy, - therefore positivists would say it is a weakness to have many voices, which tell stories and collect data in many different ways.


Humanistic approaches would appreciate other and more qualitative methods and data, and even if dialog and communication is of core interest here, they still would plead for one universal voice of what human beings are and should be. They try to establish a platform for the subject, the inner voice of the individual that is they want to plead for an anti-objectivist view on human beings as an alternative to the ones I mentioned above. The force of the humanistic approach is in its focus on the here-and-now situation, the phenomenological experience of the subject, the “Lebenswelt” of real people, telling their story of what is important for them. Humanistic approaches, if you ask them, and they answer honestly, will mean that their approach to work with human souls is the one, and that they present the right answer to scientific, positivistic approaches. Therefore, they would see it as a weakness, if, like it is, the positivistic approaches are the majority in the chorus of these various psychological voices.


The beautiful thing about postmodern approaches is that they are and/or want to be free of this struggle, of being either one who believes in science, or one who believes in rationality. They step fully aware of it beside the mainstream discourse, beside the forever on going fight between here scientists and humanists, or in the fights between right and left wing politics, between rich and poor, between woman and man, between teachers and students or pupils. They actually try to participate in walking with the other, with the organization, a part of the way, thereby mutually expanding each others horizon by showing and looking at the different views one can see and/or show and perform.


Inner voices & very important generalized others

In my work, where I teach psychology, for students who will become teachers, for teachers who want to study again, for schools and other institutions who want help with changing their organization I get a lot of help and in praxis useful inspiration by my listening to my inner voices, repeating the dialogues with e.g. Zdravo da ste, East Side Institute, and other important modern and “postmodern” partners[4] I learned from and worked with.


Inner voices, what do I mean by that? Yes, being in contact with important others, reading what they have written, hearing what they say, experiencing their performances, and, most important, using their reactions to my own words, sayings and performances, is what makes me, and my inner voices. Inner voices are the ones, you are in dialogue with, while you think, reflect over something you meet in real life, in e.g. a working situation, where you try to build a group, and suddenly I think to myself what e.g. Vesna Ognjenovic would say, or Benedicte Madsen, in the situation I am in. George Herbart Mead (1934) named this inner voice dialogue “the generalized other”, that is the one you talk with when you are in conversation with yourself, when you think to yourself. The generalized other is, as the name says it, a generalization of all the voices you have met, and talked to, and have listened to, in your life, until now. As more important, as more significant the other is, as more will it be part of the generalized other.


But, I see there is a difference between the generalized other (Meads term) and the very important generalized other (my term), where the first one is the mainstream voice of society, and the second the one, which is important, the voices of your friends, which, if you were a hobbit, would be the voice of Frodo and Gandalf, which, if you were a psychologist would be the voices of the ones you have created something together with, they ones you feel as important voices, even if some are past voices from the future, like Vygotsky’s words which are retold and reformed again, and again.


The force of these very important other voices are that their meaning is one, which is not (only) known but phenomenological experienced. There are touching head, hand and heart, that is they have something to say and the saying is combined with the doing, creating, performing that idea, and you can feel it with your heart and body while you are in the jointaction with these important others.


For me it is a combination of that the words which are told by theory are made true in praxis, while the praxis and the feelings while you are performing again are part of the dialog which is intellectual, creative and useful. Concrete and general, theory made true by praxis, praxis understood with a theoretical narrative.


The Moment and to be naked

Perhaps Daniel Stern (2004) is touching this question from at different angle, where he points out, that what is really important in our relations, and in therapy (that is what his book is about) is happening in a short, the actual here and now moment. Moments where you experience to get moved cognitively and emotionally at the same moment, by “that” praxis, “that” activity, in relation to others. Others who in these moments are your significant, important others, the ones you carry inside you as very important others. The ones you will listen to, in times where the horizon is dark and clouded. The ones you can lean on in times where you feel strong and successful.


What I try to create, when teaching and being a consultant, is room for this moment, where something important can happen. People in western society, specially in Denmark, are often reserved, that is they are not so much into expressing themselves with words and gestures. Therefore I often start, as I learned from Hi Neighbor, with very simple plays, which not will get the participants to feel that they have to do things, they don’t feel comfortable to do. At the same time I, as a teacher try to be as “naked” as possible while in the role of the teacher. With “naked” I mean that I openly use my own performances, where I am not afraid at pointing at my own faults, and at the same time I try establish a psychological contract with the participants. This contract is a deal about what we want to do, together, in the time we have, and how we want to do that. My own way of teaching I call “naked”, because I use my body, bodily expressions, movement, and performance as ingredients, when I try to introduce rather than hiding behind abstract theories of mind. Sometimes, when you dance on a line, you fall; mostly you arrive safe at the other side.


