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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

From Organizational Meaning Through Splitting, To Organizational Meaning Through Integration: Healing the Great Divide

Whatever else workplace organizations are, they are places 'filled' with the meanings of those who work, manage, and lead there. The meaning the workplace holds for its 'members' is part of the organization 'itself,' that is, is part of the organizational identity (Diamond, 1993; Erikson, 1959). As with all other aspects of organizational life, organizational meaning is influenced by the dynamic unconscious.In this paper I distinguish between organizational meaning based on splitting and projective identification, and organizational meaning based on integration, which is to say based on what Melanie Klein (1946) called 'paranoid-schizoid' and 'depressive' psychological positions respectively. The 'motivational' form of meaning, the foundation of much of American (United States) industrial psychology, is based on splitting, part-objects, and narrow instrumental function ('productivity'), while the authentic form of meaning is integrative, whole-person based. 'Motivational' meaning straitjackets role and identity, while authentic meaning honors their breadth and depth. Further, organizations, like ethnic, religious, and national cultures, when faced by problems, conflict and trauma, can attempt to 'heal' themselves by creating meaning systems rooted in splitting or rooted in integration, a process that looks like war. Following some theoretical considerations and brief vignettes, I present a case of an organizational consultation which began with a rigid form of healing based on splitting and projective identification, and worked toward a more flexible form of healing based on the withdrawal and reintegration of projections and the birth of empathy. Finally I consider the implications of the study and the case example for understanding organizational meaning based on splitting, and that based on integration. I write as an applied, psychodynamically-oriented, organizational anthropologist, who has consulted with organizations since the early 1980's, and who has worked and taught within the culture(s) of American biomedicine since the early 1970's.