The Diogenes Paradigm

Announcing the impending publication of:

Psycho-social explorations of trauma, exclusion and violence: Un-housed minds and inhospitable environments

Christopher Scanlon and John Adlam – with a Foreword by Earl Hopper and Prologue by Anne Aiyegbusi

Routledge: New International Library of Group Analysis

https://www.routledge.com/Psycho-social-Explorations-of-Trauma-Exclusion-and-Violence-Un-housed/Scanlon-Adlam/p/book/9780367893316

No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main … any man’s death diminishes me, because I am involved in mankind, and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee (John Donne)

…we are headed for a whole world of people searching for a home that no longer exists (Naomi Klein)

Our central theme and field of study is the operation of discourses of power, privilege and position, and of relations of domination, between privileged in-groups ‘in possession’ and oppressed and dispossessed out-groups. We explore how these discourses and power relations exclude individuals and sub-groups of people from experiences of belonging and potentiality in ways that are not only (re-)traumatising for those who are excluded but also deeply damaging and endangering for us all.

We locate ‘the problem of homelessness’ in the continuing inability, of this society in which we live and of those systems of care in which we have been working, to recognise and to integrate, into its responses and interventions to this problem, both the sociological fact of dispossession or not having a ‘fixed abode’ and the psychological experience of feeling disrespected or of not feeling welcomed or accommodated in increasingly inhospitable environments.

Our term ‘unhousedness’ denotes individual and group experiences of having been displaced, in ways that are fundamentally unsettling, from membership of communities, large or small, with which one either identifies or finds oneself problematically identified by others. Our concern is therefore with what it might be like to not have a place to belong – of what it might feel like to have nowhere to go and no-one to turn to in order to feel ordinarily safe (or safe enough) or to find refuge or asylum.

We offer a tool for the exploration of these psycho-social dynamics in the form of what we call the ‘Diogenes Paradigm’. This Paradigm is located in our own re-re-telling of the legend of the itinerant vagabond-philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope: of his encounters with his fellow citizens and his trenchant critical commentaries upon the State in which he lived. The Diogenes Paradigm is a lens through which to explore the politics of otherness and unhousedness, of provisional inclusion and structural exclusion; and a tool with which to analyse phenomena of reciprocal violence between in-groups and out-groups and the contested nature of the public/private spaces, within and outside the agora.

The fulcrum of our Paradigm is the legendary ‘out-reaching’ encounter in the ancient Corinthian agora between the irresistible force of the mighty empire-builder Alexander of Macedonia and the immovable object of the marginalised street philosopher Diogenes of Sinope.

We use the lens of the Paradigm to frame and potentially re-imagine the fraught encounters between in-group and out-group, between the inhospitable environment and the un-housed mind, both at the ‘micro’ level of the traumatised and traumatising system of health and social care and at the ‘macro’ level of climate disaster and human mobility and their intersections with carbon capitalism and empire.

At both levels we interrogate the claim that there is ‘no room at the Inn’: that Big Lie which is iterated by the welfare state in the grip of discourses of ‘austerity’, or by the ‘Metropolitan’ nation states of the Global North, as the unsettled peoples whom their projections of globalised power have displaced come knocking at the gate, in search of shelter from those storms that ‘we’ of the Global North unleashed upon ‘them’.

Central to the Diogenes Paradigm is our move to take the contested conceptualisation of ‘trauma’ firmly out of the Clinic and to understand instead psycho-social processes of (re-)traumatisation. The pejorative attribution of ‘disorderliness’ is only ever applied ‘downwards’ in the societal hierarchy, from privileged, mainly white, people in power, to less privileged others with less power. If we must retain the idea of ‘the disorderly’, then the Paradigm invites us to look ‘up’ the hierarchy to those Alexanderesque generators of disorder who govern us and who thrive upon the disorder that they generate.

We therefore propose that to be psycho-socially un-housed is most often a consequence of traumatic experience; and that to live un-housedness is also always re-traumatising: a violent and violating psycho-social double-whammy of what went before colliding with what is now, in ways that are deeply damaging to the possibility of re-imagining what might be yet to come.

