Sunday, December 8, 2013

The Double Bind / Critical Pedagogy

Reading through the many survivor accounts, journalistic stories and angry rants about the Troubled Teen Industry, it's hard not to be overwhelmed.  A few concepts have emerged recently that help me to organize my reactions.  They're new to me and deserve more research, but here are some initial thoughts.

First is the notion of the Double Bind, a form of coercion that creates an impossible contradiction, such as the command to "Be Spontaneous".  The Double Bind is a form of psychological manipulation, and it's at the heart of the TTI.  Contradictory commands (especially when applied with harshly punitive consequences) create a state of disassociation, a separation from the self.

Within the TTI, Double Binds pile on top of each other and compound: "You don't admit you're sick, therefore you must be sick.", "Rules are agreements, agreements must be followed.", "I am punishing you because I care for you.", "You're here, therefore you want to be here." and "You will learn self-control by giving up all forms of self-control."  The resulting state of disassociation produces binds within the mind: "To become well, I must become sick.", "To be real I must pretend."and "I must play at not playing this game."

The world inside Troubled Teen programs is completely isolated and produces its own reality.  Complex jargon is used to re-name things, producing linguistic Double Binds.  For starters, what should one call people who are held, against their will, in Troubled Teen programs?  Clients?  Patients?  Prisoners?  Usually they are simply called Teens.  The identity of each "teen" is constantly assaulted - through sleep deprivation, nutritional deprivation, forced restraints, isolation and physical labor.  The more resistant they are, the more they are punished:  "The more you struggle, the more you will be restrained."

At the largest level, the structure of the TTI is itself a Double Bind, because it is a for-profit enterprise - and a very lucrative one.  Care for teens is contradicted by the desire to maximize profits.  This creates a Double-Bind for the (poorly-paid, underqualified) staff who must learn to disassociate from any sense of human compassion in order to fulfill their role.

The second set of concepts I've encountered recently are the theories of Critical Pedagogy, which reside on the opposite end of the spectrum.  This set of ideas and practices advocates respect and equality for students, an awareness of social power relations, and a call for integration and action within the real world.

It's Critical Pedagogy that I plan to employ in the devising and rehearsing of this project.

(Thanks to Awake for the thoughtful and informative posts about the Double Bind on

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