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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021


Parallel Papers Session 6
Sunday 7 July 11.00pm-12.15 pm, EEST
Paper Code: PP23
CE Credits Available

The Virtual World and its Discontents: Exploring Anxieties, Defences, and Boundaries in Zoom and Similar Platforms

Presenters: Kalina Stamenova, Irene O'Byrne-Maguire & Bryan Maguire
Moderator: Jeremy Vine

Rapid digitalisation has brought about a new locus for human encounters on a global scale through the use of synchronous online communication platforms such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and others. This form of encounter now permeates the working and social lives of millions of people in organisations and informal groups. It has become part of our civilization. Whilst this new working environment offers opportunities, a particular challenge relates to working together, mediated through technologies, while being physically apart. Spurred by the researchers’ experiences of using these platforms at work and consulting to organisations, an online exploratory research project was developed to examine how the design affordances and constraints of these platforms influence the emotional experiences and behaviours of those who use them. The researchers applied their own backgrounds to the study of unconscious processes at work in social systems to the exploration of these online communication platforms. Self-selecting, psycho-dynamically informed practitioners, were invited to join three online experiential studies to explore the emotional experience of working online.

These explorations formed the basis for further reflections and analysis on how the human-technology interface changes the organisation-in-the-mind through its evocation of defence mechanisms and its moderation/distortion of interpersonal and intergroup communications and emotional exchanges. The paper will present and discuss what types of anxieties underlie the defences people use when working remotely and in a virtual working environment. These findings have implications for managers, leaders, organisational consultants and indeed anyone working in the virtual world in terms of how they use platforms, incorporate their deployment in organisations, and contain the anxieties evoked.

Biographical Summaries

Kalina Stamenova, PhD, is an academic, researcher and organisational development consultant integrating psychoanalytic and group relations theories to develop potential and leadership in individuals and groups. She has worked for global organisations such as Cambridge University Press and with clients in the not-for-profit sector, higher education and creative industries. Kalina is a lecturer and researcher at the University of Essex, UK and her research interests include explorations into the unconscious dynamics of online work. She is a member of OPUS, ISPSO and the Community Building Group of the Tavistock Institute of Human Relations. She has published ‘Methods of Research into the Unconscious’ co-edited with R.D. Hinshelwood and she has recently contributed a chapter on The Effects of Hybrid Work- Leading by the Screen in Leading with Depth edited by Claudia Nagel. Kalina is the book review editor for the Journal of Organisational and Social Dynamics.

Irene O'Byrne-Maguire, MA Consulting and Leading In Organisations (Tavistock and Essex University) has extensive experience in quality care, safety and risk management, delivering professional services and complex, collaborative change projects within health and social care, technology and manufacturing sectors. She is project lead for high performing teams to a national, multi-professional, healthcare risk advisory team, and organisational collaborator for performance management. Irene is a Chartered Physiotherapist, with post-graduate qualifications in risk and quality management, education and governance. She is a member of OPUS and the Institute for Occupational Safety & Health, former member of OPUS International Listening Post Steering Group (2020-2023), co-convener of the OPUS Listening Post Ireland, vice chair and membership officer of the Irish Group Relations Organisation (IGRO).

Bryan Maguire, PhD, CPsychol, AFBPsS is chair of the Irish Group Relations Organisation (IGRO). After graduating from the University of California, San Francisco, he lectured and researched in psychology in Wales and Ireland, and currently works as a senior manager in public administration of Irish tertiary education. He is a member of OPUS, former member of OPUS International Listening Post Steering Group (2020-2023), and co-convenor of the OPUS Listening Post Ireland.