At the beginning of Session I each participant assumed an initial position. He sat down in a particular posture and oriented himself to the others. While holding this posture and orientation he performed a sequence of activities. When these were completed or interrupted, he shifted his posture and orientation to another configuration and began another activity. Then he went back to his original position and repeated the sequence.
Here in Chapter 1, I will describe the positions which each person took in Session I. Then in Chapter 2, I will describe the characteristics and features of any position and tell how we identify each one as a unit of activity.
THE INITIAL POSITIONS IN SESSION I
At the beginning of Session I each participant entered the room and chose a seat.
Customary conventions were observed. The men and the women were introduced to each other by the project coordinator. The men remained standing at their chairs until the women were seated. Then each participant sat down, arranged himself and his clothing, and faced the others.
The women sat on the couch and the men took one of the chairs which had already been placed at each end of this couch.
The Initial Postural Arrangements
Mrs. V. sat on the sofa, crossed her ankles, pulled down her skirt, and tucked it under her. She sat upright and forward. Her torso was oriented about midway between the two men. From this position she could traverse her head so as to face alternately either of them.
Marge positioned her body similarly, but slouched down and sat back farther on the sofa. Thus she sat lower and less forward than her mother — a position characteristic of one who is subordinate or of one who will not lead off with an active part.
Thus the women sat side-by-side on the sofa, assuming bodily orientations which allowed them to see and address the men. They would have to turn ninety degrees to face each other. Sideby-side positions like these are customary for relatives, lovers, friends, and colleagues when addressing strangers (see Chapter 7) .
The men took chairs which faced each other, but they turned their bodies toward the women.
Whitaker took the chair nearer to Marge and pulled it forward to the end of the sofa. He thus placed himself near the younger woman with whom he would later side in the mother-daughter arguments. When Whitaker sat down he crossed his legs, left over right. The upper leg which projected outward was thus placed across the space between him and Malone. Since Malone did the same thing, the men erected a sort of postural barrier between the camera and the four central participants, thus defining a group separate from the observers.
This configuration is also customary for a semicircular group arrangement. Status figures or men will sit on the end chairs and mark off their group as if they were guarding an entrance.
Malone assumed a posture almost identical to Whitaker’s. He sat back in his chair, folded his arms, crossed his right leg over his left leg, and took out his pipe.
Thus the postures of the two men were identical. They were mirror-imaged replications of each other. Parallel postures like side-by-side placement occur among people who are allied or will take common sides on an issue (see Chapter 7). It was not that one of the men copied the other for they both sat down at the same instant. They sat alike because each used a positioning which is characteristic for psychotherapists at the beginning of a psychotherapy session. To generalize a step further, the crossing of arms and legs is typical for strangers who have just sat down together for the first time. The postures of sitting back are used by all participants except the one who will lead off the exposition. We can infer that Mrs. V had this role by prearrangement since she alone sat forward as Session I began.
The Behavior That Occurred While These Initial Positions Were Held
Mrs. V’s Explanation
As the session began, Mrs. V, sitting erect and forward, began to tell the story of the day her daughter became psychotic. She quoted a statement that Marge had made that day, saying that Marge had asked to be helped upstairs to her room. When the movie camera was turned on, Mrs. V was in the process of quoting Marge and imitating her voice. ‘Help me upstairs,’ she said. Then Mrs. V added a parenthetical remark, a comment on what she had just described. Acting a little shocked and incredulous, she said, ‘A young girl like her.’ Then she repeated her imitation of Marge's plea, saying again, ‘Help me upstairs.’
Notice that the mother has a tendency to comment disparagingly on her daughter's behavior. We will see that Marge later turned the tables and did this to her mother. In fact, through much of the session Marge's utterances and gestures consisted of disparaging and protesting commentaries on what her mother was saying. Note the relation of these two kinds of utterances. The first describes an event which occurred elsewhere; the second comments on that description. Later I will call this kind of commentary metacommunicative behavior.
Mrs. V continued by saying: ‘and . . . uh . . . the next day I thought she'd get better by ... ah ... ah ... . She has the doctor's prescription ....
I will not quote the whole of Mrs. V's statement here. All of the lexical behavior of Session I is reproduced in Appendix A, and these details appear on a transcript in Chapter 3. I would rather focus on the larger configuration. I will call this total behavior of Mrs. V's explaining. These actions — her posture orientation, and utterance, considered as an integrated entity — made up her initial position in the session. This position she repeated again and again (Figure 1-1).
