Help us sharing our research, consultation and experiences

Donate Now

The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Networks: the Siren Song of our time - Socio-analytic reflections on the seductive appeal of networks

The term Siren Song refers to an appeal that is hard to resist but that, if heeded, will lead to a bad outcome. The Sirens, in Greek mythology, sang songs so seductive that ships passing their island could not resist getting closer to them. Following the sound of their singing, the sailors would steer their boats towards them and to disaster on the rocks.In this paper we describe networks and communities of practice (Lave and Wenger 1991) and question whether modern networks (virtual, social or work based) have become the new Siren Song: they present a seductive desire to join and be at one again in a safe place. They beguile us with the sense that we can return to a loved and loving world (Schwartz 1990). Individuals join them in the hope of finding this ideal of unity and write about them as if this were possible. Our paper examines the literature and uses a case example of a workplace network to highlight that when networks are seen in this utterly positive way - focusing only on the future potential and not learning from the past or acknowledging the possibility of failure - they provoke the ghosts of the future (ISPSO Symposium Theme). In questioning why this rosy view of networks exits, we argue that economic rationality is the dominant discourse in the west and that with it comes an emphasis on the heroic individuality of human kind to tame and control the environment. This ideation leads to the promotion of the concepts of entrepreneurship, flexibility and mobility. But rather than leading to enriched and empowered individual lives, we argue that more often it leads to short term contract work (Sennett 1998), a transactional view of relationship and loss of connectedness to organizations and community. The notion of the heroic individual is privileged over that of the connected social being, leading to a sense of being cast adrift (Sennett 2006) with a loss of primary or ontological trust (Bohme 1998). Social isolation brings a loneliness and impotence that is hard to bear. As Turquet (1974: 357) says 'members seek to join a powerful union with an omnipotent force, unobtainably high, to surrender self for passive participation, and thereby to feel existence, well-being and wholeness. 'We present evidence that networks are a retreat from complexity and have become a focus of the manic defense (Klein 1940). The literature 'both scholarly and mainstream' suggests that interest in, and uptake of, networks is akin to a modern Siren Song as it is generally positive (Sparrowe et al 2001:137; Garbher 1993; Flocken et al 2001; Sydow; Windeler 1999) and there is little room for discussion of negative feelings (humiliation, envy, betrayal, disillusionment) that are inherent in working together across boundaries. The negatives are seldom mentioned in the literature. We hypothesize that in western society networks fulfil the desire to belong to, or build something, that is bigger than ourselves.Our case study highlights the path of a network from idealized unity (Turquet 1974) and passivity, to disintegration, backlash and finally to a more nuanced participation where acknowledgement was made of the existence of both trust and mistrust in the network. This is reminiscent of a move from Klein's paranoid-schizoid position (1935; 1946) to the more mature depressive position (1940) and we argue that this path is possible for a network. Our presentation will also comment on our own journey of collaboration in producing this paper. To be able to think creatively together, to see abundance in our decisions and not scarcity in our re- sources requires a sense of creative space. We conclude with both theoretical and practical suggestions for moving a network to this creative space. We use the metaphor of Odysseus and his struggle to hear the Siren Song, to surrender to its call, and yet remain intact to highlight the possibilities.