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The concept of power in family therapy: Toward a hegemonic analysis of discourse

Sara B Cobb, University of Massachusetts Amherst


This dissertation offers a theoretical rationale and a methodology for the critical analysis of microprocesses. Noting that systemic therapists lack descriptions of their work as ideological, this research offers a vocabulary that can address the twinned concepts of power and intentionality in systemic practices, inserting a critical perspective in family therapy. A review of the family therapy literature reveals that the Cartesian mind/body dualism splintered the development of family therapy into two groups: the "systemic" therapies followed Bateson's distrust of "purposive" processes and subsequently, disqualified power as an issue in clinical practice. The other group, best represented by the structuralists and the feminists, accent "purposive" processes and in doing so, rely on a notion of power that leads to normative therapeutic practices. Despite attempts to reconcile these two positions on power, the field has remained unable to language power in a systemic way--a systemic view of power. Hegemony, the production of consent, dissolves the dichotomy between "systemic" and "purposive" because the location of ideology shifts from inside the heads of individuals to inside discursive practices. Hegemony facilitates a focus on language as ideological discursive practices which legitimate certain world views and privilege particular language games. It is argued that a systemic approach to power mandates the re-organization of the concept "intentionality" because talk about intentionality always dominates any discourse about power. To avoid the ontological difficulties that intentionality brings, I focus on intentionality as a discursive practice which has narrative structure. Using Anscombe's concept of intention as a language game, intention becomes a way of talking that performs certain functions in conversation. Intention talk manages key terms, moral orders and person locations and regulates its own closure. These functions are linked to ideology as they are important tools for the management of meaning and the production of consent. The examination of a clinical case offers empirical support for the ideological relationship between intention talk and consent. This method will hopefully prove to be a useful heuristic device for the critical analysis of micro processes.

Subject Area

Families & family life|Personal relationships|Sociology|Psychotherapy

Recommended Citation

Cobb, Sara B, "The concept of power in family therapy: Toward a hegemonic analysis of discourse" (1988). Doctoral Dissertations Available from Proquest. AAI8906272.