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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

AM22-PP9: Working with Trauma - Guarding against corruption of task: a case study

Parallel Papers Session 3
Saturday 2 July 10.15am-11.30am CEST
Paper Code: PP9
CE credits available

Working with Trauma - Guarding against corruption of task: a case study

Presenter: Fiona Martin


Climate change, pandemic, and globalisation are profoundly disrupting old ways of working. Organisations are operating in increasingly traumatic and turbulent times. They must keep focus on being relevant, adaptive and on task. Nurturing workers’ wellbeing is vital for them to focus on their roles.

Conservation organisations are on the frontline of the trauma of climate change. Preventing the extinction of species is critical and challenging, and this paper proposes that this might be thought of as an impossible task (Chapman 1999). The rate of species extinction is now hundreds of times higher than base line, with 15,000 species facing extinction (Smithsonian 2020). The case study organisation must also manage the ethical dilemma of keeping animals in captivity. Applying Chapman’s theory means both these aspects of the organisation’s work may be hated, and this could potentially lead to corruption of task (Chapman 1999).

Remarkably, in the face of species loss over decades this organisation has been generative. To achieve its purpose, it has been on a dynamic and adaptive journey of transformation.

Despite the difficult social context of climate change in which the work is carried out, the studied organisation is very surprising. Emotionally difficult work has the capacity to distract an organisation from its task, yet this organisation demonstrated an ability to focus and deliver on its primary purpose.

This organisation has encountered and deals with their limitations. They have had to work with the narcissistic injury of at times being unable to prevent the loss of a species and found ways to recover and transform into a more realistic state of mind. They have been learning to deal with the loss and mourning of endlessness and abundance. They have found forms of containment. They have shifted to collective thinking in the face of the complex and global challenges that confront conservation organisations.

I was intrigued by this resilience. I wanted to explore why the organisation works as well as it does, and how this capacity may have come about. I wanted to see how this knowledge might assist other organisations.

A striking feature of the study data captured my attention. The central presence of the animals in the workers’ experiences. I propose this plays a unique role in assisting its workers to cope with the stresses of their work.

I propose two things:

  • Chapman’s theory of Guarding against Corruption and Hatred of Task (2019) helps us to understand how and why this organisation functions so well in the context of trauma. Its people become more alive, and they keep species alive
  • Chapman’s work may be extended in two ways. Firstly, ambivalence may contribute to the hatred of task. Workers both enjoy and hate holding animals in captivity. Secondly, Staff are aided by animals in coping with the emotional challenges of the work.

This case study is a powerful tale of hope for optimising organisational functioning amid the challenges of traumatic experiences. This case study suggests that the more of us who get involved with species preservation and habitat restoration the more alive, healthy and dynamic we become as social animals.

Learning Objectives

After this session participants will be able to:

  1. recognize social defences in response to climate change.
  2. recognize the application of Jane Chapman's framework for organisations wanting to guard against corruption of task.
  3. recognize human use of animal companionship to ameliorate the experience of anxiety.

Biographic Summary

Fiona draws on 30 years’ experience as a senior executive and business entrepreneur and has led complex multi-stakeholder initiatives focused on innovation. She has recently led the development of multi-agency initiatives in the emergency service sector to support advancement of leadership capability, provided research services to the environment and emergency services sectors and executive coaching for professionals in Australia, India, Sweden and China.

Fiona holds a Master in leadership and Management (Organizational Dynamics) from NIODA. She is an accredited Coach, practices Organizational Role Analysis, is a Board member of GRA, a NIODA Symposium committee member and a member of ISPSO.


Akhtar, S., & Volkan, V.D, (2014). Mental Zoo: Animals in the Human Mind and its Pathology. Karnac, London, UK.

Chapman, J., (1999). ‘Hatred and Corruption of Task’ in Socioanalysis, Vol. 1, Issue 2.

Chapman, J., (2019). ‘Guarding against Corruption’ in Socioanalysis, Vol 21, No. 1, pp. 33-53.

Smithsonian Institute (2020), National Museum of Natural History, Retrieved on 18 August 2020 from's,one%20million%20species%20per%20year.