Whether we are settlers or nomads, to be un-housed and dis-membered is something that haunts us now, as it did in the past and always will do – until the end of human-time. A properly psycho-social exploration of traumatic unhousedness does not locate the unhousedness in the un-housed mind of the individual but in the transgenerational, psycho-social dynamics played out between those un-housed minds and the current and historical inhospitable environments that un-housed them.

In our book we examine how the most vulnerable members of society – those whose psychosocial status is ‘unhoused’ and excluded – are victims of inequalities and structural violence, and how social policy aimed at promoting inclusion and integration often perpetuates and exacerbates these issues.

In Part One of the book, we redefine our thinking about the nature of unhousedness and unsettledness in inhospitable environments and our particular reconceptualization of psycho-social trauma and of (re-)traumatisation; and we set out our development of the ‘Diogenes Paradigm’ – a tool for the exploration of the phenomena of reciprocal violence between in-groups and out-groups.

In Part Two we use the lens of the Diogenes Paradigm to discuss these fraught encounters between unhoused out-groups and inhospitable in-groups at the ‘micro’ level of the traumatised and traumatising system of health and social care and at the ‘macro’ level of climate disaster and human mobility and their intersections with carbon capitalism and empire.

In Part Three we foreground issues of racial inequality, racialised trauma and the possibilities of anti-racist practice. We set out ways in which the ethics and the methodologies of activist research and anti-oppressive practice might enable us and others to push back into and against the wind of prevailing discourses. We ask what it would mean for white people (and white men in particular) to give up our power, position and privilege, or whether only violence can dislodge us. We pay particular attention to states and practices of equality and to states and practices of disappointment.

We conclude by discussing possibilities for the opening-up of community-based psycho-social conversations of different kinds; and we offer a roadmap for the creative re-imagining of the places and spaces in which necessary conversations about restructuring and reparation can become sustainable.

The book itself is but a start, and but one small part, of the conversations we hope to be a part of. We hope you will be drawn towards reading it, and we look forward to hearing what you make of it.

On white (male) supremacy, reparation, and the power dynamics of co-writing – a personal process commentary

“These days, of course, everyone knows everything, that’s why so many people, especially most white people, are so lost.” (James Baldwin, 1974, p. 59)

I was brought up in a frankly racist and misogynistic environment.

This sentence, now that I’ve written it out, has turned out far too flat and bland for what it is intended to convey. Or is it that I have produced a flat and bland sentence, to veer away from the surface, and beneath it the substance, of what I (a white man) am really needing to own and attest?

After all, it is immediately evident that I have projected both the malignance and the responsibility for it into my environment, by the simple device of deploying the passive voice: as who would bewail “look what they did to me”…. So: let me try again!

Fear and hatred of people of colour and of women – unconscious, subliminal or out there in plain sight – is what I not only took in from my upbringing; I took up these stances and attitudes – uncritically – and I embodied them and acted them out in various ways.

Now this sentence, in contrast, feels very stark. Straight away I want to append a mass of qualifying statements, so you don’t get the ‘wrong’ idea. I won’t give you a ‘for example’, because that would be to smuggle one of these ‘qualifiers’ in – but the temptation is very strong. It’s a full-time job and a life’s work, untangling those knots inside me that my own mind has fashioned along the way.

In fact, as I write this, I realise that this urge to qualify, disarm, explain, contextualise, differentiate from (possibly) more overt or egregious examples, and generally to smooth off the edges of anthropoemic othering, is part of the whole inheritance and discourse: epitomised in that toxic old trope, the one that goes ‘don’t get me wrong, some of my best friends are…’

In any case, I perceive clearly that the very best thing to do is not to qualify that second statement of mine. If I were a woman of colour, would I allow this white man leeway or mitigation? Well, it’s not at all for me to say, but I certainly suppose that I might do only or particularly if I were habituated to or conditioned or controlled or coerced into doing so by the likes of me…

However, I realise that I am not in fact asking for leeway, or for slack to be cut. What I am looking for is the chance to make reparation. I am probably not going to earn myself such a chance if I start out by worrying about the impact upon my status and social capital of speaking truth to my own power.

