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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Meaning Making through Narrative: on not Losing the Plot

The most pertinent phrase for me in the Call for Papers for this Symposium was 'we become preoccupied with motivation when people cannot find meaning in their work'. It was taken from Burkard Sievers (groundbreaking) paper, 'Beyond the Surrogate of Motivation' What struck me in this phrase and in Sievers' argument in his paper was a challenge to some longstanding assumptions I have held about motivation and management, having taught courses for many years on these topics in the School of Education at the University of Southampton. I had already found myself increasingly uneasy in my lecturing role about some of what I was teaching, and Sievers' comment seemed to hit the nail on the head. Also in my employee role I felt that any organisation which, to improve staff motivation, had introduced measures such as workshops on work-life balance (as if work isn't part of life) and the MacDonald's inspired Lecturer of the Year Awards, had already begun to seriously lose the plot. In a nutshell what I wanted to do in a paper for this Symposium was to explore the process of meaning-making from within the 'narrative' mode and in particular to look at the difficulty or even impossibility, in certain kinds of organizational situations, of constructing a viable narrative. This experience is sometimes referred to as 'losing the plot'; hence the sub-title of my paper. When this happens the ensuing feelings of despair and meaninglessness have, inevitably, deleterious effects on the motivation of those concerned and on the organisation as a whole. In the ISPSO we share certain assumptions and beliefs but also have different understandings of psychoanalysis and practice derived from it. For me two key features of a psychoanalytic approach are: 1. a quest for meaning, and 2. a belief that things are not always what they seem, that appearances can be deceptive. Meanings can be both manifest and also latent and in both cases there is a need for interpretation. With latent meanings however there is an even greater interpretive challenge, as meanings are more ambiguous and elusive. The process of interpretation has of course always been central to the practice of psychoanalysis.