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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Between Market and Polity: The Struggle for Unconscious Freedom in Insulated Organizations

Organizations shape experience. They provide form and format, roles and rhythms to the daily experiences of people performing work. In this paper we focus on a type of organization, the philanthropic foundation, which is uniquely shaped and uniquely shapes the experience of its members. Because foundations conform to neither exit nor voice (the primary mechanisms of revitalization first described by A. O. Hirschhman in his classic, Exit Voice and Loyalty), their 'shaping idioms' (Bollas, 1995) are more inaccessible and, paradoxically, more inhibiting of the creative work of unconscious communication than their for- and non-profit counterparts. We draw on case material from our work with one foundation to illustrate how the absence of exit or voice as shaping idioms leads to truncated unconscious communication, and therefore, creative impoverishment. Furthermore, since foundations tend to wish for and attract leaders with over-functioning superegos, organizational and personal idiom collude to produce an environment that tends to disappoint both its internal and external stakeholders. We conclude with some recommendations for psychodynamically informed consultations with foundations.