Blaming and conflict

Understanding trauma_unpublished manuscriptCeriBowen
Understanding trauma summary diagram_CeriBowen

The first paper I attach is about blaming within family settings.

In interviews about conflict-related problems with parents attending a family therapy clinic, I was privy to a range of views, often as many different views as there were people attending. Within a single description of the problem there is an enormous amount of information, not just about the ‘problem’ but about the person giving the account and about their relationship with others within a system. The importance of consulting with all persons connected to the issues is well-recognised by systemic therapists who place particular importance on inviting every party to a consultation. The reason for this is that individuals personify and give voice to the undercurrents and power dynamics within any context or setting, voices that may have been marginalised over time for various reasons. We can see this type of phenomenon happening in any complex dispute or social event that arises, in which those individuals who are not officially recognised and invited to the negotiation table and/ or are not inclined to reconciliation may continue to ‘act out’ their grievances. The logical conclusion to this is that in order to construct a workable peace one cannot escape from having to talk to the aggressors at some point in the process. These ideas have been developed in a further thesis in which I outline a case for the social construction of trauma by deconstructing the various layers to a conflict (unpublished manuscript).

Returning to the attached paper, here I make further observations about how, when a person describes a problem as shared or ascribes blame to another, this has a certain value in terms of rhetoric, depending on the audience – perhaps by claiming superior knowledge over another, drawing some members into conversation while silencing others … so it performs a variety of functions such as connecting and distancing, attributing and negating responsibility, mobilizing support via outside agencies, etc. If one were to consider the case of a child with behaviour problems, for example, opinion may vary on whether the child has control over the problem (i.e. has intentionality), whether the behaviour is normal for the child (a child of that particular age), how best to manage the problem and, crucially, and who has ownership over finding a solution. In order to track the rhetorical function of blame talk, a grasp of the philosophy of ‘social construction’ is required (i.e. how social entities are encapsulated in dialogue and given material status, not mere adjuncts to conversation). Examples of social constructs would include most mental health classifications such as post-traumatic stress disorder and political ideas such as ‘democracy’ or ‘peace process’.


Bowen, C., Madill, A., & Stratton, P.M. (2002). Parental accounts of blaming within the family: A dialectical model for understanding blame in systemic therapy. Journal of Marital and Family Therapy, 28(2): 129–144.

Bowen, C., Stratton P., & Madill, A. (2005) Psychological functioning in families that blame: Frrom blaming events to theory integration. Journal of Family Therapy. 27(4), 309-329.

Bowen, C. (2003) Intrapsychic conflict in response to trauma: understanding the individual subjective state with a view to linking it to the social/community levels. University of Bradford; unpublished manuscript.


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