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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Group Relations Conferences: Reviewing and Exploring Theory, Design, Role-Taking and Application

In November 2003, a four-day residential conference on group relations conferences for group relations conference staff members was held in Belgirate, Italy, organised by Avi Nutkevitch of OFEK, a group relations organisation in Israel and Mannie Sher of The Tavistock Institute of Human Relations, London. The primary task of the conference was to review and explore the theory and design, the taking up of roles in, and the application of group relations conferences. The Belgirate conference, as it came to be known, was intended to be a 'space' of the kind that is not normally available during group relations conferences themselves. It was intended to review and explore dilemmas and questions that lie at the heart of group relations work. The absence of sufficient opportunities during conferences to explore these questions is a constant source of frustration and guilt. It is an abiding principle in group relations conferences that staff work through their own particular conceptual and other issues, just as conference members are expected to do. This principle is related to and is in the service of the undertaking by staff to do everything possible that promotes the conference's primary task and of furthering the learning of the dynamic relatedness between individuals, groups, organisations and society. The Belgirate conference was, therefore, designed as a particular structured opportunity for reviewing, exploring and learning more about the different aspects of group relations conference design, dynamic and delivery. The conference was conceptualised and designed as a 'transitional space' for new learning that would contain traditional forms of scientific activity, such as lectures and discussions and experiential 'here and now' activities, like the 'Taking up Roles' event. This blend of modes had its difficulties and complexities, but it also provided potential for creative learning and exploration. OFEK and The Tavistock Institute joined together to produce and sponsor the Belgirate conference. The two organisations and their leaders had enjoyed long-term close working relationships in developing group relations in their respective countries. Their working relationship and their close personal relationship, as well as the physical facilities that their organisations were able to provide, facilitated the creation of the Belgirate conference. The choice of the venue was related to the fact of it being mid-way between the U.K. and Israel and was facilitated by an Italian who is also a member of OFEK. The decision to hold the conference in Italy was welcomed by the Italian group relations people.