Michelle H. Mamberg
Project Liberty, Bleuler Psychotherapy Center, Forest Hills (NY), USA

E-mail:mmamberg@earthlink.net

 

TALKING RESPONSIBILITY:
A DEVELOPMENTAL-DISCURSIVE STUDY OF RELATIONAL ACCOUNTS

 

A micro-analytic study was undertaken to examine discursive development of dialogical self constructions (Bakhtin, 1981; Harré, 1991; Hermans, Kempen & Van Loon, 1992; Shi-Xu, 1997). Conversations employing clinical-style interventions were conducted in conditions modeled after a psychotherapy session. Speakers were asked to discuss responsibility for problems in their intimate relationships. The narrative accounts generated were coded along a monological-dialogical developmental continuum. The discursive categories comprising this continuum were based on positioning of the grammatical subject. A variety of modes were identified through which the speaker and his/her partner were represented as responsible agents. A monological self was constituted primarily through the use of 'isolated' and 'passive object' constructions. Such talk treated a single partner as responsible for the issue discussed, thereby decontextualizing that partner from the relationship. These modes obscure one of the partners while negating the ongoing interpersonal work occurring between them. A dialogical self was constituted primarily through the use of 'differentiated' or 'relational agents'. Such talk treated both partners as (inter-)actively and mutually responsible for relationship issues. The developmental-discursive framework is discussed in terms of how clinicians might better encourage dialogical self constitutions in clients' responsibility talk.