Mutations of self-other relations in genetic counseling discourse


Cardiff University, United Kingdom


In this presentation I begin with a proposal that the notions of `self’ and `other’ can be understood at a relational level along three possible configurations – ‘self-as-other’, ‘self-and-other’ and ‘self-vs-other’. At the theoretical level I draw upon the seminal work of George Herbert Mead to underscore how the ‘self’ is conceptualised as a socially situated reflexive process, which is made possible through the perception of alterity. I then move to the counselling and therapeutic settings which, with their narrative and reflection orientation, give primacy to the `presentation’ and `performance’ of the ‘self’, as can be argued from a Goffmanian dramaturgical perspective. My empirical data site is genetic counselling where the notions of `self’ and ‘other’ take a particular mutation by foregrounding different relational configurations because of the familial basis of genetic conditions. This means that decisions to test and decisions to disclose test procedures/results have to be other-oriented. As far as an individual’s genetic status is concerned, the ‘carrier’ status of a family member may necessitate a different self-other orientation when compared with someone’s ‘affected’ and ‘at-risk’ status. Because a ‘carrier’ will remain healthy but can pass on the faulty gene to their children, thus potentially causing illness in others, the carrier status can be considered other-orientation par excellence.

Based on my analysis of transcribed audio-recorded genetic counselling sessions, I suggest that different familial lines are drawn along self-other categorisations, reflecting not only the genetic status of the individual concerned but also the trajectories of past and present familial relations. Moreover, the counsellors’ explicit elicitations of `other’ perspectives warrant other-oriented aligned responses on the clients’ part. In conclusion, I argue that in genetic counselling, both counsellors and clients have to be other-oriented by ‘decentering the self’ while balancing self-other relations which take into account situated differences and contingencies. Such a stance conflates, following Mead, the ‘self-as-other’ and ‘self-and-other’ positions.

Session: Paper session
Various Topics
Saturday, April 5, 2008, 13:45-15:15
room: 13