Relational Being: Beyond Self and Community

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This book builds on two current developments in psychology scholarship and practice. The first centers on broad discontent with the individualist tradition in which the rational agent, or autonomous self, is considered the fundamental atom of social life. Critique of individualism spring not only from psychologists working in the academy, but also from communities of therapy and counseling. The second, and related development from which this work builds, is the search for alternatives to individualist understanding. Thus, therapists such as Steve Mitchell, along with feminists at the Stone Center, expand the psychoanalytic tradition to include a relational orientation to therapy.

The present volume will give voice to the critique of individualism, but its major thrust is to develop and illustrate a far more radical and potentially exciting landscape of relational thought and practice that now exists. Most existing attempts to build a relational foundation remain committed to a residual form of individualist psychology. The present work carves out a space of understanding in which relational process stands prior to the very concept of the individual. More broadly, the book attempts to develop a thoroughgoing relational account of human activity. In doing so, Gergen reconstitutes 'the mind' as a manifestation of relationships and bears out these ideas in a range of everyday professional practices, including family therapy, collaborative classrooms, and organizational psychology.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
Winner of the Media Ecology Association's 2010 Erving Goffman Award for Outstanding Scholarship in the Ecology of Social Interaction!

Winner of the 2009 PROSE award in Psychology!

More than 40 PROSE Awards, including the top prize, the R.R. Hawkins Award, were presented on February 4, 2010, at a special Awards Luncheon during the PSP Annual Conference at the Renaissance Mayflower Hotel in Washington, D.C. A complete list of all winners can be found on the PROSE Awards website at:

Presented since 1976, the 2009 PROSE Awards received a record-breaking 441 entries—more than ever before in its 34-year history— from more than 60 professional and scholarly publishers across the country.

"A marvelously likeable book, Relational Being faces us with an urgent and profound challenge. Jettisoning individualism entirely, Gergen demonstrates the sense and virtue of understanding all aspects of human reality through the lens of relationship. This argument for a new Enlightenment is a brave and passionate tour de force from one of our finest social scientists."—Benjamin Bradley, Chair, Psychology and Director, CSU Degree Initiative, Charles Sturt University

"Relational Being is a milestone on the road toward the Next Enlightenment— an enlightenment that re-constructs "the bounded self" with an understanding of the primacy of relational being. There is not a "sounding" in this towering manifesto that leaves things as they are. Once we acknowledge that we are interwoven threads in the intricate tapestry of relational process— in which our destiny is among us as opposed to within— everything changes. If human connection can become as real to us as the traditional sense of individual separation, then our globally intimate future has a chance— there is that much at stake in this forward-looking, pragmatic and inspirational Kenneth Gergen classic!"—David Cooperrider, Fairmount Minerals Professor of Social Entrepreneurship, Weatherhead School of Management, Case Western Reserve University

"This is a powerful, richly nuanced, evocative work; a stunning and brilliantly innovative pedagogical intervention. It provides ground zero— the starting place for the next generation of theorists. Relational Being is a stunning accomplishment by one of America's major social theorists, and a visionary work." —Norman K. Denzin, Professor of Sociology, Cinema Studies, and Interpretive Theory, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

"A must-read for scholars, practitioners and the general public, this book gives promise and hope to our planet and our future well-being." —Harlene Anderson, Houston Galveston Institute

"Ken Gergen, the most original and insightful social psychologist of my generation, offers a hopeful and fresh framework for scholars and practitioners seeking a meaningful, useful, and creative approach to the cultural, political, personal, and professional struggles of our time. Professor Gergen writes with grace, compassion, and clarity and the story he tells is extraordinarily important and profound." —Arthur P. Bochner, Distinguinshed University Professor of Communication, University of South Florida

"...Relational Being promises to be a significant and useful contribution to psychological literature."—PsycCRITIQUES

"Simply put, Gergen asks: If this is the sense of self that is afforded, then what does this mean for the lives we live, and the lives we might aspire to live? Relational Being responds to this (impossible) question. The book presents a contemporary and inspiring response to questions about being, spirituality, and the practices and relations of everyday life. Gergen's approach avoids moralistic undertones and dense theorizing to provide a simple philosophy for everyday, postmodern life." — International Journal of Communication

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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195305388
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 8/6/2009
  • Pages: 448
  • Sales rank: 1,503,696
  • Product dimensions: 6.20 (w) x 9.40 (h) x 1.30 (d)

Meet the Author

Kenneth J. Gergen graduated from Yale University and received his PhD from Duke University. After teaching at Harvard University, he joined the Swarthmore College faculty as the Chair of the Psychology Department. He remains there as a Senior Research Professor. He is also the President of the Taos Institute. His work has received numerous awards throughout the world.

