Michael White

Getting to know Michael White

Like many other approaches in the field of organizational transformation, working with stories in organizations has some roots in the therapeutic field.

One of the seminal figures that shaped what is now called Narrative Therapy was Michael White. During his career as a social worker and family therapist, he developed foundational practices like Externalization conversations, Re-Membering Conversations and others and founded the Dulwich Center – now a leading institution for the advancement and teaching of narrative therapy and community work.

What made his work distinct is not only the inventiveness and creativity he brought into his work, but also the keen awareness for how our surroundings and the social and historical context in which we live shape the stories we choose to inhabit.

In 2005, Michael White was invited by ABC for a small radio feature. Together with witer and autobiographer Barbara Brooks, he explores the impact of story on the life of people and the possibilities to evolve these stories into narratives that are healthier for themselves and others.

For the commemoration of the ten years of Michael White´s death, the Dulwich center produced short assemblage of some notable moments during his lectures. The scenes captured in the video provide a glimpse into the thinking and practice of one of the pioneers of transformative narrative work.

Click on the image to watch the Video on Vimeo.

Click on the image to watch the Video on Vimeo.

Many of his writings are available online and the Dulwich center offers a nice video series on the foundational concepts of narrative practice.

Photo by Simson Petrol on Unsplash

The Place of Imagination

It was in the year 1991, when Michael White* was interviewed by Andrew Wood, a Chief Social Worker of the “Child & Adolescent Mental Health Centre” in Bedford, Australia. In this interview he not only talks about how narrative questioning is subverting the normative fixations of the dominant discourse, he also introduces the concept of re-authoring in the therapeutic context.

Those questions that encourage people** to map the influence of the problems in their lives I interpreted as deconstructive – these questions serve to deconstruct the dominant and impoverishing stories that persons are living by. And those questions that invite people** to map their influence in the ‚life’ of the problem I interpreted as reconstructing, or re-authoring."

When Michael White is talking about re-authoring he is not referring to a technique close to re-framing, but instead points out that this process is putting any expert knowledge about change in brackets and engages all involved people “actively in the meaning-making as the primary authors of these alternative stories.”


That this is more than a variation of systemic thinking becomes clear when the dialogue is alluding to the work of Gaston Bachelard and his distinctions in the fields of imagination, specially his conception of images that are not re-presenting or reflecting what has happened, but images that are in a certain way constitutive or generative and are as such able to transform our lives. The peculiar quality of such images is that they are not future-oriented like one would expect, but reverberations of neglected experiences from the past. Experiences, which normally wouldn’t be remembered but suddenly ‘light-up’ and contribute to alternative storylines.

We talk about something between generation and resurrection, between inventing and discovering. And this is what we are doing when we re-author ourselves and the possible futures we are inscribed.

* Michael White: Re-Authoring Lives. Interviews & Essays.
** we refer to "people" instead of the original "family members"