Re-membering is a special kind of recollection in which ‘members’ or people who belong to one’s life story are ‘re-collected’ and their status and influence ‘re-organised’ in a way that thickens and reinforces the preferred identity story. It involves giving greater status or prominence to individuals who reinforce the preferred identity story, and less prominence to those who have contributed to negative identity conclusions.
“Re-membering practices are based on the post-structuralist understanding that our identities are forged through relationships with other people. Our lives have membership and this membership influences our experience of ourselves” (Russell & Carey, 2002; p25).
Michael White coined the term ‘club of life’ to refer to the group of people who have membership of our lives. Re-membering conversations open up options for people to revise the membership of their club of life.
Re-membering conversations are another way of thickening the preferred story. They link the newly co-authored story of identity to a sense of history and to the lives of other people (Carey & Russell, 2003b; p68).
As with outsider witnessing, the re-membering conversation centres around interpersonal connections based on shared values, commitments, knowledges of life and skills of living. White argued that in reviewing membership of the club of life, knowledges and skills can be explored in their particularities, and many significant discoveries, learnings, realisations, conclusions, and problem-solving practices become richly described. “This contributes very significantly to a person’s sense of being knowledged, which provides a basis for them to develop specific proposals about how they might go forward in their lives” (White, 2005; p9).
Russell and Carey (2002) identify three circumstances in which re-membering conversations can be started: (i) The first is when someone mentions an important person from their past in a positive light. This is an opportunity to ask the client what this person from the past would think about the new developments in their life e.g. “If Aunt Renee was here today, what would she think about the actions you are taking to deal with this?” (ii) A second type of circumstance is when the client talks about a skill or knowledge that they are currently using. At first these are often thinly described. In this instance a re-membering inquiry would ask if there was anyone in the past who introduced the client to this way of thinking or acting e.g. “Where did this understanding come from? Was there someone who showed you how to do this?” (iii) A third situation that offers opportunity for re-membering is when the client presents a negative conclusion about their identity, that they are hopeless, worthless, stupid etc. Re-membering can offer an antidote to this if a significant positive figure can be identified from recent previous conversation. A series of re-membering questions would seek to draw out what this positive figure contributes (or has contributed) to the client’s life, how s/he is contributing in a positive sense to the client’s identity (e.g. What is it that Aunt Renee has contributed to your life? What did she do that made a difference to you?) and conversely what the client is contributing to this person’s life and identity (e.g. Why do you think Aunt Renee showed this interest in you? What was it that you did that contributed to her life?). A re-membering conversation like this provides an opportunity for the client to view his/her life through the eyes of another person who is not judging him/her in a negative way (Russell & Carey, 2002; p25).
Members of the ‘club of life’ can be alive or dead, actually known or unknown, real or fictional. If the client does not have anyone real or known that they want to remember, the re-membering conversation can invite the client to think of an admired person that they do not know personally, or perhaps an historical figure or fictional character that has inspired them. With careful questioning most people will be able to think of someone. This is because people’s abilities, values, and commitments do not develop in a vacuum - “they have been shaped by the person’s history and relationships with others and with the world. It is simply a matter of us finding ways to unearth these connections and histories” Russell & Carey, 2002; p26).
Re-membering sometimes involves downgrading or reducing the influence of a person who has had a negative influence on the client’s identity. This may apply in cases where there has been significant abuse, or other forms of undermining. Russell and Carey (2002) suggest that “Documents can be created and ceremonies organised so that a person can reclaim the right to determine whose voices will inform their opinion of themselves. These documents and ceremonies often detail the terms on which they will accept people as members of their club of life – these terms are likely to insist that members display respect, kindness and friendship or similar descriptions” (p27).
The hyphen in the word ‘re-membering’ is all important in making the distinction from everyday ‘remembering’. It draws attention to the notion of membership rather than to a simple recall of history.