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Table of Contents

Prologue: Toward a New Enlightenment

Part I: From Bounded to Relational Being

Chapter 1 - Bounded Being Self as Abuse Fundamental Isolation Unrelenting Evaluation The Search for Self-Esteem Self and Other Distrust and Derogation Relationships as Artifi ce The Culture of Bounded Being The Costs of Calculation Public Morality as Nuisance Transforming Tradition

Chapter 2 - In the Beginning Is the Relationship Co-Action and Creation The Co-Creation of Everything Co-Action and Constraint Multiplicity and Malleability Relational Flow: Failing and Flourishing From Causality to Confl uence

Chapter 3 - The Relational Self Being Unbound The Very Idea of Self-Knowledge Call in the Experts From Mind to Relationship Mind as Action in Relationship Reason as Relationship Agency: Intention as Action Experience and Memory: Not Mine but Ours Creativity as Relational Achievement

Chapter 4 - The Body as Relationship: Emotion, Pleasure, and Pain The Emotions in History and Culture The Dance of the Emotions Relational Scenarios Disrupting Dangerous Dances Aren't the Emotions Biological?
Bodily Pleasure: The Gift of Co-Action Pain: The Final Challenge

Part II: Relational Being in Everyday Life

Chapter 5 - Multi-Being and the Adventures of Everyday Life Multi-Being Early Precursors: Depth Psychology Contemporary Precursors: Living with Others Critique and Coherence Picturing Multi-Being Coordination: The Challenge of Flight Meeting and Mutuality Sustenance and Suppression Everyday Perils: Relations Among Relations Counter-Logics and Relational Deterioration The Arts of Coordination Understanding: Synchrony in Action Affirmation: The Birth and Restoration of Collaboration Appreciative Exploration

Chapter 6 - Bonds, Barricades, and Beyond The Thrust Toward Bonding Cementing Bonds Negotiating the Real and the Good Narrative: From Self to Relationship The Enchanting of "We"
Bonding and Boundaries Relational Severing Erosion of the Interior: United We Fall The Tyranny of Truth From Erosion to Annihilation Beyond the Barricades Hot Confl ict and Transformative Dialogue The Public Conversations Project Narrative Mediation Restorative Justice

Part III Relational Being in Professional Practice

Chapter 7 - Knowledge as Co-Creation Knowledge as Communal Construction Disturbing Disciplines Pervasive Antagonism Discipline and Debilitation The Elegant Suffi ciency of Ignorance Knowledge: For Whose Benefit?
Toward Transcending Disciplines Interweaving Disciplines The Emerging Hybrids The Return of the Public Intellectual Writing as Relationship Writing in the Service of Relationship Writing as a Full Self Scholarship as Performance Research as Relationship Relational Alternatives in Human Research Narrative Inquiry: Entry into Otherness Action Research: Knowing With

Chapter 8 - Education in a Relational Key Aims of Education Revisited Circles of Participation Relational Pedagogy in Action Circle 1: Teacher and Student Circle 2: Relations Among Students Collaborative Classrooms Collaborative Writing Circle 3: Classroom and Community Community Collaboration Cooperative Education Service Learning Circle 4: The Classroom and the World Circles Unceasing

Chapter 9 - Therapy as Relational Recovery Therapy in Relational Context The Social Genesis of "the Problem"
The Origins of Therapeutic Solutions Relational Consequences of Therapy A Contemporary Case: Mind and Meds Therapy: The Power of Coordinated Action Rejection and Affi rmation Suspending Realities Realities Replaced Expanding the Therapeutic Repertoire From Fixed Reality to Relational Flow Beyond Language: The Challenge of Effective Action

Chapter 10 - Organizing: The Precarious Balance Organizing: Life Through Affi rmation Beware the Organization Suppression of Voices The Organization Against Itself Separation from Cultural Context Decision-Making as Relational Coordination Polyphonic Process: Lifting Every Voice Decision-Making Through Appreciative Inquiry From Leadership to Relational Leading From Evaluation to Valuation The Organization-in-the-World

Part IV From the Moral to the Sacred

Chapter 11- Morality: From Relativism to Relational Responsibility The Challenge of Moral Conduct Immorality Is Not the Problem Moralities Are the Problem Toward Second-Order Morality Relational Responsibility in Action From Co-Existence to Community Beyond the Beginning

Chapter 12 - Approaching the Sacred Metaphors of the Relational The Procreative Act Systems Theory Actor Networks Distributed Cognition Biological Interdependence Process Philosophy The Buddha Dharma: Inter-Being The Sacred Potential of Relational Being Toward Sacred Practice

Epilogue: The Coming of Relational Consciousness

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