Definitional ceremony

In November 2009, Laura Rancatore and Peter Taylor introduced to the CCT graduate program the narrative therapy and community work of Michael White. This approach helps a person or a group acknowledge multiple past allies, aspirations for their lives, significant discoveries, problem-solving practices, etc. so as to write and realize alternative scripts (or narratives) to the ones that are limiting their lives. A central part of the CCT event was a definitional ceremony, which took something akin to the following form:

  • Remembering conversations evoke “life” as a club with many members. They promote a sense of identity that emphasizes the contributions that others make to our lives and to our understandings of self.
  • Outsider witnesses were members of the CCT community that were present. They were asked questions based on what they heard Peter, the focal person, say. Finally, he was asked similar questions based on what he heard them say.

yy = person at the focus; zz = current situation of yy that invites a Re-membering Conversation, to be filled in before starting the Conversation; xx = the person s/he chooses to re-member with.

1. Re-membering Conversation
Could you think of someone who’s been in your life that wouldn’t be surprised that you would be [zz]?
a. Can you tell me something that xx contributed to your life? What did they invite you to share in, to be part of?
b. Could you say something about what xx appreciated about you that had them contributing these things to your life?
c. Thinking back, what did you do to take in their appreciation?
d. What do you think it contributed to xx’s life that you were available for them to take an interest in and appreciate? How do you think xx’s life was different for knowing you in the way that they did?
e. What has it been like to talk, as we have been, about you and xx?

2. Now we shift to Outsider Witness Retelling, in which you sit back and listen while I ask a series of questions of the listeners.
a. What particular words or phrases struck you as yy was speaking?
b. What images came to mind about what was important to yy?
c. What is it about your life that meant these images came to mind?
d. What has been confirmed for you by making this connection with what yy said?
e. What difference will remembering this make in your own life?

Finally, I’m going to ask yy a similar set of questions about what s/he’s heard.
a. What particular words or phrases stood out for you?
b. How are they connected to values that are significant for you?
c. Does anything seem more possible for hearing these things?
d. Can you describe what the first steps to take might be?
e. What’s it been like to talk as we have been?
f. Is there anything more you want to say?


About Peter J. Taylor
Peter Taylor teaches and directs programs on critical thinking, reflective practice, and science-in-society at the University of Massachusetts Boston. He studies the complexity of environmental and health sciences in their social context as well as innovation in teaching, group process, and interdisciplinary collaboration (see He is especially interested in conversations with others who are, in diverse ways, "troubled by heterogeneity" (

One Response to Definitional ceremony

  1. Pingback: Against plenary sessions | Probe—Create Change—Reflect

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