Figure 1-1:Above, Mrs. V explaining: Mrs. V told about Marge's psychosis and the V family history. Below, Whitaker explaining: Late in the session Whitaker explained the purposes and intentions of the sessions. Note that he sat forward and addressed the women.
In the psychological sciences, the speech and body language which occur in a position are often called the content. So we can say that a position has or includes a content. In an explicitly conversational transaction, of which psychotherapy is a variant, we can expect the activities which occur during a position to be primarily language behavior. In fact, most psychotherapies explicitly rule out other kinds of gross behavior. But we should bear in mind that the activities of positions in other kinds of transactions might not be primarily linguistic. They might, for instance, consist of love-making, mother and daughter grooming, feeding, or cooperative product manufacture.
The Complementary Speaker: Marge
The explicit first task of Session I was the giving of a history, a history of Marge's illness and of the V family. Marge had a stake in this. As one who had something to say about the subject we would expect her to comment and add detail. Mrs. V had the lead, but her daughter sat at her side as a junior partner in the task.
Marge sat huddled up near her mother. She added statements but tended to do so disparagingly. She muttered comments under her breath about what Mrs. V said, made faces which mocked and indicated incredulity. She covertly appealed to the men for attention and created distractions by addressing the camera, sprawling on the sofa, and exhibiting her legs.
I call Marge's initial position passive protesting. I will describe the activities which gave the impression of passive protest in later chapters. Here, where we are seeking an overview of positions, I will merely diagram the position in Figure 1-2.
The Listeners: Whitaker and Malone
Whitaker and Malone sat back looking at Mrs. V and listening.
As I said, their postures were typical for listeners who are not yet actively engaged — sitting back in their chairs, arms and legs crossed. Occasionally, they intercalated a question. More often they indicated attentiveness by keeping the eyelids slightly widened, nodding occasionally, and slightly cocking their heads (see Chapters 3 and 4).
These positions I will call listening and questioning (Figure 1-3).
Markers and the Duration of a Position The Completion of a Sequence
We can make the following generaiization: A position is taken and held while some activity is carried out — explaining, passive protesting, or listening and questioning (in the case of the initial positions of Session I). We can also note that ordinarily the position is held until this activity is completed or until it is interrupted. In the case of an interruption a participant may hold the position and attempt to regain the floor. Failing this he will terminat the position and assume another one.
We confirmed this assertion by repeated observations. If a participant comes from our own cultural background, we can recognize most of the activities he will carry out in a position. They are familiar sequences which in totality produce customary Gestalten — they finish an idea or topic or accomplish a simple task, As a consequence we know from experience when they are completed.
If we do not know the configuration we have to discover it by context analysis. We have to find repeated occurrences of this type of sequence and establish that it is a regular and customary entity (see Appendix B).
Markers of the Position's Duration
When the included activities of the position have been completed, the performer will leave or else he will take another distinctly different orientation and posture and perform some other task or phase. Thus, a shift in posture which involves the total bodily orientation occurs between one position and the next. Such a shift provides a visible indication that one position has been completed and a next position is beginning. So the completion or abandonment of an activity and a shift in posture and orientation are coterminous. We identify one in terms of the other. In a formal activity like psychotherapy (especially when the participants are strangers) the posture and orientation of the position will be held stationary, fixed, relatively immobile, even rigid. (In Chapter 2, I will introduce some complications and exceptions, but I will hold here to the general principle.)
It is my belief that the postural configuration of the position is held deliberately — though not consciously — throughout the positional performance in order to indicate that the position has not been completed. It is held, I am claiming, in order to show that a position still obtains or is ‘in effect.’ I believe that this systematic holding and shifting behavior is an evolved dimension of communication, learned and transmitted in culture to make possible a mutual orientation in the steps of a transaction. In any event the researcher can use this behavior to identify segmentations in the stream of behavior — in this case, the positions.
At a suggestion of Birdwhistell (1963), I will call the posture which is held during a unit performance a transfix.
With the shift in posture and orientation at the completion of the position, there is also a pause in movement and speech and often a special signal of completion. Such combinations of behavioral elements that indicate completion I will call junctures. The term is borrowed from structural linguistics where it is used to describe the terminal behavior of the syntactic sentence (Z. Harris 1951; Gleason 1955).