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The process of co-writing, and of co-operating and col-laborating more generally, brings all this complexity vividly into focus. The flat little hyphen in ‘co-writing’ (and this is also the case, for example, in the ‘co-facilitating’ of a group, or in the ‘co-production’ of a service development project with service users) is often there to obscure and perpetuate a power differential in which one person leads and the ‘co-’ or the ‘co-s’ must follow in their wake.

I am not invested in perpetuating that differential: this at any rate is what I tell myself, and that is certainly how I theorise it. I want and need and intend that ‘co-’ to signify an active practice of equality. Yet I discover that I – the same ‘I’ – desires to take charge; to lead; to mobilise; to drive the project forward; to break new ground.

Now – being kinder to myself than likely I deserve – I can see this on some level as the operation of the force of habit and pattern, over and above the creativity of re-imagining power relations. If ‘naturally taking the lead’ has been the practice established over time, then my impulse or reflex to continue it, to iterate those same old moves, will be strong, and it will take a lot of carving out new paths in the forest, before there’s a genuine choice when a fork in the road presents itself.

But if my desire to ‘take charge’ is driven by habit and pattern, then the grim fact remains that its roots are therefore easily traceable back to the toxicity that infused the development of the practice in the first place – that toxicity which inheres in the received ‘obviousness’ that a man is going to be the leader (not to mention the highest earner) of this or any group that consists of one man and two women.

Moreover, I note the discourse which establishes that a white middle-class public-school-educated man is supposed to be ‘obviously’ the ‘natural’ leader of Empire, the ‘natural’ holder of such and such a mining concession, the ‘natural’ governor of such and such a province; the ‘natural’ dispenser of arbitrary justice, whatever values local wisdom and culture might uphold.

Such a specimen as I, according to this discourse, is held to be – holds himself to be – ‘naturally’ superior to the other, however the other may be constructed….but see how I have drifted back into the distancing of theorising here!

It is I (not merely ‘such a specimen as I’) who must make amends here. I am the one who is having to carry on grappling with it, because I am still caught up in it. There is no effective difference worth arguing over, as between the ‘reconstructed’ and the ‘unreconstructed’ me – I am still perpetuating white (male) supremacy, if I don’t change my practice.

I deploy my status and social capital, as well as such experience and expertise as I can bring to bear, in order to interrogate power dynamics and relations of domination in the workplace (and beyond). Now, I don’t suggest that’s a bad thing, or a project not worth pursuing. I simply find that the logic of it inescapably presses upon me the realisation that I replay the power dynamics, even as I endeavour to dismantle the structure of my own power.

This is my process (drawing to a close here, because for me to bang on about my process indefinitely, would certainly be to replay the problem!) To make a reparative offering, I don’t see how I can do other than to say what violence it was and is that I did and am doing.

It is not enough to perceive and theorise this violence at the structural level. It is not enough to note that I am a white man and so, yes, I am the beneficiary, by definition, of historical structural violence (in my recent blog about Writing critically about race and racism, I’d be rated a mere B3 there for “evasively identifying Whiteness and White supremacy as a thing in the other?”; or at best a B4 for “apologetically acknowledging themself as a ‘beneficiary’ of Whiteness and White supremacy”). That was not enough at the start of this piece of writing and it’s not enough at the end.

Yes, I happen, by circumstance, to be a white man; but I am actively the perpetrator and perpetuator of these several violences. It is not only circumstance that is at work here.

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The secret heart of co-writing, I have come to understand (perhaps, of co-existing at all!), is, for me at any rate, to begin by giving up the idealised fantasy of how the piece would look if I wrote it myself (as if there even was such a thing as a single voice!); and to know, right from the outset, that the co-equal and creative intersection between two or more minds, across those myriad differences that both divide and connect us, will produce something richer and unexpected, more likely breaking of new ground (at least at the micro level): and, by definition, more precious.

Acknowledgements

This piece arose out of the work of the Equality Working Group at the Bethlem Hospital – and more specifically out of a collaborative writing project which prompted the three of us who were directly involved to agree to each write a ‘process piece’ about the experience of co-writing. To both these colleagues – Michelle Michael and Rachel Allen – I am particularly and profoundly grateful. I have slightly adapted my own piece for this blog.

Reference

Baldwin, J. (1974) If Beale Street could talk. Reprinted 1994. London: Penguin Modern Classics.