Help us sharing our research, consultation and experiences

Donate Now

The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Case of the Missing Author: From Parapraxis to Poetry and Insight in Organizational Studies

At my first ISPSO Symposium in 1992 or so, Professor Laurent LaPierre amused and admonished those present in his repeated invocation of one of human lifes leading organizing principles: 'Projection, projection, projection.' In workplace organizations, plus a change, plus cest la mame chose (The more things change [at the surface], the more they remain the same [at the core].). For this presentation, my incantation changes, not tune, but key: Countertransference, countertransference, countertransference, as the central organizing principle of all human knowing. Its net ranges from astronomy, to organizational psychology and consulting, to zoology. The knower is part of the knowing, part of what is known and what must remain unknown. The knower is the best and worst and ultimately only instrument of knowing. At this epistemological level at least, even the dichotomy between 'natural' or 'real' or 'hard,' and 'social' or 'soft,' science is spurious. Astronomical and geological debates over cosmology are ultimately debates about G-d, G-ds absence - or at least metaphysical and oedipal principles about origins and destiny all fraught with: projection, projection, projection. All knowledge is personal knowledge. What we know about anything is how we know it. The instrument of knowing is part of the knowledge. Self is part of method, is part of theory, is part of intervention. Methodology is abstraction from the ability or inability to learn from experience (if I may borrow from W. R. Bion). Organizational learning and consulting are no different. The question everywhere is what we do with what and who we are whether we have access to that often troubling data or cannot bear the anxiety such access would visit upon us (Devereux 1967; Boyer 1993, 1999). From the outset of my professional life, I have explored the unconscious as well as the conscious significance of group affiliation or identity. In the late 1960s, I began my career as a medical anthropologist with a focus on understanding the effect of patients ethnicity (often termed 'nationality') on physician-patient relationships and on the course of clinical work. In the succeeding thirty years, my interest in group contributions to clinical dyads and their work has expanded to include workplace organizations and their cultures, ranging from professional disciplines (family medicine, occupational medicine, psychiatry, internal medicine) to institutional units (departments, hospitals, clinics). Today, managed care, downsizing, RIFing, reengineering, restructuring, deskilling, outsourcing, flattening, reinventing, and autonomous functional teams are all as much 'group' presences in the physicians crowded examination room as is the patients Germanness, Polishness, Hispanic-ness, or African American-ness. Moreover, these notions are part of the wider national, even international, imagination, and have burst the bounds of organizational units. The organizational researcher and consultant have abundant wealth of material for use in countertransference. In this paper I explore my own 'subjective' experience via my organizationally-related parapraxis and poetry in order to reach at more 'objective' insights about the hatred, violence, and more generally the dark side of workplace organizations. This paper is part of my personal and professional journal toward seeing feeling what is there but is not supposed to be seen (Bollas 'unthought known,' 1989).The ultimate discourse (subject, topic) of this paper is not workplace organizations, but knowledge, knowing, not knowing, resistance to knowing, and coming to know. It is about what can and cannot be known, what may and may not be known, and what must and must not be known. It is ontology wrapped in epistemology, with psychoanalysis as Ariadnes thread through the labyrinth of wrappings. Its discourse is the question or riddle of the enigmatic Sphinx (Lawrence 1997): What is man/woman? For himself or herself and others? And how is knowing of any kind bound up with these relations? This paper thus is about countertransference because it could not be about anything else: it centers on the nexus in which knowledge, knowing, knower, and the relationship among knowers takes place. If anything, it is an effort to map thought to be a cartographer of mental space (Young 1994; Stein 1987; Stein and Niederland 1989).