Collectively the transfix and the juncture mark the boundaries of the position. So I will call these markings behaviors.
THE SECOND COMPLEX OF POSITIONS IN SESSION I
After about a minute some of the initial positions of Session I were changed, and a new configuration of positions appeared. I will therefore speak of the initial phase of positions as Period 1 and refer to the new or second configuration as Period 2.
Marge's Shift to the Position Contending
Marge's initial position of passive protesting ended with a dramatic postural shift. She stood up and sat down nearer to Whitaker, in a posture something like the one he was using. Thus she ended the initial posture in which she had huddled near her mother and instead sat as Whitaker did (Figure 1-4). We will see later that this change in her positioning represented a change in alliance from her mother to Whitaker. This change seemed to be fostered or invited by Whitaker's behavior: just ] efore the shift occurred, Marge had mumbled inaudibly, Whitaker turned to her and said, ‘Why don’t you say what you wanted to say, Marge.’
Marge's second position occurred again and again. Each time it had the same characteristics. Marge began this position by crossing her legs, but she immediately uncrossed them and instead crossed her ankles. Then she stood and sat down near and like Whitaker.
With this shift Marge's behavior changed markedly. She sat forward on the sofa. She appeared alert and attentive to the others, whereas before she had seemed depressed, withdrawn, and dissociated. She brought her body into the tonus and position which courting women use. Her head was high and slightly cocked, eyes bright, chest out so that her breasts were raised and prominent.
Marge's Transitional Position of Appealing-Lamenting
Just at the time when Marge shifted from passive protesting to the position of contending, she would turn briefly to Whitaker. She would say something to him of an appealing or lamenting nature, such as ‘I’m dead’ or ‘She [her mother] talks crazy to me.’ In speaking she would briefly hold a tête-á-tête with Whitaker. This position lasted only a few seconds. Then Marge quickly turned to her mother.
In the example above, Marge pointed to her mother and made an accusation: ‘She is mentally ill’ (see Figure 1-5).
On other occasions she would act courtingly to Whitaker in this transitional position by putting her hand on her hip, protruding her chest, and forming the model’s position of ‘cheesecake.’
Shifts in the Positions of the Other Participants With Marge's dramatic shift the others changed their behavior.
Mrs. V's Adoption of the Position, Defending
When Marge shifted to contending, Mrs. V uncrossed her ankles, leaned even farther forward, stopped her narrative, and defended her story against Marge's challenge. It looked for a moment as though she were going to stand up. Thus Mrs. V changed her position to a configuration I will call defending(Figure 1-6).
After Marge made an accusation to her mother, the two women turned to face each other and argue the allegation. Mrs. V usually would defend her position, but sometimes she would concede.
Malone's Position of Intervention
When mother and daughter turned to each other and contended, Malone would perform a brief position of intervention, which terminated this second configuration of positions.
Malone would lean forward, unfold his arms, and grasp his right knee with his hands. He would then rock forward in his chair toward the women. He spoke first to Marge, directly or indirectly scolding her; then he supported Mrs. V and invited her to continue her narrative. This position lasted about ten seconds or so, just long enough for Malone to say a few sentences; then he returned to his initial baseline position of listening and questioning. Intervention is about the simplest type of position that we ordinarily observe in a conversation. It consists only of a postural shift, then a brief speech and facial expression, and then a return to the baseline posture (Figure 1-7).
The Termination of a Period 2
The phase of Session I in which the positions of contending and defending appeared will be called Period 2. Malone's intervention was followed by a sequence of events which ended Period 2: Whitaker turned his head away from Marge, and Marge dissociated herself from him. She looked away, acted bizarrely, and then stood up again in repetition of her previous dramatic juncture. Then she sat down near Mrs. V as she had been sitting at the beginning of the session. When Marge sat near her, huddled up to her again, and remained silent, Mrs. V crossed her ankles again and sat back in her initial posture. Then she resumed her narrative where she had left off when Whitaker and Marge had interrupted her.
The men turned back to Mrs. V and again attended her story. Thus the second constellation of positions ended with a return to almost exactly the original constellation of explaining, passive protesting, and listening and questioning.
As I will describe in Chapter 2, these two configurations called Period 1 and Period 2, recurred again and again until minute 23, after which a Period 2 arrangement persisted. Thus the positional arrangements alternated or oscillated from periods of exposition to periods of argument.
