Wednesday, 21 July 2021

Metalogues and the naive inquirer

I thought it was about time that I wrote a little more about the naive inquirer. Work by the mid-20th century essayist, Bateson, can assist us with a slightly deeper exploration (1972). Bateson explores the philosophy of a naive inquirer through 'metalogues', which he defines as:

"...a conversation about some problematic subject. This conversation should be such that not only do the participants discuss the problem but the structure of the conversation as a whole is also relevant to the same subject (Bateson, 1972, p. 1).

In his book of collected essays, Bateson uses a young girl (D) and her father (F) as his 'voices' (1972). The voices interplay: each asking questions of the other; proposing naive answers; acknowledging a lack of knowledge; and - through dialogue alone - illustrate views on the metalogue issue such as chaos, culture, play, and instinct. The refreshing point is that there is no 'side' to either voice's position; no attachment. There is a very low fog factor (Gunning, 1968). Differing, evolving, and informing viewpoints on an issue, like Edward De Bono's (1985) thinking hats, are clearly outlined in simple language. See the illustration accompanying this post for an example of Bateson's metalogue questioning (1972, p. 3).

The metalogues provide us with two voices of the naive inquirer. One is an older inquirer who still does not have all the answers and does not pretend to: the younger inquirer shares the wonder and the stupidity of the world in the questions asked. Together, at bedtime, they may come to conclusions, or postpone the issue as being unresolved. To see a clear construction of a metalogue, Pitruzzella's 2012 paper contains an illustration of one he constructed, alongside a rationale. 

The unnamed naive inquirer concept begins with Beatson (1972) as a philosophy. While the naive inquirer concept must have been codified previously (Kuhn, 1962/1967, is evidence of this), Meaden and Fox (2015) name it and define it: 

Allowing "the professional to suspend judgements about what the person is saying; to actually listen to the individual and gain an understanding about what is happening for the person; explore what they have already attempted in order to resolve the difficulty and explore where they would prefer to be" (Meaden & Fox, 2015, p. 57)

Meaden and Fox (2015) suggest that the work of Pradesky (1993) is similar to the naive inquirer model: while Pradeksy is using the Socratic method, there are similarities in the curiosity and openness of questioning (1993). Further, Meaden and Fox draw on the motivational interviewing model of Miller and Rollnick (1991, 2002), in particular 'evocation'. The naive inquirer 'elicits' information from the subject; not imposing their wisdom, but drawing forth the subject's own, hidden knowledge. Neither Pradesky (1993) nor Miller and Rollnick (1991, 2002) name the naive inquirer concept in their respective work. And neither does Kuhn (1962/1967).

The naive inquirer is a light, collaborative, and effective way of working with others. It uses power lightly. It does not impose dominion.




  • Bateson, G. (1972). Steps to an Ecology of Mind: A revolutionary approach to man's understanding of himself (7th reprinting, 1978). Ballantine Books. 
  • de Bono , E. (1985). Six Thinking Hats. Little, Brown & Company. 
  • Gunning, R. (1968). The technique of clear writing (Rev. ed.). McGraw-Hill.
  • Kuhn, T. S. (1962/1967). The Structure of Scientific Revolutions (1st ed., 5th reprinting). The University of Chicago Press. 
  • Meaden, A. & Fox, A. (2015). Innovations in Psychosocial Interventions for Psychosis: Working with the hard to reach. Routledge. 
  • Miller, W. R. & Rollnick, S. P. (1991). Motivational Interviewing: Preparing people for change (2nd ed., 2002). The Guildford Press. 
  • Padesky, C. (1993). Socratic Questioning: Changing minds of guided discovery? [Keynote address]. Presentation at the European Congress of Behavioural and Cognitive Therapies, London, 24 September 1993.
  • Pitruzzella, S. (2012). Measuring, classifying, mapping: a metalogue. Dramatherapy, 34(1), 29–34.

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