Kurt Lewin said: There is nothing better than a practical theory, thereby pointing out that the theory we use, read and talk about has to have some kind of impact on real life. Therefore is the starting point of teaching, of moving people, helping them and ourselves to develop, that we are able not only to write and talk, but to live the theories we are inspired by, and to do that in our everyday live and performances.


To be naked while your are “on”, as teacher, psychologist, social worker means, for me, that I can grab these moments, good ones, bad ones. I can use them, meta communicate about them, that is I invite us, me and the students, to look at it. To be naked means to be in dialogue with me (in Meads understanding), my inner voices (in Meads and my understanding) and my students, and that I openly show my own struggle in finding the way for today, for the right moment(s). To be naked means that I am honest, that I dare to say: I don’t know, or sorry, I will reconsider this or that. To be naked means that the script of today’s teaching is not written, yet, and at the same time you are more than well prepared and motivated. The play, the act as teacher should be written in the moment, in dialogue with the ones who are part of the conversation, which here at the college should be the students, me as teacher, authorities of different kind and the political system who are ruling, and paying for the education.


The following list contains examples about some leading ideas, I see as useful in my work:


¢     Completing, not competing!

¢     Listening, not proclaiming!

¢     Feeling, not thinking about each other.

¢     Meeting the different other, not discriminating.

¢     Visiting, not inspecting or selling


The first, completing means that we always try to build upon what is there, upon what the student or the child is able to do, thereby trying to move near the zones of proximal development.

Listening is a very difficult activity, - are we really listening, or do we create what we here. Here I see it as a force to at least try to not interpret while I am listening, even if that is very difficult to do.

Feeling, not thinking, therewith I want to change focus from to much cognitive rationality towards emotional voices and forces. I believe that the western world has an undeveloped understanding of what emotions, our voices from inside, can help us with.

Meeting the other means to meet the other curious, with interest about how he/she looks at certain things, and with a wish to do some activities together, so you despite your differences get something in common, a new language game.

And the last one, visiting, not selling or inspecting, that means that what I want to do with this article, this speech, the film I hopefully will be able to show you (about a work with clients/patients at a psychiatric living place), is to contribute, to this symposium, social activity and development, and at the same time learn, from your reactions, from the dialogue with you.


As the last thing with this paper I will go back to the start, even if the activities never end, as Vesna from Hi Neighbor in Belgrade often says. One step forward and two steps back, and still going on is for me, what we, human beings, I as a person, teacher, psychologist, have to face. Yes, and we are building new relations, new activities, while we are not blind for to see that some movements (governments, systems) in the world are going in the opposite direction. But we don’t give up the fight, as Bob Marley used to sing, we get up, and stand up, we re-create our life by going this one step, which makes us a head taller than we are, thereby changing us, and the world.





Anderson, Harlene: Conversation, language and possibilities, 1997

Bauman, Z.: Community – Seeking Safety in an Unsecure World, Blackwell, Oxford, 2001

Bauman, Z.: Liquid Love, Blackwell, Oxford, 2003

Holzman, Lois: Performing Psychology, Routledge, 1999

Mead, G. H. Mind, Self and Society, Chicago, 1934 [1991]

Newman, F. & Holzman, L. – The end of knowing, Routledge, 1997

Ognjenovic, V. & Skorc, B., Evaluacija, Zdravo da ste program, Beograd, 2003

Stern, D.: The Present Moment in Psychotherapy and Everyday Life, Lennart Sane, 2004






[1] Yes, and to say concepts is a contradiction towards the meaning of the term post-modern.

[2] Agape, that is helping the one who is weaker than me, the one who needs support.

[3] Even if that is, what cognitive evidence-based therapy, neuro psychology, health psychology tries to do. And they are very good at it, seen with the eyes of the language game of the health sector where they mostly work.

[4] Her I think about Benedicte Madsen and Søren Willert, who are the directors of ”Centre for System-developing”, which has been part of the Psychology Department at Aarhus University. This centre managed to connect education, applying knowledge by practicing it as a consultant-firm, and open minded use of systemic, social constructionist and other approaches in a post-modern way, though they themselves would not use that word, and more point to the word systemic, which they understand with inspiration especially by George Herbart Mead and Kurt Lewin,