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The walls within: working with defenses against otherness

Online Conference 5-11 July 2021

The study of organizational emotions - psychoanalytic and social constructionist perspectives

This presentation will juxtapose psychoanalytic and social constructionist approaches to the study of emotions in organizations, seeking to establish a rapprochement and cross-fertilisation between the two.The presentation will begin with showing two short documentaries on whistleblowing. These will be treated as case studies by the presenters, each of whom will seek to analyse its emotional discourse from a unique perspective. Stephen Fineman will introduce a social constructionist approach, which has recently made considerable progress in elucidating the social character of emotions, the importance of emotional display and emotion labour. Seen from this perspective, emotions are highly articulate learned performances, which express the social meanings inherent in different occasions. Furthermore, emotion and rationality are approached not as automatically competing principles of motivation, communication and action, but rather as complementary and reinforcing. Emotions may be rational or irrational; reason itself may be emotionally driven. Central to the social constructionist views is the assumption that the nature of psychological reality is emergent rather than given, the product of social interaction and competing interpretations.Yiannis Gabriel will then present an alternative analysis of cases, drawing predominantly from psychoanalytic theories of emotion which take a more antagonistic view of the relationship between emotion and reason. Central to these theories is transference, the process whereby meanings and emotions find new aims and objects on which to become attached, frequently repeating early childhood experiences. While social constructionist views highlight how emotion is the result of the meanings which groups attach to events, psychoanalytic approaches are more likely to focus on emotions as the psychological driving forces in human affairs. Likewise, while social constructionist views tend to highlight the negotiation of emotion and emotional display, psychoanalytic approaches tend to focus on the repression of affect and the contagiousness of emotional states. Finally, while social constructionist views approach emotion as learned and social in its very essence, psychoanalytic approaches tend to favour the view that certain emotions, like guilt or anxiety, have a deeper instinctual origins and precipitate defensive mechanisms.Both contributors will then indicate if and how bridges can be built between the two approaches. Special attention will be given to (1) the relationship between rationality and emotion, (2) the question of whether and how emotions can be managed, (3) the ways that emotions within organizations may be identified, analysed and guided.