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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Explorations into the impact of politics on creativity and destructivity in scientific thinking

All of us have been exposed to political pressures or manoeuvres for instance by submitting an article for publication in a professional journal, or by just being a member of a professional association. Politics takes a variety of forms from requests to adapt the text to the 'readership', to the annulations of some critical parts, or the subtle manipulation of the membership in professional associations. Politics is defined as power used for the pursuit of objectives unrelated to the advancement of scientific understanding or of the professional practice. Since politics is not based on full power to control the behaviour of another person, it does leave some space to react in different ways. Some may comply with the political pressures and suppress further creative inquiry. Others may resort to secession from the powerful institution to pursue independent development of inquiry and thinking, or to gather social support. In the absence of reliable data of editors of professional journals about their work, I have limited myself to the study of two cases. The first is an historical case of scientific inquiry within the British Psychoanalytic Society. It is the introduction of the notion 'projective identification' by Melanie Klein is studied against the background of a) the famous Controversial Discussions between the Viennese and the London fractions within the British Psychoanalytic Society, and b) the thinking and publications of P. Heimann and D.W. Winnicott. The second case deals with the interactions between and the joint projects of the NTL Institute (USA) and EIT (Europe) in organising experiential, management programmes in the late sixties. Before analysing theses cases, I briefly explain the chosen framework and I review the research findings on creativity in scientific inquiry and the impact of external interferences (politics) on creative processes. A first review of eminent scientific progress in thinking leads us to four distinguishable elements a) an established body of knowledge, b) the psychological owners or custodians, c) the person and his/her subject of study, and d) the 'audience'. Creativity in scientific thinking can't just be explained in terms of an individual process. The same appears to be true for destructiveness. Empirical studies encourage us to make a distinction between creativity in sciences from creativity in arts. Furthermore, most studies focussed exclusively on exceptional creative persons; thereby leaving aside the 'normal creative' processes, or a 'capacity for creative living'. Politics seem to have a detrimental influence on the generative phase in creative thinking, while it can be helpful during elaboration. In a first case, we study the introduction by Melanie Klein of the notion of 'Projective identification' in psychoanalytic thinking. Despite the political strife to respectively protect the orthodoxy of the Freudian corpus and further developing psychoanalytic theory, new - controversial - notions, and practices were introduced. Projective identification was one of them that broke with the established belief that every emotional experience of the analyst towards his/her patient was an indication that one had a personal problem that needed to be worked through in analysis. Although the two parties in focus brought their own 'heavy gang' along, with envy and rivalry, the association did not brake up. R. Steiner (2000) attributes this avoidance of a schism to some prevailing social and contextual conditions and foremost to Melanie Klein's capacity to hold on to the values of the depressive position and to deal with psychotic anxieties. What he left out is the important role played by the 'Independent group'. Yet, maintaining the integrity of the association and searching for compromises had a price in terms of fuzzy and confusing psychoanalytic thought. In the second case, the interactions between institutes NTL Institute for Applied Behavioral Science (USA) and EIT in Europe, which resulted in four joint Senior Executive Conferences in 1969-70. Here I can rely on interviews with leading persons, some articles and reports; my own experiences and conference notes. From the beginning, EIT was concerned that the Americans would come to dominate the domain of experiential learning about group-, inter-group-, and community processes in Europe. Quite a number of social scientists had had, through exchanges, direct experiences with the practices and the 'theoretical' backgrounds of ARIP (France), Tavistock-Leicester conferences (UK), other programmes in Europe, and with the NTL programmes in Bethel. The observed differences between the works at both sides of the Atlantic reinforced the will to create a distinctive European Institute for Trans-national Studies in Group and Organizational Development. After six years of existence, three European conferences, and a new Secretary General, EIT decided to organise in Europe joint management conferences with NTL. There was an implicit expectation that through the standing of NTL the marketing position of EIT would be improved. This hope did not come true. EIT stopped the joint projects, but no further management programmes were organised; and EIT started to fragmentize The joint staff in each of the four programmes worked well together. The staff members accommodated to the differences within and between the Americans and the Europeans, and between individual professionals. Each staff group became a sentient group, containing the anxieties and uncertainties of doing something new. The collective will to create a meaningful learning experience for the participants through collaborative efforts gained dominance over the creative exploration of differences in theory and practice. In the first conference, the design of the leading American consultant was, without contest, accepted. In the subsequent joint projects the staff engaged in building creative alternative designs, inviting the membership in studying the power structures and the emerging organising processes within the overall conference. As an analogy, there was enough creativity in the design and new understanding of the organising processes in the conferences to write an article. Neither EIT, nor NTL was interested in publishing it. Neither were the potential authors interested in writing it up. The destructiveness in this second case seems to stem largely from the attempts to control the powerful institutions within and outside EIT. The anxiety of even 'constructive' destructiveness with the unavoidable risks of intended and unintended hurt, and the arousal of persecutory anxieties has led to the very destructiveness of EIT, its mission and institution. Although limited by only two cases with markedly different responses the to the prevailing politics, I will distil some ideas that may be of relevance to professional associations like ISPSO. 1. Politics appear as an attempt to ward off/control persecutory anxieties, e.g. anxieties that someone will damage, upset one's personal position or self- esteem. Consequently, free scientific inquiry and explorations of differences in theory and practice are perceived as a threat. Politics and its links to envy and/or jealousy could not be clarified in these two cases. 2. When politics take prominence over furtherance of scientific debate, creative scientific thinking is likely to move outside the professional association. 3. One can never be without politics. Yet, the most destructive form of politics in organisations is the one that remains concealed. Politics should be made discussable, so that the reasons can be explored, understood; the advantages and disadvantages can be weighted, and politics can be turned into acceptable policies. 4. There are many subtle forms of hidden politics that can be observed in professional institutions. A few are described. 5. Some minimal organisational conditions for creative explorations emerge from these cases. They encourage us to invest in achieving both creative discussions and valued experiences for the membership. 6. Peer review of membership applications or articles, perpetuates working within the same paradigm. It serves more the purpose of building an institutional identity furthering member's careers, project acquisition, not knowledge or understanding. And here begins the erosion of the boundary between a professional association and a commercial organisation.