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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The Implications of Complexity Theory for Psychoanalytic Thinking about Organizations

This paper arose out of intense discussions with Douglas Griffin and Patricia Shaw, colleagues at the Complexity and Management CentreIn writing this paper I am not approaching organizations from the direction of psychoanalysis but rather the reverse. My past experience is that of a corporate planner in a large multi-national commercial organization and more recently a strategy consultant, management teacher and theorist. This experience has led me away from thinking about organizations from perspectives found in the management literature to thinking about organizations from perspectives contained in psychoanalytic, sociological and the wider new sciences literatures. This shift in my personal perspective is a part of what has led me to train as a group analyst at the Institute of Group Analysis in the UK. What interests me most at the present time is this process of shifts in ways of thinking. This paper is therefore pitched at a somewhat meta-theory level. It is concerned with the implications of major shifts in frames of reference that seem to me to be going on in Western ways of thinking, a shift from Newtonian and neo-Darwinian paradigms to what I refer to as a complexity perspective. Both organizational and psychoanalytic theory originated within the frame of reference we seem to be moving away from and so this paper attempts to explore some of the implications of the shift for our thinking about both psychoanalysis and organizations. The paper first sets out the key features of what seems to me to be the most widely employed and discussed psychoanalytic model of organizations, usually referred to as the Tavistock model, and then goes on to examine elements of this model in the light of a complexity perspective. I conclude that the latter perspective suggests a significant shift in our understanding of organizations from both organizational theory and psychoanalytic points of view. The paper ends by indicating some of the implications of this significant shift in understanding for organizational consulting practice.