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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: PP27

What custom sternly divides? The dynamics of influence and impasse.

Presenter: James Walker
Moderator: Rob Ryan

What custom sternly divides? This line from Beethoven’s 9th symphony asks a pervasive question for humanity in every sphere of life. Following Freud’s observation of civilization, impasses are an inevitable consequence of being human, of the inadequacy of regulations which adjust the mutual relationships. This paper considers the contribution of influence to the creation and maintenance of divisions, conflicts, and impasses in domestic, institutional, and international environments.

Influence is ‘the power to affect or change someone or something in an indirect way without directly forcing the change to happen’. It can be subtle, not a direct demand, and can effect individuals and groups without them being clearly aware of it. Influence and systems of influence develop through human conscious and unconscious dynamics. The effect of influence in creating and maintain impasses can be profound with devastating consequences, leaving observers perplexed as to why ‘this can’t be resolved’.

Following discussion of influence research, this paper presents two cases illustrating the effects of influence in creating impasse, and the conditions for resolution. One case illustrates resolution of multiple destructive influences, through encouraging executives of the organisation to revisit their basic assumptions and the organisation’s primary task. The second case is a national institutional impasse arising from the dynamics of systems of influence between individual jurisdictions atempting to establish a major national process. The dynamics of these cases align with Freud’s discussion of waring ‘hordes’ and resonate with the Beethoven quote.

Biographical Summary

James Walker is an organisational consultant and psychoanalytic psychotherapist in Melbourne Australia. He taught in Australia and then at the University of Southern California medical campus where he was joint recipient of the University’s teaching and research award. He has held appointments at the American University Graduate Business School in Washington D.C, and Georgetown University Medical School. James has provided consultation on resolution of disputes for the World Bank, IMF and numerous organisations. He has over 70 publications and presentations including webinars and conferences on topics related to the clinical and organisational psychology, and education.