From my experience with other conversations I would speculate that the original positions would have persisted for this twenty-three-minute period without marked change if only one of the women had been present or if Marge had been in ac cord with the story and had accepted a secondary position in the narration. From twenty to twenty-five minutes is characteristic duration for a position of exposition in a formal conversational transaction.
OTHER POSITIONS IN SESSION I
Several other brief positions occurred in Session I.
Marge's Brief Position of Intervention
Marge sometimes attempted to interrupt her mother's explanation with a brief position of intervention. When her mother was speaking to Malone and Whitaker, Marge would suddenly sit well forward or even stand between them. She would assume a facial expression of shocked indignation and say something out֊ rageous such as, ‘I want to be raped.’ Then she would immediately return to her basic position of passive protesting.
Unlike Malone's intervention, Marge's attempt (Figure 1-8) was usually ignored. But I think these two positions belong to a common class.
Marge's Position of Resigning
Another brief position was often enacted by Marge. She would sprawl back on the sofa and dissociate herself from participation. I will call this position resigning (Figure 1-9). This action seemed in some ways the inverse of interfering While the former was an active interruption, resigning was a withdrawal. Marge performed the position in an exhibitionistic way, and she must have known from her previous psychotherapy that psychiatrists actively engage a patient who acts autistic or withdrawn. So the intent of resigning may have been similar to that in interfering.
The brief positions were of a different logical type than the more lasting positions of explaining, listening and questioning, contending, and defending. This distinction is not based on their brevity, but rather on their function in the transaction. They were not informative in the customary sense of that word, but rather they served to change and govern the relations of the session.
Another brief position of this type occurred.
During the performances of the language positions, Marge, Whitaker, and Malone carried out well-defined sequences of nonlanguage behaviors.
For example, Marge and Malone moved synchronously during the first five minutes of Phase I., Whitaker and Marge engaged in some tentative quasi-courting behavior. Marge carried out elaborate sequences of Kleenex display; then Whitaker used his hands in a similar way.
Because these behaviors did not involve the total body, they were not positions. Hence, I will describe these activities in Section B.
The Position, Tactile Contacting
On one occasion these sequences did escalate until they momentarily involved the total posture and orientation of the performer. Thus, a position occurred.
At 24 minutes Whitaker thrust his hand under Marge's nose and asked her to smell an object which he held there, apparently a small piece of cheese he had picked up from the floor. As Marge was smelling it, she and Whitaker touched briefly.
Whitaker and Marge were totally oriented to each other at that instant, turning to each other to speak and touch. So they enacted a total, though transient, position which I will call tactilecontacting. This action, although technically a position, belongs to a more complicated sequence of nonlanguage behavior. I will postpone describing it until Chapter 3, where nonlanguage sequences are described.
COMMENT: THE CUSTOMARY CHARACTER OF THESE POSITIONS
I have described a total of nine positions in Session I. All of these recurred again and again.
Five more durable positions lasted on the average from one to about four minutes. These positions feature exposition by language. They are:
Explaining (Mrs. V, later Whitaker)
Passive protesting (Marge, Mrs. V in Phase II)
Listening and questioning (Whitaker, Malone, sometimes Marge)
Contending (Marge, shared by Whitaker)
Defending (Mrs. V, supported by Malone)
We can characterise some of these positions as explicitly informative. Their content consists of language and gestures which portray some distant event, or else they are reciprocal positions to such an exposition, i. e. , positions of listening and questioning for details. Mrs. V's narrative was expostulatory in this sense and the elaborations elicited by questioning and contention collectively resulted in explanations. And Whitaker's later explanation of psychotherapy was analogous, in that it was primarily informative. During positions like these the others listened, but sometimes made remarks or asked questions.
A second kind of position also was employed, a position that was directed to the relations of the transaction and not to its content. Positions of this type were:
Interfering or intervening (Marge and Malone)
Tactile contacting (Marge and Whitaker)
I have not singled out these nine positions from a larger number. They were the only ones I could find in Session I. This I find to be usual in a conventional transaction. Each participant shows a repertoire of maybe two to four basic positions. Notice that the same basic position may be shared or used by more than one participant.
In examining other conversational transactions, one will find that most of these positions occur there as well. In fact, they are common property in Western cultures. They are traditional, culturally coded ways to behave in transactions which feature narration and argument. Each participant will have his own style of enactment and the contents can be widely varied and accommodated, but the basic positional form is dictated by custom.