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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

Role Formation as Defensive Activity in Bureaucratic Organizations

This article explores the psychodynamic connections between bureaucratic structure and processes, stress and organizational roles. It applies psychoanalytic framework to illuminate the unconscious use of social structure for defending organization participants against anxiety. Overt and covert organizational roles are shown to reflect individual psychological adaptations to and defenses against the anxieties of organizational and interpersonal uncertainties. The psychoanalytic orientation is proposed as advantageous for analyzing the dynamics of role performance in bureaucratic organizations under stressful conditions. These conditions may result from typical bureaucratic events such as administrative cutbacks and transitions in administrative leadership. A case example of a transition in administrative leadership illustrates defensive tendencies and role performances among key staff members. A table shows a variety of defensive actions in hierarchical positions. And, finally, we construct a psychodynamic model of psychological defensiveness and role formation.